Governor Oliver H. Shoup (shoop ba-doop) was elected the 22nd governor of Colorado in November, 1918, and he was already receiving death threats by February, 1919. “Lunatics” weren’t wasting any time. Granted, Shoup’s own head was not under threat but that of a proxy, Hamilton Armstrong, long-serving Denver Chief of Police. Neither Shoup nor Armstrong were harmed by the unknown letter writer. Both men died years later of heart attacks.
The letter this “lunatic” sent was oddly signed. The writer drew a person’s left hand and wrote “one hundred and fifty White Caps” on the hand. Originating in the mid-1800s, “whitecapping” was the crime of threatening a person with violence in order to influence their behavior. White Cap societies were anonymous groups that used whitecapping to intimidate people. This letter writer supposedly had a group of 150 people behind their threat. In the 1920s, the KKK, wearing literal white caps, became the most notorious and influential of these groups in Colorado.
An article from Montrose Daily Press from the same day describes the letter as a “black hand threat.” The phrase “black hand threat” has its roots in Italian-American extortion rackets, for gangsters and mafia members would send letters threatening their target, often signing it at the end with a drawing of a hand. A film about the origins of the Mafia, called The Black Hand, starring Leo DiCaprio, is currently in the works.
Another interesting piece of the whitecapping letter: the writer disavows themselves from the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World), but claims, “there is some power behind us.” Newspapers at this time often lumped together the I.W.W., Bolsheviks, and Anarchists together as violent, dangerous, anti-American organizations, despite the fact that none of these groups agreed with each other, and most members of these groups detested violence. Regardless, I’d love to know why the writer wanted his target to know the I.W.W. had nothing to do with the threat.
A bit more about Governor Shoup: he served as governor for two terms, from 1919 – 1923, but he declined to run for a third term. He is best known for opening the 6.2 mile Moffat Tunnel, which runs beneath James Peak (13,301′ high). Moffat Tunnel opened the Middle Park area up to a more reliable Denver supply line, and it provided Denver residents with a faster way to get to Winter Park and Steamboat Springs. Shoup helped create the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District that sold bonds backed by real estate taxes, which funded the tunnel.
Before being elected governor, Shoup attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He left college to pursue business ventures in banking as well as oil, and he was the first president of the Midwest Oil Company and the Midwest Refining Company. During his political career as governor, he oversaw the creation of the State Highway Department and a restructuring of the Colorado National Guard. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.