Pueblo County, Colorado
Henry C. Thatcher

Contributed by Maggie Stuart Zimmerman.

The fame of Judge Henry C. Thatcher was that of virtue and ability and his name is written in honor upon the pages of Colorado's history. He was the first chief justice of the state and when he passed away, at the comparatively early age of forty-two years, the press throughout Colorado bore testimony of the prominent part which he had played in shaping its judicial records, of his ability as a distinguished lawyer and of the high principles which actuated him in every relation of life. He came to Colorado in 1866, being at the time a young man of twenty-four years, his birth having occurred at New Buffalo, Perry county, Pennsylvania, on the 21st of April, 1842. He was a son of Henry and Lydia Ann Thatcher, who, anxious that their children should have thorough educational training as a preparation for life's practical and responsible duties, enabled Judge Thatcher to supplement his public school education by study in the Franklin and Marshall College of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from which institution he was graduated with the class of 1864. He determined upon the practice of law as a life work and began reading in preparation therefor at Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, and at the same time he edited the educational department of the Hollidaysburg Standard. In the spring of 1866 he was graduated from the law department of Albany University of New York and in the fall of the same year came to Colorado, locating in Pueblo, where he opened a law office and began practice. He remained an active member of the Pueblo bar save for the three years in which he served as chief justice of the supreme court of the state. In 1869 President U. S. Grant appointed him United States attorney for Colorado and after discharging the duties of that position for a little more than a year he resigned. In large measure he left the impress of his individuality and ability upon the history of the state, especially in connection with the work of framing and executing its laws. He was chosen a member of the constitutional convention from his district on a non-partisan ticket, with scarcely a dissenting vote, and in 1876 he received the republican nomination for the supreme court and was elected to that high office. In drawing lots for terms, Judge Thatcher drew the short term of three years and by virtue of the law thus became chief justice. He proved himself the peer of the ablest members who have ever sat in this court of last resort, his decisions being marked by a masterful grasp of every problem that was presented for solution. With his retirement from office he resumed the practice of law in Pueblo, becoming senior partner in the firm of Thatcher & Gast. That relation was maintained to the time of his death, which occurred in San Francisco, California, whither he had gone for the benefit of his health.

In 1869 Judge Thatcher was married, his first union being with Miss Ella Snyder and to them was born a son, William Nevin, on December 3, 1870, who died July 14, 1891, in Chester, England. He was graduated with high honors in June, 1891, and had gone abroad with a party of college friends and was taken ill with appendicitis, dying from the effects of the operation. He is buried in Chester, England. There also were two daughters, Minnie and Flora, who passed away in infancy. The death of the wife and mother occurred in 1875 and in 1879 Judge Thatcher was again married, his second union being with Sallie Aschome, of Everett, Pennsylvania. They became parents of a son, Coolidge, who died in infancy.

Every possible honor and many tokens of affection were paid Judge Thatcher in the funeral services, his remains being brought back to Pueblo for interment. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad placed a special car at the disposal of the committee sent to meet the remains and at the time of the funeral services all the business houses and public offices of Pueblo were closed and the entire city as well as many residents from elsewhere in the state paid tribute to the man who for eighteen years had been an honored resident of Pueblo and who occupied a central place on the stage of public activity in the commonwealth. Memorial meetings were held in his honor by the members of the bar of Pueblo, on which occasion Judge T. T. Player said: "In our grief for the irreparable loss which the community, and especially the bar, has sustained in the death of Judge Thatcher, there remains to us the sad pleasure of being able, more fully than was possible during his lifetime, to express the admiration, regard and affection with which our dead brother inspired all those who came in close contact with him. In his case there is no need to call to mind the injunction 'de mortuis nil nisi bonum.' During the eight years of his life when it was my privilege to know him, I have never heard anyone speak of him otherwise than in terms of the highest respect, and since his death his praises are in the mouth of all, and the universal grief which has been shown attests the sincerity of these expressions. His epitaph might fairly be written in the one word 'excellent.' He was an excellent lawyer, an excellent citizen, and, above all, an excellent man. Judge Thatcher was essentially a modest and somewhat reserved man, and it is more true of him than of anyone else whom I ever knew, that his good qualities grew upon you day by day. For this reason, those who knew him longest and best, mourn him most deeply. To such a one, whatever there is of rest in 'that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns,' must now be open, and we will find out more and more, day by day, that not he who has gone before, but we who are left behind, have suffered the loss. The state has lost one of its noblest citizens; the law has lost its leader; his family has lost a beloved husband, father, son and brother; and many of those present, besides myself, have lost a true and most disinterested friend. There are few of us, however, who have found this life so pleasant as not to be able to believe that our loss has been his great gain."

In an address on the same occasion E. J. Maxwell said: "What shall I say of Judge Thatcher as a man? Recall the remarkable spectacle which was presented here last Tuesday, when the whole community was in mourning; when this courtroom and its approaches, the streets and avenues over which the sad procession moved, were thronged with citizens. It was not because of his greatness as a lawyer, not by reason of his having been chief justice of the state, not because of personal popularity, it was the grandeur of his character alone which had impressed itself on this communityŚcharacter alone, which, notwithstanding the slurs of the cynical and the skeptic, the world admires and venerates for itself alone."

Speaking of Judge Thatcher, Mr. Richmond commented on his character and his ability as follows: "Judge Thatcher as a citizen, as a man, as a scholar, as a lawyer and as a judge, had no equal in the estimation of his brethren of Pueblo county. Over nineteen years ago Judge Thatcher left his mountain home in Pennsylvania and made his pilgrimage by ox team across the prairies of the west, with Pueblo as the objective point. The trip was long, tedious and most dreary. After a weary journey, involving the possibility of being butchered by savage hands, he arrived in what is now known as the city of Pueblo, but which at the time of his arrrival was known as a trading point on the Arkansas river. He entered immediately upon the practice of his profession, under what was then known as the Colorado practice. In the now City of Canon, Colorado City, Trinidad and other southern points he was recognized from the first as an able lawyer and an upright man, and among his professional brethren as one thoroughly conversant with the ethics of his profession. It always seemed to me that he recognized the fact that no man could be a truly great lawyer who was not in every sense of the word a good man. He did not seek to shine with meteoric splendor, but hoped to achieve renown in the profession by studious habits and sterling integrity, believing that integrity and honor, with assiduity, would bring him fame in his profession and financial independence. He would not swerve from truth or fairness in any particular, and from the first to the day of his death he was able to stand the severest scrutiny of the public." The supreme court of the state also held a memorial service in honor of Chief Justice Thatcher, on which occasion Judge Elbert said: "It was my good fortune to know Judge Thatcher intimately and well. For years we were associated together upon this bench. For three years we came and went together in the discharge of our judicial duties, and in the enjoyment of a most intimate and delightful intercourse. Of these years I have nothing but pleasant memories. As a man he was upright in his work, generous in his impulses, faithful in his friendships and most kind and noble in his feelings and aspirations. Those who knew him best loved and esteemed him most. As a citizen he was active, public spirited and faithful in the discharge of his duties. Every good work, every institution for the advancement and elevation of his fellowman received his encouragement and support. Purity in public life and purity in political methods found in him a zealous advocate. It was as a jurist that I knew him best. He was a most excellent judge. He was pure, conscientious, clear-sighted and learned. He was careful, painstaking and laborious. His investigations were most thorough, and no fact connected with the case he was considering escaped his attention. Judge Thatcher never wrote a slovenly opinion. He knew distinctly and clearly the conclusions he had reached and the process of reasoning by which he had reached them, and his statement and his argument was always clear, accurate and logical. His mind was analytical, and he treaded the intricate mazes of a difficult legal question with a steady step and clear eye that made him a most valuable member of this court and would have made him a valuable member of any court. Above all, he was pure and incorruptible, presenting a judicial character the purity of which was as the snow, and the integrity of which was as the granite. Had his life been spared, that it would have been one of great usefulness and value, and that he would have merited other positions of trust and honor cannot be doubted. We cannot, however, compute our loss. Of the value of such a life there is no measure. And thus dropping into his untimely grave all that is kind and generous in eulogy, we bid this good, true, upright and manly man farewell. We turn again to the struggles of life, the weaker it is true by reason of his death, the stronger it is also true by reason of his life."

Charles E. Gast spoke of Judge Thatcher as follows: "The personal affection we cherished toward Judge Thatcher was a matter of growth; it had proportion to the intimacy of our associations with him. Those who knew him longest loved him best. He was not a person whose good fellowship shone with meteoric brilliancy at first acquaintance or who won a fleeting popularity by mere cordial handshaking. On the contrary, there was a seeming preoccupation in his manner which gave no clue or insight to the depths of hearty, generous feeling and strong personal attachment with which his nature was endowed. He was in all things sincere and made no effort to cultivate an artificial cordiality. Nevertheless, there are few men whose friendships were more extensive. With but a slight acquaintance one readily saw that his manhood was genuine, his bonhomie, if not brilliant, was an expression of a kind and generous heart, and accordingly no one commanded more lasting and endearing ties from all with whom he was brought into association. He was singularly free from malice; he had the ready appreciation of others' merits that is a distinctive mark of a large and liberal mind. During his practice of fifteen years at the bar Judge Thatcher won deserved distinction. His mind was vigorous and comprehensive, his habits of application unceasing. I was brought into intimacy with him years ago and can speak ot the industry and painstaking care with which he was constantly extending the foundations of his legal acquirements by research and analysis. Probably his most distinguishing traits as a practitioner were his zealous devotion to his clients' interests and his exhaustive preparation of causes for trial or argument. As the first chief justice of this honorable court, he commanded the respect of the entire bar and has left behind him a memory that will long be cherished throughout the state. It was fortunate for the state that at the organization of this court, it should be presided over by one whose attainments in the field of jurisprudence and whose purity of character gave confidence that as a court it would earn the respect of the bar. As a judge he had a realizing sense of the ennobling dignity of the office. The scales of justice were with him evenly balanced, and the opinions which he delivered, while a member of this bench, evince that conscientious thoroughness and care that was always a marked characteristic of his legal training. Judge Thatcher had not completed his career. He had possibilities before him, which, if he had been permitted to live, with a mind expanding and strengthening, he might have attained to his own credit and to the credit of the state. He had little to regret, everything to look forward to."

Chief Justice Beck addressed the memorial meeting as follows: "My personal relations with him were so intimate that I have experienced a feeling of sadness and sense of bereavement at this unexpected calamity which has befallen us that words do not fully express. It is hard to realize that he who so lately mingled with us in the very prime of life and apparently in the enjoyment of health, has been stricken down and now sleeps amid the great encampment of the dead, where all alike are 'wrapped in silence deep and still.' When, only a few weeks ago, I received the warm grasp of his hand, accompanied by his usual cheerful greeting, physical appearances gave no indications of his sudden dissolution, but on the contrary were more promising for length of days than to many of us who still survive. While his prospects for future success and future honors were never brighter, marvelous and sad to contemplate that in the brief interval the fell destroyer has done his work, and our professional brother and intimate friend has crossed the dark river, passing forever from the known to the great unknown. Incidents like this are well calculated to remind us that life is of uncertain tenure. They enable us to fully appreciate the simile, 'The trees and flowers fall down before their time and fade and wither in their bloom, and so do lives.' Although our brother's career was comparatively brief, his was a busy life, and he accomplished much in the period allotted to him here. Endowed by nature with a comprehensive mind, which had been well cultured and disciplined by his mental exercise, gifted with good judgment and strong practical sense, he has risen to a leading position at the bar, and the force of his character and attainments has left an impress upon the fundamental law and upon the jurisprudence of the state. He gave valuable assistance in framing the one and in shaping the other, as the records of the constitutional convention and of the opinions of the supreme court bear conclusive testimony. His public services have been alike valuable to the state and honorable to himself. By his death the state itself has sustained a most serious loss. As the first chief justice of the supreme court of the state his opinions command respect for the research and ability displayed in their preparation, as well as for the soundness of the conclusions arrived at. Equally creditable is the spirit of the impartial justice which pervades all his judicial deliberations. Honesty of purpose and a strong sense of right were the controlling characteristics of his life, and, so far as we are advised, no one has been heard to say that Henry C. Thatcher ever intended to deal unjustly by him. These heartfelt tributes of respect which we are today offering to his memory, do but simple justice to the character of a good and noble man. Our tribute may be short-lived, but his valuable public services will be perpetuated in the history of the state, and the beauties of his life will long live in the hearts of his many friends." Extracted from History of Colorado Illustrated Volume II 1918



to the Pueblo County Index Page.


Please e-mail comments and suggestions toKaren Mitchell.
© Karen Mitchell