Monday, October 13, 2014

Felipe Espinosa: The Headless Horseman, Part ll

Felipe Espinosa went on a brutal killing spree in 1863 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. He vowed to kill 600 Gringos. 

It was a violent time but Espinosa’s murders where he mutilated his victims shocked the frontier residents of this new American territory.

A posse had managed to track down Espinosa and his cousin Vivian who was his partner in crime. His cousin was killed but Felipe managed to escape.

Resumption of a Crusade

For months after the posse killed Vivian everything was quiet. Some Colorado residents hoped Espinosa had returned to Mexico. But Felipe returned to the Rocky Mountains in October of 1863.

He now traveled with his 14-year-old nephew Jose Espinosa. "These two drunk, attacked a wagon traveling through La Veta Pass in southern Colorado."

In this wagon was Deloris Sanchez and her Anglo companion a man by the name of Philbrook. When these two heard gunshots they scattered. The Espinosas chased Philbrook but lost him so they circled back to where Deloris was.

They raped her and then tied her up. They told her they were going to get Philbrook and then return for her. But Philbrook managed to reach Fort Garland and returned with soldiers from this fort.

Fort Garland at base of
Sangre de Cristos
In the meantime, Deloris had managed to untie herself and the group found her hiding.

A Reluctant Hero

Thomas “Tate” Tobin was summoned to Fort Garland in order to track the Espinosas. He was a well-known mulatto trapper, tracker and mountain man who had scouted for the army. He was friends with and fought alongside Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody and Kit Carson during various Indian campaigns.

Tate Tobin
"At first glance Tobin was unremarkable--he was short and bowlegged." But he was miffed when he was informed that a detachment of 15 soldiers was being sent with him. He felt he could handle this assignment on his own.

He traveled 3 days and 3 nights only stopping for a few hours each night--he did not let the soldiers build any fires--several were sent back to the fort exhausted. He tracked the Espinosas campfires. It was said of him once, “He can track a grasshopper through sagebrush.”

On the fourth morning he spotted a thin wisp of smoke, he left the soldiers behind as he crawled on his stomach to where Felipe and Jose were warming their hands over a small fire.

Felipe stood, stretching his arms out wide. "Tobin fired and Felipe whipped around holding a gaping hole in his side and fell backwards into the fire." Jose took off for the nearby woods--Tobin aimed, fired and hit him in the spine where he then fell dead.

Felipe still alive managed to pull himself out of the fire. Tobin approached with his Bowie knife drawn. He grabbed Felipe’s hair and bent his head over a log where with two slashes of his knife he beheaded him.

When he returned to Fort Garland he had both Felipe’s and Jose’s heads in a sack.

At the time Tobin killed the Espinosas there was a $5500 price on their heads. Tobin never collected this bounty stating years later he didn’t know there was one.

The Headless Ghost

Felipe Espinosa’s ghost is seen where he died. As early as 1865 there were reports about this ghost.

Spot were Felipe Espinosa
was killed.
One eyewitness sighting happened in the summer of 1869. Charles Streeter was heading home when he reached the area where Tobin killed Felipe. Ahead of him on the trail he spotted a immobile horse with a rider.

As he drew near he realized this man sitting astride a jet-black horse was headless. The figure was pointing a firearm at his chest. Streeter didn’t stop to think as he raced down the hill.

In 1874, Ramon Costa and Juan Sales also fled when they saw the same sight in the exact same spot where Streeter had seen this specter.

The next year a Lieutenant Wilson T. Hartz reported that he not only saw this headless horseman but that it had galloped after him, holding a gun. Hartz reported he quickly raced down the trail.

Later, in 1875 two friends Philip McKay and Thomas Hatchwood, two businessmen from Denver, reported as they rode through the area they also saw this frightening ghost.

The two men had heard about this haunting and were skeptical but when they caught a glimpse of this rider on a black horse they realized it was very lifelike except for the fact it had no head.

They rode off in the opposite direction, Espinosa’s horse at first chased them but it then just vanished.

It is said the heads of Felipe and Jose were at one time kept in the basement of the Colorado state capital. There are stories about these two heads haunting this building.

Read Felipe Espinosa: The HeadlessHorseman, Part l to find out more about the murders this Mexican bandit out for revenge committed.

Excerpts from TheVendetta of Felipe Espinosa by Adam James Jones

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