Chicago hitman brings rodeo to Sedalia
By Joe Gschwendtner: photos courtesy of Denver Public Library
The Roaring ‘20s in the Wildcat Mountains did not lack excitement. Bootlegging and gambling were rampant, especially in Larkspur, where the Feds found and busted the two largest moonshine stills in the county. Their proprietors would do 3-5 years in the pen.
Perhaps the headline event of the decade was the return to Colorado of Louis “Two Gun” Alterie from Chicago. Born Leland Varaine Alterie, he grifted to Denver in the early ‘20s and married. He became an amateur boxer with the stage name, Kid Hayes. His early capacity for violence proved foundational and he resurfaced in Chicago as a mobster with the Northside Gang. He rose quickly to hitman and then bodyguard for Dean O’Banion, the capo and Al Capone’s arch rival. When blood flowed in the streets in 1924 Chicago, Alterie and O’Banion chose to cool off in Colorado at the Woodbine Lodge (later to become the Woodbine Country Club) in Sedalia’s Jarre Canyon.
The Lodge was already the county den of iniquity with loose women, booze and gambling. While in residence, Alterie allegedly discovered the Thompson submachine gun which Sedalia ranchers used to run off coyotes. He and O’Banion then purchased their own, quickly becoming proficient marksmen. Local resident Esme Williams Couch once saw them draw Indian silhouettes in the dirt with sustained machine gun fire.
Alterie later acquired an interest in Jarre Canyon’s Round-Up Ranch at a poker game and another assorted 4,000 acres through other deals. As a decorating theme in his lodge, he chose firearms, embellishing the walls with pistols. Given his penchant for booze and bullets, it was no surprise he once got into a gunfight with his baby grand piano.
Perhaps the diamond-encrusted badge he would buy for County Sheriff Roy McKissack made for another moniker, “Diamond Jack.” Or was it a lavish, moneyed lifestyle evidenced through diamond cuff links, belt buckles and other diamond-studded jewelry? While here, Alterie also developed a fondness for rodeos and hosted his own at Round Up Ranch.
When he and O’Banion returned to Chicago, they were quickly in the thick of gang wars again. One morning O’Banion was in his flower shop without Alterie, who was sleeping off a hangover. In what came to be known as the “handshake murder,” O’Banion was brutally executed while still in the clasp of a customer. Alterie was furious but not stupid, and briefly retreated to his Jarre Canyon redoubt.
The divorced Alterie then married 18-year-old Ermina Rossi in Denver, daughter of incarcerated city crime kingpin Mike Rossi. Now a rodeo fanatic, he hosted and promoted the first two Rocky Mountain events at the Denver Stockyards. Ever flamboyant and always bejeweled, his shows were as much circus as rodeo competition. A marked man by 1927, he left Sedalia permanently to reside at his Sweetwater Ranch in Garfield County, Colorado. To ensure safety, he took an arsenal of 250 weapons.
Alterie lived and would die “by the sword,” rubbed out eventually by contract killers in 1935 Chicago. Ironically, the killers used a sniper technique developed earlier by Alterie himself.