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1888 killer barely escaped gallows

Willa Soncarty, Frontier Historical Museum

On Aug. 24, 1888, 35-year-old Herman C. Babcock shot and killed 70-year-old rancher James M. Riland.

Riland’s murder on his Sweetwater homestead was said to be the result of a neighborhood dispute.

Babcock turned himself in to the Garfield County authorities and in October 1888 was tried in Glenwood Springs for the killing. Pretrial sensationalism was fueled by the Glenwood Springs Ute Chief newspaper, owned by the victim’s son, James L. Riland.



A jury found Babcock guilty of first-degree murder and Babcock was sentenced to death by hanging. The gallows arrived in Glenwood Springs but technicalities found in the trial forced the Colorado Supreme Court to issue a stay of execution.

In October 1890 Babcock received a new trial and was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to eight years of hard labor at the State Penitentiary in Canon City. However, Babcock’s good behavior, along with lobbying by friends, earned him a pardon by outgoing Colorado Gov. John Routt in January 1893.



“Frontier Diary” is provided to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. The museum’s winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. For more information, call 945-4448.


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