Part 3: The story of HPD Detective Eva Jane Bacher

To fully appreciated Eva Jane Bacher’s work and life you must understand the political, social and economic conditions in 1917 Houston.

It wasn’t until June 28, 1919, that Bacher could even vote in Texas.  Women in positions of authority and power were super rare – even considering European royalty.  Until she was sworn in, there were no women police officers that could arrest you and put you in jail in Houston and throughout Texas.

Wikipedia summarizes The History of Vice in Texas, particularly Houston as follows:

“Over the course of the 19th century, a Progressive Movement gained strength in Protestant areas of Europe and in much of North America. This movement favored the elimination of vice and perceived immorality in society, often through legislative means. Texas enacted “local option” laws that allowed counties and towns to ban alcohol within their borders. Some communities began to individually outlaw alcohol consumption.[23]

The Progressive Era in the U.S. reached its height in the early 20th century. Attitudes in much of Texas turned decidedly against narcotics, alcohol, gambling, and other vices.[27] In 1903 Texas outlawed virtually all forms of gambling, including parimutuel wagering. A notable consequence of this was the closing of the Texas State Fair and Rodeo, which had been centered around horse racing, for nearly two decades.[28]

Handling of prostitution was still mixed. City leaders continued to believe that it was impossible to eradicate prostitution altogether and the notion of creating red-light districts to contain it persisted. In 1906 Dallas city commissioners created the “Frogtown” district northwest of downtown officially making prostitution legal, in contradiction to state law.[4][31] The Texas Supreme Court, however, struck down the ordinance in 1911.[31]

The federal Mann Act of 1910 and other legislation was enacted to bring an end to prostitution.[32] The red-light districts in Dallas, Austin, and Amarillo were closed in 1914.[33] The districts in Houston and El Paso were closed in 1917 under pressure from the U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker because of World War I. The districts in most other communities were closed as well.[33][34] The closure of the openly operating brothels and saloons also led to the closure of most openly operating (but illegal) gambling venues since gambling and prostitution were often tied indirectly, if not directly. In spite of these closures, casinos and brothels continued to exist and often thrive as (barely) hidden enterprises.”

So. it appears that it was under national political pressure that Houston’s city fathers were forced into doing something about vice in the city.  Eva Jane did her part by testifying in federal court cases on what were probably Mann Act violations and at least one federal bootlegging case.

A second major factor was the approximately 40,000 soldiers stationed at Camp Logan.  The Illinois National Guard was given the concession to use Camp Logan, Houston, Texas, as their training base for the war.  The 33rd Infantry Division, elements of the 93rd Infantry Division, and other regular army units trained there.

When construction started in early 1917, two relatively small guard detachments of “Buffalo Soldiers” from Illinois were first assigned there to guard the construction supplies, one of which initiated the “Camp Logan Riot” in the early summer of 1917.

A very few traces of the old camp remain today.  Immediately after the war the camp was dismantled, torn down, all but obliterated. Memorial Park’s there now, named as a “Memorial” to all the soldiers that served in WWI.

Houston’s population in 1917 was around 100,000.  The soldiers numbered about half that.  Houston became effectively a large army camp town.  Along with the money came all the problems.

Eva Jane was just over 41 years of age when she went to work on or about Sept. 1, 1917.  She hit the streets from the start and evidently didn’t look back.  A “street cop” that believed in working as well as in her work, she spent several hours most days and nights in and out of all the joints and trouble spots on Washington, Congress, La Branch, Brazos and other downtown streets, usually crowded with soldiers.  She got to know all the street people, grifters and “working girls” as well as their families, if they had any.  If they needed a place to stay or a job, she’d find one for them if they wanted it.  She’d take the working girls to a clinic for VD tests and treatment.

She kept a close watch on such places as The Olympia Candy Kitchen – “getting acquainted with the ‘town girls’ trying to date up”; the telephone exchange building was another haunt the soldiers hung around to try to pick up the girls as they came to and left from work; Bottler Brothers News Stand on Main where she recovered Mattie Barbett, a young runaway girl from the HCSG who was “in the owner’s arms” upstairs and took her to the station where Mrs. Love from the Harris County School for Girls came to pick her up at 5 p.m.

From HPD historic records:

On Feb 22, 1918, at the Security Dance Hall, she “helped quiet four fights, one right after the other.  I saw the man who hit Officer Dunham, but I did not see him hit the officer as I was upstairs keeping the crowd back. The hall was full of civilians who all, it seemed, had been drinking, and street women, the worst in town, young girls, soldiers, some of them in a quarrelsome mood, slapping each other in the face.  It was what I would call a riot all the evening, I found the officer in the drug store badly hurt and brought him to the station.  Worked 10 AM to 11:30PM.”

April 8, 1918, I arrested John Cherris a Greek for

criminal assault on 13-year-old Marie Martindale. He is in the County jail.

Later, she attended the trial of the man, one “Cahoon”, who was in and out of court for beating Officer Dunham from April 9th to May 22, 1918, when he was eventually found Not Guilty by a jury.  [Some things never change.]

[On the same day, April 9th] “while going home about 9 P.M. on Main St. in front of the Queen theater, a man used abusive language to me and interfered with my work; he defied me to take him to the police station, which I did, and filed charges against him.”

She didn’t take any lip from men and often had them carted off to jail when they accosted her and didn’t back off.

Eva Jane Bacher wasn’t a “shrinking violet.”

In September 1917 she teamed up with Mrs. Baugh, a former policewoman “from the North,” who was working for the U. S. government in Houston.

When Eva Jane wasn’t working on her own over the next year and a half, these two would eventually get the City of Houston to hire nurses for the City Farm, testify before committees regarding city dance hall laws, coordinate with the charity groups in town to place many of the unfortunate young kids they encountered, just to name a few of her endeavors.

By March 1918 her interstate contacts included Mrs. Burk, a Chicago policewoman, who came to Houston and visited with Eva Jane and exchanged information regarding the women who left Houston and went back to Chicago, and vice versa, I assume.

During this time, she had to have gained a first-hand detailed knowledge of Houston’s vice and criminal underworld.

In Part 4 we’ll look at what she did from 1918 until she was fired for political reasons in April 1929, just before the stock market crash in October at the beginning of The Great Depression.