Friday, June 6, 2014

Surprises in the Hunt

You really never know where your genealogy searches will lead you.  I've had some jaw-dropping surprises pop up in my own family's research - a divorce with incredibly juicy accusations being flung about and a pension application that led me to tales of Indian fighting with Custer, among others.  You just never know when you will walk around a corner and run into one of those pieces of information that turns a normal family into one touched by scandal or intrigue.

Today's research exercise ended up with a twist I wasn't anticipating when I picked this photo of a nice-looking young couple out of the rescue box.  The photograph was taken by Garrison Bros. in Rifle, Colorado.  On the reverse is hand-written Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Butler, taken April 10th, 1909.

This looks a little bit like a wedding photo to me, so I started my search with the 1910 census in Garfield County, Colorado.  The date and the location gave me hope that I would be able to find a couple that fit, since initials can sometimes take awhile to tie down.  Sure enough, in the town of Cache Creek, near Rifle, I found Cassius H. Butler and wife Ethel J., married 1 year, and with a brand new baby Walter, aged 2 months.

With a little more information to go on, I began digging in the public family trees.  While none of them were very helpful, I was able to establish that Cassius Harrison Butler married Jennie Ethel Ridge on March 31, 1909, so this photo dates to just over a week after the wedding.  Cassius was born on December 23, 1889, in Nebraska, to parents Lafayette and Francis (Parnell) Butler.  Lafayette and Francis were also living in Garfield County, Colorado, in 1910 and FindAGrave lists their burial there.  Jennie Ethel or Ethel Jennie Ridge (the various records show the name in both formats) was born June 25, 1888, also in Nebraska.  No one had any information regarding her parents.  The public trees also gave me a death date for Cassius of February 24, 1967, in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Social Security Death Index and FindAGrave supplied a death date for Jennie/Ethel of November 19, 1970, in Fort Collins, Colorado.

My first inclination was to think that the family had eventually moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and that Jennie had gone back to family in Colorado after Cassius' death.   I almost stopped there in my research, but for some reason I decided to go back and take another look at the available census records.  I think I had in mind to see if I could find out how many children the couple had.  I had no idea I was about to run into a bit of a surprise.

In 1920 the couple is still in Cache Creek, Colorado, with three more children:  joining Walter (now age 9) was brother Lafayette, age 8, and sisters Ethel, age 3-10/12, and Elsie, age 1-4/12.

In 1930 the couple remains in Cache Creek and two more little girls have joined the family.  Now the family picture is Cassius, age 40; Ethel R, age 41; Walter, age 20; John L., age 18; Ethel M., age 14; Elsie R., age 11; Ellen F., age 10; and Genevieve E., age 8.

I figured at this point I might as well check 1940 and I'm glad I followed through to all available censuses, because it was in 1940 that the story gets interesting.

I had no trouble finding Cassius.  In 1940, he is listed as an inmate in the Colorado State Penitentiary in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Ethel J. Butler is also living in Fort Collins, running a private boarding house, as head of household and divorced.  In addition to an unrelated family who are apparently boarders, living with Ethel are her daughters Elsie and Genevieve as well as daughter Ethel Mae and husband Craig Morton.

Well.  No way was I going to stop here without trying to find out just what landed Cassius in prison.  It took awhile, but the answer finally surfaced as I searched through the archival papers at

On January 10, 1940, in the Greeley (Colorado) Daily Tribune, it was reported that three men had been sentenced to prison for high-grading gold concentrates from two Colorado mines.  One of these was Cassius Butler.

"At Fairplay, C. H. Butler of Fort Collins and D. W. Webster of Leadville were sentenced to two to three years for high grading from London Mines, Inc., at Alma.   ….Butler, Fort Collins grain dealer, and former shift boss at the London mine, and Webster, Leadville trucking contractor, were taken to the state penitentiary today by Sheriff S. H. Law of Fairplay.   …Butler was accused of taking (unreadable number) pounds of gold concentrates from the London mine.  Webster was charged with taking concentrates to Denver and selling them to the smelting company."

On February 19, 1940, in the Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Montana), a report appeared that was headlined "Four More Nabbed in Colorado High-Grading Inquiry".  Toward the end of the article is a little more information regarding Cassius.

"Earlier Ellis Webster, Fairplay trucker, and Cassius H. Butler, former foreman of the London mine and later a grain and feed dealer at Fort Collins, were convicted of high-grading $25,000 worth of ore from the London and were sentenced to from two to three years each in the penitentiary."

I never expected to find that the pleasant looking fellow in this rescued photo would turn out to be a gold thief.

You just never know where a genealogy research trail will take you and the last thing I expected was that I would end up in a gold mine in Colorado.  Along the way in my searching of the newspapers, I ran into a similar report about gold ore theft from the Mollie Kathleen mine in Cripple Creek, the same mine that Mother, David and I toured on a long ago trip.  The tour involved riding a tiny miner's elevator down thousands of feet below the surface, 9 of us crammed up against each other for the ride, and then walking in tunnels barely tall enough for a medium height person like myself to stand straight. How one would make off with raw gold ore in such conditions has me completely mystified.


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