Clayton Ogsbury: Son of Settles Hill, Hero of the Wild West

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Clayton Ogsbury’s gilt-framed portrait hangs at Enterprise Printing and Photo at 123 Maple Ave., long the home of The Altamont Enterprise, which has since moved across the street to 120 Maple. Clayton Ogsbury was the brother of John D. Ogsbury who had owned The Enterprise. 

Newly discovered veins of gold and silver in the western territories attracted hordes of fortune seekers in the years immediately following the Civil War. Joining the exodus west was David Clayton Ogsbury, a 22-year-old who had grown up with his brothers and sister on the Settles Hill farm worked by generations of Ogsburys since the 1790s.

Feeling there was little future for him in this area, the adventurous Clayt decided to relocate to the Colorado Territory in 1869. Before boarding the Albany & Susquehanna train at Knowersville, he made his goodbyes to his parents, brothers, and sister. Rev. William P. Davis, pastor of the Helderberg Reformed Church where Clayton had always attended services, had also come along to wish him godspeed.

Denver, Clayt Ogsbury’s new home, had become a bustling town within a few short years of its founding. Quickly obtaining employment, Clayt Ogsbury began to invest in mine shares. A few years before, gold and silver discoveries in the mountains of southwestern Colorado had led to the establishment of several small settlements in that area.

Rumors of rich silver lodes supplying amounts as much as 500 ounces per ton had reached Denver, inspiring the ambitious young Clayt Ogsbury to relocate to the rough mining town of Silverton, a community high in the mountains, reachable only by trails, some years cut off for months by heavy winter blizzards.

In 1877, before the winter snows blocked the mountain passes, Clayt returned to Denver where he began the rail trip east to visit his childhood haunts around Knowersville. He reconnected with family and friends, bringing with him a souvenir, an engraving of Silverton and the surrounding mountains.

Drawn from a recent landscape painting, the print would enable everyone back in Guilderland to visualize the spectacular scenery and mining operations of his new home.

On his arrival, family and friends, delighted to have him back in their midst, found a mature, self-confident, successful man, who impressed everyone with his demeanor. Assuring his father that he was now quite prosperous, Clayt promised to pay off the mortgage on the Ogsbury farm, handing over several gold nuggets to his elderly father with the promise of more to come.

The first documentary evidence of his residence in Silverton was a liquor license dated 1879, a common way to make a living in a mining town of that period. During the next two years, Clayt was also mining some claims in nearby Ophir with the colorful names of Little Dora, Empire, Cocktail, and Ajax.

Ogsbury named marshal

In Silverton, his reputation of being a sober, hardworking, responsible man of integrity led to his being named in 1880 as court bailiff. A year later, on May 9, 1881, Clate (as his name was always spelled in Colorado) Ogsbury was appointed town marshal of Silverton.

Almost immediately, he made his first arrest, a fugitive robber on the lam from another county. At the same time, he continued his mining ventures with a new claim called “Crown Jewel.”

Silverton in 1881 was a typical western mining town, its main street lined with a mix of saloons, dance halls, and gambling dens frequented not only by the locals, a rough bunch in themselves, but also by  tough hombres passing through. The Diamond Saloon was perhaps the most disreputable of the lot, offering drinks and dancing with the “ladies” employed there, all under the watchful eye of “Broncho Louisa.”

An unsuspecting patron, unaware that the usual customers were the roughest element in the town, complained to Marshal Ogsbury after discovering he had been stripped of all his valuables. The marshal promptly arrested “Broncho Louisa,” who, after spending a night in jail, soon made her outraged feelings known to the regulars at her saloon.

By coincidence, riding into town late that same day were Burt Wilkinson, Dyson Eskridge, and an African American known as the “Copper-Colored Kid” — three cowboy members of the notorious Stockton-Eskridge gang. All three had a price on their heads, the result of misdeeds in Durango in a nearby county.

The Copper-Colored Kid was also wanted in Texas, where a $1,200 reward had been posted. First stabling their horses in a livery stable several blocks up the street, the three headed for the toughest dive in Silverton, the Diamond Saloon where the angry clientele was still seething over Marshal Ogsbury’s treatment of their “Broncho Louisa.”

Early on the evening of Aug. 24, 1881, Luke Hunter trotted into Silverton. He was the sheriff of La Plata County, where Durango is located, and he carried warrants for the arrest of Wilkinson, Eskridge, and the Copper-Colored Kid.

This man of no integrity and little courage let all and sundry know that he had the warrants, most likely to warn the outlaws to hightail it out of town, sparing him any unpleasantness. However, the action at “Broncho Louisa’s” must have been just too good because the three gang members decided to stay put.

Shot in the line of duty

When Hunter went to find Ogsbury to inform him of the warrants, the marshal wanted to get additional backup, but the sheriff, who may have thought the three outlaws would be gone by then, insisted that there would be no problems.

Hunter, Ogsbury, and a man named E.W. Hodges began to walk down Silverton’s main street. Approaching the Diamond Saloon, Ogsbury became aware of a man lurking in the shadows. As he peered to get a better look, there was the explosive sound of a shot.

Ogsbury crumpled, falling face forward with a bullet lodged just above his heart. When Hunter and Hodges turned Ogsbury on his back, he groaned. But as more shots were fired from the saloon, they quickly retreated without ever returning fire. Clayt Ogsbury died in the dusty street.

Cut off from their horses at the livery stable down the street, the three desperadoes fled on foot and were able to get out of town without having one shot fired at them. A short time later, they sent the Copper-Colored Kid back into town to retrieve their horses, but he was quickly captured, arrested, and put in jail.

The next evening, angry locals stormed into the jail, “overpowered the jailer,” and lynched the “Kid” in his jail cell. The local newspaper later reported the incident in racist terms.

Clayton Ogsbury’s funeral was attended by 500 people. Afterward, his body lay in state in the courthouse for several hours and then a huge procession followed it to the cemetery. All of Silverton’s businesses had closed in his memory.

That very day, a telegram arrived from Dunnsville, New York with Ogsbury’s family requesting the return of the marshal’s body. It was disinterred, embalmed, and the coffin taken over mountain trails to the nearest railroad to begin the long journey home, accompanied by Rev. Harlan Page Roberts, the minister of Silverton.

With the common belief in Silverton that Burt Wilkinson was Ogsbury’s killer, reward money reached the sum of $4,000 for his capture. Wilkinson and Eskridge had escaped, hiking on foot, finally getting shelter at a friendly ranch.

Ike Stockton, leader of their gang, had no qualms about “arresting” Wilkinson and turning him in for the reward money. Within 24 hours after being jailed, the locals “overpowered the jailer” and as they had the Copper-Colored Kid,the locals hanged him in his cell.

At about the same time, in early September, a solemn crowd of over 100 people gathered along the D & H tracks by the tiny Knowersville depot, waiting to pay their respects as the train carrying Clayton Ogsbury’s coffin pulled in.

The Helderberg Reformed Church was packed to capacity the day of his funeral when Rev. H.P. Roberts of Silverton, assisted by the church’s pastor Rev. Samuel Gamble, led the service. After the funeral, the crowd followed the coffin across the road, climbing the hill to the cemetery for burial. At his gravesite a stone was later erected with a carving of his marshal’s badge prominent on top where it stands to this day.

Settling his estate

In October 1881, J.H. Ogsbury and John Ogsbury, Clayt’s father and brother, showed up in Silverton to settleClayton’s estate.  According to the San Juan County Historical Society’s archivist writing in 1986, the estate records are incomplete.

According to the late Arthur Gregg, Guilderland’s town historian, Ogsbury’s father had delayed going west until spring. When he went to Silverton, he took with him a “country justice of the peace” who was not competent to deal with the complexities of mining claims. Clayt’s father received only a few gold nuggets and enough from a bank account to pay off the mortgage on the Ogsbury farm.

Arthur Gregg would have known both John D. and his son, Howard, very well and would have gotten family information from them. Ogsbury family members claimed it was an incompetent lawyer (who very well may have also been a justice of the peace) because there should have been rich mining interests as part of this estate.

With the amount of lawlessness in that area at that time, it is very likely Clayton Ogsbury’s mining interests were taken by someone else before his family had a chance to establish their claim, losing out on what could have been a fortune.

John D. Ogsbury, Clayton’s brother, became the owner of The Altamont Enterprise and hung Clayton’s photograph and the engraving of Silverton that Clayt had brought with him when he visited in 1877 on the wall where he could see it as he worked at the press and where they remain to this day, a memorial to a man who died doing his duty.