Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

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, September 16, 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.

Fred Schwartz Jr.,
from 1940 Golden High School Yearbook
Fleet Parsons
from 1941 Golden High School Yearbook

What they don’t know is that the hermit of North Table Mountain is also hunting them. The boys are on the south side of the mountain, which 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.

The boys hide as quietly as they can, but their dog is nervous and lets out a whimper. The hermit hears the dog and spots the kids. They are trapped. The boys beg him not to shoot. Phillips yells to the boys to throw him their guns and get out of the culvert. But at the same time he raises his rifle toward the boys at point blank range and fires.

Phillips shoots at Fleet Parsons, who has instinctively shielded his face with his arm. The boy feels the bullet tear right through his forearm. Immediately, Edison Aday feels a searing pain in his hip, as the bullet lodges itself inside his body, just missing his spinal cord. Phillips then turns his rifle on Fred Schwartz Jr. and fires again, but this time the gun jams and the boy’s life is spared. Phillips starts cursing as he gathers up the .22 caliber guns from the boys and trudges back to his property on North Table.

Edison Aday attempts to stand up, but his legs collapse under him. The bullet has torn through his pelvis bone and he can’t walk. Fred Schwartz Jr. lifts his friend up and starts carrying him down the mountain. Fleet Parsons, bleeding heavily from his wounded arm but capable of walking, begins making his way down the steep, rocky trail to get help from a passing driver on 44th Avenue.

The driver, Guy Higgins, stops and picks up the boys and drives them to the local doctor, where they receive care for their injuries. Parsons is put in an arm cast, but unfortunately Aday’s injury ismuch more serious and painful. The bullet is lodged so close to his spinal cord that it is too dangerous to remove it, and he will 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, surround the hermit’s cabin where Phillips is holding out with two rifles. While the Sheriff and Deputy Babcock flank the cabin, Deputy Fugate steps through the front door, unarmed, and tells Phillips to surrender. After some tense discussion, Deputy Fugate and Phillips come out of the cabin. The hermit is apprehended.

The Phillips trial lasts several months with a surprising conclusion. At first, Phillips is charged with Assault to Murder, but this is thrown out due to lack of evidence that Phillips had the intent to kill the boys. Instead, he is 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, cites a Kit Carson case, which would ensure that Phillips is only tried once for simple assault. The Carson trial that Moore cites is a reference to an incident where Carson shot at a man, but missed him and killed the man’s wife.

Otto Moore, Lawyer for C.J. Phillips

In court, Otto Moore states, “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, Moore posits, Phillips can 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. 

Colorado Transcript, Number 15, February 11, 1943

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.

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