Dead Man's Canyon

High in the Sangre de Cristo Range is Colorado's Great Sand Dunes. Ancient arrowheads and bisons bones are uncovered by stiff winds that chase the heat before it.

Tragedy, mystery and legend have sprung from the sandy waves that cover 57 miles.

The Dunes at its widest and longest points is no more than 10 miles in any direction, however wagon trains and shepherds and their flocks have disappeared while crossing the expanse.

There have been reports from ranchers and U.S. monument employees among others who tell of UFOs landing and leaving the area. Many believe a horse named Snippy was struck dead by a "flying saucer" in 1968.

In 1863, the Espinosa brothers went on a bloody rampage, telling their friends and relatives the Virgin Mary had appeared to them and instructed they should "kill all gringos." The Bloody Espinosas gang was headed by Jose and Vivian Espinosa, along with their cousins. 

It all started with a mystery of dead bodies found along the well beaten but lonely paths between Colorado mining camps. That long hot summer, 25 other people were murdered. Eventually the Espinosas were identified as the perpetrators. One of the brothers was shot and killed by Joe Lamb and others from the area. The other brother Jose escaped and joined up with another family member.

Tom Tobin (1823 - 1904), acted as bounty hunter and scout for a detachment of soldiers sent from Fort Garland to find the killers. Leaving the posse behind he tracked the men down to their camp in the Dunes. He shot and beheaded them. He presented their heads in order to collect a reward, which he only received partial payment for. The gang killed 32 persons in the few months of their rampage.

One of the Espinosa brothers' victims spawned a well-known ghost story. 

His name was Henry Harkins (Hawkins) who homesteaded near Cañon City at Fountain Creek Canyon. His neighbor found him, shot and his head split open with an axe. 

For years afterwards stories were told of Harkins haunting the place he lived at with an axe still sprouting from his head. Eventually the place of his death became known as Dead Man's Canyon. Not only would he appear to unsuspecting travelers, he would chase them as well. Frightened beyond belief, riders would shoot at the specter, with no effect of course. 

​Henry's grave which sat close to the place of his murder was moved along to Hwy. 115 in 1965. Two little, unnamed girls who'd been buried close to his original resting place were moved to this new site as well.

In 1867. freighters traveling between Cañon City and Colorado City told of see the phantoms of a horse and a dog. The sightings became so frequent that as soon as a new road was completed, this route was abandoned altogether.

In the fall of that year, Captain Marshall Felch, a freighter traveling from Denver to Leadville stopped at Cañon City, where he received a letter from his wife pleading with him to return home right away. Anxious to complete the trip quickly, he left his wagon behind, and astride a horse he took the old haunted road which would shorten his trip.

The contents of Mrs. Felch's letter involved the captain's friend Oliver Kimball. Both hailed from Vermont and were compatriots in arms during the Civil War. Once they became civilians, Felch took up the life of a freighter, and Kimball acquired a partner named Dave Griffin to work a claim at California Gulch.

The trouble began when Kimball's sweetheart went to Denver to meet him, and he never showed up. She said the same dream tormented her sleep three times, where she saw her fiancee dead with a knife in his back. The setting of the nightmare was a deep, red canyon, with cedar trees and rabbit brush dotting the terrain.

Twilight fell as Capt. Felch came to the red canyon. His horse became skittish and then he saw the phantom horse and dog heading towards Cañon City. The ghostly animals disappeared, and as the man continued on his he saw them once more by brush in the road. Felch's horse bolted and ran away with him out of the canyon.

Felch returned to the place where the ghostly animals were digging, but this time the sheriff accompanied him. Under the brush they found Kimball's body with a knife in his back. The knife handle was carved with the initials D. G.

Felch with the law in tow, headed to Leadville where David Griffin lived. They asked if he knew where Oliver Kimball was. Griffin said that after making five thousand dollars, his partner took his horse and dog, and headed out to Vermont to tie the knot with his sweetheart. He tried to talk Kimball out of getting married, and accompanied him all the way to Cañon City. The conversation ended when Felch produced the knife. David Griffin stepped into the next room and shot himself. After this the sighting of the horse and dog stopped.

Another strange disappearance took place in the area of Ute Pass in 1873, when a Concord carriage loaded with passengers and $40,000 in gold disappeared. None of the search parties sent out for them ever found proof of what happened to them. 

In 1877, J. T. Schlessinger, secretary to General William Palmer arrived in Colorado Springs. He went for a ride as was his customer and disappeared. Several days later he was found dead in Ute Pass on the Lawson Ranch with a bullet hole over his heart, and a heavily-perfumed, lady's handkerchief over the wound. A woman's glove lay next to his body. Carriage wheel tracks marked the area, and also indication a duel might have taken place. His body was shipped East to his family. The name of his opponent or the mysterious lady never came to light.

Another mysterious death occurred ​in 1886. At the base of Ute Pass, Mrs. Kearney lived on a small ranch. A neighbor visited her cabin and found the table set for three. The place was eerily quiet, and the food was cold and untouched.

Out in the barn, they found Mrs. Kearney stuffed in a barrel. Her head bashed in and nearly decapitated by an axe. Her six-year-old grandson, mutilated as well, had been hidden inside a sack in the grain bin. A reward was posted for information. None took up the offer and the murder remained unsolved. The two victims were buried in a pauper's grave.

Another haunted story involves a man named Michael Ryan, one-time railroad worker turned recluse who lived in a cabin near Midland Railroad trestle. He was known to be violent if approached, however he was the area's favorite hermit whose behavior was overlooked until 1905, when a complaint was made to the local authority.

​It started when a college professor and another official from the local government were driven away after the old man threw water on them. He then hit  one of the men in the wrist with the pan. He started pelting rocks down on the observers.

The sheriff was summoned and Michael was taken into custody. He was examined by alienist who found that indeed the man was insane.

He was committed to the Woodcraft Work Asylum in Pueblo, Colorado. It took him only six months to figure out how to escape. Of course he returned to his home. In 1923, human bones were found inside Widow Maker tunnel. Next to the remains was a shattered lantern, and by the condition of the remains it was determined the man died only a few months before. Whether it was because Michael Ryan had disappeared, or some other proof was present, it was determined the skeleton belonged to him, and he was buried where the skeleton was found.

Green orbs are seen in the tunnel, for not only was it Michael Ryan's final resting place, but many railroad workers were killed during the construction of Widow Maker's Tunnel, named thus for good reason.


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