★☆★ OFFICER THOMAS J. EVANS ★☆★
By: Keith Dameron, Historian – Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial
Patrolman Jeff Evans, 61, was shot and killed at about 1 a.m. on Saturday, September 13, 1919, while walking his beat in an area known as the “Peppersauce Bottoms.” He heard the cries of a woman who was quarreling with two men and responded through the alley to 508 W. Second St. A brief conversation may have preceded Evans getting struck in the back of the head, knocked to the ground and shot in the chest by one of the men. Claude and Maude Hudson witnessed the shooting and stated that the two men were “Mexicans”, drunk, and had run off. Evans was found on his back with his revolver near his hand. He died almost instantly.
Night Captain Jack Sinclair called out every available officer and detective. They searched the Colorado-Kansas railroad station and found three men sleeping in a passenger coach. All three were taken to the Hudson home on Second Street where the Hudsons positively identified one of them, but said they had never seen the other two. Officer John Miller had remained at the rail yard, out of sight, and a short time later found the other suspect hiding in the coach, wet to the waist, because he had been hiding in the weeds until the other officers left. This suspect had a revolver and 40 rounds of ammunition when he was arrested. He too was positively identified by the Hudsons and jailed. Pueblo Police acted quickly. Both suspects, Jose Gonzales and Salvadore Ortez, were in jail before daylight. They were part of a six-man section crew with the railroad that worked the daily train to Stone City. The community was outraged by the murder of Evans.
The investigation found that Evans only saw the woman and one man, Gonzales, as he approached. Ortez was out of sight. Ortez struck Evans from behind, knocking him down, and Gonzales shot him. The coroner found that Evans had an abrasion on the back of his head and that the bullet had cut the aorta and lodged in his back near the spine. The path of the bullet showed that Evans was flat on his back when he was shot.
Pueblo Chief of Police Daly said that the suspects denied everything at first, then admitted to being at the Hudson home but claimed that they were so drunk that they did not know what they had done. The fate of the prisoners changed dramatically a short time later.
At about 9 p.m. police received a call of a riot in the 1700 block of Schley Avenue. Night Captain Sinclair and a wagon load of officers, rushed to Bessemer leaving Desk Sergeant Garfield McCafferty at the city jail, in the old city hall, with only the city health officer. At 9:10 a mob of 50 to 100 men approached the jail, disarmed a Pueblo officer and pointed their guns through a window at the sergeant and the health officer. Other members of the mob went inside, got the jail keys and found the prisoners sleeping in a cell. Both were knocked unconscious, bound and “… dragged out of the jail into automobiles and the mob proceeded at break-neck speed up Grand avenue to Fourth street and west on Fourth street to the bridge.” Ropes were fastened to the bridge and placed around the prisoners’ necks and they were thrown off the bridge over the waters of the Arkansas River. Meanwhile the officers in the police wagon realized that the riot call was fake and returned to the jail. Ortez and Gonzales were discovered about 45 minutes later. A crowd gathered while the officers waited for the coroner. The crowd was so large that officers moved them off the structure before it could collapse. It was reported that this occurred during a driving rainstorm and that it was very dark because of cloud cover.
McCafferty and the health officer said that the men who took the prisoners out of the jail wore hats or caps pulled down low to their eyes with blue or red handkerchiefs over their faces so they could not be recognized. The few words spoken were in a rasping voice and not identifiable either. Governor Shoup and Pueblo County Sheriff Thomas stated that they would “… ferret out and punish … the leaders of the vigilance committee which hung the two Mexicans last night”.
A coroner’s jury met on Monday and Acting Coroner Mahar and Assistant District Attorney Langdon conducted an investigation including interviews with four witnesses. Their verdict was that Evans came to his death “… from the effects of a gunshot wound inflicted by Jose Gonzales after deceased had been felled to the ground by a blow delivered by Salvatore Ortez, and said blow and said gunshot were inflicted with felonious intent.”
Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Evans was born on January 19, 1858 in Johnson County, Kansas Territory. He married Tranquill McCain on January 9, 1893, in Pueblo. The family lived at 1237 Bragdon St. He had worked for the Pueblo Police several times in the past and had recently rejoined the force. His wife died in 1902. He was survived by his children; Harry, 25, of Canon City, Mrs. Julia Evans Kulp, 23, of Pueblo and Mrs. Frances Evans McKinzie, 19, of Denver; brother John; sisters Martha Swartz and Lucy Watson.
The funeral was held on Tuesday at the Whiton Mortuary Chapel. His body was escorted to the depot where it was taken by train to Lamar. Burial was the same day at Riverside cemetery in Lamar, next to his wife.
The coroner’s jury met again on Thursday to determine who was involved in the lynching. The Mexican government was represented by A. J. Ortiz with attorney Ed J. Stark as counsel. Both Gonzales and Ortez were Mexican citizens. Seventeen witnesses testified but no one was able to identify anyone who had taken part in the incident. The coroner’s jury was adjourned until September 30 at Ortiz’s request in case some new identity evidence could be discovered. No such information was found out, however, and the coroner’s jury issued the following statement: “We, the jury, find that Jose Gonzales and Salvadore Ortez came to their deaths on September 13, 1919, by being hung by their necks in Pueblo county, Colorado, by persons unknown to this jury.” According to author Steve Leonard, this may have been the last lynching in Colorado.
An earlier version of this story was published in the CSP Alumni Assoc. newsletter, January 2020EOW: September 13, 1919
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Pueblo Police Department
The Pueblo Chieftain – Sep 13-19, Oct 1, 3 1919
Prowers County News - Sep 19, 1919
Lynching in Colorado 1859-1919 by Steven J. Leonard. University Press of Colorado, 2002
Ancestry – Library Edition