Jno. Noonan, the lawyer from Hartford, is attending court.
— Buena Vista Democrat, May 24, 1883
The events of March 23, 1883, blurred in Harl Hiatt’s mind. He had gone to Fay and Hunters Saloon in Buena Vista and enjoyed a night of drinking with friends. John C. Clifford, a popular Buena Vista resident, then joined the group at the bar. The next thing Hiatt knew, Clifford was dead on the floor, the victim of a gunshot from the pistol Hiatt held in his hand. Now, two months later, Hiatt put his trust in the attorney seated next to him in a Chaffee County courtroom. That attorney was John L. Noonan.
Noonan had been retained by Hiatt’s parents to defend their son. Like Hiatt, Noonan’s home was Blackford County, Ind. Born Dec. 17, 1848, to Irish immigrant parents, Noonan had served as a school teacher and then as Blackford County Clerk and Recorder. He attended what is today DePauw University, and then became law partner with Benjamin G. Shinn of Hartford City, Ind. From about 1880 to 1883 he was prosecuting attorney for Blackford County.
Noonan possessed a keen pragmatic mind that centered less on emotion and more upon cause and effect. In October 1883 he secured a change in venue to Fremont County for Hiatt’s trial. In December that year, Hiatt was acquitted and declared a free man.
Colorado appealed to attorney Noonan. While defending Hiatt, he joined the Leadville law firm of Templar and Page, specializing in mining issues. In 1884, Edward Everett, who would become a prominent Glenwood Springs grocer, enticed Noonan to the frontier town of Glenwood Springs. The pair loaded their possessions in a spring wagon and made their way west. The trip over Independence Pass and down the Roaring Fork Valley took four days.
Noonan wasted no time becoming a contributing citizen to his new home. Not afraid of physical work, he helped dig the basement for Henry Kamm’s store on the northwest corner of Eighth and Grand Avenue. He then put his legal skills to work in 1885, drawing up and presenting to the county court the petition to incorporate the town of Glenwood Springs. He also presented a proposal to furnish a water system to Glenwood Springs, but the proposal of another was favored. He established a law practice, and assisted with the cases of two of Glenwood Springs’ high profile accused murderers, Elisha Cravens and Herman Babcock. A Republican, he would serve two terms as Garfield County judge, serve as Garfield County attorney, and serve as a state representative.
When Noonan arrived in Glenwood Springs in 1884, Glenwood Springs’ first settler, James Landis, owned property at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers. Landis, suffering financial problems, sold his property to Noonan for $760. An adjoining parcel was then purchased for $300 from Landis’ mother. Noonan cleared the land, constructed a two story 24-foot-by-28-foot house with a 12-foot-by-14-foot two-story L addition, planted fruit trees and a garden. The civic-minded attorney then allowed a portion of his land to be used by the public, creating a shady spot from which residents could escape the heat, enjoy a picnic or celebrate a community event. Known as Noonan’s Grove, this gathering place in essence became one of Glenwood Springs’ first parks. However, since Noonan’s property extended to the north side of the Colorado River, Noonan was constantly fighting claim jumpers. For six years, he had about 20 court actions defending his property. In April 1891, he was finally granted his receiver’s receipt to the property.
At the age of 45, Noonan married for the first time. Margaret Moore, an Irish girl, was 17 years his junior. The couple had three children, William, John and Eleanor. William became an excellent baseball player, received a law degree from Stanford, and joined his father in the practice of law in the Noonan Building at 209 Eighth St. John died at the age of 22 in 1918. Eleanor became an educated and traveled woman who was a popular language teacher at Glenwood Springs’ Garfield County High School.
In 1924, Noonan retired from the practice of law. He tended to his property and wrote a little poetry. In December 1934, the 86-year-old man was attacked and killed by a bull he kept on his property. His obituary noted that he was “one of the best known and beloved of the few surviving pioneers. His death will be a distinct loss to Glenwood Springs.”
Today, Noonan’s residential property contains the residences of many in the Cowdin Drive area. His building on Eighth Street remains as a quiet tribute to a man who gave much of himself for the betterment of Glenwood Springs.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.