Barber County Kansas

John Denver Boggs

From When Kansas Was Young, pages 254 - 258.

The Coming Back of John Denver Boggs

by Thomas Allen McNeal

I do not know just when the elder Boggs, yielding to the lure of the West, loaded his young wife and possibly a child or two into a wagon and trekked across the far reaches of gently rolling prairie land that lay between the Missouri River and the foothills of the Rockies. At any rate it was before the present capital of the great state of Colorado had been laid out in that great cup in the mountains and men were sluicing the sands of Cherry Creek for gold.

Here on the site of the future city, the Boggs family located and here a year or so afterward a boy was born, the first white baby born on the townsite. In honor of the event his parents named him Denver. The man born amid the glory and grandeur of the mountains does not often stray to the plains and for that reason it was somewhat remarkable that when Denver Boggs had reached years of maturity he came back and settled in Kansas. I first met him in the Medicine country, a mild, good natured, quiet man, who had managed to accumulate a wife and numerous children and very little else. He and his wife were uncomplaining souls and seemed to be reasonably cheerful, although there must have been times when there was little on the table and no reserve in the larder.

Denver had managed somehow to acquire a fair education. His speech was unusually accurate and unseasoned with profanity, which I may say in passing was somewhat rare among the men of that locality at that time. I do not think he drank or used tobacco and so far as speech and general conduct were concerned he was really a model citizen. He worked at such jobs as offered, sometimes riding the range and sometimes working about the little frontier town, doing odd jobs. Occasionally he canvassed for subscribers for the local paper after it was started and sometimes furnished a column of country correspondence, for he had some facility as a writer.

The only criticism I ever heard of him was that he lacked force and ambition. He seemed to have a fair equipment of brains, but apparently was content to live a hand-to-mouth existence, letting the morrow take care of itself.

It was, therefore, with some surprise that along in the later nineties I heard that Denver Boggs had blossomed out as a cattleman and according to report was succeeding. It was in the time when there was a great boom in the cattle business, especially in the business of raising cattle on the range. The long depression in prices of beef cattle was succeeded by a brisk demand and constantly rising prices. Money to invest in cattle was easy to obtain. Commission firms seemed willing to stake almost any man who was ready to promise them big dividends on their investment. As a result of this condition there was witnessed the astounding and most spectacular career of Grant Gillette, known for a time as the "cowboy cattle king." Starting with no capital, in an amazingly short while he had managed to borrow more than $2,000,000 and had herds scattered from the Red River in Texas to the Nebraska line.

At one time he traveled about accompanied by his famous cowboy band, numbering perhaps twenty-five or thirty musicians who did nothing but furnish entertainment and advertise their employer.

But the rise and fall of Grant Gillette is enough material for another story.

Denver Boggs was not so spectacular, but something had stirred his ambition; opportunity was at his door and he mounted and rode. Most men and women like to live up to their reputation. With seeming prosperity, Denver Boggs and family were no longer content with the old simplicity of dress and economy of household management. There was a temptation to live beyond his means and to it Denver yielded. He sold the cattle or part of them which were mortgaged to secure his indebtedness. Perhaps if he had frankly stated the case to his creditors, he might have made arrangements to pay out when he could, but he made the fatal mistake of concealment until he could see no way out and the doors of the penitentiary opening before him. Then he fled. It was a good many months before any news came from the fugitive.

He made his way to Cuba; then across the gulf to Mexico. All the time his conscience was goading him and he was weighed down by an almost intolerable burden of homesickness and longing to get back and have it all over with. Denver Boggs was not a criminal at heart; he was in fact a kindly man who had yielded to temptation and was paying a fearful penalty. The day came when he could stand the strain no longer and crossing the bridge which separates El Paso from the old Mexican town of Juarez, he hunted up the Texas sheriff and told him that he was wanted up in Kansas and had come in to surrender. The sheriff was somewhat surprised and after looking through all of his lists of men wanted could find no mention of a man by the name or fitting the description of Denver Boggs. But the man was insistent and so the sheriff to accommodate him wired the Kansas authorities that he had a man there who insisted that he had committed a crime and wanted to go to the penitentiary. The Kansas sheriff wired that the story of the wanderer was true; and so without guard and gladly, Denver came back to Kansas and surrendered himself to the officers of the law. All he asked was to have the matter over with as soon as possible so that he might begin serving his sentence, with the hope when he had paid the penalty he might be given a chance to reinstate himself in the opinion of his old neighbors.

The court heard the story and declaring that in his opinion Denver had already been punished sufficiently for his fault, gave him the lowest sentence permissible under the law, one year in the penitentiary. That was in the days before the indeterminate sentence or the power of the judge to grant a parole. In the penitentiary he was a model prisoner and was given all the good time possible on a sentence of that duration. At the end of the eleventh month Denver Boggs stepped forth a free man.

During his wanderings he had traveled through the then territory of Arizona and perhaps by reason of the environment of his boyhood, was something of a mineralogist. As he traveled he observed and marked the location of rich copper deposits. When he had finished his term in the penitentiary he went back to Arizona and found that the properties he had noted were still open to entry. He located a number of claims and then got in touch with some men of means who were looking for mining investments. Denver Boggs was not a success as a cattle man but he was a pleasing conversationalist and persuaded these capitalists to send their hired experts to look at his claims. As a result he sold them an interest for $125,000 cash.

Let it be said to his credit that one of his first acts was to square up with his creditors, who had long before marked off the Boggs cattle account as uncollectible.

It has been a good many years since I last heard from Denver Boggs. I have always regarded his case as a remarkable instance of a man coming back out of the depths and beginning his real success in life after serving a term in the penitentiary. I hope that success has followed him, because, notwithstanding his one grave mistake, he was a good man.

Roundup in Barber County, Kansas, 1894.

This photo was taken at Cottonwood Springs, about 7 miles southwest of Sun City, Barber County, Kansas.

Left to right, front row:  Harry Clements, Joe Gant, Roe Cole, George Abell, Bert Young, Walt Sears, Joe Burson, Jim Talliaferro, Jim Elsea.

Second row:  Charlie Kinkaid, round-up foreman; Jack Larkin, George Meadors, Arthur Shaw, Green Adams, Ed Teagle, Pearl Bunton, Jake Warrenstaff, Ed Hoagland, Tom Pepperd, Aub Donovan, Jack Ballanger, Bob Doles, Homer Hoagland. 

Back row:  Cook Denver Boggs, Frank Abell and Doc Williams. This photo was published in the Kansas Stockman in 1942 and 1949.

Photo courtesy of Mary Lou (Elsea) Hinz.
Roundup at Cottonwood Springs, about 7 miles southwest of Sun City in Barber County, Kansas, 1894.
Photo courtesy of Mary Lou (Elsea) Hinz.

Left to right, front row: Harry Clements, Joe Gant, Roe Cole, George Abell, Bert Young, Walt Sears, Joe Burson, Jim Talliaferro, Jim Elsea.     Second row: Charlie Kinkaid, round-up foreman; Jack Larkin, George Meadors, Arthur Shaw, Green Adams, Ed Teagle, Pearl Bunton, Jake Warrenstaff, Ed Hoagland, Tom Pepperd, Aub Donovan, Jack Ballanger, Bob Doles, Homer Hoagland.     Back row: Cook Denver Boggs, Frank Abell and Doc Williams. This photo was published in The Kansas Stockman in 1942 and 1949. For an unaltered copy of the above image, see Photograph: Roundup in Barber County, 1894.

John Denver Boggs

by Dean Reeves, great grandson of Denver Boggs

The following is a thumbnail sketch of what I have been able to learn about John Denver Boggs, which only adds more mystery to the man.

John Denver Boggs was born in 1862, supposedly the first white child born in the Denver town site. The family spend a lot of time in the Beulah, Colorado area. He married Lillie May Myers in 1885.

The Boggs family came to Medicine Lodge in 1885; their first 5 children were born in Medicine Lodge. Then in 1893 moved to Wood County, Oklahoma, the place was a part of the Cherokee Outlet to a town or settlement called Winchester. They built a half-dugout for a home. They lived there for another 10 years, and the other 5 children were born in Oklahoma one of those children died at the age of six months. Evidently Denver went back to the Medicine Lodge area to work where ever he could find a job. According to the history I have the family did have some livestock on their place in Winchester.

In November of 1900 Denver filed a bill of sale at the courthouse in Alva, Oklahoma transferring all of their livestock and farm equipment to his wife Lillie May Boggs. Then he left, returning in 1903.

This is here the story gets weird, the history I have has no details or mention of where the man was during those 3 years. However according to Thomas A. McNeal in his book When Kansas Was Young, Denver acquired some cattle and was succeeding as a cattleman, he and his family were living up to and probably beyond their means. Anyway he sold all or a part of the cattle and instead of repaying his mortgage, he fled the area and eventually the country. During this time he went to Cuba then across the Gulf to Mexico, then traveled up to El Paso, Texas where he turned himself over to the sheriff. The sheriff could not find any warrants in his files, but Denver persisted and the sheriff wired the Kansas sheriff that the story was true and he was wanted in Kansas. Denver went back to Kansas, turned himself in and spent a year in the penitentiary.

According to the book, during Denver's wanderings he had spent some time in Arizona, and had found some rich copper deposits. After serving his time he went back to Arizona, filed on them and sold an interest in them to some investors, which netted him some $125,000 cash, some of which he repaid all of his previous creditors. The author states that he had not heard from Denver in a number of years, after that. The book was published in 1922.

Going back to the history that I have from the family source, Denver came back to the family in 1903, then they moved to Kenton, Oklahoma, in November of 1903. There he worked on a ranch, then became involved in a freight business between Kenton, and Clayton, New Mexico some 50 miles south of Kenton. In January 1906, while in Clayton, he received news of his father's death, he took the train to Pueblo, and was to go onto Beulah, Colorado for the service, but a blizzard prevented him from attending. The last family member to see him, was his half brother's son in Pueblo. That was the last time anyone saw him. The family speculated that he went into a saloon, flashed some money and was done in then and there.

Since the discovery of Mr. McNeal's book and his short story on Denver Boggs, I've surmised that he may have gone to Arizona after being in Pueblo, staked and sold some of the interests in the copper deposits found there earlier, paid his debts to his creditors in Medicine Lodge, then decided that he needed to move on from there to greener pastures, where who knows. It should be noted that in the family history, when Denver returned to his family in Winchester that he was probably not well received and there was quite a lot of bitterness between him and his wife, I know that my grandmother did not speak about him in a very warm manner, probably some of it was justified, maybe some was not.

Email from Dean Reeves, 6 Dec 2005:

Jerry, Kim, and Mary Lou:

Thank you for your help. I do have a complete family history of the Boggs Family, that was prepared by one of Denver Boggs' grand daughters. And now Thomas A. McNeal's Book When Kansas was Young.

I want to thank you all for your website and the detail of that picture supplied by Mary Lou Hinz. This has been an interesting search and will probably lead me in some different directions, when I have time.

Feel free to post this on your website if you wish, to add to the Barber County history.

Thank you and Happy Holidays,

Dean Reeves

Email from Dean Reeves, 4 Dec 2005:

Jerry Ferrin:

I would like to get in touch with Mary Lou (Elsea) Hinz, regarding the photograph of the "Roundup in Barber County Kansas 1894", and would like to obtain a copy of that photograph. My great grand father is among those listed as being a member of the roundup. His name is Denver Boggs, and was listed as a cook in that particular picture. I was able to obtain a copy of Thomas A McNeal's book "When Kansas was Young" that was mentioned in the footnotes to the photograph. It gave the family a whole new insight about the man, he disappeared in 1906 while attending his father's funeral in the Pueblo, CO area. My grandmother Alice Boggs Reeves always said that he may have met with foul play, but no body was ever found.

If you would be so kind to forward this email on to Ms. Hinz or anyone that you know of who may have the photograph, so that I may try to get a copy, it would be greatly appreciated.

Also I would like to compliment you and all of the others on the Barber County website, it is the best that we have ever seen for a small community. You all should give seminars on how to build an very informative and complete website.

Thank you,
Dean Reeves
Rio Rancho, NM

"The sad news of the death of Mary M. Cummins, wife of Scott Cummins, was brought to Medicine Lodge by Denver Boggs who came up from Oklahoma Monday on business ... Mr. and Mrs. Cummins were citizens of Barber county prior to the opening of the Strip, when they moved to Winchester, Okla., and were so closely attached to many of our citizens that they still speak of them as citizens and neighbors. All are deeply grieved on account of the departure of this good woman." -- Obituary: Mary Cummins, The Barber County Index, January 28, 1903. (excerpt)

Thanks to Dean Reeves, great grandson of Denver Boggs, for contributing the above biographical sketch to this web site!

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