Copyright
Frederic Franklyn Van de Water.

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

. (page 8 of 18)
Online LibraryFrederic Franklyn Van de WaterGrey riders : the story of the New York state troopers → online text (page 8 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


entered the force who could not present an honor-
able discharge from some arm of the nation's
service. Most of the selected recruits have been
non-commissioned officers in the armv, navv or

*/ * t/

marine corps. Not a few have been commis-
sioned officers. One man in the service to-day
was a major of the line overseas. Several others
were captains. One or two were West Point
men who exchanged the grey of the Academy
for the grey of the service because of the appeal
the life of the trooper held for them.

All have been obliged to pass a physical and
mental test that has not grown easier with the
years. In addition, no man receives notice of his
selection for membership in the department until
his record has been looked up. A sergeant of the
service is sent to the home town of each person
who has passed the examination. There he



150 Grey Riders

makes inquiry among neighbors, the local police,
the clergymen and school authorities, concerning
the character of the man in question. Unless the
report he returns shows an absolutely clean
record, the man is barred.

Meanwhile, during this period of revision and
readjustment, the organization itself was root-
ing deeper and deeper into the body politic of
rural New York. The letters that poured into
headquarters bespoke this. So did the editorials
that appeared in the country papers. Presently,
this approval took a more tangible form. First
Oneida, then Batavia, then Troy, followed later
by Sidney and Malone, announced their inten-
tion of erecting permanent homes for the troops
quartered there.

These buildings, the concrete evidence of the
towns' appreciation, have all been built along
the same general architectural lines barracks
of concrete, brick,or stone; stables and garages of
wood. They have cost on an average $80,000
to build and are rented from the corporations
that erected them, by the State, with the under-
standing that they may be purchased outright
at any time.

Not for a minute, during this period of re-
organization, did Major Chandler and his sub-



CATCHING CAR THIEVES




Trooper Identifying Stolen Ford by Engine Number




- ._ _r^.

Here, the Number had been Filed off the Engine, but a Broken Lens Told

the Story



They Carry On is 1

ordinates relax the vigilance with which they
had from the first supervised the conduct of their
men in relation to the rural population of the
State. From the beginning, the people were told
that there was to be perfect liaison between
headquarters and every person with whom the
troopers came in contact.

A complaint against the service from the
farthest flung hamlet of the commonwealth has
received the instant and thorough investigation
that would have been accorded a criticism from
the Governor's Mansion. In nineteen out of
twenty cases, investigation has disclosed that
the protest of the farmer or small town resident
had been wholly unjustified. In the twentieth
case, punishment to the offending trooper has
been immediate and heavy.

Headquarters also keeps in close touch with
every justice of the peace in the State. When
the patrol reports are gone over, each arrest
cited, in which the prisoner was discharged, is
taken up with the man who discharged him. A
letter is immediately dispatched to the justice
in question, asking for his reason for his action.
If it is found adequate, the trooper who made the
arrest on insufficient evidence is reprimanded.
If as is more frequently the case it is found



i5 2 Grey Riders

that local favoritism has been at work, the
matter is placed before the attorney-general for
action.

Yet it is not the fact that complaints receive
immediate attention at headquarters that is re-
sponsible to a great extent for rural New York's
enthusiasm for and belief in the grey riders.
Nor, in any large measure, is the fact that these
men preserve order and keep traffic moving at
fairs and local celebrations the cause of the
allegiance of farmers and villagers to the service.

The man or woman who has not lived in the
isolated life of the farm cannot appreciate what
this service has meant to rural New York.
Unless, faced with disaster or sorrow, he has been
forced to turn for relief to a bungling amateur
policeman of the constable and deputy type the
average citizen can have no realization of what
the horsemen of the department have come to
mean in the life of the State's countryside.

They are new and inspiring actors in the
bleak tragedies that have been presented over
and over again in rural New York, ever since the
white men first cleared the wilderness for their
homes.

Not once, but a thousand times, unnoticed
save for a few lines in some rural paper, these



They Carry On 153

bitter dramas have been played. The farms,
miles from the nearest town, are their traditional
setting; the loneliness that broods over them and
warps the minds of men, the actuating motive.
There is generally a dreary repetition in the
scene.

A handful of farmer folk, mute and almost
indifferent after the habit of their kind, gather
in the barnyard; eager to help, but uncertain
how to proffer aid. In the farmhouse, behind
drawn shades, a man or woman kneels beside the
dead, waiting the law officer that the telephone
has summoned.

And then in the days of not so long ago, after
the constable or deputy with his star and gun in
glaring evidence had inspected the scene of the
crime and made half-hearted search for the
murderer, the crowd in the barnyard dispersed;
there was a burial in a wind-ravaged graveyard
on a hillside; those still alive picked np the
threads of life again and Rural Tragedy set his
scene and chose his actors elsewhere.

There are enough to choose from in that farm-
ing life of which city folk write so glowingly and
know so little women who go mad in the monot-
ony of labor; "queer" farm hands whose erratic
behavior flares up under certain conditions into



154 Grey Riders

hideous action; farmers whose moral fiber rots
under endless toil.

But a new actor has brought a hope motif into
the unrelieved sordidness of rural crime. He
wears a grey uniform that the farmers have
grown to love. There is no distance too great,
no road too bad, no weather too bitter for him to
answer a call for aid.

He is retribution and vengeance. He is com-
fort and protection. He is the New York State
Trooper.

Thus it is that the folk in the lonely house over
which tragedy broods and the grim shy men who
linger in the barnyard, wait now for the clatter
of hooves or the roar of the motor that brings
justice. And when the old familiar story has
been recited all over again between sobs, and
witnesses have been questioned and clues ex-
amined, the matter is left in the hands of the
State Troopers, with the knowledge that all that
can be done is on its way to accomplishment.
The people of rural New York have yet to feel
their confidence misplaced. From the time the
crime is committed until the murderer is cap-
tured 58 or, if need be, 350 cavalrymen of the
law are working to that end.

In the township of Onondaga Hill, in the



They Carry On 155

County of Onondaga, Frederick W. Keehfus
tilled his farm. His neighbors were few and far
apart. With him lived his wife, his five-year-old
son, Norman, and two hired men. One of these
was Chester Simpson, nineteen, lean of build,
slack of mouth and with the queer, blank look
in his eyes that told of a brain behind them that
was still a child's.

The country folk called Simpson "harmless,"
which only meant that he had never yet dis-
played the mania at which his whole appearance
hinted.

The little boy, Norman, played with him.
Surrounded by folk of mature minds, and these
bent on the serious problem of getting more out
of the soil than they put in, the child was drawn
to the man with the child's intellect. When
Simpson could avoid work, they played together.
It may have been the imbecile's fondness for the
son that kept the father from discharging him.

Then without warning tragedy fell upon the
little farm. Early one morning Keehfus and one
hired man hitched up a team and set out for
Syracuse, leaving Simpson behind, the only man
on the place.

The mother saw her little son sally forth to
play and head for the barnyard where the im-



156 Grey Riders

becile was tending the stock. Then the drudgery
of the farmhouse claimed her and she forgot all
about them.

At noon the three had dinner together. Simp-
son, she remembered afterward, was more than
usually silent, but Norman chattered, telling a
story of what had happened during the morning
that she only half noticed. Work caught her
up again after the noon hour. For a time she
heard the whine of the hired man and the shrill
treble of the little boy in conversation out in the
yard. Then these faded away.

The sun was far down toward the west when
she turned from her work with a realization of
how still the place had become. She went to the
door. In the orange light of the late afternoon
the barnyard lay deserted except where a few
chickens stalked about. Their clucking sounded
clearly in the stillness. From the barn came the
stamping of horses. At the bars of the pasture,
the cattle were gathering for milking time.

She called her son and she called Simpson, but
the echo of her own voice was the only response.

She went back into the house with a thrill of
uneasiness. The stillness frightened her. It was
as if the whole place was holding its breath,
waiting for something.



They Carry On 157

Down in the pasture one of the cows began to
low, regularly and persistently like the tolling
of a bell. The shadows lengthened. Perhaps it
was the chill of the coming evening that made the
woman shiver.

Dusk was falling when she surrendered to the
fear that had been clamoring for admission to her
mind. She ran out bareheaded and went about
the nearby fields calling and calling for her little
boy. The frosty darkness gave back no answer.

On the party wire she rang up farm after farm
in the neighborhood. No one had seen either
the hired man or the child. Then when night
had fallen and stark terror stood beside her, she
appealed to the State Troopers.

With neighbors who had come to her aid, she
sat in the kitchen, waiting. The kerosene lamp
threw the homely figures about the stove into
high relief. Now and then one of them stirred
and made some brief remark, but most of the
time they sat and listened.

Far away down the road came the beat of
galloping horses. They clattered into the yard
and the light thrown through the flung-open
kitchen door fell upon two lean figures in grey,
pistol on thigh.

There were a few brief questions. Then one



158 Grey Riders

of them dismounted and went to the telephone
while the other began the organization of a
search party.

To another grey figure in a barracks miles
away, the man at the telephone spoke a few
sharp words. Five minutes later an automobile
filled with armed men rolled out from the stables
of the Oneida barracks and headed for Onondaga
Hill. Meanwhile in the office the sergeant in
charge was calling up patrol after patrol in the
nearby counties with a description of the missing
man and the lad who had gone with him.

Within a half hour every road leading from the
Onondaga Hill was posted and search parties
of farmers led by troopers were beating through
the woodland.

Hours dragged by but the search went on.
Forest and underbrush and field were combed
from end to end. At three in the morning a
trooper, carrying something in his arms and
accompanied by several farmers, returned to the
Keehfus home. As gently as he could he gave
the body of Norman Keehfus to his mother.
Then the call went to barracks for more men
with rifles.

All that night and during the early hours of
the mist-filled morning that followed it, the



They Carry On 159

madman tried to break through the grey cordon
that had been flung about the township. He
crawled through the underbrush that bordered
a road to the north and saw a silent horseman,
waiting, blocked out in black against the stars.

He drove desperately south then, toward
another highway but halted before he reached
it for he heard the slow beat of hooves where a
second rider walked his horse to and fro. Be-
hind him, too, came the crash and threshing of
men searching the underbrush . He ran west, but
turned back from a clearing at the sight of a
grey figure, rifle in hand, facing the dawn,
waiting.

At 9 : 30 that morning, a tattered sobbing man
plunged out on to the Jamestown road and sur-
rendered to the trooper who w r as waiting for
him there. He confessed when taken to barracks,
and, examination proving him insane, was sent
to the asylum that should have housed him years
before.

That is one of the things the troopers mean to
those who dwell in the lone places. That is one
of the reasons the farmer folk do not laugh when
one of them speaks in what sounds like extrava-
gant praise of the men in the service.

There are others in the rural districts who



160 Grey Riders

speak quite as extravagantly, but not in praise.
They are the lawbreakers who have felt the
heavy weight of the troopers' hand, who have
been run down and taken long after the average
policeman would have given up the job in disgust.
They fervently curse the long arm of the service
and with reason.

There is the case of Grant Shampo. New
York had no claim upon him, but from Massa-
chusetts there came to G Troop information
that the man was wanted in Northampton for
abandonment. It was believed by the Bay State
authorities that the man might be hiding in
Franklin or St. Lawrence County no specific
location at best, and at this time all of the north
was three feet under snow.

From G barracks the word was sent forth to
Troopers Everett and Wurai on outpost duty at
North Bangor. They received a description of
Shampo, word of the part of the country in
which he was supposed to be hidden, and the
brief command: "Get him."

Persistent search which included many bitter
miles of riding or trudging over roads blocked
with snowdrifts, finally brought Everett and
Wurm their first clue. Shampo's father they
learned lived on the outskirts of St. Regis Falls.



They Carry On 161

Cannily they forebore to question him and in-
stead turned to that unfailing source of rural
information, the R. F. D. man.

From him they learned that, for a time, letters
had been delivered to Grant Shampo at his
father's home but that recently none had been
received and it was evident that the man was
staying there no longer.

The report that Everett and Wurm turned in
is only an unsatisfactory skeleton of what fol-
lowed. They say they finally learned that
Shampo had gone out into the heart of the north
woods and was working in a lumber camp be-
longing to his brother, some thirty-five miles
southeast of St. Regis.

But they do not tell of the weary miles they
traveled, tortured by the cold that Northern
New York knows, lashed and cut by wind and
sleet to learn this.

Between them and their quarry lay thirty-five
miles of snow-smothered woodland. The lumber
camp was snowed in for the winter. It was
connected with St. Regis most of the year by a
trail complimented by the name of a road. Now
this was deep beneath the drifts. Airplane
seemed to be the only manner in which Shampo,
if he were really at the camp, might be reached.



162 Grey Riders

Everett and Wurm substituted corduroy
trousers, mackinaws, and the rest of the wood-
man's regalia for their uniforms and, with only
badges and guns to show their authority, pre-
pared to go in.

There was no chance of their winning through
on foot and they hired a horse and sleigh. Into
the winter-bound woodland they plunged.
There was a fair possibility that they might
freeze before they reached the camp or lose their
way and perish.

But they drove through. Drifts and cold and
the zero gloom of the woodland could not stop
them. Time and again, they were forced to
alight from the sled and dig their horse out of the
drifts into which he had sunk belly deep. More
than once they were obliged to rub hands and
faces vigorously with snow to keep them from
freezing.

For two days they were absent and the people
of St. Regis, who had known of their departure,
were beginning to inject a triumphant "I told you
so" into their earlier prediction of misfortune.

Then out of the woods came two weary,
hungry, sleepless men, who in the sled between
them held a third Shampo. They had driven
into the heart of the lumber camp, unexpected



They Carry On 163

as a lightning stroke, and before the amazed
lumbermen were quite certain what had occurred,
had arrested their man and were on the way out
to civilization. The trip back was even more
difficult than the journey in, for beside them-
selves and their horse, Everett and Wurm were
saddled with the responsibility of their prisoner
as well.

They got their man and brought him out. He
was placed in the Franklin County jail and
handed over later to the Massachusetts authori-
ties.



CHAPTER IX

SAVIORS OF THE DUMB

Two men in grey uniforms came riding down
through the darkness early on the morning of
May 14, 1918, to Schodack Landing, on the
Hudson's shore. Their horses were spattered
with foam and sleek with sweat. The fusillading
hooves rang echoes as they tore past the hand-
ful of houses that by daylight were familiar and
prosaic enough but now seemed the threshold
of the infernal regions.

Just beyond where the road dipped down to
the station, the sky was painted a flickering red.
Clouds of steam, crimson in the glare, whirled
upward. Above its roar and the crackling of the
fire, sounded screams of humans and the shrieks
of hurt and terrified horses.

That w r as the first sight that the Catskill
Patrol Troopers Robert Hamilton and Denis
Daley, of G caught of the New York Central

wreck in which a dozen cars had been flung

164



Saviors of the Dumb 165

about like blocks from the hand of a child; eight
persons had been killed and many more injured.

The troopers had been sleeping at Castleton,
four miles away, when word of the crash and
ensuing fire ran over the countryside. Hamilton
and Daley fumbled their way into uniform,
plunged down the stairs and out into the stable,
and in three minutes were racing out of Castle-
ton as hard as spurred horseflesh could run
toward the wreck.

It was a bad wreck and in a bad place. The
crash came with such force that cars were spilled
all over the right of way. In some of these,
passengers, shaken like dice in a cup, were in-
jured or dead. In one express car that had
rolled over, tw T enty-six horses were piled into a
struggling, screaming heap.

Several of the cars had caught fire and were
burning swiftly, fanned by the wind from the
river. Uninjured passengers and trainmen,
dazed by the shock, began frantically the w r ork
of rescuing the trapped men and women. A
handful of men from the Landing, with only the
most primitive fire-fighting equipment, came to
their aid.

The flames continued to crackle and spout.
The frantic screaming of the hurt confused those



1 66 Grey Riders

who strove to aid them. There was no leader to
direct their efforts. Dazed by the noise and the
glare, they swarmed about the wreck like ants
about a broken nest.

And then Conductor F. E. Maxwell, who,
bruised and shaken up by the crash, was laboring
valiantly to drag the injured from the cars, looked
up and saw two foam-streaked, snorting horses
rear at the edge of the red circle of light and from
their saddles two men in unfamiliar uniforms
leap and come running toward him.

"Soldiers," he and the others thought as the
men approached. They did not know the
Troopers, save as men at whom the up-State
press had poked fun. They were to learn much
of the service in the hours that followed.

Instinctively in the confusion and terror, the
rescuers turned toward the men in uniform as
leaders. Instinctively, also, Hamilton and Daley
assumed charge of the situation. The few min-
utes that followed saw the haphazard attempts
of the unhurt to save their less fortunate fellows
adjusted and coordinated.

But the troopers were not there merely to
direct others. Men who passed through the
wreck have many strange pictures of the hour
that followed pictures lurid and unreal in the



Saviors of the Dumb 167

glow of the fire. They remember the volleying
axe blows on the roofs of overturned cars; the
cool, certain words of direction. They see again
the fight to beat out the fire. They recollect men
diving into the smoke-filled confusion of the cars
and fighting to release passengers pinned in the
wreckage ; of the administering of first aid to the
badly hurt; of the comforting and calming of
frantic persons whose families were missing.

And in all these pictures they still see as
leaders the tw r o cool, self-assured men in the
strange grey uniforms. After a while the uni-
forms were no longer grey but smoke-stained and
soot smirched. The hair and eyebrows of the
men who wore them were singed and their faces
and hands scorched and blackened. But not for
a moment did they falter or flinch from the fight.

It was Daley who led in the work of getting
out the injured. When the cars were cleared of
both dead and living, it was he who worked over
the hurt, applying makeshift bandages and
directing resuscitation until physicians arrived.
At his shoulder Hamilton labored until the cars
were emptied. Then he ran ahead toward the
sound that had been calling him all that desper-
ate hour.

It was the panic-struck whinnying of horses,



1 68 Grey Riders

and Hamilton loved horses above most things
in this world. His was the rare gift of under-
standing with what we are pleased to call the
"lower animals." Breeder, breaker, and cavalry-
man he had been and now he was being called
by the terrified voices of the creatures who knew
and trusted him.

He ran along the wreck toward the overturned
horse car and Conductor Maxwell followed him.

There on its side it lay, one door down; the
other opening to the sky. Thundering hoofs
drummed against its inner walls and all the air
was filled with the squealing of the trapped and
injured animals.

They had been ripped from their tethers when
the car went over. Now in the black terror of
their confinement they were piled together in a
great, struggling, kicking mass; fighting to get
free from the torture that held them ; trampling
and thrashing over one another until it seemed
a marvel that any of them were still alive.

Hamilton swung his axe against the roof of
the car. Maxwell aided him. The blades bit
deep and rapidly cut away an opening which was
enlarged until there gaped an aperture through
which a horse might pass.

But none of the animals came out to the free-



Saviors of the Dumb 169

dom for which they screamed. With the strange
delusion of their kind, they clung to the horror
in which they suffered, rather than break away
to safety.

"It's no use," Maxwell panted, "they won't
come out."

Hamilton called and coaxed and the whinny-
ing voices answered him, but none of the animals
ventured through the hole. The trooper turned
to the conductor.

"I'm going in to get them," he said quietly.

Maxwell started to protest but discovered that
he was talking to no one. Hamilton had plunged
through the black opening into the utter darkness
where steel shod hoofs flailed.

Once or twice above the mad screeching and
pounding Maxwell thought he heard the sound of
Hamilton's voice.

Then there came a wait so long that the con-
ductor became convinced that the trooper had
gone down in the turmoil that raged inside. Sud-
denly the snorting head of a horse protruded from
the hole they had cut and Maxwell again heard
the trooper's voice and the encouraging slap on
the flank with which he sent the animal bounding
to safety. Again and again, while the conductor
watched, other horses came galloping out.



1 70 Grey Riders

In the darkness of that overturned car, with
hoofs whistling about his head and heavy bodies
lunging to and fro, Hamilton worked calmly and
quickly, disentangling the frightened beasts and
cajoling and calming them until they would sub-
mit to being led to the door.

There were twenty-six horses in the car.
When the seventeenth had been driven from it,
Hamilton himself reappeared, dirty and sooty,
but smiling.

"They're all out," he told Maxwell. "The
others are dead."

It was dawn when the two men in grey re-
mounted and rode slowly back to Castleton,


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 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 8 of 18)