The Hermit of North Table Mountain

It’s the 4th of July, and ominous fireworks are about to fly on J.B. Lycan’s ranch, situated 30 miles northeast of Boulder, Colorado, where 27-year-old Calvin Phillips and his new bride, 16-year-old Lulu Bainbridge, live with Phillips’ mother. Lulu’s parents are no longer happy with their teenage daughter’s marriage, especially to a much older man, despite their earlier consent to their union.

Dust swirls as three men arrive on the ranch to take Lulu back to her parents, against her will. The Bainbridge posse consists of Lulu’s father, George Bainbridge, her uncle, Seth Thatcher, and her brother, who is armed with an unloaded rifle.

It’s three men against Calvin and Lulu, and the tension is escalating quickly. The men’s alcohol-fueled voices shout to Lulu to come back home with them. Young Bainbridge points his rifle at Phillips, who runs inside to get his shotgun. Lulu’s father drags his daughter away from the house, but she refuses to leave. Thatcher runs after Phillips and tries to wrestle the shotgun from Phillips’ arms, but instead Phillips takes the gun and smashes it into Thatcher’s head, knocking him out, blood pouring from the man’s head onto the dirt.

Phillips takes aim at George Bainbridge, but Lulu grabs the gun and points it at the ground. The shotgun blast rings out, but the shot goes harmlessly into the ground. Lulu grabs her father by the shoulders and tries to push him away, but Phillips already has the next shot ready. He fires. George Bainbridge falls to the ground, dead.

Young Bainbridge, seeing his father slain and his uncle bleeding on the ground, flees the scene. Phillips’ mother, Minnie, witnessing the entire tragedy, notifies the police, who arrest Phillips without struggle.

Phillips is charged with 2nd degree murder of his father-in-law. He is convicted and sentenced to 10-15 years in prison. While in custody, he is constantly harassing other inmates as well as correctional staff, so he’s placed in solitary confinement for several weeks.

After serving his prison term, Phillips, moves into a cabin on North Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado and lives alone, now divorced from Lulu. Phillips’ neighbors start referring to him as the hermit of North Table Mountain.

Now we fast forward to a cool fall Saturday in 1939, where three teenage boys and their hunting dog head up North Table Mountain to go rabbit hunting. They’re carrying .22 caliber rifles and having some success that day, shooting a rabbit and a squirrel. The boys are Edison Aday, 14, Fleet Parsons, 15, and Fred Schwartz Jr., 17. They’re following the time-honored tradition of small game hunting on their local mesa.

What they don’t know is that the hermit of North Table Mountain is also hunting them. The boys are on the un-owned south side of the mountain that slopes down toward 44th Avenue several hundred feet below. They are far away from the hermit’s property, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the cantankerous 58-year-old Calvin Phillips.

As the day wears on, Fred looks up the mountain and sees the hermit, Phillips, coming toward them with a high caliber rifle in his arms. “Duck, fellows,” Fred warns his friends, “it’s old man Phillips and he’s a tough egg.” Fred had worked for Phillips and the man’s reputation in the community preceded him. The boys hid from Phillips, and when the armed man had walked far enough away, the boys ran down the hill, taking cover in a wooden culvert near the road.

They hid as quietly as they could, but their dog was nervous and let out a whimper. The hermit heard the dog and spotted the kids. They were trapped. The boys begged him not to shoot. Phillips yelled to the boys to throw him their guns and get out of the culvert. But at the same time he raised his rifle toward the boys at point blank range and fired.

Phillips shot Fleet Parsons, who had instinctively shielded his face with his arm. The boy felt the bullet tear right through his forearm. Immediately, Edison Aday felt a searing pain in his hip, as the bullet lodged itself inside his body, just missing his spinal cord. Phillips then turned his rifle on Fred Schwartz Jr. and fired again, but this time the gun jammed and the boy was spared. Phillips began cursing as he gathered up the .22 caliber guns from the boys and trudged back to his property on North Table.

Edison Aday attempted to stand up, but his legs collapsed under him. The bullet had torn through his pelvis bone and he couldn’t walk. Fred Schwartz Jr. lifted his friend up and started carrying him down the mountain. Fleet Parsons, bleeding heavily from his wounded arm but capable of walking, began making his way down the steep, rocky trail to get help from a passing driver down on 44th Avenue.

The driver, Guy Higgins, stopped and picked up the boys and drove them to the local doctor, where they received care for their injuries. Parsons was put in an arm cast, but unfortunately Aday’s injury was much more serious and painful. The bullet was lodged so close to his spinal cord that it was too dangerous to remove it, and he would return to the doctor many times over the coming years for treatment.

Back on North Table Mountain that night, Sheriff Morris, with Deputies C.B. Fugate and D. H. Babcock, surrounded the hermit’s cabin where Phillips was holding out with two rifles. While the Sheriff and Deputy Babcock flanked the cabin, Deputy Fugate stepped through the front door, unarmed, and asked Phillips to surrender. After some tense discussion, Deputy Fugate and Phillips came out of the cabin. The hermit was apprehended.

The Phillips trial lasted several months with a surprising conclusion. At first, Phillips was charged with Assault to Murder, but this was thrown out due to lack of evidence that Phillips had the intent to kill the boys. Instead, he was charged with Simple Assault, which carries a relatively short penalty of six months, despite the fact that the boys had in no way provoked the shooting.

In a subsequent trial for the shooting of Edison Aday, Phillips’ lawyer, Otto Moore, cited a Kit Carson case, which would ensure that Phillips was only tried for simple assault once. The Carson trial that Moore cites was regarding an incident where Carson shot at a man, but missed him and killed the man’s wife.

Otto Moore said, “A jury found Kit Carson guilty of involuntary manslaughter and the district attorney, not satisfied with the verdict, filed a charge of assault to kill in connection with Carson’s firing at the man he missed. The court ruled Carson could not be tried on the same assault charge, because of prior jeopardy. The court held the two cases were in reality one. because only one bullet was fired.” Therefore, the hermit could only be tried for simple assault once, since only one bullet was fired, despite the fact that both Parsons and Aday were hit by the bullet.

The jury found Phillips guilty of one count of simple assault and sentenced him to six months in prison. The fathers of the two boys who had been shot, Parsons and Aday, then sued Phillips for damages. The families were awarded $200 for Parsons and $2,731 for Aday, in proportion to the severity of the injury at the time of the trial. Phillips refused to pay and would spend more time in prison for this.

Over the next few years, more tragedy would befall those involved in this strange case of the hermit of North Table Mountain, but not to the man who caused all of the trouble. In 1943, Edison Aday killed himself with a gun belonging to Fleet Parson’s father. The suicide took place at the Parsons house and was witnessed by Fleet Parsons and others. 

In 1940, Clarence Fugate, the undersheriff who arrested Phillips in his cabin on North Table Mountain, was shot and killed in the line of duty while interviewing a suspect accused of shooting a man at Lee’s Tavern in Arvada. The man, a bartender at the tavern, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.