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Living Law Enforcement History

These organizations have been supporting local law enforcement and catching crooks since before the West was won.

November 01, 2002  |  by William Bell


Colorado Mounted Rangers have no specific authority, but are often deputized by local law enforcement. They are there to help at community events, fairs, and festivals, as well as to deploy for search-and-rescue missions or to back up local police departments.

Back in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, law enforcement was tenuous at best in much of the American West. The more civilized towns might have had a marshal or small police force, while a county would have probably had only a sheriff and a smattering of deputies to cover hundreds of square miles. With few state or territorial organizations in existence-the well-known Texas Rangers being an exception-volunteer groups often sprung up to fill the gaps.

Some lesser-known outfits that helped keep the peace in the old days were short-lived or eventually evolved into state police or highway patrol units. Few of these groups have survived into the 21st century, but two carry on as volunteers assisting full-time law enforcement, much as they did long ago.

The Colorado Mounted Rangers


In the days of the Wild West, a few territories formed ranger units to protect the citizenry. Two such territories were Arizona and Colorado. Eventually, the ranger units were disbanded only to be resurrected later on in the mid-20th Century as volunteer organizations, offering assistance to law enforcement in their communities.

With a history that stretches back for more than 140 years, the Colorado Mounted Rangers have had an on-again-off-again past. First organized as the Colorado Rangers when the region received territorial status on February 28, 1861, the Rangers operated as militia fighting with Union forces at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862 (the Gettysburg of the Far West) and later in 1864 battling Indians and participating in the Sand Creek campaign.

They helped to clean up mining boom towns and then in the 1890s worked to prevent riots and violence during the dawning of the labor union movement and the resulting strikes of miners against the large mining corporations. In 1916, when statewide-and then, later, national-prohibition was enacted, rangers took on the duty of enforcing anti-liquor laws. The Colorado Rangers took on state police functions from 1921 until 1923, when the legislature disbanded the organization. Colorado was then without a state law enforcement unit until 1935 when the State Highway Courtesy Patrol was formed, which later became the Colorado State Patrol in 1945.


While many own horses, the Colorado Mounted Rangers—as emblazoned on their modern badges— often use ATVs or SUVs in their duties.

The Colorado Rangers was resurrected a few months into World War II when Colorado Governor Teller Ammons incorporated a troop of volunteer Colorado Mounted Rangers in the town of Baily. Ten years later, in 1955, the Rangers changed their constitution to form a squadron with several troops scattered throughout the state so they could assist law enforcement across Colorado.

In this new incarnation, by 1980, Troops A through I were serving in various parts of the Rocky Mountain State and just recently, Troop J was formed. Troops may include up to 51 members led by a captain, with a complement of lieutenants, sergeants, and rangers. Members attend monthly troop meetings as well as training sessions and special call-outs.


The Colorado Ranger badge from the early 1900s was a “Sunburst” design and few originals remain in existence today.

Ranger recruits must be sponsored by a ranger or the troop captain, be at least 21 years of age, and undergo a 90-day trial period, during which time a background investigation is performed. The candidate is rated on meeting and call-out attendance and must pass mandatory training requirements. Once the investigation is successfully completed and after the rating period, a vote is taken by the troop members to accept the candidate, a simple majority passing. There is also a Cadet program for young people aged 14 to 20.


Colorado Mounted Rangers have no specific authority, but are often deputized by local law enforcement. They are there to help at community events, fairs, and festivals, as well as to deploy for search-and-rescue missions or to back up local police departments.

New rangers have to purchase almost all of their equipment, including a pistol or revolver, OC spray, handcuffs, a collapsible baton, and nylon or leather gear. Before a weapon or self-defense item can be carried, the new ranger must be trained and qualify in its use. The Ranger training guide includes some 20 courses running the gamut from public relations to the use-of-force continuum, first aid, and traffic control. Many rangers own horses or put personally owned vehicles to use, such as ATVs or 4X4 sport utility vehicles.

Often, local sheriffs deputize rangers, although their true role is civil preparedness, not chasing crooks. Colorado Mounted Rangers participate as honor guards in parades wearing their cowboy hats, yellow silk scarves, hunter green western-cut shirts, and tan Wranglers; one of their missions being to carry on the look and traditions of the Old West. Many are experts in search and rescue and go after lost fishermen, hunters, and hikers, or find downed aircraft.


On the left is Capt. Tom Grieve of the modern Colorado Mounted Rangers, dressed in regulation uniform. On the right is Lt. Dave Johnston in an old-style Colorado Ranger uniform, clutching his Model 1897 Winchester shotgun.

Rangers perform crowd/traffic control and ensure safety at large gatherings such as fairs, biker rallies, Territory Days in Old Colorado City, Westfest in Colorado Springs, Bronc Day at Green Mountain Falls, and even international events such as the 2001 World Cup Mountain Bike Championships, which were held in Durango.

While they usually help in everyday policing functions, the rangers are also on call for emergencies. They can be called out by the governor or county/ state emergency-preparedness organizations for duty during such public safety crises as the Black Ridge Fire in 1994 or this year's long list of wild fires that threatened not only forest resources, but lives, homes, and entire communities.

Tags: Crowd Control, Immigration Enforcement, Police History, Colorado State Patrol, Mounted Units, Citizen Involvement


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