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Officer Sprinkle: Captured Geronimo, Accused Bootlegger, and Bodyguard to President Wilson

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A couple of reader comments about an Officer Sprinkle in this earlier post piqued my interest in finding out a little more about the guy who has the kind of name you’d give to a cat. An unforgettable name, so hopefully I’ll be able to dig up enough information on this guy to write a post worthy of being “A Personal Story.”

Joshua Sprinkle - Boyd's Directory 1896
Joshua Sprinkle – Boyd

Joshua L. Sprinkle was born July 7th, 1864 in Ohio, just south of Columbus (the 1900 Census incorrectly listed his place of birth as Iowa). In 1877, he moved to Des Moines, Iowa with his family.

When he was 12 years old, he became an apprentice in a harness and carriage trimming shop while also attending a local school. He pursued further studies in civil engineering and found himself in a surveying position on what became the Great Western Railroad, running from Chicago to Kansas City. While his surveying position landed him in Kansas City, he decided to enlist as a member of the city fire department.

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Geronimo (1887)
Geronimo (1887)

In the 1880s, at the age of 21, he chose to enlist in the U.S. Army and served for a several years with Troop B of the Fourth United States cavalry, then stationed in Arizona. His time with the military included participating in the campaign against the Geronimo’s Apache nation and was present at the iconic Indian leader’s surrender in 1886 at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona. Not only was he present, but he was officially commended for his service. His troop escorted Geronimo and the remnant of his band to St. Augustine, Florida where he was made a prisoner.

After looking into this man’s past, I have come to one conclusion: Officer Sprinkle was a badass.

In 1890, at the age of 24, he was in Washington and had been accepted as an officer with the city police force. Throughout the 1890s he lived at 619 M St. NW with his wife Teresa, whom he married the year he started on the force.

Run Sprinkle, run

An amusing story about another hot pursuit by Officer Sprinkle was in the November 19th, 1894 Washington Post:

Daniel Reidy, an ex-policeman of the Ninth precinct, was arrested about 1 o’clock yesterday morning, by Officers Kilmartin and Flathers, for Detective Weedon, who wants him for the alleged fraudulent disposal of a horse and buggy. After Reid had been taken into the First precinct station and while he was being searched, he made a dash for liberty. He darted out of the station and up Twelfth street, with Officer Sprinkle, who has charge of the desk at the station, hot after him. Reidy ran to G street, then fell exhausted. Sprinkle was running so fast that he could not stop and fell over Reidy. The officer’s watch was broken by the fall and his clothing rent in several places by the force of the fall. Reidy was taken back and locked up.

Joshua and Teresa would go on to have two children, a daughter Alena and a son Clarence while living on M St. The incident I wrote about in the prior post happened in 1895, their last full year there. The following year, they moved to a new home at 1320 Florida Ave. NE and, around Thanksgiving of that year, had their third child, a son, Raymond. A fourth child, and the third son Joseph arrived in May of 1899.

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Sprinkle household - 1900 U.S. Census
Sprinkle household – 1900 U.S. Census

Another daughter, Helen, was born to the couple in 1904. And by the 1910s, they had moved their large family from their Florida Ave. residence to 924 Madison St. NW in Brightwood.

Two from the crazy vault

Here’s a story fit for its own “From the Crazy Vault” post. This is from an article in the June 19th, 1901 Washington Post, entitled “Chamber of Horror.”

A demented woman, forty-three years of age, absolutely nude and squatting on the filthy floor of a third-story room in a house where she has been shut up by her relatives for the past ten years, was the revolting discovery made at 1127 Fourth street northwest by health department and police authorities of the Capital yesterday afternoon.

Sergt. Sprinkle and a squad of men from the Second precinct accompanied Police Surgeon vail to the house, and soon after removed the insane woman from the scene of squalor and sent her to St. Elizabeth’s Asylum. The removal was witnessed by a horrified throng of persons, who were attracted by the investigations of the police.

I’m sure this is only one of many crazy scenarios into which Sprinkle was thrust. And here is yet another crazy incident he was a part of. This happened on March 6th, 1909.

Capt. William H. Matthews was shot and almost instantly killed in his private office in the Fifth precinct station house about 7:45 o’clock last night by Policeman J. W. Collier, of the same precinct. Collier is locked up charged with murder and refuses to tell why he fired the fatal shots.

Capt. Matthews was alone in his office when Collier entered. Attracted by five successive shots, Lieut. J. L. Sprinkle, who had just reached the building, rushed into the office and knocked a revolver from Collier’s hand as he was about to send another bullet into his victim’s head.

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Two bullets had entered Matthews forehead between the eyes, and three had plowed their way through the temple bones and lodge in the brain. He lived about a minute.

This act is shocking, but what might be even more disturbing is how graphic this article is. Far more graphic than what we’re likely to see in paper’s today. It goes on to say:

Collier admitted shooting his superior officer, and explained that he had ample cause. To Lieut. Sprinkle he said:

“I shot him, and I don’t hesitate saying so. Too many people saw me with the revolver to deny anything. I don’t intend to make a statement until the proper time, and then I will tell everything.”

When Collier was hurried from the room the captain fell over on his back, and expired in Lieut. Sprinkle’s arms.

Bodyguard for the President

Popular Lieutenant Sprinkle of the 5th precinct (1914)
Popular Lieutenant Sprinkle of the 5th precinct (1914)

The March 1st, 1914 Washington Post has a full column praising Lieutenant J. L. Sprinkle’s service to the city as a popular and efficient officer. He was honored with the privilege of being a personal bodyguard to President Woodrow Wilson when he visited his home town of Staunton, Virginia. Below is an excerpt from the piece.

Lieut. J. L. Sprinkle, of the Fifth precinct, enjoys the double distinction of being one of the best officers on the force as well as one of its most popular members. He has had a long military training and one of his most cherished possessions is an honorable discharge from the service of the United States army. His military training has had much to do with his steady promotion in police work. He was selected as one of the personal bodyguard [sic] of President Wilson when the chief executive visited his home town of Staunton, Va.

Don’t disobey The Eighteenth Amendment

Lieutenant Sprinkle in 1923
Lieutenant Sprinkle, charged with rum running in 1923

I came across an interesting piece in the December 1st, 1923 Washington Post, which implicated Sprinkle in a local Prohibition-related scandal.

Lieut. Joshua L. Sprinkle of the Eleventh police precinct, was arrested yesterday on charges of conspiring to defeat the purposes of the eighteenth amendment.

Lieut. Sprinkle is the tenth person to be rounded up by intelligence officers of the prohibition enforcement unit within 72 hours on charges of conspiracy.

Well that’s not a good thing to have on your record. He was being charged with participating in a rum running circuit, facilitating the flow of illicit alcohol into the city from the southern states. He was suspended from the service, pending the investigation.

On September 24th of the following year, the case was still pending (by then dubbed the Tampa liquor conspiracy) and Sprinkle was still suspended from the force. And from the sounds of this article, it seems like he might have been innocent, just in the wrong place at the wrong time (or I am gullible).

Three of the 15 local defendants in the so-called Tampa liquor conspiracy testified before United States Commissioner Needham C. Turnage yesterday in an effort to prevent their removal to Florida.

Lieut. Joshua L. Sprinkle, and William Haller, suspended member of the police department, and O.C. Fredericks, Pullman conductor, denied knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. Lieut. Sprinkle suggested the accusation against him was predicated upon his buying some corks for his wife at the store of James Hunter, one of the defendants, in D street northwest between Ninth and Tenth streets. He was in the store when a prohibition raiding party entered, he testified. Sprinkle said that he had not previously been in the store for six months.

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Given his military track record and his exemplary service in the force, I have a hard time believing he would actually affiliate himself with a rum-running wracket, but I could be mistaken … though, innocent until proven guilty right?

Well, the case went all the was into March of 1925. It was dismissed, even though they were also indicted in Florida, the District Supreme court refused to permit extradition to Florida to stand trial. He was reinstated by Major Daniel Sullivan, with all back pay due to him.

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Poor Joshua Sprinkle turned out to be caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time, dragging his pristine reputation through the mud in the waning years of this career. He ended up retiring from the police force that same year.

The old soldier

An article in the Post on September 8th, 1940 stated that Joshua Sprinkle was to receive a Masonic Token. At the time, he was residing at 924 Madison St. NW; he was also apparently the last known living soldier to have participated in the capture of Geronimo.

Final resting place

Joshua L. Sprinkle passed away on November 11th, 1944 (his wife Teresa died the previous year). He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 13 Site 375-A)

Joshua L. Sprinkle, Arlington National Cemetery
Joshua L. Sprinkle, Arlington National Cemetery
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Ghosts of DC stories.