No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Billings is the largest city in Montana, and on its own accord, is a large city. Over 110,000 people call it home, and it is by far, the hub of commerce in the upper Midwest. It serves as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, and is also a major cattle trade locale, with a huge rail yard, and Interstates 90 and 94 merging in the heart of the city. The Yellowstone River forms the southern edge of the city, though expansion has crossed it on State Highway 416.
Cattle is a way of life in Montana. It always has been, and likely always will be. Billings serves as the flash point between that life, and the commerce it produces. Not that long ago, cattle towns were the towns “paved in gold” figuratively speaking. The business was very lucrative, and consequently, cities that sold, stored, and transported cattle tended to have a lot of luxury, and people in those towns tended to have more than their share of cash. Poker is also a way of life in Montana, and that means that extra money is flying around from one hand to another. In the early days of Billings, poker games were held in saloons most of the time. Saloons, already targets for theft, were that much more of a target in Montana, particularly in Billings. Our next officer knew that all too well.
Sergeant Robert T. Hannah
Sergeant Robert T. Hannah was working on July 2nd, 1904 when he was alerted by two people of a saloon robbery at the Owl Saloon on North 27th Street. The two criminals, Oliver C. Mosier, and Ed Grady, were well known in Billings, as this was not their first crime, and even though they wore masks, saloon patrons knew their voices and stature quite well. The two people who told Sergeant Hannah of the robbery had exited the Owl Saloon from a side room. Sergeant Hannah, aged 51-years-old, already knew that he would be outmatched by Grady and Mosier, so he contacted Yellowstone County Sheriff W.P Adams, and a detective with the Northern Pacific Railroad to assist him with the arrest. The robbery was completed by Grady and Mosier, and as they exited the saloon through the back, Sergeant Hannah and the other lawmen confronted them. Grady lowered his pump shotgun and shot a round off, that struck Sergeant Hannah in the stomach, and some pellets struck Sheriff Adams in the hand. At the same time, Mosier shot every round in his revolver into Sergeant Hannah. Both men ran off into the night, leaving the detective to rush for aid for the officers. Sheriff Adams recovered from his injury, but Sergeant Hannah died where he laid.
Sergeant Hannah was survived by his wife and four children.
James T. Webb, a Stock Inspector of the Montana Cattleman Association joined in the hunt for Mosier, accompanying Yellowstone County Undersheriff Thomas Sayles, and Carbon County Sheriff Potter. Inspector Webb was asked to join the search party because he had already put together numerous cases against livestock thieves and chased the criminals into Wyoming, where Mosier had left for. They found him in the area of Worland, Wyoming, made the arrest, and brought him back to Billings for trial. Inspector Webb also made many informants in his cattle investigations, and consequently had contact with Melissa Merrill, an acquaintance of Ed Grady. Merrill became interested in the $750.00 reward that had been posted for Grady, and after confirming it, she called Inspector Webb, whom she trusted. She tipped him off to Grady’s location, which was near a canal construction project. He saw officers closing in and tried to disguise himself as a worker, but was identified quickly, and taken into custody. During interrogations, Mosier gave up the location of the shotgun and the masks, which sealed their responsibility for the crime.
However, a jail break occurred on September 23rd, 1904 from the Yellowstone County Jail, where Billings is located. Grady and Mosier were two of ten prisoners that escaped. Six of the criminals were caught within the first week of the escape. Another two were caught in Wyoming. But Grady and Mosier were never found.
Stock Inspector James T. Webb later became Sheriff of Yellowstone County, in part to his ability to bring fugitives to justice. Sheriff Adams was a popular sheriff of his time, but Webb was written in by friends in Billings, and while he didn’t campaign for the position, received it anyway. His story is quite interesting, one we may visit the next time we cover Montana. But you can read a history brief about him in the book, Calling the Brands: Stock Detectives in the Wild West, by Monty McCord.
Inspector Webb’s’ efforts on behalf of Sergeant Hannah are remarkable from the perspective of outsiders, but just another day on the job for a law enforcement officer. Because at the end of the day, law enforcement will take care of their own. That’s usually all they have to rely on anyway. Sergeant Hannah did his work remarkably, and for that he was executed by two people who likely knew they were outmatched, and decided their only option was to kill a police officer. It is unfortunate how many times we will discover people in these stories that make that decision. And it should be quite alarming to you the reader, because if they kill police as if they impunity, then what might they do to you, if you were to happen to get into their path?
In memory of Sergeant Robert T. Hannah.