On Thursday, April 9, 1868, gold prospector William “Wall” W. Henderson killed a man in Humbug Gulch east of Elizabethtown, New Mexico Territory. Being a law-abiding man, Henderson went to Etown to turn himself into the authorities. The authorities seem to have been fairly weak at the time, because a mob of about eighty men threatened to take matters into their own hands. Fortunately, a messenger was able to reach the Fort Union cavalry troops stationed thirty miles away at Maxwell’s Ranch (today’s Cimarron) in time to request assistance.
A sergeant and ten men travelled up Cimarron canyon overnight to reach Elizabethtown early the next morning and disperse the mob. They took Henderson back to Maxwell’s, out of harm’s way, and the miners went back to work. In fact, things calmed so much that Henderson returned to Elizabethtown and went back to mining. He was still there the following year, when he served as a member of the petit jury during the Colfax County District Court’s 1869 Spring session. And he did well financially. By the summer of 1870, Henderson had amassed $5,000 in real estate.
That year, he also stood security for Charles Kennedy’s bond to appear before the Fall Court response to embezzlement and assault charges. Ironically, Kennedy himself would be lynched by an Etown mob later that fall, following accusations that he’d killed and robbed a series of men at his cabin about ten miles south of Humbug Gulch.
Sources: Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest, Leo E. Oliva, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, 1993; 1870 Colfax County Census, Etown precinct; New Mexico Territory District 1 Court Records, 1869 through 1870.
Three years after the Great Rebellion, Henry still drifted. There was nothing behind him in Georgia and nothing further west than San Francisco. Not that he wanted to go there. The California gold fields were played out.
But he needed to get out of Denver. A man could stand town life only so long and he’d been here three months. The Colorado gold fields were collapsing, anyway. Played out before he even got here.
“Been too late since the day I was born,” he muttered, putting his whisky glass on the long wooden bar.
“I hear tell there’s gold in Elizabethtown,” the bartender said. He reached for Henry’s glass and began wiping it out. He knew Henry’s pockets were empty.
“New Mexico Territory. Near Taos somewheres.”
Henry nodded and pushed himself away from the bar. “Elizabethtown,” he repeated as he hitched up his trousers. “Now there’s an idea.”
“Who you callin’ squirt?” The tall young man with the long sun bleached hair moved toward him down the bar, broad shoulders tense under his heavy flannel shirt.
“I didn’t mean anything,” the man said apologetically. The premature wrinkles in his face were creased with dirt. Clearly a local pit miner. He gestured toward the tables. “I heard them callin’ you that. Thought it was your name.”
“Only my oldest friends call me that,” the young man said.
“Sorry ’bout that,” the other man said. He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Pete. They call me Gold Dust Pete, ’cuz that’s all I’ve come up with so far.”
They shook. “I’m Alfred,” the younger man said. “My grandfather called me Squirt. It kinda got passed down as a joke when I started getting my growth on.”
Pete chuckled. “I can see why it was funny,” he agreed. “Have a drink?”