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Thank you all for ten wonderful years!

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Thank you all for ten wonderful years!

Commissioner Dave

Willie Kennard

Very little is known about the 42-year-old Willie Kennard, who showed up answering an advertisement in the Rocky Mountain News for new town Marshall in the mining town of Yankee Hill, a mining town outside of Leadville, Colorado, in 1874. A William Henry Kennard was born 30 July 1832 in Fredrick, Maryland to John and Susan Kennard.

Mayor Matt Borden, owner of the Square Deal General Store and the four councilmen were discussing town business over morning cups of coffee at Sarah Palmer’s Café when the tall black man walked in asking for the job. The town had three previous Marshalls murdered within the last three months by local outlaw, Barney Casewit. One of the councilmen was surprised that the tall black man could read. The Mayor decided to put Willie to the test, or sentence him to sure death, when he told him, that if he wanted the job, he would have to cross the street to the Gaylor’s Saloon and arrest Barney Casewit. Kennard agreed, and pinned on the Star and headed across the street to make the requested arrest.

One of the councilmen, lawyer Bert Corgan wrote that he was perplexed by this man, “He was either, I calculated, an impetuous bung-head or as cold-blooded a gunslinger as ever I saw.” He along with the others followed Kennard across the street.

Kennard walked into the saloon and sized up the situation and moved toward Casewit’s table. Casewit and his gang were amused when Kennard told Casewit that he was under arrest.

“I’m just supposed to come with you?” questioned Casewit. “Where are we supposed to go?”

Kennard gave him a choice, “It is your choice, your can either go to jail or Hell.”

It was clear the tall black man was not bluffing and knew how to use the irons on his hips. He wore his two revolvers, low and tied down to his legs. Casewit was not about to let himself be arrested, he knew the fate of a murderer in this remote mining town. Swift justice awaited him at the end of a rope.

Casewit stood up to face the Marshall. He had barely gotten his hands on the butts of his guns, when according to Corgan, Kennard did something only talked about in legend but never actually seen by anyone in Gaylor’s Saloon. Kennard drew his revolver and fired into Casewit’s still holstered Colts. The impact of the bullets knocked the butts out of Casewit’s hands. The shots almost ripped the holsters from his gun belt and rendered his guns totally useless. Two of Casewit’s companions, Ira Goodrich and Sam Betts, decided to try the lawman on behalf of their now unarmed friend and paid with their lives. Kennard dropped them with two clean shots right between the eyes.

Casewit after this display throw his hands in the air and surrendered, and Yankee Hill had a new Marshall, possible the first black law man in Colorado.

The Mayor and Council were happy to honor their agreement, but wanted more information on the background of this amazing man. He related to them that he had been a Corporal in the 7th Illinois Rifles, a company made up entirely of black volunteers. With great skill in pistols, he was made an instructior at the Montrose Training Camp.

After the war, it was difficult for Kennard to find employment and he enlisted in the all black 9th Cavalry. He served five years at Fort Bliss Texas, near El Paso, helping to maintain law and order between the Rio Grande and Concho Rivers from Fort Clark to Fort Bliss at El Paso. The unit was relocated to Fort Davis in the Arizona Territory. He saw action at Warm Springs Apache and Mescalero Apache lands in an effort to force these native nations onto Reservations. When his enlistment ended, possible not wanting to force native peoples off their land and onto reservations, he drifted north for a few month, before finding himself in Yankee Hill.

Racial hatred was still a problem and Reese Durham, the local manager of the Butterfield Stage Station decided to try his hand at running the new Marshall out of town. On that afternoon of 2 September 1874, embolden by more than enough whiskey, Durham challenged Kennard to a gunfight and went the way of others that had challenged him and earn a hole six feet deep.

In the spring of 1875, the town was being harassed by a group of bandits robbing freight wagons with outbound gold, as well as passenger stages that traveled the Gold Trail. The gang was eight bandits lead by Billy McGeorge, a 40-year-old escapee from the Colorado Territorial Prison at Canon City. Not wanting to chase McGeorge all over the territory, Kennard, set a trap, he knew McGeorge could not resist. The Marshall nailed wanted posters offering $50 reward everywhere he could. The low reward, tweaked McGeorge’s pride, as no other Marshall in the territory had offered no less than $300. On Monday, June 28, 1875, McGeorge led his gang into Yankee Hill to avenge his insult.

Alerted to their arrival, Kennard met the gang at the end of Front Street with a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot. He ordered McGeroge and his gang to toss their rifles to the ground. One of the group, Cash Downing, tested his luck with the Marshall, and paid with his life. The shot also killed the outlaw directly behind Downing and shattered the glass of the Evans Hardware Store. McGeorge ordered his men to drop their guns but vowed to avenge the insult against him. But with Lawyer Bert Corgan acting as judge, McGeorge was tried, convicted and executed for the murder of a the Stalcup family of immigrants from Ohio.

By 1877, the gold strike had played out and the now tamed town population was declining, Willie Kennard, handed in his badge and said he was headed east to find a wife. Later it was reported that he was in Denver in 1884 working as a body guard for Barney Ford, as wealthy business man and former escaped slave who was known as the Black Baron of Colorado.

Lost in history is both the town of Yankee Hill and Willie Kennard the first black lawman in Colorado.

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