September 27, 2019

The direct descendant of a Rock Springs town marshal killed in the line of duty over a century ago is herself an officer of the Rock Springs Police Department.

Officer Tiffany Harris is the great-great-granddaughter of Deputy Town Marshal Thomas Harris, who died after an exchange of gunfire with an armed robbery suspect, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum said in an article on Saturday.

On the night of March 13/14, 1915, a man subsequently identified as 26-year-old Refugio Angel robbed the Fountain Saloon on South Front Street (now South Main Street). According to published accounts of the time, the bartender at the Fountain stepped outside the bar for a bucket of coal when he was accosted by Angel, who was armed with a handgun. Inside the saloon, Angel removed $40 from the till and ordered the bartender to draw him a beer.

While Angel was occupied with his beer, the bartender managed to slip away and spread the alarm; Harris arrived soon after.

By the time Harris reached the scene Angel had gone up the stairs at the Fountain and hidden himself in one of the back rooms on the second floor. Harris followed, and, standing in the hallway, shone his flashlight into the dark room. Angel opened fire and shot him in the left wrist, chest, and heel.

Three other town officers named Lewis, Snyder, and Allred arrived at the scene and devised an arrest strategy: while Lewis covered the stairway in the Fountain Saloon building, Allred and Snyder found ladders and climbed to the roof of the Grand Restaurant next door. On the roof, they spotted Angel, “revolver in his hand,” watching the window of the back room where he’d shot Harris. Allred shot Angel, who crawled back into the room through the window, then called out to surrender.

Angel survived, but Harris died six days later, on March 20, at the Wyoming General Hospital in Rock Springs. Word of Harris’s death spread quickly and that night a large mob forced its way into the town jail, (now the site of the Rock Springs Historical Museum at Broadway and B Streets), intent on lynching Harris’s killer.

Angel, however, was not there. When he heard of Harris’s death, Sweetwater County Sheriff Matt McCourt anticipated trouble and quickly moved him to the safety of the county jail in Green River.

Angel was charged with First Degree Murder in Harris’s death, pleaded not guilty, and went to trial in District Court in Green River in September. Fred W. Johnson of the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office prosecuted, and Angel’s lawyers are identified in court records as “Taliaferro and Muir.”

Court records located by County Museum researchers also identify Angel’s jurors: R. Chamney, George Stoll, Jr., G. H. Widdop, Everet Price, Thomas Kiernan, Halvey Hermanson, Thomas Edwards, Charles Hammond, Soren Kolsen, Bob Benz, Henry Bramwell, and Robert Gillum.

Angel was found guilty of Harris’s murder on September 24 and sentenced to life imprisonment at the State Penitentiary in Rawlins, where he was assigned inmate number 2256. Prison records describe him as 5' 6⅞" in height, weight 154 pounds with black hair and slate blue eyes, born in Mexico on the 4th of July, 1888. His occupation was listed as “Miner-Rancher.”

Angel’s record at the prison was apparently good, as in 1930 his life sentence was commuted to 14-33 years. He was paroled and deported to Mexico that same year after serving 15 years.

In December of 2016, Just over a century after his death, Thomas Harris’s great-great-granddaughter, Tiffany Harris, joined the Rock Springs Police Department, where she serves as a police officer in the Patrol Division. In May she received a special RSPD Lifesaving Award, the citation for which reads as follows:

“On June 26, 2018 Officer Harris responded to a medical call for a female having an insulin reaction. Officer Harris was the first to arrive and found the female unresponsive. Officer Harris immediately began CPR and continued until the ambulance crew arrived and successfully used a defibrillator. Officer Harris’s willingness to act and her decisive action allowed for quick medical attention resulting in the preservation of life.

“Officer Harris’s determination, devotion to duty, and decisive action has reflected credit upon herself, the Rock Springs Police Department and the City of Rock Springs.”

In May of 2018, Thomas Harris was honored for his service and sacrifice by the Rock Springs Police Department in a special “Retiring of the Colors” ceremony during National Police Week, when Chief Dwane Pacheco presented Officer Tiffany Harris and the Harris family with a special flag.

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