No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Colorado’s Wild West
Colorado, more so than any other State, depicts perfectly what the days of the ‘Wild West’ must have looked like. There are “ghost towns” in low desert canyons, all the way up to the mountains. And each one tells stories that echo from one end of the State to the other, about how life was like. Some towns have seriously bad reputation, like Tin Cup, where dozens of tombstones in the city cemetery, laid in remembrance of many Sheriffs’ who did not return from where they came. Still, many of the “Wild West’ towns of Colorado were rough and tumble, simply because the work that was available: gold mining, rail work, and other blue-collar jobs that at the time were in high demand by people wanting to stake their own claim in the promising western expansion of the time. Some of those towns didn’t have such a high death count, but were terribly violent just the same. That may be a factor into why so many of these once bustling towns are now known as “ghost towns,” in reference to a plethora of buildings that still stand, but little to no people left. And when we say little, think ten or less. It’s more likely that any people in these now defunct towns specifically moved to these locations to avoid having neighbors, and they themselves are not necessarily from a line of original residents. With all that said, many of these towns presented a very difficult job for anyone considering wearing a badge, be it Sheriff, Marshal, or otherwise. Our next officer epitomizes that challenge.
City Marshal A.E. Cook
Como, Colorado City Marshal A.E. Cook had worked in Como for over ten years in the city, when on April 7th, 1894, he went to a noise complaint at the Como Mercantile Building. Inside was Levi J. Streeter, the business owner, who was hosting two other men, and Anna Speas, and Lillie Robinson, two married women, whose husbands were out of town at the time. City Marshal Cook approached the business, and knocked on the door. In witness accounts, it was stated that City Marshal Cook knocked on the door loudly, which caused Mr. Streeter to be concerned. Mr. Streeter picked up a gun, answered the door, and City Marshall Cook shouted for Streeter to put his hands up. Instead, Streeter fired his handgun three times, striking City Marshall Cook in the chest and face, and then pistol-whipped him in the face, killing him.
City Marshall Cook was survived by his wife and three children.
Speas, Robinson, and Streeter were arrested for the crime. The other two men were never identified, and a third female who was seen running from near the building also was left unidentified. In the months following, Speas and Robinson were ultimately found not guilty for their parts in the crime, but undoubtedly, as we read the newspaper of the time from the region, their reputations were destroyed from the incident. Streeter was found guilty of murder, and though he had a stay of execution twice, that lasted two years, he died three months after he submitted an application for pardon, for the reason of self-defense. The argument made at trial was that Streeter thought he was going to be robbed. A more likely story was that he was concerned that a jealous husband had arrived. If that were the case, the law at the time would not provide him self-defense, and it certainly would not provide it for shooting a law enforcement officer who was enforcing law or ordinance. Some testimony from uninvolved parties suggested that Streeter had been conducting business, asked two men to leave his store, and locked up before Speas and Robinson arrived, who were thought to be “lollygagging” in a nearby alley, instead going to the shop to pick up a pair of shoes owned by Speas. The problem with that version is that it circumvents the part where multiple people saw Speas and Robinson exit the building through a window, leaving glass, and blood from City Marshal Cook behind, which was how they were identified so quickly. You can look up the story at the Park County Archives. The document contains news clippings, witness testimony, and the series of attempts by Streeter to get his sentenced reduced.
There is further proof that Speas’ version of events was false, as the book Goin’ Railroading, by Margaret Coel, which is a family memoir of the Speas’ as they lived their life on the railroad, tells that Sam Speas, Anna’s husband, was a railroad engineer, and that they had three children, all of which died in birth, and that Anna had taken the losses hard, and got involved in a drinking crowd in Como, which was led by Streeter. It was also alleged that Sam was in town the night in question, and that Streeter very well was anticipating Sam’s arrival, because it is believed that Sam had told Streeter to stay away from his wife.
What we gathered from this terrible loss, is that policing the wild west was not easy, to say the least. City Marshal Cook ended up dying all in an effort to figuratively, and literally, keep the peace in his community, and he paid the ultimate price for that dedication.
In memory of City Marshal A.E. Cook.