As a chronicler of Northeast Kingdom history who happens to live in a border community, I have had the opportunity to interview a sizable number of people who grew up along the Vermont/Quebec border. For that matter my first book was called, “Rumrunners and Revenuers: Prohibition in Vermont”. The book captures stories of people who found themselves on different sides of the Prohibition law -1920 and 1933 – when this country tried to ban alcohol.
In recording border history I have been able to record stories not only of the people, but of the respectful relationship that most border residents had with the guardians of the border – Customs, Immigrations, and Border Patrol. That respectful relationship has usually been a two-way-street. In writing Rumrunners, and in subsequent works involving border life, both lawbreakers and law-abiders understood that the residents along the border were the true eyes and ears of the border. Sharp-eyed residents who knew the natural flow of the region could quickly spot suspicious activity. Many of those residents historically have been more than happy to pass their observations onto the proper authorities.
The relationship was particularly important in the days of Prohibition when the lawmen lacked two-way radios. Border residents, particularly those with phones, were their lifelines. Those same border residents often fed the lawmen information about suspicious activity, tips that sometimes led to arrests.
Although there are many fine officers guarding our borders today, I worry that some of the new policies, such as Operation Stone Garden, which is virtually laying siege to the Village of Derby Line with officers from around the state, is testing the bonds between locals and border guardians, bonds that stretch back generations. I realize that because of the terrorist attacks on September 11 change on the border was inevitable, but are some of these changes putting us more at risk? The next time a local resident sees something suspicious along the border will they do what they have done for generations and report it? Or will they turn their heads and forget what they saw?
Nobody is saying the role of the people who guard the border isn’t difficult. I have tremendous respect for them and their work. I also realize that they have little input into the laws which they must enforce. Much of that comes out of Washington D.C. And without a doubt there is far more serious criminal activity going on along the border than many of us outside of law enforcement will ever know. However, with that said, there is no reason that locals shouldn’t at least be treated respectfully. In return we owe the officers our respect.
To end this article the following is an article from the September 7, 1927 issue of the Orleans County Monitor. It shows some of the challenges our border officers faced during an earlier time.
United States Immigration Patrol Officers Benner and Standish, of the Richford office, had a narrow escape from serious injury or even death early Wednesday morning when the occupants of a touring car, which they were pursing, fired at them with a revolver. One of the shots went through the windshield of the officers’ car, while the other hit the radiator.
They saw an automobile of the open touring type approaching them at a fast clip. A car traveling at this fast rate of speed at this time of the morning naturally made the government men suspicious. At any rate, they figured- and naturally, too – that they had a perfect right to stop the machine and see if it was loaded with either liquor or human contraband. They gave the usual signal to stop, but the driver ignored the warning and stepped on the gas. The machine sped pass the officers like an arrow from a bow. The patrolmen then hopped into their Ford and took after the speeding machine.
It was at this time that the occupants of the suspected car started to re-enact a battle scene. One man apparently opened fire with a revolver. His aim was good, for a bullet came crashing through the Ford’s windshield, missing the two officers by only a fraction of an inch. A second shot hit the radiator. Then the Ford stopped. That the man behind the gun was not fooling is perfectly evident. From where the bullets lodged it would appear that the marksman was shooting straight, and shooting to kill rather than to maim
Captain Ernest R. Harvey, Customs patrol leader, was advised of the shooting by the Immigration men. Harvey immediately ordered two o f his patrol cars to take the road in the search for the suspected liquor or human bootleggers who did the firing.
The Customs patrolmen combed the entire section during the night without any favorable results. They combed all the main highways and many of the back roads, but could find no trace of the machine that was described to Captain Harvey as the one the men who fired at the Immigration men were riding in.
One suggestion advanced was that the men who did the shooting might have turned their car around and headed back into Canada after doing the firing, reasoning that the Immigration men would have notified fellow officers south of Richford who would be on the watch for them.
The search has not been given up yet, however, as the registration number of the suspected machine is known to the Immigration and Customs patrolmen who are keeping close watch on the roads for the car and its passengers