Allison gang terrorized Rio Grande County’s past

Contributed art Rio Grande County was the home to several stagecoach robbers during the late 1800s. The communities along the Rio Grande were growing, gold was plentiful, and the beginnings of the San Luis Valley were bright and prosperous.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series.

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Enter Rio Grande County 1874. The famous Barlow and Sanderson Stagecoach which ran from the eastern part of the U.S. into the west made an appearance in Del Norte mid-summer, just after the designation of Rio Grande County and decided to make Del Norte their hub for the San Luis Valley. The town had grown exponentially over the previous two years, having been incorporated in 1872. At this point there were small communities popping up all along the shores of the Rio Grande, including Del Norte, West Del Norte, Loma, and more.

This small area grew by the day and within the next seven years, was the up-and-coming community of western dreams. The land was rich in possibilities and gold. Summitville was on the map and people from all over and from all walks of life were venturing into the rough and tumble parts of Colorado where only the brave and resilient ventured. With the growth came change and with change, the need to survive.

Some survived righteously while others found it easier to prey on the weak. Enter 1879 and the beginning of stagecoach robberies in the San Luis Valley. Barlow and Sanderson Stage only employed the best when it came to drivers but even these sharp shooters could be caught off guard. Just like out of a western, the communities of the Valley succumbed to robberies on a regular basis and more so between the years of 1879 and 1881.

Most researchers delving into Rio Grande County’s past have attributed most of the robberies that took place during those years to the LeRoy brothers, the famous highwaymen of the Valley. But upon further review, it seems that there was another gang, one that was even more cunning than the LeRoys in their own way and one that terrorized stagecoaches from as far as Pagosa Springs to Albuquerque, N.M.

While sifting through the 1879 San Juan Prospector, it was evident that more than one desperado was out to make a living as a thief and though LeRoy was beyond good at what he did, a man by the name of Charley Allison and his gang were better. Allison was an alias for Charles Ennis or Annis depending on the documents recovered.

Little is known about Allison’s origins but some venture to agree that he was born sometime in the early 1850s in Chicago, Ill. Some research leads to the possibility that Allison was born into a wealthy family and at some point, lost his parents at a young age. It is here that Allison may have inherited a large sum of money that he was not able to access due to his youth and it is at this time that he may have left the family home and set out on his own.

Allison disappears for years at this juncture, but potentially pops up again in 1870, now 20 some years old, in Montana. The census that records his name as Annis, (most likely a misspelling on the census taker’s behalf) and he is put down as a teamster. For those who do not know, a teamster is what they called stagecoach drivers during those days. During his time as a driver, he would have gained valuable knowledge of the working of a stagecoach which would later serve his life of crime.

Again, Allison disappears before he shows back up later in Conejos County Colorado as a deputy sheriff. Allison served and became good friends with the sheriff at the time and spent a few years upholding the law. In 1879 an article hits the San Juan Prospector stating that a gang of men have murdered two individuals and left their bodies for the birds. While following the research, it would appear that this may have been the start of Allison’s shift from upholding the law to breaking it.

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