A Remarkable Escape

As horrific as the First World War was, every so often there was a story of a miraculous escape, the type of news in a letter from a soldier that was happily received. Captain Clyde H. Biggs of the 353rd Infantry (Lieutenant at the time of his letter), wrote home an incredible tale. Published in the Cañon City Record on September 12, 1918, the article was titled “Lieut. Biggs Has Remarkable Escape From Hun Shell”. In late August, Biggs and nine other army officers were dining some miles back from the front line after spending time in the trenches. Without warning, a 77 millimeter shell crashed through the roof of the building, fell through the table, and buried itself in the ground beneath the floor. Fortunately for all the men around the broken table, it failed to explode. The dishes were shattered but no one was hurt.

Biggs had written home his account of the event and it was not intended for publication. It was only with difficulty the paper managed to obtain permission to mention the story. According to a 2014 article in the New York Times, experts say up to 30 percent of artillery shells fired never went off. Some were duds, meaning they were defective, while others just sunk into the mud which was often too soft to trigger detonation. During the war, artillery was used to fire both high explosive shells that exploded upon impact and shrapnel shells which were timed to explode over enemy lines, sending out tiny pieces of metal that caused severe injury to those not under cover.

Captain Biggs was certainly lucky to survive this experience. He survived the war and returned home in February 1919. He married Josephine Ramsay in 1924 and became Vice President of the Independent Lumber Company and President of the Biggs-Kurtz Company of Grand Junction. He passed away at the age of 58 in 1952.

If you’d like to learn more about World War I and Fremont County, keep an eye out for our new exhibit in March!

The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday from 10 AM- 4 PM. You can contact us at historycenter@canoncity.org or (719) 269-9036.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.   


World War I

As of November 2018, World War I will have officially been over for 100 years. In honor of that occasion, the Royal Gorge Regional Museum is putting together an exhibit highlighting how the war affected Fremont County.  We would like to increase our collection of World War I artifacts that pertain to soldiers that served from this area. If you have any items that need a home, please keep us in mind. We can be reached at (719) 269-9036, or send us an email at historycenter@canoncity.org. We are open Wednesday –Saturday from 10 AM- 4 PM.

“John Dillinger May Have Been Seen in Cañon”

John Dillinger was born in 1903 and became a notorious thief who, along with his gang, terrorized the Midwest during the 1930s. His first attempt at robbery was at a grocery store in Mooresville, Indiana where he and his partner, Ed Singleton, were quickly apprehended. Dillinger received joint sentences of two to 14 years and 10 to 20 years in the Indiana State Prison. Almost immediately after being paroled in 1933 after serving eight and a half years, Dillinger robbed a bank in Ohio and was arrested in September and held in a county jail in Lima, Ohio. In the meantime, eight of his friends escaped from Indiana State Prison.  Three of them and a parolee made their way over to the jail Dillinger was being held in. They shot the sheriff and made their escape.

Dillinger and his gang perpetrated a string of bank robberies before being caught in Tucson, Arizona. He was sent back to Indiana where he once again successfully escaped from jail. He stole a sheriff’s car and drove over state lines meaning he committed a federal offense so the FBI became actively involved in the search for him. Dillinger and his gang committed another string of bank robberies before being involved in a shootout with the FBI and police in St. Paul, Minnesota where Dillinger sustained a gunshot wound but still managed to flee. The agents on his case caught up with him once again in Wisconsin. But once again, Dillinger managed to escape. The FBI followed any tips or leads they could and finally a woman calling herself Anna Sage (real name Ana Cumpanas) told the FBI she would be attending a movie with Dillinger and his girlfriend Polly Hamilton in Chicago. As Dillinger came out of the theater, the agents closed in and Dillinger pulled out a gun and fled. He was shot and pronounced dead on July 22nd, 1934. By this point, Dillinger and his gang had killed 10 men and he was named as Public Enemy No. 1.

John Dillinger clearly went to a variety of places during his crime spree. There were periods of time where his location was unknown. So the headline “John Dillinger May Have Been Seen in Canon” in the June 27, 1934 edition of the Cañon City Daily Record could be true. The article stated that two residents, Frank Shumway Sr. and Warren Eslinger, thought they may have seen Dillinger two weeks prior. They were sitting in the Owl Cigar store (626 Main St.) when a man walked in and asked for a magazine. Shumway and Eslinger both were so sure it was Dillinger that they looked up his picture in the magazines once the man had left. They left the store and informed the Night Police Officer of their belief. By that time, the man had disappeared, likely in a car. Shumway and Eslinger chalked up the experience to their imagination but realized they may have actually seen Dillinger when the police announced he may have been hiding in southern Colorado. Captain Matt Leach, Indiana state police officer in charge of the national hunt for Dillinger, was quoted saying he believed Dillinger was hiding in the area although he declined to say which town “near Pueblo” Dillinger was hiding. So what do you think? Did John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1, visit the Owl Cigar store in Cañon City for a magazine? True or not, it makes a great story!

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.   

Beaver Park Preserving and Fruit Company

1918 brings a new cannery – the Beaver Park Preserving and Fruit Company – to Penrose. The February 2, 1918 issue of the Penrose Press states that the cannery is looking at proofs for their new labels.  We would love to know more about these labels and of course would like to have some for our collection here at the museum.  The article states that they show an orchard tract with Pikes Peak in the distance.  740 pounds of gooseberries were among the first products to be processed at the cannery.  The first carload was shipped out to Denver, Colorado Springs, Trinidad and El Paso.  By 1919, the cannery had been leased to the Colorado Packing Corporation.

If you have any labels, items, or photos from the Penrose cannery, we’d love to see them! You can visit the museum, call us at (719) 269-9036, or email us at historycenter@canoncity.org. Our open hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 10 AM – 4 PM.

Preserving History

If you or someone you know is a long-time resident of Fremont County and would like to join in a filmed discussion of ranching in the county, stop by the museum tomorrow at 9 AM! Coffee and a light snack will be provided. We would love to hear your stories and grow our oral history collection! Old-Timers Coffee

The First Fire Department of Cañon City

This day in 1879, January 27th, the Cañon City Fire Department was created. It was made up of 20 volunteers and consisted of one hook and ladder company. A hook and ladder is a mobile fire apparatus carrying ladders and other firefighting equipment. In 1881 the fire department tested the efficiency of their new hose system by lighting boxes and barrels on fire on the outskirts of town. Fortunately, the trial proved the “boys to be experts” and they quickly put out the fire.

In 1902, a paid fire department was established in Cañon City alongside the volunteer department.  There were three paid employees supported by eleven volunteers. In just six months, the department had proved itself to be quick and efficient. In July 1902, several tests were conducted to see how quickly the team could be ready. Time was kept with a stopwatch and notes were taken to keep a record. All the firemen would get into their beds and the alarm would be rung. The men would jump out of bed, put on their boots and run to their places. The driver would get into his seat and the horses would be hitched up to the wagon. The men were able to get out of the firehouse in just 14 seconds. It was suggested a test would be given in another six months to see if the time could be improved.

In 1906, when the paid fire department was just four years old, it was reported they had responded to ninety-one calls in total since 1902. The horses were named Chief and Charley and the big gray horses cost the city $350.00. Replacements were white horses Tom and Dexter who were retired when the first automobile, a Buick, was bought in 1915. It was claimed however that the horses were ready to go just as fast as a truck!

1912 CC FD

Cañon City Fire Department, 1912 (left to right) George Padgett – Asst. Captain, Charles McKissick – Jr. Captain, George Cassidy – Chief, Fred Priest – Plugman ; copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

CC FD 1911

Cañon City Fire Department at Decoration Day Parade, 1911; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

The museum is open Wednesday – Saturday from 10 AM – 4 PM. You can contact us at (719) 269-9036 or email us at historycenter@canoncity.org.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.