Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

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

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officer ability to keep their tempers and act
impartially in crises. Their efforts to maintain

320 Grey Riders

order in Lackawanna were not unlike an attempt
to extinguish a blaze by flooding it with kerosene.

Daily the situation became more menacing.
Incited by agitators, imported and local, ex-
asperated by the actions of the hastily-enrolled
deputies and guards, the steel workers became
more and more unruly. Resentment flared
higher and higher on both sides, and the Lacka-
wanna authorities began to telegraph the Gover-
nor frantic appeals for the State Troopers.

The Governor hesitated. Lackawanna seemed
too big a job, even after Rome and Olean, for the
handful of men that the department had to offer.
An unruly outfit in their most peaceful moments,
the workers of Lackawanna had been drinking
deep of the wine of power and were thirsty for
more. A 'blow-up" was coming. That was
evident. With the ingredients concerned in the
impending explosion, no one could predict how
widespread and terrific the results might be.

And then, before a decision could be reached,
the blow-up came. As is always the case, the
company said it was the fault of the strikers ; the
strikers insisted that it was the fault of the
company guards.

This much is sure. The strikers attacked
Gate Number 4 of the Lackawanna Steel Com-

Trial by Fire 321

pany's plant. Shots were fired. It cannot be
certain which side fired first, but in the battle
that followed, men and women were slain and
children were wounded.

And Lackawanna became one roaring, furious
hive of riot.

Remember, the town has an estimated popu-
lation of 22,000 souls. When trouble began in
Gary, Ind., 5000 regulars an infantry brigade,
fully equipped was rushed to restore order.
In fairness let it be said that Gary is probably
larger than Lackawanna. The last available
figures are ten years old. At that time the towns
were practically of a size, but the growth of Gary
has presumably been somewhat greater than
that of her sister steel town.

It would have taken precious hours to mobilize
and entrain the regiments of the Guard that
many persons believed would be necessary to
cope with the situation at Lackawanna. It
would have taken longer to reach the town with
Regulars, and the flames of anarchy there were
leaping higher and higher.

"Can you handle it?" the Governor asked
Major Chandler.

'I can," replied the Major, and did.

He sent into that delirious, riotous town not


3 22 Grey Riders

the brigade that Gary required, but ninety
horsemen !

Lieutenant E. J. Sheehan, of Troop A, and
Lieutenant G. W. Garner, of Troop G, were
placed in charge of the "expeditionary force,"
made up of men drawn from all four troops.

When the handful of grey-uniformed horsemen
rode into the town, to the few calm witnesses
of that entrance it seemed they were trotting
toward the open doors of extinction. Strikers
swarmed to the streets like hornets from a hive.
They shouted and cursed and raged before the
advance of the little troop and then gave way
as it came on.

The fear and respect for the man on horseback,
bred through generations into the bone of the
European peasant, was responsible in part for
this retreat. The reputation of the troopers,
known to many of the strikers, was also a con-
tributing cause.

And then, the riders entered Lackawanna, not
with the dash and whoop of a crowd of cow-
punchers invading a Western town, but with
the grave, well-ordered demeanor of disciplined

But the strikers did not give up their control
of the city without attempts to test the determi-

Trial by Fire 323

nation of the men in grey. The horsemen had
advanced only a little way when a frenzied
Hungarian hurled a stone into the advancing

Instantly a trooper pivoted his horse and drove
into the crowd, leaped from his mount, and put
the amazed man under arrest.

Others who started trouble suffered in the
same way. One man flung a beer case at a
trooper and then ran screaming up an alley and
into the swinging doors of a saloon, with the
hooves of vengeance clattering behind him.
The trooper did not pause at the door of the
"gin mill " to dismount, but charged into the bar-
room and got his man, who went to the hospital,
and then to jail.

It only took a half-dozen of these examples of
summary justice to cause the ardor of the strikers
to slacken and to inspire the most violent of their
number to thought. Meanwhile, the troopers
had been assigned to strategic points throughout
the city and were on post; quiet when left alone;
terrible when roused.

The fever that had raged in the veins of Lacka-
wanna died away. The heterogeneous popula-
tion learned swiftly that if you smiled and spoke
pleasantly to one of these sober horsemen, he

3 2 4 Grey Riders

returned your greeting as graciously. If you
tried to "start something" when he was around,
he finished it.

In the meanwhile Major Chandler had been
busy in the town, conferring with the municipal,
steel plant, and strike officials, voicing the neutral
policy toward the contesting parties that his
men were to put into effect.

Briefly, this is the message he and his troopers
brought to all residents of Lacka wanna :

'The law is not to be broken. Order is to be
maintained. This is to apply equally to em-
ployers and their aids and to the strikers and
their leaders."

There is no law on the statute books to prevent
people of any class or belief from holding meet-
ings to discuss problems affecting them, yet, in
many steel towns during the strike, meetings of
the strikers were forbidden by the police or

The first request made by Major Chandler to
the Mayor of Lackawanna was that two halls
be set aside for the sole use of the strikers, when
and as often as they pleased. These halls were
to be their property as long as they wished to
pay a fair rent for them.

When the ninety horsemen rode into Lacka-

Trial by Fire 3 2 5

wanna, the crowd that eddied about them
screamed that epithet used so tritely these days
in the pages of the radical press.

"Black Cossacks!" they shouted; "Ah-h
you hired assassins! You Cossacks!"

One thing at least the Cossacks and the
troopers have in common loyalty to the author-
ity to which they have pledged themselves, and
in the case of the grey riders, that authority is
the law of the State of New York.

The chieftain of the :< hired assassins" con-
tinued his work. He saw the superintendent of
the steel plant and commanded him to call his
deputies and plant guards off the streets with
orders that they remain thereafter on the prop-
erty of the company.

Violent was the protest against this decision
of the Major. At last his quiet persistence pre-
vailed and the undisciplined men, with arms in
their hands, who had been a continual irritation
to the strikers were withdrawn.

The leader of the "Black Cossacks" continued
his nefarious work in the interest of ''Capital-
ism" by interviewing the leaders of the strike
at the Labor Temple in Buffalo, informing them
that he had secured two halls in which the
strikers might meet in Lackawanna and adding

326 Grey Riders

that there was to be no check kept on their
meetings further than to see that no sedition or
incitement to violence was preached from the
platforms. For this purpose, it was explained,
a trooper was to be present at each meeting.

The labor leaders looked suspicious; then
dazed, when they saw that the proposition was
made in good faith. Decidedly here was some-
thing new in the policing of a strike. Actual
consideration was being shown for the feelings
of the strikers.

One of the leaders asked whether picketing
would be permitted, to which Major Chandler
replied that he and his men would not interfere
with the pickets as long as they obeyed the law.
He added, to complete the amazement of the
labor men, that the troopers would also permit
strikers' parades through the Lackawanna
streets. Only one thing was asked in this con-
nection. This was that the parades avoid the
streets adjoining the steel plant's property.

The strike leaders promised cooperation and
throughout the entire strike kept their word as
far as they were able to enforce their orders upon
the unruly population with whom they dealt.

Further evidence of the strict impartiality and
neutrality of the troopers was forthcoming

Trial by Fire 3 2 7

during the first visit of Major Chandler to Lacka-
wanna. The steel plant maintained a roomy,
comfortable clubhouse for its employees. Im-
mediately upon the arrival of the troopers, it
was offered to them for a barracks during their

The building was light and airy. There were
showers and billiard tables and other comforts
and means of recreation that would have been
grateful to men assigned to the wearing grind of
strike duty that was to be theirs.

There was only one other place in the city
where they might be housed. This was in the
basement of the jail, musty and damp and cheer-
less; almost impossible to keep clean; depressing
and comfortless for weary men.

The troopers thanked the steel company for
its offer, and took up quarters in the jail. A few
of them for whom there was no room in the cellar
found scarcely pleasanter shelter in the attic of
the Hook and Ladder Company.

Acceptance of the company's offer at once
would have lent color to the strikers' charge that
these men were really there to fight the em-
ployers' battle. Therefore, the men turned their
backs upon the comparative luxury of the club-
house and betook themselves with the stern

328 Grey Riders

repression of that earlier grey-clad brotherhood,
to the cellar.

They lived in those damp, ill-lighted, poorly
heated, badly ventilated quarters for 126 days.
They were city property. The club belonged to
the company. The troopers could not suffer the
imputation that they were taking sides.

Two days of the State Police occupation saw
the end with one exception of all mass violence
in Lackawanna. With the conclusion of rioting
and ill-advised assaults on troopers, there ended
also the excitement that buoys up men's souls
and makes them scoff at physical discomfort.

For weary week after weary week, the strike
dragged on. Once or twice sporadic trouble
began, only to be shut off again by the stern,
impartial hand in control.

That was a heavy hand, but a just. From the
beginning the way of the transgressor against
the law was more than ordinarily hard. Men
arrested were held under high bail until their
cases came up, thus keeping a dangerous element
out of circulation, and then were punished so
severely by the judges that they had either no
desire to repeat their offenses, or else no oppor-

Pickets in front of the steel plant were not













Trial by Fire 3 2 9

interfered with, so long as their picketing
was orderly, but experience taught the troop-
ers the wisdom of searching each striker thor-
oughly before he was permitted to take up his

The result of these systematic searchings
justified the precaution. Day by day there grew
in the troopers' headquarters a strange and con-
glomerate armory contributed to unwillingly by
the strikers. There were sawed-off guns of all
styles and periods. There were pistols ranging
in type from the old single-shot to the modern
automatic. There were dirks, home-made or
fashioned in almost any of the countries of the
world. The climax came when the horsemen
confiscated in a saloon a Browning automatic
rifle well supplied with clips of ammunition!

Day by day, the strikers repaired to the halls
set aside for their use and listened to the exhorta-
tions of their leaders while an impassive figure
in a grey uniform listened too. If sedition was
flung like a challenge at the trooper in attend-
ance, he did not rush to the platform to arrest
the speaker. He permitted the agitator to shout
himself breathless. Then, when the orator left
the hall, triumphant at having defied the police,
he found himself placed under arrest, arraigned,

330 Grey Riders

and jailed, before he quite knew what had

That bit of efficiency also taught its lesson.
Speakers on the subject of direct action toned
down their exhortations as they looked upon the
sober uniformed figure that stood for law. Even
"Mother" Jones, that stormy petrel of the labor
movement, when assailing the action of the
police in strikes in general, hastened to add to
Sergeant Croasdale of Troop A, who was listen-
ing to her address :

'I don't mean you, young man!"

Gradually the strike, fed only on harmless
oratory and checked in its every attempt at
violence, began to wear itself out. Employees
who had quit the plant by the hundreds be-
cause they had been terrified by the threats of the
strike leaders, began to return to work. The
Lackawanna strike was burning itself out,
despite the efforts of agitators to furnish the fuel
for a fresh conflagration.

Once or twice the flames spurted up for a few
hours. A renegade Russian priest with a tongue
like a searing lash was imported to arouse the
women. The men had long since learned the
vanity of attempting to "start something" with
the police.

Trial by Fire 33 1

Armed with ammonia and red pepper, a
thousand or more women formed a mob and
attacked the workers on the way to the plant.
Here was a situation almost impossible to handle
without stirring up more trouble. While the
wives and daughters of the strikers raved like
maniacs before the mill gates, Major Chandler
considered the situation and eventually solved it.

A wild whooping suddenly rose above the
shrieks of the women. They looked around.
Far down the street a grey rank of horsemen had
formed. They waved their arms and yelled like
demons. Then they jammed their spurs home
and came tearing down upon the mob, in a
tempest of hooves and howling.

Few men can stand a cavalry charge. Chand-
ler knew the women would not. They scattered
and fled, shrieking disaster, while the charging
troopers were still a block away. A half block
more and the troopers pulled in their horses
according to orders issued previously. They had
broken the last of the riots without coining within
a hundred yards of the rioters.

That was the last expiring outburst. During
the final sixty days of the troopers' stay in
Lackawanna there was less crime in the town
than in any like period for years.

33 2 Grey Riders

After 126 days of the hardest, most nerve-
wearing, morale-shattering sort of service, the
men were withdrawn gradually. For some time
afterwards, patrols stationed in Buffalo and
Hamburg, another adjacent community, rode
through Lackawanna each day for the sake of the
salutary effect that the grey uniforms possessed.

But the trouble was over. Lackawanna, the
roaring city of violence, had come out of its

For four months, ninety men had sat on a
volcano of class-hatred that at any moment
threatened to blow them into extinction and
overwhelm the entire region with anarchy. Not
only did the handful of police cling to their posi-
tion, but by delicate tact, steel determination,
undeviating justice, actually succeeded in smoth-
ering the fires of revolt until they had burned
themselves out.

And and this perhaps is the most amazing
part of their tremendous accomplishment when
they finally turned their backs on Lackawanna,
they left behind them three great classes of
friends. These were the officials of the Lacka-
wanna Steel Company, the police of Lackawanna,
and strangest of all the strikers.

There can be no more pertinent comment upon

Trial by Fire 333

the impartiality and innate fairness of the grey
uniformed men who served in Lackawanna, not
as mercenaries of any party or class, but as
referees sent by the State to see that the law was



BEFORE daybreak on February 9, 1921, the
latest of Albany's series of riots had boiled away.
Even the most enthusiastic of the striking street
car employees and their allies had run out of
missiles and invective. They had gone home to
bed with the consciousness of having enjoyed
their most lawless day thus far, to dream of
further victories and sabotage unending, later
on in the morning.

For a week the capital of the State had con-
sidered each day of the strike as its climax, only
to be disabused by the still gaudier events of the
succeeding twenty -four hours. The trouble had
begun on January 28th when the employees of
the United Traction Company, operating trolley
lines in Albany and nearby towns, had struck in
a body.

For a few days, the strike had been orderly.
Then the inevitable friction between strikers and
their sympathizers on one side, and the police,


" Call Out the Guard " 335

company detectives, and strike breakers on the
other, had burst into open violence. Trouble
began in Albany. While the fire blazed higher
and higher there, it gradually extended to neigh-
boring towns served by the traction company-
Troy, Rensselaer, Cohoes, Watervliet, and

Day by day, street fights and the numbers
taking part therein increased. To each side were
flocking those sinister folk who appear inevitably
in every labor crisis. Either party in the con-
troversy was gathering mercenaries for the fray.
Gradually, it came to be seen that the riots were
not of the old pre-war type, flaring up quickly
and as rapidly dying down. There was a new
element of persistent savagery in them, injected
possibly by prophets of strange new doctrines
from Russia and elsewhere. Officials of Albany
watched these vengeful, determined fights, first
with concern; then, with downright fear. The
howls of victory or dismay; the barrages of
cobbles and other missiles; the splintering of
glass and the thunder of cars overturned got on
the nerves of Albanians. Voices began to be
raised in panic for the National Guard. The
situation was fast getting out of the hands of the
local police. On February 8th, while the fiercest

Grey Riders

rioting yet soon was raging through the streets
of the capital, Mayor James Watt appealed to
Governor Miller for aid.

He pointed out how daily the attacks by the
strikers and the defensive tactics of the company
had grown more savage: how those whose pro-
fession is industrial strife, and men with a taste
for dirty tight ing wore pouring into Albany to
join one or the other standard.

The Wai police had done their best, but gradu-
ally their etToctivonoss and power had crumbled.
Cars wore being stoned, captured, and toppled
from the rails; street tights wore almost incessant.
Wires were being pulled down, tracks ripped up.

The plea of the Mayor of Albany was shortly
followed by a similar appeal from the Mayor of
Troy. To the Governor's othce other messengers
like Job's calamity bearers brought tales of riots
in smaller cities: of unruly mobs that the police
could not handle and the promise of graver
trouble to come. All united in a terror-stricken
petition to the Chief Executive.

"Call out the Guard!"

Major Chandler had been called away from
Albany by the critical illness of his son. In his
office, a smooth-faced, boyish-looking Irishman
sat and waited word from the Governor. He was

Captain George P. Dutton

Deputy Superintendent, New York State Troopers

" Call Out the Guard " 337

Captain George P. Dutton, deputy superintend-
ent. In barracks, the four troop captains were
ready. They had watched the situation and
knew what was happening.

Two fears sat heavy on the broad shoulders
of Captain Dutton. He dreaded the work ahead
if the troopers were called in, for there is no man
w T ho wears the service grey who does not hate
strike duty from the bottom of his soul. And
being Irish, he also dreaded the possibility of the
Guard being called out to take charge of a situa-
tion he knew his riders could keep in hand.

The strikers and their allies were numbered
by the thousands. There were only 232 troopers
in the entire State. The mobs had been brewing
wickedness for more than a week. They had
overridden the local police authorities. They
would be extremely hard to quell. In addition,
the strike was bursting into violence in other
towns. The handful of troopers at Dutton's
command would have to be supermen indeed
to take care of all the wide-flung trouble centers
at once.

All this was presented to Governor Miller by
those who clamored for the National Guard.
Rumors flew about the capital that the troops
were to be called out.


338 Grey Riders

Several of the regiments in New York City
received unofficial word that they might be
needed for strike duty. In his office where
he sat waiting, Captain Dutton writhed and
thought things which, if uttered, would have dis-
barred him forever from the Holy Name Society.

Early that evening the word that the troopers
dreaded, yet hoped for, came. They had been
ordered by the Governor to take over the strike
area in Albany the next morning, if possible.
This meant mobilizing a hundred horsemen
from the far corners v the State in the capital
by dawn. The grey riders were to have their
chance to hold the industrial revolt in check
before the Guard was turned to.

So, in the fading darkness of the 9th, the city
lay waiting. Wet roofs glimmered faintly in the
light from the quickening east. A cold fog
seemed to have spread a great silencing blanket
over the town. Only the footfalls of a weary
policeman sounded in the stillness.

All at once, the footfalls seemed to have taken
on a double echo. The policeman stopped to
listen, peering through the mist toward the head
of the street. Behind the murk, something was
moving. The murmur grew and became the
sound of many hooves, clattering and slipping

" Call Out the Guard " 339

on the wet cobbles. Then the mist gave birth
to a double file of cavalry of its own neutral hue.

Out of the dawn they came, riding slowly into
the sleeping town. Grey slouch hats, sheepskin
coats belted over grey uniforms, were dark with
rain. Revolvers were strapped about lean waists.
From the saddles, riot sticks hung.

They passed in a clamor of hooves and squeak-
ing leather and the fog swallowed them up again.
The State Troopers had gone into Albany to
protect the laws that men were mocking.

In the police headquarters, battered and
scarred patrolmen shrugged their shoulders at
the news.

"They'll last about an hour and a half," they

Guard officers grinned when they heard of
Governor Miller's decision.

"It's just postponed," they predicted.
"Better keep a regiment ready. The troopers
are good, but this isn't one town. It's a half
dozen. They haven't the men and this will be a
job for a brigade unless it's stopped quick."

It was not a half-dozen towns. It was eleven
before the trouble was over. They never needed
that regiment, kept waiting. One hundred and
sixty horsemen of the service checked the

34 Grey Riders

violence that flared up successively in Albany,
Troy, Watervliet, Waterford, Cohoes, and Rens-
selaer and then skipped cross country to Green
Island, Ogdensburg, East Syracuse, Hoosick
Falls, and Tonawanda as well.

One hundred and sixty men, worn haggard
under the terrific strain of the task they were
attempting, but still cheerful and confident,
brought the law back to eleven cities and kept it
there. For a time it seemed as though all Central
New York had gone riot mad. No sooner was
trouble over in one town than there was an
hysterical call for aid from another. The work
the troopers did through that fearful month
was the endless nerve-wearing task of trying to
beat out a widespread prairie fire. They won,
this handful of men, because out of all the people
of New York State, they alone never for a
moment considered the possibility of failure.

The restoration of law and order in Albany
was their first and greatest task. The men and
some of their horses were quartered in the
10th Regiment Armory. The rest of the mounts
were placed in nearby livery stables.

The trouble in the capital had centered on the
car barns in the northern part of the city.

At 7 o'clock on the morning of the 9th,

" Call Out the Guard " 341

twenty horsemen, under the command of Lieu-
tenant Nagell of Troop G, relieved the hard-
pressed Albany city police who had been guard-
ing these structures. Strikers, who flocked to
the barns a little later to begin the enjoyable
daily task of police-baiting, found that the blue-
coats had gone. In their place were men in un-

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Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 16 of 18)