In Chaffee County (once part of Lake County), the Lake County War was a series of events that led to the formation of a vigilante group that used illegal arrests and coerced confessions to rid the county of lawbreakers.
The Lake County War started on June 17th, 1874 when George Harrington was shot in the back as he went to extinguish a fire in an outbuilding. His friends accused Elijah Gibbs of the murder, whom Harrison had quarreled with just days before. Despite Gibbs’s acquittal in October, peace did not return.
On the night of January 22, 1875, 15 men showed up at Gibbs’s cabin to hang him. When Gibbs refused to come out of his home, the men scattered kindling around the cabin, threatening to burn it down. Gibbs shot three of the men, and though he confessed to the crime, he was not charged. The courts declared his actions were in self-defense.
After this, Gibbs fled the area. Unable to seek their revenge, Harrington’s friends formed the vigilante group, “The Committee of Safety,” and rounded up Gibbs’s supporters, including his family members. The Committee of Safety staged a trial where a noose hung above the witness stand. Witnesses who gave a testimony in favor of Gibbs would have the noose tightened around their neck.
Judge Elias Dyer handed out warrants for the arrest of committee members. Shortly thereafter, Dyer was also shot and his murderer never accused. Eventually, the war simply died out and the Committee of Safety disbanded. To this day, however, The Lake County War is a reminder of how the wild west was alive and well in Chaffee (then Lake) County.