By Hillary Delaney
Border security issues are widely covered in today’s news, particularly in states along our southern border. However, with nearly 1,500 miles separating Boone County from Mexican soil, it seems unlikely that our area would have any connection to or impact upon border history. Remarkably, a Boone County native played a pivotal role in the development of the Border Patrol system.
Frank Walton Berkshire was born in Petersburg in 1870, the third of the six children of John and Fannie (Walton) Berkshire. The family was well-known; John Berkshire was a successful business-owner and held office as a state legislator. Upon reaching adulthood, Frank began to make his own mark on the world. Sometime in the 1890s, Frank moved to Chicago, where he met and married Dora Cowin. In 1896, he began a career with the U. S. Immigration Service, as an inspector of Chinese immigrants. Within the decade that followed, Frank’s family moved from Chicago to New York, then El Paso, Texas. It was here, in 1907, that Frank began work as the Supervising Inspector of the Mexican Border District.
When Berkshire accepted the position, mounted patrollers on the Mexican border were tasked with preventing the illegal entry of Chinese immigrants, who had been initially denied entry to the U.S. by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Berkshire recognized that the system was understaffed and not well-coordinated, and began efforts to establish stations and sub-stations all along the border from Brownsville, TX to Yuma, AZ. By 1910, Berkshire’s responsibilities were expanded to include the area from Yuma to San Diego, CA, along with the Port of Los Angeles.
Berkshire’s career wasn’t lacking in adventure. In 1913, when one of his officers had been shot and jailed in Juarez, under suspicious circumstances, Frank went to retrieve the wounded man. He was then arrested himself and briefly detained. That same year, he took a hands-on role in the inspection of hundreds of Spanish nationals entering the U. S. as refugees who had been expelled from Mexico by Pancho Villa’s soldiers.
Later, Berkshire was assigned oversight of construction of an internment camp in North Carolina during WWI. The camp was to house the crews from German merchant ships detained in ports along the East Coast. Just after the war, Berkshire supervised the officers escorting anarchist and labor activist Emma Goldman to Russia, upon her deportment from the United States.
After a brief hiatus in the private sector in the early 1920s, Frank returned to the Immigration Service, assigned to the West Coast until his death in 1934. His contribution to the development of the modern Border Patrol system is recognized today.
Learn more here - from the official website of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection