by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — Some of Huerfano County’s lawmen have exemplified vices or virtues that have set them apart for one reason or the other. Here are some of those who have had “the most”.
No doubt the most controversial of all former peace officers was Jefferson B. Farr, who was sheriff from 1899, when he was appointed to succeed his murdered brother, Ed, until 1919 when he was physically removed, supposedly still seated in his favorite chair, from his office.
Part of the controversy about Farr was that he had actually been voted out of office. In the 1916 November election, E.L. Neelley was elected, but several of the Republic office holders refused to recognize the election as legal, and carried on their duties. The ultimate legality of this wandered through the courts until the Colorado Supreme Court ordered them to vacate their offices, not once but twice, in 1917 and again in March 1919. In September 1917, the county court had actually ruled that Neelley was due his salary of sheriff because Farr had been illegally collecting it, and the supreme court upheld the decision. Neelley at the time of the hearing was on the trail of bootleggers, and bagged $1,000 worth of whiskey, while Farr stayed in town and collected the sheriff’s salary.
The other side of the controversy maintains Farr was an excellent lawman. He was credited with catching a thief who’d stolen a horse, saddle, purse, and watch from a La Veta livery owner, and with finding an escaped murderer underground in the Walsen mine within his first months in office. He arrested 11 KKK members in one fell swoop for staging a shooting attack in Oakview coal camp, and chased horse thieves and prohibition offenders all over south central Colorado. His officers went together and bought him a pearl handled gun “in appreciation”.
Farr had a hand in the most commercial ventures, for sure. He and his brothers operated their father’s ranch, raising mostly cattle but sheep and horses as well. They also farmed the land. Their meat market wholesaled and retailed, supplying coal camps and the local market, and they ran a saloon. Jeff was a director of the board for the bank and newspaper. He was a one-time president of Coler Ditch Company, Great Western Land and Investment Company and Spanish Peaks Mercantile Company. He owned coal lands for lease.
Farr was the most overweight, too. Too much beef, maybe.
One of Farr’s appointees as undersheriff may have been the most “riding-est” officer of all time. He was John MacQuarrie, who in 1905 rode his horse all the way to Malachite and back in nine and a half hours. In 1908 he rode all night to Florence chasing horse thieves and finally caught them at Williamsburg.
One of Huerfano’s most favorite lawmen was Silverio Martinez. Silverio stood six foot six, which made him the most tall for many years, and was called Shorty. Only one other county officer was taller and that was a La Veta deputy, who stood six feet eight (he lasted about two months and single handedly changed the town’s policy on buying police uniforms).
Shorty’s family had lived in Walsenburg since 1867 when it was still called Plaza de los Leones. He knew everyone and was related to many, but was considered fair though firm. He was hired town marshal in 1907 and as deputy sheriff in 1908. After an inmate hung himself in jail in 1909, Shorty quit the sheriff’s department but went back to work as a city officer and was again town marshal by 1917. During his tenure Walsenburg was a hotbed of crime and criminals, mostly bootleggers, gamblers, thieves and drunks.
Shorty put in the most time, too, serving in the city marshal’s and county sheriff’s departments for some 40 years. The longest serving sheriff was Jeff Farr, 1899-1916 (or so). Second would be Anthony “Tony” Velarde, who served 18 years, from 1952 to 1970, and Claud Swift, also 18 years, 1934 to 1952.
The most nepotism practiced in the county sheriff’s office would be a tie between the Farrs and the Swifts. Ed and Jeff Farr hired quite a few in-laws, and Sheriff Claud Swift kept his brother Carl by his side as undersheriff until the latter resigned and joined the war effort in 1943. Swift obviously was an effective officer because the jail became known as “Swift’s Cold Storage” for his perseverance in keeping the cells filled.
The most abbreviated term served by a sheriff was by Charles Cornwall who served two years. He was kind of accidentally elected when, for the first time in its history, Huerfano County went Democratic in 1922, and he went with it. The previous sheriff, Harry J. Capps, a Republican, was elected in 1920 but resigned in May 1922, then returned to office in the 1924 election and served another 10 years.
Capps could be a contender for most old-style “Western” sheriff. As a cattleman controlling 37,000 acres and first president of the Southern Colorado Livestock Association, he was a huge booster of Walsenburg’s annual rodeo and longtime president of the Spanish Peaks Fiesta Association. In later years he was named “oldest active cowboy” in Colorado.
The shortest tenure by a Walsenburg Chief of Police was that of Jack Rose. Rose was hired in late 1923, right before he received a special stipend of $75 for maintenance of his motorcycle in November, and was murdered in January 1924.
In the time frame included in this article, from about 1880 to 1970, the most suspects rounded up in one incident was the 31 pulled in by Sheriff E.L. Neelley and his deputies. The miscreants were gambling in the Japanese boardinghouse in Oakview in 1916. In 1937 Chief of Police Ralph Levy and his men threw no less than 20 drunks into jail within three days and in 1899 Walsenburg Marshal Charles Harriman “dropped 16 into the town cooler” in one night.
In the 1930s Walsenburg employed night officers to stem the burglar problem, which was rampant. Two, Lucas Sanchez and Enoch Brunelli, who usually worked together, were credited with catching more suspects “red-handed” than any others, becoming the most effective duo.
The most “agriculturally” minded peace officer had to be Undersheriff Thomas Griffith, who raised wheat and turnips in the courthouse yard in 1900.