This article is an excerpt from “Notorious Jefferson County” by Carol Turner. It first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.
In 1859, two ambitious Irishmen named Michael and Martin Lyden bought property and began raising stock in the northern end of Jefferson County. They enjoyed great success and were soon reported to be quite wealthy. One of the brothers, 40-year-old Michael Lyden, built a home in the foothills where Ralston Creek emerges from the mountains.
Around mid-June of 1866, Michael Lyden was reportedly followed home to his ranch from Denver by four unidentified men. These men hid themselves in the bluffs overlooking his ranch. When the opportunity came, four shots rang out and Michael Lyden fell with two bullet holes in his head and two more in his torso. Other parties nearby heard the shots and were at his side within a few minutes but he was already dead. At least one of the witnesses had seen the men in the bluffs signaling to each other. Unfortunately, the shooters escaped before the sheriff arrived.
By February of 1867, Michael’s killers had still not been caught. Martin Lyden offered a thousand dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of those who murdered his brother. A couple weeks later, three prominent Denver men were arrested for his killing but were soon released on bail and none were ever convicted of the crime. Unsubstantiated rumors circulated that the men had been acting as vigilantes who assassinated Lyden for stealing stock.
In 1869 Martin Lyden discovered several rich coal seams on his property. In August of that year, he announced that he would be producing coal for the fall and winter.
In September of 1870, only a year after Martin Lyden began operations, a second tragedy struck. On a quiet Monday morning, a man from a neighboring mine was puzzled that there seemed to be no one about at the Lyden mine. Lyden’s dog had been seen on the property on Sunday but Martin Lyden and two men who worked for him had not been seen since Saturday. The neighbor lit a candle and entered the mine tunnel. About sixty or seventy feet in, he stumbled into a prone body lying face down. Nearby lay the body of the dog. Realizing he was probably in danger, the man hurried out of the tunnel.
Rescuers rushed to the mine and removed the man, whose name was Patrick Stanton, along with the dog. They were unable to venture further into the tunnel without first taking action to dissipate what is known as a fire damp — a deadly and flammable gas that develops inside coal mines. Finally, they found two more bodies further inside — that of Patrick Kelly, a miner, and Martin Lyden. The coroner determined that the men had probably died the previous Saturday.
The mine eventually came under new ownership and remained in operation until 1951. Somewhere along the line, the name morphed from “Lyden” into “Leyden.”
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Her first week on the job, and Marshal Beth Mayo is hit with a sex assault case. It’s a nasty shock for the bucolic mountain town of Sugarloaf and for Mayo, who is still recovering from her husband’s death. Her initial skepticism grows into disbelief over the victim’s zany story, and she dismisses the case as a false report. Unfortunately, the same woman is soon discovered in the ruins of a ghost town, most definitely murdered.
Mayo unravels the complex case through a parade of colorful suspects and misfit family members, all the while following a common thread from 150 years earlier — Colorado history’s most notorious event, the Sand Creek Massacre.