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Charles H. Utter (Colorado Charlie) (b. near Niagara Falls, New York, around 1838 – death unknown after 1912) was an early figure in the American Wild West, best known as a great friend and companion of Wild Bill Hickok.
Utter grew up in Illinois, then went westwards in search of his fortune, becoming a trapper, guide, and prospector in Colorado in the 1860s. In early 1876, Utter and his brother, Steve, took a 30-wagon wagon train of prospectors, gamblers, 180 prostitutes, and assorted hopefuls from Georgetown, Colorado to the gold rush in Deadwood, South Dakota. Like many wagon trains, the wagons were Shutler wagons which were notable for "gaudy paint jobs". In Cheyenne, Wyoming, Wild Bill Hickok became partners with Utter in the train, and in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, Calamity Jane also joined up. The train arrived in Deadwood in July, 1876, and Utter began a lucrative express delivery service to Cheyenne, charging 25 cents to deliver a letter and often carrying as many as 2,000 letters per 48 hour trip.
Utter had been a close friend of Hickok for some time previous, constantly watching to ensure that Hickok's weaknesses of alcohol and gambling would not bring him to a bad end. Unfortunately, he was not present on August 2, 1876, when Hickok was fatally shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall, as he played poker. Utter claimed the body and placed a notice in the local newspaper, the Black Hills Pioneer, which read
- "Died in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2, 1876, from the effects of a pistol shot, J. B. Hickok (Wild Bill) formerly of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Funeral services will be held at Charlie Utter's Camp, on Thursday afternoon, August 3, 1876, at 3 o'clock, P. M. All are respectfully invited to attend."
Attendance at the funeral was heavy, and Utter had Hickok buried with a wooden grave marker reading
- "Wild Bill, J. B. Hickock killed by the assassin Jack McCall in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2d, 1876. Pard, we will meet again in the happy hunting ground to part no more. Good bye, Colorado Charlie, C. H. Utter."
Utter left for Colorado, but returned in 1879 to have Hickok reinterred, at Calamity Jane's urging, in a ten foot square plot at the Mount Moriah Cemetery, surrounded by a cast iron fence and with an American flag in the ground.
In February, 1879, Utter purchased the Eaves Saloon in Gayville, South Dakota, but ran into a string of bad luck. He was found guilty of selling liquor without a license, then of maintaining a nuisance dance hall in the nearby town of Lead. He returned to Deadwood in time for the September 26, 1879 fire which devastated Deadwood, wiping out many residents. Since Deadwood was no longer a frontier town where fortunes could be built (or rebuilt) from nothing, the newly impoverished left to try their luck in other gold rushes, and Utter followed: first to Leadville, Colorado in February 1880; then Durango, Colorado; then to Socorro, New Mexico, where he opened a saloon. After this his trail disappears. However, Utter's biographer, Agnes Wright Spring, traced Utter to Panama in the early 1900s. Now blind, he owned drugstores in Panama City and Colón. Utter was last reported in Panama in 1913 and there remains no record of his place or date of death. There is disagreement over whether this Charlie H. Utter is the same man as his birthdate was recorded as 1843 whereas Colorado Utter was believed to have been born in 1838. Likewise the Leadville, Colorado Charlie Utter is also in doubt as his birthdate was given as 1831.
Utter cut a notable figure; although only five and a half feet tall, he is reported as being extremely meticulous in his appearance, highly unusual for that place and time. He had long, flowing blond hair and mustache, perfectly groomed, wore hand-tailored fringed buckskins, fine linen shirts, beaded moccasins, and a large silver belt buckle, and carried a pair of gold, silver, and pearl ornamented pistols. He would allow nobody into his tent, even Hickok, on pain of being shot; in his tent he slept under the highest quality blankets, imported from California, and carried with him mirrors, combs, razors, and whisk brooms. Most unusual of all, he was well known for his "bizarre habit" of bathing daily.
In popular culture
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