The following is an excerpt from “Notorious Telluride,” by Carol Turner. Several of the characters in this story are buried in the Turner family plot at Riverside: Charles Turner, son of Dess and Agnes Turner; Dess Turner; and Davy Brown, uncle of Charles and brother of Agnes; and Charles H. Turner, the author’s father.
In the year 1912, the quiet of a June morning in the hamlet of Ophir was marred by several gunshots. At the end of it, 25-year-old Charles Turner lay in the dirt near the railroad tracks, blood pouring from his mouth and a hole in his chest. Standing over him with a .32 caliber pistol was 40-year-old Frank Ensign.
Born in Montreal, Charles Turner came with his family to Colorado in April of 1884 at the age of five. His father, Decimus (Dess), took a job as a clerk at the early Denver department store of Charles Ballin & Company. He did not survive long in his new home. On October 30, 1886, Dess died of a sudden illness, leaving his wife, Agnes, on her own with four children, whose ages ranged from six to sixteen.
Over the next couple of years, Agnes (Brown) Turner was so stricken by her husband’s death, she rarely left her bed. Once she recovered, she spent the next dozen or so years raising the four children as a single mother in frontier Denver. Although she had income from renting and later selling their property in Montreal, plus a possible death benefit from insurance, the family struggled to survive. She may have received help from several brothers who lived in Colorado – one ran a bakery in Denver; two others worked mining claims and ran the Brown Brothers construction company in Aspen, later moving to Telluride to become full-time miners.
The two older Turner sons, William and Newton, went to work as teenagers, starting out as “cash boys,” and advancing on to positions such as wrapper, clerk, and inspector – mostly at the Daniels & Fisher dry goods store. The only daughter, Jessie, was fourteen when her father died and she took on the job of caring for seven-year-old Charlie.
In 1895, Agnes was embroiled in a vicious lawsuit in Denver against a Denver businessman, Alfred Filby. Amid allegations of an improper relationship with the married Filby, Agnes claimed she had loaned or given him for investment almost four thousand dollars (enough to buy a house) and that he refused to repay it.
Filby and his wife had been friends of the family since the first days the Turners arrived in Denver. After Dess died, Alfred Filby had made it a point to take Agnes out riding in his carriage in an effort to bring her out of her state of grief. During the lengthy trial, he explained that he got “all mixed up” in Agnes’s presence. He said he had given her a lot of money and therefore did not feel obligated to pay back the small sums he admitted she had given him. Although that part of his story was plausible, when asked why he had written Agnes a thousand dollar promissory note, he came up with a ridiculous explanation. He said he’d been very ill and that Agnes had prostrated herself before him, thrown her arms around his legs and begged him for a memento before he died. The supposed “memento” was the promissory note.
Filby further demonstrated his chicanery and lack of scruples when a ploy by his attorney to discredit Agnes went awry. Part of Agnes’ case was that she possessed money to lend Filby in the first place. A friend of hers testified about going to a Denver bank with Agnes one day and witnessing her deposit a large sum she had collected from her Montreal property. In an attempt to get the friend to recant this testimony, Filby and his attorneys hired a man to pose as an estate attorney who approached the friend. He told the woman that she had a wealthy uncle in India who had left her his entire estate, with the condition that she was still a resident of Canada on a certain date – that being after the date on which she had witnessed Agnes deposit the money.
The friend did not bite and the plot was uncovered and revealed during the trial. Agnes won the lawsuit, but the slippery Filby had transferred all his wealth and property to his wife’s name so it’s unknown whether Agnes ever collected.
What emerged during this laborious hearing was that Agnes was, at minimum, incautious when it came to handling money.
In the late 1890s, when her children were grown, Agnes met and married Henry McGlothlin, a man about 15 years her junior. Her two eldest sons left about that time – one returning to Canada and the other disappearing forever into unknown parts. Agnes, Charlie, and Jessie all moved to Pueblo in 1904 with Henry, where he ran a water hauling company.
Meanwhile, Agnes’s two brothers, Davy and John Brown of the “Brown Brothers” had left Aspen and had taken up several mining claims near Telluride – on Mt. Wilson, San Bernardo, and Yellow Mountain. At some point, a third “brother” named Robert appeared on the scene. Newspapers noted that Robert was only 12 years old however, so he may have been a cousin or perhaps an illegitimate son.
In early May of 1899, a double tragedy struck the family when two of the Brown Brothers died of pneumonia within a week of each other:
The JOURNAL a week ago today noted the death of John Brown, of Brown Brothers, at San Bernardo, and the serious illness of Robert, his brother, from the same disease. Sunday last Robert was taken to the hospital at Durango, where he died Thursday morning. So of these three sturdy Scotch brothers, only Davy remains. They owned and worked the Kendrick mine on the western point of Yellow mountain.” (Telluride Daily Journal, May 13, 1899)
After the death of his brothers, Davy Brown stayed on in the region. At some point, he became partners with a man named Frank Ensign on six claims on Mount Wilson, near the Morning Star mine. Ensign, by all accounts, was a hard-working man who had been in the area for some time. Formerly a compositor at the Durango Democrat, Frank had a brother, William Ensign, who was a well-known New York publisher. Frank was a hardy soul, well-known and respected by the locals:
Frank Ensign, who came down from the Mayflower mine Saturday, went over to San Bernardo Sunday…Snow seems to have no terrors for Frank, for he was snowed up all winter at the Mayflower and could not get to town at all, and now as soon as he gets out at one place back he goes into another. (Telluride Journal, June 27, 1907)
When Charlie was in his early twenties, he moved to the San Juans to work as a miner. A few years later, in 1909, Davy Brown succumbed:
Old Davy Brown is dead. The news was received today by a telegram to C.M. [Charlie] Turner, employed by Manager J.L. Brown of the Buckeye Leasing company on the Butterfly Terrible from Mr. Turner’s mother, who is a sister of the aged prospector so well known here.
Davy’s death occurred in Pueblo yesterday evening at the home of his sister, Mrs. McGlothlin and the cause of death was a hemorrhage of the brain.
Mr. Brown owned some prospects and mining locations in the vicinity of Trout Lake.
It was only a few weeks ago that he left Telluride for Pueblo. His death marks the passing of one of the land marks of this region and the old man (he was upwards of 70) will be remembered for many years by the friends he made while in this region.” (Telluride Journal, March 4, 1909)
Except when he was needed at home, Charlie stayed on. One newspaper notice says he worked at the Ames power plant. In 1910, he was listed in the census as living at Trout Lake – probably living in the Brown Brothers’ cabin up on Yellow Mountain.
Agnes was named as the administratrix of Davy’s estate, and visited the area several times after his death, both on estate business and to visit Charlie. (Agnes stayed with her friends Mary and Con Meenan – Mary being the former Mary Mahoney, the wife of the “murdered” John Mahoney, supposedly killed by union strikers.)
The trouble began when, in 1911, Davy’s Brown’s estate somehow fell into the hands of Frank Ensign. It’s possible, based on Agnes’s previous misadventures in handling money, that she was unable to fulfill her duties as administratrix of Davy’s estate and Ensign was appointed to take over.
Charlie’s feelings about Ensign and the family’s financial situation are alluded to in this cryptic letter written from Pueblo to his brother, Newton Turner, who now lived in Ontario, Canada:
My dear Newton,
Hope you old folks are well and everything going alright.
Got a wire from Mann Monday saying he had instructed his broker to sell the bonds and haven’t heard since. I got a little vexed and sent him a wire yesterday. Wire money immediately will stand no more persecution and signed Mother’s name to it. I did it because H.L. can’t stand this worry and of course Mother can’t when she is worrying her.
Oh never mind we will win out yet old fellow. Some day. I know we will cause I can’t feel depressed.
I only wish I had gone back in January when I intended going and Ensign wouldn’t have allowed himself to be appointed for any amount of money and don’t think anyone else would have. Mother was afraid of rheumatism though so here I am.
Love to all, Charl
Although the identity of “Mann” and “H.L.” are a mystery, the letter clearly indicates that Charlie was not pleased that Ensign had control of the estate and its mining claims.
The day after Charlie wrote the above letter, on August 24, 1911, Ensign published a notice in the Telluride Journal, announcing the sale of Davy Brown’s mining properties, nearly a dozen in total. Ensign had also been billing the estate during this period for ore assay services.
A short time later, Charlie Turner was back in Ophir, and over the next ten months, the relationship between the two disintegrated. On the day of the shooting, Frank entered the small store in Ophir at about seven in the morning. There, he ran into Charlie, who confronted him. Frank was armed, but Charlie was not. Nevertheless, Charlie followed him out of the store, threatening to “get” him. Frank drew his gun and said he would shoot if Charlie didn’t leave him alone. Charlie kept coming. Frank fired at the ground. Charlie kept coming and Frank fired off several more shots, hitting Charlie in the chest. Despite being shot, Charlie tackled Frank and had nearly wrestled the gun out of his hand when blood burst from Charlie’s mouth and he fell over dead. He had been shot in the heart.
Sheriff Tallman soon arrived, along with Coroner Hadley and Dr. M.T. Rothwell. Tallman arrested Frank Ensign. Coroner Hadley held an inquest the following day. Several residents of Ophir testified that Charlie Turner was a troublesome fellow who had quarreled with several others in the village. Although just about everyone had been fond of Davy Brown and thought highly of Agnes McGlothlin, few had anything good to say about Charlie. Although Charlie was never mentioned in any of the numerous articles about Jesse Munn and his crime and subsequent months on the run – and despite the fact that Munn’s friend Dick Martin was arrested for helping him escape, the Telluride Journal now claimed Charlie was involved:
According to Turner’s own statement at the time of the Jesse Munn case he was the man who fed Munn and gave him a gun, assisting him to escape.
According to reports from the Loop Turner has been mixed up in different scraps and fights around that place and boasted being a gun man and only about ten days ago walked up behind a man at the Loop and knocked him down and kicked him almost into insensibility. (Telluride Daily Journal, June 27, 1912)
Although the Journal simply painted Charlie as a crazed sociopath, the San Miguel Examiner was a bit more even-handed in summing up his character:
Turner was a fine looking, big six footer, who ought to weigh close to 200 pounds, and the man who shot him will not weigh to exceed 140 pounds. Turner had a bullying disposition and all that was bad in him in this respect seemed to crop out over there, although when we met him in Telluride he always seemed a perfect gentleman, and was so far as we were concerned. (San Miguel Examiner, June 29, 1911)
After the inquest, Frank Ensign was set free. Charlie’s body was sent to Agnes and Jessie in Pueblo, who took him to Denver and buried him in the Turner family plot at Riverside Cemetery.
In the years after Charlie’s death, the newspapers noted several visits to Telluride by his sister, Jessie G. Turner. One family story says she spent an entire winter by herself up at the Brown Brothers’ cabin. During one of these visits, she staked a claim on the property near the S.B. Kendrick mine. Many years later, her nephew, Charles H. Turner (the author’s father), found an old claim corner on the property. It was a rusted tobacco can containing a description of the property and Jessie Turner’s name. On this property was the cabin where two of the “Sturdy Scotch Brothers” became fatally ill and where Charlie lived when he was shot. This land on Yellow Mountain was included in Frank Ensign’s auction list as the one property that was held in fee, meaning Davy owned it free and clear. The property, called “Matterhorn” by descendants, reverted to the State of Colorado at some point. Years later, it was purchased for back taxes by the author’s late father, Charles H. Turner, who, like the Sturdy Scotch Brothers and Frank Ensign and Uncle Charlie, suffered his entire life from gold fever.