The Tragic Tale of Mary Rose and the Cuddigans

Ten-year old Mary Rose Matthews lost her mother as a very young girl. Her father, a Denver policeman, tried to care for her but was unable to. When he lost his job, he left his little girl in care of neighbors and took off. In April 1883, Mary Rose was taken to St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in Denver.

A few months later, in July 1883, she was adopted by Michael and Maggie (or Mary) Cuddigan, a ranching couple who lived about ten miles outside Ouray. Maggie’s brother, John Carroll, also lived and worked on the ranch, and the Cuddigans had a baby boy, Percival. Ouray’s itinerant Catholic priest, Father Robert Servant, brought the young girl to her  new family.

Apparently unknown to Father Servant or the sisters at St. Vincent’s, Michael Cuddigan had a reputation as a drunkard with a violent temper. Over the next couple of months, neighbors noticed changes in Mary Rose’s personality. Instead of winsome, helpful girl that traveled from Denver, she became quiet and haggard. She was often seen with bruises. Unfortunately, nobody took action to find out what was wrong.

On a cold day in January 1884, Mary Rose’s already bad luck took a turn for the worse. On January 13, a hunter found the little girl poorly clothed and unconscious lying in a haystack near the ranch house. He took her to the Cuddingans and left. When neighbors came by the house to visit, the Cuddigans told them that Mary Rose was dead. They claimed she had fallen down some stairs.

The Cuddigans quickly buried the girl in a remote corner of their property. This finally aroused suspicion in the neighbors, and they notified the corner. W.W. Rowan, M.D., exhumed the small body and did a post mortem. Rowan’s testimony at the subsequent inquest horrified the community.

I reside in Ouray. Am 34 years of age and a surgeon and physician by occupation. Have made a post mortem examination on the body of a dead girl about 10 or eleven years of age, name unknown: unclothed the coyd and found both feet frozen, peeling off of the outer skin of both legs and both thighs, showing strong indication of having been frozen: the skin on lower half of right leg peeled off and on the right knee was a cut of two inches over knee cap and three wounds on left thigh with partial discoloration of the skin; on the left hand fingers have been frozen; several wounds on forearm, bruised elbow and considerable discoloration of arm: on the right hand her four fingers and thumb had been frozen completely to the second joint with number of wounds to the right arm; on the forehead a little to the left of center, found she had received a severe blow by some blunt instrument: also on the rear portion of head found a very large wound, about the size of a silver dollar, caused by some blunt instrument.  

I opened the skull and found the posterior of the brain considerably engorged with a very large clot of blood weighing about 15 grains, which, to the best of my knowledge and belief, and from the impoverished condition of the body from treatment received, did cause the death of the deceased.

Several neighbors, although obviously too late to help the little girl, testified on Mary Rose’s behalf at the inquest. A man named C.R. Brandenberry said:

About eight or ten days ago I went to Cuddigan’s ranch for the purpose of hunting stray cattle. Saw this child on the hay stack; she crawled by [unreadable] her hands were [unreadable] up and she did not seem to notice anything; her face was bruised, also the back of her head. D.S.Duffield was with me: we thought she looked strange and spoke of it afterwards. It was a very cold day. 

Another neighbor, L.B. Montgomery, testified: “I own a ranch about a mile and a quarter west of Cuddigan’s: went to his place about one month ago on business: saw this girl washing dishes: noticed she was acting strangely: Spoke of it afterwards: saw her face bruised; am nearly certain she was barefooted: she seemed very dull of comprehension.

The coroner’s jury ruled that Michael Cuddigan, Maggie Cuddigan and Maggie’s brother, John Carroll, had killed Mary Rose. Sheriff Rawles arrested the trio and held them under heavy guard a the Delmonico Hotel, which stood at the time on Main Street in Ouray between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. At the time, Mrs. Cuddigan was many months pregnant and “would soon have become a mother.”

During the investigation into Mary Rose’s death, the coroner opened the doors and allowed the public in to view the child’s battered and frost-bitten body. Not surprisingly–and perhaps for some out of a sense of guilt at their own inaction–feelings among the townsfolk ran high against the prisoners. In his usual style, David Day of the Solid Muldoon wrote scathing editorials against the prisoners. He was later accused of suggesting “that lynching was the proper thing to do.”

Several days later, on January 18th, just past midnight, a mob of masked men powered their way past guards at the Delmonico and took all three prisoners. A reporter described what happened next:

Guards had been posted [by the mob] at various points along the streets, and all who came out into the street were ordered to return, which they did. Mike Cuddigan and Mary [Maggie?] Cuddigan were hurried down Third Street, pleading and begging piteously for mercy until Tommy Andrew’s cabin was reached, where the avengers halted. The rope was placed around Cuddigan’s neck and he was swung up to the ridge pole of the cabin, while a small tree just across the road was converted into a gallows for Mary Cuddigan. 

After lynching Michael Cuddigan, the mob took the pregnant Mrs. Cuddigan to the tree across the road and lynched her. This was the first time a woman was lynched in Colorado.

The fate of John Carroll was a bit less harsh:

After Cuddigan and his wife were strung up, John Carroll, a brother of Mrs. Cuddigan, and who had been charged with being one of the murderers of little Mary Rose Matthews, was taken in a buggy and driven several miles out of town. They then stopped and were soon joined by several others of masked vigilantes who rode on horseback. That the mob was cool and conservative and intelligent is shown in Carroll’s case. They had hung Cuddigan and his wife because they considered there was no doubt of their guilt. There was some question of Carroll’s guilt. However, they had taken Carroll to a more secluded spot where they would more fully investigate his complicity. Carroll pleaded piteously for his life. He said he was not at the Cuddigan ranch on the night of the murder, had not been there for several days, and could not therefore be held in any way responsible for the crime. He said he knew about the murder, but made himself an accessory after the act by keeping it quiet, simply for the protection of his sister. 

Despite his pleas, the vigilantes strung him up. However, they had a change of heart and lowered him to the ground. Apparently deciding that the law no longer wanted him, they set him free on his word that he would never return to the area.

After the lynching, the mob put their handiwork on display in Ouray. The Leadville Herald reported, “The bodies of Cuddigan and wife were lying side by side today and were visited by hundreds of people. There features are terribly distorted, even showing that they had died a horrible death from strangulation.” Also on display was Mary Rose’s miserable bed, consisting of four sacks of gunny sacks basted together, nothing more. Both sides of the gunny sacks were blood stained.”

Newspapers reported that the Cedar Hill Cemetery refused to take the bodies. Michael Cuddigan’s brothers also refused to have anything to do with it. Finally, the coroner had the Cuddigans buried on their ranch.

A few locals spoke up in defense of the Cuddigans, saying that they were a well-known and respectable ranching couple. The Catholic priest, Father Servant, who had given Mary Rose to the Cuddigans, reportedly refused to officiate at the couple’s funeral. However, the man described as a “little French priest” spoke up sharply against the lynch mob. Folks in Ouray didn’t care for the rebuke, so they circulated a petition inviting him to leave. He refused.

Some folks were horrified at the lynching of a woman–particularly a woman in the advanced state of pregnancy. However, most were so disgusted by what had been done to Mary Rose that they openly approved of the lynching. This latter group included a physician who examined Mary Rose’s body. Dr. B.S. Tedmon wrote a shocking letter to the Fort Collins Courier:

While I believe in law and justice as the proper method to determine the amount of punishment to be inflicted for most crimes, I must surely claim, after a personal examination of the victim this morning…I can now see how the people of Ouray were justified in hanging the Cuddigan fiends. And I believe could you have stood with we and seen the lacerated, bruised, cut, and frozen form of the once beautiful and innocent child, you would say that hanging was too easy, too mild a punishment for such wretches. 

Tedmon went on to describe Mary Rose’s injuries in horrifying detail, concluding the description with, “And to this the fact as given by several physicians upon examination that the child had been outraged by Cuddigan himself.

The Denver News echoed other statements made by Dr. Tedmon, that the act of the lynch mob was in direct response to the fact that the justice system in Colorado wasn’t sufficiently strict:

The cure, in a large measure rests with our courts and juries. They have been too lax in the judgment of men who have committed murder. Not one conviction for murders in the first degree has been recorded in this Sate for fifty cold-blooded murders committed. A feeble prosecution, a strong defense, and an easy-going jury can always be relied upon to save a murderer from the gallows under the present system of administering the criminal code in Colorado. 

Mob violence is dangerous and disgraceful to the State, but it is encouraged, and to the unthinking, it is in some measure justified, by the failure of the justice in our courts.

Mary Rose was briefly reburied in Ouray but was once more dug up and carted off to Denver, where her decaying remains were once again put on display for the gawkers of Denver to see. Finally, little Mary Rose was put to rest in Denver.

No one was ever arrested for the lynchings.

Postscript 

Percival Cuddigan was raised by Michael Cuddigan’s brother, Henry. Michael and Maggie Cuddigan’s estate was put in trust for the boy. The 1900 and 1910 census records show him living in Ridgway with his cousin Charley Kelley.

In 1902, the St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in Denver burned down. All two hundred children were rescued.

Over the years, a number of area residents have reported the sight of a beaten waif of a girl, usually alongside a road or near a barn. But when they tried to reach out to her, she always disappeared.

 

delmonico hotel 1890Notorius San Juans

View of Ouray (Ouray County), Colorado. Shows dirt streets, the Beaumont Hotel, the school, houses, commercial and civic buildings. A sign reads: “Del Monico.” The Amphitheater, a glacial cirque, is in the distance.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Tragic Tale of Mary Rose and the Cuddigans

  1. I have personal experiences, as well as have my children, with the ghost of Mary Rose, and owned the homestead on which the Cuddigans starting in the 1970s. Can we talk? Your information is more detailed than any other I’ve read, and I’d like to discuss your findings as I am memorializing this story ad my experiences in a memoir I’m writing. Contact info below …

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    • The tragic tale of little Mary Rose is a little sliver of tainted history that should not be forgotten. This story was taken from this book, Notorious San Juans:: Wicked Tales from Ouray, San Juan and La Plata Counties Paperback – June 14, 2011 by Carol Turner (Author). If you have anything that you would like to add to this story, I would be more than happy to include it in this. I often wonder about this little girl, many questions will never be answered.

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