Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

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

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at the idea of training a cavalry squadron in
three months, frowned in bewilderment as they
watched the ranks on the field below weave,
shift, and swing through the drill like regulars.

Boots and Saddles 63

And when the squadron swung into line and
came thundering down the field, a solid wave
of grey, men and women rose to their feet
and drowned out the roll of charging hooves
with cheering. It was New York's first greeting
to the men of her new force.

Throughout the duration of the fair, the new
police made friends. Men and women found
them strangely willing to be of service. It was
a new experience to have a policeman go out of
his way and spend ten minutes of his time trying
to find an exhibit, merely because he had been
asked about it. It was also a startling thing to
find this police force immune to tips and indif-
ferent to political influence.

One day a high and powerful official of the
State attempted to drive his car into the grounds
through an entrance at which a trooper stood on
guard. He was halted and informed that he
could not enter there. He insisted he could.
The trooper was sorry, but it was the order.

"Do you know," demanded the high and
powerful one with his best Olympian manner,
"who I am? I am So-and-So, the Thus and
Such of the State of New York."

"I'm certainly very glad to meet you, sir,"
was the unmoved response, "you'll find the

64 Grey Riders

proper gate for entering the fair grounds over

Fifteen minutes later the power in the State
was wringing the hand of Major Chandler.

"By George, sir," he exclaimed, "it's great.
You've a wonderful force. It's splendid."

There were 232 men and they had some forty-
five thousand square miles of territory to patrol.
After much study, Major Chandler had divided
the State into four districts, each of these to be
patrolled by one of the troops. In addition, he
had obtained temporary barracks for the units
of his command; Troop A in an old skating
rink at Batavia; Troop D in a shabby building
in the suburbs of Oneida ; Troop G in a big farm-
house on the Albany-Schenectady road, and
Troop K in the splendid stable of the Gedney
Farms estate on the outskirts of White Plains.

The problem facing each of these troops,
quartered in the center of the broad territory
given over to its jurisdiction, was essentially one
of outpost warfare. There could be none of
the massed drive against lawbreakers that is
carried on by city police where distances are
short and members of the department many.
The troopers' offensive would of necessity
be an affair of outposts. Barracks would be

Boots and Saddles 65

their base. In the territory of each troop, sub-
stations would be established. From these, the
riders would go out on patrol of their particular
district. At the substation they could always
be reached in case of need.

The close study given by Major Chandler to
the terrain his force was to take over was demon-
strated when, after he had divided the State
among his four troops, the telephone company
drew his attention to the fact that the zones of
his marking practically coincided with those
established by that concern for the efficient
administration of its own business.

When the fair ended, each of the troops rode
cross country to its barracks. The horsemen
reached their new quarters to find that much
would have to be done before these could be
made habitable in the face of the approaching
winter. With hammer and saw, paintbrush
and plumbing tools, they set to work. Leaky
roofs were repaired, partitions were erected,
rubbish carted forth by the barrow load and
burned; stalls were built and paint and varnish
wiped out the stains of age and neglect.

From the shabby, barnlike structures in which
the men of the service spent their first winter,
they have since moved all except Troop K,

66 Grey Riders

and Troops B and C, organized in June, 1921
into modern, specially constructed buildings that
are at once barracks and testimonials of the
worth in which the people of the State hold their

In 1919, citizens of Oneida built a new home
for Troop D. In 1921, Batavia and Troy com-
pleted splendid modern buildings as head-
quarters for Troops A and G, respectively.
These buildings are rented from the corporations
that erected them. The State has the privilege
of purchasing them at any time. They stand
as a tribute of rural New York to the grey

The stable in which K is quartered has been
renovated and altered by the men of the com-
mand until it forms a fitting companion to the
three more modern barracks. Sidney and
Malone are building homes for Troops B and C.
There is no State Police organization on the
continent as well housed as the New York State
Troopers will be by the end of 1922.

The first month after reaching barracks was
occupied largely in the process of becoming
settled and getting in touch with the other law
enforcing agencies of the rural State. Captains
of each troop made tours through their respec-

Boots and Saddles 67

tive territories, conferring with sheriffs, justices
of the peace, district attorneys, and local police
officials; striving to make plain, as well as words
might, the ideals for which the newly organized
force was to stand.

But the intense conservatism of the rural
population was not to be broken down by words.
Police chiefs and constables promised coopera-
tion, conditionally. Judges and district at-
torneys welcomed the troopers politely. All
these and the rest of rural New York continued
to watch this new-fangled force a little askance.

As far as the troopers were concerned, rural
New York was decidedly from Missouri.



IN June, 1917, while two hundred-odd men at
Camp Newayo were being drilled and lectured,
and exhorted, and hammered into the form and
semblance of a State Police force the fathers of
a certain village in Greene County, which might
have been called Oakhurst, decided to install a
municipal electric lighting plant.

Under the direction of a man who might have
been named Sam Winters, an expert electrician
when sober and a raging bull elephant when
drunk, the great project was accomplished.
After dusk, Oakhurst blossomed with incan-
descent bulbs in what proud citizens insisted
was a fair imitation of Broadway at 8 P.M.

By October, when the men who had trained
on the meadow near Manlius were riding out on
their first patrols, arid virtue palled upon Sam.
He began to look with a dull and cheerless eye
upon a world that had been dry much too long.


First Patrols 69

Destiny, aided by Demon Rum, was about to go
to work.

A chill twilight came creeping one evening up
through the valleys of the Catskills to Oakhurst,
where it allied itself with a moral gloom heavier
than the physical darkness. A kerosene lamp,
set on the bar of the village hotel, held out only
a feeble promise of cheer to the horseman who
rode into town with the dusk. This light, and
the noisy group on the porch before the barroom,
guided him to the inn.

Night advanced, unchallenged by electric
bulbs, along the streets of Oakhurst because of
Sam and Destiny and Demon Rum. To this
triumvirate must be attributed also the moral
gloom in w r hich the village was steeped.

While Destiny guides the horseman to the
stable at the rear of the hotel, consider Sam and
Demon Rum, dispensers of darkness and center
of the noisy group on the porch.

Broad of shoulder and narrow of outlook is
Sam ; short of temper and long of thirst. When
sober he is one of the best mechanics in Greene
County. When drunk, he proclaims himself
the best rough and tumble fighter in the world,
and peace-loving Oakhurst has long since learned
to take him at his ow r n valuation.

7 Grey Riders

Even to-night, when he has committed the
most outrageous of a long series of minor atroci-
ties, no one crosses Sam. He has struck against
the peace, happiness, and lighting system of Oak-
hurst but no man makes more than feeble
protest, and this from a safe distance.

The police force, on being informed that Sam
is on the loose again, sighs resignedly, informs his
wife that he is sick, no matter who wants him,
and goes to bed, determined to sell his life
dearly. In the power house the dynamo stands
idle. In their darkened homes, the city fathers
sit idle, too, although enraged.

During an argument about something or
other, one of the tactless fathers had said
something to wound the tender feelings of the
"city engineer," meaning Sam. He had re-
taliated; first, by getting drunk; second, by
shutting down the power plant and third, by
double daring any man in the village to try and
start it again.

Hence, Sam stood on the hotel porch that
evening surrounded by a bibulous following and
trumpeted defiance to the stars that were poor
substitutes for the town's darkened incan-

Presently, in the midst of Sam's vainglorious

First Patrols 71

chant, the aforementioned horseman, having
rubbed down and bedded his mount, came round
the corner of the hotel to consult the proprietor
about feed.

A moment later, a hand was laid on the collar
of the uproarious Sam. He wheeled with a
snarl and then dropped his jaw in amazement.

A stranger stood at his elbow. The man's
face w r as pale but the eyes beneath thick black
brows were narrow and steady. He wore a
grey uniform of unfamiliar cut, a purple tie,
grey slouch hat, high-laced boots and spurs. He
was slender and short. About his slim waist
was strapped a broad leather belt, sagging be-
neath the weight of a heavy revolver. In one
hand he carried a loaded riding crop by the

The other hand, still fastened in Sam's collar,
propelled the bewildered challenger of the uni-
verse off the porch.

"Go on home," the grey stranger ordered, not
unpleasantly, "you're making too much noise."

"Gosh!" Sam marveled, 'they've called out
the militia!" and started unsteadily down the

The little man in uniform watched him vanish
into the darkness and then turned his back to

72 Grey Riders

the amazed stares of Sam's erstwhile audience
and withdrew.

Five minutes later the darkness all at once
became clamorous with the sound of voices
raised in violent dispute; then the thud of blows
and the heartfelt grunts of fighting men.

Sam was back again, but no more boasting of
his prowess. He was demonstrating it.

He had returned with the loudly expressed
intention of slaughtering the "soldier" and, not
finding him at once, had selected the first by-
stander he could hit as scapegoat. This latter
was being pretty badly overhauled, even for a
scapegoat, when a figure in grey shot in between
the fighters and Sam sat down, the better to
admire new planets swimming across his ken.

Over him stood the "soldier."

"I thought," he was asking severely, "that I
told you to go home?"

Slowly Sam found his feet, searching the
blackest portion of his vocabulary for adequate
epithets, and started for the speaker. Then he
halted, eyes shifting from the loaded crop in the
"soldier's" hand to the butt of the revolver
against his thigh.

"You generously specified person of better
unmentioned ancestry," Sam screamed, "throw

First Patrols 73

away that gun and stick if you dare, and I'll
knock your eyes clean out of your face!"

While he raved, the man in the unfamiliar
uniform stood for a second apparently debating
with himself, fingers drumming on the butt of
his pistol. Above the things that Sam was now
triumphantly proclaiming him to be, came a
phrase from the teachings of the new service to
which he had so recently pledged himself :

"Never seek a fight; never avoid one thrust
upon you."

The riding crop clattered to the porch floor.
He unstrapped belt and gun and laid these, with
his uniform blouse, beside the crop.

"Now," he said cheerfully, "come on, you big

Sam charged like a bull.

For a moment it seemed as though he had
overwhelmed the slim figure before him. Once,
he bellowed joyously as he plunged through his
opponent's guard and clutched him by the waist,
but the other wriggled free.

Presently Sam sat down but bounced up to
his feet and tore in once more. Then he sat
down again with even more emphasis and a thin
trickle of blood ran over his chin.

Most of Oakhurst now had gathered around

74 Grey Riders

the impromptu ring. Only the very old and the
bedridden missed seeing Sam take his third,
fourth, and fifth falls. After the last he made no
effort to rise but through puffed and swollen
lips muttered that he was no hog and knew when
he had enough.

' You're going with me to turn on the lights
right away," the "soldier" panted as he strug-
gled back into his coat, "and then you're going
to jail for the night. In the morning we'll see
what the justice of the peace has to say to you.

'Yes sir," Sam replied meekly.

Presently, through the blackness of the night,
the electric lights of Oakhurst bloomed again.
A few minutes later, the "soldier" strode into
the hotel and in a rather shaky hand that bore
a set of skinned knuckles, registered :

"M. N. McGovern, Troop G, New York State

"There's nothing in it that's interesting,"
McGovern, now first sergeant of Troop C, will
tell you. "Next morning he was arraigned be-
fore the justice, but his wife and two kids were
there too. So the charge was withdrawn. He's
one of the best friends we have in the Catskills

First Sergeant M. N. McGovern, Troop C

First Patrols 75

Two great problems confronted the superin-
tendent of the troopers and his officers in the
autumn of 1917. The first was the evolution of a
system whereby a handful of men could be en-
abled to police the wide territory of rural New
York. The second, and more difficult, was the
education of the country folk to the purposes
and ideals of the new force of which they, in
general, knew nothing at all.

On the effective handling of the first problem
depended the triumphant solution of the second.

Major Chandler and his captains knew that
the organization they commanded was a good
machine, well assembled and of splendid material.
They had built it themselves. But there still
was doubt as to whether it could handle the
immense task of policing all of rural New York
without developing fatal weaknesses under the

The troopers were few and the unprotected
miles of territory were many. The men were
young, w r ith no police experience, no traditions
of service, and only a few months training behind
them. They were to be sent forth on a mission
where the opportunities for neglect of duty and
wrong-doing, out of sight or knowledge of supe-
riors, would be plentiful and alluring.

76 Grey Riders

So few were they, so broad was the territory
each troop was called upon to cover, that the
men upon patrol would be scattered widely and
connected only by wire or mail with head-

A soldier rarely does anything without having
a superior to watch him do it. A city policeman
on duty is under continual surveillance by his
precinct officers, who may appear on his beat at
any moment.

A State Policeman, working under the system
of outposts devised in New York, is perhaps a
hundred miles away from his troop commander
and thirty miles from any other member of his
troop. He has no " shoo fly " to dread, no one to
tell him when to go to work, when to quit, and
what to do in the interim. Actually he is the
microcosm of a complete police force. He stands
or falls by his own ability and fidelity and more
than in any other service his organization is
lifted up or dragged down with him.

Into the hands of these raw men, who were to
be sent by ones and twos and little groups out of
the immediate reach of authority into territory
indifferent or hostile, Major Chandler was
forced to place the future of his department. If
they made good and bore themselves as troopers

First Patrols 77

should, all would be well. If, freed from the
supervision of superiors, they played the bully
or swashbuckler or worse, their organization
would be damned at birth.

The only fashion in which a troop of fifty men
could possibly furnish adequate police protection
to a precinct composed of from eight to twelve
counties was by the outpost system spoken of
heretofore. In accordance with this, the cap-
tains of each troop established a substation in a
strategically situated town in every county.

To each of these stations, two or three troopers
were assigned. The policing of the county was
entrusted to them. The men in grey found
quarters in the village hotel or some boarding
house and w r ent to work.

Contact was, and still is, maintained as closely
as possible between barracks and the substa-
tions. Each evening the men on the road are
expected to telephone to barracks and the sub-
station giving the town in which they intend
to spend the night, the direction they are to ride
the next day, and receiving any complaints sent
to barracks by persons in their territory.

Every night, furthermore, the patrol leader
mails to barracks complete reports of all that
has transpired in the last twenty-four hours.

78 Grey Riders

Arrests and investigations are set forth with
meticulous detail on forms carried by the
troopers. Condition of horses and men, number
of miles traveled and route taken are also en-
tered the last item supported by postmarks on
the report of every town the patrol has passed

The substation is merely an operating base
for the county patrols. Often the town does
not see them for a week at a time but the hotel or
boarding house keeper with whom the troopers
lodge always knows where they can be reached.

The patrols are continually on the move,
drifting back and forth across the face of their
territory, or riding swiftly on some specific mis-
sion. They follow no set routes. They have
no definite times for visiting certain localities.
The course they take while on the road is gov-
erned by the exigencies of the day or by the
riders' whim. No one can predict when the men
will come into town. No one, on seeing them
leave in the morning, is sure whether they will
return at nightfall or not.

This uncertainty is one of the department's
strongest allies in its effort to police wide
stretches of territory with a small force. There
is no way for the country folk to be sure that

First Patrols 79

their district is free of troopers for even twenty-
four hours. The crook can never sigh with re-
lief and murmur: "Thank the Lord they've

He's never certain they have. Four years of
painful experience have taught the lawbreaker
in rural New York that the troopers have an
unpleasant habit of appearing where no one
would expect them to be.

The appearance of the grey riders in a village
is generally sufficient to keep even the most law-
less of its citizenry virtuous for a week or so.
Gradually, rural communities have come to
appreciate how potent a trooper uniform is as a
crime preventive. Village presidents complain
to headquarters if two or three weeks go by with-
out a visit of the State Police to their community.

"But Liberty," said the Captain of Troop G
to one of these complainants some time ago, "is
a quiet law-abiding town. There is no call for
troopers there."

"That's because they've been dropping in on
us once every \veek or so," was the reply. 'If
they don't begin calling on us again, there'll be
real reason for sending for them."

The distance covered in a day's patrol may
vary from a half-mile to thirty-five. Much

80 Grey Riders

depends on the moral condition of the country
through which the riders are passing. Com-
plaints may be so plentiful in one district that
the forward movement of the patrols will be extra-
ordinarily slow. In others, the men may ride
all day without being hailed by an aggrieved

The cooperation of the telephone company
has been of enormous value to the patrols. At
each town they enter the troopers notify central
of their presence and their general direction
when leaving. This frequently enables the persons
in distress to find the men of the service in one
hundredth of the time it might otherwise take.
It is seldom that the plea, "I want a State
Trooper," spoken into a telephone in rural New
York, does not reach a grey rider within an hour.

The trooper in town also makes it a point to
call on the village president and whatever other
authorities the community boasts, hearing com-
plaints they have to make and undertaking in-
vestigations they suggest.

The men are expected to patrol the streets
until ten at night, serving notice on the popula-
tion that they are present and watching out
especially for motor vehicle law violations. The
men must be in the saddle and riding out of

First Patrols 81

town early the next morning. The impression
that the State Police led a life of luxury and ease
was too widespread at the beginning to be
encouraged in any way.

After a trooper has served a month or so on
substation duty, he is relieved by a man from
the reserve force held at barracks generally
about a fourth of the entire command. On re-
turn to his troop headquarters he undergoes, for
a week or so, a reburnishing process. Any
laxity in morale that has crept in during road
work is detected and corrected. Deficiencies
in equipment and police lore are remedied.

This alleged "rest period" in barracks is filled
with stable w r ork, drills, lectures and examina-
tions, short patrols. In addition, the men are
held always ready for any work that the men on
the road, whose position is indicated by colored
tacks in the map hanging beside the telephone
in the office, are unable to handle.

When his time in barracks is completed, the
trooper goes out again to a substation for an-
other couple of months in the field. He rarely
returns to the outpost of which he was formerly
a part. The men are shifted from one portion
of the troop district to another, month by month.
In this way they are kept clear of the local alii-

82 Grey Riders

ances and enmities that are bound to spring up if
they become too intimate with the people of any
one locality.

The character of their work is as broad as
the territory they patrol. In general they watch
for violations of the law and investigate com-
plaints of such violations, bringing offenders
before justices of the peace for disposition. They
also cooperate in enforcing the rules and edicts
of every department of the State government.

Beyond these duties, is the continually en-
larging scope of work that comes under no spe-
cial head, the various petty problems that
the farmer folk in distress bring to them for

Yet the organization started from scratch.
It enjoyed no handicap in its favor when
the grey patrols first rode forth. Rural New
York knew little of them and that little was
clouded with suspicion. Many townships had
never heard of the men of the new service when
they first appeared on their streets.

Through a blizzard whooping down from the
northwest, two men of Troop A rode into the
hamlet of Bologna during the winter of 1917-18
in darkness that had gathered quickly beneath
the driving snow clouds. Buffeted and numbed

First Patrols 83

by the storm, they sought shelter at the first
house that loomed out of the whirling dusk.

The door that opened to the knocking of the
two men in grey slammed again and from be-
hind it came shrieks and the sound of a barricade
being hastily erected. Then a desperate voice
ordered them away.

More slamming doors, screams, and further
alarms within greeted them at the second and
third houses at which they knocked. At length
they saw the lights of a store glimmer through
the weaving curtains of snow. They dis-
mounted and tramped in.

At the apparition of two armed men in snow-
powdered grey, the proprietor paled and reached
nervously behind the counter.

'Who be ye?" he gasped. And when they
explained he cackled his relief.

"Gosh!" he chuckled, "Mis' Haskins and the
rest thought ye was Germans invadin' the city!"

Newspaper tales of enemies within, coupled
with the sight of the grey uniforms, had been
too much for the war-strained nerves of Bologna.

Rural papers, playing up to the farmer's deep-
rooted sense of economy, hammered the or-
ganization savagely in the early months of its
existence. They bewailed the "extravagance"

84 Grey Riders

and " uselessness " of such a force. They called
its members names it was hard to bear. The
most merciful of these was 'Whitman's Life

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Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 4 of 18)