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.
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.