From the Museum Archives: The outlaw who got away — Northwest Colorado’s mystery grave
In Rangely, Colorado lies the grave of a man who is almost certainly not who he claimed to be. Now, the Museum of Northwest Colorado is getting closer to solving this 100+ year-old mystery.
Somewhere between 1900 and 1910 a mysterious sheep herder appeared in Northwest Colorado who went by the name of David Stillwell. Though he would remain in Rio Blanco and Moffat counties until taking his own life in 1947, nobody knew anything about him. Local residents seemed to simply accept that Stillwell was an alias and that he was probably an outlaw hiding-out in their backyard — none of which bothered them very much. Which outlaw, however, was always the question.
The museum, too, believes David Stillwell was an alias. The information he provided for the 1910 census doesn’t match any known records. Stillwell also refused to openly talk about his past or the existence of any family members. He effectively went to his grave as a man with no past and no family.
So, who was he?
Our research has led us to believe there are two likely candidates — David Lant and Orien Moore. Both, indeed, were outlaws and escaped convicts.
David Lant, as some may remember, was the cohort of the major outlaw and murderer, Harry Tracy. In 1897-1898 Tracy and Lant escaped the Utah State Penitentiary and both the Hahns Peak and Aspen jails before Lant disappeared forever. In Dick and Daun DeJournette’s book “One Hundred Years of Brown’s Park and Diamond Mountain,” Dick claims that his dad told him exactly who David Stillwell was from his many first-hand conversations with Stillwell himself — he was David Lant. Also in their book are accounts from other old timers who were adamant that the mystery man was none other than Lant. This theory has some merit. In addition to correct timing, Rio Blanco and Moffat County are both within close proximity to where Lant grew up in Utah. It would make sense that he would stay relatively close, but not too close, to all that he knew and loved.
However, there is another, perhaps more likely option — Orien Moore. Orien Moore killed a man in Wyoming in 1905 and was sent to the state penitentiary for life. He escaped in 1910 and was never seen again. After Stillwell’s suicide in 1947, a mysterious lady arrived on the scene to fight for his estate. She claimed that Stillwell was actually her brother, Orien Moore. There was a lot of doubt around her claim, but with no other solid claim to the estate the court eventually sided in her favor.
While Orien Moore did indeed have a sister matching the name of this woman, the museum has uncovered significant inconsistencies — if not lies — in the claim she presented to the Rio Blanco County court. Still, she had some extremely compelling evidence as well.
So, the question remains — who was David Stillwell, really? Nobody can currently say for certain. However, with the ease of DNA testing today, the museum has already begun the preliminary stages of putting this question to rest. If all goes smoothly, we will hopefully have an answer in the near future.
Either way, as our friend Tammie Delaney recently pointed out, “Still-Well” definitely wins as the most perfect alias for a successful escaped convict!
If you have any old family stories or photos pertaining to David Stillwell, we’re all ears!
Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumNorthwestColorado.