“Providing assistance to the people of Colorado by working in cooperation with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to assist with security, traffic and crawd control, search and rescue, and other similar functions,” has for years been the mission of the Colorado Rangers & Colorado Mounted Rangers. The oldest law enforcement organization for the State of Colorado, the Rangers have played a vital part in the history of the Centennial State; but few there be who are knowledgeable of their service and sacrifice.
In the mountains of New Mexico, a battle took place during the Civil War at Florieta Pass. Here the Confederate soldiers experienced defeat at the hands of the Colorado Rangers and the 1st Colorado Volunteers. The battle is thought to have possibly been the turning point of the Civil War on the western front.
In 1859, the Jefferson Rangers were formed. This group’s duty was to keep the peace during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush in what was unofficially referred to as the Jefferson Territory. Gold shipments leaving the various camps were normally guarded by the Rangers.
The Colorado Territory was established in 1861. Patterning themselves after the Texas Rangers, the Jefferson Rangers changed their name to the Colorado Rangers and operated as both militia and law enforcement for the territory. This group of hard fighting, hard drinking and hard living men were first called to duty to defend the territory from the mounting hostilities created by the area’s Native American tribes. The tribes felt the conflict between the North and South provided them the opportunity to attack western invaders while everyone else’s attention was diverted. The Colorado Rangers fought with repeating revolvers while on horseback as opposed to the Union soldiers who were on foot, armed with single shot rifles.
During the Civil War, another duty was added to the Rangers’ list. In 1861, Colorado’s gold mines were held by the US. Working on the premise, ‘He who has the gold wins the war,’ the Confederates sought to acquire the gold fields for themselves. Having previously obtained ‘easy victories’ in New Mexico, the Texans felt this challenge would be relatively simple. Thus, General Henry Sibley arrogantly headed off into the Rockies with plans to seize Denver. Unfortunately, he failed to factor the Colorado Rangers into his conquering equation.
On March 26, 1862, the Ranger scouting party led by Major John Chivington encountered the Texans. For the next two days, the Texans and the Rangers engaged in a running battle. The Confederates were of the mindset they had won the battle; however, they overlooked one vitally important matter. His failure to ensure his troops guarded their supply train following the Battle of Glorieta Pass would later be considered General Sibley’s greatest mistake over the course of the entire Civil War. The Colorado Rangers located and destroyed 80 wagons of food, clothing and ammunition. They conquered Sibley’s supply troops, taking them prisoner and also spiked the Confederate artillery. When the history of the Civil War was later reviewed, Glorieta Pass came to be known as the ‘Gettysburg of the West’.
In 1916, Prohibition became the law in Colorado. The Rangers were called upon to enforce it and quickly found themselves on the black list of the territory’s moonshiners and bootleggers.
In the early 1920s, Philip Van Cise, Denver’s District Attorney, called upon the Colorado Rangers to assist in combating the corruption taking place in Denver’s City Hall; along with the widespread scourge of organized crime.
During 1922, Van Cise began an investigation of the Lou Blonger Gang, which was secretly being funded by some of Denver’s wealthiest citizens. The Colorado Rangers were called upon to help out. On August 24th, they captured a total of 33 suspects over the course of one day. Knowing Blonger had contacts within Denver’s police department, Van Cise instructed the Rangers to hold the prisoners in the basement of First Universalist Church in an effort to prevent Blonger from being informed. All total, the Rangers were instrumental in capturing twenty con men who were then convicted and sent to prison; thus putting the ‘Million-Dollar Bunco Ring’ out of commission. Van Cise stated, “I have nothing but praise for the Rangers. The Rangers are the most efficient body of men I have ever known.”
That same year, a dark day for the Colorado Rangers occurred on the evening of Saturday, October 14. Rangers George Jennings and Edward Bell were on duty when a call came through with an anonymous tip stating plans were in the works for a robbery to occur at a gas station west of Limon. The two Rangers immediately headed to the stated location. Passers-by later found Bell and Jennings lying unconscious by the roadside with massive injuries, minus their wallets and weapons. The Rangers were taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver. Edward Bell never recovered from the injuries he sustained and died on October 16, 1922. Due to the severity of the head injuries he received, Ranger Jennings was never able to recount any information about the attack. Responsibility was later attributed to area bootleggers due to the fact Bell and Jennings had been involved in several large raids on local stills during the prior month. In 1999, Ranger Edward P. Bell’s name joined those listed in the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial. To date, he is the only Colorado Ranger to be killed in the line of duty.
The 1920’s contained numerous conflicts for the Colorado Rangers. Due to the situations they were called in to assist with, the Rangers were viewed as protectors of Big Business. The fact General Pat Hamrock of the Colorado National Guard also served as Commanding Officer of the Colorado Rangers did nothing to help. Though it was the National Guard which was involved in breaking up strikes during the Colorado Labor Wars, involving such events as the Ludlow Massacre, public sentiment began to turn against the Rangers as well. On January 29, 1923, newly-elected Governor William E. Sweet followed through on campaign promises he made to organized labor and various other groups by signing an executive order which cut funding to the Rangers. Their commissions, however, remained valid. As a result, Rangers began to volunteer their services to area communities, or served with other Colorado law enforcement agencies.
Four years later, on April 1, 1927, now Governor Billy Adams added insult to injury when he fulfilled a campaign promise by repealing the Department of Safety Act. This action officially disbanded the Colorado Rangers by rescinding their commissions. The Rangers, however, ‘had the last laugh’ seven months later when a silver platter laden with an entrée of crow was served to Governor Adams after he found himself in need of their services.
On November 21, 1927, a remnant of Colorado Rangers came together from across the state under the direction of Ranger Louis Scherf in response to civil unrest taking place at the Columbine Mine near the town of Serene. The Rangers were ordered to bar the path of the 500 striking miners into the town. Their appearance surprised the miners. Dressed in civilian clothing, the Rangers were armed with tear gas grenades, automatic pistols, rifles and riot guns. Rifle toting mine guards acted as the second line of defense behind the Rangers. It was later reported one of the Rangers taunted the protestors by stating, “If you want to come in here (Serene), come ahead, but we’ll carry you out.”
The resulting conflict quickly turned violent. Six unarmed miners were killed and dozens injured after being attacked in crossfire from machine guns fired in the mine’s tipple. At the time, it was unknown if the machine guns were used by the mine’s guards or the police. Witnesses later identified one of the guards as the individual who climbed the tipple and operated a machine gun mounted there. The skirmish is now known as the Columbine Mine Massacre. [In 1990, Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) went bankrupt. Business records donated to the Steelworks Museum of Industry & Culture revealed CF&I methodically engaged in efforts to discredit the union during the 1927 strike.]
Following the skirmish, a chapter of Ranger history came to a close when the Rangers were thanked and sent home; leaving Colorado without an active statewide police force from 1927 until 1935. In 1935, the Colorado State Highway Courtesy Patrol was formed, later renamed the Colorado State Patrol.
In 1937, the Rangers again reorganized. Governor Teller Ammons was of the opinion this historic group of lawmen should not just ‘ride off into the sunset,’ never to be heard from again. Calling the Rangers together, the group became an all-volunteer unit and was named the Colorado Mounted Rangers. It was not until February 21, 1941; however, the group was formally incorporated.
The Colorado Mounted Rangers have served Colorado in times of crisis and continue to serve as a volunteer law-enforcement auxiliary, offering their assistance to whichever agency requests it. Each Ranger meets Colorado P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards & Training) board standards and swears an oath to support the Constitution, as well as the laws of the United States and the State of Colorado.
The Colorado Mounted Rangers™/Colorado Rangers™ is an IRS registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in the State of Colorado.
Troop B – Cripple Creek
Troop D – Durango
Troop F – Pagosa Springs
Troop H – Denver Metro – North
Troop I – Colorado Springs
Troop J – Cañon City
Troop K – Denver Metro – South
Colorado Mounted Rangers
302 San Juan Drive
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147
If you are interested in becoming a Ranger, this link will take you to the application form: