Springfield police arrested all 16 members of the Salvation Army Band in July 1887, after a frightened horse careened down Sixth Street, leaving chaos in its wake.
The Illinois State Register described the incident, which took place about 8 p.m. July 26.
W.W. Tracy’s horse, which was hitched to a dog cart and driven by a half grown … boy, took fright at the Salvation army, just in front of Simmon’s book store on the east side of the square, and dashed south in a full run in spite of the frantic efforts of the boy to hold him, and just in front of Maxey & Thompson’s real estate office collided with Matt Maxwell’s buggy, in which was seated Mr. Maxwell himself and his friend, W.W. McIlhaney, a prominent cattle dealer of Chicago.
The two vehicles came together with a terrific crash, and Mr. Maxwell’s horse broke loose from the harness, pulling Mr. Maxwell out of the front end of the buggy, taking the dashboard with him. He, however, held to the reins and stopped (his) horse, which was badly frightened by the collision. Mr. McIlhaney was also thrown to the ground with great violence. …
The runaway horse was knocked down by the force of the collision, but regained his feet before anybody could stop him and ran on south, his frightened driver leaping from the cart and leaving the maddened brute to his fate. At the corner of Sixth and Capital (sic) Avenue he ran upon the sidewalk on the east side of the street and left the cart hanging upon the fence. (The horse) kept on down the sidewalk scattering pedestrians right and left for several blocks until he was caught and stopped. Both vehicles are completely wrecked.
None of the people involved were seriously hurt, although McIlhaney was badly bruised.
The Salvation Army was created in England in 1878 and arrived in Springfield in November 1886. The Army’s preachers, styled “soldiers of Christ,” wore uniforms and held military-style ranks, and they appealed directly to, as the Army’s website says today, “the poor, the vulnerable and the destitute.”
In Springfield, the Army set up “barracks” in the Electric Light Hall, a meeting space at Seventh and Adams streets, and held services four times a day. At first, the local Salvation Army was a curiosity more than a mass religious movement, but it gradually won some adherents.
Outdoor parades, which were a prominent feature of the Salvation Army movement generally, seem to have started in Springfield sometime in the summer of 1887. The first time they were noticed in the local press, however, was after the July 26 incident.
Once the mayhem was sorted out, police charged the band members with disturbing the peace. Other horses also had been startled by the band, officers said in defending the arrests.
The band – led by the Army’s local commander, Cadet Mary Sprague (described earlier as “an attractive lady of about 20 summers”) – was made up of a bass drum, two snare drums, a fife, some cymbals and three tambourines. Witnesses at the band’s trial said the bass drum was the main culprit when it came to upsetting horses.
Sprague testified that band members tried to be on the lookout for skittish horses. When they saw one, she said, she would signal to stop the music by raising her tambourine over her head. Band members added that buggy drivers sometimes tried to provoke disturbances. The same night as the runaway, they testified, bass drummer J.H.V. Arnold had to hit a horse in the nose with his drumstick when its owner began to drive into the band.
When the charges came to trial, Arnold was the only person convicted. The jury recommended a fine of $1 and costs, but said the fine should be suspended if the Salvation Army agreed not to repeat the disturbance.
Public opinion apparently was split on whether the band should be treated as a nuisance. The Illinois State Register conceded the Army’s parades probably did violate a city ordinance against doing anything that might startle a horse. Both the Register and the Illinois State Journal, however, noted that plenty of other activities had the same effect, and the Salvation Army, a religious organization doing good works, shouldn’t be singled out for enforcement of the ordinance.
The Journal in particular suggested the motive for the city’s actions might be religious prejudice. The paper editorialized Aug. 4:
(T)here seems to be a limit to the lenity and forbearance of the indulgent police department. The line is drawn on the Salvation Army, whose peculiar manner of religious worship is offensive to the fastidious eyes and ears of a few specimens of humanity who have no particular use for any kind of worship. …
Circuses are given full permission to use public streets with band and elephants and ear-splitting calliopes, and nothing is said of it. … A “leedle German band” rent the air with uncouth sounds in front of nearly every saloon in the city several days last week, and no policeman so much as thought of arresting them.
In letters to the newspapers and court testimony, officials and some citizens replied that circuses and German bands were only occasional events. Salvation Army parades, they said, were a constant annoyance.
The community delivered its verdict, literally, on the controversy a month later.
The Salvation Army quit using the bass drum for a while after the $1 verdict. The drum went back into action in mid-August, however, and police once again broke up the parade.
In a second trial, however, jurors took only 15 minutes to acquit the marchers. After that, city fathers gave up trying to get the Salvation Army Band to march more quietly.
Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society.
Great story. Guess a band parade like that wouldn’t work today either. Drivers are distracted enough. Thanks for sharing.