Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Robber Sly

for Zenith Star

Before Robber Sly came to Colorado, he had lived in many parts of America, both North and South. His thieving chicanery is legend in places as diverse as Bogota and Quebec. During his apprentice years he acquired two odd possessions which he kept with him until his death: a blue parakeet from Jamaica whom Robber called Paul and a sailor’s cutlass that he’d won cheating at poker in Atlanta. Coincidentally, it was playing cards that brought him to Denver.

Sly was in St. Louis after the carnival he’d been with disbanded at the insistence of a Missouri judge for reasons related to slot machines that were set to astronomical odds. At the train depot, Robber Sly could have bought a ticket for New York, for the denizens of Broadway had always proved easy marks for his legerdemain. Down the Mississippi lay New Orleans where rich European travelers could serve as prey. The West of Indians and buffalo started where he stood. Due north, there was Chicago and Milwaukee, but winters there would be rough on his parakeet Paul. He cut the deck of cards he always carried and when it came up Ace of Hearts, he thought of mountains and bought a stagecoach ticket for Denver.

For close to three years, Sly worked the pool halls and hotel lobbies and saloons of Denver. His hustles were utterly deceptive and his cheats went largely unsuspected. But a three year winning streak is highly unlikely and after a while, none but tourists would play cards with Sly. Thus it was that he returned to the occupation of his youth: burglary.

Robber Sly taught his parakeet Paul to fly away and then return. Next, he trained Paul to chirp if a nearby house was empty. When the all-clear was chirped, Sly would use his cutlass to unlatch doors and windows. He’d steal what money and jewelry he could find. Thus it was that Robber Sly lived in Brown Palace comfort while most frontiersmen worked hard to civilize Colorado. Sly didn’t, however, get away with his stealing forever.

The sheriff of East Denver was named Saint. Saint had been investigating the Cherry Creek burglaries and had noticed a peculiar coincidence. At each break-in scene he’d noticed bird poop, dainty and white. Delicate it was, certainly not the droppings of an eagle or parrot or hawk. Too small even for a pigeon.

Sheriff Saint was relaxing at the long oak bar inside the Prairie Schooner Saloon down off of Larimer Street. He sat sipping his suds and admiring his own reflection in the mirror back of the bottles and thinking about small birds when in walked Sly himself and his parakeet Paul. The swinging doors let in the last of the setting sun and back lit the thief and the bird. Just then Paul pooped. As he crossed the room Sly brushed his shoulder. Saint saw all through the mirror and he knew he’d found his thief.

Saint turned and pointed a finger at Sly. He named him aloud the Cherry Creek Thief.

Robber Sly knew it was a showdown and reached for his cutlass, but his pirate’s blade was no match for the lead of Saint’s Colt. Karma and fate had a date with Sly one hundred years ago this All Soul’s Night, November First, 1891.

And Sly’s accomplice, the parakeet Paul, he flew east up Cherry Creek to haunt the houses there. The city later named Saint Paul Street after him and the sheriff. To this day, he’s rumored to be seen sometimes perched in the peach tree on Fourth Avenue, watching to see if anyone’s home, chirping, “Robber Sly, Robber Sly, I’m alone, I’m alone.”

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