Friday, May 14, 2010

James Roberts, Gold Miner

In the late 1800's gold was found in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Many found their fortunes and many did not. Those that did built homes and lived in Colorado Springs (and just as a side note: Spencer Penrose did not strike it rich in Cripple Creek, he had a mine in Arizona that was his first million then he came to Colorado) but on to my story.

Not much is known about James Roberts but he has a place in our history because of his head. His skull now rests in the Cripple Creek Museum.

In 1901, Christmas night, he and his friends stopped by the Dawson Club on Myers Ave. After his friends left, Roberts got into an argument with the bar owner, William Brooks. As Roberts turned away, Brooks came up behind him and whacked the side of his head with a Colt 45 . Roberts fell hitting his head on the stove and again hitting his head on the floor.

He laid there, blood oozing from his head for an hour, all the while patrons kept up with their party. The patrons even teased him and told him to get up and have a drink (does the word stupidity come to mind when you read this? It does to mine) Finally someone thinks to call in the doctor but it was to late, Roberts was dead.

Bar owner Brooks and several witnesses were arrested. The lawyer who defends them is called the "Oratorical Whirlwind of the West". He has defended notable outlaws and Colorado millionaires. His name J. Maurice Finn.

Finn's defense is that Roberts had an abnormally thin skull, his client had not meant to kill him with the gun butt. Finn also convinced the coroner to saw off the top of Roberts skull for his defense. James Roberts was buried, in an un marked grave minus his head. Finn won his case, Brooks was acquitted.

Brooks got out of town on the next train after a mob of Roberts friends went after him. But, no one cared about James Roberts skull, it stayed at Teller County Courthouse for decades till a lawyer by the name of P.J. Anderson found it next to a bag of gold in 1974.

Everyone at the Courthouse was excited about the gold except P.J., he wanted to know about the skull and set about to find out about it. Its because of him that we know what happened to James Roberts in 1901. P.J. still practices law in Cascade, Colorado.

The skull had many people coming forward laying claim to it till they found out the gold was only worth $18. A bar in Colorado Springs called "Finn's", named after the famous lawyer wanted it so patrons could drink to Roberts memory. The court wouldn't release it because a judge wanted to use it as an ashtray. That didn't happen either, it went back to the evidence room in the courthouse, pushed in a corner on the floor.

In 2009, P.J. who had been telling the story of Roberts for 35 years came in contact with a woman who worked at the courthouse and related the story to her. She went looking for the skull and found that it had been taken home by another courthouse employee, who willingly returned it. The skull was put under lock and key till its history was confirmed, then it was recognized as a historic artifact.

The Cripple Creek District Museum gave the skull a home and treats it with respect. Every morning the employees say, "Good morning, Mr. Roberts" when they come in and "Good night, Mr. Roberts" when they leave.

Thanks to P.J., Mr. Roberts skull has a home. My hat goes off to a man who followed a story and gave it closure. If you are ever in Colorado, stop by Cripple Creek, its a big gambling town now with lots of casinos. But, as you walk the streets envision the millionaires and everyday people that walked those same streets in the early 1900's. Then stop by the museum and say hello to Mr. Roberts.

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