The Mystery of the Silver Plume Shooter

On June 12, 1873, two prisoners escaped from the tiny jail in Georgetown, Colorado. Sometimes referred to as a “calaboose,” the jail was a small log building with a ceiling four-inches thick, “studded with heavy spikes, about three inches apart.” Using an augur and a saw, the two men cut a hole in the ceiling and climbed out into the moonlight.

 One of the men was a Jerry O’Brien, in jail for ore-salting, a con game where the artist mixes bits of gold and silver in with some other useless ore and convinces his mark that he’s hit a big strike.

 The second man had been imprisoned since January of that year – Thomas Henry Tregoning, a Cornish miner from Silver Plume, had murdered his wife.

 Back in those days, the town of Silver Plume in Clear Creek County was a mining camp of three to four years old. Several mines in the area were the Dive, the Emerald, Waldorf, and the Pelican. Henry Tregoning lived there with his wife and worked at one of the mines. He had a brother, Joseph, living in the area with his wife and four children.

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Trouble began brewing in the Tregoning famiy in the summer of 1872, when Henry was arrested for “ill treatment” of his wife, Emily (née Harris). He apparently escaped, but then returned to the area a short time later. His wife took him back.

 In January 1873, another fight erupted between the couple. This time, Henry brought his gun into the fray and shot his wife twice. He then fired a third shot into his own body, but only wounded himself in the arm. He ran to the home of his neighbor, Mr. Taylor, and confessed he had shot his wife. Taylor went back to Tregoning’s house and found Mrs. Tregoning on the floor, alive but in bad shape. He lifted her and put her on the bed. He later testified that Tregoning then went to his wife and kissed her, saying “My dear Emily, this is the last time I will ever kiss you.” The shooter then told Taylor, “I will go up the road and send a man to help you. Someone will find me dead.”

 While Taylor stayed with the languishing woman, Tregoning then vanished into the mountains. Emily Tregoning lived for a few days, then died of her injuries. Meanwhile, her killer became the target of a posse. After five days of hiding out in the winter wilderness of the Rockies, he staggered into a homesteader’s cabin in Empire and asked for help. He had apparently chickened out on his threat to do himself in.

He was then delivered half-dead to Sheriff P.S. Baily in Georgetown.  

 A reporter visited him in his “calaboose,” and concluded that he was “a man of more than ordinary intelligence.” He described the shooter as a man who “shed tears and was deeply affected.”

 Justice was swifter in those days, and, before the month was out, he had his preliminary examination

 …before Probate Judge John A. Coulter, in Good Templar’s Hall, over the store of Spruance & Love. The crowd became so large that it was deemed prudent to adjourn the sitting of the court to McClellan Hall. The large building was densely packed with human beings, influenced no doubt by various motives… (Daily Miner, January 28, 1873).

 In April, Tregoning was indicted by a grand jury on the charges of murder. By then, the man was reportedly “in a very unhappy condition, being restless, feverish… His broken arm, which has never been set we believe is quite comfortable, though not of much use. He cannot raise his hand to his head.” Once again, the reporter sympathized with the shooter:

 We feel a profound sympathy for him and hope it may be possible to honor the law and yet spare his life. He is at present one of the most unhappy mortals on earth. He makes no excuse, acknowledges all he did, and simply says if we had been in his place, perhaps we might have done as wicked and cruel a deed as he did. (Daily Colorado Miner, April 9, 1873).

 A few weeks later, Tregoning made “an ineffectual attempt to escape from the Georgetown jail.” The next attempt he made, that June, was successful.

 Family records indicate that Tregoning’s brother, Joseph, apparently helped him escape and the two headed off to Canada  — Joseph abandoning his wife and four children in the process. (One of those children, Joseph, died in 1950 and is buried in the Silver Plume Cemetery. Born in 1866, he would have been about 7 years old when his father took off). Records show that Joseph started a new life in Canada, with a new wife and family.

 Thomas Henry does not show up in Canadian records.  However, other ancestry records show a Thomas Henry Tregoning, with a wife Emily Harris who died in Silver Plume January 22, 1873, dying in Grand Junction Colorado in October of 1924. These records indicate that Thomas Henry and Emily had a child – Emily. It’s unknown whether this is actually the same man or not.  (I have contacted the descendants and hope to hear soon where this information came from).

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