Tag Archives: Brennan Ruegg

Leadville News – July 28

The Dog-Serpent of Twin Lakes Village

by Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today contributor

A beast green like the slimy wash on the underside of a boat, with black eyes “encircled with a rim of red” and a mouth “filled with glistening fangs.”

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An artistic rendering of a Twin Lakes monster sighting.

For more than a century words like these have circled around Lake County referring to a Loch Ness-ian monster who allegedly inhabits the Twin Lakes Reservoir. It is a creature of varying reported size who makes a periodic journey from its subterranean rest to appear above the surface at the audience of select townsfolk, if only to inspire continued fear of its legend. Tales of anchors being dropped into the lake only to be swept off in an underwater current to unknown depths has led to rumors of the creature’s home below the lakes. No photos have yet been taken of this grisly abomination, only stories have been told:

“The reported appearance of a marine monster in Twin Lakes revives a bit of strange and undoubted history. In the summer of 1881 a young man named Herman Wolf, and a boy whose identity has passed out of recollection, were fishing late one evening in the lower lake. Several people were watching them from the bank, when Wolf, who was rowing, suddenly dropped the oars, and, rising to an erect position, began to walk backwards out of the boat, his eyes fixed on the water in front of him, and an expression of speechless terror on his face. As he rose, the boy, who was seated in the stern, looked over his shoulder, and leaping up, sprang with outstretched arms after his companion. Both disappeared at once and did not rise, and although the spot was carefully searched, the bodies to this day have never been recovered.” [Carbonate Chronicle, 6-1884]

Here’s another story with a more vivid description of the beast:

. . . James Powell, a miner and prospector, who lives close to the Twin Lakes house, was walking with a party of several, armed with fishing poles, near the shore of the lower lake, when their attention was attracted by an unusual commotion in the water several hundred yards out. As they looked they were appalled and bewildered to see a GIGANTIC HEAD rise from the surface. They stood petrified with amazement and terror as a neck fully twenty feet long reared itself out of the waters and poised there for a moment. The contour of the monster was that of a colossal serpent… During this time it was seen not only by the fishing party whose attention it originally attracted, but by several other people near the bank of the lake, who fully corroborate the description given.” [Orth Stein, 1884]

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An issue of the Carbonate Chronicle, which ran as Leadville’s weekly news publication from the late 19th century until 1987.

These tales, while ominous, give no indication to the legend’s origin. Some hunting through the annals of local history uncovers the first story ever recorded on the subject, from that summer of 1881. On a Monday afternoon, a man named Hulbert was walking the edge of the upper lake when he sighted a thrashing beast in the water. After racing back into the village, and only a half-hour of convincing entreaty, several townsfolk agreed to accompany Hulbert to the place of the disturbance.

“To the afrighted Twin Lakers [its head] seemed as big as a cracker box, and of a vividly green color… It was like to nothing in the heavens above or the earth below, and as it seemed to be heading directly their way, the spectators did not tarry any longer, but made some of the best time on record out of the vicinity. Between the spot where the monster appeared and the village, the terrible head grew to at least four times its original dimensions, and the description they gave it was fearful and wonderful in the extreme.”

In short order a small army of twenty men and boys armed with rifles made their way to the water’s edge, and carefully approaching began to throw sticks and stones into the water. Evidence of the creature’s thrashing was visible, but they could not incite an appearance. They deliberated the truth of Hulbert’s claims, and even considered throwing Hulbert into the lakes to settle the matter, as either it would bait the monster and encourage an appearance, or would serve as his punishment for such a crafty ruse; but instead the band of warriors turned home, the matter still a shrouded in mystery. It’s where the story reaches its conclusion that we get the first solid hint at the true nature of the beast:

“Meanwhile a shock had been preparing for their nervous systems, at the village. They had not been gone more than five or ten minutes before a strange creature wandered in. It required a scrutinizing glance to recognize it as a big New Foundland dog that had been disfigured in some extraordinary manner… It seems that a gigantic but superannuated canine that had passed its days of usefulness and basked for months at the village store, had been enticed to the bank of the lake by a couple of Twin Lakes humorists. Here he had been tied while they applied a coat of green paint to his head, touching up the eyes with a few artistic strokes of vermillion. The result is better imagined than described.

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It was their original intention to create a consternation among the villagers by simply turning the animal loose, but a far more brilliant idea struck one of the wags. It was immediately acted upon, and the luckless dog taken to the bank of the lake. A rope was attached to one of its legs, a big stone fastened to the other end, and the animal anchored far enough out in the water to permit only its head emerging. In this melancholy condition it was left, while one of the jokers gave the alarm. At the time the crowd rushed to see the monster, however, the dog’s frantic efforts had succeeded in breaking the detaining cord and rushed out of the chilling waters. The denouement took place as soon as the gang got back, and the village saloon did a thriving business for the next ten minutes. So ended what bid fair to be the biggest item ever gleaned in the locality.” [Carbonate Chronicle, 9-10-1881, R386]

And thus the first account of the Dog-Serpent of Twin Lakes comes to an end. It becomes a cautionary tale for domestic animals of that region for the lengths Twin Lakers are willing to go for a good gaff. Though people have continued to report sightings of the creature, they are more careful now about who they tell, for fear of enticing the wrath of a far greater beast, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Leadville Today Contributor Brennan Ruegg swims only in shallow water.

Leadville News – April 5

Father Dyer: Snow-Shoe Preacher, Part Two

by Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today Contributor

Judge Dyer in the Lake County War

Lake County was once much bigger than it is today. Now one of Colorado’s smallest counties, Lake at one time included everything in the Upper Arkansas Valley including Buena Vista, and then county seat, Granite, where Father Dyer’s son Elias served as a probate judge. Dyer once said of Lake County “I had reason to respect many of the citizens. Few professed anything but to take the world as it came, and that generally proved to be a very rough way.” The minister would find today, though the county has changed in size, it has lost nothing in the way of its style.Part One Dyer Story

But while Father Dyer continued to spread the gospel in Monument, a war was about to begin in Lake County, fueled by the very alcohol Dyer began his life denouncing, and that would eventually result in the death of his son in 1875.

Known as “the foulest blot upon the early history of the county,” the Lake County War claimed the lives of at least ten, if not one hundred men between 1874 and 1881. It began with the death of a farmsteader named George Harrington. Harrington, attempting to extinguish a fire at his home set by a gang of arsonists, was shot and killed by one of the mob members before the eyes of his own wife, infant daughter, and visiting younger sister. Harrington’s death would be the first of many, as justice would be sought for the murder and never found. 

Elijah Gibbs, who was known to have a dispute with Harrington over land and water rights, was the first suspect. But after Gibbs was tried and acquitted in a court of law, some were still determined to see him hang. A drunken mob formed to demand Gibbs’ surrender and hanging at his home, resulting in the death of three men, and Gibbs’ escape. The surviving members of the mob formed what they called a “Committee of Safety,” who in the subsequent years successfully corrupted the highest levels of county authority, and in an early display of McCarthyism, persecuted, tortured, killed, and harassed all those who believed Gibbs to be innocent of Harrington’s murder.

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Father Dyer enshrined in stained glass at the capital building in Denver.

Father Dyer learned just how far the committee’s influence reached when he tried to levy a bill with his friends in government and saw them each fail weakly. After his son, the Probate Judge Elias Dyer, made it publicly known that he believed in Gibbs’ innocence, he stayed with his father in Monument, until the spring of 1875 when he returned to Granite to preside over the trials of Committee members accused in the latest crimes. And it was here that Judge Elias Dyer was assassinated, after issuing a warrant for 28 men suspect in the non-fatal hanging of one of the Committee’s enemies.  

The deaths didn’t stop with Judge Dyer, and it would be six more years until the conflict saw its end. For a more detailed account of the Lake County War and its unanswered questions, click here to read a comprehensive article from Colorado Central Magazine’s Charles F. Price.

John Dyer sold his son’s half of the failing Dyer mine to friend H.A.W. Tabor for $3,000, who sold it two years later for $60,000. The news of his son’s death came late in Dyer’s life, and not altogether by surprise. He has already buried two of his children. No man was ever charged with the murder, and though it clearly pained him, it would be his faith once again that would keep him preaching, building, and fighting in the name of God. Incidentally the Lake County war would lead to the inception of Chaffee County, as Dyer relates:

“It may seem strange that I have never taken active steps to bring my son’s murderers to justice”…”To have successfully combated it would have required more money than I could command. Besides, the county was comparatively poor, and the trials would have entailed large costs, so that the tax-payers dreaded and discouraged the prosecution. But after the Leadville boom, when the county had grown rich and strong, encouraged by Mr. —- Hayden, one of my son’s best friends, and who was the last with him before the murder, I fully purposed to make the attempt. The mob, however, never ceased to fear; and so influenced the division of the county, and had Chaffee set off, in which once more they were in the majority.”

Father Dyer continued to preach on circuits to Alma and Fairplay, to attend conferences on the Western Slope and in Leadville, and to build a church in Breckenridge and a Christian base in Denver. He set foot in nearly every town and corner of Colorado in the name of God, never slowing down until his death in 1901. He died with his heart in the Rocky Mountains, as in the final words of his autobiography written days before his death, he reaffirms what so many holy men have found at the base of their faith: evidence of awesome creation in the landscape of the world.

“…what would Denver be with her many railroads, if it were not for the towering mountains close in her front, stored with the richest treasures that the great Creator ever bestowed on any part of our nation? And all that the towns and cities, from Greeley to Trinidad, have to do, when they get hard up, is to look to the mountains, for there the treasures are abundant and unfailing. Colorado, from north to south, from east to west, has seen her darkest days, and the Barren Plains are beginning to rejoice and blossom as the rose.”

Brennan Ruegg is also an Ohioan, staking claims in the state of Colorado. He is a regular Contributor to Leadville Today.

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The Father Dyer United Methodist Church in Breckenridge. 

Father Dyer Postal Route Race Held on April 7

Today, Father Dyer is remembered by North America’s highest ski race which roughly follows his weekly postal route from Leadville to what was Buckskin Joe. The 2018 Father Dyer Postal Route race will begin April 7 at 5 a.m., but various events are planned all weekend.

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The present-day Father Dyer Postal Route takes racers up 3 peaks over 12,000′ including Centennial 13er Dyer Mountain (13,855’) and involves three demanding backcountry ski lines. And if spring snow storms continue to roll through, the same snow-laden high altitude basins once traveled by the one-and-only Father Dyer could present similar conditions for modern-day challengers.

This event is a fundraiser for the Leadville High Riders Snow Trails Association (501c3) in conjunction with the Lake County Winter Trails Committee. Profits from the race go to supporting winter trails maintenance and development in the Leadville area.

The Father Dyer Postal Route includes a weekend of activities, however the 5 a.m. start time on Saturday, Apr. 7 will have mountaineering fanatics up and at it before the sunrise!  Race organizers are also looking for volunteers to assist with course marshaling, check stations, timing and “morale” stations. Check their site for all the details.

Remember, this is an unsupported team race. There is a mandatory gear list. Registration is already closed, but spectators may feel free to show up the day of the race and cheer on the competitors!