Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Life and Death in Boston


George McClellan packed his bags and left his wife and three children behind in Hanson, Massachusetts. He took the train to Boston, and disappeared. His family never knew what became of him.

But of course, his story continued.

He settled in Boston where had lived when he first emigrated from Nova Scotia, and he continued to work as a brick mason. In the 1900 Census, taken 13-14 June 1900, George R. McClelland (b. Jan 1846, Canada English, to father b. Canada English and mother b. Scotland, single, immigrated 1880, naturalized, brickmason, 3 months unemployed in the year) was enumerated at 6 Ringold St., Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, as a lodger in the household of the widow Matilda Painchand (b. Jan 1852, Canada).


George was listed in the 1900 Boston City directory as George R. McClellan, bricklayer, rooms 11 Hanson. From 1904-1906, he was listed as George R. McClellan, mason, rooms 27 Upton. In a particularly poignant discovery, for the majority of his life in Boston, George was listed next to his son Sherman McClellan, who attended school and worked in Boston. Sherman never realized his father was living in the same city.

After living alone in Boston for a decade, he married for a second time in Roxbury Universalist Church, Roxbury, Suffolk, Massachusetts, 4 April 1908, by Rev. James Holden of 2 Crestwood Park, Roxbury, Lillian Seaver. The 59 year old George stated  in his marriage record that he was 50, residing at 263 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 2nd marriage, divorced, occupation: mason, born Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada, son of Dougal McClellan & Christy Rose. The 25 year old Lillian Seaver reported that she was 27 years old and resided at 11 Walnut Avenue, Boston. Their wedding took place a month after the death of Lillian’s mother Emma Seaver.


1908 Marriage of George R. McClellan and Lillian Seaver

There was a 34 year difference in age between George R. McClellan and his wife Lillian Seaver. Lillian Seaver was born in Boston, 3 February 1883, the daughter of Silas Stone and Emma J. (Gee) Seaver. George and Lillian McClellan lived in the home of Lillian’s widowed father Silas Stone Seaver at 28 Cliff St. in Roxbury. Silas Stone Seaver was born in Boylston, Mass. in 1838, the illegitmate son of Silas Howe Seaver and Relief “Leafy” Whitcomb Stone. Silas was only ten years older than George R. McClellan (born in 1848) and he had served in the Civil War.


28 Cliff St. in Roxbury, located by the intersection of Cliff St. and Glenwood St. 1915 Map pf Roxbury courtesy of the State Library of Massachusetts.

In the 1910 Census, George R. McClellan (61, 2nd marriage, married 2 years, b. Canada English to father b. Canada English and mother b. Scotland, immigrated 1869, naturalized, a bricklaying mason, rents house) was enumerated 18 April 1910, 28 Cliff St., Boston, with wife Lillian E. (27, 1st marriage, married 2 years, mother of 0 children, b. MA to parents b. MA) and father-in-law Silas E. Seaver (70, widow, b. MA to parents b. MA).


1910 Census, Roxbury, Mass. George and Lillian McClellan and Silas Seaver.

George McClellan was listed in the 1910 and 1911 directories as  George R. McClellan, mason, h 28 Cliff Roxbury.  He was listed in the 1912 directory as George R. McClellan, 166 Devonshire room 50 [several contractors and construction companies were based at 166 Devonshire, in 1912 room 50 was the Massachusetts Societies of Masters and Craftsmen, Brick and Stonemason, Carpenters and Joiners, Painters and Decorators where George worked], house 28 Cliff Roxbury.

On 8 November 1911, Emma Fannie McClellan, the first and only child of George and Lillian McClellan, was born at their home at 28 Cliff St. in Roxbury. George was listed as a foreman in her birth certificate. She was born three years after her parents marriage.


1911 Birth record of Emma Fannie McClellan

George Roderic McClellan died of haemoptysis (coughing blood) and chronic tuberculosis of the lungs in his home at 28 Cliff St., Roxbury, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 15 December 1912 at the age of 64. He was buried in the Seaver family plot in Wildwood Cemetery, Winchester, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 17 December 1912, by J.S. Waterman and Sons. His daughter Emma was only thirteen months old at the time of his death and his widow Lillian was 31 years old. George McClellan’s first wife Imogene and their children Lillian, Roderic and Sherman never knew about George’s death or the existence of his second wife Lillian and their half-sister Emma F. McClellan.



Wildwood Cemetery’s burial card for “George R. MacLellan”, stating he was buried 17 December 1912 in Lot 78 [originally purchased by Silas Seaver]. Courtesy of

Lillian (Seaver) McClellan took in a boarder Frank M. Shea following George McClellan’s death. Lillian became pregnant with their first child, and they married on 26 August 1914. Frank was born circa 19 November 1890, son of John R. and Mary Shea. He was a tinsmith. Frank and Lillian’s daughter Mildred Gertrude was born six months after her parents wedding. Another daughter, Lillian Marguerite, was born in 1919.

In the 1920 Census, Lillian E. Shea (38, literate, b. Mass.) was enumerated in 21 Wakullah St., Roxbury with her husband Frank M. Shea (31, b. Mass., sheet metal worker for steam railroad, rents home) and children Emma F. Shea [sic, McClellan] (7, b. Mass., attending school), Mildred G. (4y 6m) and Lillian G. (3 months), and her father Silas S. Seaver (78, widow, b. Mass.). Lillian’s father Silas Seaver died in their home at 21 Wakullah St., Roxbury in 1923. In the 1930 Census, Lillian Shea (47, age 25 at first marriage, b. Mass.) was enumerated 10 April 1930 in 28 Moreland St., Boston with husband Frank M. Shea (39, age 23 at first marriage, b. Mass., newspaper checker, U.S. veteran), children Emma F. McLellan (18, razer factory (Gillette?) stringer), Lillian M. Shea (10), Mildred G. Shea (15), all living as boarders in the boarding house of Geraldine A. Leavitt.

Emma McClellan married Walter Nugent in Roxbury in 1933 and they had several children. Hopefully through this series the extended McClellan-Shea family might be able to offer any stories or photographs of George Roderic and Lillian (Seaver) McClellan that have passed down through their side of the family. Was he open about his past? Did they know about his family in Hanson?

In the 1940 Census Lillian Shea (58, completed 6th grade) was enumerated 15 April 1940 in 1271 Sea St., Quincy with husband Frank Shea (49, completed 8th grade, newspaper paper checker), daughter Lillian Harvey (20, completed 12th grade, retail department store salesgirl) and son-in-law Albert Harvey (completed 10th grade, paper mill stationary pressman). Lillian (Seaver) McClellan Shea died in her home at 1271 Sea St., Quincy,  on 2 January 1947. She was buried in the Seaver family plot in Wildwood Cemetery, 4 January 1947. Frank Shea died at the Cushing V.A. Hospital in Framingham on 30 April 1949. He was also buried in the Seaver family plot.

The Wildwood Cemetery burial records were recently digitized, which helped me locate the burial site of George R. McClellan.


In December 2015, I visited the grave of George Roderic McClellan with my father at Wildwood Cemetery in Winchester, Massachusetts. George likely never even visited Winchester, but his mortal remains were placed there as a legacy from the deaths of the children of Silas and Emma Seaver when they had lived in Winchester in the 1870s and purchased a family plot. George McClellan’s name is not inscribed on the stone, only the names of Lillian Seaver’s mother Emma Seaver and Lillian Seaver’s siblings who all died young: Arthur (1874-1875), Henry (1875-1880), Herbert (1878-1880) and George (1881-1898). But within the Seaver plot lie buried Silas and Emma Seaver and their children, and Lillian Seaver’s husbands George Roderic McClellan and Frank Shea, despite the fact that names of Silas Seaver, Lillian Shea, George McClellan and Frank Shea are not carved on the gravestone over the plot.

It was a powerful moment to stand at George’s gravesite on that cold New England day. My father, the great-great grandson of George McClellan and great-grandson of George and Imogene’s oldest surviving son Roderic Cameron McClellan, had grown up in the house that Imogene (Everson) McClellan had built after George McClellan left the family. It still stands in the shadow of the brick smokestack that mason George McClellan had built with Barnabas Everson in the 1870s. George’s disappearance had remained a family mystery for over a century. But we found him in a chilly cemetery and while there we contemplated the newly discovered details of his complicated, adventurous life.


The Seaver gravestone at Wildwood Cemetery, Winchester, Mass. Photo courtesy of the author.


The backside of the Seaver grave. The following names are missing from the stone: Silas Stone Seaver, George Roderic McClellan, Lillian Emma (Seaver) McClellan Shea, Frank M. Shea.  Photo courtesy of the author.


The author and her father at George McClellan’s grave. Photo courtesy of the author.

Up Next: Imogene’s Life After George’s Disappearance And His Legacy

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Previously: Part Four: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan:Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver

Previously: Part Five: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police

Previously: Part Six: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: George and Imogene’s Life in Hanson

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: George and Imogene’s Life in Hanson


In the spring of 1881, George McClellan reported that he had found a new job in Denver that was more suitable than his work as a police officer. Whatever his new position was, however, he did not remain in it for long, as he had returned home to his family in Hanson, Massachusetts by the winter of 1881. Upon reuniting with his wife Imogene, they conceived their son Roderic Cameron McClellan in December 1881.

 On 1 June 1882, George R. McClellan was naturalized at the United States Circuit Court, Boston, Massachusetts. The witnesses to his naturalization were Friend White Howland of Plymouth and Hubert A. Reed of Hanson, who testified that they had known him for five years, and during that time he resided at Hanson, Massachusetts and Denver, Colorado. George McClellan returned to work as a brick mason in Hanson.


Roderic Cameron McClellan, George and Imogene’s third child and second son, was born 22 September 1882. “Roddy” was named in honor of George’s middle name and George’s mother’s surname.

Birth certificate of Roderic Cameron McClellan

Birth certificate of Roderic Cameron McClellan

Sherman Barnabas McClellan, their fourth child and third son, was conceived in July 1885 and born 10 April 1886. He was named Sherman Barnabas McClellan, in honor of George’s sister Annie (McClellan) Sherman as well as Imogene’s father Barnabas Everson.


Birth certificate of Sherman Barnabas McClellan


George and Imogene continued to live in Deborah (Bates) Everson’s house on Indian Head St. in Hanson. However, by August 1886, with three young children (Lillian aged 10, Roderic aged 3 and Sherman under a year) it was time to build a house of their own. On 26 August 1886, 34 year old Imogene L. McClellan received a $300 mortgage and purchased from her father and mother 5.5 acres of land in South Hanson on the north side of Main Street that Barnabas had purchased from Edwin Beal. George McClellan was not a co-signer of this deed, which was in Imogene’s name only, likely another sign of the tensions between George McClellan and his father-in-law Barnabas Everson. George McClellan may have requested that Imogene cancel the mortgage on this property, since the following year George and Imogene bought nine acres from George C. Hobart on the north side of Main Street that bordered Barnabas Everson’s property, and the McClellan house was built on this property instead.  On 15 June 1887, Imogene L. McClellan of Hanson, Mass. received fire insurance from the Abington Mutual Fire Insurance Company for $15 on a $1200 policy. $1000 was for a “one and a half story frame dwelling house in process of construction, to be occupied by such as assured, when completed”, and $200 on “household furniture of every description, beds, bedding, family wearing apparel, books, pictures, painting, silver and plated ware, watches and jewelry in use, clocks, fuel, and family stores all while contained in said dwelling, situate north side of Main Street, South Hanson, Mass.” Permission for mechanic’s risk until September 15, 1887. For term 15 June 1887-15 June 1892.  History of Hanson Houses reported: “This house was built for Mrs. Imogene McClellan by Benjamin W. Josselyn in 1887 and was occupied by members of the McClellan family until 1903 when she had a new cottage built on Phillips Street.”

Two years later, in 1889, George and Imogene McClellan of Hanson sold their house lot to Barnabas Everson for $250, since they could not afford the mortgage owed to Hobart on the property. George McClellan’s attempts to avoid paying a mortgage to his father-in-law in 1886 resulting in his father-in-law outright purchasing their house in 1889 and again allowing the McClellan family to live in an Everson-owned house rent-free.

Imogene’s mother, Deborah (Bates) Everson died 16 April 1892. Imogene was extremely close with her mother and was devastated by her loss. Deborah had been essential support to Imogene while Imogene had run the McClellan household during George’s absence in Denver, and had instilled in Imogene a love of quilting, genealogy, gardening and spirituality.

On 23 August 1892, George R. McClellan loaned $10 to the Wampatuck Library Association in Hanson.


An aging Barnabas Everson made gifts of land to Imogene and George’s children. In 1890, he gave a birthday gift to 14 year old Lillian McClellan – 2.5 acres in Hanson’s Great Cedar Swamp. In 1893, he gave a birthday gift to 11 year old Roderic McClellan – 2.25 acres in Hanson’s “Long Swamp”.  The same year, he gave as a birthday gift to 7 year old Sherman McClellan a 2 acre lot on Green Harbor Marsh in Marshfield. None of Richard Everson’s sons nor youngest daughter received gifts of land, although daughter 17 year old Mary Ella Everson received a 3.75 cedar swamp in 1890. Barnabas may have first gifted the properties to his eldest granddaughters, thinking they could most benefit from owning property, but later determined that all of the children of George McClellan should have land as a surety against their parents finances.

Barnabas Everson died in Hanson on 22 February 1896. His entire estate was divided between his two children Richard Everson and Imogene (Everson) McClellan.


According to family stories, George R. McClellan abandoned his family in Hanson sometime in the 1890s. You may recall that the story passed down was that sometime in the 1890s, George McClellan boarded a train at the South Hanson station (close to their house on Main Street) and said he was taking the train to Boston to purchase a rug for their house, but he never returned. He was not living with the family in the 1900 Census. Supposedly a private investigator hired by Imogene reported that he may have returned to Denver for a period of time, but so far no documentation has been identified connecting George McClellan in Denver in the 1890s. By 1900 he was living in Boston, and it appears that Imogene and her children never learned of his whereabouts after he left them. Certainly his sons were unaware that when they attended school or worked in Boston, they were being alphabetically enumerated next to their father in the early 1900 Boston directories.


The McClellan family without George McClellan. Back row, standing: Lillian and Roderic McClellan. Front row, sitting: Sherman McClellan, Imogene McClellan, and possible Everson cousin



But did George McClellan truly abandon his family?


After digging into the numerous pages of probate records and deeds generated by the death of the wealthy Barnabas Everson, a curious phenomenon began to appear. Time and again, when Imogene’s signature was required on legal documents, her husband George McClellan’s signature was also required. She signed all of her records. But George’s signature is missing from these documents. In numerous records from 1897, Hanson justices of the peace John Foster and Walter E. Damon went to far as to testify that they had witnessed the signing by all signatories, with George McClellan’s signature nevertheless remaining blank. Standard legal language from these records include lines such as:“George R. McClellan husband of Imogene L. McClellan joins herein in token of his assent hereto and his release of all right to an estate by the curtesy in the premises” and “George R. McClellan, the husband of the said Imogene L. McClellan do hereby release unto the grantee all right to an estate by the curtesy and to any other estate or interest in the granted premises”. But his signature is missing from all of these deeds.

If George McClellan was missing at the time of Barnabas Everson’s death, with so much money at stake and so much paper generated by Everson’s estate, there was a legal obligation to locate and notify George McClellan, and publically print legal notices in area newspapers. Yet there was no public search for McClellan. And at least two Hanson justices of the peace – both friends of the Everson family – helped Imogene to hide her husband’s absence in legal documents. But perhaps we have a piece of the story wrong. It was, of course, told by Imogene McClellan herself – first to her children, and in years later to her grandchildren. I wonder if it was Imogene herself who kicked George McClellan out of the house, rather than George abandoning them. She grieved the loss of both her parents in the 1890s, who had supported Imogene and her children both when George was thousands of miles away, as well as when he was close at home but struggling financially. With her father’s death, Imogene suddenly found herself an heiress to half of his estate. And with financial independence perhaps came the courage to end a long-suffering marriage. While George had attempted to strike it rich twice in Denver, and another time in California, Imogene had discovered that she had the means and temperament to run her household and family independently, as well as contributing to her parents household and businesses. And when George was home, he was in constant tension with her parents and Imogene herself. Although his intentions were likely good, his attempts to bring his family wealth through schemes and dreams only brought them financial struggle. Time and again George and Imogene McClellan were forced to borrow money and property from Barnabas and Deborah Everson. And the unwillingness of George McClellan or Barnabas Everson – or both – to have George become a major player in the Everson businesses left George unsatisfied.


In the 1900 Census, Imogene L. McClellan (b. Jan 1852, married for 27 years, mother of 4 children, 3 living in 1900, shoe folder, unemployed for 6 months out of the year, rents house) was enumerated 19 June 1900 in 84 Harvard St, Whitman, resided with sons Roderick C. (b. Sep 1882, at school for 10 months out of the year) and Sherman B. (b. April 1886, at school for 10 months out of the year), and daughter Lillian was living with a Christian Science family in Chicago. Richard and Imogene decided to develop part of Barnabas Everson’s property into a new road with houselots, known today as Phillips Street. Imogene built a new house in 1903 for her family on Phillips Street that has been owned by her descendants ever since. In 1903, Imogene wrote a letter to her daughter Lillian that she was hoping her divorce would go through at the next court term. It is unclear if the divorce was ever officially filed, as there was no divorce record on file in Plymouth County divorce records at the Massachusetts Archives. However, she was listed as single woman in 1904 deed.


1900 Census, Whitman, Mass. Imogene McClellan and her sons Roderic and Sherman.

Imogene may have been the driving force behind George McClellan’s disappearance, but by all accounts he did truly disappear following his departure from the McClellan house in Hanson. His wife and children never knew what happened to him, and they reportedly thought he may have moved far away, given his inclination to travel and a rumor he may have returned to Denver.

But his great-great-great-daughter became a historian, and I have been following his trail for over a decade. A century after his disappearance from the family, I finally found him.

He may have lied about going to Boston to buy a rug. But he did take the train to Boston and there he settled anew. And had another family.


Up Next: George’s Life and Death in Boston


Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Previously: Part Four: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan:Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver

Previously: Part Five: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police


Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police

October 1880 was a significant month for George R. McClellan. He had been warned by Denver Mayor Richard Sopris to not bother returning to Denver following a visit home to Hanson, Massachusetts, as a result of his involvement in a bribery scandal within the Denver police department and Denver City Council. But he defiantly returned and continued to serve as a police officer, until fallout from the Moon affair on 15 October 1880 led to his dismissal, along with one third of the Denver police department –including the chief of police – who were fired by a corrupt City Council attempting to cover their own involvement in the bribery scandal. The council’s efforts backfired when the frustrated officers leaked the bribery scandal to the press, and by the end of October there were assurances that the police would be rehired. McClellan had revealed that City Councilman Robert Y. Force had required a bribe from McClellan to join the force, and that other councilmen required bribes to “promote the interests” of other Denver police. It had become public after a man hoping to join the police force had given money to Assistant Chief John Holland and Officer George R. McClellan to pass onto the city councilman to receive a place on the force. However, after accepting some of the money, the city council did not vote to recommend the man as an officer, and he took the news of the bribe to the mayor. Other police officers leaked that the majority of the city council and Mayor Sopris were also being bribed by the gambling and prostitution dens to protect their interests, causing police chief Hickey to comment: “I have been between two fires all the time; have asked the old man [Mayor Sopris] over and over again if I should close up the dens around town and he wouldn’t give me permission, therefore I couldn’t do it, and the next thing I was blamed for not doing it.”


Denver Mayor Richard Sopris. Courtesy of FindAGrave.

Denver’s Rocky Mountain News was owned by Democrat W. A. H. Loveland, and supported Democratic presidential nominee Hancock. As a democrat supporting the nativist white laboring class, Rocky Mountain News launched throughout October 1880 – a month prior to the presidential election – an increasingly agitating campaign against Republicans, the Republican nominee Garfield, and the Chinese population in Denver. On 28 October 1880, Rocky Mountain News wrote “There has been considerable talk about town the past few days about running out the Chinese. The flock is increasing every week, and they are not wanted.” A Democratic party parade was held downtown on the evening of October 30, and tensions were high between the two parties just prior to the election. On October 31st, two Chinese men and a white man were playing pool in John Asmussen’s saloon on Wazee and Sixteenth Street, when a group of drunken white Republicans entered the saloon and attacked the Chinese men. Soon a large, violent crowd gathered at the saloon and in the streets outside, and reportedly by 2 P.M. a mob of over three thousand men had gathered in Chinatown between Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets and Blake and Wazee Streets.


Drawing of the 1880 Denver Anti-Chinese Riot, from “Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot, 1880” by Roy T. Wortman.

Denver Mayor Sopris later reported that at the start of the riot, only eight police officers were on duty under pro tem Police Chief John Holland (roommate of George R. McClellan), and they could not control the mob. George McClellan, still under investigation, presented himself to the mayor volunteer his services and was later commended by the mayor for his efforts. McClellan joined the police and volunteers who attempted to quell the mob. The fire department opened its hoses on the crowd, which only served to further enrage them. Over the course of several hours, businesses and residences were destroyed, causing thousands of dollars of property damage that the city of Denver was later reluctant to pay. Two colorful heroes arose in newspaper stories following the riot, of the notorious gambler and saloon owner Jim Moon protecting his Chinese laundryman, and of brothel madam Liz Preston. One report said that “Jim Moon is a gamester who recently had a fight with the police, and who bears a character which is not be envied. I learn that he opposed single handed a portion of the crowd… he added, “This Chinaman is an inoffensive man, and you shant touch him, not a damn one of you.” At Preston’s brothel on Seventeenth and Holladay Streets, fireman William Roberts reported that “ten Amazonian beauties” gathered high heeled shoes, stove pokers and champagne bottles to defend their business, and 34 Chinese sought protection in their parlor. But laundryman Sing Lee was beaten to death and dragged through the street by the mob, the one death in the riot. Those who attempted to break up the beatings were threatened with hanging. A reported 400 Chinese had been placed in the Denver jail as a protective measure during the riot. Some rioters were arrested, but later dismissed, and the 1881 trial of Sing Lee’s murderers ruled them not guilty. The Rocky Mountain News blamed the fire hosing of the mob as a cause of the violence, while the Denver Republican blamed the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Democrats.



Notorious saloon owner Jim Moon, from “Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot, 1880” by Roy T. Wortman.

On 10 November 1880 at City Council meeting, Assistant Chief Holland’s medical bills from the Moon affair in which his head was injured were deemed “exorbitant” by the committee of health, who moved to reduce the amount owed to Holland from $75 to $45, and no police chief was nominated. The anti-Chinese riot described as having 8 policemen actively on duty under Assistant Chief Holland. Although John Holland had been appointed chief of police pro tem on 29 October, during the riot the mayor appointed D. J. Cook as pro tem chief of police.

At an alderman meeting on 3 December 1880, former police chief Hickey was found “not proven” of the charges against him by the aldermen, including his handling of the Moon affair. George McClellan and several other officers were re-instated with the permission of Mayor Sopris, which caused a stir amongst several city councilmen who demanded to know why McClellan had been reinstated.

The Rocky Mountain News was soon reporting additional arrests made by Officer McClellan. On 4 January 1881: Among the arrests by the police last night were the following: .. John Francisco was locked up by Officer McClellan on a charge of d.d.; Lary O’Brien for making a disturbance, and George Heffer for larceny.” On 7 January 1881 : “Officer McClellan yesterday found a man named L. Robinson wandering on Wazee street, suffering from the effects of temporary insanity. He was taken to the city jail and will be cared for.

On 21 January 1881 the Rocky Mountain News reported a City Council meeting the previous evening, in which “The Police Mess” was discussed. Mayor Sopris was absent from the meeting, but sent the following letter to be read by the council:

  • “At our last meeting I promised to explain to you why officers McCarthy, Minart, and McClellan were on the police force at this time. At the time the Moon affair took place, McCarthy knew nothing of what had taken place except what Merrill told him, and after finding Dorsey and Robinson, Dorsey informed McCarthy that he would take the case in hand, Dorsey being the oldest officer and also in charge of the night force in the absence of Holland. Therefore none of the others had any right to interfere unless ordered to do so by their superior officer. Minart knew nothing of what had taken place in regard to Moon when he came there, and was not informed of what had actually taken place until after Moon left. Therefore I considered those two officers not guilty of violating any of the police regulations, and further, they were not heard in their own defense. Merrill was heard by the council and was discharged on his own testimony. As to McClellan, his name was included in the resolution offered by Alderman F. N. Davis, which resolution included Merrill, McCarthy, and Minart. Alderman Morris moved to strike out McClellan’s name and take a separate vote on discharging him, as he was not in the Moon affair, and had a different charge against him. Which motion prevailed, and resulted in the affirmative – and he was discharged from the force. After which the vote was taken on the other three, together with Chief Hickey, and resulted in their discharge. On the day of the Chinese riot, when I was in need of police, the first man who volunteered his services to me was McClellan. I put him on duty. He is a good and efficient officer, and by request of several members of the council I have kept him on duty, subject to the decision of this council, and in order to settle the matter, I will nominate him for confirmation on the regular force.”

The city council voted to place the letter on file, with no action until Mayor Sopris presented it in person. Since George McClellan had been appointed in December 1879 as a special officer on the police force, his recommendation by the mayor to the regular force (with better pay and position) was significant.


On 2 February 1881 ex-police officer Ramsey was called by the police committee to the mayor’s office for a secret meeting in which it was announced he was to receive a trial for receiving a bribe from a prostitute. 8 February 1881 the Denver police committee performed an examination of ex-police officer Ramsey, who had returned a stolen necklace to Holladay Street prostitute Lillie Thorp who offered him $50 as a reward. Thorp testified that the reward “was not a matter of choice altogether on her part”, whereas Ramsey testified that it was Thorp’s offer, and another prostitute testified that Thorp had insisted Ramsey accept the reward. Ramsey testified “He declined to take it, saying that there were two other officers right on his heels, and they would ‘squeal’ on him if he took it, whereupon the young woman said, “Well, you have acted as lawyer for me, and got me my property back, and I want to make you a present. There is $50.” Special Officer George McClellan was then examined and “swore that Ramsey had stated to him that [Ramsey] held the necklace, and did not propose to give it up until he got the reward.” McClellan reported he did not know there was a reward for the necklace until Ramsey told him. Officer Lawrence then confirmed McClellan’s statement. Republican Mr. Ziegenfuss then testified that McClellan and Lawrence “were angry at Ramsey  because he got the property and could therefore claim the reward, which they calculated to get themselves.” Rocky Mountain News reported “This significant remark on the part of Mr. Ziegenfuss was not lost upon the committee, who looked at each other, and adjourned soon afterwards, reserving a decision until the meeting of the council.” Ramsey was officially fired as a result of the investigation.


On 16 February 1881, an affidavit of prostitute Alice Morris was published in which she charged officers McClellan and Lawrence with crookedness. McClellan and Lawrence “both deny the statement in toto, stating that nothing of the kind the girl has sworn to transpired and that it is all a fabrication on her part. The chief, on being spoken to about the matter, treated it as of no consequence, and said that he should not pay the slightest notice to it whatever, believing that the statement of the two officers was far more reliable than that of a woman of the character of Alice Morris, who he described as one of the worst of her class. On the other hand it seems strange that the woman should make such a statement with no apparent inducement for doing so, and it does not follow that she is guilty of all the crimes in the Decalogue. The matter will probably go no further because the authorities seem to take the ground that because the woman is a prostitute her oath is valueless.”


On 18 February 1881, George McClellan testified in the trial of the murderers of Sing Lee, who was killed in the Anti-Chinese Riot.


On 1 March 1881, Officers McClellan and Lawrence took into custody three men who had been accused of robbing a man of $1000 following a bunko game, after Officer McClellan received a warrant for their arrest from police judge Whittemore.


On 4 March 1881, Rocky Mountain News reported the resignation of Officer George R. McClellan. McClellan told the News “that the resignation was purely voluntary. The charges against him he had asked the council to examine four months ago, and no investigation had been made. Within the past few days he had obtained employment far more compatible to his tastes than police duty, and so tendered his resignation.” The News then reported: “McClellan’s Last Arrest. Robert Claxton, a saloon keeper in Holladay street between Seventeenth and Eighteenth streets, was arrested by Officer McClellan at an early hour this morning on a charge of violating the midnight ordinance in keeping open his saloon. Justice Whittemore will hear the case today.”

It remains unclear if George McClellan truly voluntarily resigned, or if he was pressured to by the police force or city council. He certainly was targeted by numerous city councilman after publicly leaking the bribery scandals involving City Councilman Robert Force, Mayor Sopris, other councilmen, and McClellan himself along with other officers. And although his commendable service during the Anti-Chinese riot won him support from Sopris, it is clear that the council was eager for any chance to call his service into question [see the gleeful Rocky Mountain News commentary following his Ramsey investigation testimony]. The fact that his final acts as a police officer involved arresting prostitutes under the Mayor’s new push to criminalize prostitution make it clear that Denver’s City Council and police departments were no closer to eliminating corruption from their inner workings. How different was it when brothels and bunko men privately paid bribes to the mayor and councilmen in exchange for fewer police raids, from the police publically arresting prostitutes and gamblers and fining them for engaging in those practices? Sopris’ mandate to round up prostitutes was not intended to actually end prostitution, merely to fine the institution.

It was reported on 8 March 1881 that at the City Council meeting, “when the resignation of Officer McClellan was reached, Mr. McGilvray objected on the grounds that Mr. McClellan was not a policeman. Considerable by-play followed, Chief Cook stated that the gentleman had been drawing the pay of a regular policeman since his connection with the force. The resignation was looked upon as a communication, and placed on file. The matter of Officer McClellan’s resignation was recalled after a circus of twenty or more minutes, and his resignation was accepted.”

Perhaps as a result of the insinuations in the newspapers against Mayor Soper that Soper had discouraged Police Chief Hickey from closing down houses of prostitution, he appears to have encouraged his newly appointed Police Chief Dave Cook to round up prostitutes and charge them with criminal offences. Numerous cases appeared in the newspaper in early 1881 of prostitutes being arrested and complaining that their only offense were being prostitutes.

On 29 March 1881, “Madam Ulman and five of the inmates of her mansion of sin [including Alice Morris who had accused Officers McClellan and Lawrence of crookedness], were notified by warrant last night to appear before the police magistrate this morning and answer to the charge of being lewd women. The warrants were instigated by ex-officer McClellan.” The next day they were charged with lewdness, all pleaded guilty. The madam was fined $20 and the prostitutes were each fined $15 apiece. On 8 April 1881 a city council meeting was held which included a petition from prostitute Alice Morris regarding fines levied by ex-Police Officer George R. McClellan and police magistrate Judge Oliver A. Whittemore. The councilman reportedly laughed at the petition and passed it around as a joke. Thus apparently concluded the career of Officer George R. McClellan.

The Rocky Mountain News itself plays a significant role in the telling of Officer George McClellan’s career. It was vital to my research in helping to uncover many of the events of George McClellan’s time in Denver. It reported on the little moments of his police service, noting arrest statistics. Yet the newspaper itself was directly culpable for reporting the Moon affair in such a dramatic way as to call the City Council together to respond to the police’s role in the affair. When the City Council used the opportunity to slash the police force by a third, ostensibly rooting out corruption in the police force while protecting and hiding its own corruption, the News then railed against the City Council as corrupt. Denver’s City Council had been made aware that policemen such as George McClellan might publically announce the bribery scandal because a News reporter had notified them that they were investigating the story. At the same time, the News was printing racist articles against the Chinese in Denver and thus encouraged the Anti-Chinese riot, which could not be quelled due to the fragile state of the police force. And on a smaller scale, the Rocky Mountain News was also responsible for George McClellan’s resignation, regardless of whether it was forced or volunteered as a result of McClellan being sick of the media circus around his police service and toxic state of the city council against him.

Although clearly a problematic source, let’s end on The Rocky Mountain News’ report of ex-Officer McClellan’s character on 1 April 1881. “The News has nothing whatever against ex-officer McClellan. It believes that his characteristic energy, if turned in a good direction, would be productive of excellent results, yet holds that the enforcement of city ordinances, or their temporary suspension, should not be placed in his direction of that of any other member of the force, regular, special or simply tolerated. That sort of thing is all wrong. It opens the door for unlimited blackmail.”


Up Next: George and Imogene McClellan’s Life in Hanson, and George’s Disappearance

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Previously: Part Four: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan:Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver


Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver



George R. McClellan left Hanson, Mass. for Denver in the fall of 1879 without a particular business venture in mind. He had burned his bridges with former partner F.W. Gromm, whose trunk business had become successful in McClellan’s absence. He was not invited to rejoin Gromm’s company, and so he went looking for work in Denver. In December 1879, George R. McClellan, a trained brick mason and former trunk shop owner, was hired as a Denver police officer, with no particular experience in policing.


George R. McClellan in Hanson, Mass., circa 1870s

McClellan joined the force at the height of tensions between Denver politicians and the police force. In 1877, Republican Baxter Stiles was elected mayor, and chose Robert Y. Force as new police chief. Denver’s city council refused to confirm him, and “got even” by reducing the number of police officers to a dangerous low of two men, Officers Samuel How and H.C. Sherman who were to split the patrol of the city – one by day and one by night. Denver’s population of 25,000 was far too large for two officers, and as a result Police Chief Force resigned and soon was elected as alderman on the city council. Ironically, alderman and former police chief Robert Y.  Force would demand a bribe from George McClellan in order for McClellan to join the police force, which would later become a public scandal.

 In 1878, the police department was expanded and included the newly appointed Police Chief C.B. Stone, (Chief from Oct 1877-Oct 1878); Police judge O. A. Whittemore; and six policemen: Samuel Howe, H. C. Sherman, John Holland, George M. Hopkins, David Ellsworth, and W. R. Hickey – still a very low number of officers for such a large city. In October 1878 policeman W. R. Hickey was appointed chief of police, and it was under his rule that George McClellan joined the force.

At alderman’s meeting held 29 December 1879, “a resolution was passed to increase the police force from 12 to 16, beginning 1 January 1880, and set a policeman’s salary at $85 per month. John Holland was appointed assistant chief. Alexander McLain was nominated to fill his vacancy but not approved, Edward McCarthy was instead selected. The mayor presented a number of names for positions upon the increased force, and the following were confirmed: George McClelland and James Ryan.” Thus George R. McClellan became Officer McClellan.


The Denver newspapers often published interesting arrests, and Officer George R. McClellan was soon making news for arrests both large and small. On 4 February 1880 Officer McClellan “threatened arrest” of Mrs. Jackson. Papers reported on 4 April 1880 “John O’Rourke was arrested by Officer McClelland last evening for assaulting an inoffensive German on Blake and Sixteenth streets. O’Rourke, after being knocked down by the officer once or twice, succeeded in getting a good hold on the officer’s knee with his teeth. After a rough-and-tumble fight the officer took the bad man to the cooler, much the worse for showing his fighting qualities”.


On 1 June 1880 Geo. R. McClellan (32, bricklayer, b. Nova Scotia to parents b. Nova Scotia [sic, Scotland]) was enumerated in Hanson, Mass. with his wife Imogene L. (28, at home), daughter Lillian (4), father-in-law Barnabas Everson (55, mason) and mother-in-law Deborah B. Everson (60, keeping house). It is uncertain if George was in Hanson on a visit or if this was inaccurate and simply listed George as a member of the household despite his absence, since seven days later he was also enumerated in Denver. On 8 June 1880, Geo. R. Mc Clellan (32, married, policeman, b. Massachusetts to parents b. Scotland) was enumerated 8 June 1880 in 310 Seventeenth St, Denver, Arapahoe County, Colorado, residing as a boarder in the household of Lathrop Mussetter (25, single, drugstore clerk, b. Virginia) with fellow boarders Melville Stratton (22, single, drugstore clerk, b. Vermont), Edgar Lake (22, single, music teacher, b. Illinois), John Holland (34, single, chief of police, b. Ohio). Officer George McClellan was on record in October 1880 as having just returned a several week vacation to visit his family in Massachusetts and New York.


1880 Census, Hanson, Mass. George R. McClellan was enumerated in the household of Barnabas Everson. Uncertain if he was home for a visit, or if this was a mistake, perhaps indicating that he typically lived in that household, despite living in Denver at the time.


1880 Census, Denver, Colorado. Policeman George R. McClellan was living with Assistant Chief of Police John Holland.

On 5 August 1880, Officer McClellan found a lost dog. On 29 August 1880, it was reported that “Thursday night a gentleman, a stranger in the city, was steered into a Holladay street palace by a hardened citizen of Chicago, who goes under the name of Gaynor. This Gaynor arranged with a certain women of the house that the man was to be robbed of all his money that night. As the sum was considerable it would pay. Accordingly the work was done, but only partially, and yesterday Officer McClelland, of the police force, searched the house before Gaynor quitted it, and recovered $170 of the stolen funds. The operator escaped through a rear door, but was captured soon afterward. In this case there is no necessity for secrecy, because the victim need not be known. There are witnesses to the robbery, he himself being asleep when it was committed.”


On 10 October 1880, the Rocky Mountain News reported that “Police Officer McClellan, who has been to New York and Boston for some weeks on a leave of absence, has returned and taken his old place on the police force”. He probably visited his wife Imogene and four year old daughter Lillian in Hanson, Mass. and his sister Annie Sherman in New York. Perhaps his mother Christiana McClellan came up from Providence, R.I. to see him in New York.


In October 1880, George McClellan returned to the Denver police force during one of the most intense months the force had ever experienced. Just as George returned to the city, an 18 year old boy named William McClellan (no relation) died and the newspapers blamed an opium overdose, stirring up outrage against the Chinese opium dens. Headlines on 12 October 1880 read “Celestials Corraled” in a series of arrests made by Denver police officers (likely including Officer George McClellan back on the job) of opium den owners and participants. Racist newspaper reportage throughout the rest of the month of October put the city of Denver on edge, with outbursts of violence occurring throughout the month.

In the early hours of 15 October 1880, a fight broke out at the Ocean Oyster saloon, owned by the notorious gambler and violent drunk Jim Moon. When two police officers (assistant police chief Holland and patrolman Merrill) arrived to break up the fight, it only escalated. Assistant Police Chief Holland (George McClellan’s roommate) had earlier raided Moon’s business, and when a drunken Moon realized Holland was on his property, he and his associates threw glasses and dishes at Holland, which injured Holland in the head. Officer Merrill left with Holland to tend to his head injury, and Moon locked down his saloon, threatening to assault any who dared enter his establishment with a small Civil War howitzer he kept in the saloon.


A “small” 12 pounder Civil War era howitzer located in Denver at the Colorado State Capitol Building. Jim Moon aimed his personal howitzer (similar to this pictured howitzer) at the entrance to his saloon, daring any to enter after his drunken assault of another saloon owner and several Denver police officers.

Then Moon, his romantic partner Emma, his business partner/gunfighter John Bull and Bull’s girlfriend exited the saloon armed and aiming at the crowd of citizens and police officers who had gathered outside, and escaped in a carriage [Think of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen, Dan Dority and Trixie]. Officer Dorsey was sent in pursuit of the carriage. The newspapers criticized the police force for not stopping the Moon party. Rocky Mountain News reported:

  • “A Midnight Muss”. About one o’clock this morning a man named Lamar, who keeps a saloon on Fifteenth street near the Bon Ton saloon, went to the saloon and restaurant kept by James Moon, on the alley between Larimer and Holladay, near Sixteenth. He ordered some oysters and while waiting for his supper, Moon, who it is said was considerably under the influence of liquor, interfered in some way and struck Lamar, who hastily left the place in search of an officer. He did not even take his overcoat with him. He saw clearly that there was a big row in prospective, and wanted to nip it in the bud. In a moment or two he met Assistant Chief Holland and Patrolman Merrill. These two then went to the place. They advised Lamar not to go, as he might be in danger. When the officers entered Moon was in a terrible rage. He recalled the circumstances of Holland’s raiding the place when he was acting chief, and said as much to him. Holland did not deny this. Within an instant Moon and Holland were struggling in the middle of the floor for possession of Holland’s revolver. While this struggle was progressing, Moon’s woman, Emma, who was in the room, and another woman and John Bull all simultaneously engaged in a promiscuous free fight. Glasses and dishes were freely thrown. They were aimed at Holland and did not miss him. He shouted to the officer accompanying him for assistance, but there was no response, and when the crowd of customers at the lunch counter were called on they all ran away too. One man, however, had more nerve than the others, and had it not been for his efforts the ugly crowd would certainly have killed Holland. As it was, however, the officer was dragged out bleeding profusely about the head from the deep wounds and taken to Comfort’s on the opposite corner, where he was put to bed seriously injured. This cleared the house and Moon ordered all rooms closed. Peeping in at a side window it was seen that Moon was being nursed very carefully by John Bull with a wet towel. Some of the chinaware had struck him. During this time the police were scattered. Whistles were blowing on every street and finally a majority of the night force was assembled at Moon’s. They could not get in, however, and Moon was armed with a small howitzer; so there was no effort to take him. In a few moments, however, the door opened, and Moon, his woman and her companion, John Bull, emerged into the storm then raging violently. Moon had his revolver at full cock and the whole crowd passed through the alley, where the police were, and to a hack at the street on Sixteenth. Bull and the woman clambered inside the vehicle and Moon got upon the box, with his gun ready for use. The driver whipped up his horses and the party were off, having defied fifty citizens and a whole platoon of police! Another hack was speedily pressed into service by Officer Dorsey and at last accounts the chase was being continued in the direction of the Golden. The nerve (?) displayed by the police, with one or two exceptions, is worthy of comment.”

“The Moon Affair” occurred at Jim Moon’s Ocean Oyster Saloon, described in newspaper accounts as located on the alleyway between Holladay and Larimer Streets near 16th St. Map from Robinson’s 1887 map of Denver. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

The following morning, police chief Hickey visited Moon and Bull and came to an agreement that Moon would turn himself into the police station later that day, post bail and pay the required fines for his conduct – which had occurred numerous times previously since Moon and Bull were frequently in trouble for drunken violence. Moon agreed to the terms but delayed his arrival. The press was outraged that Moon was not punished more severely, and that Moon taunted the police by his late arrival. As a result of the press coverage of the “Moon Affair”, the Denver aldermen assembled a meeting to investigate the possibility that the police had mishandled the affair, hoping to fire negligible officers. Of considerable note is the fact that the meeting was hastily called and led by Alderman Force. Privately, Force had recently been confronted with the fact that it was known that he had required a bribe from Officer George R. McClellan to join the force, and that it was rumored that various other aldermen required bribes from other current police officers. Since the majority of Denver alderman had in fact required bribes from the police force, it was definitely a threat to be taken seriously.

  • “At the conclusion of the taking of this [Moon affair] testimony, various matters connected with the police service were discussed. The uprightness, general efficiency and conduct of Chief Hickey were discussed at considerable length; individual cases cited where his conduct had been impugned both at the time and afterward. The conduct of other officers on the force were also reviewed at great length. Some got terribly scored and others were lauded to the skies. The conduct of some of the officers concerned in the Moon affair was contrasted with the nerve shown by Dorsey, and then the McClellan case came up. It was stated by some members that they had investigated the one hundred dollar business, and that they thought that while the thing was being done it might as well be all done together. Then Mr. Davis, of the Fourth, read a list of names as follows: Hickey, Minart, McCarthy, Merrill and McClellan, and moved that they be discharged from further duty on the police force. This was strenuously opposed by Mr. Cook, who said that Mr. McClellan’s case then was an altogether different sort of ill doing and he wanted the name omitted. This met with a stern rebuff from Mr. McLaughlin, who said he was determined not to have such a man on the force. Further discussion ensued; when to expedite matters Mr. Morris offered a resolution discharging McClellan “for insubordination unbecoming an officer.” This was adopted; and then Mr. Davis, of the Fourth renewed his motion to discharge Hickey, Minart, McCarthy and Merrill. After a host of entanglements, all, however, meant to the same end, the motion was carried by a vote of seven to four, Anstee not being present. The next question was, who shall be chief of police? John Holland, assistant chief, was laid up with injuries, and could not act. Then Mr. McLaughlin moved the appointment of Samuel C. Dorsey to fill the vacancy made in the chiefship. The mention of Dorsey’s name brought out many expressions of goodwill from members, and the motion would doubtless have prevailed had not some member suggested it was the mayor’s duty to appoint a chief. This was agreed to and the mayor was then, by vote, made chief of police pro tem until an appointment was made and confirmed. This business having been concluded, the doors were thrown open and the fresh air allowed to circulate.”


In one fell swoop, the Denver aldermen fired the Police Chief and all the major police officers involved in the farcical Moon Affair, as well as fired George McClellan for “insubordination” [the details not yet publically revealed] – almost one third of the police force, a dangerous situation in a month already filled with racial tension and violence as well as common city crime. The press, who the day before had been calling for action regarding the police force, now turned against the aldermen on City Council. The headline on 19 October 1880 ran: “Exposed! The Rottenness of the City Council. Laid Bare In All Of Its Deformity. Fifty Dollars Is the Very Trifling Sum For Which Aldermanic Influence Can Be Bought. Interviews With Decapitated Police Officers, And the Little Stories They Have To Tell. What the Mayor Has To Say About The Situation. The Chief Likewise Rises to Explain, And Reveals Some Very Interesting Secrets of His Office.” The recently fired officer George McClellan also spoke with a reporter in the article in which he confirmed that he had been required to pay a bribe to Alderman Force in order to join the Denver police force.

  • “What about the police business?” was the first inquiries yesterday morning on the street. “I don’t know,” was the general reply. “The city council seems to have discharged about one-third of the police force, without ‘rhyme or reason’, just to appease public indignation aroused by the Moon affair, and to take away attention from their own crookedness by laying the blame upon their subordinates – Hickey, Minart, Merrill, McCarthy and McClellan – just to make the citizens believe the council were acting on the square, when there are bigger scoundrels in that body than there are among the men who walk around the streets for the purpose of keeping the peace.” A man who has held high positions in eastern cities in connection with the police and detective work, was questioned as to the general efficiency, or rather inefficiency, of the Denver Police force. He said: “It is the worst, most loose and corrupt that ever came under my observation. I am conversant with the police system of all the large cities of the Union, but I have never met with anything so careless and reckless as the police system of Denver.” “In what way? Let the public know some of the particulars…” “Well, to begin with, it is supposed that the police, or a certain portion of them, are on duty all night. This is a mistake. I know a case where a certain officer has gone to bed every night at a certain hotel, instead of remaining on his beat. The man who is supposed to relieve him at six o’clock in the morning reports the matter all right at the headquarters, and gets some consideration for his lying, but he never sees the man he is supposed to relieve. Did you ever see a police officer around in the early hours of the morning? You may search a long time before you find them. They are either in their own or somebody else’s bed. Although I don’t know that it matters whose bed they are in, their crime is being off their duty as watchman of the night. Denver would be the very paradise of thieves if they only knew it. Under the present system they could ransack the town while the paid preservers of the peace are quietly snoozing in their beds or indulging in some debauchery.” “Do you consider the city police force efficient when they are on duty?” “Oh, I would guess they would make ordinarily good policemen if they acted straight. But they don’t.” “In what way?” “Well, if they see a row brewing, or anything that is likely to make a breach of the peace, instead of stepping up to prevent it they get around a corner and wait until a breach of peace is made, then they step up and arrest the men.” “And ledge them in the calaboose of course?” “Nothing of the sort. They find a constable if they can and hand the prisoner over to that functionary. And if it is too late to find a constable they take the offender over to the city jail and then go and wake up the constable, bring him down to the jail and let him make the charge.” “What is the object in doing all this?” “Why the police officer gets two dollars and a half on each arrest. If he runs them in himself he gets nothing, but if he hands the case over to the constable, the constable gets five dollars or more for the arrest and divides with the police officer. The majority of the officers on the force receive a large amount from the constables for their division offers, some of them collecting as much as $40 monthly from the constables. Thus by the connivance between the two officials the county is put to a heavy expence and the proceeds of the robbery is divided between the police officers and the constable because if the officer did his duty the crime might be prevented, and if committed the culprit would be run in without any cost to the county. This system of robbery has been pursued here for years and costs the county thousands of dollars a year. There is no check upon the officers doing their duty when they start out for their night watch. There is no check to show that they are on duty and very few of them are.”
  • HIS HONOR, THE MAYOR [Richard Sopris]. “Who is going to be the new chief, Mr. Mayor?” asked the interviewer. “Oh, I don’t know yet. We’ll get around to that bye and bye.” “I suppose you will make choice of a man who will save you all such troubles as you’ve had lately?” “Well, I should think so – I have had enough trouble with the police department to satisfy most men.” “Who are the candidates?” “You know as well as I do.” “Dave Cook, Sam Dorsey, Tom Foulks, John Phillips?” “I guess so.” “Who will be appointed?” “I am anxious to get a men who will suit the people, but have not yet decided who it shall be.” “Where is John Holland in this business?” “Laid up, I hear.” “I heard you were going to appoint him?” “What! John Holland – no – I’ll never appoint him.” “Why not?” “Because there is too much feeling against him.” “You have not decided whether to take a man from the force or from the outside?” “No; I would like to have a man from the force if it is possible to get the right one. I want a man that I can trust – a man that can control his officers.” “Who is in charge now?” “Phillips has charge of the day men and Dorsey of the night force.” “Are you going to leave these men on?” “Yes, for the present. I don’t think any appointment will be made until after the new council comes in.” There seems to be an idea to get rid of John Cook’s influence in the matter, who will stick to John Holland, but the mayor seemed determined to say nothing more and the subject was dropped.
  • CHIEF HICKEY complained bitterly of the way in which he had been used. In his own language, “The God d-m mob didn’t know what they were doing.” The mob referred to was the twelve illustrious members of the city council whom Chief Hickey considers as corrupt as they are stupid On being questioned as to whether he had tried to do his duty as head of the police force, he said: “I have been between two fires all the time; have asked the old man [Mayor Sopris] over and over again if I should close up the dens around town and he wouldn’t give me permission, therefore I couldn’t do it, and the next thing I was blamed for not doing it. There are eight or ten men on the force I wanted to discharge long ago for being corrupt. I knew they were getting money from bunko-men and acting crooked all through, but he wouldn’t let me discharge them, each one of them was the pet of some particular alderman and had to be protected. The lies that have been told about this Moon affair are enormous,” said the chief. “The story has been told that I took Jim Moon’s pistol and then gave it back to him. That afterwards Moon’s girl had been arrested, that he came out to the carriage with his loaded revolver and took her out of the vehicle and back into the house. It was also stated that officer Dorsey knocked Bull down in the parlor with his club. All these and a pile more of the statements made before the council are lies, manufactured for a purpose. I was called up from my bed by Dorsey and Robinson, and simply told there had been a muss at Moon’s and that Holland was hurt. We went to the Villa; when I reached there I went into the parlor and found Moon and his woman there. I said “Jim I’ll have to arrest you.” (Neither of the officers came into the room, they merely looked in and went out.) The two women, Moon’s woman and Mrs. Bull, commenced making a row and said he should not be taken away. I told them I had nothing to do with them and proceeded to talk to Moon, who was very quiet. I felt around his clothes but found no weapon, then when I turned around I saw him with a pistol in his hand which he had drawn from inside his vest where I had not thought to look for it.” “Did you take the weapon?” “No, I did not, and he put it back again. He said he did not want to be locked up, and handed me $1,000 in bills as security for his appearance in the morning. I took the bills, and, considering that sufficient, made no further attempt to arrest him then. There was a row outside between officers Dorsey and Robinson and the women and Bull, who had come down from upstairs. I told the officers that Moon had put up security for himself and his woman, and that it was all right. The whole story about my giving the pistol back to Moon and his coming down to the hack and rescuing his woman is all a fabrication, without a particle of truth in it. The next day Moon did not come at the time named in the afternoon. I found out where he was living, and sent him word that if he did not surrender his money would be forfeited. He then came, gave himself up, was sent to jail and afterwards liberated on a bond by Justice Whittemore. That is all I know about the matter.” “Did you know anything about the origin of the trouble?” “No, only what I have heard. I think Holland acted unwisely in going there and drawing his pistol on Moon when he knew the bad feeling there was between him and Moon. As I hear, when he commenced to pull his pistol Moon jumped right on to him before he could get it out, and as Moon is a heavy, powerful man, Holland got the worst of it.” “What do you think of the present system of police in Denver?” “I think it is d-d bad,” said the chief, “and the sooner it is altered the better. The chief ought to have some control. Now he has none, and he is between two fires all the time, and can’t tell which is the hottest.”
  • WHAT MERRILL SAYS. “Who is running this police force, anyhow?” was asked. “What do you mean?” “Why, who runs the machine? Does Sopris or did Hickey?” “Neither of them. The sporting fraternity had the most to say about what should be done.” “How is that?” “Well, Bill Hickey belonged to the prostitutes and gamblers and he had to do about what they wanted him to do. That accounts for his action in not arresting Moon the other day. Why, when Hickey went up to him, Moon says: “Why [God] [damn] you, I made you what you are.” “Who is at fault, the mayor or Hickey?” “I don’t know. I have heard that the ‘old man’ [Mayor Sopris] was the chief party at fault!” “Was he paid for it?” “So they say. He gets twenty percent of the bunko and gambling profits.” “How do you know that?” “I was told by a bunko steerer himself.” “How does this money reach the mayor? Has it been going through the hands of the chief of police?” “A gambler pays it over.” “They say that some of you officers have been paying for your appointments? How is it?” “There is one man who paid for his.” “Who is the officer?” “McClellan.” “How much did he pay for his appointment?” “Fifty dollars.” “Who did he pay the fifty dollars to?” “Bob Force.” “How do you know?” “McClellan said so to me himself. He told me that he could ‘down’ Bob Force and the mayor, too.” “What does he know about the mayor?” “I don’t know. He won’t tell me. He is keeping it dark.”
  • OFFICER MINART was asked concerning the crookedness of the force. “I don’t know anything about it,” was the reply. “Do you think that the men still remaining on the police force are straight?” “I have no doubt but that some of them are not.” “Who are they?” “I can’t tell you that.” “Why not?” “I’ll tell you all about it in a day or two.”
  • OFFICER M’CARTHY, who was visited at his home of Lawrence street, claimed to know nothing concerning the matter in question. He was very reticent regarding the whole business, asserting that he knew, of his own knowledge, absolutely nothing regarding the crookedness of police affairs. “There seems to have been little or no cause for your removal?” was inquired. “Well, it is true that I was bounced from the force very unjustly. It was, in fact, as an alderman told me today, simply a sacrifice. I was not to blame for the action at the Moon affair, and if I were allowed to be heard in my own behalf, I could show that to be the case. But this whole matter is premature – with me – and I must refuse to say anything to you regarding it at this time.” “But why is it premature?” The gentleman hesitated, and it was discovered soon afterward that he expected to be reinstated again in his old position. “You see around you,” said he, “my large family, of seven persons, who have all to be fed. I have got to feed them and while my position on the force was a humble one at best, it was a living for my little ones, and it would be only simple justice for the council to put me back again.”
  • OFFICER M’CLELLAN was accosted on the street yesterday: “Well what do you know about police matters?” “I know things are getting mixed up awkwardly.” “Do you know of anything “crooked” going on?” “Yes, I know that Alderman R.Y. Force offered to get me on the force if I would give him $50.” “Did you promise to give him that amount?” “I did.” “Of course he succeeded in getting you on the force.” “Well, I got appointed and I suppose it was through his instrumentality that I made it.” “Did you pay Alderman Force the $50 promised?” “I hadn’t the money to pay him at once and it was agreed, when the bargain was made between me and him, that I should pay him as I could spare the money out of my salary.” “Did you pay Alderman Force this bribe?” “No, not all of it.” “Well, what part of it did you pay, and how were the payments made?” “After I began to receive my salary from the city I went on two or three occasions (I am not certain which) to his office and gave him each time a $10 bill. Then I saw that he was not working for my interest and I closed the subscription.” “Can you prove this by evidence other than your own assertion?” “Yes; I will make an affidavit before a notary public as to the statement I have made to you, and, more than that, I can prove it by a witness.” “Is this system of selling places on the police force in general practice?” “If you look around you can see it is a common practice.” “Wasn’t the figure you paid low?” “Yes; a good many men have paid more. I got in cheap.” “Were you not charged with receiving a bribe from a man who was doorkeeper at the Palace theater, for the purpose of aiding him in getting on the police force?” “The man you speak of forced $100 on me to use among the aldermen or in any other way in which influence could be brought to bear to give him the position. I did not want to receive the money, but the applicant was urgent; at last I took it and used some of it in the best way I could for the man’s interest.” “But you did not get him appointed?” “No. I told him $100 was no good among the four or five avaricious aldermen it was necessary to get hold of to pass him.” “He wanted his money back, didn’t he?” “Yes, he kicked, and I paid him back the balance, some fifty-odd dollars, the difference having been spent in his interest.”…
  • THE REMEDY. The only way of getting an efficient police force is to adopt the metropolitan plan. This cannot be done until the legislature meets, but in the meantime some provision must be made for the effective working of the system under the present circumstances. The general feeling is that the best chief that can be obtained, if he will accept the position, is General David J. Cook. All classes of the community seem to have confidence in both his integrity and ability. The present systems can only be redeemed from uselessness by having a strong and able man at its head. There is a general feeling that as soon as the legislature meets a statute should be passed authorizing the system of metropolitan police. Denver has outgrown the principles of a village government. It has grown to be a large city with a vast amount of property to protect, and its police system should be as perfect as possible, instead of being carried on in the loose system that is at present in the force. The plan to adopt, would be to appoint two commissioners, the mayor being ex-officio a third. The three to have full authority over the police force, appoint the chief and other officers, and attend to all of the details of the department. A city of the size of Denver, according to the ratio of other cities, should have a chief, one caption, two sergeants, and about twenty-four patrolmen. Under proper management this number of men would cost less to the city than the present ineffective and defective system. The captain would be on duty at night, taking the chief’s place when he was off duty. The two sergeants, one by day and one by night, would see the men were on their beats and attending to their duty. When the change came, instead of one officer lounging around to his beat to relieve his brother officer, who is very unlikely to be there, the sergeant would take out twelve men, march them around the city, and whenever a man was to be relieved one would drop out of the ranks and the other drop in, and so he would return to the station with the same number of men that he took out, when, after handing in their reports, they would be at liberty to take their rest, the sergeants, during day and night, going to every beat to see that the men were attending to their duty. As long as the police force is under the control of the [city] council, it will be like its controlling power, corrupt. As it is in this city, the whole system is rotten to the core. A majority of the council are no better than thieves. When one makes a haul, the others have to wink at it or be exposed themselves. They are like a lot of school boys. One says if you tell on me I’ll tell on you, and so to preserve peace in the family and plenty in the pocket they are blind to each other’s offences. The only struggle they have is to see who can make the most. Such is a truthful but not flattering estimate of Denver’s city fathers. If a few of them are honest, they must accept the penalty of being in bad company.

On 20 October 1880, George McClellan issued a public statement officially documenting an additional bribery scandal:

  • OFFICER M’CLELLAN’S STATEMENT. The following, said Mr. McClellan, is a complete statement of the matter connected with Mr. [Andrew] Quirk and myself, wherein I am charged with receiving a bribe of $100 to aid him in getting a position on the police force: Mr. Quirk came to John Holland and myself and asked if we would help get him on the police. He was a special officer at the time. We said we would do what we could for him, and we went to what we thought were our friends in the council and asked them to look the man Quirk over and see if they could support him. Two or three weeks after we had worked in his interest all we could, Mr. Quirk came to John Holland and offered him $100 to be used towards getting on the force, who refused to accept it as he had done all he could without it. He then came to me and offered the money. I told him that I had done all I could, and that your hundred dollars will not help your case any better. There is only one man in the council that I can approach with money. He then said, “Well Mac, take it anyway and spend some of it anyway you see fit.” I did so, and spent $49 of it. When he failed to get the appointment on the force he demanded the one hundred dollars, and I tendered him the balance, $51, and told him to go to h-ll for the balance. He went to the mayor and told his story. The mayor called in John Holland and asked him in regard to it. The mayor told Holland to tell Mac to give back the money as it was a swindle. I did not give back the money that day but in a few days met Mayor Sopris on the street and in the presence of Alderman Fairchild told me to give back the money and it would all be settled. I took Mayor Sopris’ word for that, which I would not do again. Sopris sent for me a few days afterwards and told me that The News reporter was after him about the hundred dollar business, and told me that I had better resign before going east as I would loose my position anyway. I told him that I would resign nothing and told him that if he would suspend me on this charge, that I would show up the heads of the police department. That is the abusive language I have Mayor Sopris that he told the council at their secret session, and upon which I was dismissed without a statement from me whatever. This is the truth of the whole matter and which I am prepared to swear to. G. R. McClellan. The council will hold its regular semi-monthly meeting tomorrow evening, when some interesting revelations may be expected.


With public outcry over the corruption of the City Council, it appeared likely that the police officers would soon be re-instated. On 26 Oct 1880 “It is rumored that the police committee will advise the reinstatement of some of the police officers recently discharged. It is stated that McClellan will certainly be put back on the force. The offence for which he was discharged had nothing to do with the Moon affair.” The following day Assistant Police Chief John Holland, recently recovered from his head injuries, ordered a midnight raid on all of Jim Moon’s property. On 29 October 1880, “The mayor has made John Holland chief of police pro tem, or until the election of a successor to W. R. Hickey. Officer Dorsey is in charge of the force after midnight”. Things appeared to be back on track for both Officer George R. McClellan and the Denver Police Force.


But the erosion of public trust in Denver’s City Council and police, combined with Denver’s newspapers fanning the flames of racial violence against the Chinese would have deadly consequences on 31 October 1880.


Up Next: Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police Force

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke