Originally Published October 13, 2010
Thus far, I’ve been able to find the stories of two horsemen who haunt the plains and mountains of Colorado. Both of these men were very real men; one a soldier and one a criminal. Their deaths are real, but are their hauntings? I will let you decide.
John Fagen was a soldier out of what is now known as Old Bent’s Fort. While carrying a message, presumably from Denver, he was caught in a bad snowstorm. When he didn’t arrive at the fort when expected, men set out and found first the frozen corpse of his horse, and nearby wrapped in a blanket and huddled by a long out fire, was the frozen corpse of Mr. Fagen himself. The weather being what it was, a hasty burial was given to Fagen – since the ground was hard, he was interred in a pile of stones to keep the predators away, right near where his body was found. Tales vary as to whether his horse was buried as well. This was in the winter of 1832.
The following spring, tales of a horseman who wasn’t really there sprung up. Mainly seen in the daytime, he was seen anywhere from Fort Lupton all the way To Bent’s Fort, and all places in between. His main haunt, however, was his gravesite, located 55 miles east of Cherry Creek. Known mainly for trickery and his laughter, the ghost of Fagen was blamed for riding through and downing clotheslines full of freshly washed clothes, scaring various travelers by riding past them quickly, and one account even has a man speaking to him, only to realize that he could see the sunlight through the man and his horse, at which the ghost of Fagen laughed and disappeared.
Does he still haunt the route between the forts? Will you see him out along highway 40? Who knows- just watch your laundry if you hang it outside.
Our second tale gives Colorado its very own headless horseman, seen in South Parkbetween Canon City and Fairplay, and you might say that this ghost got what he deserved. IN 1863, there was a rash of robberies and killings along this South Park route, travelers and locals killed by the side of the road, some in their cabins, and all for what money and goods they may be carrying. The crimes were carried out by the infamous Espinosa Brothers, who had come north to Colorado to partake in the fine pickings offered by the mines. However, they choose to do the work of getting rich in a much different way.
A group of 17 scared but determined volunteers followed the trail of the killers into 39 Mile canyon, found the camp of the Espinosa brothers, as well as their stolen goods. As all good western stories must go, gunfire was exchanged and the elder of the Espinosa brothers was killed, but the younger escaped. Among the things found was a list of names of the victims, thirty two in all
The younger brother returned home and came back to Colorado with his brother’s teenaged son, to find a bounty of $1500 on his head, a prodigious sum for the times. The two picked up where they left off, but this time they met with resistance.
Tom Tobins Killed Espinosa and his nephew, and took Espinosa’s head to Fort Garland, as proof that he had killed the notorious criminal, so he could collect the bounty. The Fort Garland Doctor, DR. Waggoner preserved the head of Espinosa in alcohol in a jar and took the head with him when he left the service of the army. Eventually, Espinosa’s head was buried in Pueblo. Tobins wasn’t as lucky – it took him 30 years to collect the bounty owed him.
Starting as early as 1865, tales of Espinosa’s headless body riding a black horse started surfacing, from the Sangre De Cristo Pass out into various parts of South Park. Charles Streeter, a teamster, was traveling at dusk to San Luis and claimed to have been held up by Espinosa’s ghost. Or at least, it was an attempted holdup. The ghost on his horse stood in the road with gun drawn, and Streeter laughed, telling the ghost there was no way he could see to shoot him, and rode on into San Luis.
LT. Wilson T. Hartz had a bit different tale, and a less jovial approach – Hartz claimed to have been chased from Placer to Fort Garland by Espinosa’s ghost.
Tales of this headless horseman continued all through the late 1800s, and even 100 years later,it is popular college tale for those driving along 285 from Denver to points beyond. The tale was that you should never stop if you see a horseman riding alongside the highway in the middle of the night, because this was indeed a violent and angry ghost who meant you nothing but harm. As I attended Western State in those days, and lived in near Evergreen, I drove that route often myself at all times of the day and night, and while I never saw Espinosa myself, I heard the claims of others who said they had been chased by this horseman for miles.
Is this tale true? Are you up for a trip up 285 to find out?