Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tin Cup -- A Rip-Snorting Mining Town

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Back in the days of the hell-roaring Old West, it took a fair share of guts, gumption and shooting to be a marshal. In any frontier town, "marshalin" was a risky job, but in the little Colorado mining camp of Tin Cup it was a hair-trigger existence with a hunk of lethal lead as the usual payoff.
Set far up on the backbone of the Rockies, Tin Cup had its first great boom in 1880. The mountains surrounding the camp were underlaid with "shining dirt." Streams glittered with sparkling placers. Burro trails formed the principal means of approach and escape.
Thousands of prospectors, miners, and the inevitable hordes of gamblers stampeded to the gold-laden cliffs of Tin Cup. On their heels came motley crews of desperadoes and outlaws. The result, of course, was lusty, brawling chaos. Tenderfeet began to show a marked reluctance to enter or remain in the camp. It became obvious that if they were to be lured into Tin Cup for the purpose of being fleeced, some show of respectability and orderliness had to be maintained.
A crude municipal government for the camp was created, and a mayor, a council, and a marshal were appointed. Since the camp was controlled wholly by the lawless element, they took over the selection of officers. As marshal, they decided upon a man named Willis -- more commonly known as "Old Man Willis."
Tersely, they informed him of his duties. "The first man you try to arrest will be your last, Willis. You're just to mosey around camp and let 'em see we got a marshal. It sorta gets their backs up when they don't see no law officer, but get it straight -- you're to see nothin', hear nothin', and know nothin' that goes on in camp. Got it?"
Old Man Willis got it. He did his part admirably. During his entire term of office, he never arrested one man, nor did he receive one cent for his services.
The next marshal to be appointed by the camp leaders was a fearless border ruffian named Tom Lahey. Tom was supposed to be quicker on the draw than any man in Tin Cup. As marshal, he frequently amused himself with a hazardous pastime which seemed to afford him a great deal of personal satisfaction.
Often, merely to prove his ability to do so, he stood off an entire mob of half-drunken miners and tinhorn gamblers. Baiting them into an ugly mood, then snarling defiance at their threats, he would proceed to disarm each man in the crowd before marching them off to jail.
Always, just as he herded the sullen mob up to the jailhouse door, Lahey would release them contemptuously, sneering at them for lacking the courage to stand up to him.
As a rule, the men made it a point to stay out of Marshal Lahey's way, and newcomers were advised to do the same. One man ignored this advice and thereby gained the distinction of being the first man planted on Boot Hill. His name was Bud Christopher. It happened thusly:
A great deal of the early freight for Tin Cup moved over Cottonwood Pass. One of the itinerant freighters sold a mare to Marshal Lahey, then sold the same mare to Bud Christopher, giving each man a bill of sale. An argument resulted when both men tried to claim the mare and finally it was decided to go to the law to establish ownership.
The kangaroo court was supposed to be held in a tent. However, such a crowd assembled that it soon became obvious that the tent was too small to hold them all. Also, since both plaintiffs and their henchmen were armed, it was suggested that they disarm.
Frenchie's Saloon was designated as the depository for the guns. Then, after everyone had a round of drinks, the trial was held in the street. When the judge found in favor of Tom Lahey, the leery crowd scattered instantly as the decision was pronounced.
Later, eyewitnesses stated that Christopher came out of Frenchie's place with his gun in his hand just as someone yelled to warn him that Lahey was coming out the back way. Bud turned his head just as the warning rang out, and the guns of both men blazed in unison. Christopher crashed to the ground with a bullet through his temple.
In the confusion that followed, several heated arguments began among those who had witnessed the shooting. Some insisted there had been a third shot from some other gun and claimed that Lahey's bullet had not killed Christopher. Others argued about who had fired first. At last it was decided to hold an inquest.
They used a carpenter's saw and opened Christopher's skill to prove that the slug came from Lahey's gun.
During the inquest one of the witnesses slipped away and headed for the mining camp of Leadville to report the affair to law officials there. By the time he made his way over the pass, the man was too worn out to travel farther. He stopped at a deserted cabin to get some sleep. He fell asleep instantly, but woke up a short time later when someone began shaking him roughly. It was Lahey.
He had followed the man all the way over the pass. Although it had been determined that his gun killed Christopher, Lahey explained, the judge had acquitted him on the grounds of self-defense. He ordered the frightened man to return to Tin Cup and forget about making a report to the Leadville authorities.
Written by E. Ward McCray, Published in True West, March-April 1959


  1. Dang, now that's a fine piece of historical story telling. I noticed some time ago that lawmen often were once outlaws. Some even went back and forth in and out of the law as if they couldn't make up their minds what they wanted.
    Great blog, Paisley

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I love sharing these stories because it gives a glimpse of everyday life back in the wild west. :)

  2. Awesome story. Whoever says History is boring, obviously never read stories like this

    1. I agree. Truth can be more interesting than fiction. I have never understood people saying they didn't like history because it was so boring. I know otherwise...

      Thank you for coming for a visit, J. Morgan.

  3. Enjoyed this post, Paisley. Mighty interesting. ;)

    1. Thanks, Ashley. I rather enjoyed it myself and hoped others would, too.

  4. I love those stories of the old west. Great review Miss Paisley.

    Patria Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  5. Thanks, Patricia. They definitely were a wild bunch in those days. I have another one lined up for next month that I found very interesting, especially since the westerner in question is on the family tree shared by a dear friend of mine. :)

  6. Talk about the Wild Bunch! I'm with you...history is never boring. I find all things Western infinitely intriguing. Thanks for this was wonderful! I never in my life heard of Tin Cup/

    1. Thank you, Celia. Tin Cup made me think of golf for some crazy reason. What I like about these articles is that it gets you into every day life.


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