The Wild West

The Wild West: David Cook and the Rocky Mountain Detective Association

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David J. Cook was born August 12, 1840 in Laporte County, Indiana. He worked in farming in Kansas, Iowa, and Indiana until 1859. The discovery of gold took him to Gilpin County, Colorado to try his hand at prospecting. That didn’t work out so he went in Missouri in 1861, where he ran a supply train. Early in 1863 he became part of the Ordnance Department of the Army of the Frontier. The Army took him back to Colorado where he enlisted in the Colorado cavalry. He was employed as a government detective until 1866. He spent the next three years as a Marshall in Colorado. In 1869, he became Sheriff of Arapahoe County. And in 1873 he became a U.S. Marshall. At the same time he was appointed Major General of the Colorado militia, a position he held for seven years. He was instrumental in quelling several riots as well as dealing with several Indian disturbances. Afterward Cook was appointed chief of police of Denver. While there he owned a successful business called Brunswick Billiard Hall and Saloon.

Somewhere along the line he organized the Rocky Mountain Detective Association and successfully operated it for many years. His cases took him all over the west, but his home office was in Denver. One of his most famous cases took place there in October of 1875. Four men were brutally murdered in a Denver apartment. He soon discovered a gang led by Filamento Galloti. He found that Galloti had been kidnaped by bandits while still a boy in the old country. He grew up among thieves and eventually became their leader.

Cook and his men captured three gang members in Trinidad. They still wore the bloody T-shirts from the time the crime was committed. They confessed to their deeds and were transported back to Denver. A mob wanted to hang the crooks but Cook held them off. He always made sure that due process of law was followed. Other detectives were sent to Mexico and using disguises of Army soldiers and sheep ranchers, were able to find the other murderers.

Another interesting case took place on May 12, 1879. A circus had arrived in Denver and was conducting a parade. In all the hubbub crooks, decided to rob the Exchange Bank, hoping to escape in the crowd. At the time the parade went by all but one of the bank employees were at the door watching the parade. The last was helping a customer. When the parade was gone they returned to their work only to find $4000 had been stolen. Mr. Strickler described the man he had been helping as the likely perpetrator. Cook concluded that the man had kept them distracted while his buddies crept in the back door. In the course of hunting down for him Cook saw the man in a bank with a man Cook knew to be a hardened criminal. He summoned Deputy Smith and then arrested the two in short order. A search of their room and their persons revealed $800 which had been stolen from the bank. A third man was tracked down the next day.

One of the most famous cases of Colorado occurred in September 1879. Tom Johnson and J. F. Seminole killed R. B. Hayward. They had hired him to guide them to a cattle outfit. Afterward, they returned to Denver and rented a horse and buggy, which they never returned to the stable. Cook and his assistant Carr tracked the man to Wyoming to Laramie, then Cheyenne and Sherman. A distinguishing characteristic was the two buffalo robes they stole from ranchers that they used in place of saddles. The one man also had a distinguishing white bone handled knife.

Sentinel was a half breed Sioux from the Pine Ridge Agency in the Dakota Territory. Cook caught up with him there. Unfortunately, while returning to Denver on the train the Indian jumped off the speeding train. A posse recaptured the prisoner and brought him to Denver. Cook put Seminole into a lineup with other prisoners and Mrs. Hayward identified him as one of the men who hired her husband. The stable man identified him too. When Seminole asked to see a lawyer Cook sent in a man who was actually one of his detectives. In this way they discovered the identity of other man, Sam Woodruff. Cook caught him near Council Bluffs, Nebraska.

Another famous case took place in 1871 north of Denver. A sheep rancher named S. K. Wall was killed by George H. Wetherill and E. E. Wight. They killed Wall and stole his herd of 400 sheep and some personal possessions. Cook caught up to them when Wetherill attempted to cash a certificate of deposit made out to Wall. The clerk recognized that the signature of endorsement was not Wall’s handwriting. The two fled to Nebraska where they thought they would be out of Cook’s jurisdiction. Cook caught up to Wetherill in Julesburg, Colorado and Wight in Nebraska. Both men were sent to prison at Canon City.

Cook’s success was also contributed to by many talented detectives. N. K. Boswell was one such man. John Kelly killed a young man named Charley Maxwell. Kelly did not want to pay Maxwell some wages owed to him. Kelly fled to Missouri where Boswell tracked him down with the aid of a Missouri sheriff. He captured Kelly after fearlessly holding off a mob led by Kelly’s brother. While attempting to take him to the train station, Boswell had to hold off this gang twice more. He was even shot in the process. Yet he succeeded in getting his man to the station and turning him over to a Wyoming sheriff where he would stand trial.

Another such man was detective Arnold. A thief named Bemis stole several hundred dollars from Wells-Fargo, in Syracuse, New York. Ultimately Arnold tracked him to Santa Fe. He no longer had the stolen money as he had gambled it away in a poker game. He was ready to willingly go with Arnold. Unfortunately, the hotel proprietor was not ready for him to leave as he had not settled up on his bill. He got some armed men and tried to take Bemis. Arnold held them off. Later on the stagecoach, a sheriff’s posse notified by the hotel proprietor, attempted to take Bemis again. Arnold was able to evade them simply by using their real names, which the hotel man did not know. He was then able to return to the rail head in Denver and get Bemis shipped back to New York.

The detective agency existed for many years and had many success where other organizations did not. They served as a model for others, such as the Pinkerton Agency, who observed and adopted their techniques in future crime solving.