Today is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (L.E.A.D) so what better time to post a brief history of the Cañon City Police Department? Of course, law enforcement as we know it today was drastically different during the early settlement of the west. During the 19th century, there was no police organization in the American western frontier despite abundant crime. There was also a lack of national policies and the way departments were run varied across the nation. So if the American west had no police, who kept order in those early territorial and statehood years?
Some settlements had a form of law enforcement in which volunteers tried to keep the peace in town while other settlements and towns elected a sheriff who had the authority to enforce laws and restrictions as they deemed necessary. And then there were the U.S. Marshals who were appointed by the federal government. Marshals dealt with federal issues while sheriffs held authority over the county in which they were elected.
The first mention of a marshal in Fremont County was in 1878 when Thomas E. Barett was the appointed official filling the role. Prior to that some mentions had been made of constables who likely filled the same role as a marshal; the earliest constable mentioned is Ben F. Shaffer in 1872. By the time John Quincy Morrison was elected city marshal in 1900, there was an established police presence in the city. One of the more interesting job titles was held by Z. L. Flesher whose role as the “city herder” meant he was in charge of rounding up loose livestock and holding them until the owners could be found. Fortunately for him, he had moved up to the position of day police by 1902.
On January 16, 1928, the Cañon City Daily Record reported the police department was employing a record amount of staff, the largest in its history as an organization. There were officially six men on the payroll! The traffic squad consisted of Ed Coryell, Jack Donahoo, and W.W. Ireland. The other staff was comprised of City Marshal Ed Miller, Might Marshal Richard II. Van Skike, and Merchant Policeman Joe Claybaugh. Jack Donahoo later held the position of Marshal/Chief of Police during the early years of the 1930s.
The police department was housed along with the majority of the city departments. When the former municipal building, currently home to the museum at 612 Royal Gorge Boulevard, was built in 1928, provisions were made for the police department. The basement housed holding cells while the ground floor had an office for the Chief of Police. In 1940, the police department was moved into 330 Royal Gorge Boulevard along with the fire, street, water, and cemetery departments. The police department was moved again in 1968 to the former Denver& Rio Grande Depot located at 816 Royal Gorge Boulevard where it stayed for close to thirty years before finally moving into the present building on January 6, 1997. That location, at 161 Justice Center Road is where the Police Department has resided ever since. It’s a good thing too since the department is certainly much larger than the six officers it had in 1928!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.