A TUBERCULAR GUNFIGHTER & A REAL PIONEER

 

... I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because

Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it.   I been there before.   

HUCK FINN by MARK TWAIN


After the Civil War every manner of man wandered into the West. Some were Rebel soldiers who knew they could never return home, some were freed black slaves in search of a new life, and others were pioneers looking for good soil and a place to set down roots.


Whatever their background and calling whatever their past and doubtful future, they all had one thing in common. They all had the wanderlust to explore an unknown continent and to make and lose a fortune some where west of the horizon.


Garfield County had its share of doers as well as dreamers, but two men stand out against our colorful pastone because of his fame as a gunfighter and the other because of his true pioneer spirit.


Doc Holliday, born John H. Holliday, symbolizes the violent, gruesome west of a thousand bars and saloons and long nights spent with dance hall girls and winning hands of faro. John Mobley was once sheriff in Julesburg and a family man beyond reproach. Doc Holliday is the epitome of a gunfighter in a thousand western movies and countless paperback novels. John Mobley, characterizes the strength and grit of the settlers who came into this county. Both men passed through Glenwood Springs. Doc Holliday died in Glenwood on November 8th, 1887, seven years after John Mobley had made the difficult journey over Schofield Pass with his family. One is the western legend, the other is the unsung pioneer. Here are their brief biographies. Which presents a more accurate picture of the west?


John Holliday's career as a sometimes dentist suffered greatly because of his persistent coughing and hacking. He had tuberculosis, and like thousands of other men and women, he went West in search of a cure. Somewhere he picked up a deck of cards and experience as a gambler. He became known as the "Deadly Dentistry not because of his winning hand 30 at poker, but because of his inability to lose gracefully. Regardless of what cards he held, he always had an ace up his sleeve or rather a ten gauge sawed off shotgun under his coat.


Few poker players argued with Doc Holliday. He killed at least eight men in cold blood. Besides the shotgun, he also carried a derringer given to him by a mistress. A fellow gunfighter remark


John "Doc" Holliday before he became ravaged by tuberculosis remarked that Doc had "an ungovernable temper and was given to both drinking and quarreling." One author summed him up with these words, "Alcoholic and tubercular, he was a walking cadaver, with a flash temper and a coldblooded readiness to kill."


After drifting west from Dodge City, he headed south into Arizona and met up with the Earp brothers for the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral. After gunning down his opponents, he drifted north and arrived in Glenwood Springs in May of 1887. The town only had twentyone saloons and hardly enough action for a poker player of his reputation, but he was dying and he knew it (Buffalo Bill also visited the Glenwood Hot Springs before his death).


The healing waters could not dissipate the ravages of harddrinking and tuberculosis. Doc Holliday died with his boots on in November 1887, at the age of 35. Like other gunmen of his notoriety, he was forgotten in his own time, but he has been resurrected in ours. History plays tricks on the past. We remember the scoundrels and forget about the hardworking decent citizens.


Just as Doc Holliday had come west from the cowtowns of Kansas, so had John Mobley been cattle foreman for the Russell & Brown Cattle Company of North Platte, Nebraska. Mobley had fought for the north during the Civil War and he followed the trails west to Julesburg, Colorado, where he served two terms as sheriff beginning in 1870. The urge to move got the best of him and he traded in his silver star, packed up the wife and children, and was next seen with all his worldly possessions on the precarious summit of Schofield Pass. How he made it through the Gunnison country and passed the Devil's Punch Bowl is anyone's guess. Some stories say that he dismantled buckboard wagons and carried them over piece by piece by putting the timbers in panyards on horses, Other sources say he packed everything he owned, including his wife and children, Nellie, age 9, Lucie, age 7, Chester, 3, and an eleven month old baby, over the top on burros. He provided the family with plenty of meat. A generous miner helped add much needed salt to the family diet.


After wintering at Crystal City he moved on to locate at Rock and Carbonate Creek and to plat the town of Clarence. William Wood platted the adjacent town site of Marble and the rivalry began. Initially Clarence had the better edge, but Marble received the post office and the two towns consolidated.


In true pioneer fashion, John Mobley then moved on. He followed the Crystal River east to the junction of Rock and Avalanche Creeks and started "Mobley's Camp." Later it became known as Janeway, and he received his commission as postmaster on August 16, 1887. While Doc Holliday was gambling in Glenwood, John Mobley was sorting mail.


A year later, in 1888, the town had fifty people and W. D. Parry ran a general store. Ten years after that, Janeway became a railroad station on the Crystal River Railroad. Any sensible man would have been proud of his accomplishments and settled down to a life of comparative ease. Not so with John Mobley. He was cut from the same cloth as those earlier generations of Americans who had traversed the Appalachian Mountains and crossed the Cumberland Gap. At the age of 59 he sold out and moved to a Carbondale ranch.


By then Garfield county was starting to fill up. Neighbors were too close, so he sold out again and traded cash for livestock and with a herd of 75 horses and over 100 cows he set out for Nevada. He followed the Colorado River to Rifle and then went north. That burr under his saddle never did quit bothering him....


But John Mobley had picked a bad winter to be traveling with livestock. He and his children, the family had grown to nine by then, were forced to take shelter in the White River country along Wolf Creek. When spring finally came, most of his cattle had died. The winter had been spent in a tent with buffalo hide floors. The three boys had slept under tarps and blankets in the back of the buckboard because the tent had been "a might crowded. 99


Faced with his own failure, he was still not the kind of man to look back and return to civilization. He gave up on Nevada, but headed farther north into the CraigMaybell area and homesteaded the Three Springs Ranch on Blue Mountain.


Mobley had claimed the only water for miles around. Ute Indians riding east from the Utah reservation made frequent visits to the Mobley ranchwith or without an invitation. Some of the tribe even made moccasins for Mobley's children. The Utes had hunted the White River country for generations and they were not about to give up prime hunting territory. So while most men his age would have retired to a small town, John Mobley found himself on a trail still used by Indians. One day they came calling with their war paint on and guns raised.


Game and Fish Commissioner Charles N. Harris wrote in his 19011902 report:


This year, upon learning that the Indians were again making their appearance, / decided to visit their camps in person with the view of persuading them to go back peacefully. I encountered a number of them at Gillen Draw in Rio Blanco County at about 10 o'clock in the forenoon of October 6. After they had learned my business with them they agreed to go back to the reservation. It seems, however, instead of returning, they found another band in the vicinity and immediately followed my trail. Upon sight of me they began firing. I was shot in the left side, the bullet shattering a portion of the seventh rib. While the wound was painful, it was not serious and / was still able to cling to my horse. Their fire was returned by me but with what results / do not know.


Later my horse was shot out from under me, and I was compelled to seek shelter in the brush. The loss of blood from the wound began to tell upon my strength by this time, and / was forced to lie down.


At daylight, I made my way back to Rangely and after attending to my wound, asked for volunteers to go with me to the scene of the encounter for the purpose of getting my saddle and bridle. Some citizens of Rangely informed me that they 'had lost no Indians' and I found only one man who was willing to go with me.


According to Mobley family legend, a game warden wandered onto the Mobley ranch and asked for shelter from a band of Ute hunters. Although John Mobley had given shelter to any number of wayfaring strangers, a game warden with Indians on his trail was not a man to invite in for a cup of coffee and a slice of sourdough bread. The warden wasn't badly hurt and Mobley suggested the warden "hightail it out of the country about as fast as yer feet'll take ya."


Within a short time angry Utes arrived and demanded the game warden. Mobley said he had been there but that he had gone on. Mobley refused to state in which direction the warden had fled. He was then told by a Ute brave that if he had spoken the truth he would "wakum up in the morning”.  If not, he would "not wakum up in the morning." Mobley had done the best he could by his family and by the warden. Although the game warden may have questioned Mobley's courage, he shouldn't have.


John Mobley liked to grow his hair long and one day after doing some trading in Glenwood, he was having lunch with a friend at the Hotel Colorado. While eating dinner he became aware of stares and jeers from a nearby patron. The man persisted in making loud comments and referring to Mobley's hair as "Sissy."


The longhaired, longbearded Mobley finished his meal, dabbed his chin and walked over to the heckler's table. He bent over close enough for the strands of his hair to dip into the man's soup and then he said with serious intent, "Son of a bitch, would you care to pull it?" A long, anxious moment of silence ensued. Years later Mobley told one of his boys, "No one seemed inclined to take up my offer, so I left. 11


John Holliday was a tubercular gambler who drew his last hand in Glenwood Springs. John Mobley was a true pioneer who traveled up the Crystal River Valley, down the Colorado River Valley, and lived out his last days in some of the most barren landscape in the state. The two men had more differences than similarities, but no one would have called Doc Holliday, or John Mobley, 6 9 sissy."


Pat O'Neill wrote "Mountain Man Mobley Wasn't As Mean As He Looked" in the July 23, 1980 Rifle Tribune Also see A Look Back: A 75 Year History of the Colorado Game, Fish & Parks Division.


Below are the pictures of Doc Holliday and John Chester Mobley which accompanied the article