· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Hearing Voices ·
“Hello readers. I’m Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge and I’m recalling my days in January 1927, after arriving in Hutchinson, Kansas. Don’t ask me what happened this morning because my short term memory is iffy, but I remember my first days in the Salt City. I was in the darkness of my packing container 93 years ago when I overheard conversations in the sheriff’s office.”
“After the train trip from Denver in the postal car, I was hoping to soon see the light of day and meet Sheriff Brown, the person I was named after. No one had told me the details, but some of the employees at Sachs-Lawlor, where I was created, joked that with a first name like Fay, the Reno county sheriff could be a female. But, once the laughter died down, a number of people said they knew men, courageous men, named Fay.
“Within a day of being unloaded at the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway depot, and being taken to the post office for sorting, I arrived at the Hutchinson court house, Fifth and Washington, northeast corner. It was as busy as an ant farm.
“Overhearing voices outside my shipping container, apparently in the sheriff’s office, it was soon clear to me that the nearby people were talking about Sheriff-elect Fay Brown, a male, who was the current under sheriff. Two months earlier he, a Democrat, had been elected to serve a term of two years. Within days, Brown would become one of the new county officers to be sworn in on inauguration day, Monday, January 10, 1927.
“In total darkness, while listening to stories, I waited for someone to officially welcome me to my new world and admire my flawless beauty, the results of meticulous professional artisanship. Again, I stopped to wonder: When would I get the opportunity to meet Sheriff Fay F. Brown?”
“Jess,” a shaky voice asked, “now that you’re almost out the door after four years in office, what event stands out to you from your time as sheriff?”
“No day in office compares to the circumstances that got me to run for sheriff in the first place,” Jess answered.
“Sometimes, people think that fighting prohibition, which we do every day, is our only purpose. Our whiskey raids out in the sandhills have destroyed countless stills and thousands of gallons of mash ready for the copper boilers. It makes me wonder if the only reason corn is grown in Reno county, is to be a major ingredient in the whiskey we confiscate.
“But catching violent criminals who prey off of our hard-working, law-abiding citizens has been my personal mission.
“My life changed the day I learned of my son being shot. Harvey was only sixteen years old, a student at Reno county high school at Nickerson in 1921, when he was shot by motor car thieves. He was trying to help his uncle, my brother-in-law George Rolland Bridges, who had just had his Buick automobile stolen.
“Harvey and George gave chase. After Harvey, unarmed, forced the fleeing driver into a ditch, my boy was confronted by criminals brandishing lethal weapons.
“Outgunned, at first Harvey and George were allowed to leave the scene, but after returning to his parked car, Harvey was shot at twice. The first bullet grazed his head and went through the windshield. The second bullet traveled through the upholstery at the top of the driver’s seat and entered my boy’s back.
“The criminals were of a class that prey on the working public to finance lives lacking legal or moral restraints, and had shown that they would commit murder if it would help them get away. In this case, they had attempted murder. Only the glancing of a bullet off a rib of my son, perhaps, saved his life, and the shots were fired by the parties after my son was fleeing from them in another car. There were no extenuating circumstances. It wasn’t done during a fight.”
“Up to then you were pretty happy being an auctioneer, weren’t you, Jess?” Shaky Voice asked Sheriff Jesse Langford.
“Yes, those earlier days were busy but peaceful. May—my wife—and I also raised Holstein cattle,” the lawman replied. “I knew first hand that cattle could be a nuisance when they escaped their pasture, but little did we know what it would be like living in the county jail. Twenty-four hours a day, May was feeding and nursing the prisoners while they were plotting an escape.”
“Well, at least the bad boys did some time,” Shaky Voice remarked.
“Eventually,” replied Langford, “but it opened my eyes. I figured their deliberate and cold-blooded act would guarantee them a shot at coal mining at the state prison at Lansing. Instead, the county attorney and judge took the view that the reformatory was a more appropriate setting.
“Since the sentencing for assault or attempt to kill was 1-10 years, and grand larceny—the stealing of an automobile––was 5-10 years, the theft charge was the controlling crime.
“Fortunately, Harvey soon recovered. When he was older and after I became sheriff, he worked for me as a deputy during one college vacation. May and I discussed it. Ultimately, we figured our son might as well be an armed deputy if he was going to confront hard-boiled criminals.
“Anyhow, Harvey being shot and the way the criminal case was handled in court was the impetus for me entering politics and running for sheriff.
“Harvey’s the smart one. He’s graduated from Kansas University at Lawrence with an interest in business, not law enforcement.
“What’s in the package on your desk?” asked Jess, interrupting himself. “Is that Brownie’s badge?”
“Probably,” was the one-word answer.
“Well throw it over here;” said the sheriff, “let’s have a look.”
The Kansas Authors Club www.kansasauthors.org is a statewide organization that encourages and supports great writing. It’s divided into seven districts. In Hutchinson, Reno County (part of District 6), we have monthly meetings at Hutchinson Community College. http://www.hutchcc.edu You’re invited. Questions? Contact Jim Potter, firstname.lastname@example.org