Baca County History

by the Plainsman Herald

Ezra Nowels,Baca County’s First Judge

“Rumor has it that Minneapolis citizens attempted to lynch Benedict and Nowels because of their failure in the legislature this winter to secure a county seat from Minneapolis" - Western World Mar 21 1889.

One of Nowels first tasks as county judge was as follows:
The Taloga Star (Taloga, Kansas) 29 Nov 1889.

Attorney Ezra C. Nowels left Rensselaer, Indiana in 1888 and came to Minneapolis, Colorado.  The March 14, 1888 Indiana State Sentinel reports, 

Ezra C. Nowels will start to Colorado next week. He will locate in Minneapolis, Las Animas County, where he will engage in the practice of law and the real estate business. Mr. Nowels belongs to a large, wealthy and influential family, all of whom are Democrats. He served this county one term as Auditor, and in the winter of ’84 and ’85 he held an important clerkship in the Indiana Legislature. He has been closely identified with the politics of this county for the last ten years, and was always at the front, ready and willing to do more than his share of the work. He will be sadly missed in the future by the Democrats when campaign work is to be done. He carries with him the hopes of all that success may attend him in his new home.”

Later President Cleveland appointed him to the office of Registrar and Receiver in Lamar, Colorado. The Carroll Sentinel (Carroll, Iowa) 13 Feb 1894.

  He brought with him his own carpenter and lumber and bought 300 lots in Springfield and Minneapolis speculating that the railroad would come to one of the two towns and that one or the other would become the county seat.  According to a 1935 interview with his son T. E. “Ernest” Nowels, he also filed both a homestead and a timber claim.  He brought $50,000 with him and lost it all; they later sold the claims for taxes.  Despite such economic setbacks Nowels stayed with the country and after they formed Baca County in 1889, he became the first county judge.  

 In 1901 after a bout of appendicitis he went to Denver for an operation.  He never made it and died at age 56 in Las Animas while en route to Denver for a surgery.  

The Weekly Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado) 28 Nov 1901.
The Weekly Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado) 28 Nov 1901.

T. E. Nowels dies

Ernest, Ezra’s son, was born in Indiana before Ezra Nowels headed west with his family to Baca County Colorado.  Ernest was 13 years old when his family arrived and only spent a few short years in Baca County.  He attended Tillotson Academy from 1891 to 1895 and Colorado College from 1896 to 1898.  During the summers of his freshman and sophomore years at Colorado College he worked helping to survey the lakes north of Lamar. He reports killing 118 rattlesnakes in three weeks.  After graduating he began his career as a reporter for sports and city news and later became Publisher and Editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette and Telegraph from 1923 to 1946.  It evidences his prominence in the newspaper business during his long career as they reported his passing across the U.S. in such papers as the Los Angeles Times. 

Ernest’s contributions to Colorado are significant, as is his contribution to our knowledge of Baca County history and Southeast Colorado.  Ernest provided many stories about his father and his time in southeast Colorado including:  “My father debated coming to either Baca County or Seattle after leaving Indiana in 1888.  When arriving at Minneapolis he planted walnut trees on his claim.  The prairie dogs chewed them to the ground by morning.   

Ezra Nowels was the Minneapolis representative at the 1889 session of the Colorado legislature when Springfield became the county seat.  Those in Minneapolis accused Nowels of selling out to Jim Church (Springfield representative at the legislature and the first County Clerk). Sam Konkel provides the following,

“Rumor has it that Minneapolis citizens attempted to lynch Benedict and Nowels because of their failure in the legislature this winter to secure a county seat from Minneapolis" - Western World Mar 21 1889.

“Rumor has it that Minneapolis citizens attempted to lynch Benedict and Nowels because of their failure in the legislature this winter to secure a county seat from Minneapolis”Western World Mar 21 1889.

Nowel’s son Ernest says because of the threats six of his father’s closest friends including Charley Warner came out to Nowel’s home and guarded the house overnight.  They placed a man at each window with a Winchester and a Shotgun.  The children were placed in the cellar. Ernest says as a boy he was never more frightened than that night.   

The mob went to Dave Minter’s store in Minneapolis to buy rope for the lynching.  Minter pulled a shotgun as the mob entered the store and said,  “First man to touch the rope, I’ll kill.”  The mob disappeared.  

After they appointed his father county judge, the family moved to Springfield.  They lived there for a year and one half and the children attended school in Springfield.  They moved a seven room house from Minneapolis to Springfield (about 30 miles) on skids using the block and tackle method.  It took 3 months to move the house which was later disassembled and taken when they moved to Lamar.

Ernst used to bring cows into town because he had a pony. Once he found a bull snake which had been killed by a hailstorm.  He put it across his saddle horn, brought it into town and rounded up his gang.  After they lay their plans, they went to see Doc Homsher’s (Herb Sr’s dad) in his store.  

Now in that store was an old pot-bellied stove.  Around its base was a wooden frame filled with gravel and ashes that served as a spittoon.  The old doctor and his friends would sit around and talk and spit.

Doctor Homsher wore a long seer sucker coat.  As they talked to him,  Ernest slipped the snake into his coat pocket.  The boys were very much afraid they had missed out on their fun as that happened to be the last time the doctor wore the coat for the season.   However, the next spring the little rascals were of the opinion they had perpetrated a grand joke as they overheard the doctor telling his intimates:

“My wife and I have been smelling smells all winter.  We thought it was rats and mice and so we tore the weather boarding to find them but couldn’t.   Today I put on my old seersucker coat and found an old dead snake in my pocket.”

Ernest tells of a twister hitting Minneapolis.  He had gone to the spring on Horse creek after water.  He was driving a team of horses called Nat and Neil.  He was about half way back to town when the funnel shaped-cloud appeared.  He saw his father motioning him to hurry, so he galloped the team into the yard and they unhitched the horses.  One hundred eighteen shacks were blown down.  The Nowel’s house withstood the wind.  The team was safe but the wagon and barrels were smashed to pieces against the fence.  Nobody was killed.  Two by fours were driven into the hotel and a shack with a family in it alighted on a neighboring foundation. 

The Nowels raised a wolf puppy captured by the Judge until it was a size larger than any police dog.  They kept him on a chain until he was three years old.  He broke loose and was gone for a week or ten days and then he came back and howled at the bedroom door at midnight.  Ernest’s father let him in and he jumped on the bed and licked their faces.  He left again after that and never returned.  He was called Samson after Admiral Samson.   

Ernest also tells us his father was the trial judge for the case of the Boston Hotel burning.  It was all circumstantial evidence so all the men arrested were acquitted. 

Ernest remembers the courtroom was filled with cowboys armed with pistols.  Judge Nowels told them the trial would not proceed until the firearms were placed on a table in the front of a courtroom.  He told them he realized, of course, that he and the bailiff were powerless to disarm them, but in the spirit of fair play they came one at a time and lay their guns on the table.  The courtroom was silent for a moment, but then one cowboy arose, came forward and placed his gun on the table.  The others followed until there was a veritable arsenal on the table in front of the judge.  

There were desperate characters in the room too, such as Bill Kabler and Big Bill Thompson. 

Nowels relates many more stories of the early days of Baca County Colorado including Ernst’s other interactions as a young man with the Regulator Big Bill Thompson. Hopefully, well get to transcribe those soon.

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