On Saturday night, August 6, 1900, a Union Pacific train left Denver, headed east toward Kansas. A little after midnight, at a spot known as Lake, 15 mile east of Limon, described as “only a coal chute and a water tank” the train stopped to get water. There, two men reportedly boarded the train.
Very quickly, the men covered their faces with masks and pulled guns on the conductor and porter. From there, they made their way through a sleeper car, rousing the dozing passengers and relieving them of whatever possessions they had.
When they moved on to the second sleeper car, they repeated their demands, barking at the sleepy passengers to hurry. As they reached a berth occupied by a woman named Mrs. W. D. Harger of 1347 South Tremont Street in Denver, a man named William S. Fay stuck his head out from a neighboring berth. It wasn’t clear exactly what Fay did – he was armed and may have brandished his gun to prevent the men from robbing Mrs. Harger. One of the robbers shot him in the mouth and he fell back, dead. The shooter fired four more shots into Fay’s berth before jumping off the train just as it pulled into Hugo. From there, they disappeared into the nighttime prairie. For their night’s “work,” they had managed to get only $25 in cash.
Within an hour, Sheriff John W. Freeman and a posse of six men headed out into the prairie on the trail of the bandits. When word reached Denver of the train robbery and murder, county detective Leonard DeLue joined a crew of a dozen Pinkerton men in the search for the killers. Messengers also went out on a mission to warn rural farmers and ranchers about the bandits. Men from the Union Pacific soon took over the search.
The murdered man, William S. Fay, was directory of a gas company for many years. He was active in the Odd Fellows and Caledonian society and had moved several years earlier from Denver to Anaheim, California.
At ten o’clock at a night several days after the Colorado robbery, two men had arrived at the home of D.E. Bartholomew near Goodland, Kansas. Bartholomew allowed the men to board there for several days, during which time they paid the ten year old Bartholomew son to run into town and fetch them a daily newspaper. Bartholomew suspected nothing but a visitor to their home, a Mrs. O.C. Dawson, became suspicious of their behavior and notified Goodland’s Sheriff Walker.
Walker formed a posse of two men – John Riggs and George Cullins — and headed out to the ranch the next morning. The posse grew as word spread throughout the area about the men at the ranch. It wasn’t clear whether they knew they were dealing with killers or if they only suspected there was something fishy about them.
As a ploy to lure the men out of the house, Walker and Cullins rode up to the ranch house dressed as cowboys, driving several horses in front of them. The Bartholomews came out but not the fugitives.
The sheriff and his two deputized men decided to enter the sod home by force. Not surprisingly, a gunbattle ensued, during which Riggs was shot twice and Cullins once. One of the bandits ran out the back of the place and he was shot dead by a local man, C. E. Biddison. The other shooter remained holed up in the house. He kept 25 men at bay for a couple of hours, at which time they decided to burn him out. Newspaper reports did not indicate whether the Bartholomews approved of this plan.
The posse lighted a railroad fuse and threw it on the roof of the home, which then burned to the ground with the man still inside.
The killers had identified themselves to Bartholomew as Howard and Gould but those present described them as Italians. On the body of the shot man, the posse found many items that had been taken from the train passengers.
It’s unknown whether Mr. Riggs survived his wounds. At the time of the gunbattle, he was described as “slowly dying.”