“Early Days of Railroad Policing to present
Maryland and South Carolina were the first states to build railroads in the early 1830’s. By 1835, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois were part of the 11 states with over 200 railroads and approximately 1000 miles of main line track. The railroads had over 9000 miles of main line by 1850, all in the eastern states. In 1851 the railroads crossed the Mississippi and began their expansion westward. By 1860 there were over 30,000 miles of railroad establishing boomtowns, settlers, and adventure seekers in their path.
With the creation of these railroad towns, crime tended to follow. There were no railroad police at that time, and usually no other forms of law enforcement. Vigilante groups were usually organized haphazardly to maintain law and order. These groups were not very productive causing the railroads to fall prey to criminals looking to steal luggage, freight, and livestock from the trains.
Chief Engineer Benjamin Latrobe of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad established one of the earliest known railroad police forces in 1849. With the assistance of Sheriff J. F. Martin of Acting Preston County (now West Virginia), they arrested the leaders of strikers who were assaulting other workers. This gave Latrobe the idea of creating his own railroad police force, one hired and paid entirely by the railroad. It was decided that these men would be deputized by Preston County so that all of their official acts would be covered under the shield of law.
Latrobe’s force would be made up of twelve men responsible for keeping workers in line while the railroads continued their expansion. Each man would be paid $1.25 a day with the instructions to “arrest persons engaged in riotous acts, dead or alive.”
Later that year, Latrobe’s police force led by John Watson saw their first real action at the Kingwood Tunnel construction site. They met over 200 rioting strikers who had shot at workers in the twin coal mine shafts. Watson and his men opened fire and charged the strikers, driving them away. Other teams of Watson’s men saw action against violent strikers in Cumberland, Maryland and Wheeling, West Virginia.
By 1853 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had a police force that numbered around 60 strong. Many of these men moved to western railroads as their jobs ended with the completion of construction of the railroad in this area. Some traveled to western states where their services were needed.”
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