Ambrose Hodges: Rochelle’s ‘long arm of the law’


ROCHELLE — For more than 30 years the “long arm of the law” for Rochelle was Ambrose Hodges. Through shoot outs, bootleggers and prohibition Ambrose made sure that when someone fought authority, authority always won. 

Born in Ashton on Sept. 24, 1864, Ambrose was in his early 20s when he moved to Rochelle to clerk at the DeLos Hotel. It was 1899 when everything changed for Ambrose and the people of Rochelle.

Police Chief William Way retired. Mayor M. L. Ettinger called on Ambrose Hodges to fill the position. With no background Ambrose went from hotel clerk to police chief overnight. Little did anyone know that he would hold the position for 35years.

In 1899 the city’s population was little over 1,300 people. The police department consisted of two members, Ambrose was the daytime marshal and police chief, William Delaney was the 

night time marshal. Ambrose served seven days a week for 12 hours a day at the modest rate of $50 per month. The $50 pay was maintained for the first 26 years Ambrose served as chief. 

Ambrose had his first brush with death in 1900, not fighting crime but getting in over his head (literally) at the Braiden quarry.

“While bathing at the quarry last week Tuesday evening Hodge ventured out to where the water was over his head and not being able to swim he tried to lower the water in the quarry by drinking it. He soon filled up with water and sank to the bottom.”

Luckily, Alderman Dodge was on scene and after two or three dives got Ambrose to shore “more dead than alive.” After that Ambrose kept his activities to the shore and avoided the watery depths.

The most popular tale of Ambrose involved his famous mustache. Ambrose was extremely proud of his handsome mustache. Long, full, and with sweeping curls at the ends, his mustache was a thing of beauty and great personal pride.

In 1917 the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was suffering from a rash of thefts at their rail yards. One such theft involved thousands of pounds of butter from the Rochelle area. The railroad sent Detective Fairweather to investigate the crime.

Fairweather had worked for Scotland Yard before coming to work for the railroad. After careful investigation Fairweather and Ambrose received a warrant for the arrest of Robert Fordchester, a notorious scofflaw who had settled into the community. 

Waiting until late at night, Hodges, James Adair, Al Robbins (the whole Rochelle police department) and Fairweather slipped silently up to the front door of the abandoned house where Fordchester was hiding. 

Like most great plans this one fell apart almost from the beginning. Fordchester was not alone, his partner in crime Red Morgan was with him. They were both armed and they were ready with a trap of their own.

When the lawmen rushed through the door they were met with a hail of bullets. Fairweather went down, shot through the throat. In the smoke and confusion both criminals escaped. Fairweather recovered after months of care.

Adair and Robbins escaped uninjured. Hodges was left with a painful reminder of the adventure. His mustache, his pride and joy, was lost in the shootout.

“One bullet clipped off Chief Hodges’ mustache as neatly as a barber’s shears could have turned the trick.”

Fordchester and Morgan were apprehended safely at a later date.

Hodges served as police chief of Rochelle from 1899 until 1934. He is still the longest serving police chief for the City of Rochelle.

Tom McDermott is the Flagg Township Museum Historian and a Rochelle City Councilman.