The roaring 1920s were a busy time for the Colorado Mounted Rangers. Denver District Attorney Philip Van Cise used them as his strong arm to break up bootlegging rings, fight organized crime, and sniff out corruption in Denver’s city hall. Sitting proudly astride the Harley Davidson motorcycles they adopted as their updated mode of transportation in 1921, the Rangers patrolled the streets in both small towns and the city, always on the lookout for shady characters up to no good.
In August of 1922, Van Cise employed the Rangers in his secret investigation of the Lou Blonger gang, a Denver-based operation responsible for conning enormous amounts of money from tourists by setting up fake stock exchanges and betting parlors. Known as The Million-Dollar Bunco Ring, Blonger’s con scheme operated for more than 25 years without challenge due to his extensive network of corrupt, bribe-silenced police and city officials. But Van Cise refused to accept Blonger’s money and instead embarked on a mission to shut down the gang for good.
Van Cise hired the Rangers because of their reputation for integrity. He knew many Denver city police were already in Blonger’s pocket and he couldn’t risk the gang getting wind of the sting about to take place. On August 24, the Rangers rounded up 20 con men and held them at the First Universalist Church of Denver until the operation was complete. Lou Blonger himself was among those later convicted, ending his criminal reign for good.
The 1920s were a dangerous time for the Rangers. Bootleggers and organized crime ringleaders would often use bribes to convince officers of the law to look the other way. When bribes didn’t work they resorted to threats, and they often followed through on those threats with violence.
Rangers Edward Bell and George Jennings got on the bad side of some bootleggers by staying true to their duty and leading raids on several illegal distilleries in and around the Colorado town of Limon. On October 14, 1922, the two Rangers received an anonymous tip that a filling station just outside Limon was going to be robbed that night. Bell and Jennings rode out to the station, only to be found on the side of the road later, unconscious and suffering from horrendous injuries. Though they were transported to St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, Ranger Bell later succumbed to his wounds.
Ranger Edward P. Bell is the only Colorado Mounted Ranger to have lost his life in the line of duty. In 1999, Ranger Bell’s sacrifice was finally recognized through his inclusion on the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial in Golden. Thanks to his service and that of all the other Rangers in the 1920s, Colorado was able to clean up its act and become the great place to live that it is today.