IN MEMORY OF OUR FELLOW OFFICERS WHO GAVE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
On September 14, 1919, Rock Springs Deputy Game Warden John Buxton received a report of some shooting north of Rock Springs. He responded to the call, accompanied by his pregnant wife.
At the scene, Warden Buxton located two subjects who were identified as Joe Omeye and John Kolman. Warden Buxton advised Mr. Omeye that hunting season was over and took his rifle away from him. As John Buxton returned to his vehicle, suspect Omeye yelled at him. As Buxton turned to face him, Omeye shot the warden in the stomach with a handgun that he had concealed under his coat.
Warden Buxton staggered to his car, calling for his wife to bring him his gun. Omeye then shot at Mrs. Buxton, luckily missing her. She then went for help. Upon returning, John was loaded into the car to be transported to the hospital. John Buxton died before reaching medical help.
Joe Omeye was later apprehended by Sweetwater County Sheriff John Stoddard and another deputy. He was convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to not less than 20 nor more than 21 years in the state penitentiary on March 17, 1920. Omeye was paroled on December 22, 1924, but after a parole violation was returned to the penitentiary. He was released again on December 16, 1931.
George “Ted” Price
In the early morning of August 31, 1921, at the age of 31, Assistant State Game Commissioner (Game Warden) George “Ted” Price of Thermopolis was killed in a gunfight while assisting the Hot Springs County Sheriff’s Office in apprehending bootleggers. Price was acting in the capacity of a Deputy Sheriff at the time of the incident and was assisting Sheriff Harry Holdrege when he was shot.
Sheriff Holdrege had received a tip that Elsworth Mullendore and Starkey Powers had planned to run a car of moonshine from Meeteetsee to Thermopolis Tuesday night. Accompanied by Deputies Price and Palmer, he took the main road to Grass Creek thinking they might meet their men somewhere in that vicinity. They placed a mark across the Ilo road that comes into the main road and then drove to the Indian Trails to see if they had taken that detour, but no cars had gone that way. Returning to where the Ilo road comes in, they found that a car had passed the mark they had made, and at once took in after it. They caught up with it about where the Wyoming-Yellowstone road turns off. The booze car turned out to the other pass and as the Officers drove up, Sheriff Holdrege called to the men that they were under arrest. Deputy Palmer exited the Sheriff’s car and went up to the booze car to make the arrest. Instead of giving themselves up, they started their car down the road full speed. Ted Price took a shot at one of the tires of the fleeing car and it was afterward found the bullet had cut a spoke in the right rear wheel. The Sheriff’s car kept close behind with its lights full on the fugitives. When they reached the Cottonwood crossing, the booze car was out of sight for a few moments from a sharp turn in the road and taking it out of the beam of the pursuing car’s lights. Just at the south side of the creek, Mullendore jumped out and hid behind a clump of three cottonwood trees that grew on the right side of the road, while Powers stopped his car at the left side of the road about 30 feet farther on.
As the Sheriff’s car came up, Ted Price saw the man behind the trees. Price was sitting in the front seat beside Sheriff Holdrege and opened his door and swung himself around with his rifle raised and called to the man to throw up his hands. The answer was a shot from behind the trees. With an exclamation, “Boys he’s got me.”, Ted Price fell back in the car against Sheriff Holdrege and died instantly. The bullet had passed through and shattered the left forearm and went directly through the heart. Sheriff Holdrege had drawn his gun with one hand and was covering Powers who was standing by the booze car. Powers’ gun was in his car and he came forward with his hands up and surrendered. While this was going on, Deputy Palmer had jumped out and ran around to the back of the Sheriff’s car toward the area where Mullendore was attempting to clear a jam in his gun, a .22 high–power Savage rifle. Going up to the other side of the trees, Deputy Palmer took one shot at close range that brought Mullendore down.
Mullendore shot Ted Price at a distance of 12 feet and was later shot by Deputy Palmer at a distance of 3 to 4 feet. If Mullendore’s rifle had not jammed or had Deputy Palmer hesitated a moment while the battle was on, all three Officers almost certainly would have been killed.
Bill Lakanen & Don Simpson
On Wednesday, October 31, 1945 Deputy Game Wardens Bill Lakanen and Don Simpson went to Nugget Gulch in the Sierra Madre Mountains southwest of Rawlins to check on activity of a man who lived in this remote area. The man, John Malten had been previously convicted of illegally possessing beaver pelts and had served time in the Carbon County jail.
Although the truth of what actually happened may never be known, the evidence gathered at the scene points to the following events.
When the two game wardens arrived at Malten’s cabin, the suspect opened the door and started shooting at them without warning. Bill Lakanen was shot once in the head with a .22 caliber rifle while he was still seated behind the steering wheel of the truck. It appears Don Simpson managed to exit the truck and return fire at Malten. Game warden Simpson was shot twice in the abdomen with .22 caliber bullets. At some point, Don Simpson attempted to gain the safety of surrounding trees, but did not make it. When Malten reached the fallen officer, he found him still alive and shot him through the head with Simpson’s own .38 caliber revolver. Then Malten dragged Simpson’s body back to the truck. After Malten had removed Lakanen’s body from the truck, wood was piled around both officers’ bodies. Gas was poured over the bodies, the wood and the truck, but for some reason, they were never set afire.
This was the scene that searchers found two days later, after the two wardens failed to return home. Also, Malten’s cabin had been burned to the ground. A check of the cabin’s ashes turned up several items which indicated John Malten had been burned in the cabin fire. This fact was never fully verified however, John Malten was never seen or heard from again.
Slain game wardens remembered
The Wyoming Game Wardens Association conducted a ceremony to honor the service and sacrifice of game wardens Bill Lakanen and Don Simpson at Jack Creek Park on the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Saratoga on August 8, 2015. Lakanen and Simpson were murdered by John Malten, a German immigrant, at his cabin on Jim Creek on October 31, 1945. Approximately 60 people attended the memorial service and heard accounts of the incident by Bill Robertson, president of the Wyoming Game Wardens Association and Greybull Game Warden, and Saratoga Game Warden Biff Burton. The Wyoming Game Wardens Association Honor Guard also gave a 21-gun salute and played taps for the solemn occasion.
WGWA President and Greybull Game Warden Bill Robertson (L) and Saratoga Game Warden Biff Burton (R) at the Ceremony.
On August 6, 2014 Wyoming Game Wardens placed a memorial plaque near the site where Game Wardens Bill Lakanen and Don Simpson were murdered on October 31, 1945 in Nugget Gulch in the Sierra Madres. The team of Wardens included Daniel Beach, Jason Hunter, Brady Frude, Kelly Todd, Jason Sherwood, Irah Leonetti and John Demaree. As the Wardens finished for the day and headed back to camp, a rainbow appeared over the site.
Chief Game Warden Fielding Peterson died of a heart attack while attending a coordination meeting for the annual One Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander. Officer Fielding was appointed Chief Game Warden in June, 1958 and died on September 19, 1958.
Shoshoni Deputy Game Warden Charles Calvert died on January 26, 1965. He was assisting other game wardens in moving a herd of elk in the East Fork of the Wind River, northeast of Dubois. While attempting to start his snow machine, Warden Calvert died of a sudden heart attack.
Cheyenne Deputy Game Warden Francis Gradert died on April 24, 1973. Warden Gradert was live trapping a beaver on Crow Creek, south of Cheyenne. After the beaver was trapped, Warden Gradert pulled the trap to his truck. While inspecting the beaver for injuries, Warden Gradert died of a sudden heart attack.
Casper Damage Control Warden Cliff Stevens and his wife Joyce were both killed June 24, 1983 in a head-on collision near Riverton. Warden Stevens was hauling empty fish tanks with a department semi and swerved to avoid a vehicle stopped in the lane of traffic. Wyoming Highway Patrolman Levar Olsen received burns to his hands while attempting to get the victims out of the burning vehicles.
Game Warden Kirk Inberg was killed in a plane crash on October 16, 1991 while performing Grizzly Bear radio monitoring in the Dubois area.
Beside the Fallen
25 years since the loss
October 2016 marked 25 years since the morning of October 16, 1991 when a chartered plane took off with two bear biologists in search of a radio collared grizzly bear that may have been wounded by an elk hunter. The plane never returned to the Jackson Airport and remained lost until nearly four years later.
The fatal crash launched the most extensive search in Wyoming history and a left a wound in the hearts of families, Game and Fish coworkers, regional bear researchers and many Wyomingites in general. Lost were Game & Fish employees Kirk Inberg and Kevin Roy along with private pilot Ray Austin. Inberg, 28, was a game warden with the responsibility of investigating conflicts between grizzly bears and humans. He was a Riverton native who earned a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology from the University of Montana. He started his Game and Fish career in May 1982. Kirk worked on the construction crew, on the grizzly bear aversive conditioning research study team and was promoted to the Medicine Bow Game Warden district before returning to the bear program in 1990.
Roy, 26, had been a special projects grizzly biologist with the Game and Fish since June 1990. He graduated from high school in El Paso, Texas before earning a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology from Texas A&M University and a masters from the University of Montana.
Austin, 47, was an experienced pilot logging over 6,200 flight hours including 1,800 in a Maule M5-235, the plane flown that day. He had worked for Western Air Research of Alta, Wyoming for 18 months.
Nearly four years after the crash, a bugling elk led a pair of hunters to the wreckage on Soda Mountain near the Fremont-Teton county line between Togwotee Pass and Yellowstone National Park. It appeared the plane crashed at a steep angle and all three men were killed upon impact. Only two trees were clipped and wreckage was scattered only about 200 feet. The scene was so obscure, even with the exact location it took two sets of eyes in a subsequent flight 30 minutes to locate the wreckage. A brass plaque now commemorates the site. In 1992 the East Fork Wildlife Habitat Management Area near Dubois was also renamed for Inberg and Roy, and a memorial was placed just west of the Dennison cabin up the East Fork Road.
Left to right: pilot Ray Austin, Warden Kirk Inberg, and Biologist Kevin Roy.
The memorial at the Dennison Cabin.
Dubois Game Warden Kay Bowles was snowmobiling on a Bighorn Sheep winter census near Brooks Lake above Dubois and died of a sudden heart attack on Feburary 20, 1992.
These Wyoming Officers are listed at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy in Douglas on the Officer Memorial. They are also memorialized in stone at the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Museum at the International Peace Gardens on the United States/Canadian border.
On May 20th, 2016, the Wyoming Game Wardens Association Honor Guard participated in the Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony at the Supreme Court Building in Cheyenne. Their performance in the 21 gun salute was flawless and they have a standing invite to the following years memorial ceremonies.
On July 16, 2018 the Wyoming Game Wardens Association Honor Guard conducted the Fallen Officer Ceremony at the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association Conference held at Little America Resort Hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming.