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Frontier Justice in Early Golden

Early Washington Avenue.

Today marks the 160th anniversary of a notorious event in Golden history.

Golden was founded in June of 1859. By September of that year, the town was taking shape as a loose collection of tents and frame buildings. The downtown business district consisted of dry goods stores, a couple of small hotels, and several saloons.

Edgar Vanover was part owner of one of those saloons, and was known to have a vicious temper when drunk—which he often was. On September 5, 1859, Vanover sold his half of the saloon to his partner and went on to become extraordinarily drunk. He visited several bars that day, waving his gun, shooting at glassware, threatening the lives of several people and announcing that he would kill someone before the day was over. Eventually, he became too drunk to load his pistol, so he procured a knife and threatened people with that.

His fellow citizens chased him into a house on 13th Street (the approximate site of today’s Tributary Food Hall) and stood outside, debating whether to banish him from town or kill him. They concluded that if they banished Vanover, he would come back for vengeance, so the safest course was to kill him before he killed someone else. The group called to Vanover, telling him to come out and take his punishment. Surprisingly, he emerged without argument and put out his hands to be bound. The crowd marched him across the Ford Street bridge to a meat gallows, which was normally used to butcher cattle. A noose was placed around Vanover’s neck. The rope was thrown over the gallows and pulled by many hands until Vanover was dead.

Vanover Park

This tale was told briefly in the September 10, 1859 edition of The Rocky Mountain News Weekly, in an article entitled “Full Particulars of the late Lynching Case at Golden City.” The article ended with the remark, “We refrain from extending our remarks, believing that all good citizens, when the circumstances are known, will uphold the people of Golden City in performing an act which they believed to be a duty they owed to themselves and the community at large.”

The story was retold, with more detail, in the October 5, 1922 edition of the Colorado Transcript. That article was based on interviews with people who had been present for the hanging.

A 1933 story in the Colorado School of Mines Oredigger retold the story, with several embellishments. That article concluded by saying that the culprit was “attached to a cottonwood.”

Over the years, the idea that Vanover had been hanged from a cottonwood became part of local folklore. The presence of an exceptionally large cottonwood near the site of the execution added credence to that story, and the tree became known as “the hanging tree.”

In 2006, the City cut down the aged tree, created a park where the hanging occurred, and named the park for Vanover. Golden may be unique in having a City park named after a man who was lynched by the community.

9AM – The Public Art Commission will meet this morning in City Council Chambers. They will discuss developing a cell phone application that would allow people to learn about our public art pieces. They need to do some landscaping around the Run and Fly piece on Highway 93 at the north end of town. They will consider where they should place the next public art installation. The Golden Fire Department has contacted them about creating an art piece for the Fire Department. They continue to seek applications from artists who would like to paint our signal boxes. Staff will talk to the DDA and GURA this month about the proposed city-wide mural project (presumably to seek funding from those two boards).

Once at Miners Alley Playhouse:
You can see a preview show of Once for only $15 tonight at 7:30. The official opening night happens tomorrow night. If you can still get a ticket, you’ll be able to partake in their Opening Night Party/Buffet after the show! This play will run through October 13th.

Tonight’s Live Music:
Ace Hi Tavern – Karaoke, 9PM
Buffalo Rose – Boa and the Constrictors, 7:30 | Carolyn Wonderland, 8:45
Dirty Dogs Roadhouse – Dave Frisk, 6PM
Golden Hotel – Teresa Caroll, 6-9PM
New Terrain Brewing Company – Buffalo Commons, 6-9PM
Rock Rest Lodge – Karaoke, 8PM