According to one of his grandsons, Adam Betz had a knack for subduing people without damaging them. Peter Betz, professor emeritus at Fulton-Montgomery Community College and Fulton County historian, said of his extended family, “We are all descended from Adam.”
Born in Weinheim, Germany in 1870, Adam Betz came to America in 1891. He ran away from his home in Germany, partly because he did not want to be conscripted into the army. Also, he was convinced by handbills that told of how wonderful life in America would be.
Peter Betz said, “He climbed out the window with the bedsheets tied together and never saw his parents again.”
Adam settled first in Rome, N.Y., which had a large German population. He married his wife, Elise, within six months and moved to Amsterdam to ply his trade as a barber at 6 Market St. Adam was a barber like his father, but also had received martial arts training in preparation for police work.
Peter Betz said, “He was going to work one day and there was a very obnoxious drunk on the street causing trouble and Adam apparently subdued him without any weaponry and that came to the attention of the sheriff.”
In the early 1900s, the barber began serving as an Amsterdam constable, later as Children’s Court officer, and for 46 years he was a court officer in Fonda and deputy sheriff.
Author Harvey Chalmers wrote a story about Adam called “Law Enforcement in the Age of Homespun.” The sheriff asked for Adam’s help in subduing a farmer armed with a shotgun in Stone Arabia who was keeping authorities at bay on the front porch of his home.
Arriving on the scene, Adam noticed that the deputies could see the back door of the house through the open door on the front porch. Adam snuck to the rear of the house and when the deputies saw Adam, they created a commotion out front, enabling Adam to sneak up on the farmer and knock him out with a blackjack.
“There’s your man, sheriff,” Adam observed, according to Chalmers. “You’ll find his wife’s body inside.”
Chalmers wrote that Adam drove off in his horse drawn carriage and waited until he had gone several miles before lighting his pipe, “Then to his annoyance and surprise, his hands shook so that he burned off one side of his prized mustache.”
One of the few times Adam was hurt, he was repossessing chickens. While be bent down to get the chickens, a woman hit him with a block of wood, dislocating his shoulder.
Adam and Elise had four children: Elizabeth, George, David and Peter’s father, Paul. George worked with his father as a barber. George’s son was John Betz, who founded the Betz Funeral Home in Amsterdam
Peter Betz said that as an immigrant himself, Adam was sympathetic to honest immigrants and concerned with their rights. “When I was small, he was in decline, and I saw him frequently but I didn’t really know what to say to him. And then when he died, we had the funeral and it was about the biggest funeral I’ve ever attended in my life. And there were all these people standing around telling my older relatives that Adam did this for them and Adam did that for them. And I began to get a much greater appreciation for the man.”
Adam Betz died in June 1951. The Recorder editorialized, “His was very frequently a grim sort of business, yet he never lost a native sense of humor, and many a man involved in the toils of the law benefited through following his sage advice.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.