The Corpse On Boomerang Road
Telluride's War on Labor, 1899-1908

by MaryJoy Martin



Fax: 970-944-0273
P.O. Box 1149 * Lake City, CO 81235 * USA

ISBN: 1-932738-02-9
Hardcover * 6x9, 380 pages,
photos, maps, bibliography, endnotes, index


Corpse cover

On August 8, 1907, newspapers in Telluride, Colorado, declared that the bones of William J. Barney had been recovered from a shallow grave on Boomerang Hill, thus proving the Telluride Miners' Union had butchered him in 1901. Many mine owners, newspaper editors, and Pinkerton detectives claimed the union had inaugurated a reign of terror with Barney's slaying, a nightmare of brutality that would end only when the union men and their families were driven from the region and their leaders were hanging from the gallows.

The belief that the Miners' Union was a pack of assassins and its victims were numerous has endured for more than a hundred years. Yet meticulous research has revealed no reign actually existed, and the supposed victims were, in fact, alive long after their alleged murders.

Capital versus Labor

When miners demanded living wages, humane hours, and safe working conditions, mine owners answered them with hired killers and Gatling guns.

The Corpse on Boomerang Road not only shatters long-held convictions, it also unravels several murder cases and exonerates those unjustly accused. It presents unmistakable evidence of a conspiracy between the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the Telluride Mine Owners' Association. This book tells the story of a struggle between labor and capital in the first part of the twentieth century—a time when mine owners could purchase the state militia to deport union men, when editors could slander and condemn union leaders without justification, and when Pinkertons could plot the arrest and conviction of innocent men on behalf of big business.

This is also the story of Vincent St. John, one of the most influential labor leaders the West produced in its early years. He was an officer in the Western Federation of Miners, and as president of Local 63 at Telluride, Colorado, led a successful strike against the Smuggler-Union Mining Company in 1901. In 1902, he and Union secretary-treasurer, O.M. Carpenter, inspired the rank and file to build a state-of-the-art brick hospital, union hall, and library. The building still stands as a symbol of solidarity in Telluride.

St. John became an organizer for the WFM and later became general secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1908-1914. He contributed significantly to the cause of labor, yet has been nearly forgotten because he was a humble, self-sacrificing leader.

During St. John's lifetime, opponents of labor accused him of murdering Will Barney, and the murder was used to condemn him in the press despite the absence of a corpse and any evidence against him. The Mine Operators' Association in Telluride sent gunman, Bob Meldrum, after St. John, hired Pinkertons to harrass him, had him arrested on various charges without foundation, and hounded him for years. In 1907 mine manager, Bulkeley Wells, found a skull and bones on Boomerang Hill, claiming these were the remains of the murdered Barney. Wells displayed the skull in shop windows with a sign condemning St. John and the union as murderers. He claimed further proof: he had a Pinkerton-produced confession from a union miner named Steve Adams. This tale claiming St. John had murdered Barney and hired Adams to assassinate mine manager, Arthur L. Collins, has endured for a century.

The Corpse on Boomerang Road finally brings to light the chilling hatred and relentless persecution of organized labor in San Miguel County, Colorado in the early twentieth century.

Copyright © 2004




Fax: 970-944-0273
P.O. Box 1149 * Lake City, CO 81235 * USA

The Corpse On Boomerang Road
Telluride's War on Labor, 1899-1908
by MaryJoy Martin


All excerpts are copyrighted material, used with permission

Many have called the Western Federation of Miners the “most militant union in the West.” This militancy intrigued author MaryJoy Martin, who sought the truth behind the shadowed tales of butchery and violence...

From the PREFACE:

“I have heard the Western Federation of Miners called the ‘Western Federation of Dynamiters.’ I have heard this union denounced as ‘worse than Highbinders and Black Hand societies’ and the members labeled as the ‘scum of Europe,’ ‘rabid anarchists,’ ‘rank socialist agitators,’ and ‘blood-thirsty assassins,’ with a ‘huge slush fund’ for the legal defense of their hired killers. At Telluride, Colorado, the WFM Local Number 63 was accused of ‘inaugurating a Reign of Terror’ in which murders and assassinations were commonplace and those they disliked were said to vanish under the ‘most vile and mysterious circumstances.’ By numerous accounts the Miners’ Union men, particularly the officers, were degenerate, corrupt, menacing, frenetic, bomb-throwing, felonious, godless, indefensible, illegitimate sons of soulless hags.”

These were my kind of lads.

As an investigative journalist, I have been driven to seek what lurks beneath the capstone of any creature or organization with a reputation so malignant as to make it a monster. Was the Western Federation of Miners a monster? Were the officers of Telluride’s Local 63 monsters? Had the members committed all the crimes laid at their feet? Were murders so commonplace in San Miguel County as to create fear in the citizenry?

History seemed to whisper it was so. The first time I heard of it was in 1976 when an old miner in Denver told me a startling ghost tale about a headless shift boss named William Barney who haunted the Smuggler-Union Mine. I was told Local 63 had killed Barney and buried his dismembered corpse in the forest. Barney topped a list of Telluride men murdered or kidnapped by Local 63, a list that had outlived the union itself, a list that was signed, sealed, and published for posterity by the Mine Owners Association and confirmed by those models of veracity and courage, the Pinkertons. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, with its motto, ‘We Never Sleep,’ had impressed me in my childhood as an organization determined to end lawlessness in the West. Thus I was drawn to the victims the Pinkertons confirmed as murdered, especially to Barney, who appeared as a ghost in the very same year union men had shot him....

...I rushed out to investigate this mysterious victim whose bones had been found on Boomerang Hill six years after his disappearance. Along the way I met his fellow victims, those who had been butchered by the members of Local 63, those who had been run off, those who had been shot in cold blood, and those who were brutalized and abused. I wanted to tell their forgotten stories and let justice speak on their behalf.

Usually what emerges from dusty archives and government documents is simply a clearer, more detailed picture of historical events, but in the case of the murder victims of Local 63 there was a startling about-face. The paper trail proved the officers and members of that long-silenced union were not monsters of any sort. Sinister whispers on the winds of history were only echoes of a time when hatred had its day in Telluride.”

From Chapter One:

“Like threads made of shadow and wind, the mystery of William Julius Barney has tangled the serenity and startling beauty of San Miguel County for more than a century. Barney had vanished from Telluride in 1901 and the Mine Operators' Association declared union officers had brutally slain him. The governor of Colorado and the sheriff of San Miguel County declared the same. The county commissioners, attorneys, editors, the adjutant general of the Colorado National Guard, and the man known as the ‘Great Detective,’ James McParland of the Pinkertons—all declared the homicidal Telluride Miners’ Union, a local of the Western Federation of Miners, had murdered William Julius Barney.

Barney's death was important to the Mine Operators’ Association (MOA) and the Pinkertons, not because they loved and honored the man, but because they needed murders to prove a ‘Reign of Terror’ had gripped Telluride—a reign bred by the Western Federation of Miners, a reign that McParland said made the infamous Molly Maguire killings look like child’s play. Since one murder failed to create the reign, the MOA tucked in a few dead companions beneath Barney: John Mahoney, murdered by the union; Sam Servis, murdered by the union; Wesley Smith, murdered by the union. Four murdered men were enough to constitute this Reign of Terror, particularly when their names were mentioned so frequently that it seemed the four were dozens or had been murdered several times over. Little did it matter that none of the dead men left a body behind for the coroner. Once they were declared murdered by the union, their names were strenuously rattled like magic bones before the public: a lie repeated often enough, especially by the press, eventually becomes the truth. Pure magic....

The press was a crucial weapon in the war the MOA waged on the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), and Barney's murder was indispensable to the war. The MOA had begun its war as soon as the WFM organized in Butte, Montana, on May 15, 1893....”

The Journal versus the Examiner

The two newspapers in Telluride became a battleground, with the Journal condemning the Miners' Union and the San Miguel Examiner defending it.

“…The quintessential weapon in the MOA’s public opinion war against the WFM was the publisher or editor who despised the Federation more than the MOA did, for seething animosity always failed to recognize truth or fact. In Telluride the local MOA found such a chambermaid in Francis Edward Curry, editor of the Daily Journal. Curry was a man whose festering bitterness assured he would willingly discredit, disgrace, or dishonor the WFM, spilling his twisted news across the state via the Associated Press....

F. E. ‘Eddie’ Curry knew the power of the press. He understood the power of repetition. He knew he played a pivotal role in the community: the Daily Journal and the weekly San Miguel Examiner were the main sources of news in this remote mining camp in western Colorado.... Had he kept his personal contempt from sticking to the printing press, had he not bedded with the MOA, had he promoted settlement and harmony instead of strife and enmity, Telluride's history might have played out with far less tragedy.

Even long after Telluride Local 63 had wearied under the suffocating persecution, Curry continued to condemn it. His only reason for the condemnation appeared to be the claim that it was a murderous organization, a claim grounded in false accusations, a claim he could not relinquish. By repeating lies in print, he assured their place in history as ‘facts.’ The pinnacle of this journalistic magic was William Julius Barney, whose ‘murder’ had become fact.

To sustain the fact and keep it newsworthy, Curry made the murder more brutal and detailed with the passage of time, changing the original single shot to Barney's head to a vicious eleven bullets perforating the man. He boldly delivered the murderers’ names to posterity. When Curry figuratively rattled Barney’s bones with a triumphant see-I-told-you-so headline in 1907, it echoed over the San Juan Mountains for decades, and his fact crept into pioneer memoirs and history books, accepted as unalterable truth: beyond the shadow of a doubt, Telluride Local 63 had murdered William Julius Barney.

If that was truth, F. E. Curry stored nuts in his nose.”

The Pinkertons and the mine operators in Telluride fed the murder story, adding victims to the list, and naming the president of the Telluride Miners’ Union, Vincent St. John, as the murderer. Later, union secretary, Oscar Carpenter, was listed as an accomplice.

Mine operators despised St. John merely because he had an exceptional gift for organizing the miners. Law-abiding and personable, he firmly believed in nonviolence and the power of the strike and boycott. Mine owners had nothing to fear from him, except his unswerving dedication to the rights of the worker. From the moment he had led a successful strike against the unjust practices of the Smuggler-Union Mining Company, they condemned him. The Smuggler strike was called in May 1901. For weeks the company refused to negotiate, hiring gunmen as mine guards. The gunmen harrassed and assaulted strikers daily. Despite this, the strikers continued to send delegations to the mine to ask newly hired scabs to join their cause.

From Chapter Six:

St. John's work to unite the ethnic groups within the union was finally realized, for the delegation consisted of Italians led by James Roner and Vic Boggia, Austrians led by Louis Macari, Irish led by Jerry O'Rourke and William Brennan, and Finns led by John E. Conn and John Barthell. They numbered about four dozen. At 5:00 a.m., just as the night shift was coming off work and the next shift was about to go on, a delegation of about a dozen strikers approached the men at the Sheridan, demanding the nonunion men quit work immediately. The union committee told them if they left peaceably, ‘there would be no trouble.’ They preferred that the men would join the union’s cause. The Examiner reported the delegates were unarmed, but the men in the ranks behind them were carrying weapons.

Jack Hyde and the guards yelled their usual insults and ordered the committee off the property. Trigger-happy Shadagee Bill Jordan came out of the office and the young Finn, John Barthell, ...stood in front of the delegation, unarmed by all accounts, and shouted at Jordan, the guards, and the scabs, ‘You are under arrest.’ This was the best phrase he could manage in his broken English. Jordan and his men answered with a fusillade of hot lead, a bullet ripping through Barthell's neck. The young Finn dropped to the ground, his life instantly snuffed out. Incensed by the cold-blooded killing, his comrades scrambled for cover and returned fire.

For several minutes a hail of bullets came from both sides, with some nonunion men fleeing in terror. Shadagee Bill took a bullet in his right leg near the groin that went out the other side, tearing a ragged hole but not damaging bones. In a stumbling run he fled as strikers fired at him. He found safety in an adit, where he collapsed, bleeding profusely...”

Although the sheriff was afraid to attempt riot control (the rioting lasted a few hours), St. John rushed to the scene on the mountain. He was instrumental in bringing hostilities to an end. A few days later, the company signed a fair wage agreement with the union. Despite the settlement, management determined to destroy the thorn in its side: Vincent St. John.

Toward the end of 1902, the manager of the Smuggler-Union Mine, Arthur Collins, was shot in the back. His replacement, Bulkeley Wells, took up the persecution of St. John as a sacred duty. Wells was determined to prove the union leader had ordered the assassination of Collins and had personally butchered Will Barney.

Conveniently, both cases were wrapped up by a miner named Steve Adams. Arrested in 1906, Adams confessed to Pinkerton James McParland that St. John had paid him to shoot Collins and to rebury the remains of Will Barney...

The Confession

“The maggots had got their work in in the intestines...” (from the confession of Steve Adams, National Pinkerton Agency records)

From Chapter Two:

“According to Adams’s confession, his instructions from St. John were to find the body, remove the clothing, and bury the body separate from the clothing ‘so no one could identify the remains by the clothing.’ Adams told McParland, ‘The body had on a coat, vest and trousers, also a pair of hob-nailed boots.’ He knelt beside the body and stripped it down, dumping the clothes and boots in a sack. He said Carpenter ‘couldn't stand the stench and got deadly sick,’ leaving the job to Adams.

Growing comfortable with the grisly details of his story, Adams continued, ‘I just pulled the feet out of the sockets at the knees and put them in the [second] sack, then pulled the thigh bones out of the sockets at the hips and put them in the sack.’ ”(Adams's confession quoted from McParland's reports, Pinkerton National Detective Agency Papers)

Adams's chilling confession seemed genuine in its ghastly detail. Yet taken as a whole and placed against actual facts, court documents, and scientific analysis, the confession crumbles completely. Author MaryJoy Martin presents a clear case of conspiracy in THE CORPSE ON BOOMERANG ROAD, a conspiracy with the destruction of the Western Federation of Miners as its goal.

Was Will Barney really murdered?

Copyright © 2004

Praise for The Corpse on Boomerang Road

“A century ago a war between union organizers and mine operators rocked Telluride, Colorado as Western miners sought a decent wage and safe working conditions. MaryJoy Martin has produced a superb chronicle of those deep-seated conflicts. The Corpse on Boomerang Road is an excellent contribution to local history, mining history, and an understanding of 19th century labor issues in the American West. The cast of characters is all here, from Colorado governors doing the bidding of wealthy mine owners, to miners valiantly standing up for their rights despite real threats of violence. This is valuable, carefully researched history and it must not be forgotten.”
—Andrew Gulliford, Ph.D.
—Director, Center of Southwest Studies

Dr. Gulliford is Professor of Southwest Studies and History at Fort Lewis College, and author of Sacred Objects and Sacred Places: Preserving Tribal Traditions; America’s Country Schools; and other books.


“Martin has done a brilliant research job. This is the definitive history of Telluride’s War on Labor 1899-1908. Exhaustive. A masterpiece of historical detective work… And it’s not just great history. It’s a great read.”
– Art Goodtimes, Columnist, Poet, San Miguel County Commissioner
For the entire review, click here:
Whole Life Net & Telluride Watch

“Martin's splendid chronicle of Telluride's little-known labor wars is surely one of the finest regional histories in recent years. Hers is a compelling, startling and unnerving tale of how powerful dark forces shattered a prosperous mining community a century ago.… Her book deserves high commendation and recognition, and not just in scholarly circles. Most of all, she deserves a legion of readers.”
– Charlie Langdon, Senior Critic
For the entire review, click here:
The Durango Herald

“This is a long and complicated story, extensively researched and richly told.”
– Ed Quillen, Editor
For the entire review, click here:
Colorado Central Magazine

“This is an extremely readable book... and it provides the best available portrait of Vincent St. John… Martin has done a real service in telling his story, and placing it in the company of the Telluride miners with whom he fought so valiantly.”
– Jon Bekken, Editor
The Industrial Worker



A native of Florida, MaryJoy Martin moved to Colorado in 1958 and was educated in Denver. As an investigative journalist with a background in history and the criminal sciences, she has been writing about the state's mysteries for thirty years. Her books include the popular Twilight Dwellers: Ghosts, Gases, and Goblins of Colorado, and the recent, Something in the Wind: Spirits, Spooks, and Sprites of the San Juan. An extensive traveler, she has written articles on a wide range of subjects for state and national magazines and newspapers. She is also a columnist for the regional parody newspaper, the San Juan Horseshoe.

Some have called her a “tenacious investigator” and a “dedicated researcher,” but Martin says her determination to hunt down the last scrap of a story is “madness.” She seeks primary materials and documentable evidence with the focus of a bloodhound, spending weeks and months lost in dusty court record rooms, state archives, or special library collections. She has a deep affinity for archivists, extolling them as the “guardians of our heritage.”

“Some archivists deserve monuments in their honor for their expertise and patience and willingness to always assist,” Martin says, “especially William W. LeFevre at the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University; David M. Hays at the Archives of the Norlin Library, University of
Colorado at Boulder; Leslie C. Shores at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming; and Todd Ellison, at the Center of Southwest Studies, Ft. Lewis College. I have to say I absolutely love these people and admire the work they, and others like them, do in preserving our history. I have never met an archivist I didn't like.”

Martin is a member of the Colorado Historical Society and has contributed to the preservation of the state's labor history. She is also an award-winning artist and photographer whose work is included in collections throughout the U.S.A., Scotland, England, and France. She created many of the portraits for The Corpse on Boomerang Road, using scratched and blurred printouts from old microfilmed newspaper photos as her models. A sample of the portrait of H.M. Hogg is seen below, the microfilm printout picture on the left, and the finished portrait on the right. Martin's art studio is in southwest Colorado, where she resides with three Great Pyrenees, a cantankerous Pomeranian, and a legion of wild reptiles and amphibians.

Portrait by MJ Martin copyright 2003

Copyright © 2004

Corpse on Boomerang Road

Telluride's War on Labor, 1899-1908
by MaryJoy Martin
ISBN: 1-932738-02-9
Hardcover * 6x9, 380 pages,
photos, bibliography, endnotes, index


Western Reflections


Fax: 970-944-0273
P.O. Box 1149 * Lake City, CO 81235 * USA



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