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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Remembering the forgotten

Mungeer tells the stories of the First State Troopers in new book

By Joseph Abraham - sports & life editor

“The First State Troopers: A History of the New York State Troopers” is currently available on Amazon.
SULLIVAN COUNTY - James N. Skiff was rising quickly through the New York State Police ranks, eventually becoming the Captain of Troop K in White Plains (which then covered half of Sullivan County). He then gave it all up to fight for his country during World War I. After returning from “the Great War,” as it was known at the time, Skiff had to start at the lowest rank again. In 1920, he would go down in history as the first Trooper killed in the line of duty.
He chose his country over his career, and represented the truest definition of sacrifice.
But Skiff's story, like that of so many other New York State Troopers, which built the foundation for those serving today, had been forgotten a little more than a century later. That was until a ninth generation Sullivan County resident set about rediscovering the past.
While some choose to ignore history, President of the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association (PBA), Tom Mungeer, is fascinated by it. He's spent an enormous amount of time studying his own family history. His ancestor William Parks settled in Neversink in 1789. As a member of the 143rd Regiment, his great-great-grandfather William M. Roosa was part of General Sherman's March to the Sea and his 4th great-grandfather, Garrett Van Benschoten, was one of the first settlers of the Town of Fallsburg in 1788 and was one of Gen. George Washington's Life Guards, a small group of loyal soldiers charged with his protection.
Skiff's tale is one of his favorite stories, as is that of John A. Hopkins, an Irish immigrant who was the first man sworn into the NYSP. Hopkins patrolled Sullivan County in the early days and the descendants of his brother still reside in Liberty. Nephew John Hopkins was a longtime Liberty Police Officer and another nephew Jim Hopkins currently owns a Liberty-based business - EEA Security Services.
In November 2013, Mungeer, who also serves as editor-in-chief of the PBA Trooper (a twice-yearly magazine), began researching the first New York State Troopers. He had the idea of doing a genealogical/historical piece for about a decade. But what was originally meant as one piece, morphed into the decision to write a whole book after he purchased some old photographs of a Trooper on eBay. Handwriting on the back of one of the photos, taken in 1918, identified the subject as Trooper J.O. Strickland.
“I quickly realized that he was John O. Strickland, an original Trooper,” Mungeer said. “Within a few hours, using genealogical research methods I had honed over the past 20 years, I was able to unravel his life story. Once that was completed, I decided to tackle the other 230-plus individuals. I also dedicated considerable time memorializing the struggle that went into the formation of the NYSP.”
In a span of just over four years, that book, “The First State Troopers: A History of the New York State Troopers,” has been completed.
“My favorite part of the process was rediscovering lost stories and individuals from 100 years ago as well as dispelling a few myths regarding these original Troopers,” he explained. “I discovered two Troopers who weren't recorded as having served on any existing rosters and their service was forgotten. One, Joseph H. Riseley, III, had a local connection. He was living with his parents in Cooks Falls when he enlisted in 1917 and after he was discharged two years later, he became the editor of the Liberty Register. The other, George J. Starr, went on to become a high ranking agent in the FBI after his stint as a Trooper. The KGB referred to him as ‘one of the most qualified operatives in American intelligence.'
“One myth which was dispelled was that there was a six foot height requirement in order to become a Trooper. I found that there was no height requirement at first and the average height of these original Troopers was just under 5 foot 10 inches which make sense for a cavalry-based unit. If you think about it, big men would tend to wear down the horses rather quickly.”
The stories mentioned above are only a few of several, which make Mungeer's book a captivating experience. It also includes an introduction explaining early attempts to start a “State Police” force.
“The First State Troopers: A History of the New York State Troopers,” is currently available on Amazon. Among those Mungeer thanks for helping him in the process include fellow NY State Troopers, as well as friends in both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Police, his editor/proofreader Michele Crisafulli and his family (wife Cindi and their six children Peter, Kevin, Thomas, Nicholas, Jillian and Jocelyn).
An important message is written on the first page: “Dedicated to the first New York State Troopers who laid the foundation for all of us who followed them. We proudly stand on their shoulders.”
Now that it's published, whether it be online in this digital age or on the book shelves of homes across the country, these historic men who were once forgotten by history, now live on forever.

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