· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge: Wilkinson’s Watermelon·
(Conclusion – Part 2 of 2)
It’s Sunday night, August 21, 1927 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Earlier, two boys were caught by Old Man Wilkinson as they were attempting to steal a prized watermelon from his melon patch. Reno County Sheriff Fay F. Brown was called and responded to the scene from his home. He contacted Wilkinson and collected the boys.
The boys were eager to leave Wilkinson’s property. When ordered, they jumped into the sheriff’s car as if it was the safest place on earth. Sheriff Brown and Wilkinson, both outside, talked a few more minutes before the sheriff got behind the wheel and started the engine.
Unemotionally, the sheriff said, “We’re off to jail.”
The boys were silent.
“Tell me your names again and your ages,” said Brown.
The tallest boy, sitting next to Fay, answered first, “I’m Chester Miller. I’m fourteen.”
Headed back to Hutchinson, the headlights from Fay’s car reflected off an automobile poorly hidden some distance from the road. As the sheriff’s vehicle picked up speed, he glanced over his right shoulder, towards the boy in the back seat.
The boy was a dark figure without detail. He was quietly sniffling.
“What’s your name?” repeated Fay.
“He’s Billy…” the boy in the front seat started answering.
Curtly, the sheriff said, “I asked him, not you.”
“I’m Billy Benson, twelve years old; when Obee School starts next week I’ll be in seventh grade. I really like school; I want to learn. I love my teachers; I don’t want to go to the reformatory. Just let me go home; I’ll never do a bad thing for the rest of my life. Chester dared me to help him steal a watermelon. He said that a stolen melon taste better than one’s that’s store bought.”
“Tell me what happened earlier with Mr. Wilkinson,” ordered the sheriff.
“Chester drove his father’s car and parked it behind some trees,” answered Billy. “We were really quiet and found the watermelon patch hidden past some rows of corn. We could see the watermelons by the moonlight but we had to decide which one to take.”
“What happened next?” said Fay, as he turned and looked at Chester.
“That’s when the shotgun blast scared us!” said the oldest boy. “It was awful loud and it was nearby. That’s when Mr. Wilkinson told us that if we thought about running, he would plug us with his double ought six.”
“Did he shoot at you?” asked the sheriff.
“No,” answered Chester. “If he had wanted to shoot us, we’d both be dead.”
As Sheriff Fay Brown entered town, he decided that any further conversation with the boys was unnecessary until morning, especially since they were both young and it was past their bedtime. The boys didn’t know it, but Wilkinson wasn’t interested in signing a complaint. Waiting until morning would give the boys more time to consider the consequences of their actions, including the possibility that they could have been killed and used as fertilizer for Wilkinson’s pumpkin patch.
Fay caught himself starting to smile as he imagined the startled response of Billy and Chester to Wilkinson’s shotgun blast. If they ultimately survived this adventure, they weren’t going to be feasting on any of Mr. Wilkinson’s watermelons.
“Boys,” said Fay, “have your parents bring you down to my office tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock and we’ll discuss this.”
“We’re not going to jail?” asked Billy.
“I’m taking each of you home right now,” said Fay. “What’s your address?”
“We’re not going to jail!” said Billy to Chester.
Chester answered, “Well, not tonight.”
“That didn’t take very long,” said Cora.
“Lake Bedell Road isn’t far,” said Fay, “plus, I didn’t want to stay in Wilkinson’s house any longer than necessary.”
“How old are the boys?” Cora asked. “Do you know them?”
“One boy’s fourteen; the other’s only twelve,” said Fay. “I’ve never met either one of them before, and I don’t expect they’ll be in any more trouble any time soon.”
“Are you going to get the courts involved?” Cora asked.
“Oh, no,” said Fay. “Wilkinson said he wasn’t going to file a complaint. He just wanted to scare them.”
“Mr. Wilkinson sounds like a nice, reasonable man,” said Cora. “If he’s still living alone, let’s invite him here for Sunday dinner. I’ll bet he’d enjoy someone else doing the cooking. I’ll make cherry pie, or do you think he’d prefer watermelon?”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.