Chapter 1 Shotguns at Thirty Paces
On the afternoon of March 7, 1860, more than 600 residents from the rival settlements of Auraria and Denver City gathered on the north bank of the Platte River. Thin, fast-moving clouds obscured the sun and a fitful wind swept down from the Front Range. The prairie was faded — the color of animal carcasses that littered the overland trail — and made more desolate by bristling tree stumps. The crowd consisted mostly of men; miners with gold-crazed eyes and the long, tangled beards of prophets; saloon keepers and shopkeepers who had shucked their long aprons for the afternoon, and shuffling settlers in buffalo overshoes.
A judge named Hiram Bennet began talking about compromise, but someone told him to shut up. “They had come there to see a fight, and a fight it must be. So, thinking prudence the better part of valor, I concluded to remain and witness, for the first time in my life, a duel.”
Arriving by carriage was Dr. J. S. Stone, a member of the territory’s Legislative Assembly and judge who presided over the miner’s court in the Mountain City District. Clad in a dark suit and vest, Stone, was cheerful and composed, though one witness remembered him as noticeably pale. Stone conferred with one of his seconds and together they paced off the field.
A couple of minutes later, Lucien Bliss, acting governor of the Jefferson Territory, strolled up. He carried a shotgun over his shoulder and wore a loose, brown sack coat buttoned to his chin. Bliss entered a waiting carriage for a few moments and then stepped out and mingled with the crowd. He laughed and chatted, acting as if the impending duel “was but a Christmas shooting match,” recalled Judge Bennet.