by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO- After all the excitement last week with the chase and capture of the Dougherty siblings near Walsenburg, most people are saying “Wow! That’s the first time that sort of thing has ever happened here!”
They’re absolutely right. Such a situation is entirely unprecedented in Huerfano County. This is not to say Huerfano is a stranger to crime and criminals, which was far from true back in the day, but mostly these were of the “homegrown” variety.
Criminal siblings on the run brings to mind the strange case of the Baldwins of La Veta. Jacob F. and Minnie Baldwin were married in 1885 in Hastings, a coal camp in northern Las Animas County. They became parents of four sons and a daughter. By 1900 they were living in Huerfano County, somewhere near the coal mining town of Rouse, south of Walsenburg. Here three of the sons, Conley, Harold and Robert, were on the honor roll of the Spring Canon School.
By 1904 the family was living in La Veta. We know this because in July the two younger brothers, Harold “Harry” and Willard, were charged with thievery but let off “because of extreme youth.” In July 1906 they were sentenced to terms in the State Industrial School after robbing W.E. Roop’s home and Hansen’s candy factory. Each was to serve until he was 18 years old. They were 15 and 13 at the time. Con and Bob took the charges as seriously as their little brothers, so seriously that they beat up Mr. Roop, the witness. They went to jail.
The two older brothers, Bob and Con, as they were called, felt their siblings’ sentences were too harsh. Someone higher up must have agreed because Harold and Willard served just one year and came home. Upon their release, Bob took it upon himself to punish the local judge by beating him up. Bob went back to jail.
In December 1911, stolen goods from the George A. Edmonston mercantile were found in the Baldwin home. The males of the family found themselves in the Huerfano County Jail, from which Harry escaped in January by tearing up the floor. He would have been 18 at that time. He made a beeline for the old Occidental coal mine workings west of La Veta on Middle Creek and hid out, but was soon ferreted out and returned to jail. Jacob and all four sons were tried in February 1912 and found guilty. They were sentenced to from not less than three to a maximum of ten years each in the penitentiary at Canon City.
In November 1912, Con escaped from the pen but was soon recaptured.
In July 1913, father Baldwin died in prison. He barely outlived Con. Con had broken out again and led deputies and prison staff on a merry chase in June 1913. Perhaps he had a limited imagination, because he headed straight for his mother’s house in east La Veta. Deputies Young and Cutler of La Veta, and Ralph Harriman of Walsenburg staked out the house all night, and were there at daybreak when Deputy Warden J.B. Russell and Huerfano Deputy Charles Harriman arrived. This duo entered the house, where Con, hiding behind a curtain, opened fire. He shot at the same time as Russell, and both bullets found their marks. Russell stumbled out of the house, collapsed, and died. Con died later of his wound. He was 24.
Perhaps it was the shootout and subsequent death of Con that straightened out two of the other siblings, Willard and Harry. Willard disappeared from La Veta history after the brothers were released from prison in April 1915.
Bob returned home to his wife in La Veta. He wasn’t home too long before the crying of the baby got to him, so he suffocated it. He went back to prison. He’d been home about a month. In 1922, Bob was being a model prisoner and fashioned a child’s dresser out of more than 3,000 little pieces of wood, and it was offered for sale at Ownbey’s furniture store in La Veta. No word on a purchase. He reportedly escaped from prison in 1925, but this may have been a rumor. The siblings did have a certain reputation for escaping, after all. After his release from Canon City, he moved to California and worked as an auto mechanic until his death at 42 in 1931.
Harold, or Harry, moved to Louisville and became a miner, possibly his first experience with honest work. After a few years of living crime-free, he ironically succumbed to the flu during the infamous Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1918, at age 27.