Las Animas County, Colorado
History, Heroes and Scoundrels

(These accounts are adapted from a history of the Las Animas County Sheriffs, provided to County Sheriffs of Colorado by Las Animas County Sheriff Jim Casias)

Trinidad and Las Animas County were on the “Mountain Branch” of the Santa Fe Trail, the early route used by mountain men, settlers, and traders to reach Santa Fe from the east. Trinidad had a singular reputation in the early days as the most “frontier” town in Colorado. The Office of Sheriff in Las Animas County has a colorful history that matches the town.

Juan Gutierrez was one of the signing members of the resolution that formed Las Animas County on February 9, 1866. Las Animas County, at that time, stretched from the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range to the modern day Kansas border and included all of what is now Baca County. Juan Gutierrez became the first sheriff of Las Animas County.

Sheriff Gutierrez played a role in what became know as the Christmas Day War, in 1867. The weather was very warm for that time of year and the men, having nothing to do after church was over, were going from bar to bar and generally causing a ruckus in town.

One particularly obnoxious Anglo was challenging everyone to a boxing or wrestling match. A Hispanic fellow took him up on the offer and immediately pinned the man. Words were exchanged and rocks were thrown. Frank Blue, a stagecoach driver for Barlow-Sanderson, walked out of a bar and straight into a thrown rock. He pulled his gun and shot the Hispanic challenger dead. Blue was taken into custody by Sheriff Juan Gutierrez and placed in a vacant building guarded by six Hispanics and six Anglos.

A few days later a mob of Anglos moved to rescue Blue from his captors. Blue and his rescuers began firing on every Hispanic in sight. Fire was returned and every Anglo on the street rushed to hole up in P.B. Sherman's Hotel on West Main at Beech Street.

The Sheriff and hundreds of Hispanics took up positions outside the hotel. Then, a large band of Ute's rode into town and offered to assist the sheriff in removing the Anglos from the hotel. The Sheriff politely refused, so the Ute's moved to a hilltop and watched from above.

Blue and three companions escaped from the hotel in the middle of the night, taking most of the Anglo's ammunition with them. The next morning a truce was called and the rest of the Anglos were released.

Dr. Michael Beshoar, who remained neutral during the confrontation, treated the wounded from both sides. In his opinion “it was a case of bad booze and bad blood.”

Sheriff Gutierrez resigned on January 14, 1868, three weeks after the Christmas Day War.

Sheriff Jno Kinnear was appointed by the county commissioners to replace Sheriff Juan Gutierrez. Sheriff Kinnear had to deal with the fallout of the Christmas Day War after Sheriff Gutierrez resigned. The main effect of the Christmas Day War was the occupation of Trinidad by U.S. Army Troops. This became know as the first occupation of Trinidad.

On February 6, 1872, three brothers with the last name of Wilson rode into Trinidad with a group of cowboys from Texas. During their stay in town one of the brothers ended up at the Exchange Saloon for some gambling and drinking. Thinking he had been cheated, he roared out of the saloon yelling he would be back. While the Wilson brother was gone the barkeep sent for the Sheriff.

Sheriff Juan Tafoya was waiting quietly when the cowboys returned with their guns drawn. Despite the saloon's offer to return the money, Wilson declared that someone was going to die. As Sheriff Tafoya moved forward to grab Wilson's gun, Wilson fired twice, hitting Tafoya once in the chest and once in the head. Sheriff Juan Tafoya was the first Sheriff killed on duty in Las Animas County.

The Wilson's and other cowboys barreled out of town, but were later dealt with by a posse. In retaliation for the death of Sheriff Tafoya, the posse gunned down two of the Wilson brothers in a running gunfight to the east of Trinidad near present day Beshoar Junction. Believing he would be spared, the other Wilson brother surrendered to the posse. After listening to his plea for mercy, the posse hanged the last Wilson brother from a cottonwood tree on Gray Creek Trail (now Gray Creek Road), as a warning to other would be scoundrels.

Deputy Sheriff Wilford Witt was appointed to replace Sheriff Juan Tafoya on February 6, 1872.

Witt became Sheriff around one of the most dangerous times in Las Animas County history as chronicled in the writings of Sister Blandina Segale, a Catholic Nun who taught school in Trinidad.

After arriving in Trinidad, Sister Blandina found that Trinidad was a town that was frequented by outlaws. Lynching was a common practice and the law was often determined not by the Sheriff, but by the mob.

In one such instance, a man had shot another man, fatally wounding him. The mob had gathered around the house of the wounded man. Anticipating his death, they were planning to go to the jailhouse where the man who shot him was being kept, drag him from the cell and lynch him.

The prisoner was a relative of one of Sister Blandina's students and the terrified child told her what was going to happen. She was appalled and decided to take matters into her own hands.

Blandina went to the bed of the wounded man and asked him if he would forgive the man who shot him and let the law, rather than the mob, decide what punishment he should receive. He agreed. Sister Blandina told the Sheriff that she would like to have the prisoner walk to the bedside of the wounded man for forgiveness. The Sheriff thought she was crazy, that at any time walking along the street, the mob would snatch the man and lynch him right away. Sister Blandina told the prisoner, who was very nervous, not to worry.

As the prisoner walked down the street between the Sheriff and Sister Blandina, dozens of angry men surrounded the group and stared at them, but allowed them to pass without interference. They walked to the wounded man's house and entered. The wounded man forgave the prisoner and the three then walked back to the jail without any trouble from the mob. The mob broke up and the court decided the fate of the man.

Throughout Sister Blandina's years in of Trinidad she heard many stories of murders committed by well-known and feared outlaws. One outlaw that she had heard much about was Billy the Kid, whom she was soon to meet in person.

One day a student told Sister Blandina that a member of Billy's gang had been shot accidentally by a fellow gang member and was left to die in an adobe hut near by. The doctors in town refused to treat the outlaw. Sister Blandina immediately went to the man and began caring for him, bringing him food and drink and answering his questions about God and religion. The wounded man began to recover as Sister Blandina continued to care for him. One day he told Sister Blandina that Billy and his gang would be arriving in Trinidad at 2 p.m. on the next Saturday to scalp the four doctors in the town who had refused to treat his injury. Sister Blandina decided that this was not going to happen.

On that Saturday, at 2 p.m., Sister Blandina was waiting to meet one of the most feared murderers in the West. He arrived right on schedule and greeted her kindly, as he had been told of all the help she had given his fellow outlaw. He said to her, “We are all glad to see you Sister, and I want to say it would give me pleasure to be able to do you any favor.”

At that offer, Sister Blandina told him that she did have a favor to ask of him. He replied, “The favor is granted.” She took his hand and said, “I have heard that you have come to scalp our Trinidad physicians, which act I ask you to cancel.” Billy was a bit upset and surprised that Sister Blandina had known what their purpose was for visiting. Reluctantly he agreed and the four doctor's lives were saved.

Richen (“Uncle Dick”) Wooten served a two year term as Sheriff from 1878 to 1880. Wooten was a mountain man and pioneer who later became the subject of a popular book. He lived for years on Raton Pass along a toll road he had helped to build.

Sheriff Wooten captured “Dutch” Henry in 1878. Henry was an infamous horse thief who was known to escape from jails and elude law officers all over the Western states. Dutch Henry was tried in Las Animas County Court for stealing mules and was ordered to be transferred to the Bent County Jail. Instead, Las Animas County Deputy Sheriff Bat Masterson (also a deputy U.S. Marshal) took Dutch Henry to Dodge City under warrant as a fugitive from justice to stand trial for grand larceny.

In 1882 a feud between Las Animas County Undersheriff, M. B. McGraw and Trinidad Police Officer, George Goodell, erupted into gunfire. The fight took place in front of Jaffa's Opera House. Goodell put six bullets into McGraw, who died two days later.

In 1884, during the Maxwell Land Grant dispute, the Grant owners persuaded the New Mexico territorial governor to field a force of 35 “militiamen,” which were led by Jim Masterson (Bat Masterson's brother) from Trinidad, Colorado. However, George Curry, a resident of nearby Raton, rounded up a posse of ranchers, bought all the guns and ammo he could find and when the “militia” arrived they were marched back to the Colorado line at gunpoint.

The “Maxwell Land Grant War” resulted in the death of an estimated 200 people in the area around Trinidad and Raton, New Mexico. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the land survey, and its decision of 1879 affirmed the legitimacy of the largest land grant in US history.

Bartholomew Masterson, better know to generations of Western history buffs as “Bat,” served as Sheriff of Las Animas County from 1888 to 1889. Bat had previously been a deputy sheriff for several years alongside Louis Kreeger.

Masterson was also Trinidad town marshal for a year before moving further into Colorado's back country.

While he was in Trinidad the Earps and Doc Holliday reportedly came to Trinidad, straight from the shootout at the OK Corral. They all holed up for a couple of days with Masterson and sorted out what they needed to do for themselves. The Earps were on their way pretty quickly but Doc had a problem; Arizona wanted to extradite him to stand trial in Tombstone. So, Bat arrested him on a trumped up charge then made a deal with the local judge to never let Doc come to trial. Arizona couldn't extradite him while this charge was pending so Doc lived a free life trying the “Colorado Cure” until tuberculosis killed him a couple of years later in Garfield County.

Louis Kreeger followed Bat Masterson as Las Animas County Sheriff. Kreeger had been one of the infamous Quantrell's Raiders during the Civil War and served with Frank and Jessie James and the Younger brothers.

After the Civil War ended Kreeger headed west into Colorado Territory and settled in Trinidad. After several years of working as a carpenter, Kreeger was hired by Sheriff Tafoya for his skill with a firearm. Kreeger worked alongside Bat Masterson and became a legendary lawman in his own right. He was known as one of the greatest man hunters in Southern Colorado.

In 1882, Deputy Kreeger shot and killed Rice Brown. Brown was galloping up and down Main Street doing the then familiar stunt of “shooting up the town.” Deputy Kreeger ran out and intercepted Brown and commanded him to throw up his hands. Brown fired on Kreeger grazing the shoulder of Kreeger's clothing. Kreeger fired and shot the horse that Brown was on. The horse fell to the ground dead and pinned Brown under it. Brown and Kreeger then engaged in a duel. Several shots were fired and Brown was shot to death. After the shootout, Kreeger calmly walked into the hardware store across the street and replenished his stock of ammunition.

Although Louis Kreeger only served two terms as Sheriff, he served Las Animas County in one capacity or another in the Sheriff's Office (18 years as Undersheriff) until eight months before his death on August 3, 1913.

Another tale has been told about Kreeger. On February 16, 1895, Kreeger's wife went to the house of Rose De Bar at the west end of town. Ms. De Bar was known as “that star of the Elm Street stage.” Mrs. Kreeger attempted to demolish Ms. De Bar with a hatchet. Without any ceremony Mrs. Kreeger struck Mrs. De Bar in the face with the business end of the hatchet, making an ugly wound. Mrs. De Bar tried to escape into her home and received several more blows to her back and the back of her head before escaping. Evidently the reason behind Mrs. Kreeger's attack on Ms. De Bar had to do with an excess of attention paid to De Bar by the great man hunter.

Sheriff Duane Finch, who was in office from 1894 until his death in 1899, was known for his attempt to capture the Ketchum Gang.

The Ketchums had engaged in a number of train robberies. During the attempt, Sheriff Finch was shot and killed by Sam Ketchum. Sam Ketchum and several other outlaws were wounded at this time as well as several members of the posse. Sam Ketchum died of his wounds several days later.

O.T. Clark, who was a member of the posse when Sheriff Finch was killed and was named sheriff on Finch's death. Sheriff Clark eventually tracked down and captured the leader of the gang, Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum. Clark escorted Black Jack to Clayton, NM where Ketchum was hanged.

In August of 1910, a rash of pay wagon robberies occurred. The robberies happened out on Gray Creek Road near Beshoar Junction. Sheriff Grisham and a posse including Undersheriff Kreeger hid out and intercepted and captured the band of outlaws committing the robberies. Included in the band of robbers was Undersheriff Kreeger's son William “Squick” Kreeger. “Squick” Kreeger was sentenced to the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City for 15 years. This was the last time former Sheriff Kreeger saw his son.

Sheriff James Grisham was in office during the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.

On April 20, 1914 20 men, women and children, striking coal miners and their families, were killed by state militia and private detectives working for the mine owners.

The coal miners in Colorado and other western states had been trying to organize and improve working conditions. Strikes and labor violence had been rampant since 1910. The miners were bitterly opposed by the coal operators, led by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owned by John D. Rockefeller.

In Ludlow, striking miners and their families had been evicted from their company-owned houses and had set up a tent colony on public property. The massacre occurred in a carefully planned attack on the tent colony by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, private detectives and strike breakers.

The Baldwin Felts Detective Agency had been brought in to suppress the strikers. They brought with them an armored car mounted with a machine gun — the Death Special — that roamed the area spraying bullets.

The day of the massacre, the miners were celebrating Greek Easter. At 10:00 AM the militia ringed the camp and began firing into the tents upon a signal from the commander, Lt. Karl E. Lindenfelter.

Later investigations revealed that kerosene was then intentionally poured on the tents and they were set on fire. The miners had dug foxholes in the tents so the women and children could avoid the bullets that were randomly fired through the colony. The women and children were found dead, huddled together at the bottoms of their tents.

The unprovoked attack on women and children by the militia was a pivotal point in the struggle between miners and mine owners, and for the state of Colorado.

The Ludlow Massacre is now viewed by historians as the key factor in Colorado's strong tradition of local control of law enforcement and our long standing restriction of the authority of state law enforcement agencies.

The Ludlow Massacre also put into motion events that eventually resulted in the Fair Labor Act of 1916, which established the 8-hour workday and the Workers Rights Act.

A monument to those who lost their lives was established at the site, north of Trinidad and west of I-25. The monument was recently restored after vandals senselessly damaged it. Las Animas County Sheriff James Casias and his deputies are still looking for those who caused the damage.

Sheriff John Marty was sheriff from 1916 to 1928. During Sheriff Marty's term, the KKK had far reaching power. Racial bias and strife were rampant and murders and lynching were a common occurrence.

The Klan problem in Colorado was statewide. Most of Colorado's 200 prohibition agents were members of the Klan, led by the Exalted Cyclops of the Trinidad Klan, raiding parties went on random searches for bootleg stills and liquor. The majority of these raids were directed at operations run by Italians, Jews, Blacks, and other anti-Klan groups.

State prohibition agent Kearney received an anonymous call warning him to leave certain bootleg places in Aguilar and Trinidad alone.

Two days later, on Saturday evening, July 5, 1930, he was summoned from his house and followed a vehicle from Trinidad to Aguilar. Kearney's car overheated, so he stopped at the Aguilar Motor Company shortly before midnight. J. G. Lile found a loose coupling on the oil line which had caused the car to overheat. Lile went into the Alpine Rose Cafe, called for a tow truck and ate a sandwich. At about midnight, he started to return to his vehicle. Shortly after that, shots were heard and Kearney's dead body was found with 16 bullet wounds. The murderers are unknown, but thought to be bootleggers that Kearney was investigating.

In 1932, the largest seizure of prohibition alcohol by Las Animas County occurred when 200 gallons of wine and 50 pounds of raisin mash in the process of fermentation were confiscated.

At this time Elijah Duling was the Undersheriff.

Ray Marty was sheriff from 1936 until 1944. The 1930's brought dust storms and the Great Depression to Trinidad and Las Animas County and the United States. The 1940's brought World War II and a German prisoner of war Camp (Camp Trinidad). The POW camp held 5000 German POW's on 600 acres near Beshoar Junction. In the 4- year history of the POW camp there were several escapes from the camp but all were captured.

The Sheriff's Office was also busy responding to the numerous plane crashes that occurred in the area due to Army Air Corps training.

Elmer Roy was appointed as Sheriff of Las Animas County upon the death of Sheriff Ray Marty who died in office of natural causes.

Sheriff Roy lost re-election in 1946 to Sheriff Felix Garcia. With 16 years as Las Animas County Sheriff, Felix Garcia previously served as a constable for 17 years for the towns of Bon Carbo, Cokedale, Primero, and Sopris.

On January 8, 1968, State Patrolman Larry Enloe stopped a stolen blue station wagon for a traffic violation on Interstate 25, North of Trinidad. While Enloe was seated in his patrol car, 16- year-old runaway, Edward Cosgrove shot him with a .38 caliber gun. Cosgrove then stopped a car driven by Sergeant Fink of the U.S. Army and forced the sergeant to help him by threatening his infant son. At a roadblock south of Pueblo, Cosgrove was not recognized and they were allowed to proceed. When they reached Pueblo, Cosgrove got out of the car, and Fink returned to the roadblock to tell officers what had happened. Cosgrove was caught at a Pueblo hotel, was later found guilty of second-degree murder, and was sentenced to 34- 50 years in the Colorado State Penitentiary. He escaped in September 1974, but died in a Florida motorcycle accident on June 12, 1981, living there under an assumed name.

Filbert Garcia served as sheriff from 1962 to 1986, after the retirement of his father. He was the longest serving Sheriff in Las Animas County history. In four of his six elections he was unopposed. When asked why he and his father have been so successful, “We both tried to do the job to the best of our abilities, and treated people properly and with respect, regardless of the circumstances”.

He states his favorite aspect of working as Sheriff was the contact he has with people. He, like his father, who was Sheriff before him, did not wear a duty sidearm unless he felt the situation warrants it. Sheriff Garcia saw many incidents including the a pursuit and gun battle with several bank robbery suspects in 1974.

Lou Girodo, Las Animas County Sheriff from 1986 to 2002, began investigating cattle mutilations in 1975 when working as a District Attorney's investigator.

From his time as a D. A.'s investigator until about twenty years later, Girodo had a hand investigating some 50 cases where cattle died under mysterious circumstances in Las Animas County alone. Girodo networked with law enforcement officials facing similar prospects in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Cattle mutilations became the subject of national and international news stories, books, and movies. The mutilations stopped as mysteriously as they started and have never been resolved or explained. Girodo says he's seen cattle with hide scrolled up from shoulder to neck, cattle with every bone in their bodies broken, cattle wasted beneath trees with shattered branches and limbs overhead, “as if they'd been dropped from a considerable height.”

In October 1997, Kathleen Apodaca became the first female road deputy in the 130-year history of the Las Animas County Sheriff's Department. Apodaca joined the department in 1995 as a detention officer. Sheriff Girordo also oversaw the planning, construction, and move from the old courthouse to the new county justice center in 1997.

Sheriff James W. Casias was elected to office in November of 2002. Sheriff Casias' law enforcement career began with the City of Trinidad Police Department, serving as a patrol officer, crime prevention officer, school liaisonofficer, and detective for juvenile investigations. Sheriff Casias has made a number of changes including new uniforms, new patrol car markings, the addition of the Live Scan Fingerprinting system in the jail and the addition of two police edition Dodge Durango's to the Patrol Division. Along with the new technologies in communications and equipment, Sheriff Casias also implemented the Las Animas County Search and Rescue Team, Mounted Patrol Unit, K-9 Unit, Cell Entry Team, HAZMAT Team and the Las Animas County Sheriff's Posse. Sheriff Casias stays active by being part of various boards within the City and County.

The Colorado Cattlemen's Association named him 2004 Law Officer of the year. Although Sheriff Casias works in a supervisory capacity over the office it does not exclude him from an active personal role in the working of his office.

Winter 2005 Volume XXVI, No. 2

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