The cabin and the killer: The history of Charles Kennedy

Business in Taos had been good to the man.  He had made a substantial amount of money and today, he looked forward to making more, with a short trip toward Elizabethtown, New Mexico. The morning air was crisp as he saddled his horse and packed goods and needed supplies onto a couple of mules. He had a few hundred dollars in his pockets and he was looking forward to the trip along the mountain paths. The leaves of the trees had begun to change color, and, he thought, the ride would be an easy one, filled with views of the nearby peaks and the splendid autumn colors. His last name was Edwards, a man whose first name was lost in history.

This was the fall of 1870, and his business took him just east of Taos, through the north-central part of New Mexico, near the mouth of a canyon at the northeastern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

There was one thing that troubled Edwards a bit, rumors. He knew the trail he would end up on had some local gossip attached to it.

The trail was alleged to be a place where some people simply, disappeared. Since the trail was used mainly by lone cowboys and desperados it is uncertain how many of them may have disappeared without a trace. However, once gold was found in the area, the trail became well-traveled by miners heading out to make their fortunes. It was at this time rumors started about lone travelers, last seen headed for the pass, never to be seen again.

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Edwards had just stopped to water his animals at a lonely spring, when he noticed a tattered log cabin nearby, its walls already sagging around its chimney. The building was the only one around for miles, and the sun was setting. Edwards was pleased to find the cabin also doubled as a sort of hotel and tavern.

The cabin was built by Charles Kennedy, a large man with unkempt whiskers and wary blue eyes. Kennedy had been a hunter and trapper in the Rocky Mountains and, in 1868, had moved to the Sangre de Cristos with his wife and their baby son. There, where the area’s only two roads merged and entered a mountain pass, he established a crudely developed ranch and invited travelers to stop and pay for a night’s lodging or a strong drink.

Kennedy, however, chose this isolated setting for only one apparent reason: to murder and rob his guests. He would kill them with an ax or a gun. One rumor claims he sometimes ate them as well.

From 1868 to 1870, as many as 100 trappers, travelers, miners and peddlers died or disappeared while traveling near Kennedy’s cabin. In the fall of 1870, the body of Edwards, the businessman from Taos, turned up nearby, robbed and shot. Its presence was blamed on the area’s Apache Indians.

Eighteen miles north of the cabin stood Elizabethtown, a prosperous gold-mining settlement that in 1870, boasted three dance halls, a much-patronized red-light district, seven saloons and several legendary outlaws – including Clay Allison, “The Gentleman Gunslinger.”

Kennedy had allegedly killed two of his own children in fits of drunken rage. When Kennedy’s remaining son nonchalantly told a visitor about a dead man buried beneath the house, Kennedy swung the 3-year-old boy headfirst against the fireplace. After killing his son, he also killed the stranger. After killing the stranger, he drank until unconscious, and while he was unconscious, his wife ran away.

Kennedy had always told his wife that if she ever mentioned anything to anyone about the things he did, he would kill the children, but now he had already killed them. She had no one left to lose and no reason to protect him any longer.

After some time, people in Taos began to wonder where Edwards had gotten to. He was long past due back. An investigation was started and the Taos man’s belongings, horses, and pack mules were found on the property of Charles Kennedy.

Kennedy explained this by saying he found the animals wandering alone and assumed the Apaches had killed or abducted the owner. The searchers found this very suspicious because, while it was true there were often Indian attacks in the area, the Apaches were known to love mule meat. They found it strange that they would have abducted or killed the man and not taken his animals. But, with no concrete proof, the men headed back to town.

A few weeks later a stranger who had stopped at a nearby spring to drink some water noticed Kennedy’s shack. He decided to have a closer look. As he approached he saw Kennedy’s small son out front and asked him, “What’s that smell, your pappy a trapper?” The boy replied that his pappy was not a trapper, that the smell was the Indian his dad had killed earlier (around the same time the prominent Taos man would have been traveling in the area) and hadn’t had time to chop up and burn yet.

Unfortunately, Charles was around the corner and overheard the conversation between his son and the man. He quickly rounded the corner, shot the man in the head, then grabbed his son by the heels and slammed him up against the rock chimney several times until his head was nothing but a lifeless bloody pulp.

Charles then proceeded to get falling down drunk. When he finally passed out, his wife ran from the cabin and traipsed 15 miles to the nearest town, Elizabethtown. Frantic, half frozen, and babbling incoherently, she burst into Herberger’s Saloon where Clay Allison and David Crockett (nephew of frontiersman Davey Crockett) were having a drink.

She told them what had happened, told them that there were the bones of twenty men buried on their property, and told them that Kennedy had killed their other two children before moving to the area.

The men rode off into the night and hauled Charles Kennedy, and a bag of blackened bones, back to E-Town. The next day a trial was held but the jury could not reach a decision so a mistrial was called (many said a good deal of money exchanged hands to ensure a quick trial and a hung jury).

Charles was taken to the jail to await another trial.

That night the men of the town, led by Clay Allison, had a lynching party with Kennedy the guest of honor. Allison then took Charles’ head off with the blade of a long knife, threw it in a burlap bag, and headed off with Crockett to Cimarron.

When they arrived in Cimarron they took the head to Lambert’s Saloon. Allison tried to convince Henry Lambert to hang the head over the door of the Saloon but Lambert refused. He was willing to compromise, however, and the head was secured to a pike pole and stuck at the southwest corner of the building where it resided for over a year.

Kennedy is said to have murdered between 15 – 100 men before he was discovered. He always took their belongings, but he was never known to spend much money. Most likely he buried the money, waiting for a time when he could spend it without suspicion – a time which never came for him. They say the money is still buried somewhere near the rubble of his shack, deep in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Footnote: Allison would die, too, 17 years later, when – in an early instance of drunken driving – he fell while intoxicated beneath his horse-drawn wagon, and a wheel rolled over his neck.

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