While stationed in Mississippi, my then grade school daughter and I got into civil war reenacting. When the Colonel was assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my daughter and I joined the 1st New Mexico Volunteers reenacting group and gloriously fought the Texans who came up the Rio Grand River in their attempt to capture the gold fields of the then, new Territory of Colorado.
Having taught Air Force Junior ROTC at a high school in Mississippi, which is basically U.S. history with a military flavor, I thought I had a good working knowledge of the Civil War. However I knew very little about the far western campaign of that war, fought in New Mexico. Nobody makes movies about it; John Wayne never saved the Union by beating back the drunken,
Van E. Harl
|traitorous, General Henry Sibley and his brigade of mounted Texas riflemen, from El Paso. Their mission was to ride north, and steel the Yankee gold. So needless to say most people in this country know next to nothing about a small little battle in the mountains of New Mexico at a place called Glorieta Pass and the significance of that crucial defeat for the Confederates at the hands of the 1st Colorado Volunteers and the Colorado Rangers.|
“He who has the gold wins the war” and the U.S., in 1861 had a brand new territory in Colorado that held the gold fields which would finance their war. That is why there is a mint in Denver, not to print paper money but to produce gold coins. The Texans pushed right up the Rio Grand, occupying Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The prize for the Confederates was the gold fields and with the perceived “easy victories” in New Mexico, General Sibley smugly headed into the mountains to take Denver.
The Colorado Rangers were in fact fashioned after the success of the Texas Rangers. They were a group of hard living, hard drinking, and hard fighting men who had been called on to defend the Colorado Territory against the increased hostilities by local Native American tribes, who saw this new civil war as an opportunity to attack their invaders. The Colorado Rangers fought on horseback with repeating revolvers, while the average Union soldier fought on foot with a single shot rifle.
On March 26, 1862 a scouting party of Rangers lead by Major John Chivington, made contact with the Texans. A running battle was on for the next two days with both sides disengaging on 28 March, the Confederates believing they had won the fight. Generals Sibley's biggest mistake of the entire Civil War was his men's failure at the Battle of Glorieta Pass to guard their supply train. Major Chivington and the Rangers found and destroyed 80 wagons of ammunition, food and clothing. They spiked the Confederate artillery and took Sibley's supply troops prisoner. To this day if you go out to “Johnson's Ranch” where the Rangers burned the wagons, you can find metal pieces of those wagons.
As the history of the Civil War was reviewed later, it was determined that Glorieta Pass was the “Gettysburg of the West.” The Rangers went back to Colorado, provided law enforcement for the new territory and continued to be called up to keep the peace after Statehood was established. The Colorado Rangers were disbanded in the 1920s because of political reasons, but were then reestablished in 1941 at the personal direction of Governor Teller Ammons. They currently serve to support the needs of the Governor, to provide augmentation and assistance to state, county and local law enforcement agencies.
Since 9-11 their emphasis on emergency management has been increased. The Colorado Mounted Rangers are volunteers who have served their State in past times of crisis and stand ready to be there when called on yet again. In the micro-sense “what if” the US Army Rangers had not destroyed the German artillery at Normandy on June 8 1944: could the D-Day invasion have failed, and if so, could the length of WW II been continued into 1946 or 1947? If the Colorado Rangers had not stopped the Confederate Army at Glorieta Pass in 1862, with the capture of the gold fields, could the suffering on both sides of the Civil War have gone on for years past 1865? The Colorado Rangers have stood in the breach of history and yet few know of their service and their sacrifice. They are looking for new Rangers to serve and protect Colorado.
By Van E. Harl
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.
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