Elizabeth Brown & The Black Arts In The Wild West


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
Voodoo inflames fights in old Leadville
Daily Staff Writer
May 15, 2004

From washerwoman to State Street siren, Lizzie Brown was one of the West's most colorful characters. Her story is told here in an excerpt from Roger Pretti's book "Mining, Mayhem and Other Carbonate Excitements-Tales From a Silver Camp Called Leadville."

Wherever Elizabeth Brown went, bad luck or death seemed to follow. She lived, loved and drank hard, and was a well-known practitioner of the black arts in early-day Leadville.

No one knew where "Lizzie" Brown came from, but in 1879, she was earning a living in the fledgling mining camp washing miners' shirts for 25 cents each. No doubt business was good, but the lure of laundry held little promise for riches, so Lizzie took up with a gambler named "Hoodoo" Brown.

When the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad pulled into Buena Vista in 1880, the couple traveled there to meet the train, where they planned to cut a swath through the pocketbooks of new arrivals to the Arkansas Valley.

Business was good until the gambler's luck ran out one warm June night. Hoodoo Brown and three other gamesters were languishing around the green felt table at a high-stakes poker game in Pat Dillon's Saloon. The betting was desperate, and just before the sun crept over the peaks, angry words flew between Brown and an opponent, the former offering to settle the dispute with six-shooters.

In a nearby vacant lot, the pair stepped off the appropriate distance and turned, their revolvers roaring. Both fell mortally wounded. Brown died within minutes, and his rival, "Curly" Frank, expired several hours later. Since it was less work to dig one grave than two, the men who couldn't share a poker table in peace were laid to rest in the same grave.

Curse conquered; cat suffers

Hoodoo's corpse was barely cold when the widow Brown left Buena Vista and returned to Leadville, where she became a State Street prostitute with a reputation of being a bad woman when she was drunk.

"There was a time in the history of Leadville when Mrs. Brown was one of the reigning belles of Leadville's Tenderloin District," said a newspaper of the day. "Lizzie wore as fine dresses and big sparklers as any dame of the row."

In 1885, Brown was reported to be in league with the devil, and in that same year, a man named M.J. McConnell was arrested, tried and found guilty of assault. He left for Aspen after the judge gave him 12 hours to get out of town.

Trouble brewed in the carbonate camp when McConnell returned from Aspen on a mission to kill Brown's pet cat. He believed that the woman had bewitched his friend, Amos Young, another Leadville resident. Young's brother, Achilles, had to drug Amos in order to haul him, unconscious and unafraid, across Independence Pass to Aspen and out of the clutches of the reputed Voodoo Queen.

Once in Pitkin County, the results of the enchantment became obvious when the victim contracted mountain fever, then broke his leg in a fall. The bone was set and the brothers decided the time was right to break the spell.

They hired McConnell to do the dirty work for 0. The trio contacted an Aspen clairvoyant, who said that in order to free the bedeviled Amos, a Leadville-Aspen connection had to be made. Blood was taken from Achilles' fiancee and put into his arm. The woman stayed in Aspen, while he went to Leadville. Achilles was accompanied by McConnell, who was instructed to find Brown's black feline, "Erebus," and chop it in half with an ax.

In order to free the victim, the medium said she had to know the exact moment of the execution, so a bracelet was given to the bride-to-be. Young's fiancée was told to sit in the light of the full moon, and when the bracelet began to pinch her wrist, she was to tell the clairvoyant.

At the midnight hour beneath the pale moonlight, the young woman began to scream, whereupon Amos Young - who had stayed in Aspen - threw the door of the cabin wide as the medium threw open the door of the red-hot stove.

Seconds later, the tail end of the bisected feline was said to have flown in the cabin door. The clairvoyant pushed it into the fire with a shovel greased with lizard oil.

"The stove shook and groaned, but soon was still," the newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, Achilles and others in Leadville who witnessed the cat murder reported seeing the back half of the animal fly out of the cabin door and into the night.

The hex was broken, because McConnell and others emerged victorious when challenged to a fight by Brown, who had never lost a battle.

Vicious visions

In March 1886, James Palmer also fell under Brown's spell. He was a former cavalry officer and had fought Indians on the western frontier before coming to Leadville, where he worked as the cook at the town jail.

When Palmer heard he had been threatened with bodily harm by a gambler named "Rustler" Blobson, he armed himself with a meat knife and went looking for the man. Instead of finding Blobson, he managed to get himself arrested.

Mysteriously, Palmer began having hallucinations a few days later, after he was told that Blobson and "Tinhorn" Epps had contracted with Brown to bewitch him. The visions featured red monkeys crawling over his body or dancing in the bottom of his whiskey glass.

Brown remained in Leadville until after the turn of the century, residing at 114 East Chestnut at the time of her death from influenza in February 1901. No one claimed her body, and she was buried in an unmarked grave in St. Joseph's Cemetery.

LInk is dead. The MIA web article (quoted in full above) can still be accessed via the Wayback Machine:
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This 1901 Leadville newspaper item notes the death and burial of Elizabeth "Hoodoo" Brown and provides a detailed description of her husband's death in a duel.
The Story of His Death as Related By a Buena Vista Correspondent.

The story of the death of “Hoodoo” Drown Is thus related in a dispatch to u Denver paper from Buena Vista:

Probably the sole survivor of the element that made life an exciting pastime in Buena Vista and Leadville in the days before railroad was built, passed away in Leadville a few days ago. Mrs. Elizabeth Brown, better known as Mrs. “Hoodoo” Brown, will be remembered by many a pioneer of the Colorado mountains, and the recollection will call again to their minds the tragic end of the notorious “Hoodoo Brown and "Curley” Frank in Buena Vista in 1880.

The body of Mrs. Brown was buried in a simple pine box In the potter's field. In the days preceding “Hoodoo’s" death diamonds were hers. The body of her gambler husband, as well as the ashes of Frank, and other victims of the early shooting affrays, lie near the site of the smelter, and the little mounds are fast being covered with an ever-increasing pile of slag, and will soon be no longer objects of curiosity to the town's visitors.

"Hoodoo” Brown was one of the “boosting” contingent that made Leadville famous, and many of its residents continually poverty stricken. The high plane of monesty in card games assumed by Featherly and his ilk found no place in the procedure of Brown and his deadly rival, “Curley” Frank. The unwary and innocent were their meat, and were accordingly despoiled. And during this Leadville period Lizzie Brown was the belle of that element.

When the Denver & Rio Grande road reached Buena Vista in 1880 it was Iiterally a gambler’s paradise, and among the leaders of the green cloth gentry was “Hoodoo” Brown. Frank was also conspicuous.

This notorious brace, together with two others, sat in a heavy poker game one night in the early part of June, 1880. Desperate playing was the rule, as the stakes were high, and bitter hatred of Brown and Frank was constantly displayed. Dawn was breaking when affairs reached a climax and after fierce words between them, Brown called out to his rival for a duel with six-shooters. “Curley’’ was game, and drawing their guns, the men stepped out of Pat Dillon's saloon and walked to a near-by vacant lot, at Cedar and Railroad streets, the other two accompanying them as seconds. The distance was paced off, the men took their positions and the signal was given.

Then followed the most desperate duel in the history of all the wild mining camp history of early Colorado.

The first interchange undoubtedly took effect, but with unflinching bravery the two men walked toward each other, emptying the chambers of their pistols. The last of the twelve shots rang out and the men were but a few feet away, when both dropped to the ground, each utterly helpless from the accuracy of his rival's fire.

Some of the surviving eye-witnesses aver that shots were fired from (behind by other gamblers, hidden in near-by buildings, hut this was never proved.

“Hoodoo” Brown lived but a few minutes, expiring In the stairway of Dillon's saloon. Frank was carried upstairs and died a few hours later.

Though unalterably separated in life, these two fierce enemies were laid together in the same grave, while Mrs. “Hoodoo” Brown shed genuine tears of sorrow over her husband's corpse In the presence of all Buena Vista.
The Herald Democrat (Leadville, Colorado)
February 26, 1901
I find this interesting and amenable to interpretation as a conspiratorial stunt ...

The accounts cited above link Lizzie Brown to a criminal husband called "Hoodoo" Brown.

There definitely was a Hoodoo Brown who led the "Dodge City Gang" - an outlaw gang that took over the municipal offices (including law enforcement) of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and exploited the town as their private criminal fiefdom in 1879 - 1880. It's not clear whether this Hoodoo Brown was the same man as the gambler who'd died in the Buena Vista duel in 1880.

The Dodge City Gang was overthrown and forced to flee by citizen vigilantes in the summer of 1880. The Hoodoo Brown who'd led the Dodge City Gang moved on to Houston, Texas.

Here's what happened next, that may or may not explain the Lizzie Brown in Leadville ...
Meanwhile, the widow of one of Hoodoo's deputies, who had been killed two months earlier, had exhumed her husband to move him to Houston. When she arrived, she found Hoodoo had been arrested. The widow visited Hoodoo in prison. The Parsons Sun reported that "the meeting between the pair is said to have been affecting in the extreme, and rather more affectionate than would be expected under the circumstances." The Parsons Eclipse, another newspaper added that Hoodoo's specific offense committed at Las Vegas was murder and robbery, and it was indicated that seduction and adultery was connected to the crime.

Soon thereafter, however, Hoodoo hired two local attorneys and was released when the attorneys managed to prove that the officers had no legal authority for holding Brown. Neither he nor the widow were ever seen again. The Chicago Times soon reported that Brown and the widow have been "skylarking through some of the interior towns of Kansas ever since". ...

Reports from a descendant of Hyman G. Neill indicate that Hoodoo died in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico, where he left a common-law wife and a son. Two of Hoodoo's brothers brought back his remains to Lexington. His son was also brought there, and was raised. Hoodoo Brown was buried at his family plot in Lexington under the name Henry G. Neill.

Years later, records listed a woman named Elizabeth Brown who was living in Leadville, Colorado. A heavy drinker, she claimed to have been married to a gambler named Hoodoo Brown, who was shot and killed in a gambling dispute. She may have been Hoodoo's common law wife, but this was never proven.

How many Hoodoo Browns (and female companions) were there? If there was but one nasty piece of work named Hoodoo Brown, where did he actually die, who did he leave behind, how many companions or "common-law wives" survived him, and where did these survivors reside thereafter?
Much like the two Marie LaVeau's (mother and daughter), perhaps one Hoodoo Brown fell, and another took the name for business or reputation reasons, and Lizzie Brown was involved with both!
According to this account by a New Mexico history author at the New Mexico Stockman website, the Hoodoo Brown at Las Vegas (New Mexico) disappeared from that town circa the first week of March 1880. He was arrested in Kansas a week later, where he would eventually be released on a technicality. He left the Kansas town along with the widow of one of his Dodge City Gang cohorts (a Joe Carson). Carson had been killed in Las Vegas in January 1880, leaving a wife and daughter.

“Hoodoo Brown & the Dodge City Gang”
by Don Bullis

Not long after the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached the Las Vegas, New Mexico, area on April 4, 1879, the New Town section was organized into Precinct 29. A grifter and petty thief, some said from St. Louis, named Hyman G. Neill managed to get himself elected justice of the peace and acting coroner. He soon became known as Hoodoo Brown was a sobriquet given to him by a saloon girl who considered Neill bad luck. ...

Hoodoo’s main assistant was a largish man named John Schunderberger, better known as Dutchy. Tales of Dutchy’s prowess with his fists were many ... Brown also appointed a posse of constables to enforce the law in Precinct 29. The problem was that most of them were criminals of one kind or another, and most had ties to Dodge City, Kansas, hence they came to be called the Dodge City Gang. Brown paid their salaries from funds he collected from the town’s merchants for the security the constables provided. A modern term for it would be extortion.

Among the deputies were “Mysterious” Dave Mather, Dave Rudabaugh, John Joshua “J. J.” Webb, and Joe Carson. Carson was shot and killed by four drunken cowboys in mid January 1880, leaving a wife and young daughter behind. ...

In the event of a shooting or killing by one of his constables, Brown would quickly convene a coroner’s jury which would declare the matter justifiable homicide, thus concluding the matter. That worked well until Michael Kelliher came to town.

Kelliher arrived in the Las Vegas area at the end of February 1880. He was in the freighting business, and had served as a Chicago policeman. He had with him $2,115 in cash, with which he intended to purchase cattle for his brother’s ranch in the Dakotas. He meant to deposit the money in a bank, but hadn’t got around to it before he and a traveling companion named Bill Brickley went on a drinking spree on the evening of March 1. ...

The two of them are reported to have visited every saloon and dancehall in both East and West Las Vegas, before they headed back to their camp at the edge of town at about 3:00 the next morning. Kelliher had not done a good job of concealing the money he had on him, and it came to Hoodoo Brown’s attention that the visitor had a large stash of cash in a leather wallet he carried in an inside coat pocket. ...

One version of events is that Constable J. J. Webb walked into the saloon thirty or so minutes later and simply shot Kelliher to death. Another version is that Brown set up a trap that involved a man named Sport Boyle. Boyle’s instructions were to take Kelliher into the saloon for a drink, and start some sort of altercation. ... The two men began to quarrel and the saloonkeeper summoned Webb and Dutchy who had been stationed nearby. One of the two officers then shot Kelliher without warning, killing him instantly.

Hoodoo Brown was Johnny-on-the-spot. He quickly convened a coroner’s jury that ruled thus: “the deceased came to his death from a pistol in the hand of J. J. Webb, being an officer in the discharge of his duty, and the killing was justifiable and necessary under the circumstances.”

Then Hoodoo made a mistake. He went to Charles Blanchard, the probate judge, and asked to be appointed the administrator of Kelliher’s estate. Blanchard was a bit reluctant, and soon learned that the $1,000 Brown reported that he took from Keliher’s body was somewhat less than the total amount reportedly there. ... Very shortly, warrants were issued for J. J. Webb, charging first-degree murder, and H. G. Neill, AKA Hoodoo Brown, charging larceny. Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Webb on March 5, but there was no trace of Hoodoo Brown in East Las Vegas, or anywhere else in New Mexico. The rule of the Dodge City Gang was over.

Neill/Brown was arrested at Parsons, Kansas, a week later, but released on a technicality. He left Parsons with Joe Carson’s widow, and disappeared from history. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.aaalivestock.com/hoodoo-brown-the-dodge-city-gang/
Some miscellaneous notes after further explorations and excavations ...

RE: The name "Hoodoo Brown"

Hyman G. Neill may have adopted the name "Hoodoo Brown" from an earlier Wild West figure of some renown with a connection to / through Dodge City (Kansas). There was an earlier fellow - one George W. Brown - who was well-known as a buffalo hunter and US Army scout. This George Brown was already serving as an army scout as early as 1868. This Brown was nicknamed "Hoodoo", but I've been unable to locate any explanation for why and how he obtained this nickname. Brown was also active as a freighter on long-distance cattle drives to rail heads in Kansas. I've found no account of George Brown's life that places him in or around either Las Vegas or Buena Vista circa 1880. When George Brown retired from scouting and bison hunting he built and opened a bar in Dodge City (Kansas), where he apparently remained for years beyond 1880.

New Mexico historiographer Don Bullis (see prior post) attributed the nickname "Hoodoo Brown" to a saloon girl who considered him bad luck. That may explain the "Hoodoo" bit, but not the "Brown" - unless the full "Hoodoo Brown" label was adopted from the former hunter / scout known in Dodge City. One must wonder whether Hyman Neill used the name "Brown" as an alias before or upon arriving in Las Vegas, versus adopting it as merely a nickname after being known as Neill.

References to Neill's activities in Las Vegas, his escape, his arrest / release, and his (apparent) disappearance consistently refer to him as "Hoodoo Brown." It would be interesting to know whether there are any records of his official status (in Las Vegas, as justice of the peace), or contemporary newspaper accounts that equate the notorious Las Vegas "Hoodoo Brown" with the name "Hyman Neill."

The foregoing points presume the accounts equating the Las Vegas "Hoodoo Brown" with a "Hyman Neill" are accurate. I'm starting to wonder whether the notorious Brown really was Neill.

One thing seems sufficiently clear - Hyman G. Neill was not the well-known buffalo hunter / army scout / Dodge City bar proprietor "Hoodoo Brown." According to the Find A Grave webpage for Hyman Neill:


... he was born in 1856. There's no way he could have been an army scout as early as 1868 (when he'd been only 12 years old). According to Neill's Lexington (Missouri) Intelligencer obit (quoted on the Find A Grave webpage) he didn't leave Missouri until the 1870s.
I stand corrected. I've been to the one in Death Valley so it was what popped into my mind first.