· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Jailer Jess Blanpied ·
It’s Monday, January 17, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Sheriff Fay. F. Brown’s Badge is down at the sheriff’s office pinned to the sheriff’s vest. Cora Brown, matron and cook at the Reno County Jail, and Jess Blanpied, an old-time county jailer, are in the jail’s kitchen.
“Jess, how are your children?” asked Matron-Cook Cora Brown, as she sat down at the kitchen table.
“I’m glad you asked,” Jailer Jess Blanpied responded, stirring his coffee. “You may recall, I’ve got four children: two girls and two boys; the girls are the oldest. Three of our children live in Los Angeles, California, including my oldest, Jessie. Today’s her birthday.”
“How old is she?” asked Cora
“Thirty-nine. She was born in 1888, a year after Hattie and I married.
“Jessie and her husband, he’s a prominent interior decorator, were married in Newton and have the most beautiful and talented girl, Harriette Jane, who takes after Jessie. As a child, Jessie was active with solo performances, singing and playing the piano. Now she plays the piano as she accompanies Harriette, who is quite the dancer. My beautiful little blonde-haired granddaughter, only eleven, might be in a movie production this year.”
“Says you! Maybe we’ll see her at a local theater,” encouraged Cora.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” replied Jess. “They visit here, but one of these days I’d like to return to sunny California. I was there in 1915, in Hollywood, when my granddaughter was born. That was a few years after my wife died here in Hutchinson.
“Sorry for your loss, I’ll bet you miss her,” offered Cora as she sipped her coffee.
“Every day,” said Jess, “she left too soon, but we had twenty-five glorious years together. She was a Christian woman, admired by all.
“Jessie reminded me in a recent letter how I nearly met Tom Mix, the cowboy movie star,” continued Jess.
“Tom Mix!” exclaimed Cora. “Says you! Fay and I enjoy watching him in the Zane Grey movies. Last year we saw both the “Riders of the Purple Sage” and “The Rainbow Trail” at the Deluxe Theater. What do you think of Tony, the Wonder Horse? And how did you almost meet Tom Mix?”
“Like I said,” responded Jess, “Jessie’s husband had been hired by some famous actors to decorate their homes. He knew Tom Mix, and when the actor and Jessie were talking, she mentioned to him about my years as sheriff in Harvey County, Kansas. He wanted to meet me, especially after my daughter told him I had single-handedly captured four bank robbers.”
“Oh my goodness, Jess, I’m learning so much about you,” said Cora. “This jailhouse is feeling more like home. And you’ve helped me so much already, especially by selecting the best trustees. Thanks again.”
“We have a saying here: ‘never trust a trustee,’” said Jess, “but we can’t run a jail without them, unless you and Fay want to hire a staff out of your salary.” Jess laughed.
“We’re not getting rich,” said Cora, “but we have a roof over our head, and heat on a cold winter day, like today. So far, the trustees have been extremely helpful. I don’t have to peel potatoes, wash the dishes, mop the floors, or do laundry.”
“It feels like home with your cooking,” said Jess. “If Fay runs for reelection in two years, your reputation as a cook will no doubt increase his popularity. Former prisoners who have served short sentences, who think they just might return to jail, want a good meal if they visit here again. They’ll vote for Fay because of you.”
“Unless they get sent to Lansing,” said Cora.
“I’m really glad to have your fresh eyes around here,” continued Jess. “You’ll see things we’ve been missing and make improvements. I’d like to tell you a little more about Jessie and Tom Mix.”
“Yessir, I want to hear more,” encouraged Cora. “You haven’t told me about the other children yet, only about Jessie, your favorite.”
“First child,” said Jess. “After my daughter told Tom Mix about her living in the jailhouse as a teenager, he kept asking her questions. He thought Jessie’s upbringing in a pokey could be incorporated into a script for a western movie involving a prisoner escape and kidnapping from a Kansas hoosegow. I don’t know if Jessie told him about the slop buckets the inmates used or the putrid smells we had to endure day and night. I’ll bet not.”
“This is fascinating,” said Cora, “and I’m so glad we’ve got indoor plumbing at our Victorian Bastille.”
“Last thing about Tom Mix,” said Jess. “He was friends with Wyatt Earp who had moved to L.A. part-time. Tom Mix asked Jessie if I’d ever run into Earp, since it was well known that he had been on the police force when Wichita was wild.
“Jessie explained to Tom Mix that I was only a child when Wyatt Earp was working in Wichita, but Tom Mix said it would still be great fun to have us all sit down together so he could hear stories about the taming of the west. We never got together, Tom Mix returned to Arizona, but that’s how I almost met Tom Mix and Wyatt Earp. Did you know Earp’s still alive, with a residence in L.A.?”
“No, I figured he was dead,” said Cora. “Jess, you ought to write a book about your life.”
“No chance of that, I’m too busy living it,” Jess responded. “Instead, let me give you the condensed version of my three other children and then we can get back to work. By the way, lunch was delicious.”
“Thanks,” said Cora. “It was a group effort.”
“Bernice, my second child, is also married,” said Jess. “She was born in 1891, so she’d be thirty-five. She and her husband, a surveyor, have a boy and a girl. Jean’s about twelve, and Robert’s eight.
“My first boy was dealt a tough hand,” said Jess. “He’s not of sound mind and can’t manage his affairs. Harry’s at the Topeka state hospital; been there for years. He’s thirty-three, but looks a lot older. I imagine you’re about his age.”
“Good guess,” replied Cora. “I’m thirty-two. Fay’s thirty-five, like your Bernice. He thinks he’s the youngest sheriff to be elected in Reno County, but we’re not sure about that.”
“If I were Fay, I wouldn’t wager my monthly paycheck on that,” said Jess. “I’ve known a few sheriffs about his age, including Will Long and K. C. Beck, and who knows about the earlier ones?
“Our baby, Carl, is twenty-three,” said Jess. “He’s been living with Bernice and her family in Glendale, California. He’s ‘Uncle Carl’ to the children.”
“You sure keep up with your family,” said Cora.
“Jess,” she continued, “before we quit, let me remind you how I first heard about you.”
“Did I arrest you for speeding or being in violation of the prohibitory law?” asked Jess.
Cora ignored his question. “Your niece, Blanche Blanpied, and I met in 1913 when we both worked at the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company. She was a stenographer and I was an operator. This was before Southwestern Bell bought the company and before I even knew Fay Brown was alive.”
“My, it’s a small world,” said Jess. “Blanche used to visit us in Newton and stay overnight at our jailhouse.”
Cora agreed and remarked, “Jess, thanks again for agreeing to stay on the county payroll. Fay appreciates your help and so do I.”
“You’re welcome,” said Jess. “I know you’re not just off the boat and no hick, but I’m glad to see you adapting so quickly to this work. Other sheriffs have told me that some live-in matron-cooks, even when they’re Mrs. Sheriff, would rather throw away the jailhouse key than sleep a night in a pokey or cook for two dozen criminals.”
“I’m still learning,” said Cora, “I’m hoping that Fay and I can continue seeing a movie once a week. It’s a nice diversion for both of us. They’re more Tom Mix movies we want to enjoy, especially ‘The Great K & A Train Robbery,’ whenever it gets to town, maybe this summer.”
“Let me know if you hear about a movie starring Harriette Jane Northfoss,” said Jess.
“Yessir, I will,” replied Cora.
“When that happens,” Cora concluded, “we’ll invite you to attend the movie with us. The undersheriff can watch the prisoners.”
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