• No dedicated jails, courthouse, or penitentiary.
• Justice was swift; often time, trials and sentencing were carried out all in one day. People’s courts were assembled comprised of prominent residents in the community.
• Juries were made up of 3 to 12 people and court was held outdoors, allowing the greatest number of witnesses to view the procedure ensuring that the general concept of justice was adhered to.
• Three penalties were considered; 39 lashes, banishment with threat of severe punishment if seen again, and execution for the most serious of offenses e.g., murder, horse theft, or theft of a miner’s gold dust. It was not uncommon for an execution to take place the same day, usually by hanging. Sometimes a point was made to hold the execution at the exact site the murder occurred.
• Arapahoe County’s first recorded escape from jail was from the McGaa Street Jail on June 25, 1860, convicted murderer William F. Hadley, who was sentenced to hang that very day, was able to flee from its confines.
The original Rocky Mountain News building was used by the Denver City Marshal as Denver City’s first Jail. It also housed ACSO prisoners from 1860 to 1862. Photo Credit: Denver Behind Bars, Lenny Ortiz, Aventine Press 2004 / Denver Public Library photo.
The ACSO got its second jail in 1874 and used it through 1891. It was constructed on the east side of Santa Fe Dr. at the northeast corner of Santa Fe Dr. and W. 14th Ave. It held 109 prisoners in 1888. Eventually it was converted into the first courthouse on Denver’s west side when the new Arapahoe County Jail opened across the street to the northwest in 1891. It was later razed in 1930 to make way for a newer courthouse.
The ACSO had its third jail from 1891-1903. It was at the Brownstone Hotel in Denver. It was thought to be the finest and best-equipped correction facility in the U.S. The three-winged ‘T’ shaped building could house up to 400 inmates. It was used for 65 years.