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Desperado shot up Walsenburg Saloons

Part one in last week’s Journal focused on a little known bit of Walsenburg history.  Bob Ford, the Missouri outlaw known as the “dirty little coward” who shot his partner Jesse James from behind in 1882, once called the tidy house at 320 West 7th Street in Walsenburg, home.  This week, the story continues.

by Guy Blasi

WALSENBURG- Several years after the assassination, Bob Ford moved to Walsenburg, and operated a saloon and gambling hall  for several years.  It was located just one block east of his house, on the block now occupied by the Safeway store parking lot. 

    Ford quickly became known as a desperado, and instigated three shootouts in Walsenburg.  Although he was peaceable when sober, he would often go on drinking binges and shoot out the lights in Walsenburg’s saloons and public places.  He even charged admission to see a re-enactment of how he shot Jesse James. 

    However, Ford didn’t find business to be good in Walsenburg, so he left in 1892 upon hearing of a large silver strike in Creede.  Ford opened a dance hall and named it Ford’s Exchange.  Neither Ford nor his business were welcomed in Creede.

    On Easter Sunday, April 17, 1892, Ford and gunman Joe Palmer, a member of the Soapy Smith gang, were drinking in the local saloons and proceeded to shoot out windows and street lamps along Creede′s Main Street.  In May, with the help of Ford’s friends and business partners, additional members of the Smith gang arrived in Creede.  Six days later, the entire business district, including Ford′s Exchange, burned to the ground in a major fire allegedly set by the Smith gang.  Ford opened a tent saloon until he could rebuild.

    Three days after the fire, on June 8, 1892, Smith gang member Edward O′Kelley entered Ford′s tent with a shotgun.  According to witnesses, Ford′s back was turned.  O′Kelley said, "Hello, Bob."  As Ford turned to see who it was, O′Kelley fired both barrels, killing Ford instantly.  O′Kelley became, "The Man Who Killed The Man Who Killed Jesse James."

    For most of the past century, the dirty little coward’s home on Seventh Street was the home to Louis and Perina Bellotti.  They raised four children in the home.  Their son John was my good friend and classmate.  The Bellotti’s were well aware of the home’s historical value.  I remember when CBS television briefly highlighted the home on Charles Kuralt’s television show, “Eyewitness to History” in 1964.  The building still stands and is often sought out by historians to this day.

    Note: The original bar from Ford’s Walsenburg saloon is now located at Francisco Fort Museum in La Veta.