Grand Junction Free Press Local History Columnist

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December 19, 2011
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GJ HISTORY: The Mighty Quinn - The day Mesa County owned a railroad and was taken for a ride

In 1893 William J. Quinn, a young man of 39 years, was serving as the elected Mesa County Treasurer, and he and his wife, Mary, and eight children were enjoying the good life. He had married Mary C. Hudnell in Doniphan County, Kan., on June 4, 1877.

Born in Pennsylvania, Will - as he liked to be called - was a good farmer, and went to school to learn bookkeeping. By 1885, he and Mary were in the Grand Junction census and he is listed as a bookkeeper, a trade that would last his whole life.

He was well-liked about town, and in 1891 ran for Mesa County Treasurer. The Grand Junction News said of him that "he was a foe man worth the steel of any opponent. He is a bright, clear headed business man, well known all over the county, reliable and responsible citizen capable of filling the office of county treasurer and will, if elected, discharge the duties of the office himself."

Quinn was elected to a two-year term. In those days all county elected official terms were only for two years; it would not be until the 1920s that the county terms were changed to four years.

During his term the issue of who owned the rail beds between Grand Junction and the state line came into question. Treasurer Quinn stated the railroad was the property owner and the railroad said they were not and refused to pay the taxes. One Monday in May 1893 Treasurer Quinn placed into the hand of Sheriff Innes a warrant to seize enough property to pay the taxes owed to the county. The amount was $1000.91.

The sheriff went to the Union Station in town and when the evening train came in from the west, the sheriff seized the train engine, leaving his deputy in charge holding the train. This caused a great deal of commotion between the railroad, and city and county officials. The telegraph wires buzzed all day and night until on Tuesday under protest the railroad paid the taxes and the train was released.

For Treasurer Quinn that settled the matter of who owned the land and who was responsible for payment of the property tax. Mesa County residents thought him to be an outstanding fellow for such a grand event.

Mesa County may have had control of a railroad for a day...but what about the ride? Read on for the rest of the story.

At that time the county treasurers in the state invested county funds where they saw fit, usually in different banks where they could get the best return. Treasurer Quinn allegedly had invested $15,000 in Denver banks because of rumors of pending bank failures in Mesa County.

In August 1893 the commissioners asked Quinn about the deposits and Quinn told them that the county treasurer's checks were private papers, together with all bank account information. The truth of the matter is the commissioners had been asking about the funds in the county treasurer's office since March or April of the same year.

But apparently the commissioners didn't seem to think anything was really wrong because in an effort to help out the local banks, they asked Quinn in September to go to Denver and withdraw the funds he had invested there and invest them here.

Before he left, the commissioners also asked the treasurer to increase his personal bond because of the amount of monies he was working with. In those days the personal bond on public officials was backed by local businessmen and people of wealth.

Just before he left, it was rumored around town that he had won a large amount of money gambling. In fact the commissioners received a letter from a gambling fraternity about Quinn's gambling.

In September 1893, Treasurer Quinn supposedly went to Denver to secure the county funds from the banks. After he left, his deputy treasurer, S.M. Logan, told the commissioners there was something wrong with the books. There should have been over $27,300 in county funds, but there was only $12,840 left in the bank.

It would seem that from the time William J. Quinn took office in January 1892, he had been gambling with county funds. He had played like a high roller and $15,000 of county funds had been gambled away. Quinn knew the jig was up so he fled, leaving his wife and eight children behind. Instead of going to Denver he ended up in Texas.

Once the facts were out, lots of people came forward and said: "That Quinn always had a gambling problem" or "I told you so."

This information surprised the Grand Junction News who wrote: "Why did someone not tell the good citizens while he ran for office? Will Quinn appeared to be devoted to his wife and family."

He was caught in Galveston, Texas, passing Mesa County checks on Sept. 2, 1893. Sheriff Innes wired the sheriff of Galveston to hold Will Quinn. The commissioners agreed to give a $500 reward for the arrest of William J. Quinn and declared the office of Mesa County Treasurer vacant, because if not, Quinn could legally still write county checks.

Will Quinn was officially arrested in Texas on Sept. 6 and a telegram was sent to Sheriff Innes stating: "W.J. Quinn arrested. Willing to go back. Signed Jerry Lordan, Chief of Police."

The local businessmen had to make good the $15,000 in funds lost because they backed Quinn's bond. They were: Mr. J.J. Lumsden, J.A. Layton, A.B. Johnson, G.C. Murray, Edwin Price, W.T. Carpenter, Geo Wheeler, James Whitley and Orson Adams.

William J. Quinn was returned to Mesa County by Sheriff Innes and his deputy, John Reeder, and stood trial in the Old Courthouse at Sixth and Main (now Main Street Bagels). His chief complaint was he didn't like walking from the county jail down Main Street because the citizens were giving him a sidewalk trial before he made it to court in the building where he used to work.

William J. Quinn was found guilty on Oct. 31, 1893 and spent years in the prison in Canon City.

In 1900 Will Quinn's wife Mary was living in Salt Lake City with her eight children, Gentry Jane, Olympia, Laura, Hugh, Bessie, William, Harry, and Faith. Mary is listed as married, waiting for her husband's release from prison.

Later in 1910 Mary was living in Oregon with her husband who now goes by James E. Quinn and six of the eight children. In 1920, Mary and James E. Quinn were living in Washington state with two of their children and a grandchild named, Ester.

Mary C. Quinn died in 1927 in Oregon and William J. Quinn aka James E. Quinn died in Washington in 1944 at age 90. Since his release from prison, his trade was as a bookkeeper.

For a short time William J. Quinn gave Mesa County its only railroad train, and the business community, the county commissioners, and the Mesa County citizens the ride of their lives.


Garry Brewer is finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling, but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom.

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 19, 2011 11:09PM Published Dec 19, 2011 11:00PM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.