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Historically Yours: Missouri State Highway Patrol — creation and early years

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

On April 24, 1931, Governor Henry C. Caulfield signed into law Senate Bill 36 which created the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The Bill allowed for a superintendent, 10 captains, and 115 patrolmen.

Gov. Caulfield appointed Lewis Ellis to be the first superintendent and he, in turn, appointed Lewis Means as the first captain.

Ellis and Means, along with Marvin Krause, a highway department attorney, studied other Patrol systems before organizing the Missouri State Highway Patrol. 

Their first headquarters, until 1938, was provided by the chief clerk of the House of Representatives, except during legislative sessions. Then they were moved to privately owned buildings nearby. 

Because sufficient funds had not been appropriated, only 55 troopers began the first six-weeks training class on October 5. On November 23, the troopers were back in Jefferson City for their final instructions. The next day, they hit the highways armed with only a 38 Smith & Wesson revolver in cars with no sirens, no radios, and no heaters. 

Troopers worked at least 12-hour days and earned $125 per month. In April, after a 6-month probationary period, their pay was increased to $145 per month.

During 1932, the department made over 3,800 arrests, recovered 381 stolen cars, arrested 14 bank robbers and solved several murders.

Even so, not everyone was happy with the Highway Patrol.

In 1933, the House and Senate tried to abolish the department, but failed. They did manage, however, to cut the budget which got 10 men dismissed and pay reduced to $130 per month.

Later that year, tragedy struck. On June 14, the Highway Patrol lost their first trooper in the line of duty. Sergeant Benjamin O. Booth was shot and killed at a roadblock following a bank robbery.   

On Aug. 1, 1934, a bureau of 10 was established. By the end of the year, over 10,000 finger prints were on file. 

A criminal laboratory was opened in May of 1936. 

In 1937, the Highway Patrol began pushing for a mandatory driver’s license examination. A law was passed requiring a license effective 1938, but one only needed to pay the 25 cents fee to obtain one. It wasn’t until August 1952 that examinations were required. 

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com.