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Occupational Hazards: The Violent Deaths of Three Colorado Lawmen

By Steve Chapman

One of the first things old West boom towns looked to establish was law and order.

After enduring (or enjoying, depending on your perspective) early days of “anything goes” debauchery, criminal activity and survival of the fittest, citizens of mining communities such as Leadville, Buena Vista and Salida pitched in to hire protection.

Unlike today, early lawmen were rarely professionals. Typically, those taking the job of marshal, sheriff or police officer only wanted a steady paycheck. It was common for a man to be a bartender or a ranch hand one week, and a deputy the next.

Peacekeeper’s hours were sporadic, the pay was meager, the conditions exceptionally hazardous, and the likelihood of long-term employment fell into the categories of “slim” and “none.” Most law enforcement officers quit the job after a few months (or weeks or days) or were killed in the line of duty.

Colorado gained admittance to the Union in 1876. One of the earliest “official” deaths of a lawman came on July 17, 1880, in Leadville. It was a doozy – two officers murdered by the same man.

Officer John Carville of the Leadville Police Department received word of a man waving a gun inside a store. Along with his partner, Officer Webb, Carville entered the premises and found Charles Bakewell pointing a pistol at other patrons.

The “why” of his actions isn’t recorded.

Seeing the officers enter the premises, Mr. Bakewell moved to the back of the store. When the lawmen approached, Bakewell fired without warning, hitting Officer Carville, who immediately fell. Then Mr. Bakewell dashed outside pursued by Webb.

A running gun battle began.


Citizens ducked for cover as the outlaw and the lawman exchanged fire. The wild west was glamorous only in the movies or old television shows.

Nearby, Sergeant Stewart was in the police office where he heard the gunshots. Without hesitation, Stewart dashed outside to assist his fellow officers.

By this time, Bakewell was running down the street, trying to escape arrest. Stewart ran after and closed the gap, but Bakewell turned and fired three shots. All three bullets struck Sergeant Stewart.

Officer Carville died the next day. Sergeant Stewart passed away five days later.

Bakewell was captured, taken to the Lake County jail, tried and sent to a life sentence following his conviction on two counts of first-degree murder. For reasons not recorded, Bakewell was granted executive clemency in 1897 and released from jail after serving less than 20 years.

Even in the “good ol’ days,” justice wasn’t always just.

A memorial to Officers Carville and Stewart currently hangs on the front wall of the Leadville City Hall.

One of the more dramatic deaths in the line of duty occurred on May 30, 1883, in Salida.

Deputy Marshall James Bathurst entered the Bender House (a combination boarding house, saloon and restaurant) with Marshall Baxter Stingley.

A group of ruffians, led by Thomas Neinmeyer and Tom Evans, had been drinking heavily all day. Mr. Evans was waving a knife around, threatening patrons. The owner sent word to the marshall that help was needed.

Bathurst and Stingley entered cautiously, knowing Neinmeyer had a grudge against local law enforcement.

Several months earlier, Neinmeyer filed charges against a “shady” woman (prostitute), claiming she’d robbed him. Finding no evidence, the marshall dismissed the claim. Neinmeyer promised revenge against the marshall and his deputy.

Accompanying Neinmeyer and Evans was a friend, Bill O’Brien, and Neimeyer’s brother (Boon) and father.

When Marshall Stingley and Deputy Bathurst arrived, Evans was still waving the knife around.

Bathurst approached Evans to disarm the man, and Evans lashed out, stabbing the deputy in the groin. Both lawmen immediately fired, hitting Evans, who crawled outside where he soon died.

Immediately, all hell broke loose.

Neinmeyer and company rose and fired repeatedly. The event appears to have been a setup.

Deputy Bathurst was shot in the stomach and died the next day. A bartender only six months prior, his new career as a lawman was quickly over.

Neimeyer’s group killed a railroad blacksmith, Mr. Goodwin, in the melee, and also shot Marshall Stingley in the chest and hip. Remarkably, Stingley survived. He had the good luck of having a pocket watch in his breast pocket. The timepiece deflected the bullet away from his heart. Although his lung was punctured, Stingley survived and returned to work a few months later.

Neinmeyer raced outside and headed west on First Street, pursued by an angry mob. Neinmeyer fired into the crowd, killing one man.

A citizen, Mr. Brown, quickly hopped on his horse and rushed after the fugitive. Neinmeyer turned and fired again, killing Brown. After Brown fell from his mount, Neinmeyer saw an opportunity to escape and attempted to calm the horse. Before this could happen, pursuing men closed the gap. One man shot Neinmeyer in the wrist, and the chase was over.

Initially, a band of citizens wanted to lynch Neinmeyer on the spot. Instead, the outlaw was taken to the office of the local Justice of the Peace while the mob discussed details of the soon-to-happen hanging. During their debate, Neinmeyer was quietly taken down the road to Buena Vista and placed in jail, as Salida had no such facility in its first few years.

Unfortunately, justice didn’t get served for any of the men killed that day, as Neinmeyer escaped from jail several weeks later and rode off into history.

Steve Chapman, owner of Salida Walking Tours, is a self-professed history nerd who spends his non-research hours with Rez, a Red Heeler puppy, and Gina, a 13-year-old Jeep Wrangler.