All the information at the beginning of this post is available to provide some context.
This ghost story that was conveyed by Marshall P. Felch to Fitz-Mac in 1884 will be told in its entirety further into the post.
This story was located in the Western Archives of the Denver Public library on October 1, 2014 while researching the Marshall and Amanda Felch Story. It turns out that a ghost story was published in numerous newspapers in the late 1800’s. The version we found appears to be the original source information. Some other information on this story is posted on a website pertaining to Marshall P. Felch and ghost stories by Jimmy Zimmerman.
The referenced material was photocopied at the Denver Public Library (Western Archives) and then retyped by myself in October of 2014. At the beginning of the story it had these references.
Copied in Dawson Scrapbooks: Vol. 54
Vol. 1 Literature (Colorado) page 257
A long account of this was written in George’s Weekly Dec. 31, 1904
Reprinted from the Old Denver Tribune.
Correspondence is also shown in the reprinted article dated Denver March 6, 1883 between Fitz-Mac who wrote up the article and Captain Marshall P. Felch who saw the apparitions.
The original author is by a man named Fitz-Mac, a pen name for James Phillip MacCarthy a well known writer from the area. Three books by Fitz-Mac include “The Newspaper Worker”, a book called “The rise of Dennis Hathnaught”, and a book called “Political Portraits”. He is someone that the Felch’s knew about the time of this story and was present when Amanda passed away in late 1903. There is a wonderful description of him in a book called “Out West”.
Framework of the Ghost Story – Dead Man’s Cañon
From James Phillip MacCarthy
A note at the top of the article:
“This remarkable story of the pioneer days of Colorado was regarded by so competent a judge as the late Benjamin W. Steele, the scholarly founder and editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, as one of the best ghost stories ever written. It is a striking example of psychological analysis and has been the subject of correspondence between the writer and the Society of Psychological Research. It is hardly necessary to inform most of our readers that Dead Man’s Canon lies just to the south of Cheyenne Mountain, near Colorado Springs. The ruins of the old cabin mentioned in the story are still to be seen in the canon.
The story was turned in as “copy” when Fitz Mac was associated with the gifted Eugene Field and Mr. Rothacker in the editorship of the once famous and powerful Denver Tribune, afterwards consolidated with the Republican.”
An interesting PS to the letters is quoted below:
“ To this letter the following reply was received — but it will assist the understanding of the reader if I explain that Captain Felch, a shrewd New Englander, has been for several years engaged by the United states Government in excavating fossilized saurian remains from the upper Jurassic formation in the Canon of Oil Creek about eight miles from Canon City. The point is one of great scientific interest, and is frequently visited by distinguished scholars from all parts of this country and Europe. The work is conducted under the direction of Professor O.C. Marsh of Yale College, in the interest of the United States Geological Survey and the Smithsonian Institute.”
Part of a letter to Captain Marshall P. Felch, asking him to write out the particulars of the story he told to the writer, Fitz Mac follows:
“…I regard the singular story you related to me as one of unusual scientific interest. There is a growing belief among the best informed minds that the day is not far distant when the laws governing this whole field of spiritual phenomena will be completely understood, and things now regarded as supernatural because of the obscurity of the causes which produce them will be brought within the compass of rational thought.
The science of psychology, which deals with such spiritual phenomena, has lately made rapid progress, and already enables us to account for what is commonly called a ghost, without making it either a fraud, a delusion or a miracle.
In this case your own character disposes of the question of fraud without a word. Such a thing as a miracle we know never was and never can be:
The question of delusion is broader; Man cannot trust absolutely the soberest impressions of his own senses, and in fact never does trust them till they have been verified by repeater experience either in himself or others, and even then nobody but the fool trusts them absolutely. If this be true of common impressions, how very probably it is that the mind should distort and exaggerate (without any intention of fraud or deception) such phenomena as come under its view in moments of excitement.
The remarkable coolness, my dear Captain, with which you passed through that experience which would be perfectly horrifying to most people — gives great scientific value to your impressions, and I hope therefore, you will give them in their minutes details.
Here is Captain Marshall P. Felch’s account of the harrowing experiences as related by him in a letter to Mr. Fitz Mac dated March 20, 1884.
From the author:
The Dead Man’s Canyon Story is originally based on the story of the murder of Henry Hawkins (Harkins) in the spring of 1863 and later determined to have been done by the Espinoza brothers. The story Marshall Felch tells is from 1867 and involves the murder of a civil war veteran Oliver Kimball. The locations of this canyon exist today.
The story of Marshall P. Felch’s early years in Colorado are very historically interesting as Marshall became a freighter and was transporting materials and goods to Colorado’s “southern” mining districts including the Breckenridge area, California Gulch (Leadville) and Fairplay. He would have been very familiar with these rather rough and rugged areas and the early trails used to access them. This is a most remarkable time period in Colorado’s history in that silver and gold had been discovered in remote mountain areas but railroad access did not exist. Access was over rugged mountain passes barely passable by wagon. The staging locations were primarily Canon City, Georgetown, Colorado City and Denver or Golden. Apparently Amanda must have spent a considerable time in Denver in the 1866-68 time period and a time period when Denver could have been considered one of the nastier places ever in the old west.
The Civil War stories of Marshall at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and his description of his experience in the civil war (sleeping with the dead) were very much a part of his experience in the war.
On the flip side of all of this, the primary characters in this story, Oliver Kimball, Gertrude Osborn, and Dave Griffin are not found within available historic research sources such as Ancestry.com, early newspapers, etc. Likewise the murder of Oliver Kimball, death of Gertrude Osborn and suicide of Dave Griffin are not found in available records other than through this story. This story was widely told in a number of newspapers of the time and the details of the Kimball murder, Osborn death, and Griffin suicide seem to vary a lot. It is also important to note that Marshall P. Felch was a corporal during most of the Civil War and not an officer.
The story happened in 1867 but was not written down until 1884, a time period when Marshall was very busy excavating dinosaurs in Garden Park.
And now for the story!
Dead Man’s Canon [Canyon]
“I enlisted in the Fourth Regiment of Vermont Volunteers in July, 1861, for three years. A young man named Oliver Kimball enlisted in the same company with me. We never became what you could call friends, yet I knew him and liked him. His disposition was marked by great kindness and gentleness, but he was gloomy and cared little for he harum scarum society of camp life.
I knew in an indefinite sort of way that he was in love with a young lady at home, beautiful and good, but much above him in social position. He was a poor young man and her father was rich. We among the boys who knew him in camp, attributed his gloom to unrequited affections. I shared this opinion with the rest until the battle of Antietam, where Kimball was wounded in the shoulder. I was detailed to carry him to the rear, and finding he had fainted when I laid him down behind a barn, out of range of the bullets, I hastily tore open his shirt, and ripped off his sleeves with my knife, to see if his hurt was fatal. Imagine my surprise to find on his arm, above the elbow, one of those think broad bands of gold formerly fashionable as bracelets, on which were graven the words,
“in life and death – yours – Gertrude.”
The wound proved not to be serious and he soon revived. When most of us took advantages of the high bounty and the commutation of time to re-enlist in January 1864, he declined to join, served his time out, went home in July to marry his faithful Gertrude, as all supposed, though he took none of us into his confidence on that point. We heard a little later that he had not married his sweetheart, but had gone away to Colorado to go into the mines after remaining at home a few days.
In 1866 I came to Colorado after the close of the war myself, and leaving my family in Denver embarked in the business of freighting. This took me all over the territory and especially over all the routes leading from Denver, Colorado City, and Canon City in what was known as the Southern Mines, which meant the districts about Leadville, (then California Gulch) and Fairplay.
I think it was the following spring, in June perhaps, that my wife in Denver received a letter from Miss Gertrude Osborn, in Vermont, whom we had known distantly, making inquiries after Kimball. My wife forwarded the letter to me at Georgetown, where I was then starting with a pack train over the range for the Blue River placer camps.
Miss Osborn stated that she had last heard from Kimball some eight or nine months before at California Gulch, that she had waited long, and having exhausted every other means to hear from him, begged me to undertake at her expense, any measures that might be necessary to discover his whereabouts or his fate. Her father, she said, had recently died and she had now free control of ample means, and would I please communicate this fact to Mr. Kimball- the fact of her father’s death.
How swiftly that delicate hint revealed to me the suppressed tragedy of these two fond hearts. The rich and proud old man had stood between the faithful girl and her lover!
Yes I would inquire after Kimball with all my heart, and communicate the joyful tidings that nothing stood between him and his heart’s desire.
When I reach California Gulch with my pack train I made diligent search after the lost lover, but in vain. I went around from sluice to sluice among the washers, but nobody knew him. It was indeed like searching for a needle in a hay mow to look for a stranger in a placer camp, unless you happened to know more than his name.
“Say boys,” remarked one of the washers, “I wonder if ‘taint Dave Griffin’s pardner, up at the hydraulic, that this feller’s lookin’ for. I’ll bet a dollar ‘tis. Lemme see, what the blazes was it they called him — all the boys has got a nickname here, mister, and if you jest knowed your chap’s nick name, you could find him in a inue, but I’ll bet its the feller they calle Yankee Maje up at the hydraulic that you’re lookin’ for – did he have a dawg? This feller had a big dawg that was always with him, a kind of a big smooth shepherd dawg. He’d been in the army and that’s why they called him Maje, though I don’t reckon he eve was a major.”
“if its him you’re after, you won’t find him, for he’s made his raise and pulled stakes long ago. Him and Dave Griffin was together, but at the big clean up last fall, he told Dave he’d made his home-stake and was going to pull for the East.
He went from there to Canon City, I know that ‘cause Griffin was awful worked up about his pardner’s goin’ home, and he bought out his claim and went down as far as Canon with him to see him off, and didn’t come back for a couple of weeks.”
Finding this to be the condition of affairs I dropped the matter, thinking that Kimball had probably got around to Vermont by that time and announced himself.
I learned that he had left Canon on horseback, followed by a dog, and it occurred to me the man might have taken a fancy for riding thus all the way back and surprising his sweetheart.
After hearing of the dog I called to mind that Kimball had a singular capacity for attaching animals to himself. The dog was a sagacious collie that he found one day at a deserted house near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and which had followed him all through the army till his time was out and then was taken home with him. It was not dogs only, but the whole brute creation, that he inspired with this affection for himself.
Griffin told me that he had gone as far as Canon City with his partner and seen him off. Kimball had luck in the mines, and carried away with him over $10,000 in gold and bank notes. He rode a fine horse that he had kept about a year, intending to go to Omaha by way of Denver and the North Platte route.
Having learned this much I communicated it to my wife, who in turn communicated it to Miss Osborn. The correspondence thus opened was kept up between them for a year, my wife sympathizing in the the young lady’s belief that her lover had been foully dealt with, while I indulged the suspicion that he had fallen in with somebody that he loved better and deserted her. But my life was very busy and in fact I paid little attention to the matter after first inquiries.
I was at Canon in 1867- sometime in September I think – with all my pack train loaded for Fairplay, when I received a letter from my wife saying that Miss Osborn was at our house in Denver, and desired to see me most urgently, and “would I come up at once, for the poor girl was heart broken.
Gracious! Just in the rush of business to take a horseback journey of 125 miles all for sentiment- for a girl foolish enough to break her heart for any lubber. Still I went. I admired her devotion while it annoyed me. To cross two thirds of a continent, a large part of the way by stage, cost something both in money and courage in those days of Indian massacres.
Perhaps Miss Osborn’s devotion called to my mind the devotion of somebody else I will not name. At any rate I went.
It was mid-morning when I left Canon. I must reach Colorado City by bed time, get up the next morning, take another horse and be in Denver that night.
My horse was fresh. I took the road down the Arkansas on the north bank. I flew past Six Mile Creek, past Eight Mile Creek, struck out from the river, hugging the foot hills, past Beaver Creek – sixteen miles made and only noon – on to the Red Canon, and away for Steele’s ranch on Turkey Creek.
Half my days journey was done!
There I fed and rested for two hours, and again sprung into my saddle at a little before five. With the cool of the day before me I could easily make the remaining twenty-four miles by nine o’clock. But hail storms frequent along the base of the mountains came down and drove me back to shelter.
I was detained more than one hour.
While waiting under the shed, something prompted me to take out my wife’s letter and read it again. I found there was a half sheet that had escaped my notice. It was not, however, important, and merely mentioned that Miss Osborn had come to the conviction that her lover had been murdered. It had been borne in upon her mind that if she would come to Colorado, she would discover his body and be able to bring his murderer to justice. Since arriving in Denver she had had several nights in succession most horrifying dreams, in which she seemed to see him in his death struggle with an enemy who was stabbing and slashing him with a knife. The dreams had completely prostrated her, but she saw so distinctly the scene and its surroundings that she felt sure she could make anyone as familiar with the country as I, recognize it from the description. The minutest details of far and wide were graven on her brain, but a singular thing connected with all her dreams was the impression after every dream that a soon as the place of her lover’s burial was discovered she would die.
My wife feeling that in the young Lady’s delicate condition, such a result might indeed ensue from sheer effect of imagination, cautioned me not to humor her in the supposition that I recognized the spot from her description even if I were able to do so, which she, being skeptical of such occult influences, thought unlikely.
It was after six when the storm abated and I was able to start onward.
From Steele’s ranch to the crossing of the Little Fountain, commonly called “Uncle George’s Ranch” by the freighters, was ten miles, and that distance I thought could make by dark, when the roughest of my road would be passed, and but fourteen miles would remain.
Now from Steele’s Ranch to Colorado City there are two routes, “the old trail,” and the “new road,”. The former was considerably shorter, but hugged the base of Cheyenne Mountain, going up and down over the foothills, and crossing the many rough gulches or canons that extend from the main range. The new road though longer, was smoother and leveler, as it kept out from the foothills. This road was taken of late years altogether by the great trains for freight teams passing between Denver and Canon City.
Finding after setting out that the adobe ground was too slippery for my horse to go out of a walk, I turned in on the old trail, hoping to find it dryer, but there was little difference and I was obliged to creep along. The sky had been overcast since the storm, and as I was under the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, the darkness came on fast. If the worst came to the worst I knew of a little deserted cabin about five miles on, in one of the gorges called Dead Man’s Canon — the canon mentioned when relating this story to you last Fall. But with this thought came a memory- a recollection of some stories passed along, as such stories would be, by freighters and teamsters. It was soberly related that on several occasions within the last couple of years, travelers had come from the northward to Steele’s ranch in the night and reported that they had been pursued, followed or accompanied from some distance along the mouth of Dead Man’s Canon by a spectral horse and a dog.
Men only laughed at these stories– in the daytime. The women, I found commonly believed them, and there is little doubt but that they influenced the choice of routes to some extent by those who traveled after dark. There was no doubt that the travelers who had seen these spectres had all been greatly horrified, and ran away as fast as their beasts could carry them. One had even fallen from his horse in a dead faint at Mr. Steele’s door.
These stories came back to me, but not, I think, unpleasantly as I rode along. I was conscious only of being out on a wet and slippery road, and the probability of not being able to get on to my journey’s end before the hotel should be closed for the night. There was also the chance, too that the streams might be swollen and dangerous in the dark. The more I reflected, the more advisable it seemed to me to consider the propriety of occupying the cabin in the gulch, if I did not find the condition of the road improving.
I do not intend to convey the impression that I gave no credence to the ghostly stories of Dead Man’s Canon. I distinctly assert on the contrary, that I had always thought there might be something worth investigating about the affair, only the chances seemed strongly against the optical data being furnished to anybody capable of looking into its cause.
If I felt no fear in approaching the place so dreadful to many, it is not because I do not believe in the possibility of ghosts, but precisely because I do.
I agree with you — that there can be no such thing as an isolated fact — a causeless event — but the bent of my mind is not and never has been, to regard an apparition as a thing supernatural.
It has always been my belief that the world is progressing gradually to higher and calmer spiritual planes, and that we shall sometime understand the rationale of these things that now only occasion us horror and fright.
BUT TO THE GIST OF THE WHOLE AFFAIR — I SAW THE APPARITIONS.
The darkness had fallen early and was not yet dense; indeed, the occasional gleam of the new moon in the zenith through the clouds gave promise of a bright night for my journey, if the storm cleared away.
I was five or six miles from Steel’s ranch, and near the mouth of the canon in which stood the deserted cabin I think this spot is clearly discernible from the Antler’s Hotel in Colorado Springs) when I began to perceive a peculiar odor, faint and inconstant, on the fresh air It was vague, and I think I should not have noticed it only that my horse began to sniff and prick up his ears, and shake his head, as you may observe a horse will when approaching a dead carcass.
Now there is as much character in smells as in colors. This was faint, too faint indeed to be distinct, but it seemed to me to possess a trace of that peculiar, sickening smell of the human cadaver.
Do not imagine that this occasioned me any nervousness. I had too lately been in the army and slept among the dead to feel any timidity. Indeed so far from making me think of the spook stories, it caused me to forget them, in thinking if any person could be lying dead around there, or any grave exposed by the coyotes.
My horse became more and more demonstrative, and at last nearly threw me from the saddle by suddenly shying. When I came to look I saw that a strange horse had just passed us, and was making on at a long steady, even stride toward the mouth of the canon. At the first glance I merely supposed it to be one of the numerous horses on the range that had strayed into the road, but the next view showed that is word a saddle and bridle. Swiftly concluding that the horse had either cast its rider back a distance or broken from its hitching, I spurred my own animal to overtake and stop it. But my horse refused to approach it, and I noticed for the first time that my poor beast was trembling with terror.
The spook stories had not occurred to me in connection with this little episode. If I had thought of it at all, I should have expected to see a spook taking on a white and ghastly aspect, instead of which this horse had (as far as might be perceived in the dim twilight) the common bay color.
Unable to urge my animal forward to overtake the other, I sprang to the ground, took the lariat from the horn of my saddle, and hastily staking my own beast by the roadside, ran forward to stop the other I undertook to get ahead of him, lest he should take to his heels and run away, but as I approached I perceived for the first time a large dog was trudging wearily along at his heels. Even this suggested nothing to my mind of the hobgoblin stories.
Understand I had been almost constantly for several years through scenes that rendered this incident, so far, very natural to my experience But the next instant the whole affair was changed As I passed the animal the light shone out a little from the clouds, and looking toward the horse I saw the bushes beyond him — saw straight through his body, understand? “My God” I said to myself, putting my hands on my eyes, “It is the phantom horse!”
For one instant I was overcome, not with fright (at least I think not) but with amazement. That I was much moved, I will not deny; I even felt my hair lifting my hat; but after the first instant my coolness returned.
The horse and the dog strode on, stopping when they came to the mouth of the canon as if undecided, and then turning up the trail that led to the deserted cabin. I could see the horse’s heels through the dog’s body.
One was as much a phantom as the other.
What prompted me to follow them I do not know, yet I think I was impelled by an influence I could not have resisted.
Another singular phenomenon became gradually perceptible. I saw a leg in the stirrup next to me. It was only a dim outline. I followed on until we reached the cabin. It was situated in a little bottom that had once been cleared for a garden The door was off its hinges; the roof had partly fallen in, and the chimney was a ruin. The horse drew up at the door as if someone were dismounting, and the phantom dog followed its master within the building.
In another moment the dog re-appeared; I saw the phantom leg in the stirrup again, and the horse started down the trail out of the canon,. Gradually the figure in the saddle became more and more visible. At last I saw it plainly, dressed in a common suit of miner’s clothes, with the broad-brimmed, leather-belted hat, universal in the west. As it proceeded down the trail it became more and more distinct till it seemed to be the very substance of a man, but there was all the while about it a shadowy whiteness.
I followed on at a little distance.
They came now to where the trail was crowded in against the precipice by the deep wash of the little stream that gurgled down the canon. Just where the trail narrowed to a mere bridle path, a huge mass of detached rock had fallen. As they were passing this, the horse suddenly shied and fell over the bank, a distance of some four or five feet. The rider had been cast off, but with one foot in the stirrup he was dragged after the horse. The dog had made a spring, as if at the throat of some invisible foe. The next instant he rolled over dead.
The impression of the reality of the scene was so vivid on my mind that I ran forward to help the fallen man. What follows passed in an instant. He was unable to disengage his foot from the stirrup, but I saw him rise on his knee and struggle for a moment as if beating off some foe, make an effort while holding off his assailant with one hand to draw his revolver with the other, and then sink back upon his horse with a huge dirk sticking in his breast.
I saw blood gush out, and sprang over the bank to lift him, but the whole thing vanished.
I found myself now trembling from head to foot, but whether with excitement or fear I shall not undertake to determine. The impression of reality had overpowered me. I was standing in the brook and the water was gurgling about my feet, but I was so weak that I had to sit down for a moment on a boulder in the stream.
The next moment I saw the horse and dog on the trail again, making up the canon, I rose and followed. We had gone but a few rods when the dog took into the bushes by the wall of the canon, scratched the earth for an instant, and then with a whine, a real to my senses as any sound I ever heard, vanished as if he sank into the ground.
The horse proceeded up the trail past the cabin and into the pinion timber He was a little distance ahead of me, and perhaps ten or fifteen rods from the trail, when he suddenly dropped to his knees, as if shot, and with a groan rolled over and vanished.
To describe my sensations at this moment would be to epitomize the history of terror. I am simply unable to do it. I remember a great prickly sensation all over my body, and I remember scarcely anything else.
Another thing, however, of equal interest, psychologically speaking, was the momentary belief, or rather fear, that I had lost my senses and was a maniac; and that this vision had only been conjured up in my disordered brain. I covered my face with my hands and gradually regained composure. Fear is a sensation subordinate to the will. Terror is not. Probably for that moment I had experienced a panic of horror.
When I found myself calm, I went forward to the spot where I had seen the horse fall,and to my further astonishment found a carcass and scattered bones lying there. The flesh had been torn away by wolves and coyotes, but enough of the carcass remained to show me that it was the body of a horse.
Now sir, I have related all the story you requested me to write, which I conceive to possess any real scientific interest — any period mentioned, contain the history (divested of spirituality) of the finding of the body of a murdered man in that canon, by myself and Mr. Steele’s sons the next morning, and its identification by means of a bracelet on the arm as that of Oliver Kimball, a miner from California Gulch. We dug where the dog had disappeared, and found the body with the dirk still sticking in the breast. On the blade of that dirk were two letters, D.G.
When I reached Denver my wife met me at the door in tears, saying:
“You’re too late. Oh, why didn’t you come sooner? The poor girl is dead. She had been so well and cheerful since I wrote for you, but the night before last, about half past seven o’clock she fell into a nervous spasm and at 9 o’clock she was a corpse. She kept repeating over and over,” ‘
“He is found at last–oh my darling. I am coming to you. I am setting off directly. My work is done. You will be avenged’
From half past seven until nine was the very time I had been following the phantom of the horse and the dog.
I consider the connection between these two events worthy of your closest attention. I think that the source of the obscure connection between the two, though not without many parallels in the data of psychology, has never been intelligently explained.
One last word, On my next visit to California Gulch, I carried with me the dagger found in Kimball’s breast. Calling on Griffin one day about noon, when he was at his cabin, I related all the circumstances of that night in Dead Man’s Canon. We were seated on a bench outside. He listened with lips drawn and blanched, but with a sardonic gleam in his eyes. As last I drew the dagger from my pocket and pointed to the initials.
“Are you the only person who knows of this?” he asked, with a swift sinister glance in his eyes.
“no, at least a dozen are as familiar with it as myself,” I answered
“Excuse me an instant,” he said rising and going into the cabin.
I heard a sharp report of a revolver, and for just an instant I thought the villain had shot me. When I got to the door he had fallen, but he cooly raised the weapon to his head and fired again.
The papers said it was financial difficulties. I had my reasons then for keeping silent, and this is the first time the whole truth of the matter has been told. Yours truly
N.B. On reading over this paper I find I have failed to cover what I regard as the most important point (scientifically viewed) in it, namely: The apparition of the horse and the dog. The horror which the greater part of humanity has of an apparition is undoubtedly due almost entirely to the supposition that it represents a troubled and sinful spirit doomed to wander upon the earth in expiation of some grievous sin.
But the ghosts of the dog and the horse how can these be accounted for on such a supposition?
Now are not the facts plainly these, that we make the first mistake in supposing there is anything spiritual (that is, of the soul) about these appearances at all.
Most people are narrow enough mentally to continue to associate these phenomena in some indefinite way with religious liberalism, but they are manifestly, purely physical (otherwise we must face the question of soul in animals) and have no more to do with religion than any question in chemistry or optics. They belong I firmly believe to a subjective phase of nature which might, for convenience be provisionally termed the phenomena of the sympathies.