Saturday, August 29, 2020

Slave catching the dominant, early Texas law enforcement apparatus

Upon learning of Austin PD's racist, early history, Grits has been digging in a little to Texas' early law-enforcement agencies to discover if others have similar roots. This is a first installment, merely an initial inquiry, on a topic I want to delve into more deeply over time. So if it seems incomplete, it is. Please bear with me. If you're not satisfied in the end, you can have a full refund.

Rangers not Texas' earliest law enforcement. Some might think the Texas Rangers were the state's earliest police officers, and certainly it's true Stephen F. Austin first commissioned the group in 1823. But that was done as a private landowner; he paid the men out of pocket. And for decades the Rangers were financed largely by real-estate interests, with the Legislature chipping in to get them to fight Indians. Texas Rangers weren't funded by the Legislature as a permanent force until 1874.

Slave catching dominated early Texas security apparatus. In antebellum Texas, the big security problem about which officials were most concerned was slaves escaping to Mexico. In 1846, almost immediately after we were granted statehood, the Texas Legislature directed county courts to form local slave patrols covering specific districts. This appears to be the earliest instance of security personnel using "patrol" tactics, though their scope of authority was limited to capturing human chattel. Here's a copy of the 1846 statute authorizing Texas' first slave patrols.

The statute required, "the county court of every county and five men shall upon application, when necessary, appoint a patrol detachment to consist of one captain and not more than five privates nor less than three, for each or any district or company division in the county, whose term of service shall be three months from the time of their appointment: Provided, that one half of the patrol appointed shall be owners of slaves, or their substitutes." So slave owners had to be half of the five-person patrol. Got it.

Patrols were required at least once a month to visit "the negro quarters and all other places in said district, where it may be suspected that slaves are improperly or unlawfully assembled." In 1862, when many adult men were away fighting and fears of black flight to Mexico grew to their zenith, the Legislature expanded the patrol requirement to weekly, according to Randolph Campbell's "Empire for Slavery".

Further, these slave  patrols were empowered to impose summary punishment on black folks when they caught them: "whenever a detachment, or part of one, may find any slave or slaves off the plantation or other premises of his, her or their master, mistress, or employer, strolling about (!) without a pass or other written permission from some person authorized to give the same, said detachment, or part thereof, may give to every slave so offending, any number of lashes not exceeding twenty-five. May search." 

An amendment to lower the maximum number of lashes from 25 to 15 failed. Because, you know, unauthorized "strolling" can be a dangerous thing.

White men could be ordered into service of the slave catchers to pursue runaways or else be "fined a sum not less than five nor more than twenty dollars, for each and every failure or refusal." But that's small potatoes compared to the punishment for engaging in an interracial relationship: one to five years hard labor in the penitentiary:

Beyond the 25 lashes for unauthorized "strolling while black" in state law, local policies could be even harsher.
Bexar County created 'Slave Patrols' and San Antonio passed slave laws that regulated 'the conduct of slaves, free people of color and whites according to the wishes of the planters.' In the City’s ordinance, Section 16 said, 'That it shall be the duty of the Marshal or assistant Marshal upon written request of the owner, or person having legal charge and control of any slave, to whip such slave, not to exceed thirty-nine lashes, upon the bare back, for which he shall be entitled to receive from such owner or person having such charge and control, the sum of one, dollar, to be paid upon the presentation of such request.
I can't tell if a person in San Antonio who'd already received 25 lashes under the police officer's discretion might also receive 39 lashes at the behest of their owner, for which the police officer receives a dollar. But even raising the question shows what a bizarre and twisted law-enforcement culture we're dealing with here.

In some states, slave patrols were also about broader security concerns: "The patrols were sometimes linked with compulsory local militia units intended to protect white settlers from Native Americans, foreign invasion, and other hostile threats. The militia model was used, for example, in South Carolina and Virginia." But not in Texas: "In other places, such as North Carolina and Texas, county courts were charged with forming local committees that were responsible for creating slave patrols to cover their territory."

That's not to say slave catchers targeted only black people; they also were empowered to act against white folks who abetted runaways:
In 1848 laws were passed by the state legislature aimed at punishing those who might help escaping slaves. Anyone helping slaves plan a rebellion would be punished with death. Ship captains assisting runaways would receive from two to ten years in the penitentiary. Anyone who would steal or entice away a slave from his or her owner would receive three to fifteen years of hard labor. Free persons of color who aided a slave in escaping would receive from three to five years in the penitentiary
In larger towns, the slave-catcher apparatus could be quite extensive, especially compared to the meager resources allotted to City Marshals. "San Antonio had slave catchers and patrols in the 1840s, 1850s and beyond, and were given official status as a result of the Texas legislature authorizing slave catchers on May 9, 1846. There were at least 18 official [slave] catcher districts ... in the Bexar County area, and an untold number of racist vigilante slave catchers." According to the statute, each of these districts must contain 4-6 officers, but initially, all 18 in Bexar included six. So that's a sizable security force patrolling black neighborhoods in the Alamo City.

Like some totalitarian dystopia, "a bell that rang at 9:00 pm [in San Antonio which] meant that all blacks had to be off the street at that time or face lashings and jail time." So SA's 108 officers in 18 slave-catcher districts needed only wait until after 9 p.m. then they could arrest every black person in sight.

Grits wants to learn more about these early slave patrols in the Republic of Texas and early-statehood era. If readers know of any sources, please advise. I'm also interested in exploring more deeply the origin stories of the earliest Texas law enforcement agencies. By contrast, they appeared to be relatively small.

Earliest Texas police departments. While Grits cannot claim to have performed a comprehensive search, among local departments (excluding Sheriffs, who have a separate history) the Nacogdoches Police Department, established in 1837, was the oldest police force in Texas your correspondent can identify. I don't know much about their origins, but this description of NPD vice enforcement 1870-1915 provides a window into the racialized nature of 19th century policing in Texas' oldest town.

The city of Galveston was chartered in 1838, and that same year the city established a police department and named a local saloon owner city marshal. According to the GPD 2012 annual report, by 1867, they had 30 officers. This may be overstated, though, as a Twitter commenter provided evidence tha GPD force was still all volunteer and quite small as late as 1861. Grits has yet to identify either the relationship between Galveston PD and early slave catching duties mandated by the Legislature in 1846, nor how GPD's description of the department jibes with the newspaper account of a volunteer force. 

Next, in 1841, the city of Houston hired Daniel Busley as "City Marshal" to run the agency that would become the Houston police department. According to the Houston Police Retired Officers Association, " the Houston Police Department has operated continuously under the governing body of Houston’s elected city official since January 9, 1841." I want to know more about Mr. Busley; he's a mystery so far.

According to that same source, "The office of City Marshal became an elected position in 1843, and the police salaries were paid from town revenues. Records of police duties are vary sparse and the city secretary’s minutes of alderman meetings with the elected mayors are missing from 1846 to October 1865. So, there are no official police records surviving until after the Civil War. Records from 1867 show there were 18 Houston police officers including the elected city marshal."

Beginning in 1866, Isaac C. Lord was credited with turning the Houston City Marshal's office into a "proper" police department. Lord designed their first uniforms and possibly their first badges. Admired locally for his revanchist, pro-Confederate stances, "Lord established a code of conduct and bravely resisted the Union's military control by refusing to give way to an appointed marshal as a replacement." After he was City Marshal, Lord became Houston Mayor in 1875. Similar to Mr. Busley, the internet is virtually bereft of information about Isaac Lord. We'll need to seek out other sources to know what he was about.  

Houston officially transformed the City Marshal's office into a "police department" in 1910, along with many promises of professionalization and reform. They ran though a number of police chiefs over the next few years before, in 1917, the Camp Logan Mutiny erupted. In this amazing and little-discussed episode, black, American soldiers stationed in Houston during World War I mutinied and marched on the Houston Police Department downtown in reaction to incidents of discrimination and police brutality. These were mostly northern black men who had never before had to submit to the indignities and abuses of Jim-Crow apartheid. Several were killed in the fighting and 19 soldiers were hanged after the fact.

This established Houston's reputation as a dangerous place for black folks. A few years later, sitting one county over in the Central Unit in Sugar Land Texas, Leadbelly would pen the words to Midnight Special, "If you're ever in Houston, you better walk right. You better not gamble and you better not fight. 'Cause the Sheriff will arrest you and his boys will bring you down. And you can bet your bottom dollar, you're penitentiary bound."

We've already discussed how the Austin PD was created in 1865 to sweep free black people from the streets after the Civil War freed them. That's what got me thinking about these questions. In Austin:
The Town Marshal system ended in 1924 and was officially replaced by the Austin Police Department. Moreover, the position of head of police also changed from an elected office to one appointed by the mayor. After spending a year in the basement of the county courthouse, the police department moved from City Hall into new quarters at the recently built municipal building in 1938 (its original location being the corner of Bois d’Arc [7th] and Colorado streets)"

It should be mentioned, for quite a while, not a ton of policing was needed. Here's a view of the capitol from the north taken in 1892

Other Texas police agencies weren't founded until a little later. In San Antonio, the Union military provided street-level policing for several years after the Civil War ended, then the Texas Rangers took over before John Dobbins became City Marshal in 1873 and created what was then considered a modern police department. I have so far found virtually nothing about John Dobbins, but will keep looking.

In 1917, SAPD formally became a "police department," began using 8 hour shifts, and in general attempted to professionalize operations. Part of me would love to see case studies of them and Houston, which supposedly transformed its PD in 1910 but couldn't escape a disastrous incident in 1917.

Fort Worth offers us Texas' earliest recorded example of "defunding the police." They created a marshal's office with four employees in 1873 led by E.M. Terrell, but defunded and disbanded it after just one month in operation. Terrell hung on a little longer by himself, then quit. A couple of other men held the job, then the department was re-established in 1876 with "Longhair" John Courtright at the lead, though he only had two employees. I know virtually nothing about these people. Need more research.

Dallas didn't get a police chief (J.C. Arnold) until 1881, in part because it wasn't much of a town before then. It's easy to forget that, as big as Big D is today, back then just a few thousand people lived there. I have found no indication whether there were racial motivations behind the creation of Dallas PD, but we'll dig into it further and see.

El Paso PD may have begun in 1884, but early records including newspaper accounts  were lost in a fire. Much cannot be known about the early days of Sun City law enforcement.

I'm writing this as much or more for me than y'all: I'll be adding to this outline as research continues on the earliest days of Texas law enforcement. I find it fascinating, and hope you do, too.

MORE: On Early Houston Police Chiefs.


John said...

Here is an article from the Houston Chronicle by Scott Stabler that first appeared in the Houston Review in 2005. It's mostly about Reconstruction but gets into policing and how it was weaponized against Freemen.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nice, I hadn't seen that! I have, however, written about that Richard Coke election, and that writer undersold it! See here.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest contacting Phillip Lyons or Michael Roth at SHSU for resources and information.

Anonymous said...

Per Houston Blue by Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy. "By the 1840s the position of city marshal was well established. City government sanctioned the creation of the marshal's office in 1841. According to city minutes, Daniel Busby was the first elected to the position. He was elected twice more the following two years. In 1842, Busby's duties were expanded to include duties of wharf master, which offered additional income through the collection of additional fees. According to city council records, by 1843 at least, the city marshal was an elected office and was voted on each year.

On May 10, 1843 the police committee was forced to hold a special session to investigate Marshal Busby, who was accused of "taking dues of the City and appropriating them to his own without making any report." Busby quickly acceded to the request for his resignation. By most accounts this was the first official evidence of a disciplinary action in HPD history. Joseph Waterman was elected to replace Busby and immediately launched an investigation into Busby's graft. In a report to the mayor, Waterman reported that Busby had taken at least $317.52. Due to the complexities of the city's fee systems and the potential for graft and fraud in 1844, the Houston City Council required each newly elected marshal to post a bond or surety of $2,500."

Hope that is of some use. :~)

Anonymous said...

"Houston Blue" by Roth and Kennedy also has a couple of pages on I.C.Lord,

"I.C. Lord was one Houston's best known peacekeepers of the nineteenth century. Born in Charleston, South Carolina on November 23, 1827, he moved to Texas with his new wife in 1854, where he would "father sixteen children." During his career Lord served in every capacity of Houston city government and was the only Harris County Sheriff to be elected mayor of Houston. After serving several terms as alderman he was elected city Marshal in 1863,, a position he held until he was appointed interim sheriff in 1866 after the current one, John Proudfoot, mysteriously disappeared, most probably as a result fo foul play. Lord returned to city marshal in 1867, but ws removed by military authorities. He left public service for a short time and focused on is foundry and sawmill business. in 1874 he returned as commissioner and the following year was elected mayor. In 1879 he returned to the county commissioners job and the next year became street commissioner."

"In 1867-1868, Marshal .I.C. Lord was paid $2,000 per year, making him the highest salaried public official under the mayor."

There is more on Lord including a short comment about being reportedly shot in the head during a "racial disturbance" after having returned from a trip to New Orleans "for the purpose of procuring such information that would facilitate him in the organization of an effective police force. " :~)