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The lynching of Preston John Porter Jr. by a mob from Limon and Colo. Springs

A propos of, let’s
say, LYNCHING.
Burned at the stake, at Lake Station Colorado, near LimonColorado
state history records 175+ lynchings, of mostly cattle rustlers and horse thieves. Boosters laud our state’s few (5) racially-motivated lynchings, but in relation to Colorado’s small portion of African- Americans, the incident rate is not insignificant. What’s more, Colorado can tie any state for the worst race lynching ever, when in 1900, along the railroad tracks near Lake Station, black 16-year-old, 130 lb. Preston Porter Jr, innocent and probably mentally feeble, was burned at the stake by a cheering mob numbering over 300.

Lynching describes the physical act of hanging, stringing someone up without inexpedient formalities. In principal lynching means a death sentence without recourse to due justice. And of course, in practice the summary execution is often motivated by racial prejudice. I explain the obvious because today no one appears to acknowledge that US drones over Pakistan, Yemen, et al, are terminating lives based on mere suspicions of being enemies of the state, these are darker skinned lives, with the full enthusiasm of the American TV mob.

Out West, lynchings were rough justice. Everywhere else they were and are hate crimes. Colorado sidesteps having to include the killing of Native Americans as lynchings because those were massacres. One western memoir recounts that “lynch law” was as necessary to keeping peace in the Wild West as were Indian Massacres and shooting wolves.

Preston Porter was a young railroad worker accused of the rape and murder of 12-year-old Louise Frost. After having accused another African-American, three “Mexicans” and a Native American, enraged parties in Limon and Denver settled on Porter. After a week of interrogation, enhanced by trying hypnosis and reading his palm, they coerced a confession.

Next they let the victim’s father decide the manner of death. “Burnt at the stake” was his choice. The mob marched poor Preston to the site of the crime, near what was then Lake Station, and they used a rail for the stake. Preston had no coat but was made to wait for hours in the cold because crowds were delayed getting to the affair by rail from Colorado Springs.

The etching below is reprinted from the Denver Times newspaper article of November 17, 1900. It portrays Porter crying out for the Lord to forgive his tormentors. Don’t think the reporter reflected Porter’s act with sympathy. He wrote: “The great crowd shook with pure enjoyment of the situation.”

Here’s what happened next, as reported by the New York Times:

For an instant the body stood erect, the arms were raised in supplication while burning pieces of clothing dropped from them. The body then fell away from the fire, the head lower than the feet still fastened to the rail.

This was not expected, and for a few minutes those stolid men were disconcerted; they feared that the only remaining chain would give way. If this had occurred the partly burned human being would have dashed among them in his blazing garments. And not many would have cared to capture him again. But the chain held fast.

The body was then in such a position that only the legs were in the fire. The cries of the wretch were redoubled, and he again begged to be shot. Some wanted to throw him over into the fire, others tried to dash oil upon him. Boards were carried, and a large pile made over the prostrate body. They soon were ignited, and the terrible heat and lack of air quickly rendered the victim unconscious, bringing death a few moments later.

All told, the fire took 20 minutes to kill the young black victim.

How was Preston Porter’s ordeal unlike the targets of American aerial assassinations? Americans just heap on the fuel as they burn alive.

EPILOG:
Preston’s executioners left the rail at the site to serve as a warning to other coloreds. Fortunately there wasn’t any trace of it when I made a recent visit. But a docent at the nearby railroad museum knew exactly the incident I was asking about and dismissed me curtly, disgusted with my interest in the matter and refusing to offer any directions to the location. It hadn’t occured to me that Limon’s “native” residents would be related to Preston’s killers. Fortunately another local, not born-and-bred, overherd my inquiry and gave me a lift to a probable starting point.

It wasn’t hard to find. Lake Station was the train stop before the bend at Limon. Before trains, “Lake” was a stage for stagecoaches, providing water to the Butterfield Overland Dispatch heading to Denver. Later it became a “siding” where steam locomotives could take water. After water stops became unnecessary. Lake Station was demolished. Building foundations remain. Its namesake lake dried to wetland long ago.

Victim Louise Frost was returning to her home in Hugo when she was accosted as she drove her surrey across the Big Sandy River where the dry river bed was forded by the old wagon trail. The old trail refers to the famous Smokey Hill Trail which led aspiring prospectors to Colorado gold. Erosion has altered the topography of the dry river but Preston Porter was executed on a rise between the crossing and the railroad tracks.

There is no memorial for the black martyred teen. Nothing marks or commemorates the atrocity. There should and could be. The site of Preston Porter’s death lies adjacent to a protected wetands along the Big Sandy. There’s a nature walk which could easily incorporate a monument. If Limon would own up to the deed.

Lake Station, Colorado, where Lake Creek crosses into the Big Sandy
The Union Pacific Railroad track at Lake Station, looking Southwest toward Pikes Peak.

7 thoughts on “The lynching of Preston John Porter Jr. by a mob from Limon and Colo. Springs

  1. Can you please site sources? I’ve found the NY Times article. Where did you get the other info about the interrogation and your assertion that Preston Porter was “innocent and probably mentally feeble”.

    Thank you.

  2. Two comprehensive sources:

    Monnett, John H. & Michael McCarthy. Colorado Profiles: Men and Women Who Shaped the Centennial State. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1996)
    -A partial sampling of the chapter on Preston Porter is viewable on Google Books.

    Leonard, Stephen J.. Lynching in Colorado, 1858-1919. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002)
    -This is an important synthesis of contemporary clippings available at the Denver historical library.

  3. where did the info come from that he was mental and innocent and then still burned for some one elses deeds those who carried the burning of this boy should be known of murders and the town of limon should take blame for this act thank you and have a great day

  4. i HATE THIS FUCKING COUNTRY!!! we need a fucking REVOLUTION and lynchings of REPUBLICAN RACISTS…COPS.. CEOs… POLITICIANS…..BY THE MILLIONS!!!!

  5. I have been looking for more info about this story and the exact location of where it took place also looking for address of the frost house from back then it would be great to go check it out for myself since i live here in limon co this history has been on my mind since i heard about it a decade ago

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