In the 1870s a small section of the narrow-gauge railway line he was breaking through the cavernous walls of Arkansas Canyon in the heart of Colorado. Control of this railway line would have played a significant melodrama in the history of mining the state, and was later called "war on the royal gorge". The incident took place in Arkansas Canyon in 1878-1880.
Bat Masterson and Ben Thompson, two well-known bandits that day, took the side of one of the fighting rail companies – Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (AT&SF). The railway company tried to reach the tracks that their rival, Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) built in 1872. As a lucrative connection between Denver and Pueblo.
The scene was created in 1872, when the Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) Railroad Company built a narrow gauge railway line from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado. They then opened a line from Pueblo to Canon Coal Mines, which lay 37 miles west of Pueblo. Then, building south of Pueblo, they led the line through the mountains of southern Colorado and the San Luis Valley until they reached El Moro in 1876. They extended the railway line to Fort Garland in 1877, and finally to Alamosa in June 1878.
Around the same time, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railroad Company was building west of Kansas City. AT&SF reached the Colorado line in 1872, but due to delays it did not reach Pueblo until 1876. In the same year Leadville flourished as a center for the silver mine and you had to earn a lot of money on the city's freight.
Realizing this potential, AT&SF decided to run a railway line from Pueblo to Leadville. This involved crossing the Royal Gorge of Arkansas River, which was fifty miles west of Pueblo. A narrow passage would allow to build only one railway line. That was the crux of the conflict; D&RG wanted the same.
Until 1878, both railway companies spent people and equipment in the area hoping to cross the gorge, while company lawyers fought for court rulings in their favor. In April this year, AT&SF was stationed in a canyon of over 300 people to secure their construction sites. D&RG matched this figure, but had trouble keeping men employed because their rival was paying higher wages.
AT&SF lawyers asked a local court to issue a provisional order against D&RG, stopping further work in the canyon. But before AT&SF could take advantage of this opportunity, D&RG received a court order blocking Kansas from continuing its work. When both companies were at a standstill, men were placed in critical points of the canyon to have control over the line and equipment.
D&RG built several stone forts under the direction of its Chief Engineer, a man named James R. DeRemer, who served in the Civil War and knew how to build a stone bridge needed to fight a battle. These dry-walled "DeRemera Forts" built in Texas Creek and Spikebuck had weapon ports and an impressive track view below.
Fortunately, both sides of the rock forts were never used for ambush. By November 1878, D&RG ran out of money and was forced to enter into a pact with its arch rival. On December 1 this year, they spent a 30-year lease on AT&SF, which allowed them to use all railway lines and all equipment – including rolling stock.
When AT&SF took control of all tracks and trains, they quickly became involved in more affairs for Kansas City and less for Denver. Being aware of the error, D&RG took legal steps to terminate the lease. Finally, in early 1879, the case was brought before the Supreme Court in Washington. Regardless of the court ruling, each company sent armed men to defend their rights and property. AT&SF recruited Bat Masterson and a group of 33 men whom he recruited in Dodge City to set up camp in a canyon to defend the builders and company assets. They arrived on a special train and after setting up the camp, called "Dodge City", Bat returned to Kansas.
On April 21, the Supreme Court ruled that D&RG had prior rights to the Canyon, but had no exclusive rights. The diluted decision did not satisfy either party. In the second half of May, the Colorado Attorney General filed a lawsuit with the state court to stop AT&SF from operating a state railway. Then, on June 10, State Judge Thomas M. Bowen issued an order preventing AT&SF from using or operating D&RG buildings, equipment, or rolling stock – essentially annulling their lease. With Judge Bowen's letter, D&RG officers went to the sheriffs of each county traversed across the railways to take over all their property.
Before the letters could be delivered to the county sheriffs, AT&SF instructed Bat Masterson to return to Colorado and concentrate his forces in Pueblo. He quickly recruited 50 armed men and took them by special train. Ben Thompson and a dozen Texan colleagues belonged to this group.
Initially, when he came up to the offer, Ben refused to join in, fearing that if violence broke out he would be charged with murder. He finally agreed to keep the stone round house in Pueblo until law officials presented him with legal documents to take over. According to Walton's book (The life and adventures of Ben Thompson) Thompson agreed to do the work for 5,000 USD and D&RG asked him to hand over the house for 25,000 USD. Ben rejected the offer saying, "I will die here unless the law relieves me."
On June 11, Sheriff Denver and his group of D&RG people seized the AT&SF office and round house in Denver. Then a group of D&RG agents headed south to take over the property along the way. At the same time, former Colorado governor, A.C. Hunt raised a group of 200 men, caught the train and headed north, grabbing all the small stations and taking agents as prisoners. In Cucharas, Hunt's forces fired him with twelve AT&SF soldiers – killing a Mexican and wounding an Irishman named Dan Sullivan.
At Pueblo, Sheriff Henley R. Price supported two D&RG officials, J.A. McMurtie and R.F. Weitbrec was delivered copies of Judge Bowen's letter to all AT&SF staff at dawn. After delivery of the letters, Sheriff Price and his group went to the train dispatcher's office at 8:30. The dispatcher didn't let him take over the building, and the sheriff told him that he had thirty minutes to think about it.
At 9:00 Price came back and found that there were several dozen armed AT&SF men in the office who refused to move. The reflected sheriff returned to the Grand Central Hotel and recruited an additional 100 MPs – all heavily armed and primed with free alcohol.
Upon returning to the depot at noon, Sheriff Price and his army of MPs demanded from his subjects. They refused and the group moved to the round house, where Ben Thompson and Texans waited. In confrontation with the sheriff, Ben said he was entrusted with responsibility for company ownership and could not give up without authorization. The sheriff then stated that he had come to disperse the armed crowd.
Ben replied that there is no armed crowd in the round house, only people from the construction team who were sent to protect the company's property. Saying that some of the men had a gun, Ben invited the sheriff to enter the round house and look around at the men to see if any of them was guilty of breaking the law. The price could enter the house alone and after a short search she left without any arrests.
Faced with a powdered barrel, Sheriff Price withdrew his men and sought the advice of local lawyers. After reviewing the judge's letter, he was informed that he was not authorized to use force to seize AT&SF's property. He chewed it until about 3:00, and then decided that it was time to take action regardless of the legality of the magazine. He and his fifty alcohol-deputies met in front of the Victoria Hotel, where they were supplied with rifles equipped with bayonets and a heavy portion of ammunition, courtesy of D&RG. Marching to the warehouse, they formed a skirmish line in front of the building.
Around this time, a battleship named W.F. Chumside came out of the cash register. He was said to be "a little bit intoxicated" and wanted to argue for people in the magazine. He was quickly knocked down by one of his deputies and kicked in the head.
Then the group went to the telegraph office and started shooting as they banged on the door. Most of the men in the office quickly escaped through the back door and arrived safely. Unfortunately, Harry Jenkings fell when he ran away and was shot in the chest with a bullet stuck in the spine. The donkey placed the wounded in an express car and sent him for medical help. He died shortly thereafter.
After the assault on the telegraph office, the camp ran to the round house, the last stronghold of AT&SF defenders. Thompson met them outside the house, shouting: "Come, sons of bitches; if you want a fight, you can have it. " Before he could undo the challenge, he was overwhelmed by a dozen MPs and thrown into prison. Without their leader, those inside wanted to parry. Shortly afterwards they surrendered the building without firing. Everyone was disarmed and rushed down the street to join Thompson in a crowded West Fifth Street prison.
Late in the evening, former Governor Hunt and his team arrived by train from the south, and then continued on the Arkansas River to Canon City. By midnight the whole railway was captured. One evening, Bat Masterson, Ben Thompson and others hired by AT&SF were released from prison and boarded a special train going to Dodge City. Arriving the next morning, Ben picked up the money from AT&SF and went to Texas along the Kansas City and St. Louis.
The Royal Gorge case did not end on June 11, but lasted in court for several months. Finally, "baron-robber" Jay Gould bought fifty percent of D&RG shares and settled out-of-court dispute. On March 27, 1880, both railways agreed to sign the Boston Treaty, which returned the railroad and property back to D&RG. AT&SF received $ 1.8 million for the railway line it built over the pass, and the War with the Gorge is finally over.