100 Years Ago Today: Colorado Ratifies 19th Amendment

Aspen Democrat-Times, December 12, 1919

On December 12, 1919, Colorado became the 22nd state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Governor Shoup signed his approval of ratification a few days later, on December 15th.

The Amendment required 36 states to ratify it in order to pass. Illinois was the first state to ratify on June 10, 1919, and Tennessee was the 36th state on August 18, 1920, with a very closely contested state Representative vote of 50 yes to 49 no. The 19th Amendment was officially adopted on August 26, 1920.

Governor Shoup approving the ratification

However, women’s suffrage in Colorado actually began 27 years before the adoption of the 19th Amendment, in 1893. That year, the state held the Colorado Equal Suffrage Referendum, where the measure passed with 55 percent of the vote. 35,798 Colorado voters cast ballots in favor of the referendum, while 29,551 opposed the measure. The highest support for the referendum came in Mesa county, where 78% of voters approved it, and the lowest support was in Costilla county, where only 16% of the voters approved it.

100 Years Ago Today: Farmer and Hired Man Killed by Farmer’s Son

Herald Democrat, September 12, 1919

Twenty-year-old Ole Oren “Curtis” Slinde III shot and killed his father, Ole Oren Slinde Jr., as retribution for the death of his dog at his father’s hands. The Slinde family lived in Longmont, Colorado, where the younger Slinde brought home a dog a few days before the murder. Before killing his father, Slinde III also shot and killed a hired hand, one William Fulmer.

Why did the son kill Fulmer before killing his father?

This double murder story (triple if you count the dog, which, yes) ran on the front page of the Herald Democrat, Leadville’s newspaper, so the editor must have thought that something about this story would capture readers’ interest since the murders took place all the way out in Longmont, CO, east of Boulder.

My guess is that the son’s mental state was the central point of interest in the story. Oren Slinde is called a “boy” in the article although he’s 20 years old. His quotes, “No one has a right to kill a dog” and “I like dogs, don’t you?” are loaded with both moral certainty and naivety. Is he like Lennie in Of Mice and Men and just inherently simple? The young man also confessed immediately to the police when they arrived, despite the fact that he was trying to bury the bodies and cover up the crime.

I can’t find any information about Oren Slinde’s murder trial, but according to the 1920 census he was imprisoned at the Canon City Penitentiary, so it must have been a fairly quick prosecution and sentencing.

And as quickly as he was imprisoned, he was almost immediately transferred out of the Federal Pen and into the asylum. On Feb 1, 1920, the Herald Democrat ran an article that said Governor Shoup’s Lunacy Commission found 26 Canon City inmates to be deemed insane, and among them was Oren Slinde.

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Herald Democrat February 1, 1920

According to the Herald article, “a competent medical determination of the mental condition of persons committed to the state prison whose sanity appeared doubtful was asked some weeks ago by Warden Thomas J. Tynan.” As a result of the Commission, “the persons adjudged insane will be at once removed to the state hospital for the insane,” which was in Pueblo, CO.

Pueblo Insane Asylum

Slinde’s life in the asylum is a mystery, but according to Find a Grave, Oren Slinde III died in 1935 in Pueblo, CO at the age of 36. I couldn’t find any more information about the cause of death nor whether he died in the asylum, but it seems that he did.

Note: there are quite a few spelling errors in the original article. The family central to this article is named Slinde, not Flinde, and records show that their name was originally spelled Slindee. They were Norwegian. The father’s name is Ole Oren Slinde Jr., and the son’s name is Ole Oren “Curtis” Slinde III according to his WWI Draft Card. Slinde the elder was born in Sogn, Jevnaker kommune, Oppland fylke, Norway.

100 Years Ago Today: An Ode to Allergies…or Depression

Craig Empire, Number 31, August 27, 1919

Glancing past the title of this poem, which gives away the malady, you could read this as a description of depression or anxiety, which would certainly be rare in the early 20th century local newspapers. However, there are plenty of ads and articles for physical illness remedies, just not for mental illnesses. That said, it’s interesting that the language in this poem is sympathetic to the mental suffering of the hay fever patient.

Perhaps this recognition of the multiple layers of suffering was the result of so many people experiencing symptoms over a long period of time, since 1919 marked the 100 year anniversary of the first inquiries into seasonal allergies, aka hay fever.

In 1819, John Bostock, an English medical enthusiast, presented Case of a Periodical Affection of the Eyes and Chest to the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, in which he describes his hay fever as a disease likely caused by the heat of the summer. He also laid out some of the cures he tried, which mostly involved attempts to rid his body of various fluids.

John Bostock

The actual cause of hay fever was not pinned down until 1859 by another British scientist, Charles Blackley, who attributed it to grass pollen.

On a colloquial note, regarding the poem’s phrase “like hell beating tanbark,” according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, the phrase was popular from the mid-19th century into the 1900s as a “general intensifier, usually meaning very fast…such as quicker than hell beating tanbark.”

The phrase may have originated during the American Civil War.

100 Years Ago Today: Mob Hunts Two Murderers

Aspen Democrat-Times, April 12, 1919

In March 2019, Colorado lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 19-182, which would have abolished capital punishment in the state. Just one month later, the bill was already dead, for another year anyway. But that’s only the most recent chapter in the fraught history of the death penalty in Colorado. The death penalty has been abolished and reinstated twice in the state’s history.

The death penalty in Colorado was instated as a reaction to rampant vigilante justice, lynch mobs, and hangings without due process in the early years of Colorado territory and state history. A total of 103 people have been executed by the state and/or territory, and only one person, Gary Lee Davis in 1997, has been executed in the last 50 years. John Stoefel committed the first murder in Denver in 1859, and after a three day trial, was hanged from a tree near Cherry Creek as the first person executed under Colorado capital punishment, although the death penalty wouldn’t become formal law until 1861.

Capital punishment was abolished in Colorado in 1897, but was reinstated in 1901 due to a rise in vigilante justice. So lynch mobs like the one in today’s article aren’t really that surprising. A grizzly double murder takes place near the small towns of Rye and Walsenburg, and it’s practically historical precedent when nearly 100 men “armed to the teeth” gather to find the killers. Today’s article makes the mob’s action sound almost quaint, describing it as “an old fashioned man hunt.”

Entrance to the Death Cells at Canon City Penitentiary, 1920s
Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy

So what exactly happened on the road between Pueblo and Rye one hundred years ago, and how did the murderers get caught?

On April 11, 1919, George Bosko (24) and his younger brother, Thomas Bosko (17), went to Pueblo looking for work on the Hatchet Ranch, located ~25 miles from there near Rye, CO. George was trying to get money to start a garage in Lafayette, CO with his brother-in-law, Horace McFadden. George Bosko committed one felony already in order to start this business when he forged a check in his father’s name, although his father did not press charges. His next felony would escalate quickly.

After hitchhiking their way to the ranch, George and Thomas were turned down for work, so they headed back out on the road where they were picked up by two men test driving a new Dodge car. Elton C. Parks, an automobile dealer in Pueblo, was giving a lesson in how to operate the vehicle to William T. Hunter, who was ready to buy the car. Hunter mentioned to Parks that he had $3,000 in cash on him for the purchase. George Bosko and his brother, upon hearing this from the back seat, decided to kill the men and make off with the money.

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1919 Dodge Roadster

George Bosko took out his pistol and shot Elton Parks in the back, through the seat of the car. Parks was killed immediately. Bosko then shot William Hunter, who managed to escape the car and flee on foot. The brothers dragged Parks’ body from the car and threw him down the nearby arroyo. George Bosko pursued William Hunter and shot him two more times, killing him. The brothers left his body in the arroyo as well, but not before being seen by two people, William Reed and Jack Parker, in an approaching car. The Bosko brothers stopped the car at gunpoint and told Reed and Parker to go back to Pueblo, which they did.

Word reached Pueblo and the nearby towns of Rye and Walsenburg that Parks and Hunter were dead, both of whom were well known to the community, and each was married with two small children. Immediately, a hot blooded posse formed and started hunting the men. They found the abandoned Dodge south of Pueblo with an overheated radiator, but there was no sign of the Bosko brothers. The posse continued their manhunt into the mountains where their chase was stymied by the unforgiving terrain.

Rye, Colorado circa 1930
Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy

Meanwhile, the Bosko brothers somehow made it back to Pueblo, where they boarded a train to Lafayette to stay with their sister and brother in law, Mary and Horace McFadden. After staying only a few days, they left for Utah to hide from police. However, they confessed their crime to the McFaddens, who eventually gave up the Bosko brothers’ location to the police after intense questioning.

Sheriffs and Under-sheriffs from Utah and Colorado collaborated quickly, especially for 1919, and on May 21, 1919, the Bosko brothers were in custody back in Pueblo, where they signed a confession of their crimes. Apparently, things almost turned out much differently, for a Pueblo Chieftain headline from that month read “George Planned to Slay his Brother and Kill Himself”.

Since the brothers had already confessed, there was no trial for guilt. Instead, a jury was rigorously selected to determine degree of crime as well as sentencing. Sheriffs were placed throughout courtroom during the two day trial in case there was indication of mob justice. The jury took two and a half hours to bring back a first degree murder decision with a sentence of death for George Bosko and life imprisonment for Thomas Bosko. Although the execution by hanging was supposed to take place in September, it was continuously pushed back, notably in July of 1920, when George Bosko was given a three month reprieve so that a lunacy claim could be investigated.

Automatic Hanging Machine in Canon City Pententiary, 1930s
Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy

Finally, after almost two years of failed appeals, George Bosko would be executed in December of 1920 at the Canon City Penitentiary. His execution date was held earlier than planned when Bosko collapsed in his cell and pleaded to be killed after his final emotional visit with his mother.

George Bosko wrote a final letter to his mother the night before his execution saying, “What ever we suffer here will only be better for us after death. For God has everything prepared for us, even for me. May peace from Almighty God come down on you and rest you and give you happiness and joy.”

He was put to death by hanging on December 10th, 1920. His brother spent the rest of his life in prison.

Inside Canon City Penitentiary c.1890
Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy

100 Years Ago Today: Woman Kills Son With Axe, Boils Body in Lye

Herald Democrat, April 9, 1919
Nancy Jane Bush
From Montrose Daily Press, February 1, 1919

The Soap Kettle Murders, as this double homicide was dubbed by the Montrose Daily Press, took place on or around December 15, 1917, at the home of Nancy Jane Bush and her son, John O. Bush, a few miles west of Olathe, CO. On that day, a father killed his 11-year-old son, chopped up his body, and rendered him into soap, and a 70-year-old mother did the same to her 34-year-old, murdering son. And it was all over a stolen $1.35.

John O. Bush, who killed his 11-year-old son and melted the body in his backyard

The murders were considered the most gruesome deeds in Colorado history, and they captured the attention of people across the state. Every day of the trial of the People vs. Nancy Jane Bush, the courtroom was completely packed to hear the grizzly details from the grandmother herself.

However, despite the front page, daily coverage of this terrible act, the facts of the case remain somewhat a mystery because Nancy Jane Bush contradicted herself so many times between when the murders took place in December 1917 and the trial in April 1919. What really happened that day, in all its details, will never be known, but at least we have newspaper reports to capture some version of the truth.

At 10 pm on the night of December 15, 1917, John O. Bush (34), was punishing his son, Otis Bush (11), for stealing $1.35 from Otis’ grandmother, Nancy Jane Bush (70). The father and boy went to bed, but later that night the father started beating the boy a second time in the backyard near the chicken coop, and apparently he beat his son too hard and accidentally killed him. Realizing his terrible crime, he decided he needed to dispose of the body, and for some reason, he thought he needed to involve his elderly mother in the act.

Nancy Jane Bush told police that her son forced her at gunpoint to heat up more than a dozen gallons of lye in the rendering vat in their backyard, which they used for making soap. Meanwhile, John Bush took an axe to the body of his son and chopped him to pieces before throwing the dismembered body into the vat. Once the body had been rendered into soap, he took the bones and burned them in the stove in the house.

Caption reads: “Rendering Vat, where boy’s body was rendered into soap.”

Mrs. Bush also told police and testified in court that after helping prepare the lye vat, her son had taken a wooden board and cracked it across her skull, knocking her out. When she awoke in her bedroom, he was in tears over what he had done. She called him, “my darling boy” and they made a verbal agreement. John said, “I’ll agree to go away if you will promise to tell the officers that you killed me and disposed of me the same as I did of Otis.” She promised, and he came back to the room one more time to pour what she thought was a pile of bones into the stove.

What happened next is unclear because Nancy Jane Bush changed her story several times and at some point said she didn’t remember anything because she was in a kind of fugue state, which she says happened often to her.

That said, it seems from the evidence police found that Mrs. Bush took the axe that John used to chop up Otis and killed her son with it. She then dismembered his body and made soap of him as well.

When police were first alerted to foul play at the Bush home the Tuesday after the murders, Nancy at first said she didn’t know where John or Otis went, and then she broke down, recounted what John did to her grandson, and said John disappeared after the murder.

Police found blood around the homestead: on the fence and “sprinkled and splashed” across the walls of the Bush’s room, with other signs of struggle such as pictures and furniture lying askew. The sheriff found a rib bone, human teeth, and skull bones. They also found blood on a stone and an axe in the yard. Suspender buttons were pulled out of the vat, and bones supposedly belonging to young Otis were in the yard.

Nancy Jane Bush was taken into custody and charged with second degree murder. She pleaded not guilty. There was also speculation that she killed her young grandson, but that was later dismissed. A Coroner’s Inquest showed that both murders had indeed taken place, so she was held on $5,000 bond, which she couldn’t make, so she was moved to the Mesa County Jail while awaiting trial.

“That is what a woman gets for having boys who marry bad women. They marry bad women and then bring the trash home on their parents.” She later referred to the first wife and the boy as trash. 

Nancy Jane Bush, at the Coroner’s Inquest

She waited in jail for a year and three months before being tried, and her infamy grew every month she was locked up. Wild claims were made during her stay. There were rumors that she punched the sheriff and broke his nose, and that she made numerous attempts to escape from jail. None of these were true. Some people complained to the papers about the cost to the county for keeping her locked up — about $375.

Finally, on April 4, 1919, Nancy Jane Bush was put on trial for the murder of her son. District Attorney Lee W. Burgess was the prosecution, and Judge J. C. Bell was her counsel. The Montrose Daily Press reported, “People are coming to the court house long before the doors open to get a good seat.” Gruesome evidence was trotted out before the jury and spectators alike, and the newspapers reported on every detail and quote from witnesses and the defendant alike.

Newspapers reported that she was very nervous during the trial and paced up and down, occasionally jumping in when she disagreed with any “trivial detail.” Another article says the trial was very hard on her and she had stimulants with her which she smelled of frequently. An expert was called to determine whether she was insane, but he said she had senile dementia, not insanity.

The case went to jury on April 8, 1919, with the jury being instructed that if they decide the defendant felt threatened at all by her son, even if that threat wasn’t real, they must come back with a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

The jury came back at midnight, after 2 hours and 15 minutes of deliberation with a ‘guilty’ verdict for second degree murder. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Before being taken off to Canon City Penitentiary, Nancy Jane Bush said, “God will take vengeance for this awful charge that has been brought against me and of which I am innocent.” Her sons, Walter and Abe were with her when the verdict was reached.

Apparently, she was happier in prison in 1920 than she had ever been in her previous life, enjoying relative luxuries due to her advanced age. Mrs. Bush was released in 1924 and returned to nearby Delta to live out her last remaining days.

100 Years Ago Today: Eugene V. Debs, Martyr for Socialism

Herald Democrat, April 2, 1919

The first time I read the name, Eugene V. Debs, I thought it was a famous trial that I’d never heard of, and I started wondering, ‘who is this Mr./Mrs. Eugene and what was their beef against Debs?’ I think I need to read more books.

Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926), whose middle name is a nod to author/activist Victor Hugo, is probably best known at the moment as one of Bernie Sanders’ heroes, but historically he’s remembered for his role in the Pullman Strike and, more broadly, for introducing the Socialist Party to voters in the United States. Debs believed that Socialism was inherently an American idea, and not just an eastern European novelty.

Debs, Eugene V.
A very young Eugene Debs

Gene Debs believed so deeply in the Socialist platform that he ran for U.S. President five times under the Socialist Party ticket: in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920. In his final campaign, he received 913,693 votes, or 6% of the popular vote, and he was in prison at the time. Of course, he was also despised and feared by many powerful people and institutions in the country, as evidenced by today’s editorial tirade against the man who had recently been sentenced to 10 years in prison for sedition.

Socialist Party: Eugene V. Debs and Ben Hanford
1904 U.S. Presidential campaign poster

Debs’ career arc smacks of that old political moniker, a renegade. At 14 he dropped out of high school and started working on the railroads. He was a fireman, which sounds super sexy but actually was a terrible job. It was dangerous work carved out for the very young and the very small.

A fireman shovels coal from the tender car, which sits just behind the engine, into the engine’s firebox, which was so blazing hot that a fireman was sometimes mummified in gauze and then soaked down in water so they could withstand the flames. Coincidentally, Vladimir Lenin was a fireman (aka stoker) on his secret return trip to Russia in 1917 to lead the Russian Revolution.

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A fireman loads coal into the firebox

By 1875 Debs had seen enough manual labor, so he joined the growing labor movement in the U.S. when he organized a chapter of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and a few years later became the editor of their monthly publication, Firemen’s Magazine. In 1880 he became the national secretary and treasurer of the Brotherhood. Around the same time, he was elected City Clerk of his hometown, Terre Haute, Indiana, and he also served on the Indiana legislature.

In 1893, with his star ascending, Debs became President of the American Railway Union (ARU), which was one of the first industrial unions, meaning that any railway worker, regardless of craft or service, could join. Early the next year, the nascent ARU organized a strike against the Great Northern Railway, who had been cutting employee wages for months in response to the great panic of 1893. The strike lasted 18 weeks and resulted in an ARU victory when the wage cuts were rolled back. Reports of the ARU’s success led to union recruitment in the neighborhood of 2,000 workers a day.

ARU symbol in 1894

This victory immediately bolstered railroad workers at the Pullman Palace Car company, many of whom lived in the supposedly utopian town of Pullman, Illinois, south of Chicago. The town of Pullman was designed, owned, and run by George Pullman himself, who cut workers two checks on payday: one for rent, and one for salary. Workers were forced to sign the rent check immediately back to him.

Town of Pullman on Lake Calumet

When Pullman cut wages in 1894 and did not reduce rent or other expenses in town, the workers went on a wildcat strike, which is a strike not authorized by the union. Pullman workers were sure the ARU would support them since 35% of the strikers were members. Debs and the ARU decided they would organize a boycott against the Pullman company, telling their workers not to add, remove, or work on any Pullman cars.

I found that the wages and expenses of the employees were so adjusted that every dollar the employees earned found its way back into the Pullman coffers.

Eugene V. Debs, speaking about wage gouging in the town of Pullman, Illinois

The boycott saw immediate results. Dozens of railroad lines were tied up, hundreds of thousands of workers were either fired or walked off their jobs in sympathy, and the boycott spread across the country. But the boycott also had a violent edge to it, despite Gene Debs’ numerous attempts to keep it peaceful, and ultimately this violence caused the demise of not only the Pullman Strike but the entire ARU as well.

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Railroad cars burned by strikers in Pullman Strike

Amidst the summer heat of Chicago in 1894, tensions were rising between ARU strikers, state militia units under Illinois Governor Altgeld, and federal troops sent by President Cleveland. The strike had disrupted mail service, and angry strikers had destroyed mail service rail cars (as well as hundreds of other rail cars), and because the mail was operated by the federal government, the President felt compelled to act. As a result, Debs and the ARU were issued an injunction from the government that prohibited them from “compelling or inducing” railroad employees “to refuse or fail to perform any of their duties.” At this time a New York Times editorial piece from called Eugene Debs, “a lawbreaker at large, an enemy of the human race.”

Strikers were furious about the presence of military strike breakers, and on July 7th, the violence came to a head as National Guardsmen, after being assaulted by a group of strikers, shot into the assembled group, killing 30 people and injuring others. After this show of military force against the union, Debs tried to call off the strike, but the General Managers’ Association, who represented railroad ownership, doubled down on hiring nonunion members, only taking back strikers if they agreed to never rejoin the union. Railroads began operating regularly, the strike broke down completely on July 20, 1894, and with it the ARU.

The National Guard opens fire on protesters on July 7, 1894

Just days after the strike ended, President Cleveland made Labor Day a national holiday. Some say he did this in order to give some recognition to the labor movement’s sacrifices during the Pullman Strike.

Debs was tried and found guilty of breaking the government’s injunction, despite the arguments and appeals of his gifted lawyer, Clarence Darrow, who would later become famous for his part in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. Debs was sentenced to six months in prison.

While in prison, Debs found inspiration for the next phase of his life by reading the works of Marx and Engels, especially Das Kapital. When he was released from prison he formed the Social Democratic Party out of the ashes of the ARU, but divisions in the party led him to seek out members of previous Socialist factions in the U.S. and create the Socialist Party of America in 1901. Over the next few years he would also help to form the International Workers of the World aka the IWW, aka the Wobblies, although the Socialist Party would eventually split with the IWW.

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Debs on a campaign button cosigned by the IWW

The next twenty years of Debs’ life were spent either on the campaign trail as the Socialist Party’s candidate for President, or at public speaking events spreading the word about Socialism. Debs is said to have been an incredibly engaging, passionate speaker, although no known recordings of his voice exist today.

When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Eugene Debs spoke out against the war, urging people to resist the draft, for as Finnish Socialist, Karl H. Wiik, said when he nominated Debs for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1924: “Debs started to work actively for peace during World War I, mainly because he considered the war to be in the interest of capitalism.”

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These anti-war speeches made Debs an enemy of President Woodrow Wilson who called him “a traitor to his country,” and once he had Wilson’s attention, it wasn’t long before Debs was arrested for violating the Sedition Act of 1918, which along with the Espionage Act from the previous year, “made it a crime for any person to convey information intended to interfere with the U.S. armed forces’ prosecution of the war effort or to promote the success of the country’s enemies.”

Debs’ Mug Shot in 1918

Debs’ last public speech before his arrest was made in Canton, Ohio in 1918, but he was given one last chance to speak, and that was at his trial where the defense called no witnesses, instead handing the floor over to Debs, where for two hours he delivered what has been called by one journalist, “one of the most beautiful and moving passages in the English language.”

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

Eugene V. Debs, 1918, on trial for violating the Sedition Act

He was then sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he appealed the conviction over the course of five months, and finally on April 13, 1919, he was found guilty and imprisoned at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.

After serving two years behind bars, and now in failing health, President Warren G. Harding was persuaded to pardon Debs, who walked free on Christmas Day, 1921. Debs made it to the White House after all, on an invitation from President Harding.

Eugene V. Debs died on October 20, 1926, at the age of 70.

Debs leaving the White House in 1921 after his sentence was commuted