In fall 1944, two Army Air Corps GIs from Peterson Field (now Peterson Air Force Base) in Colorado Springs ventured out to go hunting near Lake George.
Master Sgt. Francis Brahler climbed up on some rocks and caught sight of the sun reflecting off what appeared to be window glass. He checked it out and found a window in a small door over a crevice in a rock. After gaining entry, he found a small cave with a wood floor, shelving, personal items and skeletons of a man and a dog.
Among the possessions found were letters, legal papers and a Swiss passport belonging to Gottlieb Fluhmann, a local rancher who disappeared around 52 years prior.
Fluhmann, a small man barely 5 feet, 4 inches tall, hailed from Switzerland. He came to the area at age 21 in search of the gold that had drawn many others to the area as well. Unfortunately, and like others, he was unable to find his treasure and instead turned to homesteading.
Fluhmann had a small ranch and a few cattle, which he dearly loved. Due to his height and broken English, he was subjected to ridicule, especially by another rancher, Benjamin Ratcliff.
One story, as told by Midge Harbour in her book, “The Tarryall Mountains and the Puma Hills,” recounts that one day Fluhmann stopped in a bar to have a bite to eat, and Ratcliff started taunting him. Fluhmann was very attached to his cattle and had suspected Ratcliff of stealing some of them.
According to Harbour, Ratcliff went so far as to tell Fluhmann that he could be eating a steak from one of his missing cows. Needless to say, there was no great affection lost between the two men.
Suddenly, in fall 1892, the little Swiss man disappeared. The Park County Sheriff’s Office mounted a search and turned up no signs. Some people speculated he left and others circulated the notion that Radcliff had murdered him. There was no proof, only speculation; Ratcliff was never charged. Ratcliff, however, was convicted of a triple murder that occurred May 6, 1895. He was subsequently hung at the penitentiary in Cañon City on Feb. 7, 1896.
Newspaper accounts in 1944 don’t mention any bullet holes in the skeletons, but the rifle found next to the human skeleton showed signs of bullet damage to the stock. Some say Fluhmann could have been shot from the hole at the top of the cave, while others surmise he died of suffocation from a warming or cooking fire without adequate ventilation. Even suicide has been suggested. No one knows for sure.
One of the buildings at the South Park City Museum, the Sentinel, came from Lake George and had previously been the schoolhouse. However, prior to that it was a saloon.
In the 1900s, there were two saloons in Lake George: one on the west side of the South Platte River owned by “Deafy” Richards, and one on the east side of the river owned by Sam Shovelson.
The two saloon owners had a very competitive relationship. Then one day Shovelson disappeared. An extensive search was made and no one could explain his disappearance.
After he went missing, an examination of the saloon found on one of the tables in the saloon a pile of wood shavings with a candle in the middle. The candle had been lit, but apparently burned out before reaching the shavings.
It was suspected that Richards and/or his son Benny knew something about the disappearance. But no proof, no corpus delicti, so Shovelson’s saloon remained closed.
Several years later, after Richards and his son were both dead, the townspeople decide to move the building closer to town. When they pulled the building away on skids, they discovered a skeleton that had been hidden under the floor boards. It was conjectured and rumored that the skeleton was that of Sam Shovelson and that Deafy Richards had indeed found a way to eliminate his competition.
After they moved the building, it was remodeled into the schoolhouse. In 1957 the building was moved again and is now known as the Sentinel Building in South Park City Museum in Fairplay.
In searching various archives and historical records, information was found substantiating Fluhmann’s disappearance in 1892 and subsequent discovery of the skeletons in 1944 in a small cave near Lake George.
His demise remains a mystery.
In the case of Sam Shovelson versus “Deafy” Richards, the only reference found to this story was in the book “The Tarryall Mountains and the Puma Hills” by Midge Harbour. Records were found of various Richards having lived in the Lake George region, but none on Sam Shovelson.
But everyone loves a mystery and a good story or two.