Breckenridge’s 1st marshal finally gets a cemetery headstone after 88 years
BRECKENRIDGE — Almost 90 years after his death, Breckenridge’s first marshal has finally received his headstone in the Valley Brook Cemetery.
Samuel Blair, an Ohio native and Civil War veteran, became the town’s first marshal in 1881 and served in different official capacities throughout the town until his eventual move to California in the late 1920s. He died in 1932 at age 89.
For decades, the Blair family’s plot at Valley Brook Cemetery has contained just a single headstone, showing the names of Maggie and Jammie Blair, Sam’s wife and son.
But a recent discovery by local historian and author Bill Fountain revealed that while there was no headstone, Blair had been buried in the plot ever since his death. Fountain uncovered the strange circumstance a couple of years ago while researching for his 2019 book, “Chasing the Bad Guys,” a deep dive into law enforcement in Breckenridge from 1881 through 1925.
“I couldn’t find where he was buried,” Fountain said. “I just assumed in Pasadena where he died. … I went to Town Hall and asked them to pull the cemetery records for all the marshals that were buried there. Maggie’s card showed the plot, with herself and their son. It also had a note that Sam Blair’s ashes had been returned from California, and he was buried with his family.
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“When I found that out, I thought, ‘Wow, he really deserves a headstone.’”
“Chasing the Bad Guys,” co-authored by local historian and author Sandra Mather, recounts much of Blair’s accomplishments in the town. According to the book, which was largely informed by census data and old newspaper clippings, Blair moved to Breckenridge at 30 years old around 1872. He was named marshal by the town’s board of trustees in 1881 and received a classic badge: a gold, five-pointed star enclosed in a circle.
Blair married Maggie Foreman in 1882. The two gave birth to their son Jammie on March 22, 1884, and Maggie died five days later.
In May of that year, Blair was voted out as the town marshal.
“Right after she died, the council basically let him go,” Fountain said. “There was nothing in the papers about him not doing his job, but there obviously had to have been something going on that didn’t give them confidence. So they voted him out.”
In December 1887, Blair’s son, Jammie, died at just 3 1/2 years old. He was buried beside his mother at Valley Brook Cemetery. Blair’s mother also died the same year.
Blair worked odd jobs until 1908, when he took on the role of night marshal, meant to help provide safety for residents and businesses after the saloons closed at midnight. He later resigned from the position and went on to serve a couple of stints as acting town marshal during sudden vacancies.
In 1914, Blair was named justice of the peace in Breckenridge and was given the additional title of police magistrate in 1918.
During his time as a Breckenridge official, Blair’s exploits often made the news. In July 1918, Blair was meant to appear as judge in a hearing after a miner was accused of stealing gold from a dredging operation. The accused never showed up to court and neither did Blair. Instead, he went fishing.
The book reads, “Justice of the Peace Blair did not come to call the court to order. Court officials noted that Blair found the call of the fish too strong to ‘fool away his time conducting court.’”
In another instance in fall 1882, Blair sent a strong warning to dog owners in town, posting a notice that any unlicensed dogs would be shot on sight. As the Summit County Journal put it, “the untaxed canine will remain on his owner’s premises or depart summarily for dog heaven.”
After a winter storm in 1911 closed the train service to Breckenridge, Blair took off to debunk reports from Denver that the railroad sent crews to clear the tracks. The Summit County Journal and Breckenridge Bulletin wrote of his discoveries: “The road could have been cleared for traffic with a force of 20 men and the rotary in 10 hours. … It is our belief these falsehoods have been published with the intention of retarding the reestablishment of the Breckenridge-Como service to the last possible moment.”
Blair suffered from a number of health problems, including several strokes. With no one to care for him, he moved into a senior living facility in San Diego in the late 1920s. He moved to Pasadena in 1931 to live with his nephew, Murray Blair. He died there in January 1932.
According to the documents dug up by Fountain, his ashes arrived in Breckenridge on July 4 that year so that he could be interred next to his wife’s grave.
Fountain went to work getting a headstone constructed for Blair, with the support of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and the Breckenridge Police Department. The headstone was put in place July 13, identifying Blair as the town’s first marshal along with listing his other roles as night marshal, police magistrate and justice of the peace.
“Bill really took the lead in trying to figure out if we could get a marker in place and handling that entire process,” said Larissa O’Neil, executive director of the Heritage Alliance. “It seemed like the right thing to do in order to honor this person who played a pretty big role in our early history.
“There have been a lot of people who played an important role in our history who are either buried or honored at the cemetery. So it’s great that we have another person and a proper place to acknowledge them.”
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