GJ HISTORY: GJ citizen S.B. Hutchinson, America’s first Socialist chief of police, and a man of integrity
GJ History Columnist
Some men are born with the spark of illumination, and Shepard B. Hutchinson was one of those men. As an electrical engineer, he, like Prometheus, brought light to Grand Junction, and his personality brought further enlightenment to his family and friends through his thoughts, career and life.
Shepard Barkley Hutchinson “S.B.” was born to William Hutchinson and Mary Hallett on Jan. 3, 1861, in McDonald County, Ill. He was the sixth child of eight children.
S.B. married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Allen on Dec. 22, 1886. Lizzie was born Jan. 10, 1864, in Mendola, Ill., to Martin Allen and Elizabeth Augustine. S.B. and Lizzie met when he moved to Hays, Kan., at age 18. The young pair courted, fell in love and married. During their lifetime together they had three children — Mary, who was born and died in Hays, Kan., in 1887; Mabel who was born in Hays, Kan., in 1889 and died in Fruita, Colo., in 1980; and Clara who was born and died in Denver at 2 years of age in 1892.
While on a visit with his family to his brother-in-law, Charlie Allen’s home in Grand Junction, the couple decided to relocate to GJ and moved here in 1898. S.B. was employed as an electrical engineer in Denver and so it was natural for him to start work as an electrical engineer at the local Electric and Light Company. A month after S.B. and Lizzie arrived in Grand Junction, Lizzie’s father, Martin Allen came for a visit, became ill and passed away on April 10, 1898. He is buried in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery. Years later Martin’s son, Charlie, who never married, was buried next to his father.
S.B. became a very active socialist. The owners of the electric company were not happy with this turn of events and discharged S.B. and other employees of the company for their political views. S.B. then ran for political office as a city alderman (councilman) and the public was so outraged over the treatment of people for their political views, they elected him to office in 1901, over the endorsed candidates of both the Democrat and Republican parties. Thus, S.B. Hutchinson became one of the first socialist city aldermen in Grand Junction, serving from 1901-1903. Later in 1909, Thomas Todd, also a socialist, would be elected mayor of Grand Junction, serving until 1913.
During this time, S.B. Hutchinson went into real estate and as an agent sold real estate with his partners, the Ramey Brothers and later with C.B. Rich. When a land drawing was held for property above where the Highline Canal was to be built, the real estate company of Rich and Hutchinson set up tents to notarize documents for the drawing. They did quite a business as their tents offered the only shade in the hot summer.
S.B. was a great salesman and did well in the real estate business. His four-seated buggy with the fringe and a “Hutchinson Realty Carriage” sign on top was seen all over as he showed clients around town.
As a Realtor, alderman, a friend of John Otto, a farmer with crops and livestock, and a huge chamber of commerce booster, S.B. became well known in the growing community. He also gained statewide and national prominence in the Social Democratic Party, later changing its name to the Socialist Party of America.
In 1901, the city had a problem with bars selling drinks to young men. Alderman Hutchinson and Mayor Sampliner launched a temperance address at the city council meeting, asking that liquor licenses not be granted to liquor establishments if they sold to the youth. Both men agreed that “the young men of the city were getting so drunk they could not roll their cigarette papers.” The newspapers reported that a broad smile flitted across the faces of all present including those of the saloon owners in attendance. In fact, S.B. gave an incentive to his grandchildren, that they would receive $100 (over $1,500 today) if they would not smoke or drink until they were 21.
S.B., THE LAW MAN
In 1908, a lot was happening in Grand Junction. A federal building was going to be built; and the YMCA at the northwest corner of Fifth and Rood was also going up. Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate, came to town on Labor Day and the next day Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to entertain. And in 1909, President Taft came to Lincoln Park and S.B., Lizzie and their daughter, Mabel, were seated in the row off to the side of the president.
The Grand Junction City Council also had a new charter meeting and one of the men picked to help write the new charter was Shepard B. Hutchinson. The charter was enacted in late 1909.
With the new charter, the first chief of police was chosen, a man named G. Burdette Welch, who served from 1909-1911. Chief Welch was accused of protecting bootleggers, which he claimed was untrue and he was “the goat.” However, Mayor Thomas M. Todd asked for the police chief’s resignation.
On Nov. 14, 1911, S.B. Hutchinson became the second chief of police under the new city charter and the first Socialist police chief in the entire nation. Hutchinson swore he would “arrest an intoxicated banker as soon as he would a hobo” and that he would arrest the drunken brutes and keep them in jail.
Two weeks later on Dec. 1, S.B. was presented with a beautiful solid silver chief of police badge at city hall and the star was pinned on him by Mayor Todd. A large group of 75 local socialists attended the meeting and luncheon. The back of the badge was engraved with the following words. “S.B. Hutchinson, the First Socialist Chief of Police in the United States, presented by the Grand Junction Branch of the International Socialist Party.” The presentation came as a complete surprise and S.B. was so overcome that he could scarcely speak.
With his socialist views, S.B. believed the city should own the ice plant, power station, and the other public buildings in town. His ideas ran afoul of Walter Walker, who believed private interest should build places like theaters, swimming pools, recreational facilities and so on, and the city should not become a socialistic municipality. Walker also condoned making the hoboes, who drifted into town, work for their daily food and accommodations. In 1913, hoboes became a big issue.
However, from 1909 to 1913, times continued to be good in Grand Junction. In 1910, the Grand Army of the Republic held its Department of CO/WY weekly meeting here and more than 800 Union Army veterans came to town. Main Street was paved; the trolley tracks were open for public use; the community was growing; and peace, quiet and a good economy ruled. S.B. along with his wife, Lizzie, and daughter Mabel found horseback and camping trips with John Otto on the Monument a welcome treat.
In March 1913, a movement began for the Western Slope of Colorado and Eastern Utah to form a new state, with Grand Junction as the state capital. The idea was that since both areas not only shared the same landscape and the people of these areas felt they didn’t have much say in their state governments, they had nothing to lose by forming a new state and calling it “Western Colorado.” At that time, the idea of a new state may have been a good idea but obviously it didn’t happen.
HOBO CONTROVERSY BOILS OVER
During this same time, the hobo situation came to the forefront and brought trouble for the City of Grand Junction, Mayor Todd and Chief S.B. Hutchinson. The days between April 9 to May 5, 1913, would be a long month for Grand Junction. P. McEvoy, an advance agent of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) made a presentation to the city council, stating 200 members of the I.W.W. were coming from California and traveling to Denver. They would be passing through town in a few days and needed to be fed and that the men promised not to break windows and steal things. The council voted to feed the I.W.W., and S.B., as police chief, was responsible to set things up and procure large pots of “Mulligan stew” to serve. The Daily Sentinel referred to the I.W.W. as organized hoboes.
Railroad men passing through town informed the newspapers that the I.W.W. members were “riding the rails” and were assembling to come into Grand Junction and they were spreading the word, and it was traveling like wildfire, that they would be favorably treated by the city. The national newspapers were calling Grand Junction the “Haven for Hoboes.”
The Daily Sentinel and Grand Junction News, although they thought well of S.B. personally, did not think well of his or Mayor Todd’s socialist political views and demanded the city council be rid of the tramps and not go through with feeding the I.W.W. They wrote articles encouraging citizens to defy the city council vote and not feed the hoboes, stating no food to people who stand on street corners and denounce the country, the government, and the laws that give them the food and housing. The citizens held mass meetings against Mayor Todd and Chief Hutchinson.
The I.W.W. didn’t just pass through; they came and stayed for days, were fed and given a place to sleep. They called for the socialistic rule of Grand Junction and said they would “clean out the Daily Sentinel” if the newspaper didn’t stop their articles. Mr. McEvoy, when asked what rent they were paying for their housing, said “not a cent, it’s free to us, we cook here, we eat here and it’s where we sleep.”
Mayor Todd and Chief Hutchinson tried to no avail to get the I.W.W. to leave. The citizens asked that Mesa County Sheriff Schrader act in a city matter and for special police to enforce city laws. The I.W.W., finding itself not welcome in the city, stayed in the building on Main Street the night of April 12, 1913, and with special deputies sworn in to help, they began to leave. Some who had camped on the far side of the river banks were gone and most silently left the area. A few lingered in town, and proceeded to go to restaurants ordering food, eating and trying to leave without paying. This broad-clothed mob left a blot on the citizens of Grand Junction; and some members in city government and the newspapers looked to Mayor Todd and Chief Hutchinson for blame.
Although Chief Hutchinson was following the orders of the city council, he resigned as police chief on April 12, 1913. Both newspapers said they felt kindly toward S.B. Hutchinson and held no malice for his actions.
The Grand Junction News wrote: “Chief of Police Hutchinson resigned yesterday afternoon from a patriotic sense of duty to the interests of the city government and in order to relieve the situation which has arisen in the last few days concerning the treatment accorded the I.W.W. No man ever held office in this city with a keener sense of honor or a higher regard for official duty AS HE SAW IT. We do not believe Mr. Hutchinson was fitted to his task or adapted to the duties imposed upon him by the office, but when this is admitted, there are few citizens in the community whose stature measures as far toward the ideal as his… we will remember his sterling worth and character… let us close this matter as kindly as possible.”
For all the uproar, at the end of 1913, the City of Grand Junction’s annual report stated that the number of arrests for the year was 94 drunks, 18 disorderly, 4 vagrants, 2 prostitution, 1 loitering, 11 auto speeding and 1 person carrying a firearm.
After S.B.’s resignation, he went back to selling real estate, farming, being a good husband, a huge booster of the chamber, friend of John Otto, camping, fishing and helping his friends. In fact on June 17, 1929, S.B., his wife Lizzie and daughter Mabel rode on horseback with John Otto and other members of the chamber Boosters Club up the Serpent’s Trail from Grand Junction.
On July 7, 1929, S.B. went to J.O. Berg’s ranch for a load of hay and as he was pitching hay on the back of a wagon, a rain and electrical storm came up and a bolt of lightning struck S.B. and Mr. Berg. Mr. Berg was rendered unconscious and when he came to, S.B.’s body was in the wagon and the wagon and hay were burning fiercely. A man came by and pulled S.B. Hutchinson’s body from the flames. He died at the age of 68t and was buried in the Orchard Mesa Cemetery.
It was said of him that throughout his entire life, S.B. had been known for his absolute honesty, his love for his home, his family, especially his wife, daughter and grandchildren and he had no bitterness in his heart. His interest in the development of this county did not abate; he was a good citizen.
His wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie,” was not in the best of health, and folks, did not expect her to outlive her husband; she lived to be 91. She was asked what things stood out in her life: “How good my neighbors were to me. I had broken my arm a few days before my husband’s death and they helped me all they could.”
In time, this 4-foot, 11-inch woman known to her family as “Big Grandma” was a very strong-willed school teacher in her younger days, hated outdoor toilets, and had an indoor toilet built in her home in 1902. She loved small, hard candies kept in a special bowl and would share with her grandchildren; and she always kept her supply of Grapette Pop in the pantry. This rock of her family died on Oct. 19, 1955, and is buried next to her husband, Shepard B. Hutchinson
Today, the seeds this family planted have spread it roots wide and deep in the Grand Valley and across the nation.
It had been noted that Mark Twain was born on the day of Haley’s Comet and died 75 years later on the day the comet returned. It could be said the same type of thing happened to Shepard B. Hutchinson — a bright personality, an enlightened man, and when he died, he simply stepped back into the light.
Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCES & PHOTOS: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room, Michael Menard, “Fry Family records of Mabel Hutchinson Fry (James E. Fry, Richard Fry, Marcus Fry, and Carol Lange Ericson)” Wanda Allen, Bill Buvinger, Snap Photo, Grand Junction News Records, Daily Sentinel Records, Journal of the Western Slope, Volume 14, Number 4, Journal of the Western Slope, Volume 12, Number 4, Grand Junction Charter 1909, Grand Junction City report 1911, 1912, 1913, Linn Armstrong column 2011, An History of Western Law Enforcement, Jeff Stratton 2003, Valley Echoes, Journal of the Mesa County Historical Society, Number 1, Sept. 2000. Special Thanks to David Bailey of the Museum of Western Colorado.
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