Weld Sheriffs Have Colorful, Interesting History

By former Weld County Sheriff Ed Jordan
Originally published in the Saturday, July 17, 1999, edition of the Weld County Past Times (Greeley Tribune).

The history of the Weld County Sheriff’s Office is very interesting. Sheriffs in the past have had very colorful lives and many were influential men in the community. For example Sheriff Jared Brush had the town of Brush named after him. Sheriff Brush was a successful cattleman and shipped a lot of cattle from the Brush train stop.

Sheriff D.C. Wyatt was very successful in the cattle business, he helped start many irrigation canals, hauled freight to Blackhawk, had a dairy farm and was president of Colorado Cattle Growers Association. Sheriff Wyatt was one of the early settlers of this area, and helped in many ways making it what it is today.

Much of the sheriff’s job in the early days was dealing with livestock theft. At one time Weld County had approximately 10,000 square miles within its boundaries. This made the job of sheriff particularly difficult. Traveling was very time consuming on horseback, and whenever possible the sheriffs rode the train. In those days, sheriffs were paid for keeping prisoners at a small amount per day, and the sheriff was expected to feed and keep the prisoners.

One of the first jails was built in 1911, and the controversy was whether the jail should be built in downtown Greeley or out in some rural, less-populated area (some things never change). The jail was built by the citizens of Greeley, in 1874 at a cost of $2,000. It was donated to the county by the citizens.

Weld County had numerous cases of liquor violations in its history, dating back to the late 1800s. In an early edition of the Greeley Tribune the article stated, “Sheriff Brush has arrested several liquor sellers in Erie, in the south part of the county, and the fines they have paid altogether amounted to several hundred dollars. They have concluded now to take out license, the cost of which is $300, as it is cheaper.” And, “We stand corrected in having stated we made the county no expense in regard to liquor. The fact is we did have a whiskey lawsuit, growing out of one of the Evans’ people starting a rum-hole here on Sunday morning, and as it was burned down before night, some of our people were hauled over the coals therefore.”

There always seemed to be some type of livestock theft case going on, and they often had all the excitement of the old westerns seen on TV.

An example was the break up of the Al Cochran gang. This occurred in 1896, when Sheriff Edgar Clark received a telegram from the Sterling sheriff informing him of some missing cattle and a rancher named Paul Rose. Paul Rose ranched near Stoneham, and Sheriff Clark referred the case to deputy and cattle inspector A.J. Elliot (later to be elected sheriff).

Elliot and a group of men rode the area from Cheyenne to Nebraska for over a week, and finally came across the cattle in possession of Al Cochran. Cochran, who had a forged bill of sale, was arrested, and brought back to Cheyenne where they met Sheriff Clark and escorted Cochran to jail in Greeley. Paul Rose’s body was found in a sandbank 18 to 20 miles south of Kimball, Neb. No one was sure if the location was in Colorado or Nebraska.

Sheriff Clark took Cochran to a jail in Arapahoe County for safe keeping. The following information was in the Greeley Tribune Aug. 27, 1896: “Last Thursday noon Sheriff Clark boarded the Denver and Gulf train for Denver with D.A. Cochran and handed that noted cattle rustler over to the care of the Sheriff of Arapahoe County, feeling that he would be more secure there than in the Weld County Jail, owing to the disposition of the friends of Paul Rose and the talk, as prevalent, of lynching. The evidence points strongly to the guilt of Cochran as the murderer of Rose, but what the authorities of Kimball County, Neb., will do in the matter is yet to be found out.” Cochran was convicted of the theft of the cattle in Colorado District Court, and sentenced to prison.

Of course there is the famous lynching of W.D. French. I have included a photo of the original booking of French, and the disposition stating :”lynched by a mob.” Weld County has a lot of history, and it is difficult to do a story that has a limit, because you aren’t able to tell all the stories, and mention all the great men who have held the office of sheriff of Weld County. Any story would be incomplete, however, if I didn’t make mention of a couple of others.

Gus Anderson was one of the most popular sheriffs of the county, and served 12 years, mostly during Prohibition. Whenever you talk about Weld County Sheriffs, you get stories about Gus, and how he was a Hollywood stunt man for a time.

Of course Ben Florence was one of the best known. Sheriff Florence also served a chief of police of Greeley, and knew and was friends with, Teddy Roosevelt, and other presidents. Certainly the quality of men who held this office in the past bring honor to the citizens that they have served. I am proud to have my name on the list with the.

Ed Jordan was the sheriff of Weld County. He was elected to the position in 1986.

Did You Know?
Traveling was very time consuming on horseback, and whenever possible the sheriffs rode the train.