In “Old Boston: As Wild As They Come” we tell the story of many of the characters of the that short-lived (1886-1889) and wild Colorado Boomtown, Boston, Colorado. The key resource for this story are the 1918-1919 writings of Sam Konkel, who ran one of two newspapers in that town. Konkel told us much about the Jennings family before they gained a bit of fame and notoriety in Oklahoma. Konkel would tell you the Jennings were talented, but of low moral character.
In 1913 a seven-part series was written and published in the Saturday Evening Post by a journalist, Will Irwin along with Al Jennings, of that Boston family. Telling the tales of Jennings and the Jennings clan. I have noted their time in Boston is but a couple short paragraphs in both the “Post” series and the book. That story then became a book by the same name “Beating Back” in 1914. Below is the first page of the series which became the book as well as the cover of the book. Also please note the illustrator of the book, who was non-other than the famed western artist, Charles Marion Russell.
Per a 2014 Saturday Evening Post story which recalls the 1913 Jennings series,
“The storyline in the Jennings’ story had all the qualities of popular melodrama. A proud young man turns outlaw after his brother is killed and the law does nothing to bring the killer to justice. He becomes a fearless train robber but remains chivalrous and fair-minded. Eventually, he is betrayed, shot, captured, and tried. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he refuses to be intimidated by other prisoners or prison officials. His fearlessness and quick wit earned him the reputation of a man who can be trusted. Then a high-ranking politician befriends him and helps him obtain a pardon. Returning to the West he starts life over, and runs for office—the bad boy who makes very good.”
In 1913 Sam Konkel purchased the Springfield Newspaper and became the biggest promoter of the most southeast county in Colorado until he sold the publication in 1930, just prior to the beginning of the 1930’s Dust Bowl.
Konkel gave us other bits and pieces of the Boston story throughout his tenure as the publisher of the Springfield paper. Many others have mocked Al Jennings as the most incompetent train robber ever. I think Konkel would disagree with the incompetent part as he always complimented their talent and their courage. However he also always stated that the troubles they encountered were of their own making as a result of low moral character and a continual state of looking out for no one than themselves.
In the Sept 19, 1913 issue of the Springfield Democrat-Herald Konkel notes the Jennings being featured in the “Saturday Evening Post,” but seems very skeptical of the Jenning autobiography with statements such as the following,
There are over two pages of the prologue, and in an early issue it is promised the real story as told by Al (Forney of Boston) will begin. Not much comment at this time is required. In the prologue Al claims to have run away from home when eleven years old, and to have drifted into Colorado and New Mexico and become a full-fledged cowboy. The Jennings were identified with old Boston and went out penniless as did many others. During the time they were there no one, as far as the writer knows, ever heard of Al’s cowboy experience, or his having run away from home. They all told of their show experience, in which they were sometimes a foot and sometimes horseback; and also of Al’s cadet experience, which probably had a duration of one or two years. The most of Al’s story, as presented in this prologue, is fishy. However, the Jenningses were talented, and while their morals were of a low order, there wasn’t any questioning their courage.The old judge was not only a lawyer and a doctor, but he was an orator whom it is doubtful if the state of Colorado at the time had a better. If his life had been along moral lines he would have been a potent political factor in any place he would have cast his lot.
In January 1914 Konkel says,
“As to Forney’s autobiographical sketch in the the Saturday Evening Post, there was a basis for all he says, but you would have to scrape the face-powder off to find it.”
The Saturday Evening Post series did bring together a couple of Bostonians to swap stories of the old days. One of the first stories in the Democrat-Herald (Sept 19, 1913) was after the publication of the Saturday Evening Post Series,
Register Whitaker and wife came down from Lamar Saturday and visited among the Springfielders over Sunday. Gene is an old timer of the old-timers, having been an inhabitant of the town of old Boston during the hog-killing days of its wild and woolly existence along with the editor of this paper, having practically fought, bled and died in the interest of that famous town. Of course, Mr. Whitaker called to talk over those red letter days, brought up incidentally by a reference to the Jennings family biography recently published in the Saturday Evening Post. Naturally, for two Bostonians to get together is like the meeting of two old war vets — they can talk about it hours at a time, either sitting down or standing up and enjoy it just the same as if they were acting and living it all over again.
“Beating Back” by Will Irwin and Al Jennings is in the public domain and part of the Google Book Digitization project if you want to read the Autobiography of Al Jennings click here to access the free copy.
It is also available from the Saturday Evening Post by clicking here.
You can learn more about Al the rest of the Jennings clan in Old Boston: Wild As They Come which is available on Amazon. If you want to support this project so that we can keep more historical books coming, check out our website www.lonesomeprairie.com for information on ordering signed copies of the book and historical shirts such as the one below from Boom Town Gear.