While the Mounted Unit of the Cleveland Police officially dates back to 1911, the police in Cleveland utilized horses and even considered forming a mounted squad for several decades before that. Below is a history of Cleveland Police and it’s use of horses from 1877.
The first recorded mention of the City of Cleveland considering the creation of a police mounted unit came in early 1877. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer on February 6, 1877, “The question of establishing a mounted police squad is being agitated by the police board.”
A year later, the First Cleveland Troop was created by former members of the 107th Cavalry that was disbanded at the end of their service in the Civil War. First formed as a city militia, the First Cleveland Troop eventually became part of the Ohio National Guard. The group frequently participated in parades and special events throughout the city and also helped maintain public order.
In early 1882, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers began organizing the employees of the Cleveland Rolling Mill Company. The company refused their demands and a strike was called. Violence erupted in late May, resulting in an increased police presence and the appointment of 25 “special policemen” being sworn in to help quell the violence. W.H. Harris, Commanding Captain of the First Cleveland Troop, sent a communication to the mayor offering the services of the Troop “should you deem it expedient to use them.” City Council passed a resolution accepting the offer of the First Cleveland Troop’s services, with the stipulation that the members of the Troop would be sworn in as special policemen to “render their services legal, and that they be subject to and under the orders of the Mayor.” However, the troop members were never sworn in and their services were never used.
The City of Cleveland purchased it’s first horses to be used for policing purposes on January 7, 1887. The horses formed a team for the department’s first patrol wagon. The very first trip of a patrol wagon in the City of Cleveland occurred on January 20, 1887 with Patrolman Michael Regen #132 in charge. The horses and patrol wagons operated out of the new stables that had been constructed next to police headquarters on Champlain Street.
It seems that officers did ride horses at special events through the years. In September of 1889, the Convention of the German Roman Catholic Society attracted over 50,000 visitors to the city. The convention festivities included a massive parade, where the Plain Dealer noted a mounted police presence: “On the east end of the viaduct Capt. Hutchinson with a detachment of mounted police was in waiting and from that point on he acted as an escort.”
In 1893, Police Director William C. Pollner proposed establishing a mounted squad and building a stable that could house up to 15 horses. He was quoted in the Plain Dealer on October 31, 1893, saying “We will need a big stable, for you must bear in mind we are going to have a mounted police force before very long.” Pollner completed his plans in November and met with Police Superintendent Henry Hoehn.
Superintendent Hoehn was instructed to identify 16 to 20 officers “who knew a trotting horse from a wood horse and have them ready for duty by Jan 1.” His proposal recommended the group be divided into an east side division and west side division, with eight on the day shift and eight on the night shift.
Bids were opened for the construction of the stables on March 1st, 1894, with one to be built at the Forest Street Station (East 37th Street between Woodland and Orange) and the other at the Swiss Street Station (2061 West 53rd Street). The Director identified 60 candidates for riders and secured 16 spanking bay trotters. The stables were completed and ready for occupancy by the end of the month.
On April 12, 1894, 19 volunteers reported to the Detective Bureau office, where they were greeted by Chief Hoehn and the new Director of Police Michael J. Herbert. Roll was called and the following signified their willingness to enter the horse brigade: Patrolmen Andrew C. McElroy 212, Joseph Kilbane 229, Clarence L. Meacham 174, Charles. Reppenhagen 9, Charles J. Creter 147, James Collins 193, Fred Winchester 196, Jacob Reese 83, William Roberts 151, Jacob Burkhardt 213, Charles Saunders 48, William W. Mackey 148, Daniel G. Stanton 19, Frank Grime 24, Norman A. Shattuck 210, John Shipp 178, Leroy E. Bouker 51, Charles L. Weisbarth 157, Gustav H. Fechner 41. The squad was nick-named the Pollner Patrol in honor of the former Police Director who had recently resigned. Patrolman Frank E. Dolan 30 was appointed Police Veterinary and he was responsible for all of the 45 horses is use by the department. He had been a horseman most of his life, having been in charge of the barns when the street cars were drawn by horses. Four Hostlers were also hired to help care for the horses.
By the 14th of April, Director Herbert began to realize that turning out a new mounted squad was a bigger challenge that he had anticipated. The saddles had not been delivered. There were no cavalry tactics and no arrest policies involving horses. This idea had been conceived by former Director Pollner and the current Director was less than thrilled with the project. Further, Superintendent Hoehn was not overly enthusiastic.
On April 30, 1894 the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the Mounted Bobbies.
People living in the eastern and western outskirts of the city were treated to a rare sight yesterday when members of the Pollner’s patrol, mounted police, rode along on their horses. A mounted police squad in Cleveland is a great novelty, as any member of the squad on duty yesterday can vouch for. The horses used by the officers are “green” and unused to city sights, and more importantly the police business. Eighteen patrolmen took their places in the saddle and today there are eighteen patrolmen in Cleveland who feel as if they had participated in a football game.
Their style of walking has changed wonderfully. Nine members of the patrol are stationed at the Swiss street station and the other nine are at the Forest Street station. They are organized into three reliefs of eight hours each, but yesterday they were out only four hours. No arrests were made by them because, as one horseman said at the Forest Street station, “I was too busy taking care of my horse to think of making an arrest.”
Officer Fechner, a member of the mounted police squad stationed at Swiss street, met with an unfortunate accident last night which will keep him from doing further mounted duty for some time to come. He was riding along Lorain Street near the city limits when his horse became frightened at a motor car. The animal reared and fell. Fechner’s right leg and arm were underneath and sustained ugly injuries. Though no bones were broken the flesh is badly cut and bruised.
There was a lot of good natured “chaffing in police circles” when the mounted officers returned to their stations as they “walked with that particular gait characteristic of the embryo rider after his first days experience.” There were several other minor incidents over the next few days, but no officers were injured severely. Lieutenant D. H. Pound of Company K, Fifth Infantry was hired to provide twenty lessons to the squad. He was considered an experienced horseman having served five years in the U. S. Cavalry. The training was to consist of two hours, once each week. Lieut. Pound stated “he will have the men in such condition when through with them that they can ride at a gallop and pick a hat from the ground.”
By June, the Mounted squad appeared to be on shaky ground. Director Herbert was not a strong supporter of the project and became concerned about the cost of keeping the horses. On June 28th, the Director gave the troop an ultimatum. To date the squad had not made a single arrest. He placed the squad on probation and gave them until July 15th to show their value or the officers would be returned to beat patrol and the horses sold.
Chief Hoehn and Director Hebert were never in favor of the idea and after three months the squad did not make any arrests. Chief Hoehn, with Director Herbert’s approval, issued an order instructing the police captains to return all Mounted Unit members back to their former (walking) beats. The mounted squad was abolished. Officer Dolan was left in charge of the horses and the four hostlers were retained until the horses were sold or moved to the patrol wagon barns. Police on horseback participated in several parades over the next few years, but there is no explanation as to where the horses came from. Folk lore has it that horses were leased from local stables for special events.
Fourteen years after Chief Hoehn disbanded the mounted squad, the new Chief, Frederick Kohler, asked in his 1908 Annual Report to the Mayor and City Council for ”additional patrolmen, two additional captains, four lieutenants and four sergeants. Fifteen automobiles for use in emergency, he thinks would also come in handy. The chief also asks for a naphtha patrol boat, a rifle range, a gymnasium, ten horses for the mounted squad and a sufficient fund for secret service work.”
December of 1910 brought about the creation of a new mounted police squad charged with patrolling the downtown area to increase safety for the holiday shoppers. Chief Kohler said “the mounted squad would consist of four mounted patrolmen who will ride about the streets of the business section regulating traffic and keeping automobiles from stopping where they congest traffic. Lieutenant Jacob Graul was placed in charge and was to be assisted by Sergeants Edward Donahue and George Matowitz. (Two future police chiefs and the future first Traffic Commissioner supervised this new specialized squad.) The first officers were placed on duty December 4th and caused quite a stir. Patrolmen Fred C. Meng 89 and Joseph G. Richley 256 both had served in the U.S. Cavalry before being appointed Police Officers.”
On January 9, 1911, Cleveland City Council authorized a budget increase for the Police Department to allow for the “employment of five additional patrolmen and the purchase of equipment for a squad of six mounted police.” Fire Department veterinarian Nathan H. Downs traveled to Kentucky in February of 1911 and purchased eight Kentucky thoroughbreds for police mounts.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dr. Downs visited the stock farm of Shelby & Haberson and he “selected the horses from among the best stock the Bluegrass country of Kentucky could offer.”
“The horse Night Rider is to be ridden by Policeman J.G. Richley 256 and Jewel by Patrolman Fred Meng 89. Meng and Richley were mounted during the holidays and were the first mounted policemen in the city.” The new steeds were kept at the Fire Department stables located at 2220 East 18th Street.
On March 31, 1911 the Plain Dealer reported that:
A new arm of the police force was put into service, when seven uniformed patrolmen, mounted on horses, rode from police headquarters to the city hall and then disbanded to take their beats. They will patrol the downtown section from W. 25th st. to East 40th st.
The men who rode the horses yesterday are among the fourteen who are to be tried out for the mounted detail. In making his selection, Chief Kohler is taking into consideration the ability of the men as horsemen, their army record, if they have one, and their weight. The manner in which they took care of their steeds will also be taken into consideration before the final selection is made.
Two members of this new mounted squad participated in the first “outdoor motion flashlight picture ever taken in Cleveland.”
At its peak, the Cleveland Police Mounted Unit consisted of 85 Patrolmen and horses, and they achieved international fame for the precision of their drill teams. They were invited to march in five presidential inaugural parades, won the International Drill Team competition at the Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1933 and represented the United States at the International Horse Show in Mexico City in 1946, in addition to the many trophies they won in local and national competitions.
The unit was divided into three squads. Troop A was stabled at 2249 Woodland Avenue, the Troop B stables were located at 1963 East 105th Street, and Troop C was stabled at Edgewater park. As the number of riders and horses dwindled the three troops were consolidated into Troop A and were housed in the current stables located at 1150 East 38th Street, dedicated in 1948.
Written by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum volunteer Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.
Special thanks to the Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection Team for their help in locating some of the original Cleveland Plain Dealer photographs for this and some of our other history stories.