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· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Ralph Galpin ·
On the morning of July 14, 1927, Ralph Galpin, 13, was attempting to escape an abusive step-father in Belpre, Kansas.
Ralph, 13, begged his mother, Vesta Mae, to leave Sam. Instead, she chose to remain with her husband and other children. She told Ralph to hop a freight train to Galesburg, Illinois, which used to be home—a marriage ago—and for him to stay with her mother. At his departure, Vesta reached into her purse and handed her son fifty cents.
Sheriff Fay F. Brown talked with the Santa Fe trainmen at their Hutchinson station, then spoke with the unsmiling, serious, small-framed boy who had illegally hopped the freight train at Belpre.
“I’m Sheriff Brown,” said Fay to the boy, who was holding a small grain sack with personal belongings. “Who might you be?”
“I’m Ralph Galpin,” said the boy. “Are you really the sheriff?”
“Yeah, for seven months now,” said Sheriff Brown. “Any more questions?”
“Where do you keep your badge?” asked Ralph.
“Right here,” said the sheriff as he opened up the front of his suit coat, displaying a shining gold badge with a bold, six-pointed star at its center, pinned to his vest. ‘FAY F. BROWN’ was clearly visible below the words ‘SHERIFF RENO COUNTY’.
“How old are you?” asked the sheriff.
“Thirteen,” said Ralph.
“Did you buy a ticket for your train ride?” asked Brown.
“No, I didn’t,” replied the boy. “I’ve only got fifty cents to get back to Illinois.”
“That’s a long way to travel on fifty cents. What’s in Illinois for you?” asked Brown.
“My grandmother,” said Ralph. “My mom told me to go live with her.”
“Why’d she tell you to go on your own?” Brown inquired.
“Sam beat me and whipped me so cruel that I just decided I couldn’t stay with him any longer,” Ralph replied.
“My step-father, Sam Billings, has children of his own, but he doesn’t treat them as cruelly as he does me,” continued Ralph.
“My mother told me it was best for me to leave. She told me to get on the freight and beat my way. I got on an oil car and was riding that direction, but the trainmen wouldn’t let me go further.”
“Your mother told you to hop the freight and go back to Galesburg to stay with your grandmother?” repeated the sheriff.
“Yes, sir,” answered Ralph. “That’s right.”
“Does your mother know that your step-father beats you?” asked the lawman.
“Yes, she does,” answered the boy, “but she doesn’t try and stop him anymore.”
“Do you know why he beats you?” Brown asked, trying to understand.
“He says it’s because I’m bad, but I’m no worse than my brothers or his other children.”
“How long has your family lived in Belpre?” asked Brown.
“About a month,” replied Ralph, “my step-father is working construction on a church.”
“Where did you live before Belpre?” questioned the sheriff.
“Denver for a couple of months,” said Ralph, “and before that, Laramie, Wyoming. That’s where Sam rented a Ford coupe with a bogus check.”
Finally the boy had revealed information that could be easily investigated, even from a distance. “How do you know the check was bogus?” asked Brown.
“I heard Sam and my mother talking about it,” said Ralph.
Ralph had answered every question posed by the sheriff. Now he had some of his own. “Are you going to arrest me or send me back to Belpre?”
“You’re not under arrest,” said the sheriff. “You’re in my care. I’m going to send a wire to Laramie. There’s a chance that this here Sam Billings will be charged with auto theft, but it’s too early to know.”
The boy raised his eyebrows. “If he’s arrested will he be brought here?”
“I don’t see any reason for that,” said Brown. “He didn’t steal the car here, but after we get the automobile business sorted out, I’ll see about where’s the safest place for you.”
“If Sam’s locked up, can I go back to my mother and my brothers?” asked Ralph, hopefully.
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves,” said Brown. “I need to wire Laramie. I’m taking you to the office first, then we’ll go to my home at the jail. I have a special lady for you to meet.”
“This is Mrs. Sheriff,” said Brown to Ralph as they entered the sheriff’s house. “She’s also the jail matron and cook. If I were you, I’d want to stay on her good side.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Cora, as she held out her hand to welcome the newcomer. “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have set another plate,” she continued, staring at her husband.
Ralph shook her hand and said, “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Sheriff.”
“Do you like pie?” asked Cora.
“I love pie,” answered Ralph.
“If you clean your dinner plate, we’re having cherry pie for dessert,” said Cora.
Ralph smiled. He was starving.
“Fay,” said Cora, “show Ralph the bathroom so he can wash up, and let him unpack his suitcase in the guest bedroom.”
“It’s not a suitcase,” corrected Ralph, as he glanced down at his dirty grain sack.
“He was asleep before I turned out the light,” said Cora.
“The little chap is a bright, intelligent fellow,” said Fay.
“What’s your guess on his immediate future?” Cora inquired.
“Now that Belpre’s town marshal has arrested Billings for the Laramie authorities and taken him to Kinsley,” said Fay, “we’ve got a little time to sort things out.”
“If he’s not welcome at his grandmother’s, he could be sent to the State Orphans’ Home at Atchison,” continued Fay. “That’s one trip, I’d rather avoid,” remembering growing up in Henry County, Indiana, after his parents died. Fay fondly recalled his adoptive father, a widower, George C. Gorman, and George’s adult daughter, Mary. They had done their best. They had become his second family.
“Let’s invite him to your courthouse baseball game tomorrow night at the park,” suggested Cora. “Jess will be watching the prisoners.”
“Good idea, I forgot all about the game,” said Fay.
“Ralph and I can sit together in the bleachers on the first base side where he can watch you get players out,” said Cora.
“You’re a number one fan, for sure,” said Fay. “When the season’s over, we’ll get back to the movie theaters, I promise.”
Fay asked Ralph, “You want to play catch? I need to warm up my arm before the game.”
“Sure, but I don’t have a glove,” said Ralph.
“I’ve got an extra,” said Fay as he walked to the nearby closet.
Soon, Fay and Ralph were playing catch outside the sheriff’s residence, on the spacious east side of the county jail.
“Do you follow major league baseball?” asked Fay.
“I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan,” replied Ralph. “Someday I’ll see a game.”
“They’re the world champions for now,” said Fay, “but the Yankees are looking pretty good this year. Last I checked, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were tied at twenty-nine homers a piece.”
“Have you ever seen Babe Ruth play?” asked Ralph.
“No, but he’s a favorite of mine,” Fay replied.
It was seven o’clock at night and the temperature was eighty-five degrees. Not bad for mid-July in Kansas where the grass on baseball fields could be drought stricken and sand burrs a sudden surprise for ball players fielding ground balls.
Cora and Ralph sat together in the bleachers, each drinking a bottle of T. J. Bixler’s famous old time root beer.
“What do you think of the sheriff?” asked Cora.
“He’s nice,” replied Ralph.
“Did Fay tell you that he and his four siblings were orphaned when they were children?” asked Cora. “Fay was six years old.”
“No, he didn’t tell me anything like that,” answered Ralph. “He told me he likes Babe Ruth.”
“Fay likes Babe Ruth because he’s an excellent ball player,” said Cora, “but he also admires Babe because at age seven the boy was taken to an orphanage school in Baltimore where he was raised and where he thrived. At the orphanage, learning was encouraged, but baseball was loved. With Ruth’s talent and hard work, the brothers at St. Mary’s taught him to be the best ball player ever.”
“Fay was an orphan,” repeated Cora, “but look at him now, sheriff, and a first baseman almost as good as Lou Gehrig.”
“It’s too bad when any child doesn’t have the opportunity to grow up with both parents,” said Cora to Ralph. “My mother moved away when I was young.”
“She left you?” asked Ralph. “I still have my mother if she’ll have me, but I think she hates me,” confided Ralph to Cora, as he lowered his head, tears sliding down his cheeks.
“Ralph,” said Cora, as she pulled him close, “I don’t know your mother, but with a family to raise, I imagine she’s doing the best job a mother can do. I think she sent you away for your protection—out of love—not hate.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.