One of the most noteworthy of the many remarkable incidents of the Cripple Creek strike was the case of Victor Poole.
Victor Poole was but an humble, every-day, practical quartz miner. Yet his name is associated with an event of much more than passing interest, the suspension, in his case, of the writ of habeas corpus.
The day following the Vindicator explosion, Victor Poole was arrested by the sheriff of Teller County, on the suspicion of having had something to do with the fatal explosion, but as there was no evidence on which to hold him, he was soon released. For some reason, the military seem to have taken a positive dislike to Victor Poole, for the moment he was released by the civil authorities he was pounced upon by the military, and hustled off in true Russian style to the bull pen.
The military kept Poole in rigorous confinement in the bull pen for several weeks without preferring any charges against him.
As Poole was a member of the Western Federation of Miners, the latter organization, through its attorneys, brought habeas corpus proceedings before Judge Seeds of the District Bench. Judge Seeds granted the writ.
The military commanders and the governor were wroth indeed when they learned that a mere district judge intended to dictate to them as to whether they had the right to deprive a man of his liberty without due warrant of law.
The following proclamation of the governor was the answer to the orders of Judge Seeds:
"Whereas, I have heretofore issued a proclamation declaring an insurrection and rebellion to be in existence in Teller County, and that the lives, liberty and property of the citizens in that county are endangered; and
"Whereas, it is deemed proper that needful measures be taken for the protection of such citizens, their liberty and property, and for the enforcement of law and order in said county; and
"Whereas, it has been deemed necessary, proper and lawful to place under arrest one Victor Poole, and he is now under arrest and in the custody of military officers in said county, and it is necessary to safety that he be detained under military authority until further orders:
"Now, therefore, I, James H. Peabody, Governor of the State of Colorado by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution of the State of Colorado, and the laws thereof, do hereby declare and proclaim that in my judgment the public safety especially requires that the privileges of the Writ of Habeas Corpus be suspended in his case, to wit, in the case of Victor Poole aforesaid, and I further direct that the said writ be suspended in his case until further ordered by me.
"In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the great seal of State to be affixed at Denver, the State capital, this 9th day of December, A. D., one thousand nine hundred and three."
Governor Peabody's arbitrary suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the case of Victor Poole created a decided sensation.
Surely, Poole must be a scoundrel of the deepest dye; undoubtedly one of the notorious dynamiters employed by the Federation; or perhaps the military had discovered that he was one of the ringleaders of that monstrous Inner Circle of the Federation which terrorized the entire Rocky Mountain country?
Popular excitement was at the boiling point. Victor Poole, Victor Poole! Wherever you went you were certain to find Victor Poole and habeas corpus the favorite topics of conversation. For the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is a step so rarely taken by a governor of a state or the President of the United States, that its repeal at any time will arouse and awaken public interest as nothing else can.
All eyes were now turned to the attorneys for the Federation, who lost no time in taking the case to the Supreme Court of Colorado. This high tribunal could not very well refuse to grant the petitioner the hearing he prayed for; and accordingly issued a writ of habeas corpus for Victor Poole, returnable within a reasonable time.
The governor and the military commanders dared not ignore the order of the State Supreme Court in the same contemptuous manner as they had treated the order of District Judge Seeds. Again, they dared not appear before the Supreme Court with Victor Poole, as they well knew that they had stepped beyond all the limits of the law in suspending the writ of habeas corpus. So they decided that they would evade the issue.
The military released Poole, and turned him over to the civil authorities; and on the day appointed for the return of the writ, attorneys for the State appeared before the Supreme Court, and explained that Victor Poole was no longer in the custody of the State, which fact made it impossible for the State to produce him. The attorneys, therefore, prayed that the case be dismissed. The Supreme Court ordered the case dismissed, as the petitioner had already secured his liberty.
In this way the State administration evaded the issue.
Now let us see what the civil authorities did with Poole. On January 9th, 1904, he was brought before a justice of the peace at Cripple Creek. An attorney for the Mine Owners' Association asked for a continuation, on the grounds that the prosecution needed more time in which to gather evidence.
The justice said that Poole had been held in custody long enough for the gathering of any amount of evidence, and ordered his immediate release.
Poole was accordingly released, and neither the military nor anyone else molested him further.
Since the State at no time had one iota of evidence connecting Victor Poole with any crime, why did they deprive him of his liberty for so many weeks in the first place, and why did Governor Peabody, who knew the exact status of the case, suspend the writ of habeas corpus in this case?