Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

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

. (page 2 of 18)
Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 2 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

The scarlet jacketed riders of a young, un-
ruly land lived a life that was true romance.
They brought home, to Indians and whites alike,
that the word of the Mounted was law.

They bridled and broke and tempered the
roaring frontier towns as a wrangler subdues a
broncho. Enemies a-plenty they had, but none
that did not respect them.

Before the northward drift of civilization,
the scarlet horsemen rode, until they pushed be-
yond the outposts of the white man and brought
the law even to the Eskimos.

No one has ever been able to reach them,
politically. Few offenders have ever escaped

Forebears 21

them. Their implacable pursuit of the criminal
has become an axiom in the far north "They
always get their man."

This may not be strictly fact, but the cases
where criminals have actually escaped from the
Mounted are extremely few. Throughout their
history, there are incidents that read like the
most violent efforts of a particularly imaginative
dime novelist. There are other tales of sacri-
fice and devotion to duty that shine with the
high clear light of splendid drama.

Four years after the Northwest Mounted
came into being, the second State police force
created in North America was born at the other
end of the continent. Here the relationship with
the constabulary in Ireland is not so direct.
Rather, it is a case of like conditions bringing
forth, in general, like results.

The Texas Rangers were organized in 1878,
chiefly to keep the border clear of the cattle
thieves who lived in Mexico and plundered in
Texas. Later, the work of the organization
was also extended to maintaining order in the
unruly western counties of the State.

The Rangers have never been a closely-knit
organization. Discipline among them is slack.
They have no uniform and relations between

22 Grey Riders

members of the various companies and their
officers are more fraternal than military.

Yet they are hard fighters and riders, expert
with rifle and revolver and terrible in battle.
Cattle thieves and bad men have been partially
eliminated from Texas nothing has yet been
able to stop the occasional depredations of the
former. The Rangers are still in existence, but
they have in large part outlived their usefulness.
They belong properly to the riotous, quick-shoot-
ing days when the West was young. The ser-
vice they then performed in bringing law to
Texas has afforded material for some of the most
thrilling chapters of American frontier history.

The Northwest Mounted and the Rangers
were called into being to bring the law to the
frontier. For nearly thirty years after the crea-
tion of the Rangers, no State police arose in the
United States.

Then, once more, the need of a centralized,
non-political force, supported by the State, to
maintain law and order within that State was
made manifest in Pennsylvania. No riotous
borderland inspired the organization of the Penn-
sylvania Mounted Police. Labor disturbance
in the heart of the commonwealth, with which
the feeble local police authorities were utterly

Forebears 23

unable to cope, was the incentive for the organi-
zation of the first orthodox State Police the
United States knew.

With the development of the coal and steel
industries in Pennsylvania, came a tremendous
influx of foreign labor; tough, unruly men;
miners, muckers, and puddlers from a dozen
different lands.

The conditions under which they worked were
harder and more brutal than they themselves.
Eventually, with the rapid growth of industries,
arose the inevitable clashes between the mine
and mill owners and their unionized men.

These clashes by the nature of the workers and
the blindness of the employers, were extraordi-
narily savage. Every strike meant rioting,
burning, bloodshed. In addition to the bitter-
ness of the conflicts, the essential quality of the
industries involved made them a matter of
national concern.

Early in a long series of guerilla wars, the
mine and mill owners created a protective or-
ganization; a distorted, bastard version of what
a police force should be. The Coal and Iron
Police, by the nature of things, had to be a little
more lawless, a little more reckless than the
workers against whom they were to cope. Theo-

24 Grey Riders

retically, they were defenders of law and
order, and the complacent State of Pennsyl-
vania encouraged this fiction by commission-
ing these actual "cossacks of capitalism" as
police officers.

It was a grim joke. The Coal and Iron Police
were actually the mercenaries of the great in-
dustries. These had called them into being;
organized, equipped, and paid them. In the
event of industrial trouble it was easy to see what
mockery they would make of law.

Instances of this mockery soon became plenti-
ful enough. Violence bred violence intermin-
ably. The bitter warfare between savage workers
and brutal plant guards culminated in 1902
when the great coal strike flamed up.

For months, the mines were idle, while about
them class strife at its worst flared and thun-
dered. The miners fought the Coal and Iron
Police to a standstill. Law and order fled
shrieking from seven counties of Pennsylvania.
The State was forced to fall back upon its final
means of protection, the National Guard. For
three and a half months, citizen soldiers to the
number of nine thousand were quartered in the
affected region. All of these were taken from
their civil employment, bringing hardship to

Forebears 25

their families. In addition, millions of dollars
in property was destroyed.

Eventually, the Federal Government inter-
vened and a commission was appointed by Presi-
dent Roosevelt. After making its report as to the
rights of the respective contesting parties in the
dispute, the commission gave consideration to
methods of preventing a recurrence of the up-
heaval. It condemned the atrocious Coal and
Iron Police but at the same time acknowledged
the utter inability of the proper peace officers-
sheriffs, deputies, and constables to cope with
strikes. The germ of the Pennsylvania Mounted
Police was contained in this sentence from the
commission's report.

"Peace and order should be maintained by
regularly appointed and responsible officers at
the expense of the public."

The recommendation of the commission was
followed. There was hostility in plenty to the
bill introduced in the Legislature for the creation
of a State police, but the measure had the firm
support of Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker
and in May, 1905, became a law.

The law is the model along whose general lines
succeeding State forces have been created. It
provided for the appointment of a superintendent,

26 Grey Riders

made him responsible to the governor, and then
left the work of organizing, equipping, and direct-
ing the department entirely in his own hands.
The members of the force were empowered to
make arrests, serve and execute warrants; were
authorized to cooperate with local authorities in
detecting crime and with the forest, fire, fish, and
game wardens in their work.

Governor Pennypacker appointed John C.
Groome, captain of the First Troop, Philadelphia
City Cavalry, as superintendent of the depart-
ment, with the rank of Major. By this action
he insured the future not alone of the Pennsyl-
vania force but also of the State Police movement
in America. Major Groome was a man of high
ideals, broad vision, and entirely immune to
political influence.

He immediately set out to study the systems
of the Northwest Mounted and the Texas
Rangers. Conditions which these forces con-
fronted only vaguely approximated Pennsyl-
vania's problem. But there was one police in
existence accomplishing a work that was almost
a duplicate of that Major Groome's command
was to do.

Pennsylvania's problem was to organize a
police able to cope with a hostile, unruly ele-

Forebears 27

ment within the State itself an element owning
stronger allegiance to the rules of unions than to
the laws of the commonwealth ; with little respect
for, or sympathy with, constituted authority; an
element sore and savage from many injustices.

Such an element could also be found in un-
happy Ireland. And there a State police had
been in existence for nearly a century. To
Ireland went Groome and studied intensively
the work of the father of State Police organiza-
tions the Royal Irish Constabulary.

In March, 1906, his force was ready for the
field. It was essentially his force. He was
responsible to the governor, but apart from this,
no man could step between him and his work.
He was as much commander of his men as a
general in the field.

This provision, with a man of executive ability
and high character in control, meant immense
efficiency. With a man of another sort, it would
have caused the collapse of the organization
soon after birth. Groome was a leader who
needed no system of checks and balances to
keep him straight.

From the time of its organization, the story of
the Pennsylvania Mounted Police has been a
tale of dearly won triumphs and no defeats.

28 Grey Riders

There has always been an element in the State,
determinedly hostile to the organization. The
numberless times the troopers have been called
upon to intervene in industrial disputes has em-
bittered further the initial enmity of labor to the
organization. Unjustly, much of the suspicion
and hate bred by the Coal and Iron Police has
been visited on the State force.

There has never been a year when the labor
element in Pennsylvania has not striven to over-
throw the organization. The troopers have
won through because of the stern principles of
their service; their own initial ability and the
inflexible support of the commander.

Under the law, they interfere in strikes only
at the request of the local authorities, but these
requests come swiftly when rioting breaks out
in the coal and steel towns.

Gradually, as the department has broadened
and increased in size, it has taken over, in addi-
tion, more and more of the work of rural police
officers. Beside maintaining order in the indus-
trial and mining regions, it also patrols the
roads for motor vehicle law violators, keeps the
untamed districts of the State in the ways of
rectitude and is at the beck and call of farm folk
and villagers in distress.

Forebears 29

Many men have given up their lives in its
service, for the work they have been forced to
do has been often of the most desperate charac-
ter. There are few veterans of the organization
who do not bear scars of bitter fights. Recently
Major Groome retired and was succeeded by
Major Lynn G. Adams, his deputy.

No State Police has had a harder, more un-
grateful task than that which confronted the
Pennsylvania troopers at their outset. They
have been victorious because of their adherence
to the slogans that have been reiterated through-
out the history of State Police forces in America
Uphold the Law ; Never Turn Back ; Get Your
Man; Keep Out of Politics.

These were the principles on which the first
full-fledged State Police force in the United
States was built. It had not been in existence
for many years before, from across the border,
the State of New York was watching its work



THE authorship of the first bill calling for the
establishment of a State Police in New York is
lost in legislative antiquity. For nearly a score
of years before the troopers came into being,
measures for the creation of such a force bobbed
up every few sessions. These found unmarked
graves in committee or, if brought to the floor of
either house, perished ignominiously there.

As time went on, these proposals appeared
more frequently with a gradually increasing
backing. Year after year they died, but each
time they died harder. The developing strength
of the support behind them gave notice of a
growing demand for the establishment of a State
Police in New York.

Conditions behind this demand differed radi-
cally from those that had inspired the creation
of the Irish Constabulary, the Northwest

Mounted, the Rangers and the Pennsylvania


Birth 31

State Police. New York had no frontier lands
to be tamed and guarded. No political or in-
dustrial upheaval within her borders called for
police action.

According to standards and conditions main-
taining at the close of the Nineteenth Century,
the State had ample police protection. The
cities, where professional criminals congregated,
had forces more or less able to cope with these.
The country districts boasted their constables
and deputy sheriffs, hitherto regarded as en-
tirely sufficient to uphold the law. There were
no broad stretches of untouched country where
outlawry might flourish. The State had been
settled and cut up into cities, townships, and vil-
lages for fifty years. Its industries were not scat-
tered through undeveloped districts as in Pennsyl-
vania. They were centralized in factories about
which cities had sprung up cities with ade-
quate forces of their own. Nor did the nature
of these industries call for an overwhelming in-
flux of a lawless foreign labor.

New York State in its rural districts was
given over almost entirely to farming. It was
a pleasant land of broad acres, great barns, and
frugal, law-abiding citizens, living in an isolation
caused by inadequate means of transportation.

3 2 Grey Riders

But at the beginning of the Twentieth Cen-
tury, this isolation had begun to melt away.
Railroads reaching across the State had brought
hitherto far-distant points closer together; had
linked the rural districts more intimately with
the cities. The development of the motor car
was pulling once inaccessible regions close to
hand. Coincident with the increase of auto-
mobiles came the better roads movement, and
macadam and asphalt highways carried on the
work of centralization that the railways had

Citizens of the State found opened to them in
an hour's ride, territory that once would have
required a day's journeying to reach. Summer
hotels arose far from the railroads. Dwellers
in Manhattan drove in a single day to the fast-
nesses of the Catskills.

The automobile made the State more compact.
It brought the city folk into contact with the
isolated hamlets.

It also brought, to the villages and farms, the
big city criminal.

Highwaymen, burglars, safe crackers, either
fugitive from justice or on predatory expeditions,
took to the automobile for their own dark pur-
poses. It was easy after the commission of a

Birth 33

crime in Albany to leap into a machine and, by
the time the police got round to looking for you,
to have two or three counties between you and
them. It was equally simple to go forth on a
motor foray and, after robbery or worse, speed
back to the city, leaving constable and deputy
to a vain search.

More and more as roads and cars grew better,
the little villages of the State became hunting
grounds for criminals in search of easy prey or
hide-outs for gentlemen who found the city too
hot for them at any time of year.

Before the craft and savagery of the skilled
crook, the constable and the deputy were prac-
tically helpless. They had not the training to
cope with him. They had not the service tradi-
tion behind them that sometimes inspires law
officers to stand up and shoot it out with the
criminal at bay.

When rural life was in its pre-Revolutionary
stage, the constable was an adequate police offi-
cer for the country hamlet. Since then he had
not altered. He was still the pompous authority
who served warrants and made search for clues
when not chopping wood or plowing his field.
The world had been changing. He had stood

34 Grey Riders

The village defended by him or a deputy was
only as well protected as the man who goes forth
with a horse pistol against an enemy armed with
an automatic.

Gradually, the protest of the dweller in rural
New York against the epidemic of crime that
the motor was bringing to village and farm, be-
gan to take coherent form. He wanted proper
police protection against this menace. The
railroad had brought the tramp to his doors.
Now the automobile was importing the city

Pennsylvania's State Police, created to keep
industrial peace, had assumed protection over
all helpless rural districts. The conviction grew
that a modified version of this organization was
a vital necessity in New York. Each year new
converts were won to the ideal of a rural police,
State supported and patrolling the unprotected
territory now at the mercy of the plunderer.

New York's problem was also the general
problem of most of the States in the Union. The
lawless conditions in its rural districts were
duplicated in other commonwealths. They were
typical, not unique.

The Empire State might still be debating the
solution, had it not been for a tragedy that

Birth 35

epitomized the helplessness of the countryside
before the invasion of criminals.

Sam Howell, builder's foreman on the home
that Miss M. Moyca Newell was building at
Bedford Hills, N. Y., was attacked while carry-
ing the pay roll one Saturday and murdered.
The four men who slew him escaped through the
inertia and cowardice of the rural officials.

There was nothing new in Howell's murder.
It had been enacted in slightly divergent form
over and over again in rural New York. But
this killing was committed under the eyes of two
women, Miss Newell and her friend, Miss
Katherine Mayo, and the horror of the thing
was stamped deeply on their minds.

In her foreword to one of her volumes on the
Pennsylvania State Police, Justice to All, Miss
Mayo tells of the crime.

Howell w T as riding a motorcycle, bringing the
pay roll to the house where the carpenters were
at work. Four Italians, all armed, stepped from
cover at the road side and attempted to hold him
up. Faithful to his trust, he bent low over his
machine and rode into them. They shot but
they could not bring him down. With seven
bullets in his body, Howell rode his motorcycle
to the house and pitched off. He turned over

36 Grey Riders

the pay roll to his employers, and by name identi-
fied two of the four men who had shot him.
They had been hired by him. Then he fainted
and three days later died. What happened
thereafter is best told in Miss Mayo's own words :

"A clearer case of identification, an easier
case to handle will never occur in the history of
crime. Both the identified men were Italians.
One, a character well known in the region, as well
as to every man on the construction, had red
hair, a conspicuous scar on his cheek, and a pock-
marked skin. All four spent some hours, and
in all likelihood, the entire day, lying in a small
islet of woods, surrounded by open fields, prac-
tically on the scene of their crime. But no at-
tempt was made to arrest them throughout that
day. No bar was put in the way of their escape.

'This statement I make without qualification
for the reason that I spent the entire day of the
murder on the spot and was personally cognizant
of all that was done and left undone.

: 'I saw the complete breakdown of the sheriff -
constable system. Both county sheriff and vil-
lage constable present on the scene, proved
utterly unrelated to the emergency and for rea-
sons perfectly clear. I saw the group of twenty
or more union workmen, encircled by twice

Birth 37

their number of unskilled helpers, standing with
hands down. And I heard those union men re-
fuse even to surround the islet of woods, a thou-
sand yards distant, in which the murderers of
their comrade were hiding.

"'We earn our living on country jobs, among
men like these,' said the carpenter boss, nodding
toward the listening foreigners, 'knives and guns
are their playthings and when they w r ant me,
they'll get me, just as they got poor Howell.
We have to think of our families. We can't
afford to earn gunmen's ill-will. There is no
protection in the country districts. Sheriffs
and constables don't help us at all. How r ell was
only a working man. You'll have forgotten
him in a month.'

"But it was impossible to forget. The truth
is too hideous the truth that in the great rural
State of New York, protection of life and
property is a private luxury to be obtained only
by those rich enough to pay for it the truth
that the man carrying a dinner-pail, the farmer
driving home from the store at dusk, the woman
alone in an isolated homestead, are as safe and
easy prey to criminal attack as if they moved in
the wilds of Mexico.

"And just as it was impossible to forget, so it

38 Grey Riders

was impossible to remain inactive to remain
an idle conniver in the toleration of such a

The blood of Sam Howell carried the life of
the grey squadron that patrols the countryside
of New York to-day. Miss Mayo studied the
organization and operation of the Pennsylvania
State Police, setting forth their work with vivid
pen in two volumes : that quoted heretofore and
The Standard Bearers.

To the standard that she and Miss Newell set
up rallied others in the State who respected the
law and were sickened by the travesty of en-
forcement carried on by constable and deputy.
These men and women banded together as "The
Committee for State Police." The bills that
had had only feeble support in the legislature
hitherto, acquired all at once a host of influential

Even with this reenforcement, the State Police
movement had to fight for every bit of ground it
gained. It took four years of intensive cam-
paigning to bring about victory. Thrice, the
end of the legislature's session saw temporary
defeat for the men and women who were fighting
for proper enforcement of the law from boundary
to boundary of New York. Each time, they re-

Birth 39

fused to be discouraged by the petty gains that
had rewarded their efforts a senator or two
more in favor; a handful of assemblymen.

Labor's representatives fought the measure
from start to finish. The curse that the Coal
and Iron Police had bequeathed to their suc-
cessors, brooded over New York's bill. The
farmers' eternal cry of economy was also heard
in opposition to a measure that would benefit
them above all persons in the State. The move-
ment had the backing of certain Republican
leaders, among them State Senator, and now
United States Representative, Ogden L. Mills.
The Democrats opposed it as a party measure.

One man in the ranks of that party was spe-
cially strong in his disapproval of the bill. He
was a rising young Tammany politician, Alfred
E. Smith by name. Already his courage, clear-
sightedness, and probity of legislative conduct
had set him somewhat apart from the general
run of representatives the Wigwam sends to
Albany. Men of both parties respected his
judgment and he fought the State Police measure
relentlessly. His departure from Albany to
become sheriff of New York County, removed a
tremendous obstruction from the way of the bill.

In 1916 Charles S. Whitman of New York

40 Grey Riders

City became Governor. His service as district
attorney had taught him much concerning the
strength and weaknesses of the State's police
system. The Committee for State Police found
in him a staunch ally.

His influence brought new support to the
measure. Up-state representatives began to
look upon it more kindly. Labor continued its
bitterly hostile attitude but found itself out-

Union heads have long, if not specially accu-
rate, memories. Already they had permitted
the work of the Pennsylvania State Police to
become confused in their minds with the mis-
deeds of the force's capital-hired predecessors.
Their hatred of the helmeted troopers of Major
Groome had been extended to include all State
Police forces, actual or contemplated. In the
movement, which had for its only purpose the
better enforcement of the law in rural New York,
they professed to see a new capitalistic plot
against labor. Dubious facts and indubitable
misstatements concerning Pennsylvania's or-
ganization were summoned to oppose the bill.
In addition, many of the rural weeklies found ma-
terial for sensational editorials on extravagance
in the project of this new-fangled force a city-bred

Birth 41

governor wished to inflict upon the country
district of the State.

But the tide that had turned so slowly was
now sweeping in to the flood. On that current,
the bill was carried through and was signed by
Governor Whitman, April 11, 1917. The Com-
mittee on State Police had been victorious but
only by the margin of a single vote.

It would have been defeated, despite the

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 2 of 18)