by Nelson Holmes
GARDNER- The date was May 14, 1938. It was a Saturday night in Gardner. A dance at the fairgrounds offered the locals a respite from a week’s rural labor. The Sheriff’s deputy who normally provided a watchful eye for the event had a trip planned and couldn’t make it, so Deputy Fidel Aguirre volunteered to take his place. My guess is that Aguirre, with a wife and eight children, saw the evening as light duty that would put two dollars and seventy-five cents in his pocket. Money was always tight, and with eight children, a little extra might cover those small emergencies or maybe just buy a treat to cause the entire family to erupt in grins and laughter.
Like so much that is venal and cruel, the catalyst for this felonious evening would be alcohol. Booze would be the crutch that Placer and Pablo Peralta would use to support their egos, the fuel that would turn the cold spark of vengeance into a white hot flame. It seems the Peraltas hadn’t forgiven Deputy Aguirre for taking the stand against them in a livestock larceny trial. There was word among some that Deputy Aguirre had gotten badge heavy with them and had disrespected the Peraltas in their home.
Whatever the case, one of the Peraltas started a disturbance outside the dance hall to lure Deputy Aguirre outside. As Aguirre was leaving the hall, some young men offered their assistance, but being a professional and not having the slightest hint as to what would befall him, he turned down their offer.
I picture the night as torn by that Huerfano wind that causes all that is bad in a man to congeal to the point of ripening. Like as not, the wind was the last note to register in Fidel Aguirre’s ear as a rough-hewn cedar fencepost shattered the back of his skull. Lacking anything resembling decency or compassion, the Peraltas set upon the fallen deputy, shattering his jaw and cutting open his larynx. Soon, the Medina brothers, who had offered help earlier, were pulling the fiends from Aguirre’s body. The Medinas then rushed Aguirre to the hospital in Walsenburg, the deputy’s wet and labored breathing defining the urgency of their mission. Fidel Aguirre was admitted to Lamme Hospital at 1:00 AM. He would be dead by Sunday afternoon.
A posse of fifteen men, deputies and the freshly deputized, scoured the hills south of Gardner until the offenders were flushed into the open and taken into custody. A large crowd had gathered at the Walsenburg Courthouse with the intent of serving up justice at a rope’s end. The Sheriff wisely hauled his suspects to Trinidad for detention. In time, and with the help of the FBI crime labs, the Peralta brothers were sentenced to a lifetime’s incarceration and hard labor.
The reason I relate this sad tale is simple; there is a Colorado Memorial for Fallen Peace Officers and Fidel Aguirre’s name is not on it. Deputy Aguirre, along with 34 other Colorado officers killed in the line of duty, are conspicuously absent from the memorial. What is the justification for this thoughtless omission? Just that the names of “old time” officers were not being accepted. Funny, I didn’t think bravery had a shelf life.
Gary Lopez, Joseph Sandoval, and Fidel Aguirre Jr. don’t think so either. Lopez is a man from Fort Collins who does genealogy research. He happened to hear El Corrido de Fidel Aguirre one day in Gardner and began a quest for more information. Joseph Sandoval, a professor at Metro State, comes from Huerfano County. One of his uncles wrote the corrido and two uncles took Aguirre senior to the hospital that fateful night. Fidel Aguirre Jr. was 11 when his father died and has kept his memory alive in his heart all these years. Today, he is a widower of 82 who lives in Littleton.
These men met with the Huerfano County Commissioners and the County Sheriff on July 1 to request their help in the process of getting Fidel Aguirre inducted to the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial for Fallen Officers who have died in the line of duty.
The State’s Law Enforcement Memorial in Golden has two hundred and twenty-three names engraved on it. Each spring, four inductees are added and three of these may have died in any year.
Tina Griego quotes Aguirre Jr in her June 30 Denver Post article, "I′m gonna give this 100 percent and if it don′t work. It don′t work," Aguirre says. "But, for my father, I have to try."