The Strange Disappearance of Judge Nathan Q. Tanquary

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’ve been working on another project that I’m really excited about — a book about a 1901 court case. It was originally going to be a post on this blog but I kept digging and learning more interesting things about the story, so it’s going to be a book instead.

For tonight, I have something unrelated and magnificent.

Let me introduce you to Judge Nathan Q. Tanquary, of Fort Stockton, Texas. We meet him in the spring of 1913, when he is about 58 years old. Prior to moving to Texas, the judge lived in Denver, Colorado, where he built his career. From all accounts, the judge was beloved by all.  The papers described Nathan Q. as “a man of fine character and genial manners”.

I should warn you, it’s probably wise to take the newspaper accounts of the judge with a grain of salt, since they appear to be so star-struck by him. Beginning in 1896, the press ran regular, fawning coverage of the judge and whatever he happened to be doing, even if that was nothing. Here are a few examples:

The Columbus Daily Advocate, June 1900
        Lead Daily Call, January 1907


The Columbus Daily Advocate, May 1911








When he moved to Texas, Fort Stockton quickly recognized Judge Tanquary as a state treasure. The El Paso Herald wrote that after just two years, the judge already enjoyed “great popularity and influence” in the Lone Star state.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for Judge Tanquary… until March 15, 1913. Beware the Ides of March! The judge had gone on a business trip but did not return when expected. His wife Lillian, growing anxious, managed to arrange for a search party to go out and find her husband. Unfortunately, the posse didn’t find Nathan Q…. and what they did find made things look bad for the judge.

The morning headlines in the El Paso Herald told the terrible tale:

El Paso Herald, March 1913


It seemed there was no hope for the judge… or was there? When the posse came back without the judge’s body, people began to wonder if the esteemed judge might be alive after all. Wild conspiracy theories began to emerge, like The Herald’s speculation that Nathan Q. has lost his mind and is wandering on the mesas.

But then, incredibly, two cablegrams from the judge himself arrived. The messages were fairly cryptic: he simply said he was in Peru and starting for home.

El Paso Herald, March 1913


El Paso Herald, Apr 9,1913












So, what happened to Judge Tanquary? How did he leave from Texas to drive to Colorado, then disappear for a month – only to resurface in Peru?

The celebrity judge did not let his people down: as a matter of fact, he published the whole story.  Stay tuned for the follow up post!


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