The most significant event in the history of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office is the Big Thompson Canyon Flood. On July 31, 1976, during the celebration of Colorado's centennial, devastating flash floods swept down the steep and narrow canyon, claiming the lives of 143 people.
The Larimer County Sheriff's Office has lost four brothers in the line of duty:
Deputy James Mitchell (1968)
Sheriff Robert C. Watson (1979)
Corporal Ron Beatty (1995)
Deputy Travis Sass (2004)
Early History of Law Enforcement in Larimer County
Larimer County was created and established in 1861 with Laporte being designated as its County Seat. In 1868 a new location in Fort Collins was chosen for the County Seat and jail after two horse thieves escaped from the original log jail in Laporte.
In 1932, Jackson County was formed out of Larimer County's western half making the Continental Divide the new western boundary of Larimer County.
In 1872, Happy Jack, a town character, brutally attacked and criminally assaulted kind Mrs. Day after she had cooked him a fine dinner. Jack left Mrs. Day in a semiconscious state in her home where her husband later found her. After Mrs. Day identified Happy Jack as her assailant, Sheriff Mason easily took Jack into custody and returned to the Day residence where the Sheriff tied Happy Jack to a corral post. Sheriff Mason gave Mrs. Day his Remington rifle and told her to shoot Jack. Apparently she lost her nerve and Jack was taken to the Grout Building, which then served as a church, courthouse and jail. Jack escaped a short time later and was never seen in the vicinity again. His leg manacles were found near Park Station, twelve miles northwest of Fort Collins.
In 1877, Sheriff James Sweeney and Marshal Bill Morgan took three obnoxious fellows into custody for being boisterous and decidedly disagreeable with their loud talk and swaggering ways. One of them put a paper balloon, in the form of a petticoat, on his head and strutted around town - an offense that was apparently worthy of jail. For the trial, Frank Stover, a town trustee, placed a barrel on its end to be used as a desk, and promptly ruled that the hooligans were to pay a $5.00 fine. They could only scare up $1.35 between them, which the court accepted, with the tenderhearted Sheriff and Marshal agreeing to donate their fees.
The first and only lynching in the history of the county occurred in 1888, when James H. Howe brutally stabbed his wife, Eva. He promptly went inside their house and lay down on a bed. Howe was found, still in bed, and taken into custody. Undersheriff Lafe Stulz arrived and with the help of bystanders, rushed the murderer to a cell in the county jail. After the inquest, which determined Howe to be at fault, the entire town was suddenly and inexplicably plunged into darkness. A band of men, without having spoken a word, placed Undersheriff Stulz and his aides under guard. An assault was made on the jail into which entrance was soon gained. Howe was taken out by the crowd and hanged from a derrick that was being used to lower stone blocks to the basement for the new jail floor. After the hanging, the lights were again turned on and the usual business of the city resumed.
The above information was obtained from Ansel Watrous' History of Larimer County published by Vestige Press of Fort Collins, Colorado.