Phillip H. Cooper was born April 11, 1831 in New York where he lived until the age of twenty-two. He married Sarah (Hill) Cooper in 1855. They had five children in all. In order their children were Willard Cooper, Ida (Cooper) Hyde, Sam Cooper, John Cooper, and Sadie Cooper.
P.H. Cooper was appointed Lincoln's first chief of police upon the city of Lincoln being proclaimed a "City of First Class" on March 25, 1887. The responsibilities of the chief of police were not new to Cooper as he held the position of city marshal from 1874-1877. In fact, Cooper held the position of chief of police for a total of thirteen years spanning three terms from 1877 to his retirement in May of 1909.
Cooper arrived in Lincoln in November of 1869 and was known as the "ice king," being the owner of the only ice plant in Lincoln. He was also heavily involved in Democratic politics in an area that was predominantly Republican. He was seldom absent from Democratic gatherings and few conventions were held that did not have him as a delegate.
Cooper's popularity as marshal and chief of police was earned by his kindness and good nature, although he was known to be outspoken and pointed when necessary. Some of Cooper's responsibilities as chief of police included the control of drunkenness, segregation and gambling houses. John Sheedy, the victim of one of Lincoln's most infamous murders in 1891, was a fellow Democrat and friend of Cooper that owned a gambling house in the city. Despite the friendship, Cooper readily raided Sheedy's establishment whenever the mayor requested. Cooper understood and performed his duties as chief of police despite the circumstance.
Cooper's obituary in the June 7, 1918 Evening State Journal and Lincoln Daily News speaks of his popularity by stating that "[f]or a period of about forty years the name of P.H. Cooper appears in the columns of the Journal about as often, on an average, as that of any other citizen." Between his ice business, involvement in politics and time served as marshal and chief of police, few people were more favorably known in Lincoln than P.H. Cooper.
Evening State Journal and Lincoln Daily News - Friday, June 7, 1918
Headline: P. H. Cooper Passes Away. Veteran Lincoln Police Chief Dies at His Home. Was Head of the Department for Thirteen years and a Pioneer Business Man.
P.H. Cooper. Pioneer citizen of Lincoln for many years prominent in political activities, died at 4:20 Friday morning, at the home of his son, John Cooper, 1412 B Street. Mr. Cooper had been filing in health for several years and took to his bed two months prior to his death. He was eighty-seven years old and is survived by one son, John, with whom he lived at the time of his death. A daughter, (Mrs. E. B. Hyde) died in 1900, and a son, Willard, died six or eight years ago.
Mr. Cooper came to Lincoln in November of 1869 by stage. Prior to that time he was a freighter over the plains and many stories are told of his experiences while working in that capacity. For many years he was known in Lincoln as the "Ice King" being the owner of the only ice plant here. He held the position of chief of police for a total of thirteen years, retiring from his last term in May 1909. In 1873 he was elected marshal under Mayor R.D. Silvers. In 1874 he was again chosen marshal under W. Littles. He served under R. D. Silvers in 1876 and for a short time under R. B. Graham. From 1887 to 1889 he served during the term of A. J. Sawyer and from 1893 to 1895 under Mayor A. H. Weir. His last two terms were under Mayor Brown. He was at one time a candidate for sheriff.
For a period of about forty years the name P. H. Cooper appears in the columns of the Journal about as often on an average as that of any other citizen. He was prominent as an ice dealer in the early days. His wagons covered the whole town and his name was indissolubly linked with that industry. He managed his affairs in the easy style that prevailed among business men at that time more than at present, and it is doubtful if he made a great deal of money. One reason for this was his kindness and his good nature. He never liked to press a creditor and would often talk with men in a friendly way and pass on without presenting a bill he had in his pocket, although he may have needed the money sorely.
A second cause for the appearance of his name in the paper frequently was his prominence in democratic politics. He was a member of the small group of old fashioned democrats who kept their organization and made regular campaigns in a city, county and state that had overwhelming republican majorities. Mr. Cooper was always present at democratic gatherings. Few conversations were held in forty years that did not have him as a delegate, usually from the Fourth ward. His homestead was at the northeast corner of Sixteenth and H streets where city buildings now stands. He lived there in a modest cottage amid a clump of overgreens until the ground was taken over for public purposes, about ten years ago.
A third element in Mr. Cooper's prominence was his repeated service as marshal and chief of police of the city of Lincoln. He was a careful and conscientious officer, but here again his kindness and good nature interfered somewhat with 100 per cent efficiency, according to modern standards. He introduced the human element into his work more than would be allowed at this time. Most of his service was performed when the city was small and everybody knew everybody else. His easy methods were popular in that stage of the development of the community. His work had to do mainly with the herding in of "drunks" the intervals with the management of real criminal. Whenever it was his duty to make an arrest he acted with plenty of vigor and courage when those qualities pointed in his statements. Those who knew him realized how easy it was to reach his heart.
During a good part of Mr. Cooper's early career, open gambling houses were in operation in Lincoln. Many of the men of the little frontier city believed that they were "good for business" and used all their influence to see that the raids upon them were made with a velvet touch. John Sheedy was the king bee of the gamblers until he was killed by a negro a quarter of a century ago.
He was a strong democratic politician and must have read the riot act in private to Marshal Cooper many a time and often, yet whenever the mayor of the city decided that it was necessary to make a raid, the police chief went at the business just as if he enjoyed it. Those were liberal easy-going days, without much desire on the part of leading citizens to see the law enforced strictly.
It is considered very much to Mr. Cooper's credit that he went thru so many experiences in the police department thru so long a period retaining his friendship and his reputation for personal integrity to the last.
Funeral services will be conducted from St. Paul's M. E. church Sunday afternoon.
Phillip Cooper had been failing in health for several years and took to his bed two months prior to his death. He was 87 years old. He is buried in the Wyuka Cemetery along with his wife, Sarah, in Lincoln, Nebraska.