Red Cliff: Ghosts in the graveyard |

Red Cliff: Ghosts in the graveyard

Kathy Heicher
Red Cliff, CO Colorado
Eagle County Historical SocietyLydia Tague made Colorado history in 1911 when she became the first woman in the state to be appointed as a county court judge

RED CLIFF, Colorado –Sometimes local history is learned from the ground up.

The Eagle County Historical Society invites local residents and visitors to prowl Red Cliff’s Greenwood Cemetery Saturday for a fascinating glimpse at the county’s past.

Red Cliff is the oldest town in the county. The first grave in the mountain cemetery dates back to 1880. Over 600 people are buried in the graveyard, including some of the most notable (and sometimes notorious) pioneers of the county.

Actors and actresses from the Porchlight Players theater group will portray some of those characters.

Here’s a sneak preview of a few of the people who will be featured on the tour:

Lydia Tague made Colorado history in 1911 when she became the first woman in the state to be appointed as a county court judge.

That appointment may have been in part prompted by economic necessity, and sympathy. Her husband, Patrick, had been serving as judge when he suddenly died. That left Lydia with five young children to raise.

She must have handled the job well. Voters elected her to the office in 1912 then re-elected her two more times. In total, she handed down judicial decisions for a dozen years.

Tague, a rather stern woman, was an ardent prohibitionist, with little tolerance for bootleggers. One Minturn bootlegger, who was apparently running a profitable business, didn’t blink when she fined him $250 for his transgressions. “I have the money in my pocket,” he declared eagerly.

The annoyed Judge Tague then banged down her gavel, and announced that she was also imposing a six-month jail sentence.

“Do you have that in your pocket too?” she reportedly asked the stunned defendant.

Arthur Fulford played many roles in the history of Eagle County. A big, powerful man, he served as Red Cliff town marshall in 1881 -1882.

He was also one of the first prospectors in the New York Mountain area. Fulford left Red Cliff to ranch on Brush Creek, south of Eagle, and operate a stage stop for minors heading to the local mining camps. According to local lore, it was at that stage stop that a prospector told Fulford a tall tale of a lost gold mine in the district.

Fulford died in a snow slide on West Lake Creek on New Year’s Eve, 1891. Many believed he had just discovered that lost gold mine when the avalanche killed him. The story of the lost gold mine persists.

Fulford’s grave marker is the most prominent monument in the Red Cliff cemetery.

Dr. Joseph Gilpin was a Civil War veteran (Confederate Army) who came to the Red Cliff mining camp in 1881, with the intent of practicing medicine. But he wasn’t there long before he became intrigued by the mining industry. For a couple of seasons, he and his partners prospected on East Lake Creek, searching for gold and silver.

But the ore veins were less than anticipated, and after a couple of years, Doc Gilpin returned to Red Cliff, and served as the community’s doctor for nearly 40 years.

Out of necessity, Doc Gilpin became an authority on the treatment of pneumonia, and was asked to present a paper on his methods at a meeting of the Colorado Medical Society in Denver.

A kindly man with a Santa Claus beard, Gilpin was a dedicated physician. He not only made house calls; he would trudge through deep snows with a sled to tend to miners in the area’s many mining camps.

Gilpin was sympathetic to the financial hardships of his clients, and often lowered prices or waived his fees altogether.

He apparently did not make a lot of money. His grave is marked only with a faded wooden tombstone, and a small metal sign from the mortuary.

“Nottingham” is as prominent a name in the valley today as it was over 100 years ago. The Nottingham family has a large grave plot in the Red Cliff cemetery, and those graves have stories to tell.

William H. Nottingham, a businessman and county commissioner, was killed in a 1892 shoot-out by his business partner, Ernest Hurd, during a quarrel over business and family matters.

Seven years later, Nottingham’s widow, Nancy Angeline, married Hurd.

Another grave in the Nottingham plot is that of Grace V. Nottingham, a woman of remarkable beauty and tempestuous relationships.

Grace made headlines after she shot and killed her fiancee during a lover’s quarrel in 1904. A jury delivered a verdict of involuntary manslaughter and recommended clemency for the defendant. She was sentenced to 24 hours in the county jail.

Four years later, Grace was killed by her estranged husband, Harry Adler, in a murder-suicide.

What: Red Cliff Cemetery Tour

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday

Cost: $10 for adults; $7 for Historical Society members; $5 for kids under 13

Details: Hosted by the Eagle County Historical Society. Tours start every half hour at the Red Cliff Town Hall, 400 Pine Street. Tours last just over an hour. Wear walking shoes; bring water.

More information: Contact Kathy Heicher at 970-328-7104; or at

Kathy Heicher is the president of the Eagle County Historical Society. E-mail comments about this story to

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