Life marched on for lawman Kenny McLean and his wife Alice as their daughter Thelma was growing up.
The heat of summer was making for a lot of shady dealings in Telluride, Colorado. In June 1905, Kenny went to a nearby town to collect a miner who had left “without going through the formality of liquidating” bills he owed; the man was jailed for eighty days for refusing to pay. There was also a story about a self-described “big, wealthy sheep man” who was writing bad checks to unsuspecting townspeople. Marshal McLean threw the man in jail “just as though he were a common sheep herder instead of a sheep owner.”
There was one wholesome event that July in which Kenny took part, however: a baseball game between employees of the Smuggler-Union and the Liberty Bell mines. On the “sports page” of the paper was this gem: “Home people knew the men pretty well and did not anticipate an eastern league score or an errorless game. And they got what the expected… Kenny McLean umpired and his decisions went. Perhaps 250 witnessed the game. After the game the boys had a little social visit and – then another one.”
On 24 August 1905, Kenny received a bit of praise in the local press: “Candor compels the confession that Kenny McLean is making about as good, if not better, police officer than Telluride has ever had.” An article called “A Birthday Surprise” that ran on 5 October 1905 told of a party Kenny organized for Alice’s twenty-fourth birthday. Chief McLean colluded with friends, took his wife to a neighbor’s, then brought her back to their home where the guests had gathered in their absence. Shy Alice was overwhelmed at first but before long everyone settled in for “music and a social good time.” This party took place less than three weeks before Kenny’s death and when he was feeling quite poorly. Perhaps he had a premonition that he wouldn’t be alive for Alice’s twenty-fifth birthday.
The 26 October 1905 Telluride Journal contained Kenny’s obituary, “The Passing of K. A. McLean.” He died “in the thirty-third year of his life” at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday 19 October of acute peritonitis after suffering badly for about 24 hours. An autopsy performed by Dr. Edgar Hadley and witnessed by five men – two of them doctors – had found that Kenny’s stomach problems were due to a gastric ulcer that had caused “a perforation of the stomach larger than a lead pencil.”
The paper reported that he had “walked his beat … with the fortitude of a mountaineer” until the day before he died.” According to the reporter, Kenny “told his wife and three close friends who visited at his home the day before he passed away that he was on his deathbed… He was conscious and his mind was clear up until a minute before death and he directed the settling of his business affairs in detail to a friend-neighbor whom he summoned to his bedside at 3:30 for that purpose. His last words were: ‘It’s hard to go and leave wife and little ones!’”
Kenny had “walked his beat … with the fortitude of a mountaineer…”
The article refers to the life insurance policy Kenny took out “almost eight years ago to the day” [in 1897] when he arrived at Smuggler, Colorado. It concludes: “In life no one person in our city had more friends than Kenny… He was faithful to every trust and in his happy home made desolate by his sudden demise, he exercised a like watchfulness tempered with a loving tenderness, which makes his loss well nigh unbearable to wife, daughter and son… To [his family] and his friends the blow is a bitter one, but God alone knows the anguish of the devoted wife whose quiet disposition so needs the loving husband’s care…
“A good man has gone. Peace be to his ashes… The funeral on Sunday was one of the largest, if not the largest, ever seen in Telluride, testifying to the universal popularity of the dead officer, and the sincere sympathy which the community feels for the bereaved widow. Practically every society, civic and fraternal, in the city marched in the procession, which extended from the court house corner about 8 blocks up Main street.”
Alice in her grief could only manage to cut Kenny’s obituary out of the paper and mail it to his sister Christine in Boston, with a note penciled at the bottom that read, “Will write when I am more able – Alice.” Her writing is still visible on the news clipping (click on images at left to expand them). She wrote a long letter to Christine about three weeks later giving all the details of Kenny’s last day (see A Telluride story).
On 7 December 1905, the Telluride Journal ran this little piece: “N. H. Castle, district manager of the Central Life Insurance company is in town today, a part of his mission being to pay the widow of K. A. McLean a $1,000 policy which he had taken out but a few weeks before his fatal illness.”
I have in my collection a letter Kenny wrote to Christine from Smuggler on 3 January 1898, to tell her he had purchased “last summer” a $1000 life insurance policy “made out for you … if I should die or get killed.” He continued, “but if I should get married … then I will have it changed … [so] my wife will [not] go to the poor house after I am dead.” Perhaps Kenny was concerned about his recent health problems and bought a second policy to care for his daughter and son? Or is the “but a few weeks before” timeframe a journalistic embellishment to make an already sad story even sadder? We will never know.