El Moro ghost stories: ‘From then on, I was a little more of a believer’

by David Holub

It’s the site of perhaps Durango’s most famous shooting, when, in January 1906, Durango Deputy Marshal Jesse Stansel and La Plata County Sheriff William Thompson dueled outside of what is now El Moro Spirits and Tavern. It’s also the site of some of Durango’s freakiest ghost stories. But are they connected?

Reportedly having had his share of drinking, Thompson walked out of El Moro, approached Stansel and got mouthy over Stansel’s alleged lax enforcement of gambling laws. The exchange ended in a shootout, both men wounded multiple times and Thompson dead en route to the hospital. It was an odd and tragic death and plenty of details make Thompson a lost-soul candidate. There were conflicting accounts about who fired the first shot; at some point Thompson was shot in the back and perhaps not by Stansel; Thompson’s clothes, aka, evidence, were burned at Hood Mortuary; and Stansel was ultimately acquitted of Thompson’s death.

Since opening in the summer of 2013, a number of El Moro employees have had encounters with the paranormal and/or the unexplainable. Some believe it to be the ghost of Thompson, who’s been offered a shrine atop the bar, complete with his own bottle of whiskey and shot, which spookily needs to be refilled occasionally.

It used to be called El Moro Saloon. Now, it is officially El Moro Spirits and Tavern. After reading the stories that follow, you’ll understand what they really mean by spirits.

Lucas Hess | bartender/manager

One night, it was a Friday night, it was a real busy shift, full bar. I’m ringing someone out at the cash register, and as I’m at the register punching in my numbers and everything, I just see a champagne flute come off the rack – come straight off the rack – and turn sideways in the air and drop straight down. The way it came off the rack didn’t make sense, like it falling off or anything. The way it fell was so crazy to me. I see it fall and look around the bar, like “Did anyone else see this?” and everybody’s just chatting along. So I looked down, picked up the glass and went to the other side of the bar, and I was like, “I don’t know what I just saw.” From then on, I was a little more of a believer. That’s something small but it is – I mean, it would make sense if there was a jammin’ party or something and the walls were vibrating and it falls off. But it was smooth, turn and drop.

There’ve been other times I’ve been closing the place down by myself. I see out of the corner of my eye something in the kitchen dance by or just walk through, shadow-style. That was all before I saw the cocktail glass come off and drop on the ground. So I always thought it was my mind playing tricks on me, and when I saw that happen, I was like, “Maybe these guys aren’t messing around with me.”

Jerai Matkovich | bartender/manager

This (coffee filter basket) just came out of the dishwasher. There was a group of a few of us standing around and I put this thing back in (demonstrates putting it in securely). I turn around (a few feet away) and all the sudden I hear something crash on the floor and this thing had popped out and hit a girl that was standing here in the back. She was like, “Did somebody just throw that at me?” Probably a good 10 seconds (had gone) by before it shot right out of here. That was an eerie one.

We were standing (in the corner) polishing glasses one night, and Crystal, who used to work here, was standing right underneath (a cheese grater sconce) and the light bulb popped out, hit the (ceiling) and then shattered on the ground right next to her. And that sconce was smoking. That was the weirdest one for me.

Sarah Moxam | bartender/manager

I’ve run out multiple times. … When we first opened, I’d close by myself. And there were like three different times where I left the bar and came back at 6 o’clock in the morning to clean because I was so terrified. You’d see shadows – I’m not even kidding. So you would see in the back kitchen, you’d see people walk back and forth and then you’d look back and there’s nothing there. Then you’d feel that void, you know when somebody’s right by you, you feel that void of space. So I would feel that behind me. And they’ve heard swishing on the floor, like a lady’s skirt. People thought I was crazy.

I was bartending one night and the Galliano bottle – super heavy – so if it falls, it’s going to fall, hardcore. So I’m in mid bar service when we first opened, and I bring the ladder by and the bottle goes like this (shows the bottle smoothly lean itself over) and just shoots right back up. And I looked around the bar to everybody and this one girl saw it. This was a full bar and this one girl saw my face turn bright and she’s like “I (bleeping) saw that. I (bleeping) saw that.” I was like, “You saw that, right?”

Charlie Curtis | chef

I get here fairly early in the morning, usually about 6 or so. I come in and the place was dark, obviously. … I was back there in the prep area and there’s a compression door down the hallway there that you press on it and it makes a noise. I was in the prep area with my back to the door. It’s 6:15 in the morning and the door goes whap, whap, whap. I thought, OK, we have a cleaning guy that comes in. His name is Francisco, and Francisco must be here. About five minutes later, I went to get a cup of coffee and realized everything was still dark up here, Francisco wasn’t here, that’s really strange. So I went back to the prep area, and I wasn’t really thinking a lot about it. I don’t believe in ghosts. But I had my back to the door again and it started going whap, whap, whap, whap, whap, whap, whap, and I turn around and the door was swinging … and then it stopped. Again, I don’t believe in ghosts so I’m like, “OK, that’s really weird.” So I went into the bathroom, closed the door, obviously, and the compression door started slamming against the wall for about the 30 seconds that I was in there. Just slamming against the wall. There were actually marks where some of the plaster had come off.

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