Tribute to Willie Steam

Posted: 24-Jan-2018

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This year, the Denver Police Museum has decided to honor Willie O. Steam, the first African-American Denver Police Officer to die in the line of duty. Here are the facts surrounding the death of Officer Steam:

  • Officer Steam was killed at 2128 Arapahoe Street on February 18, 1921 at 8:15pm
  • He as killed by Keil O'Neil who was originally born in Jamaica. O'Neil killed Steam because he blamed him for the Police shutting down a dance that O'Neil had organized the week before. O'Neil had filed for a permit but was refused by the city.
  • O'Neil shot Steam in the back twice once below left collar bone and the second Shot to the head with a 45 caliber gun.
  • O'Neil was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In 1935 his sentence was Commuted by Governor Ed Johnson and he was released in 1935 with time Served. J.A. Morgan who was also involved in murder received a three year Sentence.

Facts about Officer Steam:

  • Steam was born on October 25, 1875 in Topeka, Kansas.
  • He was married to his wife Lucinda Steam and they had no children.
  • When Officer Steam was killed he and his wife lived at 1315 32nd Street
  • Steam started with the city as a night watchman and a janitor at the Denver City And County Building.
  • Officer Steam was hired to patrol the predominately black areas of Denver.
  • Officer Steam was shot seven years earlier in another incident from which he Completely recovered. Friends indicated that the prior incident had really made Him a very brave and fearless man who would apprehend criminals in Dangerous situations many times without back up.
  • Officer Steam was also a veteran of World War I
  • Officer Steam was highly regarded by the Department leadership and civic leaders. The City Council at the direction of Mayor Dewey Bailey passed a special resolution honoring Steam and allocating $125 for his funeral. During that time in our city's history fallen officer families had to handle expenses.

The Denver Police Museum has undertaken a project to more closely do the research involved with our fallen Officers. Sgt Dean Christopherson originally did the research on Officer Steam that resulted in his addition to the Fallen Officer Memorial in 2011. Further research by the museum at Riverside Cemetery found that Officer Steam did not have a headstone. The museum in conjunction with the Denver Police Foundation, Fairmount Cemetery, the Denver Police Black Officers Association, the Denver Police Retiree Association and the Blair Caldwell Library have worked closely to purchase and place a headstone at Officer Steam's grave. In recognition of black history month, several displays in the Rocky Mountain Law Enforcement Credit Union and the Blair Caldwell library will be honoring Officer Steam's sacrifice for the Citizens of the City and County of Denver. The headstone will be unveiled on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at Riverside Cemetery with a reception following highlighting the significant role black officers have played in the Denver Police Department beginning in 1870.