“THE AMBUSH”

— LAW AND DISORDER — 

At around midnight, August 6, 1895, a gunshot exploded from the darkness and echoed through the main street of Telluride, Colorado. City Marshal Jim Clark buckled to his knees with a bullet to his chest and died within an hour.  

Marshal, Telluride, CO

Authorities never identified the killer who ambushed the 54-year old lawman.

Speculation varied on the reason for the execution. Some blame his death on a contingent of prominent Telluride businessmen who often clashed with Clark over political differences.

Others tried to connect the marshal’s execution with a series of labor strikes underway in Telluride.

Countless tales surround the career of Jim Clark, but most of the speculation remains unverified.

A segment of Telluride referred to Clark as the outlaw marshal but never provided cold, hard facts connecting him to criminal activities. 

When he first drifted into Telluride in 1887, Clark went to work as a ditch-digger on a pipeline project, but no one knew much about him.

At the time, Telluride had the reputation of a lawless frontier settlement where roughnecks shot up the town almost every night.

Clark offered the mayor his services to help quell the runaway disorder and accepted the post of deputy marshal.

Before long, the dangerous burly man with brown eyes, dark mustache, and quick fists, succeeded in out-muscling the gun-happy rogues.

The mayor fired the city marshal and replaced him with Clark. In a special election, July 1888, voters confirmed his appointment.

Under Clark’s tenure, Telluride enjoyed several years of law and order.

The marshal maintained visibility by patrolling city streets every night. He also helped round up cattle rustlers in Gunnison County.

For some reason, rumors emerged that Clark spent his off hours as an outlaw, wearing disguises to rob miners.

Suspicions also circulated that Clark tipped off outlaws about gold shipments being transported by stagecoach and then received part of the stolen proceeds.

He was even accused of taking a bribe to make sure he was out-of-town on June 4, 1889, when three men robbed the Miguel Valley Bank of more than $20,000.

The trio included Tom McCarty, Matt Warner, and Robert LeRoy Parker, who would later be known as the legendary Butch Cassidy.

Gunnison County Sheriff Doc Shores, in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Lawman, contended that Clark told him the outlaws left $2,200 for him under a log on their way out of town. 

Matt Warner, one of the robbers, wrote about the robbery in his memoirs, and never mentioned Clark’s involvement. In fact, at the time of the holdup, Clark wasn’t even officially the sheriff.

Clark was born, 1841, in Clay County, Missouri. At 17, he and a friend supposedly absconded with a mule from his stepfather, fled to San Antonio, Texas, and sold the animal.

During their visit, they stole fourteen-hundred dollars from a rancher and then returned to Missouri.

About a year later, Clark reportedly joined William Quantrill and his Raiders. In her book, Corpse on the Boomerang Road, author MaryJoy Martin wrote it was unlikely Clark rode with Quantrill. After the war, Clark may have ridden with the James-Younger gang.

Clark is buried in Lone Tree Cemetery, San Miguel County, Colorado.

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9 comments to “THE AMBUSH”

  • Wes

    Hi Tom,

    I really like this article! Also, your hint at that Jim Clark might have been part of the James-Younger Gang is not without merit.

    Jay Donald, who wrote a book in 1882 about the James-Younger Gang, titled, “Outlaws of the Border–Frank and Jesse James the Younger Brothers” wrote that Jim Clark was one of the suspects in the Gad’s Hill robbery in 1874, where the James-Younger Gang was definitely involved (which has been proven).

    If Clark was in a separate gang from the James and the Younger brothers and was suspected in error is unclear, but it seems as if they were at least in contact with each other, according to this book. Clarke was in cohorts with Cal Carter from Texas (I believe), who was a member of the James-Younger Gang at one point. And at the time (also according to this 1882 book) it seems to have been common knowledge that Jim Clarke was an outlaw, at least in 1882 and before.

    It’s all very interesting! Again, your articles make pretty good breakfast reads :).

  • Wes

    I don’t know, either, whether Jim Clark was part of the Quantrill Raiders during the Civil War or not, but as a Missourian, he probably must’ve taken side, and if he was in cahoots with the James’ and the Youngers’, he supported the South. The gang would never involve themselves with Northerners. Clark was born in Clay County, which was w James’ and the Youngers territory.

    They most certainly knew each other and possibly rode together on one or two occasions…

  • Hi Wes, thanks for these two comments and your observations on Jim Clark’s background. Lots of the material on Clark is fuzzy so I appreciate you filling in some of the blanks.

  • Mary stafford

    I grew up in Southeastern North Carolina. Many times someone called Daddy to come help them out with situations like a drunk with a gun causing trouble. Daddy got his guns and went to the rescue. Sometimes Uncle Jack went with him. I suppose this sort of thing happens every where as if we were living in the old West.

  • I’m sure it did and does, Mary.

  • Love these short stories Tom. You have the ability with these to draw me in and make me feel as I am living there and being part of it. And I thank you. Marvin

  • What a great compliment, Marvin. Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me so. Means a lot.

  • Adele Embrey

    Hi Tom, I live in Australia so virtually know nothing about American history but have seen a few movies of the wild west over there and read some books.Mum used to read western books to us when we were kids. You have the ability to make one feel like they are there and know what it is all about so Thank you for that
    Keep up the good work.
    Adele

  • Hello Adele, thanks so much for the wonderful compliment. I try to do just that when I write and it’s great to hear from someone who thought I accomplished doing so. Hope you continue to check back for more tales of the West.

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