Tom Holland's Saloon and the Knockout Business, 0718 COBJ, Vol. 47, No. 7 Pg. 20

Position:Vol. 47, 7 [Page 20]

47 Colo.Law. 20

Tom Holland’s Saloon and the Knockout Business

Vol. 47, No. 7 [Page 20]

The Colorado Lawyer

July, 2018



Sometimes what looks like low-level crime may have deeper, political implications. In 1974, a “third-rate burglary” led to the resignation of a U.S. President. In Denver, a robbery on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1901, became a political cause célèbre. By the end of the Tom Holland affair, questions would be raised about corruption at the highest level of Colorado government. The victim, Charles F. Wilson, ran a downtown soda fountain. He had been in the drug, soft drink, and confectionery business in Denver for many years. He had recently set up shop at a new location at 1657 Champa Street.1

Across the street was the scene of the crime: Tom Holland’s saloon at 17th and Champa Streets. Holland’s Saloon served an upscale clientele, including business people and professionals. It was also rumored to be a hotbed of political intrigue, a hangout for ward heelers and ballot-box suffers connected to Denver’s Democratic machine.2

Wilson’s Bankroll

On Thursday the 14th, Wilson worked the soda fountain until about 2:50 in the afternoon, when he departed his store to run some errands. He left a young lady in charge at the counter. His partner was working in a back room.

Wilson first went to the bank. He withdrew $100 in cash, a sum worth nearly $3,000 in today’s dollars.3 The attorneys at Tom Holland’s trial would devote an inordinate amount of time and effort to tracing each and every one of those hundred dollars. In the end, this strategy proved ineffective. But for the present-day reader, the trial testimony provides an interesting window on the value of a dollar in turn-of-the-century Denver.

According to Wilson, he headed over to William Enos’s barbershop at 923 15th Street for a shave. After Enos shaved him, Wilson pulled out his wad of tens and twenties. Enos told him he couldn’t make change for such big bills. They agreed he’d pay the next time he came in.

Wilson next paid a couple of debts he owed from the store. By his calculations, he paid a combined total of $23 to W.A. Hover & Co. (a wholesale pharmacy) and Hurlburt Grocers. He also bought some cuff-buttons for $5 from a Mr. Pembeck, who ran a clothing store next to Wilson’s shop.

After that, Wilson stopped back by his soda fountain. The young lady at the counter told him she needed change for their customers. He gave her $7, and then left the shop to try to get some more change. At this point, he had $65 left.

He tried Mr. Keith’s cigar store first. He couldn’t get change there. He went over to McCrea’s drug store, at 17th and Champa, but he struck out there, too. That’s when he made the unfortunate decision to obtain some change from Holland’s Saloon.

The Knockout Business

Wilson walked over to Holland’s, went up to the bar, and ordered a whiskey. There were two men behind the bar: Tom Holland and another man who Wilson hadn’t seen before.

A glass of whiskey from the barrel behind the counter cost 15 cents. Wilson threw a five dollar bill on the bar.

“Is that the smallest you have got?” Holland asked.

“A man is mighty lucky to have that these days,” Wilson replied.

Holland laughed. He said he agreed.

The other man, George Hughes, remarked, “That is more money than I have had in a month.”4

Wilson stuffed the $4.85 in change in his vest pocket. He had the other $60 in another pocket, inside a book. He took his drink to a nearby table. There he found a little sandwich, provided for the bar patrons. He ate the sandwich.

After a while, Holland approached him and asked whether Wilson would care to join him for another drink. Holland said he’d just lost a game of dice. Apparently he viewed this as an excuse for some social drinking.

“No thank you,” Wilson told him, “I wouldn’t care for any more.”5

“You might as well be sociable and join us,” Holland said.

“Well,” Wilson replied, “If I take anything, give me but a tea-spoon full.”6

Holland handed him a small drink. Wilson didn’t notice whether it came from the whiskey barrel. He quaffed the shot.

Within 15 seconds, Wilson felt terrible. His vision went blurry. He became weak and nervous. Ten he felt an urgent need to urinate.

Wilson asked where the “closet” was. Holland and Hughes got on either side of him and walked him to the bathroom. There, Wilson tried to relieve himself, but couldn’t. Back in the tiny bathroom, the two men robbed him.

Tough Wilson was effectively blind from the knockout drug and couldn’t see what the men were doing, he could feel them going through his pockets. They took the $60 and the $4.85 in change. They even took the book he’d kept the $60 in.

Afterward, the men tried to get him to stay. But Wilson said he was going home.

Back at the Shop

Wilson staggered back to his shop, where he collapsed into a chair. The next few hours were very strange for him. He was still conscious and could hear people talking to him, but he couldn’t answer them. He felt too weak to stand up. At one point the young lady who worked for him asked if she could go home, and he managed to tell her yes.

At around 20 minutes before 8:00 that evening, Wilson finally came back to his senses. He realized he’d been robbed of all his money. He decided to go back to the saloon and confront the men who robbed him.

Return to the Saloon

Wilson arrived back at Holland’s Saloon at around 8:00 that evening. He found several well-dressed men in the place. Tey did not intimidate him. He went straight up to Holland and demanded his stolen money back.

“Don’t implicate me in anything like that,” Holland said. He ordered Wilson to leave.7

Wilson threated to “get after” Holland.

“If you have got any pull in Denver, pull it,” Holland sneered.8

The defense called several witnesses, some of them seemingly disinterested, who cast such doubt on even the minor details of Wilson’s account that it began to seem like maybe he’d invented his whole story.

As it happened, Wilson did have some “pull” in Denver. He went to the Fire and Police Board. Within two days, the Chief of Police got a warrant served at the saloon. Ten the Board revoked Holland’s liquor license. Holland was arrested. The state fled an information charging him with larceny of $64.85.

The Trial

At Holland’s larceny trial, Wilson told his alarming story of drugging...

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