Origin & Early Days
The Rangers trace their roots to the Jefferson Rangers, first organized in 1859 to keep the peace in the unofficial Jefferson Territory during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. Rangers were often found guarding shipments of gold coming out of the camps.
In 1861, the Colorado Territory was established, and the Rangers were reorganized as the Colorado Rangers, serving as Colorado's only statewide law enforcement through the late 1920's. The Colorado Rangers were fashioned after the well known Texas Rangers and often served both law enforcement and militia roles in the early days of the Colorado Territory.
Rangers, along with other Colorado Volunteers, were instrumental in the Union victory at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico during the Civil War. This battle was key in stopping the Confederate advance toward the Colorado gold mines. The Confederates were hoping the Colorado gold would help fund their war. This battle is also now known as the "Gettysburg of the West".
During this time, Rangers were still upholding the law in Colorado as well. In 1862, Captain A.J. Gill, Commander of the Colorado Rangers, detailed his investigation of the murder of Conrad Moschel near present day Franktown in a letter to his superiors. In it he states that the culprits tried to make it appear that Native Americans were responsible for the death, but displaying his Ranger honor, Captain Gill concluded from the evidence that local outlaws were to blame.
After the Civil War, the Colorado Rangers returned in earnest to their law enforcement duties. From time to time, Rangers were also called upon by Colorado's Governors to keep the peace during times of emergency, natural disasters, and during civil unrest such as the violent Labor Wars in Colorado's mining towns.
In their duty to protect the Governor, Rangers also became known as the "Governor's Guards". In March of 1999, Governor Bill Owens proudly acknowledged this historical legacy in a letter to the Colorado Mounted Rangers.
Prohibition came early to Colorado in 1916, prior to the rest of the United States. Rangers were called upon to uphold the new temperance laws, much to the dismay of bootleggers and moonshiners across Colorado.
In 1921, the Colorado Rangers adopted Harley Davidson motorcycles as their new mount. Here we see Colorado Ranger Sergeant Zebulon Montgomery "Monty" Pike in Trinidad, Colorado, with his Harley Davidson motorcycle equipped with a sidecar, circa 1923. Note the extended wheel on the sidecar to fit in wagon ruts of the day. Sergeant Pike is a descendant of explorer Zebulon M. Pike, credited with discovering Pikes Peak.
Photo courtesy of Grandson Brian Pike.
Fighting Organized Crime
Rangers were also utilized by Denver District Attorney Philip Van Cise to break up widespread organized crime and to fight corruption in Denver's City Hall in the early 1920's.
In 1922 Van Cise set up an independent investigation of the Lou Blonger gang, secretly funded by a group of wealthy Denver citizens. On August 24 of that year, Van Cise used a special force of Colorado Rangers, called up from around the State, to capture 33 suspects in a single day.
Fearing that Lou Blonger's contacts within the Denver Police Department would tip off the gang once the first suspect was taken to jail, Van Cise had the Rangers detain the gang members in the basement of the First Universalist Church, where he was a member.
With the help of the Colorado Rangers, twenty con men, including Lou Blonger, were convicted and sent to prison, effectively busting the 'Million-Dollar Bunco Ring'.
"I have nothing but praise for the Rangers," said District Attorney Van Cise, the morning after the raid. "The Rangers are the most efficient body of men I have ever known."
Death of Ranger Edward P. Bell
On Saturday night, October 14, 1922, Rangers Edward Bell and George Jennings received an anonymous telephone tip that a filling station west of Limon, Colorado was about to be robbed.
Rangers Bell and Jennings immediately left Limon and headed toward the filling station. A short time later, passers-by found the two Rangers unconscious lying by the side of the road with massive injuries, their weapons and wallets missing. They were taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Denver, however, Ranger Bell never recovered from his injuries, passing away on October 16, 1922.
The facts of what actually happened were never officially determined. Ranger Jennings could not remember what had happened to the pair due to a head injury. It was speculated that bootleggers in the area were responsible as Rangers Bell and Jennings had made several large raids on nearby stills in the month that preceded the fateful night.
Rangers Disbanded . . . well, sort of . . . .
Having been called out to keep the peace during a mining strike in Cripple Creek in 1894, the Rangers slowly came to be seen as being on the side of big business. This was complicated in the 1920's by the fact that the Commanding Officer of the Rangers, Gen. Pat Hamrock, also served as the Commander of the Colorado National Guard. It was the National Guard that had participated in strike breaking on behalf of business interests in the early 1900's during the Colorado Labor Wars, including incidents such as the Ludlow Massacre.
As public sentiment swayed in the 1920's, and as a result of campaign promises to organized labor and other interests, newly elected Governor William E. Sweet signed an executive order on January 29th, 1923, cutting off funding and effectively disbanding the Rangers. Many Rangers simply went on to serve in other Law Enforcement roles across Colorado.
Four years later, after much debate, fulfilling a campaign promise, on April 1, 1927 Governor Billy Adams repealed the Department of Safety Act, thus officially disbanding the Colorado Rangers, and with it, all statewide law enforcement in Colorado.
In an ironic twist, just seven months after signing this legislation, Governor Adams found himself and the State of Colorado in need once again. Governor Adams called out the remnants of the now defunct Colorado Rangers, several coming back from the ranks of Law Enforcement agencies across the State.
On November 21, 1927, led by noted Ranger Louis Scherf, the Colorado Rangers responded to civil unrest during a strike at the Columbine Mine, near present day Erie, Colorado. Unfortunately, the confrontation between striking miners, the mine security guards, and the Rangers quickly turned violent and six miners were killed in the ensuing skirmish. This unfortunate day in Colorado history has come to be known as the Columbine Mine Massacre, though both sides dispute the actual course of events leading to the shooting.
Following this event, the Rangers were once again thanked for their service and sent home, thus ending a chapter in their history. This left Colorado without standing statewide police protection until 1935 when the Colorado State Highway Courtesy Patrol (later becoming the Colorado State Patrol) was formed.
Governor Teller Ammons thought that the great, western State of Colorado should not let this colorful, historic group of lawmen ride quietly into the sunset and be heard from no more. He called the Rangers to duty one more time. This time they were reorganized as an all volunteer unit, the Colorado Mounted Rangers. Although this group formed and functioned during Gov. Ammons term of office (1937-1939), they were not formally incorporated until February 21st, 1941, organized with a single Troop in Bailey.
With a growing role in civil defense, and with the assistance of Sheriff Rufus Jones of Teller County, the Rangers reorganized and formed a Squadron of several Troops throughout the state in 1955. To this day, Rangers serve as an unpaid auxiliary to any agency that requests their assistance.
Colorado Mounted Rangers / Colorado Rangers have responded and assisted in natural disasters across Colorado, such as the 1971 Blizzard in Kim, the Big Thompson Flood, the Black Ridge Fire, and the Hayman Fire.
While conducting search and rescue efforts, especially in the Southwestern part of the State, the Colorado Mounted Rangers / Colorado Rangers have saved the lives of many lost and injured climbers, hikers, hunters, and mountain bikers.
Special thanks to retired Ranger Carlton "Doc" McClure, official Historian and author of History of the Colorado Mounted Rangers and Colorado Rangers.