Part two: Allison Gang's reign of terror ends

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of the two-part series.

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Research indicates that Allison served as Deputy Sheriff of Conejos County sometime in the early 1870s, though newspapers were barely becoming a source of record in this area during that time.

The first newspaper in Rio Grande County was the San Juan Prospector with its first edition coming out in January of 1874. The information that Allison served as deputy is an undisputed fact according to several later newspaper editions throughout the state of Colorado and beyond. His ultimate capture sparked headlines across the nation.

Because there seemed to be two gangs of highwaymen working the San Luis Valley and the Barlow and Sanderson Stage route, it is hard at first to determine who robbed what and when, but before long, Allison’s physical appearance begins to be recognized by the victims. It was reported that Allison was large in stature and had piercing blue eyes with darker-toned skin. Though the man was also dubbed the “master of disguise,” his eyes were his identifying trait in many cases. 

With his possible knowledge of stagecoaches from his time as a teamster, Allison could pull off a robbery and when questioned, witnesses and victims couldn’t help but say it was the smoothest, most thought-out robbery they could have ever hoped for.

“A very neat job” and “The robbery was such a grand success that it took the passengers of the stage sometime to collect themselves.” These headlines and quotes become more frequent as Allison and his gang become more and more active.

There is one account that Allison favored a box canyon just outside of Animas City which later became Durango. This canyon afforded Allison the perfect location for him and his men to ambush a stage or even, in one instance a military party passing through to a nearby fort. After this particular robbery, Allison headed into town and after calling out the residents of Animas City, held them by gunpoint until each one was searched and robbed. He did this later in Chama, N.M., according to the Dolores News.

In the San Luis Valley, Allison held up stagecoaches from Alamosa to Del Norte several times through 1879 and 1881 before he was captured. He would often take the lead horses from these stagecoaches as he loved a good steed. He was just as much a horse thief as anything else and it was to his demise. 

In June of 1881, Allison was holed up in a camp just outside of Albuquerque, N.M. Earlier that month, Colorado Gov. Pitkin issued a $1,000 reward for Allison’s capture and $200 per gang member of his posse. Conejos County Sheriff Frank Hyatt, a famous investigator at the time, set out to capture the desperados having taken offense to Allison’s reign of terror and the fact that he had once been a man of the law in Hyatt’s neck of the woods. 

Two weeks before setting out to capture the man, Hyatt was in Sante Fe, N.M., one early morning having breakfast at a local establishment when low and behold, in walks Allison and his men. Allison sat across from Hyatt without knowing who he was, and they ate breakfast together. After finishing his meal, Hyatt walked out the door and immediately set about hiring a man and good horses to pursue the Allison Gang.

Hyatt and his hired man followed Allison south down into New Mexico for several days before they were about 10 miles outside of Albuquerque. It was at this time that Hyatt turned from the trail and rode as fast as he could to town to reach more lawmen before Allison rode in. Once in Albuquerque, Hyatt gathered a posse and approached the local stable owner by the name of Jeff Grant. Grant volunteered to ride out and meet Allison on the road and try to convince him to come to the stables to look at some of Grant’s quality horses.  

Grant approached the group of men who had stopped to take shade by a bank of trees and started a conversation with them. Allison freely told Grant that they were on their way south and possibly headed to Mexico to retire. Grant continued the conversation, making sure to brag about his top-quality racehorses housed in the stable in town. This peaked Allison’s interest and Grant extended the final invitation for Allison and his men to come to spend the night at his stables.

Allison, eager to see the horses told Grant that though he would like to come to the stable, he and his men were carrying loaded iron and couldn’t go into town without being seen. Grant, being so close to getting the men to fall into the trap proceeded and convinced Allison and his men to put on their coats, regardless of the high temperatures and button them up to the collars to hide their guns just until they reached the stable. Allison agreed and after securing their coats the gang followed Grant to town.

The four men rode into the stable and once inside, Grant dismounted and smoothly removed the only weapon Allison had quick access to from his saddle. With a shotgun in hand, Grant ordered Allison to dismount and because of having their jackets buttoned to the collars, none of the desperados were able to draw iron. All of the other men, Hyatt included, surrounded Allison and his gang and the jig was up. 

Hyatt’s first words to Charley Allison were, “I took breakfast with you the other day.” 

Allison responded, “Yes, G—d D—m you and I was dead on to you all the time. I had a notion to take you prisoner then and was a fool for not doing it, but I watched you pretty close and didn’t think you knew me or were on this lay.”

After the arrest was made, some confusion ensued about who should take possession of the prisoners. Allison and his men were held in what they called “limbo” in Albuquerque until letters of requisition could be sent by the Governor of Colorado. Meanwhile, the Justice of the Peace and Governor of New Mexico drew up similar letters of requisition, petitioning that they should be allowed to keep and prosecute Allison and his men. To make matters worse, the State of Nevada, where the gang had also committed crimes made a petition for possession of Allison and his men just before the group was shipped by train to Denver.

Finally, after months of negotiations, the right to the prisoners was awarded to Conejos County and it was there that all three men were tried and found guilty. On Oct. 29, 1881, Allison’s rampage came to a close and he and his men were sentenced to 37 years in Canyon City Penitentiary.

Three years of horse theft, stagecoach robberies, town-wide stand-ups and more were over. The capture of the Allison Gang coincided with the capture and hanging of the LeRoy Brothers and though they came to an end through vigilante justice, the same fate would have befallen Allison save for the fact that he spent most of his time before his final sentence traveling between his feuding captors.

More information on the Allison Gang including newspaper articles and artifacts can be found at the Rio Grande County Museum on display.