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The "Bummer Gang's" Turkey War

Updated on February 16, 2012

It’s no joke. There was actually a group of outlaws in the Old West called the “Bummer Gang.” They operated in Auraria, Colorado Territory, during the mid 1850s…more specifically what is now West Denver. They weren’t the usual run of mill outlaws who ran around robbing banks, trains, stagecoaches and killing folks. This gang was made up of misfits, deadbeats and loafers who were too lazy to work hard at it. They were content with petty theft and misdemeanors…thus the name "Bummers."

The gang leader was Eddie Coleman, also known as “the shooter.” The Denver area at the time was literally a gold mine which attracted people of all types, from common criminals to businessmen. It was the perfect setting for the Bummers to practice their art. They picked pockets and stole anything left unattended. Clothes, food, merchandise…nothing was safe from their sticky fingers.

For quite a while the gang operated with impunity. Theft was a common occurrence. But the Bummers went one step too far when they robbed a wagon load of turkeys in late January of 1860. The decent community citizens had had enough. Although there was little proof the gang had committed the crime, everyone knew they were responsible. What followed next became known as the "Turkey War."

A hastily formed citizens committee whittled the number of suspects down to four men: Thomas Clemo, William Todd, William Harvey and William Karl. The Bummers stuck together in defense of their comrades in arms. They protested in the streets waving their guns and threatening innocent citizens. Talk of the town being burned to the ground buzzed around the community. A few pot shots were fired in the direction of several witnesses who had testified. Fortunately, no one was injured.

A military guard was called out to protect the city from the Bummer’s vicious threats. Despite their best attempts to keep the four guilty men from a trial they were lynched. The remaining members of the Bummers Gang were warned to leave town or meet the same fate. Practically overnight, they scattered to the four winds and the famous "Turkey War" was over.

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