Sunday, July 28, 2013

All In a Day’s Work

By the time John Kelly Stevens had attained the rank of sergeant, his name began to appear in the Fort Wayne newspapers on a regular basis. His day could not be classified as anything unusual for a supervisor of any city’s beat cops—even taking sick time made the front page—but it is interesting to take a tour of reports in which he was involved.

Some reports seemed petty, some flared up and died down, all before law enforcement could arrive on the scene. The reports provide the flavor of the city as well as John Kelly’s personal history, showing the problems the city bore over the years.

There was, for instance, “an uproar” reported in The Fort Wayne Sentinel on April 16 of 1898, which Sergeant Stevens investigated, along with the help of Officer Spillner—however, all they could learn was “that there had been a fight, but they were unable to locate the offenders.”

About a month later, there was the breathless report that “a burglar was attempting to force an entrance into the residence” of a doctor on West Wayne Street. The call for help even came in by telephone! Once again, however,
Sergeant Stevens went to the place, but after making a search returned to the station without a prisoner. He was unable to find any trace of robbers.
Escaped again!

There were some, however, who were apprehended, such as these two, reported by The Fort Wayne Sentinel on May 28, 1898:
Two prisoners, Nicholas Williams, a vagrant, and Henry Frederickson, charged with provoke, were in police court this morning. Frederickson became abusive to a street car conductor at the ball park Friday and Sheriff Melching arrested him. Mayor Scherer sent the young man to jail. Williams was arrested by Sergeant Stevens and Officer Romy. He is the fellow who enticed a lad named Ford from Camp Mount to St. Louis, where the officers took charge of the boy and sent him back to Fort Wayne. Williams met young Ford yesterday and again tried to coax him away. The boy was too smart this time and notified the police. Williams was sent to jail.
There were heartwarming stories, such as the brief entry indicating that “This morning Sergeant Stevens gave a poor woman lodging at the Star hotel.”

Then there were stories requiring compassion-on-the-job, such as the tale of John Smith, the local dairyman. His “milk wagon, with a double team, sundry milk cans, and other accoutrements” had disappeared, along with his daughter—“a rosy cheeked lass of eighteen” who, as was later discovered, had eloped with a son of the nearest neighbor, “a handsome country youth” during the incident. The bereft father
stood before Sergeant Stevens at the police station last night and poured out such a tale of tribulation and woe that the sergeant thought the story of Job was being enacted over again.
The father, by the way, had come to town to see about getting his equipment back. His daughter “and her chosen one,” he figured, “would be able to take care of themselves” but he wanted his wagon back. Natch.

Of course, no job in law enforcement would be complete without action and, unfortunately, violence. There were several tales of near-misses with knives and other objects, as well as the ever-present fist fights. One suspect, classified by the Fort Wayne Journal as an “all round ‘bad man,’” was reported as “making a vicious lunge at the Sergeant” upon being booked in to the jail.

The Sergeant, unfortunately, also witnessed his fair share of violence upon others, not only as the result of murders or attacks, but also as the reporting officer for suicides, drownings and train casualties. Since some of these stories will figure prominently in the Stevens family history, I’ll save those links for later posts. That sobering part of a policeman’s duties, however, are seldom reflected upon by the general public, yet are some of the deep stresses that make law enforcement such a challenging occupation.

Of course, one could never go through a recital of the litany of daily duties of a city cop without including the usual suspects: the drunks, the vagrants, the…well, the…


Fort Wayne NewsPolice Report” for July 11, 1898:
A Bagnio Raided.

Last evening Sergeant Stevens and Officer Rohrer made a raid on the rooms presided over by Daisy Rushor and got her partner, Trixey Thomas, and three male companions, John Brown, Charles Rodgers and Nicholas Smith. All of them put up bail at once except Brown. Friends bailed him out this morning at police court. The fine assessed in each case was $5 and costs. Owing to the absence of Mayor Scherer, Justice Huser presided at police court this morning.
Perhaps it was editorial discretion that provided the synonyms for other such articles in this politically sensitive town. “Places of ill repute” rarely seemed to find any ink in the Fort Wayne newspapers. Places of “easy companionship” and other euphemisms may have been the terms of choice, for, as it appears, some of those apprehended just happened to be sons and daughters of “respectable parents.”


  1. The mayor was the judge? That sounds really... well, bad. I wonder how politically slanted the "justice" was.

    1. I was surprised to read that, too, Iggy--although I noticed it was for only one particular kind of court. I don't suppose that would make much of a difference, though. I'm with you: didn't sound much like the three branches of government were quite separate in that town.

  2. Whew, I'm glad the good sergeant was able to apprehend and arrest some people because at first he sounded like he wasn't too good at this job.

    1. Ah, Wendy, you know there will always be those who manage to get away...

  3. Daisy and Trixey somehow just those two names in the same sentence conjour up a house of ill repute for me..I think I have been reading too many old newspapers:)

    1. Don't you just love it, finding those two names in a story like that?! You'd think this stuff was made up, it seems so stereotyped. But it wasn't.

  4. Great stories! Sounds as if humanity is behaving as it always does, and policemen get to see a full cross-section. My favorite story is the dairyman's daughter eloping in the milk wagon with her chosen one. Priceless.

    1. The part that got me was when all he wanted was to get his equipment back! Can you just see her driving into town that day?!


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