What began as a free barbecue feast celebrating the closing of Denver's National Stock Growers' convention soon devolved into chaos.
On January 27, 1898, the Rocky Mountain News reported on the early morning preparations that had gotten underway at the Union Pacific stockyard. They described the meats that C. H. Hill, chef of the outdoor feast, and his team were busy preparing:
The first choice to go on the gridirons was the buffalo and beef. They were the hind quarters which will require fourteen hours of cooking. They must be turned every few minutes to prevent burning. Every minute they are basted, the cooks using big mops for that purpose.
Other dishes on the menu included bear meat spiced with South American bay leaves; sugar-cured venison with fine herbs; mutton with mint sauce; and possum with sweet potatoes. Chef Hill boasted that the meal would be "finer than any meal that the best hotel of the country can serve."
The following day, the Rocky Mountain News would tell the tale of an all-city barbecue that quickly turned from celebratory to sour when a crowd of 30,000 showed up to the event.
It was reported that chaos broke out when a rope stretched to keep people from forcing their way in too rapidly was dropped and the crowd rushed forward. The crowd got tangled in an end of the rope had been tied to a table for support, causing the table to collapse. Guests who had been prompted by police and militia to take their food and move on, refused the demands and "broke down the tables and made a wreck of the preparation that had been made for the feeding of thousands of people."
It was reported that loaves of breads and bones from the meal sailed through the air while the city's poor amassed large quantities of meat that had fallen to the ground. Mobs soon took possession of unopened barrels of beer. Goods stolen from the event included:
- 1,000 steel knives and forks
- 2,000 tin cups
- 50 large white platters
- 25 galvanized iron pails
- 20 steel flesh hooks
- 100 cleavers, hatchets and carvers
- Numerous beer glasses
The News cited improper planning and a distribution of tickets to the city's slums as causing conditions suitable for a riot. They stated:
The game fields of the West were ransacked to secure material for a menu such as kings might rejoice at; the viands were cooked after the manner that has made cooking an art and the result turned over to be fought for by hoodlums who would consider pork and beans—and beer—a delicacy.
In addition to the destruction and plundering, one man was killed in a fight that took place in the saloon of the stockyards' hotel. Claude J. Wilson was killed in a fistfight by Edward "Kid" Calkins, a cattleman from Grand Junction. Wilson is believed to have died after breaking his neck when his head struck the foot rail at the bar.
Curious about more of Denver's "Wild West" past? Check out DPL's Western History/Genealogy department's Digital Collections, including thousands of photos and an index to Denver's historic newspapers.