Frontier Diary: Rucker handled high-profile cases, political challenges |

Frontier Diary: Rucker handled high-profile cases, political challenges

Willa Soncarty
Registrar, Frontier Historical Society and Museum

Appointed by Colorado’s Governor Alva Adams, Thomas A. Rucker became judge of the newly created Ninth Judicial District in April 1886. With this appointment, Judge Rucker’s political and professional life would never be the same.

Thomas Rucker, born in 1844 in Cole County, Missouri, received his education at Bethany College. He was admitted to the Missouri state bar in 1869, and afterward set up a legal practice in Kansas City, Mo. He and his family moved to Aspen in 1881. It was in Aspen that he established a successful law practice, was elected Pitkin County judge, and served as the town’s attorney.

When Rucker took the bench of the Ninth Judicial District, he found a backlog of cases. One of the lagging cases was that of Elijah Cravens, who had killed George Fuller in Glenwood Springs in 1885. Rucker tried to make the case a priority, but his efforts were thwarted by numerous legal postponements. In July, 1888, Cravens appeared in Rucker’s court and was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

The Cravens case was replaced immediately with the trial of Herman C. Babcock for the killing of James M. Riland in August 1888. This high-profile case reached a speedier conclusion in Rucker’s court. Babcock was convicted of first degree murder that October.

Rucker’s mind was also occupied with re-election in 1888. His opponent, James L. Hodges, a Republican, contended that Rucker, a Democrat, was soft on sentencing and promoted trial delays. Hodges won the election, but Rucker retained his seat when Hodges was found guilty of buying votes.

After receiving complaints connected the with Riland trial, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the case, ultimately sanctioning some of Rucker’s decisions. Rucker was also accused of abusing his power, and in 1891, successfully defended himself against impeachment.

Judge Thomas Rucker survived political and professional difficulties, serving the Ninth Judicial District until 1901.

“Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs.

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