“Murder in Colorado”: The Death of Dyas Mills

AI generated image of two men on a buffalo hunt in north central Colorado in December 1873. (Source: openai.com)

After the death of their father two brothers made the move from Tuscarawas County to the Great Plains. One of those brothers would lose his life at the hands of another man on New Years Eve in a remote town in the middle of the Colorado Territory.


Jonathan Winn Mills (1813-1869) was born in Virginia and around the age of twenty left his native state and moved to Ohio with a couple of his brothers. The Mills at first settled in the area that became Carroll County where, in 1834, Jonathan married Ohio-born Sarah Downing (1813-1898). The Mills then moved to the town of New Cumberland, Warren Township in Tuscarawas County by 1840. There Jonathan and Sarah acquired farmland just to the east of town, became active in local politics, and raised what would become a very large family.

Jonathan and Sarah had eleven children over the course of their marriage, eight sons and three daughters, of which eight would survive to adulthood. Jonathan’s political activity, and apparent popularity, resulted in him being elected to represent Tuscarawas County in the Ohio State Legislature in the 1850s. Meanwhile, his farm continued to prosper and expand with the assistance of his family and the other laborers who worked on his farm. The Mills family were Republicans and, during the American Civil War, at least two of the sons served with an Ohio regiment during the war.

  • Marriage record of Jonathan Mills and Sarah Downing, August 1834. (Source: familysearch.org)
  • Later map showing the location of the Mills property in Warren Township, Tuscarawas County, 1875. (Source: ancestry.com)
  • Colorized photograph of Jonathan Mills, likely taken while he was a State Representative, 1850s. (Source: ancestry.com)
  • Jonathan Mills' death reported in the New Philadelphia newspaper, November 1869. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)

After the war, a couple of Jonathan and Sarah’s sons moved to Illinois while the other children continued to live on the family farm in Tuscarawas County. Jonathan Mills, while returning from a trip to Mineral Point in November 1869, was thrown from his buggy and suffered fatal injuries as a result. He lived long enough though to write his will, leaving the property to his widow and naming his son James as the Executor of his estate. James decided to buy out his siblings’ remaining interest in the family farm and, using that money and the portion of the estate they inherited, two of the brothers decided to start a new life in the West; those two brothers were Thomas (1838-1912) and Dyas Mills (1848-1873).

The elder of the two brothers, Thomas, married Elizabeth McGregor (1840-aft. 1879) in 1857 and, by the time of Jonathan’s death in 1869, was farming in Warren Township with his wife and four children. Dyas, meanwhile, was living on the family farm with his mother and two other siblings. Thomas and Dyas decided, shortly after their brother bought out their share of the family farm in 1870 or so, to relocate to the Territory of Colorado. Thomas, his family, and his brother Dyas packed up their belongings and headed west, settling in the town of Kiowa, southeast of Denver. There Thomas purchased a ranch about a mile outside of town and the two brothers started their new life in the West.

  • Map showing the locations of Kiowa and Riverbend, Colorado in 1879. (Source: loc.gov)
  • Print of men shooting buffalo along the Kansas Pacific Railroad in Colorado Territory, 1871. (Source: Denver Public Library; accessed on https://dp.la/)
  • Photograph of two Colorado hunters with antelope, 1878. (Source: Denver Public Library; accessed on https://dp.la/)

During the winter of 1873, Dyas had determined to go on a buffalo and antelope hunt on the plains to the east of Kiowa. Given that it was Dyas’ first winter hunt of this kind, his older brother furnished him with everything he needed for the hunt and arranged for one of the family ranch hands to go along with him. The ranch hand was an Apache named Charley, who was also a friend of Dyas’. Now outfitted with a wagon and horse, blankets, guns, and ammunition the two men headed east onto the plains the day after Christmas 1873 in search of game. After a few days of hunting, the men decided to take the antelope they had managed to acquire to the nearest town to sell.

It was around 8 o’clock in the evening on New Years Eve when Dyas and Charley arrived in the small town of River Bend that sat along a stretch of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. The men had already started drinking before they arrived in town and their first stop was a store and saloon where they sold the antelope they had shot that day. Dyas then ordered some whiskey for himself and then Charley demanded a drink as well. Dyas jokingly told him to drink from a water pail on the bar, but Charley continued to demand whiskey. Charley then went to the wagon to grab a rifle and Dyas and the others in the saloon soon followed. Charley was outside by the wagon, rifle in hand, demanding whiskey and threatening Dyas and the other men.

Dyas, moving towards Charley, told him to calm down and that he could get whiskey or anything else he wanted when they went back inside. Before Charley could move though, Dyas grabbed the rifle out of Charley’s hands and slammed the butt of it into Charley’s face. Charley fell to the ground and crawled under the wagon for protection as Dyas continued to try to get to him. The other men with Dyas grabbed the rifle out of his hands and, when Dyas tried to reach for a board to hit Charley with, managed to keep that away from him as well. The other men managed to calm Dyas down and as they started to walk back into the saloon, Charley crawled out from under the wagon and ran towards Dyas with his 9-inch long hunting knife and plunged it into Dyas’ back, between his left shoulder blade and spine. Dyas fell to the ground and yelled “he has killed me!”

  • Dyas Mills' murder reported in the New Philadelphia newspaper, February 1874. (Source: newspaperarchive.com)
  • View of Riverbend, Colorado's "Store Saloon" and "R. E. Bishop Flour Feed Provisions Store General Merchandise", 1880. (Source: Denver Public Library Special Collections)

Dyas Mills lay on the saloon floor, bleeding profusely from the stab wound, as one man tried to sew up his wound and another ran for the town Sheriff. The other men in the saloon grabbed Charley and tied him up until the Sheriff arrived. Once the Sheriff arrived and it became clear that Dyas would not live, and fearing that the men at the saloon would lynch Charley, he determined to take Charley on the very next train to Denver for safe keeping until a hearing could be held the next day. The following afternoon Charley was brought back to River Bend for his hearing and, travelling in the same train car with him was Thomas Mills. The two men did not speak.

The hearing was a brief one and, as news of the murder of Dyas Mills spread, an even larger mob gathered in the small town. After the conclusion of the hearing, Charley was once again placed on a train bound for the jail in Denver for his own safe keeping. However, upon arriving in Denver the Sherriff was told that there was not enough room in the jail for Charley and he would have to be moved to another jail. During the process of being moved to the Douglas County Jail in Castle Rock, unknown persons took Charley from the jail and he was later found hanging from a tree “being hung by unknown persons.”

Thomas, in the meantime, brought his brother Dyas’ body back to to be buried at the ranch outside Kiowa. Thomas did not stay in Colorado very long after the death of his brother. His wife divorced him in 1879 and Thomas eventually found himself living, with a new wife, in eastern Oklahoma where he died in 1912. Dyas’ name is listed on a headstone in the New Cumberland Cemetery in Tuscarawas County, though there is no evidence that his body returned to Ohio. There are many records online that record Dyas’ death as having occurred in 1878, but his actual death occurred in the early morning hours of January 1, 1874 in a small town in Colorado, 1300 miles from home.

  • Report of the lynching of Charley that appeared in the Colorado Miner newspaper, January 1874. (Source: coloradohistoricnewspapers.org)
  • A later image of Thomas Winn Mills. (Source: wikitree.com/wiki/Mills-7214)
  • Thomas Winn Mills' headstone in Garden of Memories Cemetery Vian, Oklahoma. (Source: findagrave.com)
  • Dyas Mills' name recorded on a Mills family headstone in New Cumberland Cemetery, New Cumberland, Ohio. (Source: findagrave.com)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

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