On April 3, 1882, in the town of St. Joseph, Missouri, Jesse James was shot in the back by Robert “Bob” Ford. James had retired from the outlaw life and was living as a respectable businessman under the name of Howard. Bob Ford became known as “The dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard.”
On June 8, 1892, Ford owned a tent saloon called the Exchange in the mining town of Creede, Colorado. He was walking away from the door when he heard the door open. He turned to meet the person who walked in and might have heard the man say, “I guess you been expecting this.” Ford reached for his gun, but received a shotgun blast to the face before he could do anything about it.
Actually, there is a lot of debate over what Ed O’Kelley said before he pulled the trigger on that day. The fact is O’Kelley was no better than Ford, since he gave his victim no chance to defend either. O’Kelley was convicted of murder, but quickly pardoned. A short time later, he met his maker when he came up against a man in Texas who was actually facing him.
Ford was a hated man in Creede. He had his own gang that spent nights in drunken brawls and shooting up the town. The saloon where he died was a dangerous place to be. The town of Creede was overrun with those who came to gamble, drink, and participate in the brawls. The undertaker once complained of hauling eight bodies to the graveyard in one night.
The town did not want Ford in the main cemetery with decent folks, so he was buried on the other side of the fence in an area that became known as Shotgun Cemetery. It is mostly grown up in weeds but several signs designate the location. If you were to dig up his coffin, you would not find him in it. Friends and relatives of Jesse James did not want to leave Ford in Creede. They said its elevation put him too close to heaven. They had his body moved to Ray County, Missouri, and placed in the Richmond Cemetery.
The saloon where Ford died no longer exists but a huge boulder with a plaque marks the spot where it was. There are numerous other buildings in Creede that date back to the 1800s. They have been restored and now serve as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops.
Creede was primarily a silver mining district, so when the price of silver crashed, the town went with it. It went from 10,000 in population down to nearly nothing. Today, it serves as a tourist town with plenty to offer in back country roads, camping, and wild stories of its violent past.
Those of you who watched John Wayne in The Shootist saw him talking to Jimmy Stewart about a pillow. John Wayne said he stole it from a whore house in Creede. The Shootist would not have been the only gunslinger in Creede and there were plenty of brothels to keep them entertained between gun fights.
Bat Masterson arrived a couple years after Ford died, but he was well known for winning his arguments with a gun. Some references claim he owned a saloon called Watrous and other references say he only worked there. Another reference claimed he worked as town marshal, and his reputation was enough to keep the peace.
There were also a lot of women in Creede. The majority of them were soiled doves. Others who spent some time there included Poker Alice. She was the best-known female gambler during her time and even worked in Ford’s saloon. She drew in huge crowds as other gamblers wanted the reputation of beating her at cards. Poker Alice made a very good living without participating in other activities.
Back to the Past
Last summer, Happy Jack and Lone Writer followed the Rio Grande River downstream when they arrived at Creede (see the August 2011 issue of 4WD). They camped outside Creede in the canyons along the Bachelor Loop. The campsite was small and cozy, surrounded by forest but still within view of the graded road that took them there. After a short visit, they continued following the Rio Grande, but returned to Creede in March. Photos in this story are a mix from both trips.
The Bachelor Loop is a designated route through the remains of the mining district that Creede served. The main loop is about 17 miles from start to finish and is maintained for high-clearance vehicles. Another loop road branches off the main route and is designated for 4x4 only. It is not difficult, but not as well maintained. It is narrow and steep in places. Both roads were open in July, but were snow packed in March.
The main loop has numbered stops. A kiosk at the beginning of the loop describes what can be found at each number. After taking notes from the kiosk, Lone Writer and Happy Jack traveled along the route stopping at the small posts with the designated numbers. They mark locations such as Commodore Mine, Weaver Townsite, Bachelor Townsite, and many more. Bob Ford’s grave is number 16. Most of the structures along the loop appear to be vacant; however, many of them are on private land. Some of them appear to be ready to fall down. The brochures ask that visitors take their photos from the road.
Happy Jack and Lone Writer spent a couple days in the area then continued their mission of following the Rio Grande River from its origin to the Colorado border.
Join us next issue when we pick up their trail through Wagon Wheel Gap and into Alamosa. From there, the trail continues along the banks of the Rio Grande to the point where the river flows into New Mexico.
|Navigation GPS Positions|
|The Bachelor Loop is well mapped at the kiosk so GPS is not really necessary. Some key positions are noted.|
|Latitude position North||Longitude position West||Landmarks, Intersections, and other locations|
|N37 50.8211||W106 55.5117||Creede Visitor Center|
|N37 51.1194||W106 55.8733||Bob Ford sign for gravesite|
|N37 51.0831||W106 55.6073||Bob Ford Saloon|
Lone Writer’s Nissan Xterra Pro-4X is equipped with BFGoodrich tires and GPS/mapping software from DeLorme. Information in the story came from numerous sources on the Internet and in the town of Creede. For more information, check out www.lone-writer.com.