‘A Visit to Sam Fielden’ by J. William Lloyd from The Comrade. Vol. 3 No. 5. February, 1904.
ON my return from my visit to the Pima Indians of Arizona, whose traditions I had been studying, I stopped off at La Veta, Colorado, and for several days was the guest of Mrs. Lizzie M. Holmes and Mrs. Elizabeth L. Hill, the wife and sister of William Holmes, the well-known advocate of Communist-Anarchism; Mrs. Holmes being herself a vigorous and popular writer in most of the liberal papers of the day. William Holmes was a warm personal friend of the Chicago Anarchists, and on that fatal November, Mrs. Holmes went with Mrs. Parsons to say a last good bye to the condemned men, but instead of this mercy being granted, both the women were arrested, lodged in a cell, stripped and searched for explosives, and kept confined till after the execution had taken place. Time makes strange changes and these once dreaded people, William Holmes and his wife, are now popular and respected members of La Veta society.
La Veta is a very pretty little town, and a pleasant place indeed to spend a few vacation days. Across the rippling little Cuchara River (let no profane tongue whisper that it is but a brook) is a charming bluff, covered with strange, weather-sculptured, cavernous rocks. To the northward stands the dark Greenhorn Range of mountains. To the west, near the town apparently, but really some seven miles off, is Beta Mountain, a most impressive volcanic cinder-cone. Back of this runs the general range of the Rockies, with the white cap of majestic Blana, the monarch of Colorado mountains, just showing like a dazzling snow bank above. Southwestward runs the Trinchera Range whose tops are always white with snow.
But all these are insignificant in the landscape, because the eye at once goes to the splendid volcanic Spanish Peaks, the Wah-ho-toya or Twin Sisters, as the Indians call them, which rise in perfect beauty south of the town, toward New Mexico. These majestic, extinct craters terminate the Sangre de Christo range in this direction, rise over 13,000 feet, and stand out in more satisfactory fullness to the eye than any other mountains in the entire Rocky Mountain system. But one of my chief desires in visiting La Veta was to see Sam. Fielden, the sole survivor of those eight heroic if mistaken men who once stood on trial for their lives before Judge Gary.
So one lovely October morning, when the world was beautiful as Paradise and flowers even were blooming, though there had been a light fall of snow but the morning before, of which no trace now remained, Lizzie Holmes and I took the road up Indian Creek to Fielden’s Ranch. It was a five-mile walk, but this pure mountain air would have made ten miles a pleasure. We were at an elevation of over 7,000 feet at the start.
As we went out of the little town we skirted the “Plaza,” where still remains the adobe building in which the once noted Colonel Francisco entertained such celebrities as Fremont and Kit Carson. After that our walk was a steady but gradual raise till we came to the little ravine like valley, almost a canyon, where Fielden has his home.
I saw him first standing by the bars, before his cabin, talking to some passing neighbor who had stopped his team for a chat —a stocky well-built man, in overalls and cap, who was regarding me keenly with two of the largest, most innocent and beautiful gray eyes I ever seen in a man’s face. Those eyes made me love him at once, they were so frank and pure, clear and clean as mountain springs, and the manly clasp of his big, horny hand finished the job.
We went to his cabin, a typical mountain house of hewn logs, beneath the shade of cottonwoods and box-elders now golden with the yellow leaves of fall, and saw his wife, a bright, active little English woman, chipper as a cricket, and talked awhile and then strolled out.
What a day that was. A perfect golden day in the most perfect and golden month of the year. We went down to his little spring of pure water beside the Indian Creek, and we went up to his two little lakes on the “mesa.” A hard struggle for a living here, on this arid soil, which needs irrigation to yield a crop, where drouth and frost blast, the squirrels devour the corn, the coyotes the chickens, and the cattle get “loco” on the range, but I am happy to say that Fielden seems to have got beyond the hardest primary stage, and to be fairly comfortable for a pioneer. The spot where he lives is one of almost idyllic beauty, with all its natural charms quite unspoiled by intensive “improvements.” A poet, a dreamer, could hardly ask a more congenial retreat, and I almost felt tempted to wish myself his neighbor. Fielden has a handsome, intelligent face, very English in contour, but his great gray beard, heavy curling hair, and the bushiest eyebrows ever seen over human eyes, make him look almost Russian. Kindness, goodness, pure honesty radiate from him. His voice is refined and attractive in cadence, with no Cockney faults, and his conversation intellectual graphic, logical and finely-worded. Hermit though he is, almost, he is up-to-date on all passing questions. After dinner, in his cabin, he gave us each a little book, carved from stone by his own hands while he was an inmate of Joliet Penitentiary. The one he gave Mrs. Holmes was of onyx, and mine of black and gold marble. They were carved and polished with great art and taste, and are souvenirs precious indeed.
After dinner we wandered out again on the beautiful “mesa,” and chased in the horses and harnessed them, and he took us for a ride up the creek canon to some sulphur and iron springs, a few miles above, a place which will some day be a famous resort. And then he took us in his wagon back to La Veta, the air getting rapidly cold as night drew on.
He spent the evening with us before he returned, talking most interestingly of the old days of his trial and imprisonment. “According to the evidence presented,” he said, ” if any man should have been hung I was the man, for at least twenty witnesses swore that they saw me empty my revolver into the crowd of policemen and give the signal for the throwing of the bomb.” This supposed signal was his calling out “We are peaceful!” But so well aware was the prosecution of the true character of its perjured and purchased witnesses that he was not hung, as all the world knows. Then he told us of that wonderful eloquent speech of his, whose simple, manly pathos made even the policemen weep and turned the tide of sympathy in his favor, probably saving his life. He insisted that there was no conspiracy, and that none of the leaders knew of the bombthrower or his intention, and so little did they anticipate violence that they even brought their wives and little children to the meeting.
I shall never forget how this warm-hearted, manly champion as he went off the little porch into the night, suddenly turned back, impulsively, and saying, “Well, I must shake hands with you again!” again wrung mine in comradely grasp.
May all life’s blessings compensate him for his days of gloom and pain. It is not necessary to believe in the wisdom of violent revolution to recognize the heroism of many of those who, while personally hating bloodshed, have felt that as a surgical necessity it was the only path to freedom.
The Comrade began in 1901 with the launch of the Socialist Party, and was published monthly until 1905 in New York City. Edited by John Spargo, Otto Wegener, and Algernon Lee amongst others. Along with Socialist politics, it featured radical art and literature. Adorned with photos, portraits, art, and images, The Comrade was known for publishing Utopian Socialist literature and included a serialization of ‘News from Nowhere’ by William Morris along work from with Heinrich Heine, Thomas Nast, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Edward Markham, Jack London, Maxim Gorky, Clarence Darrow, Upton Sinclair, Eugene Debs, and Mother Jones. It would be edited by Algie Simons and absorbed into the International Socialist Review in 1905.
PDF of issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/comrade/v03n05-feb-1904-The-Comrade.pdf