atm-logo“The Severed Heads Campaign” (March 2015) was a most interesting story. Did some frontier bounty hunters also collect heads?

Paul Gordon
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada

Absolutely—frontier bounty hunters collected the heads of California bandit Joaquin Murrieta and Midwest murderer Micajah “Big” Harpe.

One of the most interesting tales involved the Espinosa brothers, Felipe and José Vivian, who went on a bloody rampage in Colorado. Starting in March 1863, they shot, stabbed and mutilated some 32 people.

Felipe claimed divine inspiration from the Virgin Mary. His brutality increased after a posse killed his brother. A 16-year-old nephew, also named José, became his accomplice.

On October 12, 1863, Lt. Col. Samuel F. Tappen, at Colorado’s Fort Garland, summoned Army scout and mountain man Tom Tobin to run the boys to the ground. Tobin returned a couple days later, reached into a flour sack and pulled out the heads of Felipe and Jose.

Ultimately, Colorado did not pay the $2,500 bounty—Tobin didn’t seem to mind, saying he didn’t know about the price on their heads.


Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.
If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at

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