Wilma reading on fire - Saved From Harvey’s Floodwaters, Twice. So How Did She End.


The Department of Public Safety (DPS)--more familiarly known as the West Virginia State Police (WVSP)--is the fourth oldest state police agency in the United States (see Appendix A). It was established in 1919 by an act of the West Virginia Legislature. Like the state which it serves, the WVSP was born in an era of political unrest and domestic violence.

In early 1919, the political and social climate of the United States was beginning to feel the initial impact of World War I. Many historians have observed the "moral decline" which frequently follows a major war. Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of such a decline is the propensity to accept violence as a means of achieving goals or resolving problems. Certainly the American tradition of frontier violence did not provide any soothing historical precedents. The impact of World War I was especially powerful because of the unprecedented mobilization of manpower and industrial resources required to successfully prosecute the war. Nothing of comparable scale had been seen in America since the Civil War, then a fast fading memory.

Unrest was in the wind. In the industrial arena, trouble seemed unavoidable as labor sought not only to retain its wartime gains, but to obtain higher wages to offset the anticipated post-war inflation. The compulsion of close labor-management cooperation engendered by the war effort evaporated quickly after the November 1918 Armistice. An October 1919 national labor-management conference called by President Wilson to resolve outstanding disagreements failed completely. A wave of strikes spread across America in 1919--most notable, those involving the steel and coal mining industries.(1)

Another legacy of World War I cast the renewed labor unrest in a particularly menacing mold. Bolshevik victory in Russia and the failure of Allied intervention, combined with public emotions, heightened by wartime propaganda, to produce the "Great Red Scare."(2) This reactionary backlash was rooted in a fear of worldwide Communist revolution, patterned on the Russian model, if radicalism was not swiftly squashed. Apparent evidence of this threat was found in Communist rebellions in Germany and Hungary, the Russo-Polish conflict, and emergence of the Third (Communist) International, or Comintern, all in 1919. At home, the International Workers of the World (IWW) published a radical preamble, and, more frightening still, the American Communist Party was founded.(3)

The wave of labor agitation was conveniently labeled by conservative employers as Communist or at least Communist inspired. Was not the basic purpose of the Comintern, after all, direction of worldwide Communist revolutionary movements? The fear of radicalism played into the hands of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who had presidential aspirations. Over Wilson's objections, Palmer whipped up public hysteria, using the "Red Menace" as a vehicle for making his name a household word. Following Palmer's lead, federal and state governments launched a massive crackdown campaign, including raids, arrests, and deportations which "set a new record in American history for executive transgression of individual constitutional rights."(4) On a single night in January 1920, some 4,000 alleged Communists were arrested in 33 different cities. Eventually, Palmer's own excesses proved his undoing. He had repeatedly warned of a radical plot to overthrow the United States Government, to be launched on May Day 1920. Frantic preparations were made to meet the predicted revolution, but May 1 came and went without the threat materializing. As a result, Palmer was discredited and exercised increasingly less influence over public opinion. But many persons suffered injustice and injury before he was unhorsed.

A British journalist clearly summarized the national hysteria prevalent during this period:

No one who was in the United States, as I chanced to be, in the autumn of 1919, will forget the feverish condition of the public at that time. It was hag-ridden by the spectre of Bolshevism. Property was in an agony of fear, and the horrid name 'Radical' covered the most innocent departure from conventional thought with a suspicion of desperate purposes.(5)

Suspicion, intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and xenophobia were rampant in post-war America. The spirit of extremism found numerous manifestations: Supreme Court decisions such as Schenck v US, Abrams v US, and Gitlow v People of New York; spectacular anti-radical trials such as Mooney-Billings and Sacco-Vanzetti; expulsion of five members of the New York State Assembly solely for membership in the (legal) Socialist Party; the labeling of a railway worker strike as a Communist attempt to seize control of the United States; emergence of the Second Ku Klux Klan, which came to dominate politics in Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, and California, and exercised substantial influence in many other states; imposition of restrictive immigration quotas in 1921 and 1924, a direct reversal of previous American policy; and a host of "criminal syndicalism laws, teachers' loyalty oaths, the denial of citizenship to pacifists, and the censorship of history textbooks... actions which reflected the popular belief that it was un-American to question the validity of existing institutions, let alone advocate radical reform."(6)

In short, as Morison points out, "there was... more hate literature, more nasty, sour, and angry groups promoting 'hundred percent Americanism' than at any earlier period of our history, or any later one prior to the 1950's."(7)

A further serious threat to domestic tranquility followed from another, though more idealistic, product of World War I-- ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the Prohibition experiment (January 1919).(8) As in our current battle against illicit drugs, Prohibition stimulated a profitable trade in illegal alcohol, and, thereby, also gave birth to the large scale organized criminal activities which plague us to this day. The idealists behind Prohibition had completely overlooked the necessary corollary to make it successful--an effective enforcement machinery. The (federal) Prohibition Bureau established under the Volstead Act funded only 1,520 agent positions in 1920, and only 2,836 by 1930. Prohibition enforcement was supposed to be a shared federal-state responsibility, but most states evidenced no real drive to make enforcement effective.(9) Many states, for example, allocated for this purpose only one-eighth of the amount budgeted for fish and game law enforcement programs. Bluntly stated, Prohibition was too unpopular for strict enforcement whenever the probable political backlash was considered. Prohibition's effects were not, of course, restricted to big cities such as Chicago and New York, although the highest levels of gangster violence and corruption were found there. Of all sources of "bootleg" liquor, illegal distilleries produced the greatest percentage. And Prohibition violators could operate "stills" just as effectively (perhaps more so) in rural areas than in the city.(10) Aside from stimulating domestic dissension and the rise of organized crime, Prohibition--or rather, the failure of Prohibition to prohibit--fostered an attitude of general disrespect for the law. This is perhaps the most unfortunate legacy bequeathed to America by the "dry experiment."


Surveying the history of West Virginia, one quickly becomes aware of the undercurrent of violence. The state was born in a period of fratricidal warfare, but this merely built on a pattern which had existed since the days of West Virginia's earliest settlers. There is a tradition of "personalized" violence. Indian warfare demanded a high level of skill and cunning just to stay alive. And most Civil War actions fought in the state were on the guerrilla scale--short, sharp engagements such as ambushes and sniping.

There appears to be a great potential for violence in any largely rural region.(1) West Virginia's mountainous topography certainly inhibited effective law enforcement. Families lived in isolated "hollows" or on mountaintops. Roads and railroads were very few in number. In this environment, the antiquated sheriff-constable system (inherited from Great Britain) could not maintain order. One manifestation was the Hatfield-McCoy type of prolonged family feud. These factors were wedded to produce a "feudal, mountaineer psychology with a traditional dependence upon direct action."(2)

Industrial development simply exacerbated the level of violence. Thousands of European and Negro workers were attracted to West Virginia by the opening of the coal mines. They were accom- panied by a disproportionate share of criminal elements. Crime flourished--gambling, prostitution, white slavery, narcotics peddling, and (after Prohibition) moonshining, bootlegging, and rumrunning. To handle the flood of cases resulting from the debauchery, the state legislature established special courts, having only criminal jurisdiction, throughout the coal mining counties.(3)

Of greater significance to this study was the shift in violence from personal to industrial. Writing of Mingo County in 1921, journalist Winthrop D. Lane observed:

...an important fact in the industrial conflict now going on there. Many people living in these regions believe in settling disputes by personal warfare. They are used to the arbitrament of force. Human life is held more cheaply than in some more cultivated parts of civilization.... With industry has come a new cause of warfare. The fight over unionism has taken the place of private feuds.(4)

Prolonged industrial warfare was perhaps the most significant factor in the eventual establishment of the WVSP. This alone justifies an indepth review of the history of labor strikes and resultant violence. The labor movement in West Virginia is essentially the story of coal miner unionization.(5) As Anson notes, "the economic history of the state [was] written against the background of coal. In fact... the [West Virginia] labor movement has been colored more than by that one industry than all of the others combined."(6) West Virginia did not emerge as a serious competitor in coal production until about 1890. Agriculture was still the "modal occupation" in 1900, engaging 47 percent of the workforce, as contrasted with only 7 percent in coal mining. But, mining accounted for roughly 40 percent of the state's wage-earning workers. Coal extraction increased from 22 million tons in 1900 to 90 million tons in 1920, up 33 percent and well ahead of the national average increase.(7) And as coal came to dominate the state's economy, so the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)-- organized in 1890--came to dominate the state's labor movement after 1900.

The UMWA's organizing efforts during the 1890's largely failed due to staunch operator resistance. Although ranking third in coal production by 1900, less than one percent of West Virginia's miners were organized under the union. West Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania constituted the largest nonunion blocks in the coal industry at the turn of the century.(8) Renewal of the organizing campaigns could not be long delayed, however, due to pressure exerted on UMWA leadership by operators in the Central Competitive Field (comprising western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois). These operators had recognized the union in 1897, but found themselves at a disadvantage when West Virginia coal production spurted after 1900. The Central operators threatened to cancel their contracts with the UMWA unless the union could successfully organize West Virginia and thereby, reduce the latter's competitive edge.(9) Union persistence, operator resistance and political power, the general disillusionment of many recent immigrants to the mining camps, and the tradition of weak law enforcement combined to create a highly explosive situation.

Between 1880 and 1900, West Virginia's industries experienced 180 reported strikes, of which 111 (over 60 percent) were in coal mining. Major strikes include the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad strike of 1877, in which the governor personally led state militia in an attempt to end the work stoppage. (He failed; federal troops were finally required to restore orderly operation.) There were coal strikes in 1894 (in which militia were again deployed) and 1897, and a strike of streetcar operators (in Wheeling) in 1899.(10) In the twentieth century, however, the mining industry clearly contributed the majority of significant episodes of labor unrest. The UMWA called a general strike in 1902-1903, and succeeded in organizing virtually the whole central Kanawha field, "a bastion of unionism in West Virginia for many years." But this strike also produced the "Stanaford Mountain Massacre"--a bloody encounter between miners and mine guards. Other results were the loss of scanty union inroads in the southern (smokeless) fields, and increasing operator reliance on armed "private police" to protect their property and suppress union organizing activity. There were comparatively minor strikes in the Northern panhandle fields in 1904 and in the Kanawha district in 1909.(11)

The most violent strike in West Virginia history exploded in the Kanawha fields in 1912.(12) In March of that year, the UMWA-operator contract expired, and the operators refused to renegotiate. The union called a strike on Paint Creek in April, which rapidly spread to neighboring Cabin Creek mines. Operators retaliated by firing strikers, evicting them from company-owned houses, importing outside workers ("transports" or "scabs") to take strikers' jobs, and bringing in Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency personnel.(13) A pattern of escalating violence culminated in the "Mucklow Massacre" of July 1912, in which twelve miners and 4 guards were killed. On the 26th, the Kanawha County sheriff called on the governor to send troops to preserve law and order along the creeks. Eventually, almost the entire West Virginia National Guard was massed along Paint Creek. As order was restored, all but four companies were discharged in August 1912. Hardly had the troops dispersed when a deputy sheriff was killed at Ronda, and rumors circulated that hundreds of miners from the north shore of the Kanawha River were planning to cross over and join their comrades along the creeks. (This, in fact, happened.) Governor William E. Glasscock faced a tough decision:

I went up [to Cabin Creek] and... it became very apparent to me that a state of war existed and that the most drastic methods would be necessary in order to quell the trouble. Martial law had never been declared in West Virginia and I hesitated long before deciding to resort to this method of handling the situation, but... I decided to declare martial law and issued such a proclamation on the 2nd day of September, 1912.(14)

Under orders of Adjutant General Charles D. Elliot, the first contingent of Guardsmen arrived at Cabin Creek on 2 September. The proclamation initially covered a zone extending between the creeks south to the Raleigh County line. It remained in force until 14 October. Violence flared again, and a second period of martial law ensued between 15 November and 10 January 1913.(15) Newly-inaugurated Governor Henry D. Hatfield imposed yet a third reign of martial law from 10 February through 12 June 1913. Through the subsequent proclamations, the martial law zone had gradually extended until it encompassed nearly 145 square miles and parts of four counties (Kanawha, Raleigh, Fayette, and Boone). At the height, more than 1,500 Guardsmen were on duty in the zone, and some units remained on duty for a full year after the lifting of the third martial law decree.(16)

The continued violence and martial law proclamations attracted considerable national attention to West Virginia, and prompted a . Senate investigation of the strike situation. Doubtless the most controversial and legally questionable aspect of the martial law administration was the trial, conviction and sentencing to the state penitentiary of hundreds of civilians by a military tribunal situated at Pratt. The validity of this tribunal's actions were challenged, and upheld in two key cases, Nance and Mays v Brown, 71 W. Va. 519 (1912) and Ex parte Jones, 71 W. Va. 567 (1913). Glasscock remarked, on hearing of the State Supreme Court's support of executive prerogatives: "In my judgment, the decision of the court in these cases means more for real constitutional government than any other ever before rendered in this state."(17)

The strike was finally ended through a settlement personally imposed by Governor Hatfield . He made it clear to the UMWA leaders that unless the terms were accepted, "the idle [strikers] and troublemakers" would be deported from the strike zone. Thus, the state's experience with martial law conditions left considerable discomfort among almost all participants. It also set a precedent for unpopular employment of National Guard units for strike breaking purposes. Opposition to centralized state authority was later to color the political struggle for establishment of a state constabulary force.

From 1914 to 1919, there were fewer strikes, and these less dramatic, as coal production increased to meet the demands of World War I. Wages and employment also rose steadily. Most coal operators acceded to the federal government's recognition of the right of employees to organize for collective bargaining. This, and a spirit of patriotism, swelled the UMWA's membership lists until, by the end of the war, virtually all of the West Virginia fields had been organized. The one glaring exception was the smokeless fields, particularly Logan, Mingo, McDowell, Mercer and Wyoming counties. Operator intransigence in this region was soon to provoke violence "on a scale not witnessed in West Virginia since the Civil War."(l8)


The WVSP was not established without a fight. The history of the conflict is instructive not only as an insight to the times, but also as revealing the propaganda techniques employed to sway public opinion. Quenzel's study is the best summary published to date, and the discussion which follows is based largely on his work.(1)

The Advocates

Governor John J. Cornwell was the single most influential person in assuring the adoption of the state police concept in West Virginia.(2) He had personally studied the effectiveness of the Pennsylvania and New York state police. Ignoring warnings from his political advisors of dire electoral consequences, he advocated formation of a police agency before both business and labor groups. He even sent a letter "to all labor unions in the State... [warning] them against indiscriminate opposition to any form of 'military or police;' solicited their aid in keeping West Virginia free from .'s and Bolsheviki; and invited them to send representatives to the Legislature to help formulate proper legislation."(3)

Cornwell adamantly opposed reestablishment of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) as an alternative to creating a state constabulary. Except for nine staff officers, the WVNG had, along with the Guard of other states, been drafted into federal service on 7 August 1917. Under Section 111 of the National Defense Act of 1916, Guardsmen thus drafted did not revert to their state militia status on demobilization, they simply became civilians again. Thus, only rump Guard forces existed in the states after 1917, and a concerted effort to reestablish the National Guard was not undertaken by any state until Spring 1920. (Section 111 was amended to eliminate the troublesome provision via the National Defense Act of 1920. Army officials especially favored the amendment since federal soldiers had to perform many duties normally devolving to the states. Between 1 July 1918 and 1 September 1920, federal troops were used to quell 20 domestic disorders.) Cornwell recalled the rather poor condition of many Guardsmen called for war service, and the contrasting high quality of National Army draftees. He questioned whether the federal government would ever need the Guard in the future, and concluded that "the National Guard Law had as well be wiped from our Statutes." He further criticized the Militia Statute inherited from Virginia was "antiquated, impractical and a useless thing under modern conditions. To undertake to utilize it to enroll and mobilize a force of men for the preservation of peace and order... would be a vain undertaking, one that would cost unprecedented sums of money for the service that could be obtained."

In contrast to his pessimism over the militia, Cornwell highly praised the performance of "special police deputies." In an interesting early example of centralized state control of law enforcement, these officers had been recruited pursuant to the Special Police Deputy Sheriff Law enacted as an emergency security measure by extraordinary session of the Legislature, and signed by the governor on 26 May 1917. The act created a department of Special Deputy Police, superintended by Major Thomas B. Davis (also appointed Acting Adjutant General in March 1918). A force of 10-100 special deputies was to be organized in each county, with appointments to expire on the signing of the treaty of peace with the Central Powers. There had been little actual use made of the deputies, but their cost was minimal. Cornwell believed that "from the standpoint of economy and efficiency that law might be reenacted, with certain important modifications, and serve us well during peace times." The changes recommended were in selection (officers to be appointed from all over the state by circuit judges, rather than nominated by a sheriff and appointed by county court) and organization (two classes: a small force of regulars and a larger reserve pool for emergencies).(4)

Cornwell did not press for adoption of a specific organi- zational concept, and clearly emphasized that safeguards would be required to prevent misuse of the force. When the bill failed to pass in regular session, the governor called an extraordinary session and put the police bill as a top priority on that session's agenda. He held private conferences with influential legislators in an effort to secure their votes, and encouraged lobbyists to submit letters and telegrams of support. Finally, he accepted an invitation to address the special session just before the final vote on the bill was taken.(5)

Certain of the arguments advanced by proponents clearly reflected the tone of post-war American fears and hopes.(6) Governor Cornwell emphasized the relative impotence of the executive in enforcing state laws when called upon by either labor or management. He pointed to the potential threat caused by the

...8,000 alien workmen in the state who were subjects of countries still technically at war with the United States. [He warned] that West Virginia was destined to become a dumping ground for bolsheviks and anarchists unless the police bill passed.

One paper bluntly described the contest as a struggle between the powers of right, justice and human liberty and the elements who were 'having their hour of joyous murder, rape, robbery and arson in Russia.'(7)

As if to validate these fears, a miners' local at Ramage adopted a resolution threatening armed resistance if the bill was passed. Cornwell struck a more positive note with the unions by pointing out that existence of a state police force could encourage legislation prohibiting both employment of private mine guards, and the more egregious practice of coal operators associations paying the salaries of deputy sheriffs (public officials). The governor had also submitted proposals for substantial upgrading of the state highway system, and spoke of the resultant need for more effective policing of the roads--a job for which sheriffs' departments were inadequate, and for which the militia would be improperly suited and too expensive. Finally, advocates of the state police bill categorized all opponents as being either lawless elements, politically catering to those elements, morally weak, or harboring political grudges against the governor, and, therefore, not acting in the best interests of the citizenry.(8)

The Opponents

Arguments both rational and emotional were advanced by opponents of the police bill as well. The most ardent opponents, not surprisingly, were leaders of organized labor.(9) Their basic argument was that while all citizens would have to carry the tax burden represented by a state police agency, only the interests of wealthy capitalists would be served, as the force would be used mainly for strike breaking and worker intimidation. In response to this, one legislator actually proposed an amendment whereby expenses of the force would be borne by the coal operators. (It is worth noting again that Cornwell had specifically warned the Legislature of the need to prevent private interests from gaining control.) One labor paper inveighed against the proposed force as comprising "...a permanent soldiery, trained and drilled to blind mechanical response to autocratic orders, recruited from the cossack-type of humanity, tempted by a gaudy uniform, plenty to eat, and no mental or physical exertion."(10) A different light was shed on labor opposition in a candid statement to a reporter by "Mother" Jones. Asked why she so strenuously opposed a state police force, she replied: "Since it was established in Pennsylvania, we have not won a single strike."(11)

One opposing editor sought to play on the virulent anti-Germanism carried over from the war by charging that the state police bill would "'sound a German note.' He held that the superman was a myth and that changing a man's title, putting him astride a horse, bedecking him in a uniform and arming him with a pistol failed to transform his nature."(12) Other opponents warned that establishing a state police would have the reverse impact of that advanced by the governor--that it would act as a magnet to draw Bolsheviks and anarchists into the state's already tense industrial situation. Any wartime understandings between unions and operators would be hopelessly undermined. Was there really such a pressing need anyway, they asked? There were already 1,200-1,500 peace officers in the state; a sheriff could exercise the posse comitatus authority if he needed assistance; federal troops based in Ohio and Virginia could be called in if truly unmanageable violence erupted; during the war, when neither state police nor the militia were available to the governor, there had been no serious incidents; only three other states had seen fit to establish such forces; and, it was unlikely that a rural state was likely to attract "big time" criminal elements. Other opponents appealed to state pride to resist adopting an agency pioneered by Pennsylvania, and which seemed "offensive to state ideals." Economically, the projected $225,000 annual state police budget appeared excessive to rural people, and seemed to violate Cornwell's pre-election economy pledges. The farmers tended to believe in the preference of community control as in lieu of order imposed from without. Finally, the potential political patronage represented by the governor's authority to appoint state policemen was seen as a threat to the opposing political party. Rural dwellers took a different view--offensive sheriffs or constables could be removed at election time, but no such threat could be employed against a state policeman.(13)

As the special session of the legislature continued its hearings and debates over the police bill, opponents stepped up their campaign to defeat the proposal.

Labor held meetings in various cities denouncing the measure, adopted countless resolutions, threatened to strike, presented to the joint legislative committee sweeping testimony concerning the 'misdeeds of Pennsylvania state police,' filed with the same committee protest petitions bearing between 80,000 and 100,000 names, staged parades around the capitol, and listened enthusiastically to speeches by Mother Jones and other well known labor leaders. State officials opposing the bill gave interviews and speeches explaining their stand.(14)

Passage of the Bill

At long last, after "one of the hottest and most bitterly contested legislative fights in the annals of West Virginia history," the police bill was taken from the table and passed by the house of delegates, where the major opposition operated, on 24 March 1919. The measure passed the Senate, by a vote of 15 to 13, 5 days later. Governor Cornwell signed the act into law on 31 March 1919.(15) The proponents of centralized law enforcement had won, but by a narrow margin. Writing in 1957, Kyle McCormick reflected on the short-sightedness of the opposition.

The strange part of the West Virginia fight over the state police is that no one seemed to envision that the time had come when motor transportation would render the deputy sheriff and constable system of law enforcement obsolete. That the time had come when scientific and laboratory methods of police work would be essential for any kind of effective protection--that the time had come when an officer must be highly trained for police work, and not be just some country bumpkin who controlled certain political precincts.(16)


The WVSP creative act became effective on 29 June 1919. A review of the major provisions of the act will highlight the political concerns written into the law.(1) It will also provide a basis for understanding the rationale and impact of later modifications of the act after its absorption into the West Virginia Code.

To facilitate review, the provisions embodied in the 29 sections of the act may be broken into six broad categories. Minor provisions have been omitted.

Department Management and Structure

The position of superintendent was created to serve as administrative and executive head of the department. He is appointed by the governor, with the consent of the senate, for a four-year term. The superintendent was authorized a deputy, a chief clerk, and two clerks. For field operations, two companies (or platoons) were authorized, each to comprise one captain (commander), lieutenant (executive officer), and first sergeant; five sergeants; eight corporals; and a variable number of privates (troopers) within the range of 30-55 per company. Thus, the department's initial uniformed ceiling strength was 134, plus two civilians.(2) The governor was authorized to disband any company whenever he deemed it advisable. (Sections 1, 3, 5-6.)

Personnel Management

All members were to be appointed by the superintendent for a term of two years. Preference in recruitment was to be given to honorably discharged veterans. Religious or political affiliation was not to be considered. Specified qualifications: male, 25-45 age range; able to ride horseback; "of sound constitution" and "good moral character;" and capable of passing mental and physical examinations as prescribed the superintendent.(3) Members could be reappointed after their initial two-year term if the superintendent was satisfied with their service. However, reappointment of officers previously suspended, removed or discharged required approval by the governor. The superintendent's approval was required before a member resigned. The superintendent could discipline a member for refusal to obey orders, neglect of duty, drunkenness, immorality, inefficiency, abuse of authority, "interference with the lawful right of any person," or unauthorized political activity. The governor, with approval of the state senate, was to establish a bipartisan two-man board of commissioners with two-year terms. Commissioners could not hold any elective or appointive public office during their tenure. They were to review appeals from the superintendent's charges against members, conduct hearings to determine validity of charges, suspend members until formal trial on the basis of evidence, and conduct trials to determine whether discharge was warranted. In case of tie votes, the governor sat as third member and presiding officer of the trial board.(4) (Sections 7, 9, 22-24)


The board of public works was to provide suitable office space at the state capitol for department headquarters. The superintendent was empowered to promulgate regulations for the government, discipline and control of the department. Members were permitted to carry arms without a license. The superintendent was to provide weapons, uniforms, and "horses and other means of conveyance" for use by the officers. He was also to establish local headquarters "at such places in West Virginia which are in his judgement suitable and proper to render the department... most efficient...." This included providing necessary housing, quarters, equipment and supplies. (Sections 2, 11-12)

Powers and Authority

The department's jurisdiction "shall extend anywhere in the State of West Virginia." Six powers were specified:

1. To arrest and detain persons on warrant (without warrant when officer was a witness to the act).

2. To serve criminal (but not civil) process at court direction.

3. To cooperate with local authorities in detecting crime and apprehending criminals and suspects.

4. To make personal complaint, obtain and execute warrants, and bring the offender into court, and execute summonses (Sections 13-14).

5. To serve as forest patrolmen, game and fish wardens, and deputy prohibition officers (at the call of the commissioner of prohibition), exercising "all of the powers conferred by law upon a sheriff, constable or any other peace officer" (except serving civil process or exercising other powers of a civil nature)(5),and

6. "...when called by [a] sheriff... or when the governor by proclamation so directs, shall have full power and authority... to direct and command absolutely the assistance of any sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable, chief of police, policeman, town marshal, game and fish warden, deputy prohibition officer and any and every peace officer of the State or of any able-bodied citizen of the United States to assist and aid in accomplishing the purposes expressed in this act." Any person called upon became "for all purposes, a member of the department of public safety."(6)


1. Civil. Members prohibited from interfering "with the rights or property of any person except for the prevention of crime."(7) (Section 15)

2. Political. Members barred from holding any elective or appointive public office while a member of the department, and for 1 year thereafter. No member to be politically active except to cast his ballot in election; may not act as an election official; and may not be detailed to the vicinity of a convention or voting precinct on the election or convention day, nor remain in the voting precinct after casting his ballot. Penalty for violation was dismissal from the force. (Section 15)

3. Labor Disputes. Officers not to be quartered on property of any person or corporation employing more than 25 workers unless no other reasonable quarters are available. Members prohibited from aiding or assisting either party to a labor dispute, "but shall in such cases see that the statutes and laws of the State... are enforced in a legal way and manner."(8) It will be a felony for members to hire themselves out to guard private property, or accept a bribe to perform or not perform their official duties. Similarly, any person or firm offering a bribe will be guilty of a felony. (Sections 15, 20-21)


1. Superintendent authorized to collect and distribute statistics and work with education agencies "to secure the nationalization and Americanization of all foreign-born inhabitants" and to "secure a harmonious feeling and understanding between the employers of labor and their employees..." by calling on educational or other institutions "for public speakers and is authorized to hold public meetings... [when] such meetings will be of advantage to carry out the spirit of this law."(9) (Section 29)

2. Railroad officials required to provide free transportation to officers (and their prisoners) to any point in the state, subject to reimbursement on approval of claim by the superintendent. (Section 28)

3. All jailers required to receive and detain any prisoner arrested by a state police officer. (Section 17)

4. Persons falsely representing themselves as members of the department guilty of a misdemeanor. (Section 19)

5. Interference with an officer on duty, or refusal to provide information "relating to any offense or crime committed, or about to be committed, or of any riot, uprising or disturbance existing or threatened," are misdemeanors (except information which would be self-incriminating or incriminating to a spouse). (Section 18)


Governor Cornwell appointed the first superintendent of the Department of Public Safety on 29 June 1919.(2) Jackson Arnold, grand nephew of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was the former executive officer of the 1st West Virginia Infantry Regiment. In an article in the 1922 West Virginia Legislative Handbook and Manual and Official Register, Colonel Arnold summarized his understanding of the mandate accorded him by passage of the state police bill.

It appears that the plain intention of the people of West Virginia... was, first, to relieve the military arm of the state of the burden of looking after public calamaties and disorders, except of the most severe kind; secondly, to supplement the work of the local peace officers; and thirdly, to abolish the system of private employment of men endowed with the powers of peace officers.... It is believed that the department is filling a long felt need in the State and that much good and no harm has been accomplished by it, and it is making West Virginia a safer place in which to live and work and in which to invest in the various industries.(3)

As he set about implementing this mandate, Arnold faced the daunting challenge of recruiting and retaining an adequate number of high quality officers. Shortly after selecting Arnold to head this vital new state agency, Governor Cornwell took time to carefully set forth his expectations as to the quality of men to be sought. His 3 July 1919 letter to the superintendent emphasized that troopers' conduct must be such as to preserve the state's good name. Therefore, only men of good character, tact, and intelligence, capable of maintaining a careful neutrality in all official dealings, were to be favorably considered in the selection process. The "fundamentals" of WVSP operation must be politeness and service.(4)

These considerations necessitated a very careful screening of the thousands of applicants. The first trooper--Sam Taylor--was enlisted on 24 July, but overall strength was practically nil from July through September 1919. By the end of November, 121 had finally been selected and assembled for duty.(5) But recruiting men was only part of the problem. To insure the desired quality, all appointees served a four-month probationary period, which eased the task of discharging "types undesirable to the public and men derogative to the best interest of the department." The impact of discharges was staggering: during fiscal year 1922, 141 men were discharged, topped only by the 180 terminated during the 1923-1924 period. Superintendent Robert E. O'Connor noted in 1926 that although 94 men were discharged, the 42 percent turnover rate was the lowest since the department's creation. In 1928, O'Connor reported that the average enlisted strength during the biennium was 157--only 11 (7 percent) of whom were members of the group originally recruited in November 1919. Summarizing the department's history fourteen years later, Col. H. Clare Hess noted that over 300 men entered and left the West Virginia State Police during 1919-1921. Such turnover caused end-fiscal year personnel strengths to fluctuate wildly: 1921, 113; 1922, 206; 1924,146; 1925, 210; and 1926, 180.

In view of this instability, it was inevitable that men of less than desired qualities would manage to pass the screening process. The impact of undisciplined personnel was particularly evident in operations in strike zones. During his visit to West Virginia, A. F. Hinrichs noted the virulent anti-unionism of many troopers stationed in Mingo County:

Even the regular State Police seem to have lost sight of the nature of the controversy. They were charged with the duty of maintaining law and order, but they regarded the miners as the enemy and drew no nice distinctions. The young clerk of the force told me: 'The big advantage of this martial law is that if there's an agitator around you can just stick him in jail and keep him there.'(6)

This attitude was at least partially traceable to the selection process. Barb reports that "of a maximum of one hundred men in [Capt. James R. Brockus'] command thirty-five had to be discharged because of bad conduct within a period of ten months."(7)

Colonel Arnold was also plagued by problems in uniforming and equipping his men. Each new trooper was initially required to bring his World War I uniform when he reported for enlistment. Part of the delay was attributable to a prolonged garment workers strike, and part to the "eternal red tape encountered in procuring equipment from the surplus property division of the War Department."

The fledgling force could provide very little in the way of formal training. In 1920, Arnold attempted to acquire use of the state militia's target range at Caddell, Preston County, for training his men. But formal training was not to become a reality until 1927, when a one-week course was presented at Haywood Junction. During 1928, the militia's Camp Conley, near Point Pleasant, was turned over to the state police. A two-month recruit training course was conducted under the direction of veteran officers who had attended other state's schools. This intensive training encompassed discipline, classification and causes of crime, criminal investigation, the law of arrests, court appearances, firearms and first aid (taught by an American Red Cross instructor). The recruits received no pay, just food, clothing and lodging. Superintendent O'Connor pointed proudly to the economical manner in which the training was conducted: the average cost was only $ per recruit per day. He was also proud that all recruits had at least a high school education, a standard which some rural law enforcement agencies have not reached to this day. One payoff from the higher admission standards was, of course, a decrease in the frequency of incidents brought about by poor judgment.

Colonel Arnold had other plans for the Caddell facility. He wanted to pasture horses there and grow forage for them at the same site. It may seem strange that the WVSP was basically a mounted police force in an era of rapid "automobilization." As Arnold noted in his 1922 report:

Due to the topographical condition of the state there have been many isolated spots where we had not been able to penetrate. The placing of horses at stations near such regions have brought our patrols in contact with these communities and engendered a wholesome respect for the law and its officers. The policing of rural communities has become a simple problem since the acquisition of these horses.

A better perspective can be gained from the official history published by the state department of highways:

In 1910, there were only three or four hundred miles of road which could be termed surfaced highways.... There were no paved roads in West Virginia, except for two and three mile sections leading out of Parkersburg, Wheeling, Clarksburg and Huntington.(8)

The first permanent macadam and concrete roads were not constructed until 1911, and even then each was only about a mile and a half long. A state roads bureau report of 1914 alleged that West Virginia had "the worst roads in the United States." With such terrible road systems, the state could not very well participate in the post-war automobile craze.(9) So, horses and legs provided the state police with most of its mobility in these early days. Each company headquarters was allocated a touring car, to be used for transporting bulky supplies and for quick dispatch of troopers where suitable roads did exist. But during this same period (1920-1921), 36 prize horses were also added to the department's inventory. Dodson observed that:

The topography of the State was... such that horses were necessary for... police work.... Their usefulness was decreasing with the gradual betterment of roads, but they must be kept in trim for emergencies.... A day's duties, outlined for a trooper in [the late 1920's], was to rise at dawn, curry, feed, and care for his horse, climb on a motorcycle, patrol until dark, return to headquarters, report, feed his horse, bed it down for the night, eat, report for any additional duties. This routine was interrupted only for special assignments.(10)

Taking proper care of the horse usually reaped great rewards. One reporter noted that a trooper's mount "often saved his life, for example when the horse was trained to lie prone as a shield for a rifle-firing trooper."(11)

Because of continued labor opposition to the state police, superintendents were careful to emphasize its cost effectiveness in each of their early reports to the governor. Departmental self-sufficiency was also reinforced by not asking for increased annual appropriations, and by returning money to the state treasury, as happened each year until 1928. After 1928, the superintendents had to fight to hold on to existing appropriations. Budgetary reductions for 1928-1929 forced a cutback from 180 to 157 men. O'Connor pointed out that the per capita cost of each trooper was only $2,750, and that the increasing burden of highway patrol necessitated a budget of at least $500,000 for 1929-1930. So tight were funds that the governor gave money from his personal emergency fund to purchase badly needed new uniforms, automobiles and other equipment for the department in 1929. Funding at the $600,000 per annum level was requested for 1931-1932, but this proved to be a pipe dream as the Depression ground on.

The department's field structure consisted of Company A, initially headquartered at Haywood Junction (just north of Clarksburg), Harrison County, and Company B at Williamson, Mingo County. The companies eventually controlled a total of 31 substations. Department headquarters was located in the state's capital city, Charleston.

By December 1920, Colonel Arnold had a full year's experi- ence as head of an operational state constabulary. In submitting the first biennial report to the governor, he proposed several changes which would require legislative approval. First, he requested that the organization's name be changed to "Department of State Police." This was necessary, he said, because of confusion evident in misrouting of mail to other state departments and to the City of Charleston. Second, Arnold proposed that a second deputy or other position be authorized to provide professional legal counsel to the department. He also wanted both WVSP companies to be augmented by assignment of two additional sergeants--a cook and a farrier-blacksmith. Finally, he urged the necessity for an across-the-board pay raise for all department employees.

At this time, there had been considerable discussion over the need to expand the WVSP to more effectively confront labor unrest. Colonel Arnold made his position on this issue quite clear. While he favored more manpower, he formally recommended that "the organization, if increased, be not by the creation of additional companies, but by increasing the present two companies to an authorized strength of one hundred fifty men each, to include one additional lieutenant, three additional sergeants, and four additional corporals." If implemented, Arnold's plan would have raised the department's strength to 302 officers and two civilians.

Arnold pointed out that "the department... has,... owing to the large number of men necessarily assembled at [those points where strikes and riots had occurred], been greatly hindered and impeded in its desire to afford protection to residents and property owners in rural and outlying districts."(12) Organized labor, of course, had launched violent attacks on the WVSP in large part due to these very concentrations of police power. Bruce Smith, in his landmark study, The State Police (1925), used maps to compare the deployment of state troopers in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, revealing a trend atypical of other state police forces of the time:

The maps appearing herewith are intended graphically to portray the correlation between the location of state police stations and certain economic and social factors. The Pennsylvania maps show beyond any question not only that the troop reserves are in fact concentrated in the coal and iron districts of the state, but that they, together with the substations, also bear an intimate relation to the density of rural population, of the foreign-born, and of negroes. They show a high degree of correlation between the location of troop stations and the presence of those factors which are of special concern to the police. The West Virginia maps, on the other hand. show a marked concentration in the coal fields with certain large and relatively populous areas lying outside of the normal scope and sphere of the force. It should nevertheless be recognized that the situation in West Virginia is altogether unique and that the small numbers of the force, which totals less than one hundred and fifty at the present time, probably requires this disposition if it is to prove effective in dealing with an exceedingly difficult situation.(13)

In view of labor's influence in the state legislature, overwhelming sympathy for Arnold's recommendations could not be expected. But, on 15 April 1921, the legislators passed an amendment to the creative act, thereby authorizing the first major WVSP reorganization. Two additional companies were formed, and their maximum strength set at one captain, one lieutenant, one first sergeant, five sergeants, eight corporals; and not less than 30 nor more than 55 privates. Two additional civilian positions (clerks) were also authorized for departmental headquarters, and the requested salary raise was approved.

Colonel Arnold's force had a new ceiling of 286 officers, a 47 percent increase. The superintendent may have lost on the field structure issue but, in view of continued strong labor opposition, this vote of confidence in the new department and its commander was truly remarkable.(14) Companies C (Beckley) and D (Clothier) were duly activated on 14 July 1921, the effective date of the amendment.(15) The four-company field force structure thus erected would continue in existence until July 1933, at the height of the Great Depression.

Before examining the WVSP's initial operations, it will be helpful to study one of the major personnel management problems faced by the department. Arnold had complained in his 1922 report about the absence of death, disability and retirement programs. Two years later he could report no progress, although arrest fees and reward monies were being held in a pool awaiting state legislative action. Arnold pointed out that while the current budget contained funds for three members disabled in the line of duty, the appropriation would expire on 30 June 1925. He underscored the concern for permanent benefits by stating that "while the men undoubtedly deserve a higher rate of pay, they realize the state's needs in other directions and their only desire at this time is to urge the need of a pension fund." The 1925 legislature responded by authorizing investment of the pooled monies in various bonds, with the interest to serve as a makeshift pension fund. However, interest accumulation was too slow to keep pace with the expenses faced by disabled troopers and dependents. Superintendent O'Connor recommended in 1926 that either the troopers be brought under the workmen's compensation program, or that group insurance be provided for them. He also recommended that members be prohibited from accepting arrest fees because (1) they received regular salaries and allowances (quarters, rations, and clothing), and (2) it seemed reprehensible for salaried officers to be "rewarded" for doing their jobs. But the state legislature did not act on O'Connor's requests, and a comprehensive death-disability and retirement fund was not realized until 1935.

    Bible Code Predictions (My rant against false predictions that people make that cast doubt on those truly led by God!)

presents a sampling of suggested books that will spark the imagination and transport readers to new and exciting places. Look for these books in your local library. The books supplement the online resources in the American Memory website. Following each list is a link to the corresponding online resources. 

JP Dunphy is proud to be a member of this extraordinary show with such amazingly talented colleagues! A Villanova, PA resident, he has recently been seen in Media Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast , Hello, Dolly! , Ghost , Les Miserables , The Addams Family , and Sunset Boulevard as ‘Manfred.’ Favorite roles include ‘Frankie’ in Forever Plaid and ‘Corny Collins’ in Hairspray . Other regional works include Mame, Annie, Rent, Jekyll & Hyde, The Who’s Tommy, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat , and Spamalot . Proud member of SAG/AFTRA/AEA.

February 9 & 10, 2018. Sail into Westeros for the musical send-up of a century! Musical Thrones: A Parody of Ice and Fire is a giddy and raucous parody of the Emmy ...

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