FrontCowtown Law Enforcement
On August 21, 1879, the Caldwell police force, consisting of a marshal and assistant marshal, was created by the city council. The new officers would daily take before the new police judge ruffians, cardsharks, vagrants, drunks, fast wagon drivers and the occasional murderer. Officers also arrested a number of women for being, "prostitutes parading the streets, or being suspicious and unattended female in public."
The cost of the new police protection was more than one-third of the city's annual budget. The first marshal received $33 a month, plus a dollar for each arrest and civil paper served. However, by 1883 rising lawlessness required the salary to be increased to $100 during cattle drive season.
Police work in Caldwell was a challenge. A cowtown was required to be a place known on the trail for its cowboy-friendly activities, or the cattle herd money would not return the following season. Yet, at the same time, city residents wanted a safe, quiet community for their families. Officers simply overlooked the illegal alcohol and gambling, but then stepped in to stop the drunken brawls and shootings.
After 3 years as a cowtown, the city council still could not decide whether an honest citizen, or tough gunfighter
with a dark past, made a better marshal. The local, honest man would be known and liked, but the gunfighter might better protect the town. Few of Caldwell's 16 cowboy marshals could today be viewed as law-abiding public servants.
It was not until 1949 that the first career police chief, Max Scribner, was hired. He is credited with implementing in Caldwell the new idea of the trained, professional rural police officer. Chief Scribner kept the Caldwell area safe and quiet for over 35 years, an effort greatly appreciated by this old cowtown.
Caldwell's Early Government
With the railroad coming in 1880, and permanent buildings going up along Main Street, local folks demanded more services than either the township or county could provide. If Caldwell were a municipality, citizens would benefit from fire and police protection, health codes, a water system, sidewalks, streets and a cemetery. In July 1879, the county's district court approved Caldwell to join the growing list of official Kansas cities. A mayor and 5 councilmen were quickly elected, and new city employees were paid an average of $20 a month.
However, factionalism dominated local politics. The "southerners" supported the cattle trade, and enjoyed the policy of little city interference with the influx of Texas cowboys and
their money. The "northerners," however, tended to be general retailers who wished less violence and a more stable and socially ~ acceptable population. In 1884, the two groups finally agreed to build this city hall, not to the north or south, but here on Central (then 5th Avenue), the street that geographically divided the political groups. Later, by backroom agreement, city offices began alternating annually between the parties.
The original city offices and women's jail were upstairs. The city's fire wagons and men's jail were housed on the ground floor. The town's bills were paid with a combination of high police court fines, merchant and professional taxes, and a street tax interestingly, though liquor, gambling and prostitution were all illegal; the associated fines appear to have been more a regularly paid tax than a punishment to deter the crimes. Other fines included cussing $5, drunk $5, working on Sunday $1. The street tax required every male resident of the city to either work 2 days a year personally repairing the dirt streets, or to pay the tax in cash.