Local History Thursday: The Murder of Henry “Indian Henry” Huff

Sometime in the 1910’s, Indian Henry, a Ute raised by white settlers in the Paradox Valley, was shot and killed by his friend, the Finish immigrant and miner John Keski. The shooting took place in a boarding house in Bull Canyon that was owned by W.L. Cummings and run by Laura Foster (who had been married previously to John “Peg-leg” Foster, the “Outlaw of Outlaw Mesa”).

Henry apparently related the story of his upbringing to Earl Foster and Ella (Foster) O’Brien, the children of Laura Foster and stepchildren of Keski. In their interview with the Mesa County Oral History Project, they recount that Henry was accidentally left behind as a baby by a Ute party that was camping near Norwood in the late 1800’s. A party of white settlers came upon the Ute camp soon after and found Henry. A woman named Huff refused to let another white settler kill the child, and raised him with her three boys. Henry stayed in the Paradox area, and in Bull Canyon in particular, though he lived at a spring near the Dolores River in the winter.

In Earl and Ella’s recounting of Henry’s death, their mother Laura Foster was playing cards with Keski, Henry and other men. Keski and Henry were very drunk and, after everyone had dropped out of the hand except for them, Keski led an ace that Henry trumped with a spade. When Henry got up to leave, Keski became irate and accused him of cheating. Ella Foster was standing behind Keski, and heard Henry say that he wouldn’t dare shoot a friend over a card game. Keski grabbed his gun and shot Henry outside of the building.

Earl Foster was sent to a place called the Wedding Bell to get first aid help for Henry, who did not die immediately, but the man refused to come until morning time. Another doctor sent for by Ella Foster did not get there in time, possibly due to prejudice against Native Americans. The children even believed that once the doctor did arrive, he might have given Henry a fatal overdose. In any case, whether from lack of timely medical attention following a gunshot wound or a shot from a needle, Henry died.

Earl Foster, who was a teenager, recalled looking under the table the next day and seeing the single dollar bill that the shooting had been over. He also looked at Henry’s hand and saw that it was filled with spades, and that Henry had had no choice but to trump Keski. Keski served eight months in prison for the crime, and Laura Foster divorced him.

According to a coworker with a good knowledge of the Paradox area, Henry’s cabin still stands in Bull Canyon. Earl and Ella O’Brien report that for years, people have tried to find Henry’s “treasure,” to no avail.

Posted in General, Local History.

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