Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

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

. (page 15 of 18)
Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 15 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

barracks, and the distant headquarters of Troop
A at Batavia, the words Major Chandler had

How They Rode to Rome 299

spoken were being relayed across the countryside,
calling in the outlying patrols.

There was haste but no confusion. Fresh
violence was coming to Rome with the dawn.
The men of the service must get there first.

In every barracks, rifles and extra ammunition
were broken out and issued to the men. By
lantern light, troopers in the stables struggled
and swore as they saddled up. Hooves beat a
long roll on the driveways as patrol after patrol
came galloping in.

And then presently mounted platoons were
drawn up, horses and men dimly seen in the
lights streaming from the barracks. They list-
ened to final instructions and then rode off into
the blackness, to Rome.

Early that evening there was a roar of motor-
cycles outside the police headquarters of that
city and a half dozen men in grey tramped
into the building. They were the advance
guard of the troopers on the way by horse from

Later thirty more of D Troop's men headed
by Captain Barnes rode into the city through the
drizzle that was falling and picketed their horses
in the jail yard.

A little later Major Chandler arrived and after

300 Grey Riders

conference with the police chief and city officials
assumed charge of the situation.

All that evening a stream of refugees poured
out of Rome. Scores closed their houses and
with their families and their most precious valu-
ables fled by car and by horse to the country,
away from what the morrow might bring.

Members of one of the leading clubs of the
town were preparing their building for a siege.
There was no question concerning the sincerity
of Rome's fear of the coming day.

Batavia's complement came in on reeking
horses toward midnight. Later a detachment
from Troop G left their special train at Utica
and rode overland to Rome. Last of all K
Troop's men arrived, just before daylight.

All night long grey riders spurred through the
darkness toward the helpless city. Beside the
details sent from the four barracks, patrols in
the nearby counties came cross country to the
city. Some of them did ninety miles in twenty-
four hours and were turned out for work as soon
as they arrived. There was no sleep for any of
the men in grey for the first two days they were
in the city.

Through the drizzle, detachment after de-
tachment came riding in, hooves beating an end-

How They Rode to Rome 301

less "hurry-hurry-hurry" along the roads; men
cursing the rain and the darkness and beset by
the fear that the dawn might beat them into the


The rioters, celebrating victory and planning
new deviltry in their stronghold, must have
known of the advent of the troopers, for the
streets sounded to their horses' hooves all night

Sentries may have caught glimpses of horse-
men drifting past in the rain. But they took no
fright at the vague rumors of their presence and
Rome itself took little comfort therefrom. The
city was to learn more of the grey riders in the
ensuing twenty -four hours.

When the watery light of dawn touched the
roofs of Rome, some sixty troopers had gathered;
lean cavalrymen, weary but cheerful. At day-
light, they mounted and formed in rank in the
jail yard; grey uniforms and grey slouch hats
with purple cords sodden with rain; booted and
spurred; pistols at belt; riot sticks hanging from
saddle bows; rifles in scabbards beneath the left
legs of the riders.

From far away through the depressed quiet of
the wet morning came raucous shouting and wild
howls. East Dominick Street was awake and

30 2 Grey Riders

preparing for war. Reports that had drifted
into headquarters during the night said that the
rioters had mined the bridges about the city and
were about to cripple it still further by blowing
them up. Already sentries in grey had been
posted to guard these.

A command was chanted and the horsemen
wheeled by fours out of the jail yard and trotted
into the mist-filled street toward the noise that
proclaimed the rioters were already abroad.

There were eight thousand rioters and sixty

The bellow of the mob rose and throbbed like
surf as the troopers rode toward it. Near the
head of Dominick Street Captain Barnes gave
the command to halt and sent forward men with
orders to the crowd to disperse. The eight
thousand who filled East Dominick Street, ready
for war, hooted and jeered when these, after
delivering their command, wheeled and reported
back to the silent grey ranks waiting beyond the
weaving wall of mist.

The rioters had seen the police flee; they had
beaten and dispersed the armed deputies. Now
the tin soldiers in grey were showing their backs.
Nothing could stop the victorious forward march
of the social revolution. Rome was theirs!

How They Rode to Rome 303

Slowly and clumsily, with much shouting and
singing, the unwieldy army got under way again.
Out through East Dominick Street they moved
toward victory.

Suddenly in the fog before them something
also was moving. The leaders of the mob heard
above the racket of their followers the mutter of
many hooves on wet cobbles. Out of the mist,
men came riding.

They came deliberately and their front filled
the street from house line to house line. Three
ranks of four horsemen each rode down the
street. To the right and left of them along the
sidewalks came six more troopers riding two by

Out of the grey cloud the grey line of cavalry-
men came, sitting their mounts erect, alert,
determined. Their pace was a slow trot. They
did not quicken it at the bloodthirsty yell that
rose from the rioters.

Before the onslaught of these strange riders
from the dawn, the front ranks of the "soviet
army" gave way. Straight into the crumpling
mass twenty-four men rode, sweeping back a
mob of eight thousand.

It was minutes before the amazed strikers
realized what was happening and by that time

304 Grey Riders

fifty yards of Dominick Street had been retrieved
from the soviet republic. Then, over the heads
of the men the troopers were pressing back,
missiles came whirring and thudding. The bel-
low of the mob became articulate:

"Pull them out of their saddles!"

They had done this the day before to riders of
another breed. They tried it again.

The grey wall of horsemen surged forward
like a football team in scrimmage. Through a
storm of bricks, bottles, cobbles, tin cans, and
the like the troopers drove their mounts ahead.
Men clutched at them and went down beneath
the saber swing of riot sticks. They flung them-
selves against the advancing grey ranks, shriek-
ing and clawing, catlike and desperate. But the
men of the service came on.

Once or twice, the ranks were broken tempo-
rarily and each trooper became the center of ,
whirlpool of fight. Rising in their stirrups, they
struck savagely to right and left, driving off the
strikers with stick and rifle butt. Then they
reformed and attacked again.

Sometimes horses stumbled and fell and were
jerked to their feet again by the breathless riders.
Many of the mounts were cut and battered by
the hail of missiles and the men themselves did

How They Rode to Rome 305

not come through unscathed. A few shots were
fired by the crowd but these went wild.

With conflict boiling before them like foam at
a vessel's prow, the riders w r ent on. A hundred
yards of East Dominick Street had been re-

A man in a soldier's uniform, one of the leaders
of the mob, leaped at a trooper and strove to get
the undrawn revolver from his holster. For a
moment the pair struggled while the frightened
horse reared and bucked. Then a rifle butt came
down. The man dropped.

Injured by missiles, horses plunged and tried
to bolt but were swung back into line again.
Their screams of pain \vere lost in the savage,
roaring growl of the mob.

As the press grew denser, the fighting became
still more savage. Again and again rioters surged
forward and strove to break the line. Under
the threshing riot sticks, the flailing rifle butts,
they broke. The grey wall moved forward again.

Law and order were returning to East Dominick
Street, stern and terrible. Behind that thin line
of horsemen who were driving back thousands by
sheer courage, the State of New York was com-
ing back into its own.

Horses and men were dizzy with the punish-


306 Grey Riders

ment they were receiving, but two hundred
yards of East Dominick Street had been re-

The throaty snarl of the mob was changing.
It was shredding out into wails of terror.
Through the edges of the fight, fear-stricken men
began to break and run for shelter. The stream
of fugitives increased. The pace of the advanc-
ing horsemen quickened.

And then, even the front ranks of the rioters
who had been fighting so desperately began to
give way. On the cleared street behind the
charging cavalrymen, other troopers held in
reserve were picking up the battered men who
had been lately members of the army of freedom
and Communism, but who now were frightened
foreigners holding bruised heads and trying to
remember what had happened to them.

Straight down the street the troopers con-
tinued to drive, sweeping the mob before them
more and more rapidly. The terror they had
inspired spread. These terrific horsemen were
not human. Nothing could halt them. All was

Into alleys and doorways darted the fugitives,
shrieking their surrender in a half dozen different
languages. Over the bridges, they poured in

How They Rode to Rome 307

their flight and were disarmed by the dismounted
details there.

One group, evidently composed of leaders of
the mob, fled squalling along the sidewalk
and behind them like the wing-beats of aveng-
ing furies sounded the clatter of a pursuing

The runners darted into a saloon and what
they believed was safety. The swinging doors
were still waving from the force of their entrance
when something crashed against them and tore
them from their hinges. Into the saloon plunged
a foam-streaked horse and astride him was an
awful form in soiled grey with blood-smeared
face and a nightstick in his hand.

Over the bar plunged the fugitives and from
behind this breastwork lifted hands and voices
in earnest profession of surrender.

Doubly horrible to the defeated soviet army
was the ghastly ability of the troopers' horses to
go anywhere. From the apparent safety of a high
porch a group was directing a fusillade of missiles
against the advancing line when one of the riders
wheeled and drove his mount straight into the
teeth of their fire.

They did not run, for they believed he would
have to dismount to scale the flight of porch

308 Grey Riders

steps and then, they argued, they would have
him at their mercy, being some ten to one.

The rider reached the steps and then oh
horror! slapped the spurs into his horse. Up
the stair the animal scrambled like a dog, and
before the amazed battery could recover its
senses, vengeance was upon them in the shape of
a mounted man some twenty feet high with a
nightstick that played above them like Excalibur.

The final remnants of the army that set forth
to conquer Rome for the cause of Communism
were thinking much more of flight than of the
lurid gospel of Lenine and Trotzky. At last the
wall of riders that had driven down East Domi-
nick Street was broken, but it had dissolved into
hunters that harried the fugitives and broke them
up into still smaller groups.

Behind them as they chased, came ambu-
lances and automobiles manned by more of these
terrible men; these took over the scores the
hunters were arresting. For hours, there was a
steady stream of vehicles carrying human loads
to the jail, where physicians bandaged up the
injured and overworked turnkeys then locked
them up.

At length the street was cleared, save for the
jetsam of weapons that troopers were picking up

How They Rode to Rome 309

and carrying away in bushel baskets. Rifles,
shotguns, revolvers of every make and caliber,
and knives of all known and many unidentified
varieties rewarded the gleaners.

Meantime, men in grey had forced the door of
the hall in which it was known that the leaders
of the revolution had had their headquarters.

They found pictures of Rosa Luxembourg, who
strove to drive Germany into the arms of Lenine
and paid for her work with her life, as well as
smaller portraits of lesser lights in the great
cause of world disturbance. In addition the
troopers confiscated enough Communistic lit-
erature to fill a truck and debauch a hundred
thousand men.

The oath of the revolutionary army, the con-
stitution and by-laws of the organization that
had almost captured Rome also were found.

A disillusioned group of Italians, all of whom
looked as if they had done a good deal of running
before breakfast, stood on a porch and watched
the men in grey cart the evidence away from the
rioters' headquarters. Said one to another:

"Hey, Mike, State troopa pooty good, huh?"

"State troopa!" replied Mike, still a little
breathless, as he surveyed the littered but
painfully empty expanse of East Dominick

3 T Grey Riders

Street. "Like hell! Godamma cowboys. Dass

The change in the entire atmosphere of the
late heart of the red rebellion was startling.
Where eight thousand men and women had
milled about, screaming for the blood of a preda-
tory plutocracy, a few cavalrymen in grey walked
their sweating horses up and down over a liberal
sprinkling of broken hats and weapons cast away
when the soviet army took to its heels.

Now and then, some citizen would issue from
his house on a mission of importance, and scuttle
across the thoroughfare to his destination with
the speed and evident dislike for exposure of one
caught in a heavy thunderstorm.

Peace and an air of morning-after piety
brooded over East Dominick Street.

The troopers, having cleared the thoroughfare,
kept it clear. Traffic was resumed and no walker
was molested as long as he kept walking. But
loitering or collecting in groups was forbidden.
This rule made the defeat of the soviet force com-
plete. It never had a chance to reform its broken

No sooner did a group of staunch believers in
the supremacy of the proletariat gather on a
street corner to talk about it, than two or three

How They Rode to Rome 3 11

grey riders would descend upon the group, break
it up and chase it in all directions.

Strict guard was also kept on the bridges that
had been threatened with destruction. No one
was permitted to linger in crossing them and
those who stopped to argue, regretted it after-

The attention of Corporal Voelker, on guard
on one bridge, was brought to the fact that a
large and unprepossessing Italian was loitering
on forbidden ground.

When this was explained to the loiterer, he
merely shrugged his shoulders and spat contemp-
tuously into the water.

: 'Get off of this bridge," commanded Voelker,
his eyes narrowing.

"Like hell," replied the other. "Me, I am
American citizen. I stand where I dam please."

From far, far away through a universe filled
with bursting planets the "American citizen"
heard a voice explaining:

'You can lie on this bridge. There's no rule
against that, but you can't stand here."

Ten minutes later he was in jail, contemplating
the vanity of argument and a swollen jaw that
seemed to have no limit of inflation.

All that day, the troopers rode herd on the

3 12 Grey Riders

fragments of the mob; keeping the rioters from
reuniting; establishing stern rules for conduct in
the affected district and seeing that these were
carried out to the letter.

As evening drew on, it was feared that rioting
would be renewed, but motorcycle and foot
patrols of the men in grey who went up and
down East Dominick Street effectually prevented
any further attempt to take over the city. The
red army knew when it had enough.

Meanwhile, the county jail was overflowing
with the bumper crop of its existence. Every
cell was full and so were most of its occupants.

All night long the troop horses picketed in the
jail yard strove to sleep while drunken shouts,
snatches of song, and other unclassified noises
boiled out of the jail. They got as little slumber
as their riders.

Not only was there danger of a rally by the
rioters, but the order had gone forth to search
every house in the affected district. This the
men in grey did. In almost every dwelling on
East Dominick Street they obtained one or more
weapons. The whole district bristled with arms.
Police headquarters into which the confiscated
material was dumped soon housed enough to
equip a division.

How They Rode to Rome 3*3

Of the seventy-five men arrested by troopers
during the course of the trouble seventy-five
were convicted, chiefly on charges of inciting to
riot or carrying concealed weapons.

On the morning of the sixteenth, Sabbath-like
calm hung over the district where the strikers
lived. On the eighteenth a committee of Italian
residents on East Dominick Street complained
to the officials of Rome concerning the continued
presence of the troopers. The basis of their
protest was at least novel.

"While they keep everybody moving," they
complained ingenuously, 'how can our little
children play on the street?'

For six days the grey riders stayed in Rome
while the city recovered from its hysteria; got a
fresh, firm grip on itself; reorganized its police
department and resumed the reins of government.
A handful of Major Chandler's men had broken
the most serious attack against government
that had yet been organized by radical labor in
New York State. They had restored order and
brought back the law to a city on the verge of
anarchy. They had met in battle and beaten a
mob of 8,000 but they had killed no one and had
injured few seriously.

They had not settled the strike. That was

3 J 4 Grey Riders

not what they had been called in to do. They
had ridden to Rome, not as aids to Capital in a
war upon Labor, but as the servants of the people
of New York and of the laws they had made.

Said H. Clayton Midlan, Mayor of Rome,
when they departed:

' Without bloodshed and few arrests and with
no great show of authority, they have straight-
ened out the mess which certainly appeared to
have passed beyond the control of police power.
Their showing on the morning of the 15th was
spectacular, firm, and efficient. Through their
aid, the forces of law and order once more gained
control of the situation."

But none of the troopers will tell you this; nor
will you find any of them eager to expound upon
their part of the battle of East Dominick Street.

" Rome? " the grey rider will say, " Yeh, it was
bad. Gosh, I remember they didn't give us
mattresses for the cots we had up to the court-
house. In the morning well, say, we looked like
a whole flock of waffles.'



THE New York State Troopers in 1919 en-
dured their trial by fire.

They were tested, not in the clean fierce flame
of open battle, where one can turn his face to a
definite foe and fight, but in the treacherous
flare-up of industrial strife.

They were proved by the confusion and tur-
moil and swift action of riot duty. They were
tried and weighed and the bottoms of their souls
were probed by week upon week of weary strike
patrol work that sickens men used to the open
road; that wears patience raw; that undermines

Officers of the troops into whose care is given
the watch and ward of rural New York knew
that sooner or later the grey riders, though es-
sentially a rural police force, would be called
upon by the Governor to intervene in a strike
that had degenerated into a riot. They knew


316 Grey Riders

it and they dreaded it, for they appreciated
what intervention of that sort might mean.

Had it been that presently they might be
obliged to lead their troopers into an open fight
against a declared foe, there would have been
no worry. Then, their course would have been
simple and plain.

But strike duty is different. Here there is no
well-defined enemy. Strikers and employers
alike are citizens in whom class anger has risen
until it threatens the law; the law that the
troopers have sworn to uphold impartially.

Into this cauldron of emotions where Amer-
ican rails at American; where neither side is
wholly right or wholly wrong, the troopers are
forced to ride, and not as allies of either party.

They are plunged into a situation that may
bear all the earmarks of a pitched battle; not to
fight save to restore order, but to act chiefly as
referees; to uphold the law. Infinite tact, in-
finite determination; firmness coupled with
gentleness; justice tempered with mercy these
are the requirements for strike duty.

A sudden blaze of rage on the part of one of
these referees; a decision guided by passion
rather than clear-headed thought, might fill the
gutters with blood, cost many lives, and, con-

Trial by Fire 317

ceivably, soil for all time the standard that the
troopers have carried unsullied since the birth
of their organization.

That banner is still unstained. The thing that
their officers dreaded came to pass in the summer
of 1910 when New York State seethed and
muttered in industrial revolt. Strike followed
strike, each more bitter than the last. At first
the local police were able to cope with these.
Then it was found necessary in some cases to
summon the sheriff and his deputies.

Then the rising tide of unrest began to over-
whelm both local and county authorities. After
Rome, Olean, strike-ridden and desperate, ap-
pealed to Governor Smith for the militia, for the
regulars, for any agency that might hold the
situation in check.

And the men in grey rode out again on strike
duty. There were only a handful of them never
more than a fraction of the tiny force of 232 men.
They were members of a service with only two
years of background. Hitherto their work had
been the purely outpost problem of rural police
duty. Now they were hurled into class war to
face the things that happen when both workers
and employers get past the arguing stage.

In Olean the same story was repeated as in

318 Grey Riders

Rome: first, riots, then, the State Police; then,
order restored. It was reiterated with minor
variations in a half-dozen other communities
during the summer. Appeal after appeal came
to the Governor for troops. Always it was the
State Police that responded, restored order, and
administered neutral, impartial justice until the
town came out of its frenzy and was able to go
ahead with its normal life once more.

The labor troubles that made life unbearable
for thousands in general and the troopers in
particular eventually found their climax in the
steel strike. In New York State this industrial
revolt was centered in Lackawanna, on the out-
skirts of Buffalo, where the mighty plant of the
Lackawanna Steel Company stands.

A strange town is Lackawanna. Grimed and
sooted over by the breath of the great blast
furnaces; holding in its shabby rows of houses as
strange and conglomerate a population as even
an American city ever boasted.

Twenty-two thousand persons lived in the
swarthy town. Six thousand, or practically
every able-bodied male, served the big steel
plant, which dominates the community and is,
in fact, its only excuse for existence.

The political temper of the population is in-

Trial by Fire 3 1 9

dicated by the fact that it had a Socialist mayor.
Its composition is most quickly described by say-
ing that fifty-three languages and dialects were
spoken within the city limits.

Many of the workers in the mills are Poles;
Buffalo, four miles away, having the largest Polish
population in the United States. Hungarians and
Italians are also there in large numbers and there
is an endless variety of smaller racial groups.
There are even Moroccans and a few Somali-
landers termed by the local police, 'thim

With a material like this in which to work,
agitators found their task easy. When the steel
strike was called, the mills were shut down com-
pletely. The company straightway prepared for
trouble by calling on the sheriff to reinforce the
local police with a legion of deputies and by im-
porting on its own account one hundred and
fifty armed guards to protect the plant.

From a passive strike, it was no long step to
violence. No more difficult and impulsive crowd
was ever presented for men to handle than these
polyglot strikers. The deputies and plant guards
lacked that great essential to the trained police

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18

Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 15 of 18)