Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

Grey riders : the story of the New York state troopers online

. (page 13 of 18)
Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 13 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and thin and wizened and evidently racked
with all the uncomfortable emotions that might
be yours were the Mikado and his train in cere-
monial dress to stroll into your home uninvited.

Yet, throughout our interview, the withered

256 Grey Riders

old hands continued the work he held between
his knees. They kept on weaving as though
governed by some force entirely outside what
intelligence dwelt in that queerly peaked skull.

"I know you," Pap quavered in greeting.
"You be 'tecatives."

The sergeant disavowed this, explaining that
his mission was to see that the children were
going to school regularly. He asked why Abie
was at home.

'I be good man," Pap whined. "Ast Mr.
Bleecker down to store. He say so. Abie
kain't go school. Abie kain't talk."

Grinning at the attention, thus directed to-
ward him, Abie proceeded to confirm this
statement by making strange noises in his throat
when addressed. He seemed tongue-tied rather
than mentally deficient. We learned that he
was Pap's son and uncle to the babies that
scrabbled on the cabin floor.

There were other children, Pap vouchsafed,
who were even then in school. He professed
not to remember either their number or their
ages. If he spoke the truth, and there were
still others in the family, the problem of where
and how they slept assumed insoluble pro-

The Frightened People 257

When asked, Pap replied briefly: :< In te
bed," and refused to discuss the manifest im-
possibility of this. He dwelt in this one room
with the hostile old woman, their daughter, her
husband, and two babies and Abie, not to men-
tion the alleged other children then in school.
There was scarcely space for them to sit down all
at once, let alone sleep.

Pap professed to be sixty years old. He
had had many children but would not say how
many. According to his statements, reading
and writing were as far beyond his tribe as the
gospel of Einstein. Only the youngest of them
had ever sat before a teacher. He himself had
never seen a railway train. He had no idea
who was president of the United States and
seemed to have less of what these were. Yet
he was the globe trotter, the traveled man of the
settlement who several times a year went down
to West Taghkanic where Mr. Bleecker would
vouch for him as a good man.

For the rest of the Frightened People, resi-
dents of the State of New York in the year of Our
Lord, 1921, the world was bounded by the un-
even horizon where the Columbia County ranges
rose to meet the October sky.

Fifty miles away stood the capitol of the


258 Grey Riders

Empire State where laws were made for the
enlightenment and comfort of a people that
prided itself on its high standard of culture, and
here sat Pap in his primitive cabin; stunted of
mind ; dwarfed of body ; ignorant of God or law ;
with his inbred children and grandchildren
about him; dreeing his feeble weird while the
basket grew into form beneath his hands.

Passionately, he wished to be rid of us, yet he
was afraid to say so. He went forth into the
sunshine at our request to be photographed as
one might go to the scaffold. While he sat,
stiffly posed on the stoop, two others of the tribe
drifted out of the woods and advanced, tacking
away and coming back, alert and wary as wolves.
At length they squatted in the sun before the
cabin; watching us narrowly; saying nothing.
They, too, were far below the average in height,
with a strange element of caricature in their
sallow features and the shifty, china-blue eyes
of their clan.

Then a strange thing happened. Suddenly
around the corner of the shanty hobbled an old,
old man, an axe in his upraised hands. When he
saw our uniforms he let the weapon drop. Pap
spoke to him sharply and he shuffled over to join
the silent pair in the sun. We shall never know

The Frightened People 259

what his sudden appearance meant; whether the
Frightened People would actually move to the
attack if their privacy was violated too

How he knew we were there, how the rest of
the colony discovered, are also mysteries. Yet
they did know, for when Pap had taken advan-
tage of the flurry caused by the axeman's en-
trance to dive back into his cabin and bar the
door, the three who squatted before the cabin
rose and drifted off with no more farewell than
they had given greeting. And they were the
last we saw of the Frightened People.

There were other houses. To all appearances
they had been deserted for months. No one an-
swered our hails. We knocked till our knuckles
were sore but only w r oke the echoes. Yet we felt
frightened eyes looking at us out of the gloom
behind the patched and wadded window frames.

There are those who said when the law that
brought the grey riders into being was still a
political issue, that rural New York was too
civilized, too generally intelligent and law abid-
ing, to need the ministrations of a rural police.
Yet there is not a single troop commander who
cannot lead you to at least one God-and-man-
forgotten settlement in his territory that will

260 Grey Riders

match the Frightened People for decadence and
far outdo them in viciousness.

"After all they're just animals," said the
sergeant that night at supper. 'They've
slipped so far you couldn't bring them back.
Better if the flu had wiped them all out."

A tea tray stood on a side table. Its base was
delicately plaited withes; its rim of finer fiber,
perfectly woven. A handle of braided sweet
grasses curved gracefully above it. The lines
and workmanship were beautiful and fine.

'The bushwhackers made this for me," our
hostess said, "from a sketch I gave them."



ON a certain summer morning, in 1918, Wilson
Prince advanced unsteadily to the doorway of his
cabin, looked out with morbid eyes upon that
part of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation that
lay \vithin view r , and spoke as follows :


Infinite pessimism and disgust were embodied
in this comment on the state of Wilson's uni-
verse. Bilious was his gaze and disillusioned his

Through his veins the blood of numberless
generations of Senecas coursed the more sw r iftly
under the drive of Akron, Erie County, rum.
The evening before, Wilson had stolen away
under cover of darkness to Akron and there,
against the peace and dignity of the United
States and in violation of the law of the reser-
vation, had purchased spirituous liquors from

another mocker of the statutes.


262 Grey Riders

Now, on the littered floor behind him, lay
several empty flasks and their erstwhile contents
had clouded the world with a haze of alcohol.

The hills of the reservation, clothed in their
summer garb, ran up to a flawless blue sky in a
peculiarly irritating fashion. Behind another
cabin, a few hundred yards away, yellow dust
arose where Mrs. Billy Nicodemus hoed lustily
about the growing cornstalks. Such industry
was an affront to the soul of Wilson.

In the lazy summer stillness, the clink of Mrs.
Billy's hoe and the voices of her progeny gravely
at play before her cabin sounded like a challenge
in his ears. Along the dirt road came a trotting
sedate nag, drawing a rickety buggy in which
sat the venerable Timothy Doctor, head chief
of the reservation, whose face is as old and sor-
rowful as his nation's history.

He nodded as his vehicle rattled past.

"How! "said he.

To Wilson Prince this was the crowning insult
in a world containing nothing but affronts. The
pulsebeats that had sounded all night like the
throb of war drums were pounding faster.
Strange primitive echoes rang through his brain.

He returned to his chair beside the table and
tentatively shook the bottle standing thereon.

Lo, the Tough Indian 263

No comforting gurgle responded. Wilson Prince,
the doughtiest pagan on the reservation, drew
a deep breath and forthwith declared war on
everything in general and his fellow citizens of
the Tonawanda reservation in particular.

Now the Indian reservations of New York
State are miniature republics set in the common-
wealth. Over them the peace officers of adjoin-
ing townships and counties exercise no authority.
A United States Commissioner as representative
of the Great White Father at Washington, is the
sole person overruling the dusky descendants of
the Six Nations.

For generations his arm was not long and only
in the case of peculiarly gaudy outrages was he
called upon to intervene. As long as disturb-
ances on the reservations did not threaten to
extend to the adjacent territories preempted by
the white man, Indian troubles usually simmered
in their own juice.

But in the fall of 1917, strange horsemen in
grey rode through the reservations, empowered
by the representative of the White Father to
enforce his laws. Theirs was the authority to
see that in case of sickness, quarantine rules
were maintained; that children were sent to the
schools, and that none offended against the edicts

264 Grey Riders

of the council of chiefs that governed each

They were quiet men, these riders, more given
to action than to words. They were incurious
and intervened only in case of necessity or when
called upon for aid by the Indians themselves.
Wherefore the law-abiding and the lawless both
sighed; the first from relief, the second from
realization that hereafter they could not kick
statutes to pieces and escape unscathed.

Tonawanda Reservation knew the New York
State Troopers. Wilson Prince had experienced
the weight of their hand, but as he smashed the
empty bottle against the cabin wall he welcomed
the prospect of their intervention. All of the
horsemen at the call of the White Father would
not check him now !

" Wah ! " said Wilson and went for his shotgun.

His long-suffering family immediately there-
after learned that warfare, like charity, begins at

To the ears of Mrs. Billy Nicodemus, at work
in her cornfield, came presently the familiar
noises of inter-Prince strife. There were sounds
of mighty crashings in the home of Wilson,
attended by shrill battle cries and the keening of
the Prince squaw.


Mounted Platoon of Troop A

Infantry Drill, Troop A

Lo, the Tough Indian 265

Out of the door children came scuttling like
chickens before an onrushing auto. There was a
pause and then Mrs. Prince herself lumbered
into view, partially obscured by a haze of hurt-
ling utensils that accompanied her departure.

Down the road the refugees hurried, wailing
as they went and paying no heed to the question
shouted after them by the interested Nicodemus

"E-e-e-o-w!" remarked Wilson Prince sud-
denly and came bounding out of his devastated
home. He shook his shotgun toward the peace-
ful skies and did several turkey-like war-steps in
the yard. Then the sight of the awed Nicode-
mus clan reminded him there was still work to
be done.

Over the roughly cleared field he stormed,
screaming his war song as he came. Mr. and
Mrs. Billy and their numerous progeny fled to
their house for shelter, being peace-loving citi-
zens. They entered by the rear door and Wilson
followed. There was an interval, filled w r ith
squalls and detonations and the Nicodemus
household came out of the front door and started
down the road on the trail of the evicted Princes.

Well out of shotgun range, Mr. Billy Nicode-
mus paused and shook his fist at the embattled

266 Grey Riders

figure who stood in the yard of their late resi-

"We get troopers!" he shouted.

"Get um!" replied Wilson. "Get um whole
dam army. Wah!"

He watched his victims trudge away into the
summer haze. Then he shouldered his gun and
set out to make himself lord of Tonawanda.

Virtuous old Timothy Doctor, head chief and
pillar of the reservation Methodist Church, stood
in the back yard of his home unhitching his horse
when Wilson appeared before him, a baleful
glare in his eyes and a shotgun in his hand.

"I," quoth he, "am now head chief. I am
boss. You are an old squaw."

"You," retorted Timothy, forgetting his
Methodist training in the swirl of outraged
feelings, "are dam fool."

"Pow!" said Wilson, by way of response, and
brought the butt of his gun down upon the
venerable pate of his head chief. Timothy fell,
stunned, and his conqueror departed to visit
nearby cabins and drive other families forth.
If they halted to argue, the muzzle of the shot-
gun cut short all speech. If they did not flee
sufficiently fast, birdshot that spattered and
stung accelerated their going.

Lo, the Tough Indian 267

Eviction as a form of amusement presently
began to pall on Wilson. He therefore formu-
lated new strategy and with his gun and plenty
of ammunition stationed himself at the inter-
section of the two roads running through the

Bertha Twoguns presently hove into view
driving sedately along in the ancestral buggy of
her clan. With a wild whoop Prince halted her,
and shouting threats and waving his gun, con-
veyed to the paralyzed Miss Twoguns that the
road both roads in fact were closed. Bertha
turned her steed around, narrowly escaping
tipping over in her excitement, and departed,
the ancient horse, spurred on by a shot fired into
the air, eclipsing all reservation records.

For an hour thereafter, the warrior against
the universe completely tied up all vehicular
traffic on the reservation. Buck, squaw, or
papoose, no one was permitted to pass the mili-
tant figure at the crossroads. One Lester Blue-
eyes, proud owner of a motor cycle, took no
stock in Wilson's announcement that the road
was closed but gave his machine power and sped

He was not going as swiftly as the charge of
shot sent after him. This wrecked his cycle and

268 Grey Riders

came close to wrecking Lester. He dived like a
rabbit into the underbrush, leaving the punc-
tured and torn pride of his heart on the highway.

Thereafter, peace brooded hatefully over that
portion of the reservation. No one else appeared
to contest Wilson's assertion that the roads were
closed. The sun was hot and the vigil grew in-
creasingly uninteresting. At length, having com-
mitted sufficient devastation for the morning,
the warrior retired to his deserted home, there to
map out a plan of campaign for the afternoon.

A little later an Indian boy, sent out to recon-
noiter, returned to the ranks of the evicted with
word that Prince was sitting in a corner of his
cabin, facing the only door, with his shotgun
cocked across his knees.

Meanwhile, the outraged Billy Nicodemus had
fulfilled his threat. He had trudged away to
Akron, the true seat of all the reservation's woe,
and there had shouted strange things over the
telephone to a puzzled man in grey in the Ba-
tavia barracks of Troop A, who at length gath-
ered that assault, mayhem, murder, and arson
had broken loose on the reservation and at once
ordered Corporal E. H. Goetzman and Trooper
E. A. Rimmer forth by Ford to stop it.

On the outskirts of the reservation, a depressed

Lo, the Tough Indian 269

dusky gathering brightened somewhat at the
approach of the two men in grey and recited the
source and cause of their many grievances. They
also described the present location of the enemy
with much stress upon the cocked and loaded

In a dust cloud the Ford sped up the road
toward Wilson's home w r hile the lately evicted fol-
lowed its course with admiration which they fully
believed soon would be turned into mourning.

Before they came within earshot of the Prince
cabin, Goetzman and Rimmer left their car by
the roadside and proceeded afoot. As they crept
nearer they watched carefully for any sign of life.
There was none. In the full flood of sunshine
the dwelling stood apparently deserted. The
door was ajar. This they noted with satisfac-
tion. Insects whirred in the half-cleared fields
and wind stirred the leaves of the underbrush.
There was no other sound in the world but the
cautious footfalls of the men as they crept closer
to that half-open door.

There was no question of temporizing or call-
ing from a safe distance upon Prince to surrender.
They had been sent to get their man and long
before they reached the shadow of the house
they had determined how this was to be done.

270 Grey Riders

The door standing ajar crystallized their de-

Musing on his plans for world conquest, Wil-
son heard nothing until the door slammed back
against the wall. He had no time to resist then,
for when he raised his head a grey uniformed
figure was already in mid air, diving for him.
Prince, shotgun, chair, and trooper went crashing
over together.

Another figure in grey tore the weapon from
his hands while the first turned him over on his
face and sat upon him. From beneath the
weight of righteous retribution he announced in
a muffled voice that he surrendered.

Goetzman led him forth a prisoner, and after
placing him on the rear seat of the car got in
beside him. Rimmer took the wheel and the
terror of the reservation, apparently meek as any
lamb, started down the reservation road, bound
for Buffalo and the justice of the United States

But the proud spirit of the would-be world
subduer, though bowed, was not broken. Had
Goetzman had an inkling of what was passing
behind that impassive copper mask serving his
captive for a visage, he would have ridden with
his Colt pressed against his prisoner's ribs.

Lo. the Tough Indian 271

At the spot where the West Shore tracks cross
the reservation road, Prince, who had been lean-
ing back, apparently resigned to a bitter fate,
suddenly was galvanized into action.

With a defiant war whoop, he flung himself
forward upon the back of the unsuspecting
Rimmer, tearing him away from the wheel.
Then everything happened at once. Goetzman
clutched at an insanely fighting man, as hard
to hold as a wildcat. The car, uncontrolled,
swerved to the west and ran bumping along the
ties w r hile a wicked struggle, in which everything
went, was being carried on all -over the front and
rear seats.

Wild Indian squalls and Anglo-Saxon oaths
streamed from it as it progressed, punctuated by
a mighty crash as the machine left the tracks,
ran into an embankment, and overturned. Un-
couth noises, thumps, and dolorous cries sounded
from the interior of the capsized car. Then a
bump like a great, black blister appeared in the
top. This burst and forth flew a wild-eyed, tat-
tered, bruised Indian, who cast one startled look
about him and fled unsteadily down the tracks
away from the wreck.

Two outraged figures in grey followed and
finally brought him down with a savage football

272 Grey Riders

tackle. One of them sat on Wilson Prince, who
protested surrender to deaf ears while the other
with the aid of most of the reservation popula-
tion, righted the machine.

Save for some dents and a great hole in the
top, it was not seriously damaged. Rimmer
climbed aboard; then Goetzman entered with his
captive and again they set out for Buffalo.

"Have any trouble?" asked Commissioner
Keating when a chastened Indian had been
arraigned and the charge against him had been

"A little," Goetzman replied.

The shadow of a smile flickered about the lips
of Wilson Prince.




WITH all proper genuflections to the lamented
Virgil, arms and the man I sing.

And since Troop A, of the New York State
Troopers, and Sergeant R. C. Nelson, the troop's
"Indian Agent," belong to a later epic than that
concerning the refugees from Troy the present
tale must get along with no more help from the
erstwhile laureate of Rome.

Consider first Sergeant Nelson, the man. Tall
and lean and taciturn is he and since Troop A
first became a force for law in far western New
York, he has been the representative of the white
man's statutes on the Tonawanda Indian Reser-

The Indians of the Tonawanda Reservation
call Sergeant Nelson "Chief.'* The raw-boned
horseman in grey, of few words and quick action,
has contrived to win their respect and trust. To
him, as the years have passed, they have turned

18 273

274 Grey Riders

more and more for aid and advice. They have
come to regard him as the sole representative of
law and order whose word and whose deeds it is
worth while respecting. With their growing trust
of him, there has come to Sergeant Nelson in-
creasing understanding of them. There is prob-
ably no man in the State who can read as well
the motives and intentions of the copper-hued
wards of the Government.

This mutual understanding has not grown up
without clashes and painful moments. There
have been wordy squabbles a-plenty between the
red men and the quiet representatives of the
whites. More than once warfare has raged on
the reservation very temporary warfare, from
which Sergeant Nelson has emerged, somewhat
bumped about and mussed up, but still calm and

Which brings us by a somewhat devious route
to Christmas Eve, 1917, and the story of the
"Good Indian."

Along about the time that the bells of Santa
Claus's reindeer team should have been chiming
over the roof of Troop A's barracks, in Batavia,
another bell sounded on the expectant stillness.
This was the telephone, and it rang with a hys-
terical loudness and persistence. To the ear of

The Redskin Rising 275

Sergeant Miller who responded came a guttural
voice. Its owner was sputtering with excitement
and announcing something that sounded impor-
tant though entirely unintelligible.

"An Indian," Miller decided, and called
Sergeant Nelson.

By the time Nelson got on the wire the party
at the other end had departed. The operator
managed to call back the number and the farmer
who responded explained that an Indian from
the reservation had come bursting into his house,
had called the troopers, and into the telephone
had shouted a message in Seneca-tainted English
to the effect, as far as the farmer could gather,
that the Christmas social at the mission church on
the reservation had been assaulted, insulted, at-
tacked, maltreated, and otherwise broken up by a
pagan Indian w r ho had been celebrating the era of
peace and good will by getting gorgeously drunk.

The Indian, the farmer said, had then departed
as abruptly as he had come.

On Christmas Eve, in the year of Our Lord,
1917, Sergeant Nelson summoned Troopers
Keeley and Weinstein and set out to quell the
uprising of the redskins, using as means of
transportation, not the traditional cayuses, but
a Ford truck.

276 Grey Riders

Over the frozen roads they bumped along to
the reservation, and turned into the even more un-
even dirt track that led across the Indians' terri-
tory, toward the church. The lights of the little
edifice were gleaming in the distance when Ser-
geant Nelson saw a dark-skinned figure dart
across the road in the glare of the headlights
and plunge into the bushes like a frightened

Some instinct told him that this was the man
they wanted. The sergeant leaped from the
truck as it jolted to a stop and shouted for the
fugitive to halt. Then, when this had no effect,
he fired twice into the air. The first shot lent
additional speed to the runaway's feet, but the
second which whistled above his head, made him
turn around and come bounding back toward
the Ford even more rapidly than he had fled.

"No shoot!" he gasped, "Good Indian!"

The remnants of the broken-up Christmas
celebration, who had been waiting about the
church, appeared, attracted by the shooting.
One of the erstwhile celebrators examined the
prisoner by the lights of the Ford and then an-
nounced that this was the disturber who had
turned a social evening into a battle royal.

It was bitter cold and very dark. In the glare

The Redskin Rising 277

of the headlights the breath of the men steamed
up in white clouds. Even there in the open it
could be marked that the vapor that issued from
the prisoner's nostrils was such as might have
poured from a whiskey still.

The party of three troopers and the "Good
Indian" then repaired to the deserted church
where there was warmth and light.

But the sight of the battle-ground on which he
had so recently been victorious revived the war-
rior spirit in the captive. With a wild trium-
phant squall, he swung at Nelson, who ducked.
Keeley caught the Indian's arm and immediately
found himself smothered in a liquor-tainted
embrace. A minute later he was free, for his
assailant was sitting gravely in the road looking
up to the stars. Weinstein had hit the Indian on
the jaw and Weinstein, when not wearing the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 13 of 18)