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Dirty Little Coward Trail

Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted September 1, 2011

The Bachelor Loop

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.

Tough Town
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.


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