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Police
CIty of Oklahoma City

History






History 1889 to 1910

 

 
 

TRUSTING IN THE FORCE: THE OKLAHOMA CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT

As the sun rose over the prairie on the morning of April 22, 1889, seven thousand eager settlers stood impatiently along Kingfisher Creek, waiting for the sound of the gun that would open central Oklahoma to homesteaders. In just the short time span of noon to nightfall, the settlers staked their claim in the unassigned land. "It was a great day to commence the building of an empire," wrote one chronicler several years later. Staking their claims on land that became Oklahoma City, these "Sooners" began the process of carving a civilization from the wilderness. From a barren, peopleless prairie on the eve of the Run, over 5000 settlers founded the town of Oklahoma City in one single day.

A municipal government was established quickly in the new "Town of Oklahoma". In the area below Grand Avenue, the town of South Oklahoma was formed and stretched south to the North Canadian River. This secondary town lasted only one year, until the two merged and became the City of Oklahoma City in July 1890. 

Law enforcement quickly became the top priority for local officials. Mayor Gault appointed Charles Colcord as the City's first Chief of Police. Colcord was not alone in his efforts. John "Big Man" Hubatka, a Deputy U.S. Marshall, joined Officers William Gill, F.M. "Bud" Reynolds, and Abner J. Day in rounding out the first department. Colcord retired from the Oklahoma City Police Department after two years of service. Between 1891 and 1895, the office of the Chief changed hands five times. 

By the turn of the century, public drinking had caused many problems for the small Department. Nevertheless, the attitude of the Police Department towards prohibition was mixed. Yet the advocates of prohibition represented an over powering force in Oklahoma politics. When a prohibition referendum was submitted to the voters on the same ballot as the State Constitution, it was approved by a margin of six percent. For law enforcement authorities who feared "3000 bootleggers substituting for 30 saloons", prohibition in Oklahoma City afforded some of the wildest and most dangerous moments for local officers.

As it became increasingly obvious that city dwellers wanted their booze and were willing to pay for it, charges of official corruption surfaced. A new City Charter was adopted early in March of 1911. One of the Charter's provisions changed the office of the Chief of Police from elective to appointive. Four months later, Mayor Whit Grant named Bill Tilghman to the office. Tilghman had long been a legend on the Western frontier. From the earliest days of the Territory, he had served as a U.S. Marshal tracking outlaws across the prairie. Under his charge, the Police Department hammered into gambling and prostitution operations, and began the long transition from a small, un-mechanized organization into a modern, efficient force.