Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

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their dream. Peace and comfort filled their
souls for the space of some minutes and then was
driven out entirely by the whir of the telephone

Ten minutes later Troopers McCormack,
Hackett, Mangan, and Rogers, having stopped
the first auto that passed, were racing for the
Albright home.

The old man had been found, the telephone
message ran, in the woodland back of his house.
He had refused to surrender and had insisted he
would slay the first man to enter the forest, and
the next and the next for as long as his ammuni-
tion held out. Having a natural aversion to
sudden death, the country folk bided their time
and telephoned for the troopers. If anyone has
to be killed, they argued, let it be someone who
makes getting killed his business.

" Queer, but Harmless " 193

Dusk was falling when the car the troopers
had commandeered halted in front of the Al-
bright home. In the woods the shadows of night
already were heavy. Somehow they seemed
deeper and more sinister than usual this evening.

About the Albright home, several men lingered
watching the patch of evergreen and scrub oak
where the maniac lay hidden. They moved
cautiously and spoke in half whispers as though
he could hear them. The troopers listened
soberly to their explanations, eyes on that dark-
ening clump of trees. Then they spoke together
briefly, examined their revolvers, tightened their
belts, and walked slowly out across the meadow
toward the woods.

They had arranged to go through in pairs.
Whoever found Albright was to fire two shots in
rapid succession as a signal.

To the people who watched, it seemed as
though the grey dusk of the woodland welled
up and melted the troopers away as they reached
its edge.

For fifteen minutes there was silence. In the
pale sky a star came out to see and the last
embers of the afterglow smoldered out in the

From the black depths of the woods came the

194 Grey Riders

bang of a shotgun; the double hand-clap of two
pistol shots. Again the shotgun spoke. Then
for what seemed an hour, utter stillness.

When they reached the woods' edge Hackett
and McCormack swung to the right and Rogers
and Mangan to the left. Then where the thick
underbrush afforded openings, they plunged in.
Before them, they could see dimly patches of
scrub oak, and above, glimpses of the dark sky
against the darker masses of the trees. An
infantry battalion might have been hidden

Twigs crackled and leaves swished and brushed
about the men as they pushed forward. Behind
them, the western sky still gleamed. The noise
of their progress could be heard all through the
wood and they were no more invisible than a
man standing with footlights at his back. Some-
where, in the blackness ahead of them, the mad-
man lay hidden, waiting. He had plenty of
ammunition. On the face of things, that was all
he needed.

Mangan and Rogers had progressed only a
little way when they discovered what had evi-
dently once been a path, leading away dimly
into the gloom. It was overgrown in places and
once or twice they were forced to clamber over

"Queer, but Harmless' 195

trees that had fallen across it, but they followed
it along.

All this while the wood was deathly still save
for the noise of their own movements which
seemed magnified a thousand times. Not once
did they peer ahead into the darkness without
wondering whether the next step w r ould bring a
charge of buckshot whistling out of its depths.
Yet they kept on, driving deeper and deeper into
the black thicket that seemed to be holding its
breath waiting.

Then, suddenly, whatever god on Olympus
loves brave men best, intervened to save the lives
of Mangan and Rogers. Through a heaven-sent
opening in the brush and trees, the groping
troopers caught sight of a pale patch of clear sky.
They paused for an instant. Across that patch,
something stirred and moved; a swollen figure
that loomed gigantic in the half light.

"Drop!" Rogers yelled, plunging face down-
ward into the undergrowth. Mangan crashed to
earth beside him just as a load of shot stormed
over their heads, showering them with torn
leaves and twigs.

Mangan fired twice, not at the figure of the
man silhouetted ahead of them, but into the air
the signal agreed upon beforehand.

196 Grey Riders

As he fired, Rogers rushed Albright. He was
quick, but not swift enough wholly to prevent
what he had seen about to happen. The mad-
man had placed the muzzle of the shotgun
beneath his own chin and was now striving
awkwardly to pull the trigger.

Rogers struck him just as the gun went off and
they rolled over on the ground together, the
trooper deafened and dazed by the explosion,
Albright stunned and bleeding from the glancing
wounds he had received.

When the others, called by the shooting,
arrived, they found Mangan and Rogers carry-
ing their quarry back along the overgrown trail
they had followed.

In a few minutes they were out of the black-
ness into the soft half-light of the meadow again.
Never had field looked lovelier; never had the
few stars above seemed so bright.

A neighbor of Albright approached them as
they bore the senseless man away toward a car.

"That," he said, "ain't never William. This
here's a big feller."

When they reached the Nyack Hospital with
their charge the reason for his great bulk was
disclosed. Orderlies divested him of four coats,
three pairs of trousers, three shirts and then

"Queer, but Harmless' 197

finally reached the emaciated body of the mad-
man. He was later sent to the Hospital for the
Criminal Insane at Matteawan.

The troopers returned to their supper at Spring

In rural districts of New York and other
States, the mind and morality of man is left to
grow much as it pleases. The reasons for this
are numerous. Chief among them, is the fact
that country folk have physical elbow room.
The space between houses is larger than the
narrowest airshaft that will comply with a De-
partment of Health ordinance. Man does not
live eternally within eye and earshot of his
neighbor. Consequently, his interest in what
his neighbor does, while perhaps more active
than that of the city dweller, is less personal and
more tolerant.

If John Jones chooses to run about the barn-
yard clad solely in his red flannel shirt, his neigh-
bor, being several fields away from the conven-
tion-breaking John, may discuss the matter with
gusto in the grocery store, but there, in nine
cases out of ten, his interest ends. The conduct
of the sans-culotte Jones, in a city, would set a
hundred persons to shrieking for the police and a

198 Grey Riders

strait-jacket. In rural New York, or the coun-
tryside of any other State, his neighbors shrug
their shoulders and opine that John is "queer."

That usually is as far as it goes. Until John
Jones swaps the wearing of an abbreviated and
brilliant costume for some more violent form of
mania which threatens the life or property of his
neighbor, that neighbor is perfectly willing to let
him alone, and does.

This tolerance of eccentricity inevitably stimu-
lates it. With the forbearance of the farmer,
mania ripens into crime. The loneliness and the
tough, exacting life of a farm dweller breed in-
sanity, which frequently first makes its presence
known by some apparently harmless bias or
habit. No one thinks of suggesting that the man
in whom dementia is beginning to smolder be
sent to a hospital or asylum for observation.
He simply dubs the person in question "queer,"
generally adding "but harmless."

The farmers adopt a laissezfaire policy. They
permit the "queer" one to go his way until his
mania flames up into crime. Then the folk who
have tolerated him while this crime was coming
into fruition, howl desolately for the troopers.
All that the grey riders can do is capture the
maniac and see that he is placed where he can no

" Queer, but Harmless " 199

longer threaten society. The appreciation that
a man with a demented mind is a latent criminal
has never taken hold of the farmer folk of New

Why should they intervene? "Queer" per-
sons are too common in the counties where
houses are far apart to excite any special in-
terest. In the second place, the average farmer
will inform you piously that "Live and let live"
is his motto. This generally means that he is
reluctant to intervene in what he regards none
of his. business and also that he fears that if he
does, his hayricks and barns some night will go
up in flame.

That is why hideous murders are committed
year after year in lonely farmhouses. That is
why the dreary tale of cruelty to animal cases
keeps up winter after winter. Likewise, it is why
certain pages of the records of the New York
State Troopers read, despite the formal brevity
of the reports entered therein, like the dreams of
a dope fiend.

Picture a hard-pressed author of most violent
fiction introducing as a character a crack-brained
tramp who wandered about the countryside
lassoing small boys and hanging them ! Imagine
the smiling incredulity with which the public

200 Grey Riders

would greet the tale, if an editor were found
sufficiently weak minded to publish it.

On August 16, 1920, a resident of Potter
Hollow, Greene County, N. Y., heard strange
choking sounds coming from a patch of woods
he was passing. He plunged into the timber and
found its source. Dangling from a tree by a rope
looped about his neck, flopping about three feet
above the ground, was the eleven -year-old son of
Melvin Cook.

The man who found him cut him down, re-
vived him, and then carried him home. -There
the lad told a tale that sent his father telephoning
frantically for the State Troopers.

He had been on the way back from the grocery
store, the boy said, and was passing through the
wood when a tattered man leaped at him from
behind a tree. He bore the boy down like a tiger,
knotted a rope about his neck, flung the loose end
over a limb, strung him up, and left him there.

That was all the youngster knew. For ten
days Troopers Myers and Turner of Troop G
sought for the man, guided in their pursuit by
reports from parents of other children whose
offspring had been chased by the maniac.

Finally they ran him down. On August 26th,
near Norton Hill, twenty miles from the spot

" Queer, but Harmless " 201

where young Cook had been strung up, they
came upon a dirt-smeared, haggard tramp in
whose shifty eyes a strange pale light gleamed.
He was identified as the man who had tried to
hang the boy and sent to Matteawan Asylum.

William Lyons was his name. He hailed from
Mechanicsville, where he had always been re-
garded as queer, but harmless, by his neighbors.

Scarcely a month goes by that some of the
grey riders are not called upon to go forth and
gather in this or that insane person who is en-
dangering the lives and property of his neighbors.

Sometimes this is accomplished easily, for
the grey uniforms and the direct, quiet men who
wear them carry a growing prestige that awes
even an addled mind. Not infrequently, the
riders have to subdue a madman in his fury
before they can accomplish their mission.

One summer day in 1920, \Vestfield, N. Y.,
telephoned for the Chautauqua patrol of Troop
A, announcing that one Michael Roman had gone
baresark, declared war on humanity in general
and on Westfield in particular, and was even then
on the brink of removing the hamlet from the

Troopers Giles and Maciejewski headed their
horses for Westfield. On reaching the hamlet,

202 Grey Riders

a dozen persons tried to tell them at once of


Roman's threats and their conviction that he
intended to fulfill them. At that moment, the
troopers were informed, he was in his home,
mobilizing himself for the war of extinction.
He had sworn to slay the first person who an-
noyed him.

When Giles and Maciejewski approached the
barricaded dwelling, Roman, at sight of the
familiar grey uniforms, forgot entirely his ulti-
matum to society and with a wild howl of fear
announced to the quivering welkin that the
police were about to kill an innocent man. Still
lamenting he dashed upstairs and locked himself
in his bedroom.

From behind this door, the former defier of all
authority continued to lift his voice in keenings
of distress, mingling these with announcements
that he was prepared to sell his life dearly. After
he had ignored repeated commands to open the
door, and the troopers had exhausted all their
powers of persuasion, Giles solved the situation
by bursting in the lock.

Immediately Roman, who was six feet tall and
of almost equal width, flung himself upon Giles.
Maciejewski came to the aid of his mate. He
was needed. Normally more powerful than most

" Queer, but Harmless ' 203

men, insanity had given double strength to

While most of Westfield gathered in an awed
crowd before the house, the fight raged through
the room. Before he was thrown and quieted
both the chamber and the troopers showed signs
of heavy wear.

They took their prisoner away. With him
they also took several axes and clubs, a scythe
blade, crowbars, and numerous knives ground to
razor-keenness Roman's armament for the ex-
tinction of Westfield. Their prisoner was com-
mitted to Gowanda State Hospital.

Again, when a certain eccentric resident of
Voorheesville went violently insane one night in
1920, two men from Troop G risked their lives
over and over, to catch the maniac they had been
told would kill rather than surrender. From
10 P.M. to 8 A.M. they sought him a madman
with a loaded shotgun ready for action and at
length they found and caught him through sheer
persistent courage.

Early that evening the telephone in the Bar-
racks of Troop G brought word that a man
had gone suddenly demented in a house at Voor-
heesville. He had taken a shotgun, barricaded
himself in his room, and had sworn to kill the

Grey Riders

first person who attempted to interfere with

Five minutes later, Troopers Myers and Shee-
han, in an automobile, were roaring away toward
Voorheesville. When they reached the little
town they found, though it was then the scandal-
ous hour of ten, that most of the inhabitants
were grouped about a certain house, staring
fascinated up at a window behind which, they
said, the madman lay awaiting to fulfill his
threat upon the first person who dared to intrude.

For a minute, Sheehan and Myers listened to
the awe-stricken reports of the crowd and then
ran into the house and to the door of the room
where they had been told death lay waiting.
They hammered on the door.

There was no response. Two shoulders surged
against the portal and it fell in, but no answering
bang of a shotgun followed the crash of its fall.
The room in which the crazy man had lurked,
ready to kill, was empty. He evidently had seen
the approach of the men in grey and, fearing
them, had vanished. An open window in the
rear had been his means of exit, and the men who
had charged into what they believed was the
face of death found that the encounter they had
sought was still ahead of them.

" Queer, but Harmless ' 205

There is a certain type of courage that will
stand up under a single great crisis. There is
another, rarer and finer, that will face peril over
and over again without breaking or faltering.
This latter was the quality of bravery that
Sheehan and Myers displayed that night.

From the empty house, they followed the
directions of the people outside to another dwell-
ing where they thought that the madman might
have hidden. Again the troopers searched a
silent, empty structure, not knowing when the
charge from the shotgun might come out of the
blackness upon them. The man they sought was
not there, either, and they then turned to a cider
mill into which it was said that the maniac had

Once again, they risked extinction, blundering
through the dark silence of the mill, but the man
was not there.

Villagers ventured the opinion that it would be
well to wait till daylight. Others said that the
man had probably resigned his expressed desire
to kill and had hidden away somewhere. All
urged the troopers to abandon their search
temporarily, at least.

But Sheehan and Myers kept to their work.
They had been sent out to get their man and

2o6 Grey Riders

they were going to carry on their hunt until they

All through that night, they continued their
search. From the village they circled through
the outlying countryside, faced through the dark
dead hours when ordinary courage ebbs, with the
picture of a reckless killer lying in wait for them
somewhere with his shotgun ready.

At length in the early morning, they got word
that the lunatic was hiding in a farmhouse, five
miles from town, still with his gun ready and still
insistent that he would never be taken alive.

They crept up to the door of the kitchen
where he sat ready and for perhaps the tenth
time burst in a door and rushed, not this time
into an empty room, but straight toward the
muzzle of the madman's shotgun. Under the
sudden violence of the attack, he flinched momen-
tarily and before he could recover and fire, two
leaping forms in grey struck him and overthrew

Then with their job completed, the troopers
and their captive returned to barracks. The
madman was taken to Albany Hospital.

Multiply the above cited cases by one hundred
for they are typical, not unique and you will
have some idea of the problem confronting the

" Queer, but Harmless ' 207

men of the service, a problem whose solution is
made doubly difficult by reason of the reluctance
of country folk to lock the door until the horse
has been stolen. Their insistence that their
"queer" neighbors are harmless until they have
proved themselves otherwise has complicated
the work of the grey riders, but it also has fur-
nished some of the most dramatic chapters in
the history of the organization.



THE bitter wind that swept down the main
street of Honeoye Falls, N. Y., one bleak Decem-
ber day in 1919, stung the ears of citizens who
faced it and brought to them from the distance
unholy sounds.

"For Gawd's sake!" said the citizens, one to
the other, and stood shivering to listen.

It sounded like a Ford car, traveling along in
the pangs of dissolution. But no machine ever
invented by the magician of Michigan wailed
and shrieked, banshee-like, as it fell apart.

Rattety-bank ! Bump! Crash! Sounds that
rose high into howls and fell away into dreary

One of those who heard waggled his chin
whiskers sagely.

"It's someone a-singin'," he announced.

The others smiled scornfully. He was known

to be deaf. The noise drew nearer and the smiles


The Art of Orpheus 209

of scorn for the deaf one faded into expressions of
envy. He had been right, in part at least. Some
of the racket was human. But even the un-
trained ears of the citizens of Honeoye Falls
refused to classify the outrageous sounds as any-
thing approaching music.

At the far end of the street, an ancient Ford
car hove into view. At its wheel was a figure in
a grey uniform, partly hidden in a sheepskin
coat. Beside him sat a lean, rawboned, stubble-
bearded man, mighty of shoulder and wild of
eye. One hand beat time unsteadily as the car
bumped along over the rutted road. The heads
of both occupants were thrown back. Their
mouths opened and closed in unison. The loud
complainings of the car merged into their bellow-

"Wa-a-ay down u-pon theeee Suwannee Riv-e-er "

(Bang-bang-bang! "Sing louder!")
"Far, far a-a-a "

(Ker-bung; wham! "Keep in time, dern ye!")
"There's whar my ha-a-a-art is turnin' eve-e-er-

(Rattle-rattle; crash! "Guess I'll sing sopraner!")

Past the amazed citizens the vehicle thundered
and shrieked, like a steam calliope gone mad.
The noise was sufficient ground for a charge of
disorderly conduct and possibly felonious assault.

210 Grey Riders

And most amazing part of it, one of the perpetra-
tors was a State Trooper.

Around a corner the car swung, and the kindly
winter wind swept its noise along after it. The
townsfolk looked at each other with unbelieving
eyes. Robbed of more coherent expression by
amazement and indignation, they swore deeply.
From the distance came a last faint recurrence
of the atrocious racket.

Trooper George of Troop A, New York State
Troopers, was on his way toward triumph in one
of the most delicate cases ever policeman was
called upon to handle. Single-handed, he was
attempting what six men once before had had
difficulty in accomplishing. The terror of Mon-
roe County, the madman of Mendon, who swore
that no law officer would ever take him again
alive, was sitting contentedly at his side traveling
to the insane asylum.

The citizens of Honeoye Falls rubbed their
outraged ears and started about their business

"He ought to be 'rested; yes, sir!" they said
to one another as they parted.

The day was bitter cold but at the wheel of
the bouncing, lurching car, Trooper George was
sweating copiously. All morning long he had

The Art of Orpheus 21 1

used his wits with the deft, certain touch of a
scalpel in a surgeon's fingers. For hours, he had
kept control over a dangerous madman without
once lifting a hand. Infinite tact had accom-
plished what otherwise it might have taken
eight men to do.

Beside him, Lew Hemaline, maniac of the most
violent sort, sat contented. But and this was
what made George sweat at any moment the
volcano might explode. One ill-advised move;
one carelessly uttered word might make it neces-
sary for the trooper to shoot, and shoot to kill.

Monroe County knew Lew Hemaline well and
dreaded him accordingly. When the mania was
not upon him he was a powerful, rather stupid
farmhand. At other times he was a devil whose
path no one crossed if he could help it. With
that strange, blind tolerance of country folk, the
people of Mendon, where he lived, made no
complaint against him save when his insanity
actually threatened their lives.

The night before, a child of the hotel keeper
at Williamson, N. Y., had come running to the
stable where George was grooming the stains of
the day's patrol from Abe, his mount.

'Mr. Trooper," the boy panted, "somebody's
been callin' you on the phone."

212 Grey Riders

"Call the barracks," the hotel keeper directed
as George appeared. 'They've tried to get you
three times in the last half hour."

Over the telephone, George received instruc-
tions from First Sergeant Miller.

"Get to Mendon as quick as you can," Miller
ordered. "A crazy man is threatening to tear
the place apart. Lew Hemaline is the name. If
you can't get him alone, we'll send help."

One minute was devoted to giving the hotel
man instructions concerning Abe. Then the
trooper sprinted for the station and swung
aboard the Rochester train as it was pulling out.
At 10:30 that night he dropped off another train
into the blackness that shrouds Mendon at that
ghastly hour.

A light still shone in the general store and
there George sought information from the post-
master who jumped as he entered and then
laughed in relief at the sight of the grey uniform.

"I thought you was Hemaline," he grinned.
"Where is he? Gosh, I don't know! Don't
want to find out, neither. He's in one of his
crazy spells.

"I s'pose," he added resignedly, "he'll kill
someone one of these days. Then they'll send
him away for keeps."

The Art of Orpheus 213

In the next fifteen minutes, George learned
enough to impel the average policeman to send
in a hurry call for the reserves. Hernaline was
quiet enough until a "spell" took him. Thrice
before, when the mania was upon him, he had
been overpowered with difficulty and sent to
an asylum. Each time he had been discharged
as "cured."

When insanity gripped him, he was utterly
careless of his own or his neighbors' lives;
tremendously strong and quick and treacherous
as a snake.

"Last time he was took," the postmaster
reminisced, "they had two dep'ty sheriffs, the
constabule, and a hull posse of farmers. When
they caught him he fit like a wild cat. They all
had to set on him to quiet him. Then they hand-
cuffed him to an iron bed for the night. Say, he
ripped the cross bar right out of the head of that
bed. Then they had to set on him again. The
only way they could keep him quiet w r as to let
him go down the cellar and peel potatoes. He
peeled a hull barrel of them before morning.

"They took him to the 'sylum. Now he says
he'll tromp out the guts of the feller that dares to
tech him again. Says he'll die fightin' before

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Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 10 of 18)