Today we finish telling the story of the 1892 Montoya/Howe Sheepmen’s/Cattlemen’s War. Today we report the trial results.
If you have been following this story in The SUN over the past few weeks, you know that sheep rancher Juan de Dios Montoya shot and killed cattle rancher William Howe. Montoya was arrested by Archuleta County Sheriff Billy Kern. Montoya was charged with murder and the trial took place in the Sixth Judicial District Court in Durango.
Given the Anglo prejudice against Hispanics at that time and the storied enmity between sheepmen and cattlemen, one would have to be skeptical of Montoya’s chances of walking free.
The trial of Montoya finally took place in January of 1892. He was defended by probably the best trial lawyer in southwestern Colorado, Adair Wilson. Wilson had practiced law in Del Norte before moving to Durango and was a personal friend of the Montoya family. Taking part in the trial were several Pagosa Springs witnesses who had been ministering to the dead man at the wake held for his deceased son just before the shootout.
Durango newspapers gave much space to the trial and when Montoya was freed by a jury convinced that he acted in self defense, a reporter asserted somewhat jubilantly that “these sons of sunny southern climes joyfully retired to Delmonico’s to celebrate.”