Key Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:7 “…For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
Throughout history there have been those who have made their mark and left a legacy for us to remember.
It has taken men and women from all our races, differing cultures and long held traditions working together to make
Today, in honor of Black History Month, let me share a true story with you about a man who epitomizes the grace, strength, character and determination of what makes a true American truly great.
Willie Kennard: Yankee Hill's Black Marshal
The unlikely tamer of
By Gerald Lindemann
Yes, Yankee Hill desperately needed a new marshal. The town councilmen, however, never expected anyone like Willie Kennard to show up in answer to the advertisement they had placed in the
One of the councilmen, lawyer Bert Corgan, later wrote in his autobiography, Mining Camp Lawyer (published in 1897 by Pruett Bros. of Los Angeles): "I was perplexed by this darky. He was either, I calculated, an impetuous bunghead or as cold-blooded a gunslinger as ever I saw. With the others, I accompanied him to Gaylor's Saloon, a rowdy place which the miscreant, Barney Casewit, frequented."
After pausing momentarily to size up his quarry, Kennard moved toward Casewit's table. Casewit and his cronies really thought it hilarious when Kennard told him he was under arrest. "I'm just supposed to come with you?" Casewit asked innocently. "Where are we supposed to go?" When Kennard told him it was his choice, either jail or hell, Casewit knew the new lawman was not bluffing. And the way he wore his two revolvers, low and tied down, meant he probably knew how to use them. But Casewit was not about to let himself be arrested. Even if he wasn't hanged, no one would ever respect him again if word got around that he had backed down to a black man.
Casewit got to his feet and, not heeding Kennard's last-chance warning to give up peaceably, reached for the Colt .44s at his sides. The badman had barely gotten his hands on the butts when, according to Corgan, Kennard did something only talked about in legend but never before actually seen by anyone in Gaylor's Saloon. Kennard drew his revolver and fired into Casewit's still holstered Colts. The impact of the bullets knocked the butts out of Casewit's hands. The shots almost ripped the holsters from his gunbelt and rendered his guns totally useless. Two of Casewit's companions, Ira Goodrich and Sam Betts, decided this would be a propitious moment to make their moves on behalf of their friend. They were dead wrong. Kennard dropped them both with clean shots between the eyes as they drew, their guns barely clearing leather. Casewit's hands instantly went straight up. He was taking no chances lest Kennard think he also might try something.
Justice was usually swift in the mining camps and towns of the Old West. The trial was held the next day, with Corgan, the only man in Yankee Hill available who had knowledge of the law, presiding. Casewit was found guilty of raping Birdie Campbell and sentenced to hang. Not wanting to waste time and money building a gallows, Corgan instructed Kennard to nail a crossbar to an old pine behind Glen Ritchey's blacksmith shop. Casewit's hands were tied behind his back, and a noose was looped around his neck. Kennard pulled him up about 10 feet off the ground. Casewit tried to delay his demise by wrapping his legs around the tree trunk and shinnying up it. He only succeeded in prolonging his agony. After about 20 minutes, the strength in his legs gave out. Releasing his grip, Casewit could only dangle helplessly as the rope slowly strangled him to death.
After this astonishing performance, no one on the Yankee Hill town council doubted Willie Kennard's ability to fully execute the duties of the office of marshal; however, they wanted to know something about the man before taking him on permanently. Kennard obligingly filled them in on his background.
During the Civil War he had been a corporal in the 7th Illinois Rifles, a company made up entirely of black volunteers. Having a natural talent for using sidearms, he was made an instructor at the Montrose Training Camp. After the war, having found scant opportunities for civilian employment, Kennard enlisted in a black unit, the 9th Cavalry. He served five years at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then relocated with his unit to Fort Davis in Arizona Territory. He saw action against the Warm Springs Apache and Mescalero Apache. When his enlistment ran out, Kennard drifted about for a few months before responding to the newspaper ad in the summer of 1874 and becoming the marshal of Yankee Hill, Colorado Territory, at the tidy salary of $100 per month.
The town of Yankee Hill had a short but fascinating history. In 1858, pay dirt was struck in Colorado Territory in the area around Pikes Peak. As word spread, another California-style gold rush began. By 1866, hundreds of small mining camps had sprouted. Among them was Yankee Hill, situated about 25 miles west of Denver. Benefitting from its location on the toll road (the so-called Gold Trail) between Central City and Georgetown, Yankee Hill flourished. By 1874 the town had several hundred permanent residents and a few hundred more transient prospectors. Yankee Hill's progress and prosperity brought with it the expected influx of human predators, including men like Barney Casewit who were fast with a gun and totally bereft of conscience. Relying on locals to enforce the laws and maintain order was not good enough anymore. And so it was that Yankee Hill advertised for a professional town tamer.
Willie Kennard's auspicious debut as town marshal earned him instant respect from the citizens of Yankee Hill, who were grateful to be free of Casewit's cruel tyranny. It was inevitable, though, that there would be those who could not accept the concept of a black man as town marshal. Reese Durham, local manager of the Butterfield Stage Station, became obsessed with the desire to run the lawman out of town. On the afternoon of September 2, 1874, emboldened by several glasses of whiskey,
In the spring of 1875, the town was being plagued by a gang of outlaws preying on the freight wagons and passenger stages that traveled the Gold Trail. The gang was an eight-man outfit led by Billy McGeorge, a 40-year-old fugitive from the
Not wanting to chase McGeorge up and down the trails and over half the territory, the marshal decided to set a trap. He had posters nailed to trees, offering a $50 reward for McGeorge's capture "dead or alive." McGeorge flew into a fit of rage when he saw one of the posters. There wasn't another marshal in the territory offering less than $300. It was an insult that could not go unchallenged. On Monday, June 28, 1875, McGeorge and his gang rode into Yankee Hill to secure vengeance.
Alerted to their arrival, Kennard met them at the end of
By 1877, Kennard had thoroughly tamed the once wild and woolly mining town. The population was also declining as the gold began to play out. The traffic through Yankee Hill dropped because mining in Central City and Georgetown had plummeted. Kennard, most likely Colorado's first black lawman, decided it was time for him to move on as well. He handed in his badge, saying he was headed back East to find a wife. Not much is known of his whereabouts or activities after he left Yankee Hill. He surfaced for a time in Denver in 1884, working as a bodyguard for Barney Ford, a wealthy businessman and former slave who became known as the "Black Baron of Colorado." Where Kennard went after that remains a mystery, as does the date of his death. As for Yankee Hill, it is gone and all but forgotten. Only remnants of a few buildings remain.
Legendary lawmen such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Wild Bill Hickok are well remembered today, but most Western lawmen, like Willie Kennard, toiled and died in obscurity after bringing law and order to an untamed land. Bat Masterson described them as "just plain ordinary men who could shoot straight and had the most utter courage and perfect nerve--and, for the most part, a keen sense of right and wrong." Well, in Willie Kennard's case, maybe not so ordinary.
This article was written by Gerald Lindemann and originally appeared in the February 1996 issue of Wild West.
Marshal Willie Kennard was truly one of America’s Mighty Men
Marshal Kennard reminds me of a man in the bible named Gideon whom God deputized to clean up the town. (Judges 6ff)
In the bible there are several heroes just like Marshal Kennard. People who stood up in the face of adversity for little or no guaranteed reward to right wrongs, protect the innocent and challenge injustice.
2 Samuel 23 (KJV)
8 ¶ These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time.
9 And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away:
10 He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the LORD wrought a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil.
11 And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines.
12 But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the LORD wrought a great victory.
David’s Mighty Men stood and fought in the face of great challenges.
Times come to test us, our character and our resolve.
The hard times that test our commitment but the good times test our character.
Those who leave a legacy of character and commitment are those who, like David’s mighty men, choose to stand and fight, even in the face of:
800 against 1, Adino engaged the fight
Wearied by the battle, Eleazar fought on
Alone and for beans, Shammah stood his ground
Perhaps like Queen Ester and David’s Mighty Men, Marshal Kennard, the first black lawman in
He did this against all odds, often alone in the heat of the battle and for a whole lot less money than what it was worth.
Many of them are serving in our military, and in our communities as policeman, fireman, as nurses and teachers, coaches and clergy, as foster parents and CASA workers, in family practice and community projects, giving their lives to right wrongs, protect the innocent and challenge injustice.
Where are God’s Mighty Men and Women today?
Right here in front of me!
You are the ones whom God has called to stand for Him even when you may be standing:
Against Insurmountable Odds
In The Face of Indefinable Fatigue
For Seemingly Insignificant Reward
Man may not see the potential inside of you but God does. God looks after the heart and not after the outward appearance.
The Angel called Gideon a, “Mighty man of valor”, before Gideon did anything heroic. (Judges 6:12)
Won’t you take your stand this week.
Stand up for what is right.
Protect the innocent.
Colossians 3:17 (Do everything you do for God’s glory.)