Tales of Law and Order in Cripple Creek’s Wild and Unruly Days

Town’s First Real Police Enforcers Combat Criminal Outlaws

Trevor Phipps

After gold was found in the early 1890s in the Cripple Creek area, it wouldn’t take long for a town to get developed.

And with the new town, came a slew of miners and criminals that would bring saloons, gambling houses, and brothels to the area.

In the town’s early years, crimes started to break out. Soon, the city would realize its need for law enforcement officers to keep order in the new mining district.

According to the book Money Mountain by Marshall Sprague, the town started as two different municipalities called Fremont and Hayden Placer in 1892. During those days, Peter Eales was the sole law enforcement agent who walked around the two towns brandishing a six shooter as an El Paso County sheriff deputy.

But, it was not long before it became clear that Eales would need some help. In April of 1892, the city saw its first actual murder for the record books.

According to Money Mountain, the city’s first murder occurred when ex-convict Charles Hudspeth took a gun into the Ironclad Dance Hall and tried to shoot the bartender. Hudspeth’s bullet missed the bartender but then struck and killed the dance hall’s piano player, Rueben Miller.

Later in 1892, the city named Hi Wilson as its police chief. Wilson had a reputation of being a fast shooting law enforcement agent in Denver. It was now Wilson and Eales that were in charge of law and order in the new city.

The two police officers patrolled town and worked to keep out gangsters and other trouble makers. The book Money Mountain talks about an incident where Wilson scared away a notoriously violent gang from entering the city.

In the early 1880s, Bob Ford joined Jesse James’ gang before ultimately betraying him. On April 3, 1882, James became suspicious of Ford and his brother Charley.

After eating breakfast James didn’t scold the Fords after learning of their plan to murder him and turn him in.  Instead, he laid his revolvers on a sofa and turned around to clean a dusty picture. While his back was turned, Ford shot James in the back of his head.

Now Ford’s gang had been known for betraying their leader. Years after the infamous murder, Ford travelled around the mining camps of Colorado.

But one day, Chief Wilson learned that Ford and his gang would be heading into Cripple Creek. Wilson jumped on his horse and met the gang at the city limits. Wilson was then able to send Ford’s gang back down the mountain.

In Cripple Creek’s early days, some outlaws would come into town brandishing weapons and trying to look like members of the Dalton Gang. But those who were caught carrying guns, in areas of the town where it was illegal, had to deal with the wraith of Wilson and Eales.

In fact, anytime someone would be seen by one of the officers illegally carrying guns, the firearms would get confiscated by Wilson or Eales. “Listen, bub,” Eales would say according to Money Mountain. “No gun-totin’ here. I will just take that for the school fund.”

According to the book, Eales would take away the criminals’ guns and then sell them to a local gun-hawker who would then sell it to others looking for firearms. By the end of 1892, Eales raised enough money to build the city’s new school.

According to the book, Going Up to Cripple Creek By Raymond Walter Seibert, Eales earned enough money by taking away guns for the school fund that he contributed enough for a “brand new brick wing all by himself.”

Eales Turns from Law Enforcer to Criminal

Through the years, the infamous El Paso County sheriff deputy  would find himself featured in several newspaper headlines. In an 1896 issue of The Rocky Mountain News, it was announced that Eales was elected as the town’s marshal.

But the next year, the headlines went another direction. In May of 1897, Eales was charged with perjury after lying about a mortgage and getting in the middle of a legal battle between two local newspapers.

But instead of going to jail and facing his charges, Eales skipped town. In June 1897, The Rocky Mountain News reported that Eales’ wife did not know where he was or where he went.

“I do not know where Mr. Eales is,” Eales’ wife said. “And, I have not heard from him. I do not know anything about the charges made against him except what I have read in the papers.”

But in July, 1897 The Rocky Mountain News reported that the wanted man was seen working as a guard at the San Quentin penitentiary in California. Later it was reported that he moved to Alaska where he owned some saloons.