Testimony of Roger O'Mara, Chief of Detectives of Pittsburgh

Roger O'Mara, Pittsburgh Chief of Detectives testified on February 11, 1878 to the committee appointed to investigate the railroad strikes. He emphasizes the inability of the local police force to serve warrants and restrain the crowd.

Testimony of Roger O'Mara, chief of detectives of Pittsburgh

  • A: I was out there (at the scene of disturbance) on Sunday morning early, along the line on Liberty Street. There was a good deal of trouble about the city, and we were gathering the police in and sending them out throughout the city. We were afraid that the mob would break into the gun shops. The excitement was so great that I thought they might attempt to break into places, and so I gathered the men up and sent them to different places.
  • By Mr. Lindsey: Q: If the mayor had made a call for policemen on Thursday afternoon, how many men could he have raised? A: I do not know. I have no idea. Q: Would there have been any difficulty in raising any number of policemen, do you think? A: There might have been some. That call was made through the Sunday papers, and a good many responded.
  • By Senator Yutzy: Q: How many officers and men does the night force consist of? A: The whole force was one hundred and twenty men—nine of them were engaged in the station-houses, and ten of them watched lamps—patrolmen, detectives, and all. That was for the whole city.
  • By Mr. Lindsey: Q: How many men were discharged from the day force? A: One hundred and sixteen men were discharged. Our whole force consisted of two hundred and thirty-six men, all told. The appropriation ran out, and we had to knock the men off.
  • By Senator Reyburn: Q: What reason was given by the officer for not serving the warrants? He had them one night, had he not? A: We did not get the houses all located. It seems they were out that night, and we could not get them served, and the next morning we were ordered not to serve them. The case was put into the hands of the sheriff on Friday, I think.
  • By Senator Yutzy: Q: While you had those warrants for the arrest of those ten men, could you not have arrested them? A: I do no think, with the few men we could have got, that we could have arrested them out there, on account of those men out there. It might have made the thing worse if we had attempted to arrest them on the ground. I thought it was better to arrest them away from there. Q: Did you attempt to locate them at their homes that night—you did not go to their homes? A: No; we did not go to their homes, but we got information from the parties who made the information.
  • By Senator Reyburn: Q: Did you have any arrangement to watch those men? A: From all accounts, the men seemed to be in the crowd. We had no one watching their houses that night, because we did not find out that night where they all lived. Q: Did you not have men to watch these men or follow them around? A: No sir, not to my knowledge. Q: Were you present at any time during the destruction of the property of the railroad company by fire? A: I was along the line Sunday morning, in Liberty street. I drove along with the mayor in a buggy. My mother and sister both lived back of the Union depot, and they were burned out. I tried to help them get their things away. Q: During the fire, were you ever called on by the chief of fire department, or by anybody connected with the fire department, to protect them in their attempts to put out the fire? A: No, sir. Q: Do you know of any other officer of the police force being called upon to assist them? A: No.
  • By Senator Reyburn: Q: Did you take any measures to prevent this destruction? A: We could not do anything after the first firing was done. With what police force we had, we could do nothing at all. They commenced breaking into houses, and gun stores, &c., and we tried to prevent them from doing that.
  • By Senator Yutzy: Q: Did you see them breaking into any gun stores? A: Yes; on Penn street I saw a couple of men breaking into a pawn shop. I heard of the mob coming, and I hurried up the officers, and placed men in front of different gun stores, but on Wood street they got into one in spite of the men. Before that, we had notified the different parties to put their guns away, that the excitement was very great, and that the soldiers had fired upon the men, and that they would be apt to break into places to try to get arms. I notified the different parties to put their goods away that the mob should not get them. Q: Who composed that crowd—did you recognize any of them? A: They seemed to be working men—men that came from the south side. One squad that came from the south side—I saw them going down the street—a couple of young men—the same that I saw marching down Penn street. Some of them have been arrested since. Q: You think the men were principally from the south side who broke into the gun stores? A: About the time that they broke into them, at different places, I had squads of men. On Fifth street a couple of young men came down firing off guns, and I went to the mayor's office for more men, and I was not there two minutes when word came that Brown's gun store was broke into. I then got some men and placed them in front of the door.
  • By Mr. Lindsey: Q: Did you succeed in keeping the crowd out then? A: Yes; but it was not much good then, for the things were gone. They had ransacked the place.
  • By Mr. Larrabee: Q: What time was that? A: It was on Saturday night. It was just about dusk when this party came down, and went in on Liberty street and on Penn street. I was going up that way towards Twenty-eighth street, when I saw this mob coming down. I followed on down to see what they proposed to do.

About this Document

  • Source: Testimony of Roger O'Mara, Chief of Detectives of Pittsburgh
  • Source: Report of the Committee to Investigate the Railroad Riots in July, 1877
  • Publisher: Lane S. Hart
  • Published: Harrisburg
  • Date: 1878