Early in the evening on a cold February night in 1912 neighbors of the Tuscarawas County Jail on East Fair Street in New Philadelphia heard the sounds of gunfire ring out. It was the exclamation point on a busy and successful weekend by local law enforcement, having broken up a large gambling event two days earlier. This is the story of how that gunfight happened and the men involved.
During the first decade of the 1900s there was a coal mine operating along the Goshen / Fairfield Township line in Tuscarawas County called the Mullins Mine. Around that mine a small community of miners, and those who served them, grew called “Egypt” or “Little Egypt.” One of the people who established a business in the small community was a man named Hamilton Beans (1874-1919). Beans operated a store and saloon in the community, catering to the men who worked in the Mullins Mine. Beans also operated a saloon on North Broadway in New Philadelphia, Ohio as well.
The evening of Saturday, February 24, 1912 men from all over the county gathered at Beans’s saloon in Little Egypt to watch, and wager, on a number of cock fights. Over sixty people from across the county attended the fights and there were at least 23 fighting roosters slated to take part. County law enforcement was informed that the fights were taking place and raided Beans’s establishment late Saturday into early Sunday morning. They took the names of all of those in attendance, charged Beans with a handful of crimes, and confiscated all of the fighting birds.
The Monday after the fight, the roosters were taken to the Tuscarawas County Jail and locked in a stall in the jail’s stable at the rear of the lot. Local law enforcement was concerned that the various owners of the valuable fighting birds might try to recover their property under cover of darkness. They decided to post an armed guard in the stable to make sure that did not happen. The man who drew the first shift was a Minnesota-born transplant to Ohio named Patrick Henry (1891-1965), a twenty-one year old deputy patrolman who had only been in New Philadelphia a short time. Around 6 o’clock that evening Henry climbed into a buggy in the barn, wrapped himself in a blanket, and kept his eyes and ears open.
Despite Henry’s short time in New Philadelphia, the local newspaper reported favorably that he had “made an enviable record for himself”, that he had “the traits of a true officer”, and was “fearless.” Two hours into Henry’s shift he heard the sounds of someone forcing the large stable doors and moved into a position where he could better see the stall holding the confiscated birds. From the dark, he saw a man strike a match and look around the stable. The man tried unsuccessfully to force open the stall door, that was when Henry turned on his flashlight and shone it on the perpetrator. Officer Henry ordered the man to put his hands up and accompany him to the Mayor’s office.
What happened next became fodder for later debate. The man attempting to break into the stall and recover the fighting birds was a New Philadelphia coal miner named Howard Torgler (1879-1968). Torgler, a respected member of the community, lived just a block away from the jail on East Ray Street with his wife and children. The press wrote at the time that they believed he had been asked by some of the birds’ owners to try and recover their property. Another report wrote that he may have been trying to recover a bird of his own. Which story was accurate is still a mystery.
Needless to say, Torgler did not comply with Officer Henry’s order. According to Henry, Torgler ran out of the stable and slammed the door in Henry’s face as he gave chase. Officer Henry stated that, once outside in the jail yard, Torgler drew a .32 caliber pistol and fired in his direction. The shot missed Henry and the officer drew his own firearm and fired twice at Torgler, grazing him in the left leg. Torgler, though wounded, fired two more rounds at Officer Henry’s head but missed. Henry, as Torgler tried to run off, fired twice more. This time he hit Torgler in the right arm causing him to drop his gun. By this time to the two men were in the middle of North Third Street (modern 2nd Street NW) and Henry had managed to catch up to Torgler. Torgler lunged at Henry, but the officer was able strike Torgler on the head with his night stick. Two other officers arrived on the scene and were finally able to subdue Torgler.
Despite Torgler’s injury, he was taken into the County Jail overnight. Rumors began to swell almost immediately that a mob was going to form at the jail and planned to lynch the newcomer Henry for shooting a longtime resident of the city. The Mayor and Sheriff attempted to lower the temperature by expressing support for Officer Henry’s actions in the gunfight, but were concerned about the possibility of mob violence against Henry and posted men with riot guns and 220 rounds of ammunition at the jail. Henry, for his part, was unfazed by the threats and returned to his post in the stable after turning over Torgler’s firearm to the police chief.
Howard Torgler was taken before the Mayor the next day and charged with attempted burglary and shooting with intent to kill. Friends, including Hamilton Beans, helped him post bail and he was released later that day. Torgler claimed that Officer Henry had not identified himself as a peace officer, had fired first, and that he had simply fired in an effort to defend himself against an unknown assailant. A later newspaper article about the event painted a sympathetic picture of Howard Torgler’s situation, a local well-known resident injured and unable to work and suffering from blood poisoning as a result of his arm injury.
The historical record that survives seems to indicate that it was ultimately Howard Torgler, the longtime resident, whose story was believed over that of the recent arrival. There is no record of Torgler being charged by a grand jury or tried for any crime related to the gunfight. Officer Patrick Henry, it would seem, was dismissed from his position as a peace officer because later that year he sued the City of New Philadelphia for wages due to him while he served. The newspapers are interestingly silent about the event after the fact, indicating that the situation was handled quietly.
Hamilton Beans, the alleged host of the cockfight that started the whole mess, lived for only another seven years. He died from pneumonia in March 1919. Henry Torgler eventually regained his health and returned to coal mining before being hired by the state highway department. He died in New Philadelphia in February 1968. Patrick Henry, who had “the traits of a true officer”, moved to Stark County where he ended up a party to series of car thefts. He was convicted and served time in the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. After his release he returned to his home state of Minnesota but died in Yuma, Arizona in 1965.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2023.