Today, I want to tell you about the life one of Chillicothe's Finest, he was arguably one of our city's most influential people in the last century: Chief Maurice M. Dorney. It was about 1900, and the story is told that Mayor T. Hoge chanced upon a local barber (likely his own) on Locust Street in Chillicothe and abruptly asked "Would you like to be a policeman?" Taken aback, Mr. Dorney said he would consider it, but needed some time before he could provide an answer.
Know this, Chillicothe did not have a city police until 1899. In that day, there was not a well-established "Policeman's Handbook of Conduct" for this newly-emergent profession. So it required courage, extraordinary vision, and a desire to serve for Mr. Dorney to make what seemed to be a drastic career change. He took a risk by moving from an established, respected profession to one that was yet to be defined.
After all, Maurice was a thirty-four year old bachelor that would be considered past middle age in that day. Consider than in 1900, the average life expectancy of a male(from birth) in the U.S. was only 46 years . But history records that Chief Dorney would proudly serve our city for nearly five decades; he would marry Miss Wilhelmina (Minnie) Schneider in 1915 and they would raise one son and four daughters. Many of Maurice and Minnie's descendants reside in Chillicothe today. You know who you are and I hesitate to mention family names in this account for fear of missing any of you.
My hope is that I can provide due credit to a great man and the legacy he left in this brief account. Maurice Dorney was a difference maker. He set the standard. He was a pioneer in his field. He was instrumental in "writing the policeman's handbook" both figuratively and literally for our city. Then over his long and storied career, he no doubt influenced other police departments near and far about the "right way" to serve as a law enforcement officer. In short, Chief Maurice Dorney left our city, county, state, and country a better place.
So, back to our story. After due consideration, Maurice Dorney made a decision that would change his life and our town for generations. He responded to Mayor Hoge's question by saying yes, he wanted the job. So he was appointed by the mayor to be a patrolman. When the position of Chillicothe Chief of Police became an elected position in 1901, he ran for the office as a Democrat and won. He became "The Chief", and would remain so for the next 47 years. He was elected to this 2 year term position (without Republican opposition) 23 additional times until his passing in 1948, at age 81. This singular achievement was noted in a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" article shortly after he passed.
With lesser men, a half century of being "The Chief" might not have been good for a town such ours. Chief Dorney was held in high respect by our citizens. He was a man of integrity and firm religious conviction. He loved his fellow man and generous to the needy. He was an advocate for the downtrodden and those unable to defend themselves. Chief Dorney was resolute in upholding the law and feared by the lawless. He provided a constant presence and face to law enforcement in our city that set the standard for the first half of the twentieth century. The job he did was noted by many levels of government and the private sector. Over the years, we know that Chief Dorney turned down many lucrative positions from railroad security companies and the like. He wished to remain here, serving us.
Let me digress and sketch Maurice Dorney's journey up to that seemingly "off the wall" question from Mayor Hoge on Locust street in 1900. Maurice M. Dorney was born to Edward and Ellen Dorney in 1866 in Livingston County, Missouri near "The Fork" of the Thompson and Grand Rivers north of Utica on rented property. The Dorneys had recently moved into our area from Ohio and would have eight children in all. They were strong in the Catholic faith, pillars of the community, and of good Irish stock. Soon after Maurice's birth, the family moved to what would become the family home place in Blue Mound Township, about six miles south of Chillicothe.
After schooling and working on the family farm, upon reaching the age of 21, Maurice sojourned with a brother on the Colorado frontier for about two years. Upon return to Livingston County, he barbered in nearby Dawn for five years and then owned and operated a barber shop in Chillicothe for another seven years. In that day, a barbershop was a place where a man could get a shave, a haircut, possibly a shoeshine, and most certainly hear and tell stories. I am conjecturing that many were told by Maurice of his Colorado days.
It seems that during his Colorado adventure, young Maurice became good friends with a Bigger-Than-Life Buffalo Hunter, Indian Scout, Pinkerton Agent, Gambler, and Sheriff: one Canadian-born, William Barclay "Bat" Masterson. We know that Bat provided Maurice with some common sense advice on law enforcement (primarily based upon Bat's Pinkerton Agency experience.) It made a strong, positive impression upon Maurice; he specifically mentioned this advice in his latter years as being to key to his success in the law enforcement field. Bat's advice was: "Young man, there are some things an officer can't stop: gambling, wild women, and drinking whisky. You can't reform these but you can keep them in check."
I have believe that many of Bat Masterson's life stories and law enforcement philosophy were shared by Maurice for the enjoyment of his Dawn and Chillicothe customers. Possibly mentioned were: towns like Kansas City, Dodge City, and Tombstone; groups like the Buffalo Hunters, the Kiowa Indian Scouts, the Mike Roark Gang, and the Pinkerton Agency; individuals like Chief Quanah Parker, Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, Soapy Smith, and Luke Short. Possibly shared by Bat to Maurice and in later times to his customers were stories like the incredible shot (admittedly lucky) made by Bat Masterson's fellow Buffalo Hunter Billy Dixon that effectively ended the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle. Apparently using a Sharpie Buffalo gun, Dixon dropped a Comanche warrior on horseback standing on a high bluff from a position a nearly a mile away. Demoralized, the Comanches vacated the area soon after. I would have liked to have been the proverbial "fly on the wall" to hear the many stories told in barbershops of that time.
So, it is my belief that Mayor Hoge's question to a local barber about a new direction in his life was insightful and well directed. It was not "off the wall" at all. To his credit, our mayor had wisely asked the right man, at the right time, about a new, important job that needed to be done, the right way.
I close with story from a fellow policeman about Chief Dorney and the manner he conducted business and made us a better place. Sometime back, I acquired a video tape made in 1982 Chillicothe by a family member for possible use as a documentary in that day. The tape included several interviews with people back then. The most intriguing story for me was an interview with a retired gentleman by the name of Cecil Campbell. Cecil was talking about his days on the police force from the late 30's to the mid 40's. In Q & A format, it when down something like this:
Q: Cecil, tell me...were the any big time criminal types that came around here back in those days?
A: Cecil chuckles and smiles… nope, we didn’t see much of those types around here.
Q: Cecil, tell me… were there any incidents you recall, involving those types?
A: Cecil, after a pause… "Well, yeah I remember one time we heard that these two guys robbed a bank in K.C. and got away with a lot of money, and we heard they could be headed his way. Then after a while, we got word that they were down at the "Y" getting gas and something to eat…" Cecil then had a big triumphant smile and chuckled once again..."Well, Chief and old Tom Dawkins went down there... and took'em... got the money back too! "
I realized then that we needed to once again recognize a man that made a difference. Lest we forget.