Houston’s Early Peace Officers

Houston Police Department

Houston Police Department

In early days, when a man’s reputation for personal courage, honesty of purpose and a bulldog determination to do his duty was established, he was recognized as fit material out of which to make a peace officer. It was the man’s personality, rather than his ability as a businessman, or his ability as an executive officer that counted. The only executive ability demanded of him was that he be “quick on the draw” and expert in the use of his pistol. The early peace officer had no regular deputies nor had he a “force.” He was the whole thing himself, and on occasions when he needed assistance, he could, and did call on any citizen or citizens to help him. In a newly settled place like Houston in the early days, there were a number of rough and desperate characters. Against such men as these, a weakling or a man who did not have a reputation for coolness and for a bravery vastly superior to their own, would have been worse than useless and would have really added to the criminal record by offering himself up as a sacrifice to the outlaws.

In the very early days police affairs were in the hands of the sheriff, and this condition prevailed for sometime after Houston had become a chartered city. In 1840 or 1841, Captain Newt. Smith, one of the heroes of San Jacinto, was elected city marshal and served as such until 1844, when Captain Billy Williams was elected to succeed him. In the late forties Captain R. C. Boyce was elected city marshal and held office for a number of years. The city marshal’s office was no sinecure. From 1840 to 1860, Houston was at times, particularly about election times and on days of public gatherings, what one might call in the vernacular a little “wild and woolly.” On such occasions both the sheriff and marshal had their hands full. There were numerous desperate characters here, whiskey was cheap and plentiful and the wonder is that there were so few tragedies. It is a remarkable fact that none of the three men who served as marshal during that troublesome period ever had to kill a man. It was not because they were not perfectly prepared and willing to do so should occasion arise, and it was possibly a knowledge of that fact, on the part of the desperadoes, that caused them not to offer resistance when the officers went after them. At the close of the war, Mr. I. C. Lord was city marshal and his administration was far more strenuous than any that preceded it. This was due to the generally disrupted condition of society; to the fact that the town was full of returned Confederate soldiers, Federal soldiers, newly freed Negroes and worthless white men, known as “scalawags” and “carpet-baggers,” who did all in their power to stir up strife between the white people and the Negroes. Killings were of frequent occurrence, and the police figured in the large majority of them.

As bits of police history are always interesting the following are given here as characteristic. They are taken from an old book at police headquarters, called the “Time Book,” dated 1882. A record on the first page reveals the fact that the police force in 1882, consisted of a chief, a deputy chief and six patrolmen, the latter divided into a night and a day relief. Charles Wichman was chief, or city marshal, and W. W. Glass was deputy chief. W. H. Smith and F. W. McCutchin were the day force, while B. F. Archer, Jack White, James Daily and Nat Davis were the night force. All of these old officers are dead.

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About mrhoustonian

A native Houstonian with a passion for preserving online Houston's great past.
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