A Remnant of One Man’s “Western Fever”

Watchman Badge No. 1 is a hand-engraved shield cut and shaped from a sheet of German silver. Sometimes called nickel silver, German silver is an alloy (or combination) of copper, nickel, and zinc. The badge has a blanket–style safety pin soldered to its back. Unfortunately, it has no markings to tell us who made it, not to mention where, or when it was manufactured. But we do know it belonged to one of Denver’s first policemen, Eleazar L. Gardner.

Watchman badge no. 1

Watchman badge no. 1

E. L. Gardner, as he was better known, was born in 1819 in Chautauqua, New York. He moved to Illinois in 1846, then to Strawberry Point, Iowa, in 1849. Rapt with “western fever” as he expressed called it, he joined a party of men traveling to Colorado in 1859. The Colorado gold fields were being heavily promoted at the time in a pocket-sized guide published earlier that year by Stephen W. Smith and the early Colorado booster Daniel Cheeseman (D. C.) Oakes.

By the time Gardner and company reached what is now the Colorado border, the bonanza D. C. Oakes had so enthusiastically publicized just months earlier was already being touted as a hoax. Gardner’s group encountered so many disillusioned gold seekers that some in his party, Gardner included, turned their wagons around and headed home. Before doing so, however, Gardner wrote “D. C. Oakes” on a bison skull and placed it at the head of a grave of empty cans and other rubbish. In his own travels, Oakes encountered several such effigy graves with nasty epitaphs like, “Here lies D. C. Oakes, Killed for aiding the Pike’s Peak hoax” written in axle grease and charcoal

Despite the discouraging reports from Colorado, Eleazar still had the itch to go west, even after returning home to Iowa. So, accompanied by his wife, three daughters, and a son, he once again loaded his wagon and hit the trail. The family arrived in Denver on June 28, 1860, but continued on to Central City several days later. Ultimately, they settled south of Black Hawk at Lake Gulch, where they took on boarders over the winter months. In the years that followed they relocated often: Idaho Springs, Denver, Nebraska City (Nebraska), South Boulder, back to Idaho Springs, Golden, and finally one last time in 1868 - Denver.

The following year, Gardner became Denver’s fourth policeman. He was on the force for four years before becoming Denver’s first private night watchman. In that capacity he carried keys to the banks, post office, newspaper, and many businesses. He wore the Watchman No. 1 badge, and walked his beat seven nights a week and holidays from dusk ‘til dawn, checking lights, doors, windows, and safes; seeing to it that all was in order.

And incredibly throughout his sixteen-year tenure, he never missed one shift until 1886, when his weary limbs could no longer carry him. On June 14, 1886 at the age of 67, Eleazar L. Gardner passed away.

Photo: Watchman Badge No. 1, History Colorado H.7076.1

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