Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Bootlegger is Fined $100


J. J. McEachern of Leadville arrived in Granite Friday with a trunk and an eye for business. G. W. Herendeen, special agent for the D. & R. G., was suspicious of McEachern’s trunk and asked to see inside of it. McEachern had it filled with booze imported from Evanston, Wyo.

McEachern was brought down to Salida for trial Friday and was fined $100 and costs by Justice Poston. He paid the fine.

“I suppose you know I have been in the pen,” said McEachern to Marshal Wilson. He has served eleven years in a federal penitentiary for counterfeiting according to the police, and he also was involved in an attempt to swindle an insurance company of $10,000.

According to the police, McEachern is the man who several years ago, placed a dead body in the mouth of a mine tunnel in Western Colorado, over a charge of powder and blew it to pieces. The body was mourned and buried as that of McEachern but the hair was not the same shade of strawberry that adorns the dome of McEachern. His “widow” was about to receive the amount of the policy when be was located by the police and tried on a charge of fraud.

McEachern returned to Leadville Friday night.

Salida Mail, January 14, 1919

Oh that ol’ rascal, J.J. McEachern! Bootlegging booze, counterfeiting money, committing insurance fraud by blowing up some dead body to fake his own death — send him back to Leadville where he belongs!

I wonder what it was about McEachern’s trunk that caught special agent Herendeen’s eye as the culprit boarded the Denver & Rio Grande train (aka D. & R. G.). Maybe the trunk weighed 50 lbs and McEachern almost gave himself two hernias lifting it, or perhaps it was the sound of glass bouncing all over the place on a bumpy train.

Leadville to Granite on the D.& R. G. is ~18 miles

Wait a minute! Booze was illegal in 1919?! It’s true! In 1914, Colorado voters approved prohibition starting on January 1, 1916, which was a full four years before the U.S. went dry with the passage of the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act. Historians see this early adoption of prohibition as the result of the Progressive era taking hold in Colorado, with the banning of alcohol as a step toward improving the lives of its citizens. The earliest adopter of all of Colorado was the city of Greeley which was dry from its foundation in 1865 until it was barely repealed in 1969.

Wyoming, by contrast, held out from prohibition as long as possible and several towns like Kemmerer, WY were well known bootlegging hubs during the Prohibition Era. I’m not sure why McEachern got his booze all the way from Evanston, which is practically on the border of Utah, but he must have had a pretty solid hookup.

Bad business decisions aside, the bit about McEachern blowing up a body in a mine to fake his own death, now that was a stunning revelation. Did he go to prison in part because of this? Or was the eleven year sentence only for counterfeiting? Is this like in Double Indemnity where Fred MacMurray gets pulled into Barbara Stanwyck’s scheme to do her husband dirty and bank the insurance cash? Did McEachern turn snitch on his wife/”widow” to lessen the sentence? So many questions.

In the end, it’s the red hair that gives McEachern away. My favorite line from this article is the oddly poetic, “not the same shade of strawberry that adorns the dome of McEachern.” I can feel the writer having some fun there. Although to be fair, we’re talking about matching the hair on a head that had presumably been blown to pieces by the strawberry domed subject. Not much fun about that at all.

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