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

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

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