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Charles H. Utter
Arapaho Joe and Charlie Utter at the grave of Wild Bill Hickok
near Niagara Falls, New York, U.S.
|Other names||Colorado Charlie|
|Occupation||Prospector, trapper, guide|
|Known for||friendship with Wild Bill Hickok; acquaintance with Calamity Jane|
Charles H. "Colorado Charlie" Utter (c. 1838 – after 1912) was a figure of the American Wild West, best known as a great friend and companion of Wild Bill Hickok. He was also acquainted with Calamity Jane.
In early 1876, Utter and his brother Steve took a 30-wagon train of prospectors, gamblers, prostitutes, and assorted hopefuls from Georgetown, Colorado, to the burgeoning town of Deadwood in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory, where the recent discovery of gold had sparked a gold rush. Like many wagon trains, the wagons were Schuttler wagons which were notable for "gaudy paint jobs". In Cheyenne, Wyoming, famed gunman "Wild Bill" Hickok became partners with Utter in the train; Calamity Jane joined in Fort Laramie. The wagon 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.
"Wild Bill" Hickok
Utter had been a close friend of Hickok's for some time previously, constantly watching to ensure that Hickok's weaknesses of alcohol and gambling would not bring Hickok to a bad end. Unfortunately, Utter was not present on August 2, 1876, when Jack McCall fatally shot Hickok in the back of the head as Hickok played poker in a Deadwood saloon. Utter later 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 which read:
- "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 re-interred, 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, destroying more than three hundred buildings and consuming the belongings of many inhabitants.
Following the destructive fire, Deadwood ceased to be a frontier town where fortunes could be built (or rebuilt) from nothing, and the newly impoverished left to try their luck in other gold rushes. Utter followed, first to Leadville, Colorado in February 1880; then Durango, Colorado; then Socorro, New Mexico, where he opened a saloon. After this, his trail disappears. However, Utter's biographer, Agnes Wright Spring, traced him to Panama in the early 1900s. Now blind, he owned drugstores in Panama City and Colón. He 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 the Deadwood resident, as his birth date was recorded as 1843, whereas "Colorado Charlie" Utter was believed to have been born in 1838. Likewise, the Leadville, Colorado, Charlie Utter is also in doubt, as his birth date was given as 1831.
Utter cut a notable figure; he was 5'6" (167.64 cm), and was reported as being extremely meticulous in his appearance, highly unusual for that place and time. He had long, flowing blond hair and a 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
Utter is portrayed by Dayton Callie in the HBO television series Deadwood and Deadwood: The Movie. Contrary to the meticulous historical Utter, the character is portrayed as rough-mannered and often unkempt in his appearance. The film, set in 1889, shows the character still living in Deadwood, although the historical Charlie Utter had moved to Colorado in 1880. The film also shows Utter being murdered in 1889 by henchmen sent by George Hearst, after Utter refused to sell his land to Hearst. As noted above, the actual date and location of Utter's death are uncertain.
- Boardman, Mark. "More Than a Sidekick: Charlie Utter blazed his own trail in the West," True West (March 29, 2019).
- Mallet, E.J. Jr. Scribner's Monthly (September 1872).
- Robinson, Doane. Encyclopedia of South Dakota (Pierre, S.D., 1925), pp. 669-670.
- Straub, Patrick (2009). It Happened in South Dakota: Remarkable Events That Shaped History. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 31. ISBN 9780762761715.
- Wright Spring, Agnes (1987). Good Little Bad Man: The Life of Colorado Charley Utter. Pruett Publishing. ISBN 0-87108-733-2.
- "Charlie (Charley) Utter aka 'Colorado Charlie,' Deadwood, S.D. Revealed
- "Charlie Utter – Bill Hickok’s Best Pard," Legends of America website
- "Charlie Utter," Black Hills Visitor
- "Deadwood Character: Charlie Utter," The Deadwood Chronicles
- Hall, Sharon. "Wild West Wednesday: Charles 'Colorado Charlie' Utter," Digging History Magazine (Feb 26, 2014).