Thursday, November 22, 2012


I was wandering around historic Rosehill Cemetery one beautiful autumn day when I happened upon a flat tombstone:

Chicago Police Department
Killed in the Line of Duty
Sept. 7, 1892
                       Star 1609

I remembered reading that there was an effort to make sure that every grave of a Chicago police officer who was killed in the line of duty had a tombstone.  Since the object of this blog is to make sure that people are not forgotten, let's look at the circumstances 120 years ago that caused Officer Henry McDowell to make the supreme sacrifice.  The story starts in the Chicago Daily Tribune from September 7, 1892:

Officer John Powell and Capt. James M. Brown Shot.
Henry M'Dowell Dying.
The Texan Brings Down Two Raiding Chicago Policemen.
He Tries to Avoid Arrest.
But After An Ugly Battle He Bites the Dust Himself.
Opinions Upon the Affray.

Racing at Garfield was stopped again by the police yesterday.

But it was undone at the sacrifice of two and probably three lives.

The policeman, John Powell, was shot and killed instantly while another was wounded mortally by Capt. James M. Brown, a Texan of wide renown who had a large stable of runners at the track.  Brown in turn was shot down and killed almost instantly by Officer Henry L. McDowell, who had just received what will probably prove his death wound.

Following is a lost of the dead and fatally wounded:

The Killed.

BROWN, JAMES M., race-horse owner of San Saba, Tex., shot by Officer Henry L. McDowell.
POWELL, JOHN, police officer of the Maxwell Street Station, residence No. 358 Center Avenue, 32 years of age, shot by James M. Brown.

Fatally Wounded.

McDOWELL, HENRY L., police officer of the Des Plaines Street station, residence No. 321 West Van Buren Street, 30 years of age, shot by James M. Brown.  Recovery regarded as improbable.

This tragic episode in the attempt of the city authorities to suppress the resort of the defiant Garfield Park  club was not unexpected, but no one looked for such sudden and exciting events as those of yesterday.  the Police had invaded the park in much the same way as they had on the preceding day, and had loaded their patrol wagons with park employees, bookmakers, and patrons of the resort.  The action of the police on the preceding day had the effect of scaring people away from the track, and the entire attendance yesterday did not exceed 1,500 persons, of whom a large percentage were in the custody of the police within five minutes after the bluecoats had entered the park, which was at 4 o'clock, and just after the third race of the day had been ruin.  Everybody wanted around the grandstand had been corralled and fifty policemen were chasing frightened sports through the inner field and returning with them to the patrol wagons, which were located behind the grand stand.  Squads of policemen chased along the stables, picking up hostelers and rubbers, while Inspector Lewis and Capt. Mahoney and other officers were arranging for the transportation of the prisoners to the Des Plaines Street Station.  A great crowd of bookmakers and hangers-on about the track had gathered outside the park on Crawford avenue, and found some pleasure in jeering the police, but the bluecoats seemed to recognize that they had by far the better part of the game and took the chaff in good-naturedly enough.

A Shot Is Heard.

As the wagons were ready to depart with the prisoners the shrill noise of the police whistle was heard coming from the direction of the southwest portion of the park.  Then a shot was heard.  There was more blowing of whistles and then more firing, and Inspector Lewis ordered his men, most of whom had returned to the wagons, to hurry to the scene of the alarm. The bluecoats sped away readily.  They knew there was mischief in the air, for they had heard threats that their efforts to arrest James M. Brown, whose stables were located near re southwest gate. would be met with force.  They knew that Brown had a record earned as Sheriff in Texas, of twelve notches on his gun,and it was known that he had boasted within twenty-four hours that he would shoot down any officer who attempted to arrest him, to enter his stables, or to take away any of his employees.  As 200 police started away frm the grandstand a bookmaker who was in captivity, cried out from one of the wagons: "That sounds like Jim Brown's gun."  

Frightened stable boys, hostlers, and hangers-on came running from the south, seeking the protection of the police and announcing that a fearful fight was on on the prairie outside the southern wall of the racing park.  Half way down the gate the police heard the firing as it became more rapid as they bent and knocked men out of their was as the went to the rescue.  They raced along on top of the stables, climbed the high fences, and went straight after three or four officers who were pursuing a little man in a grey suit.  It was Capt. Jim Brown trying to add to his reputed desperate Texas record.  Other fugitives had scattered  to the east and west along the prairies, and officers started after them, while a score continued in the chase of Brown.  At Flournoy street Brown halted, took deliberate aim at the closest of his pursuers, fired, and then turned and ran again, and disappeared behind a little group of houses near Jan Huss avenue and Flournoy street.

He Answers With His Gun.

A policeman in the lead cried out to Brown to put up his gun and quit shooting, and several more policemen fired into the air, thinking to cower Brown, and at the same time keep back the crowd of citizens which had joined in the pursuit.

Brown's only answer, as he came out from the shelter of the little houses, was to fire again at his pursuers, after which he started on a run towards Lexington Avenue, where he continued his flight through a narrow opening between the high board fence surrounding houses on the corner of the avenue and Jan Huss Avenue and a new house in the course of erection.  Carpenters and plasterers working on the house saw Brown coming with his gin, and they dropped into the basement of the place to save their own skins.  In the meanwhile, the police had deployed, some going to the west of the new house and others toward Jan Huss Avenue to head off the man who had grown so desperate in the chase.  The policemen were now firing at the man and were gaining on him rapidly.  Officer John Powell reached the sidewalk west of the house almost at the same time that Brown emerged from a little lane at the end of it.  Brown raised his pistol, and before the officer could climb upon the sidewalk, Brown fired, and the bullet struck the officer on the arm.  An instant later another ball from Brown's weapon had passed through the officer's left hand and lodged in his abdomen.  

Brown Shoots His Victim Again.

Powell fell back on the prairie.  He had received his death wound.  But the man who gave it was not content.  Brown rushed up to his victim, looked into the dying eyes, placed his pistol against the man's chin, and sent another bullet crashing through his head.

By this time the officers were coming towards the scene on a lively run, and from all directions.  It was Brown's evident intention to escape by way of the open prairie to the southwest, but he saw his escape in that direction blocked by the police, and, leaping over the body of his victim, he started towards the north, the bullets of the officers who had seen their brother fall and then brutally shot again, whizzing past his head. As Brown reached the little alley near the new house, officer Henry L. McDowell of the Des Plaines Street Station turned into Lexington Avenue from Jan Huss Avenue and cried out to Brown:  "Don't shoot any more!  Put up your gun! I will not shoot!"

"But I will," Brown yelled as he lifted his weapon and pulled the trigger.

The gun missed fire.  Brown looked at the weapon coolly and critically, and finding another cartridge in it determined to do and die right there.  McDowell carried his revolver in his hand, and as Brown who was not more than thirty feet away, lifted his gun for a final shot, McDowell raised his weapon.  Both men fired at the same time, and then both fell.  A hundred officers had surrounded brown by this time, and more were coming up after.  Several shots had been fired at him from different directions during the minute of his encounter with McDowell, but the bullet under the force of which he fell evidently came from the weapon of the officer into whose right side Brown had sent home his last shot.

Brown's Awful Death Struggle.

McDowell fell on the sidewalk, but quickly rose again and ran around the corner of Jan Huss Avenue, where he half tumbled into the gutter. Other officers who came up cared for him in every possible way, while

a hundred bluecoats surrounded Brown, every one of them with the gleam of the desire for vengeance in his eyes.  Other officers had cared for and placed in a comfortable position on the sidewalk poor Powell, in whose throat the death rattle was already heard.  He was unconscious and died almost before the smoke of the revolver that had been in such active play on the prairie had vanished.  Several of his companions stood guard over his body, while others joined the throng which surrounded the Texan who was making as strong a struggle for life as any man could whose heart had been grazed by a bullet.  His pale face was turned toward the sky and his little frame, for the man only weighed 135 pounds, quivered with the agony he was undergoing.  He had fallen right in his tracks and his slouch hat was still half fastened om his head.  Drops of blood were coming through a little hole in his shirt right above his heart, and in one of his spasms he half spat out a quantity of blood, some of which trickled over his face.  He was conscious when he first fell, but only for an instant, and he tried to speak, probably some word of defiance and hatred for his enemies, the police, for there was a bitter glare in his eyes as he rolled them from one side to another as if attempting the recognition of someone in the crowd.

The pistol with which he had killed Powell and wounded McDowell was lying by his right hand.  It was a great 44-caliber, self-acting weapon with pearl handle, and of the kind that helped to fill the earlier graveyards of Texas.  All its chambers were empty, but it was just as well, for the man who had used it gave one great struggle and passed away.  He died with his "boots on", but as one of his friends said afterwards: "I believe if he had had his choice of the manner of death he would have taken it just as it came, and we must at least give him credit for the game fight he made against great odds."

McDowell Taken To The Hospital.

Before Brown died the patrol wagon had called at the scene and hurried away towards the County Hospital, its crew offering tender duties to McDowell, who was failing rapidly.  Another patrol wagon came along and six officers lifted into it the body of Powell, which was taken home.

The officers who crowded around brown sought to secure no services of a physician for him.  His head was allowed to rest on the hard ground.  There were no words of pity for him, for the resentment the bluecoats felt over the slaughter of one of their number in so merciless a way was strong in their hearts.  The first policemen to arrive were actually as fierce as lions that have just tasted blood, and only the coolness of some few of them saved a repetition of the cruel thing that Brown had done to Powell after that officer had fallen fatally wounded.  Two officers were forced to restrain one brother officer who insisted that Brown should be treated just as he had treated Powell.

"I saw him myself," said the angry officer, "run up after Powell was dead, stoop over him like a wild beast, put that big gun of his in his mouth, and fire.  You can go and see for yourselves.  He nearly burned the face off him with the powder, which sent the bullet through Powell's head."

"It is true," said another officer.  "I saw him do it, too.  He hadn't a bit of mercy on him and he doesn't deserve any mercy from us.  He never had any mercy on anybody.  I knew him.  He killed a dozen men in Texas."

And the big bluecoat stooped as if it would be great satisfaction to him to throttle the man who just at that moment gave a convulsive shudder and died.

When The People Learned The News.

There was some delay in securing another petrol-wagon, and during it hundreds of the men who had been driven out of Garfield Park by the police began coming across the prairie confident that all danger was over and anxious to hear the results of the battle to which they had listened from afar.  

The patrol-wagon was just carrying Powell's body away as the advance guard  of the contingent came tramping over the prairie.  One of the number made sneering remarks about the dead officer.  He was sorry for it a minute later, for he was seized by a dozen angry officers and beaten and handled in rather a rough manner.  Others came along and crowded through the ranks of the policemen to look at Brown's body, and several of them heaped condemnation on the police that they had brought the horseman, which seemed to have been popular in life, to so untimely an end.  It was more than the police, with whom the memory of Brown's treatment  of the dying Powell still lingered bitterly, could stand, and they charged with overhasty will into all groups of citizens who had sympathy for any others than the police.  They used their club and their fists, and arrested a dozen of the more obstreperous sympathizers with the dead Texan.   One man got out on the prairie, and when he thought he was at a safe distance from the officers of the law he began rating them in round terms. Three or four of them started for him, and, after a lively chase, brought him back to the main group of officers, a dozen of whom jumped on him and pounded him in a cruel manner until he bawled and cried for mercy.  Citizens kept a respectful distance from the police after that, and, if they had sentiments on the situation that wer adverse to the actions of the police, they kept them wisely unuttered.

All the while the sun beat down on the dead, upturned face of the man who had made such a desperate fight against Chicago's officers of the peace, and had lost his own life only after shedding much blood, an enterprise, it appears, in which he had often been engaged before he came to his own violent doom.  At 5 o'clock a patrol wagon backed up in front of the little alley where Capt. Brown had made his stand for life and liberty.  Two policemen easily put the body into the wagon, which rattled away with it, in the direction of the morgue.

The Chicago Daily Tribune of September 8, 1892 carried the news that had been expected, but dreaded nonetheless:

He Expires In Great Agony at the County Hospital - The Inquests.

Officer Henry McDowell died at the County Hospital at 6:10 o'clock last night from the effect of the shot fired by James M. Brown at Garfield Park Tuesday afternoon.

At his bedside were his wife, sister, and brother, Drs. Wine and Kirch, and Officer Blume of the Des Plaines Street Station.  Late in the afternoon the wounded officer began to grow weaker and the physicians were summoned to his side.  His wife, who lives at No. 220 Oak Street, was also summoned.  They had not lived together for three years, but Mrs. McDowell hastened to her husband's bedside.

He was conscious until an hour before death, but was too weak from loss of blood and pain to talk.  When spoken to he would indicate that he understood and occasionally would make an effort to respond.  He recognized his sister and brother, but could not distinguish his wife.  The officer's death struggles were violent and attended with great agony.  His wife stepped to his side and asked if he recognized her.

"No," the officer was heard to whisper as he shook his head.  A moment later he was dead.

Mrs. McDowell has an 8-year-old daughter, Bessie, who is now visiting friends at Waukegan.

McDowell made no statement regarding the shooting after the ante-mortem statement of Tuesday afternoon.

The funeral services of Officer John Powell will be held tomorrow morning at his home, No. 358 Center Avenue.  He left a widow and two children.  Capt. Blettner will send a detail of officers to accompany the remains to the grave.  The inquest in the cases of both Brown and Powell are set for 10 o'clock this morning.  After the inquest the remains of Capt. Brown will be turned over to Jordan, the undertaker.

And finally, from the Chicago Daily Tribune of September 10, 1892:


A fitting tribute to the memory of one of the most courageous policemen ever sworn in rested at the Des Plaines Street Station last night.  It was the token of regard from Henry McDowell's brother officers, and will occupy a prominent place in the funeral today of the last victim of Turfman Brown's deadly revolver.  The offering consists of a huge pillow of white roses, in the middle of which, formed of blue flowers, appears the inscription, "Comrade".  At either end of the word springs a tiger lily.  Above it is a huge star, also of white roses, with the dead patrolman's number, "1609" in flowers.  The funeral has been set for 10 o'clock a.m. today, and Capt. Mahoney has detailed a large squad of policemen to accompany the remains to Rose Hill. 

I have acknowledged in this blog several times the debt of gratitude we owe to all police officers and fire fighters.  They put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis.  No matter what they are paid, it could never be enough to compensate them for risking their lives each and every day to serve and protect us.  When Officer Henry McDowell went to work on the morning of September 7, 1892 he did not know that that day he would be called upon to forfeit his life.  And yet, off to work he went, like he had every day since he joined the Force.

The next time you see a police officer or fire fighter take a minute to thank them for what they do for us.  They need to know how much they are appreciated.  I do it often - and once they realize I am serious - their faces always break into a grin and they end up thanking me.  Officer McDowell is one of over 550 Chicago police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.  The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation ( sums it up:

"It is not how these officers died that makes them heroes, it's how they lived.  They will never be forgotten."   

May Officer Henry McDowell, and all deceased Chicago Police Officers, rest in peace.

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