Early Forms of Civil Justice: The El Paso Claim Club (1859-1862)
by LaDonna Gunn and Dave Hughes
In 1859 when Colorado City and other mining and farming towns formed in the Pike's Peak region, the federal government had the responsibility for law enforcement and protection through the territorial governors of Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico. Not only were these territories large in physical size which caused policing problems for the governors; but the Indians had legal right to a large portion of the land within the territories through treaty agreements. In 1859, the government had not yet opened the federal lands for public occupancy. Thus, prospectors, land speculators, settlers, and others migrating into the western territories were trespassing. Nevertheless, because the federal government did not hinder or stop western migration, the people in the new mining and farming communities established their own vigilante-form town governments.
From the records of the El Paso Claim Club, members of the Colorado City Town Company organized the Claim Club in August 1859. In addition, the Claim Club's records also indicated that an "old Claim Club" existed as early as March 1859, possibly in relationship to the short-lived town of El Dorado, established in the latter part of 1858. Even though the Claim Club did not have federal status, the Club settled land disputes and recorded real property transactions until federal government regulations provided for an official land office in 1862.
However, the records of the Claim Club were accepted by the Federal Courts as valid proof of ownership until Colorado Territory and named Counties were formed to record land records. That 1st Colorado City Claim Club, whose members were elected out of property owners set a precedence for the legal value of their recording property ownership, There were several Claim Clubs formed, such as the Canon City Claim Club. In the mountains organzations performing the same recording function for property and mining claims were called "Mining Districts".
Some of the members in the El Paso Claim Club were: Judge Wagoner, W.P. McClure, M.S. Beach, Lewis N. Tappan, H.M. Fosdick, C. Pursall, Alexander M. Smith, A.S. Cobb, James Garvin, William H. Garvin, A.D. Richardson, Rufus Cable, Richard Ed. Whitsitt, N.G. Wyatt, A.D. Sprague, William Larimer, Jr., George A. Bute, Anthony Bott, and B.F. Hall.