There were no restaurant guides in June of 1881 to give a review in.
But if there had been, Deputy Frank Hyatt of the Conejos County Sheriff’s office would probably have left of a review of “dismal décor, but service is good, and food isn’t bad. But they really need to do something about some of the people they allow in.”
History doesn’t record what he was eating that morning. Since it was in Bernalillo, New Mexico, my bet is his meal was beans with some meat and a tortilla. Since it was breakfast, we can readily speculate that maybe he had eggs with the meal and maybe a strip or two of green chili (A meal I recommend you try – it’s amazing).
If Frank were to say the meal was good, it was probably because he was hungry.
But, he wasn’t there to leave a review.
He was hunting a fellow lawman gone bad.
The lawman in question was called Charlie Allison, but like so many desperados in the old west, that wasn’t his real name. If you inquired in Nevada, they’d have told you that he his real name was Charlie Ennis formerly of Chicago. Story has it Ennis came from a well to do family. When his parents passed, he stood to inherit a whopping ten-thousand dollars. In today’s money, that amounts to over a quarter of a million dollars. While not a huge sum of money, it’s also nothing to sneeze at. Trouble was, it would be some time before he received it.
It seems he left Chicago and never collected a dime of it.
Instead, he came out West and landed in Nevada.
There, he became a horse thief. He wasn’t very good because he got caught. On his way to prison, he managed to escape, and turned up in Conejos County, Colorado.
He became friendly with Sheriff Joe Smith of the Conejos Sheriff’s Office, and eventually, Sheriff Smith hired him as a deputy.
Initially, he did a good job. I found a couple of old newspaper articles where he was called on to testify.
But what we had here was a classic example of the fox watching the hen house.
While he ate, I’m sure Frank thought about Allison. Sadly, they knew one another, had worked together, and now he was tracking a man who could have been a friend. With a warrant in his pocket, he was aiming to bring Allison and his gang in.
While a deputy, Allison soon hooked up with a couple of guys named Lewis Perkins and Henry Watts. The three of them looked around and realized the pickings were great in the Valley. Stage coaches carried not only passengers, but silver, gold, and cash money from the mines to the terminus in Alamosa, Colorado and back out again.
It wasn’t long before the lure of untold amounts of money rolling past called to them.
With a badge still in his pocket, Allison and his friends began robbing stage coaches. It’s not known exactly how much they got away with, but it must have emboldened them to try for bigger stakes.
“Bigger stakes” meant raiding the community of Chama, New Mexico. The tactic was simple. They came in shooting up the place and forcing everyone to dive for cover. Than they walked into the stores, emptied the tills, and took whatever else they wanted.
The tactic must have worked very well because a few days later they did it again, this time in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. In one article I found, it says they walked boldly into at least one store, held everyone at gunpoint, robbed patrons and store alike, and got away with some $450.00 (worth about 12K in today’s money – not a bad day’s work).
There was a problem however.
Something I reference in my novels often is a rule I call “Parker’s Law.” It comes from an old time cop I knew named Garland Parker and he said, “We catch criminals because they don’t plan on getting caught. If they’d planned on getting caught, chances are they wouldn’t have done what they did.”
Parker’s Law ensnared the trio. Someplace between the stage robberies and the raid in Pagosa Springs, they were recognized. Allison was IDed by name because his face was well known. A law enforcement officer lives in a fish bowl. A person might not know many other people in town, but they know the cops. That’s true today. It was just as true then.
Gov. Pitkin of Colorado had had enough and put a bounty on them. He put $1000.00 on Allison, and $250.00 on the heads of Allison’s friends. The stage company kicked in another $250.00 apiece. Altogether, we’re looking at a little shy of $60,000.00 in today’s money.
This was a more than generous bounty, and people had been hunted down for less. But in this case, there were no takers. As Clint Eastwood would say years later in The Outlaw Josey Wells, “Dying is no way to make a living.” The Allison gang had reportedly figured they’d end up on the wrong end of a rope. They were well armed, and it was generally felt they’d prefer to go down fighting than risk the court system and frontier justice.
The prospect of a difficult bounty persuaded most to go elsewhere.
Frustrated, District Attorney Hyat for the 12th Judicial District sent for Deputy Frank Hyatt.
“I’ve one question for you, Frank,” Hyat said. “If I issue a warrant for Allison and his bunch, will you go after him?”
Everyone who knew Frank Hyatt said he was a humble, unassuming man. He told the DA, “I don’t think I’ve the experience to go after them, but if you issue a warrant, I will.”
The warrant was issued.
The men Frank asked to go with him seems like an odd pick. He chose an old rancher named Hank Dorris, a saloon keeper named Miles Blain and a house painter named Cy Afton. Some of these men still have descendants living in the Valley.
They started out after Allison and gang. Following bits and pieces of evidence they tracked them again to Chama, New Mexico. Everything he learned there told Frank that Allison and Company were headed for Albuquerque.
They rode the train and stages to get to Albuquerque.
Frank’s strategy was simple: “Keep them from crossing the Rio Grande.”
If their quarry made it across the river, they’d disappear into the badlands of New Mexico and Texas. From there they could easily vanish into Old Mexico and with the money they had stolen, they could live well for years.
In Albuquerque, he and his men watched the bridge. When not watching, Frank went though town asking about Allison and his pals. But no one had seen anything of them. Perplexed, they kept watch, and finally Frank realized they must be ahead of their quarry.
Leaving his men behind to keep their vigil, he boarded the train to Bernalillo, New Mexico, a community not far away.
And now he sat eating a breakfast of eggs and beans in a non-descript restaurant. His coffee might have been black, and he needed it. He’d already made a few inquiries, and came up with nothing. And the chase was wearing on him. He was running on little sleep, very little decent food, and nerves. He needed black coffee.
As Frank took a sip of coffee and savored it in his mouth, Allison and his gang walked in.
A lesser man might have reacted with surprise and spat the coffee out.
Or he’d have done something really stupid and tried to take them in right there.
Frank stayed cool. When Allison looked at him, Frank merely nodded and said, “Good morning, Gentlemen,” and went back to his coffee. They sat down at a table opposite him, but they didn’t seem to recognize him.
Maybe the lighting was bad. Maybe Allison just didn’t expect to see Frank there and as such, didn’t recognize him. Maybe he’d forgotten what Frank looked like. Or maybe God had answered a quick prayer and blinded their eyes.
They leaned their rifles against the wall, and ordered breakfast and never even looked his way.
Frank continued eating though I’m sure he wanted to throw up.
I can appreciate how he must have felt. Once, while working undercover narcotics with the military, I ran into a pusher we’d already made several buys off of. It was smack in the middle of Wal-Mart and I was with my family. But we passed each other without so much as a raising of the eyes.
Frank was in a worse situation. If recognized, they’d surely gun him down, and the best course of action was remain non-threatening. But he did sneak a pistol into his lap, and just kept eating. He kept watch on his quarry without appearing to keep watch.
Finished, he rose, paid his bill, and left as if there were no stage robbers within a million miles of him. He walked across the street to the train depot where he could keep an eye on them without being seen himself. Having finished their breakfast, the men came out, mounted up, and rode south towards Albuquerque.
Frank quickly sent a dispatch to his team in Albuquerque that Allison and his gang were headed their direction, and to leave town, come north towards Bernallio, and meet them. He’d follow on horseback.
Then he went looking for a horse he could buy or rent.
There were none to be had.
With Allison getting further and further away, Frank needed a miracle if he hoped to pursue them.
He got it.
An elderly Mexican gentleman came into town on a wagon that had two fine looking horses hitched to it. After identifying himself as a lawman, and a little parley, the man agreed to rent his services and those of the horses for $100.00.
So, the two men followed. They never got closer than a couple of miles. All the while, Frank wondered where his men were.
Eventually the Allison gang stopped about two miles outside of town and made a camp for the night. Frank and the old man cut cross county and entered the town. There, at Grant’s Livery, he found his deputies saddling up. As luck would have it, they’d barely received the telegram.
“They’re just outside of town,” Frank said. “Looks like they’ll be there for the night.”
“What are we waiting for?”
Frank probably looked in the direction of their quarry. “I want the odds on our side. We go out there, they’ll see us coming. I’m not putting your lives at risk.”
The livery the men had kept their horses at was owned by a man named Jeff Grant. Perhaps he craved a little excitement, because he said, “Look, let me go out there. I think I can get them to come to you.”
He got on a bareback horse and rode out and arrived at their camp.
“I run the livery in town, and I had a couple of horses wander off,” he’d told them. “You haven’t seen some horses wandering about?”
“No,” they answered.
Jeff must have had an easy manner and was so disarming, they were friendly with him.
“Where you headed?” he asked.
“Lincoln County,” was the answer.
“Really! I’m headed that way day after tomorrow,” Jeff said. “Say, you boys wouldn’t consider holding up for a couple of days so I can go with you. It can get a little dangerous traveling on your own.”
“Wish we could,” one of them said. “But we only have enough money to get there. We don’t have anything extra for rooms and eats.”
“Well, look. If you need a place to stay, I own the livery. You’re welcome to stay there.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“The reason I’m asking is I’m taking a string of race horses down there. And I’m also taking several months profits to wager on them.”
Jeff Grant was probably one heck of a fine fisherman. He’d baited the hook, and Allison and his friends took it. No doubt they were thinking they could get rested at someone else’s expense, head out, and rob him of his animals and money along the way.
They agreed and followed him into town.
Hyatt and his deputies saw them men coming and hid in the shadows and stalls of the livery.
When they arrived, and being the gracious host, Grant helped them unsaddle the animals.
“There’s coffee inside. Help yourself.” He took the horses around back to the corral.
The men stepped into the livery, and peered about. Walking in from outside, it was like walking into a pitch black room. None of them saw the men hiding inside, or the barrels of the Winchesters aimed at them.
“Put your hands up!” Frank commanded when they’d come in a few more steps.
The men hesitated for a second. They’d walked into a very clever trap and worse, they knew it.
In that time, what must have went through their minds? Did they think about running the direction they’d come from, or drawing their weapons and fighting a hopeless battle against God knew how many opponents?
Then they saw the rifles aimed at them and any thoughts of running or fighting went out the window.
They put up their hands in surrender.
I’m sure when Allison saw Frank this time, he recognized him. The men were disarmed and placed in irons.
At this point, the local authorities tried to intercede, and prevent Frank from leaving town with his captives, claiming they’d been tracking them. This was New Mexico after all, and they’d been arrested on a Colorado warrant.
“Tell you what,” Frank said. “I’ll give you five hundred dollars of the bounty.”
It was a form of legal highway robbery, but Frank wanted to get back to Colorado with his prisoners.
Frank sent a telegram that Allison and his gang had been captured, put them and his deputies on the train to Alamosa, and headed north for home.
When they arrived at the Alamosa Depot, a large crowd was waiting to meet the train. A couple of waiting deputies and Frank’s posse hustled the prisoners off to the jail where they were placed under guard.
But Frank must have been terribly tired. He missed the storm warnings from the crowd and went home to get some much needed sleep.
If Frank Hyatt thought this mission was over, he had another think coming.
Within minutes, a messenger from the mayor arrived. “Come quickly,” was the message. “A lynch mob is forming. They want to take the prisoners from the jail and hang them.”
I’m sure Frank was very annoyed at this point. Having been dragged out of bed on more than one occasion by the inherent stupidity of the human race, I know “annoyed” didn’t begin to be the right word. He’d probably have happily shot anyone who tried to take the men just for waking him up.
But instead, he showed level headedness in a bad situation. He gathered several friends to include DA Hyat, the Mayor, and Alva Adams (who would one day be governor of Colorado and have Adams State University named after him). He removed the prisoners from the jail and took them to the railyards.
There, he put them in the caboose of a train headed for Denver. It seems the mob had stopped the train from leaving because they were going to use it to take Allison, Watts, and Perkins out of town for a date with a tree, a rope, and a short drop.
Frank ordered the engineer to pull out, and with several hundred furious citizens following, left Alamosa. Soon, they’d left the lynch mob behind.
They arrived in Denver the following day where Allison and company were locked up in the Arapahoe County Jail.
Eventually, things quieted down in the Valley, and the three men were returned to Conejos County.
There, they were tried for their crimes and sentenced to thirty seven years in the state prison.
They were pardoned after ten years.
Perkins went to Trinidad, Colorado and opened a saloon and gambling hall. He died a wealthy man.
Allison took on a new name, went to Butte, Montana and tended bar.
The last member of the Allison Gang, Watts, went back to a life of crime. He teamed up with a number of train robbers in Arizona and was eventually killed.
Gov. Pitkin paid Frank the bounty, and gave him an additional $50.00 from his own pocket.
Frank went on to have a storied career in Law Enforcement. He was Town Marshall in Alamosa for three years, and then served with the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office for another twenty.
I’m attempting to determine what became of him, and I know in 1904 he ran the Hyatt Detective Agency in San Diego, California. He also invented a set of handcuffs that were revolutionary for the time. I tried to find an example, but couldn’t. I’m trying to run down when he passed away, but haven’t had much luck.
He was definitely a man who added to the history of a department I know and love.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like my blog and stories? Check out my novels available on Amazon. I have two out right now, The Cross and the Badge, and Against Flesh and Blood. A third novel, The Judas Tree will be coming out soon. Click on the novel names to be taken straight to them.
As always, thanks for dropping by and for your support. God Bless.
Hands Up; or, Thirty-Five Years of Detective Life in the Mountains and on the Plains, by John W. Cook—A Project Gutenberg eBook