John H. ‘Sundown’ Taffner: 1928-2013
Funeral services for Legendary Wyoming Law Enforcement Officer and long-time Buffalo Chief of Police, John H. (Sundown) Taffner who died on Tuesday afternoon at his home in Buffalo, was held Monday May, 20, at 2 p.m. from the Harness Funeral Home Chapel with Reverend Dr. Bob Miller officiating. Donations in Sundown’s memory may be made to the local American Legion Post #13 Boy’s State Program in care of the Harness Funeral Home at 351 N. Adams in Buffalo.
John Howard Taffner was born on July 8, 1928, in Ely, Nevada to Charles and Lillie Taffner. He moved with his parents as an infant to Buffalo, WY, where much of his early life was spent with his Uncle Dave Whaley, who owned and operated the Steerhead Ranch Northeast of Buffalo. He acquired the nick-name of Sundown when his uncle teased him at an evening meal with ranch hands by saying he often wasn’t seen when early morning work was to be done but always showed up for the meal at sundown. Sundown received his schooling in Buffalo and graduated from Johnson County High School with the class of 1948 where he was an excellent football player. After graduation he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in France during the Korean War, where his duties included relocating WWII equipment which had been left in Europe. In 1952, after his military duty he return home and Police Chief Marvin Shelton asked him to join Buffalo’s four-man police force. Sundown enjoyed the challenge of law enforcement and spent 38 years on the Buffalo Force. He was named Chief of Police to replace Bo Turk who moved to the job of County Sheriff. Mr. Turk replaced Leonard Meacham who was selected as Warden of the Wyoming State Prison in Rawlins. At one point in his career Chief Turk ordered new uniforms for the department. He said the uniform company called to say there was a mistake in the order because “nobody would wear a waste size of 32 inches and a size 52 jacket.” Turk assured them there was a man on the force who would fit that uniform.
Sundown served the citizens of Buffalo as Chief of Police for 18 years before he asked the City Council to allow him to “step down” from those duties. In recognition of his service, Mayor Emil Hecht and the Council agreed to name a new chief, but kept Taffner on the force with no reduction in salary.
Sundown was a past president of the Wyoming Peace Officers Association, served on the Advisory Board of the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy and was selected as “Lawman of the Year” both by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion Post #13.
He was an active member of the American Legion throughout his adult life and is a past Commander of Post #13. He also served three years on the staff of the American Legion Boys State program.
Known for being patient with people, Sundown had a reputation of being good natured, honest, loyal, sentimental, and fun-loving. He especially enjoyed children, music and dancing. Young people in the community knew they would get and second chance with Sundown, but that “things would get serious” if they got in trouble again.
For many years Sundown helped “mug” horses for the Wild Horse Race that climaxed the Johnson County Rodeo. No one ever saw a horse get away once Sundown took hold of its head.
As Chief of Police, Sundown was instrumental in the effort to see a modern Criminal Justice Center constructed in 1976.
In his early days as a Police Officer there were no two-way radios in the police cars. When an emergency arose, a red light on top of the old City Hall was turned on and a bell in the bell-tower of that building was rung.
Sundown often joked the system often worked well because people involved in bar-room arguments had time to settle their differences and were “shaking hands and hugging” by the time the lawman arrived.
A fellow lawman once said Sundown had the unusual gift of treating some “bad customers” in such a way that he brought out their best behavior even during an arrest.
Sundown was married to Edith Garland in Buffalo on Feb. 13, 1973.
Survivors in addition to his wife include step-children Christine Vasco (Arturo) of Buffalo; Bill Garland of Sheridan; Kelly (Roxane) Garland of Thayne, WY; George (Georgie) Garland of Bremerton, WA; four grandchildren Kico, Daniel and Victoria Vasco and Bridger Garland; and three great-grandchildren. He is also survived by one sister, Eva Simmons and her husband, Robert, of Morristown, AZ.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Lilly Richardson; two sisters, Billie Frances and Julia Robinson; and one brother, Chuck Taffner.