Cordula Carter Truby Henry Gilmore — The fascinating and tragic life of a young frontier woman

While researching for my book, Notorious San Juans, I encountered a fascinating young woman named Cordula “Dudie” Carter. She appears in the story “A Colorado Range War: The Cox-Truby Feud,” which took place in the wild region around the Colorado-New Mexico border, south of Durango.

Cordula Carter was 14 years old when she married Bill Truby on January 12, 1911. Bill was 27 years old. Only three months later, Bill Truby was shot dead by Ike Cox as a result of the feud.  Then, another month later, a young employee of Cordula’s father, Charley Carter, approached Ike Cox on the streets of Durango and put two bullets in him at close range.

The shooter, Andrew Ruple, was rumored to have certain feelings for the beautiful young Cordula. Andrew was only a teenager himself, somewhere between 15 and 17 at the time of the shooting. After he was arrested, he made a full confession, telling authorities that Cordula and the Truby family had promised all kinds of goats and horses if he would kill Cox. Some newspapers added that Andrew had hopes for something more from Cordula. However, by the time Cordula and the Trubys went on trial for conspiracy to kill Cox, Cordula had already remarried (11 months after the death of her first husband), to a man named George Henry. She testified during this trial that Ruple told her he was going to “do something” for her.

Andrew Ruple spent only 11 months in the Buena Vista reformatory for the shooting

Cordula and the Trubys were acquitted.

About a year and a half later, Cordula was once again in the news as a player in another tragic story. On Monday, December 22, 1913, Cordula was staying at the Denver Rooming House in Silverton with her 15 year old sister, Alfreda, or Frieda.  Cordula had just had an operation at the Miners Union Hospital and Frieda had come to town to help her sister. (It’s not clear where Cordula’s new husband was at this point). Some other friends joined them at the rooming house. At some point during this gathering, Cordula reprimanded her sister for “some alleged previous imprudence.” Frieda became upset and left the group, heading back to their room, telling the others that she was going to kill herself. Nobody believed her.

Unfortunately, Frieda wasn’t kidding. When she didn’t return, Cordula went to check on her. She found her sister lying unconscious on the bed. She had swallowed a vial of carbolic acid.

Carbolic acid appears frequently in the newspapers of the day as a favored method of suicide. It is what it sounds like – an acid that actually burns the mouth and throat when swallowed. Frieda had burns all over her lips, chin, and neck. Not a pleasant way to die.

Somehow, she was still alive. A Dr. Burnett came to the room and tried to save her but two hours later, she died.  Cordula, of course, was reported as being prostrate with grief.

It’s not clear what happened to Cordula’s second husband, George P. Henry. Cordula apparently moved to California at some point and married someone named Gilmore. A death record exists for Cordula C. Gilmore (nee Carter) in San Bernardino, California, February 19 1943.

See also Tidbits from Notorious San Juans.

14 thoughts on “Cordula Carter Truby Henry Gilmore — The fascinating and tragic life of a young frontier woman

  1. There is a little more (probably a lot more) to the saga of Cordula Carter. Young Cordula had other misfortunes in addition to the homicides by the Cox faction of her husband William Truby and brother-in-law Sam Truby, the conviction of her Father’s hired lad for wounding Ike Cox and suspicion of her involvement, and the apparent suicide of her sister.

    Cordula and William Truby had a son, William C. Truby, Jr., who died on February 8, 1912 at about age 1 year and is buried in the Truby plot at Durango’s Greenmount Cemetery. A month after her baby died she married George Henry.

    Cordula’s father Charlie, with his wooden leg, was a crowd favorite at local rodeos. Sometime before 1910 this ceased to charm Cordula’s mother, Fannie Salmon Carter, who ran off to Arizona. Cordula’s brother Paul was born in Aztec, NM on October 16, 1906; the 1910 Census found Fannie Carter and son Paul in Bouse, AZ. (Paul Carter later attained the rank of Chief Warrant Officer in the US Marine Corps, an impressive accomplishment.) At some point Fannie connected with miner George W. Owens in Arizona. Owens was fatally injured at Haviland Lake north of Durango in a freak blasting accident August 2, 1927.

    I haven’t found how Cordula’s marriage to George Henry ended, but on July 9, 1917 she married rancher Fred L. Moss in San Juan County, NM. By 1920 Truby matriarch Elizabeth (gripping photo of her on Ancestry.com) and her remaining sons Henry, John and Dave had moved to Largo Canyon, southeast of Blanco, NM. Fred and Cordula Moss were neighbors of the Trubys in 1920, being enumerated immediately after them in the 1920 Census. In 1930 Cordula ran a rooming house on South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles. Husband Harold F. Gilmore was a collector for a trust company.

    A digression, but a third Truby brother, Dave, also met a violent fate under unusual circumstances. On February 20, 1932 he was, supposedly, struck and killed instantly while changing a tire near Los Chavez (Valencia Co.), NM. Truby was said to be returning from Mexico after searching for fellow rancher Henry Taylor who had disappeared near Casas Grandes. The driver of the car that hit Truby was sheep rancher A. B. McDonald of Albuquerque.

    Cordula Carter Truby Henry – Moss – Gilmore first caught my attention in novelist Philip Craig’s booklet “The Cox-Truby Feud.” His portrayal of her seemed a bit unsympathetic, given her age. Digging deeper it seems she had, truly, a fascinating and tragic life.

  2. Interesting stuff, Pilt. I’d love to find out what happened to Husbands #2 and #3. I’ve seen that stunning photo of Elizabeth on ancestry as well. Are you related to the family or just got drawn into the story of these folks?

  3. I am married to a Truby and own documents from the courts related to the shootings as well as newspaper articles. I am doing more research to see what other facts remain out there. It’s an almost made for TV history! And one I hear about often.

  4. I have a whole bunch of historical newspaper articles on the Cox Truby range war. Sam Truby was later shot and killed. My step uncle was one of the shooters, along with Ike Cox. They were tried and acquitted. It is quite a story and would make a great movie or novel. Cordula is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angles.

  5. My uncle’s name was Jess Carmon. Ike Cox, John Graves and Jess Carmon were all involved in the shooting of Samuel Truby. I was born in Cedar Hill. We moved to CA when I was 11. My parents moved back 20 years later. My mother did a lot of research on Cedar Hill and I have it all now. She died in 2008. My family were early settlers in Cedar Hill. My grandmother moved there when she was a baby, around 1884. I can remember grandma talking about all of these people. I will google your book.

    • Hi Janelle,
      I have your uncle in my book, only the name is spelled wrong — I have “Jesse Carmen (or Harmon)” as per the newspapers of the day. Drat! How cool that you are a descendant though. It’s really quite a story.

  6. Yes it is quite a story. It sure made news in a lot of places, inclluding other states. I did a lot of research on it and the Truby’s were living close to Charlie Carter. The Truby boys didn’t get into any kind of trouble until after their father died…..as near as I can tell. I wonder if Carter influenced them in some way. My grandma was friends with the Cox family and dear friends with the John Graves family. My mother was a very good friend of a woman who was a Truby but we knew her by her married name. Cedar Hill was quite the place back then. I knew so many of the people buried in the Cedar Hill Cemetery and so many of them are related to me or connected through a marriage to someone related to me. I love that little cemetery. Carmon was spelled more than one way. But Jesse spelled his name Carmon. He was an excellent marksman and the old timers in that area said Jesse was the only one who could shoot well enough to kill Samuel Truby. Ike Cox was the main defendant in the case though. But it could have been Jesse who actually fired the fatal shot. Cordula Carter’s mother was a Salmon and she was related to the Salmons that the Salmon Ruins in Bloomfield, NM is named after. I wonder why she left her family?

    • Janelle,
      I’m guessing you mean the Cedar Hill cemetery in New Mexico (near Aztec), and not the one near Ouray? I have an ancestor buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery near Ouray — Robert Brown, who died in Mercy Hospital Durango 1899.

      I ran into John Graves both in the Cox-Truby feud story as well as in the story of the Stockton gang (also in my book). Some accounts say he was the guy who shot Porter Stockton. Graves was quite prominent.

  7. You guessed right. I am talking about the Cedar Hill cemetery near Aztec. Graves were early settlers in San Juan County. They settled in Cedar Hill. They were well known. The Cox family was quite well off. I don’t know if John Graves was that good of a shooter. My dad knew quite a bit about the Cox/Truby fued and also the Stockton gang. He was a boy when all of this was going on. But his mother and father knew a lot about it so he heard plenty from them. I wish I had have been interested in this when my dad was alive. He could have told me so many things that I want to know now. He was born in 1906. My grandmother, who was a Tinker, married into the McEwen family. My great grandfather was a physician in Durango, mayor of Durango, and a Colorado State Representative around 1903. one of his sons settled in Farmington around 1899 and was a physician there. My grandmother married one of the other sons. She and my grandfather had the general store in Cedar Hill in the 1920s. I went to school in the little one room Cedar Hill School House in the 1st grade. The school house is still used for community functions. My great grandfather Tinker donated the land to build the school and it was his wife, my great grandmother, who named Cedar Hill. So I have roots to San Juan County, NM. My grandmother was born in Silverton, in San Juan County, CO. I have been to Ouray many times. I love it there.

    • I also regret not grilling my dad for information before he died — but, like you, I wasn’t interested in history then. You really are a fountain of information about that area. I hope you do something with it or at least make sure it doesn’t get lost! Not much has been written about these events — just that Philip Craig book about the Cox-Truby feud. For some unknown reason, these stories have been neglected by historians in the past. I’m curious to know the name of your physician great grandfather from Durango — maybe I’ve run across his name as well!

  8. I guess I didn’t reply to your message to me in Nov, 2011 about my great grandfather from Durango. His name was Dr. William W. McEwen. He was not born there. He moved there from Kansas and that is how my McEwen family ended up in NM and CO. Grandpa had a medical practice in Durango. He was mayor around 1903 and a CO State Representative shortly after. I have many old historical newspaper articles on him and would have to dig the dates out of my files. I think the historial society has something on him, as well as the Animas Museum in Durango. His house still stands in Durango. His son, Ora McEwen was also a physician in Farmington, NM. I know Grandpa bought our land in Cedar Hill in 1901. We still own 17 acres of it. Actually my kids own it now. We aren’t going to sell it so we passed it down to them so they can take care of it. None of us live out there but I sure have a lot of history of that area. My mother left boxes of it when she died. I’m trying to get it all in books but it is a slow process.

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