It seems almost fitting that legends should linger like ghosts around old mining communities, especially in areas as hauntingly beautiful as Granite, Colorado. If you ask about the little white grave across the river from Hwy 24, locals will tell you the legend of an infamous stage robbery that took place in 1879.
According to the legend, the sheriff of Leadville was growing frustrated due to a high frequency of stage robberies taking place on the old stage road. The robbers seemed to know exactly when shipments of silver ore would be onboard, making him suspect it was an inside job. One day, he decided to put an end to the robberies and rode with the silver-packing stage in disguise.
Sure enough, the stage was held up by an outcropping of rocks and boulders. The sheriff caught the robber by surprise and shot him dead. Upon examining the body, he realized that not only was the robber a woman–but it was actually his wife.
Ashamed, he buried her right where she’d fallen beside the old stage road. The inscription on the grave, which can still be visited, reads:
My wife – Jane Kirkham
Died March 7, 1879
Aged 38 years, 3 months, 7 days
Over the years, this legend has been reprinted and retold in numerous places. This post will serve as a running bibliography of research, retellings, and pictures relating to the story of Jane Kirkham.
Description of Location (Hwy 24, between Buena Vista and Leadville)
Retellings and Pictures
- 2017, The Stagecoach Robber Mystery. Leadville Website.
- 2016, Sinnwell, Mike. Leadville’s Jane Kirkham.
- 2007, Dewolf, Bonnie Marie. Wild West-Leadville, Colorado.
- 1997, Bell, Bob Boze. Wild Women of the West.
These sources say Jane’s husband was a deputy, not the sheriff.
- 2016, Walker, Johnny. Stage Coach and Train Robbery in Colorado.
- 2007, Colorado Gravestones
- Eller, Daniel. The Stagecoach Robbery Mystery
- 2011, Franscell, Ron. Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outer Rockies.
Theories and Research
While there were Kirkhams in the 1879 Leadville City Directory, no Jane Kirkham is listed, and the surviving Leadville newspapers from the spring of 1879 yield no clues to her identity or fate. Leadville historian Edward Blair tried to find an accurate origin of the monument without success. Nonetheless, he collected several versions of the story, none of which he could verify.
The simplest tale was that Jane Kirkham was a stage passenger who died during the journey and was buried beside the road. This seems unlikely because the stage would have been close enough to Leadville, Granite or Buena Vista to take the corpse into town for a proper burial.
A second version of the story says that Kirkham was a pregnant passenger on the Leadville stage who went into labor because of the rough travel over the stage road. The coach stopped and the crew and passengers attempted to deliver the baby beside the road, but the woman died in childbirth. Again, this is an awkward place for a grave.
I pass that on as legend, not fact. The accounts of the Kirkhams in Leadville is this story and nothing more, not even the sheriff’s first name. Moreover, the name Kirkham doesn’t show up in the census for Lake County in 1870 or 1880. The state archives shows the marshal in Leadville in 1879 to be J.A. Kelly, with no one named Kirkham on the 12-member force for the community of 18,000.
[Note: This thread on a genealogy board has proved to be one of the most interesting developments I’ve found surrounding Jane Kirkham research. The following excerpt is just a sampling of the fascinating story Gail Kilgore uncovered.]
So the family left IA with the hopes of finding gold when the silver boom hit Leadville and sister robs stages and the family now has money but where was the husband while his wife is 17 miles away from Leadville robbing the stage? The family moves on and works gold mines in Alaska and they are still in Alaska mining for gold this very day.
As a final suspicious twist to the story, all the loot from the many holdups was never recovered.