Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March–October 1863

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Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March–October 1863
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Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March–October 1863
Malkoski, Paul
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, MarchOctober 1863 | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:43:49 PM] Home Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, MarchOctober 1863Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, MarchOctober 1863Submitted by nwharton on 11-16-2013 06:13 PMAuthor: Charles F. Price Publishing: Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013. Reviewer: Paul Malkoski Reviewer Affiliation: Community College of Aurora and Regis University From the cozy confines of our twenty-first century world with its 24/7 news channels and instant access to the Internet, it is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we know all there is to know about our past. Not so. More than a dozen years ago as I was just beginning my midlife pursuit of degrees in American history at the University of Colorado at Denver, Prof. James Whiteside cautioned me saying, If you arent comfortable with ambiguity, dont study history. The good professors words hung in the back of my mind as I read Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March October 1863 by Charles F. Price. Many familiar with Colorado and western history know the story line: beginning in March 1863, serial killers stalked the territory striking terror deep in the hearts of its hardy inhabitants. At first, no one quite knew who was behind the grisly mutilations and murders, let alone what the motive might have been. For months, a string of bodieswere still unsure how manyturned up mostly in South Park. No one felt safe. At first, many feared Confederate raiders might be to blame; the Union had stopped a Rebel invasion just one year earlier at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Others accused marauding jayhawkers killing for the sake of a thrill. Military authorities in Denver dispatched a detachment of soldiers to the mining town of Fairplay at the northern end of South Park, but they failed to locate the killers. In May a vigilante posse from Oro City and California Gulch ran down Vivian and Felipe Espinosa near Caon City and killed Vivian, but his brother escaped. And the slayings stopped. For a while. A few months later, Felipe recruited his young nephew Jos and resumed the rampage until mountain man Tom Tobin tracked the slayers down near La Veta Pass and dispatched them. In the days before fingerprints and other forensic evidence, he cut off their heads, put them in a sack and took them to Fort Garland to prove to its commander, Samuel Tappan, that he had completed the task. Authors and historians have touched on the tale of the bloody Espinosas for years, but no one devoted the time and effort needed to unravel its twists and turns or sort through the myths to arrive at something resembling the truth. Price was fascinatedno, obsessedby the story that seemed to have faded into historys shadows, a tale he felt was worth researching and telling. For nearly twelve years, he sifted through newspapers, monographs, magazines, memoirs, and books, plus stacks of primary documents to give us the first book-length treatment of Colorados worst serial killings. EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWithin Colorado boundaries are lands once claimed by Spanish kings and Mexican governors.


Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, MarchOctober 1863 | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:43:49 PM] Of course there are burning questions: Who were the Espinosas and why did they embark on their gruesome mission? We know that brothers Filipe and Vivian and nephew Jos roamed the territory for eight months killing Anglos but little else is known about the men themselves or their motives. The Espinosas left us no pictures, no likenesses of any kind, and all three died before capture and left us no written evidence of their motivation. Rumors persist that Vivian left a diary but its whereabouts are unknown. Price reconstructs their lives and effectively concludes that they were angered by the heavy-handed treatment Anglos imposed on Hispanic residents of New Mexico and Colorado Territories, only recently acquired after the Mexican War in 1848. That whites regarded Hispanos through racist eyes is unambiguous. Yet how many died at the hands of the butchers? By the Espinosas own accounts, they figured they massacred some thirty Anglos. Since the Espinosas left precious little to go on, Price reconstructs the tale through the histories of all the peripheral characters, most especially prominent members of the military, including John Chivington, Samuel Tappan, and James Carleton, as well as Tom Tobin and others. It is from understanding these men that we are able to gain an understanding of the times. Its all about context. Price is a relentless researcher who sifted through all the contemporary accounts to get as close as we are likely to get to a full accounting these events. Contemporary records, especially newspapers, are far from reliable, and other sources, such as firsthand accounts and military reports, are often biased. Perhaps the best previous account of Tobins exploits is James E. Perkinss fine Tom Tobin, Frontiersman which depends on Tobins spotty recollections decades after the killings. Tobin was a first-class tracker and reader of sign, but his memory, especially for dates and pertinent details, was rarely accurate. Price compares and contrasts all accounts and records, pointing to the obvious flaws, exposing issues of things saidand left unsaidand balancing them against one another. He makes no claim of absoluteness. Unless the reputed long-lost diaries of Vivian and Felipe should suddenly reappear, we are not likely to get a better understanding of the killings or the assassins. Price approaches his topic with calm objectivity, steering clear of controversy not by avoiding it but rather presenting the facts from the best sources available and letting the reader draw conclusions. The villains are clear. Price finds no outsized heroes here, just men trying to protect themselves against killers. Before delving into history, Price was a novelist, and it shows in the clarity and elegance of his prose. One might wish for a stronger narrative, one driven perhaps by personality, but that might have destroyed his objectivity. The Espinosas did not leave much to build a narrative around and, for all the other characters in this tale, Tobin included, this was but one episode in otherwise event-filled lives. Reviewer Info: Paul Malkoski has called Colorado home since 1973. He worked for thirty years for telecommunications and computer companies. He earned his BA and MA in American history at the University of Colorado Denver where he focused on the American West and popular culture. He presently teaches American and world history at the Community College of Aurora and Regis University and lives in Aurora with his wife, Mim, a retired middle school teacher, and their two French bulldogs. He is a lifelong guitarist and singer. His most recent publication is The Denver Folk Music Tradition: An Unplugged History from Harry Tuft to Swallow Hill and Beyond (History Press, 2012).