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· Jesse Langford (1879-1935)
It’s Wednesday, June 24, 1931, on the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway in route to Chicago, Illinois, from Hutchinson, Kansas. Houston, 81, and Julia Whiteside, 59, and their son, Houston, Jr., 41, are making an emergency trip to the windy city’s Presbyterian Hospital. Julia needs surgery.
“I do hope Wiley Post and his navigator succeed with their record flight around the world,” said Julia.
“They’ve completed the first lap of the flight and have been welcomed in Chester, England, and Hanover, Germany,” responded Houston.
“Look at Wiley Post now,” said Houston, Jr. “He wanted to become a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Service so he joined a training camp, but Germany surrendered before he completed his training.”
“Jesse Langford is a busy auctioneer,” said Julia, as she swayed to the moving railway car. “His outgoing personality fits the job.”
“He had a thriving business prior to being elected sheriff in 1922,” said Houston. “His win over Bill Clark, the incumbent, was competitive. For both terms of office, Jesse devoted his time to being sheriff, not auctioneering.”
“I remember Harvey, his son, being shot in the back after he and his uncle, Rolla Bridges, confronted an auto thief who had stolen Rolla’s Buick,” said Jr. “That was in 1921, before Jesse ran for sheriff.”
“Harvey could have died, that’s for sure,” said Houston. “He was only sixteen, still a student at Reno County High School. Being Jesse and May’s only child, if Harvey had died, they would have been devastated.”
“The bullet passed between his ribs, below the lung, barely grazing the liver,” said Julia. “It just missed his spine.”
Surprised at Julia’s memory, Houston and Jr. looked at one another with wide-open eyes and said nothing. Both father and son considered her medical prognosis and prayed for a successful surgery.
“The impetus for Jesse getting into the race for sheriff,” said Houston, “must have been that shooting, and the lack of severe prison sentences for the criminals. Up until then, he was content with his auction business and raising livestock.
“When the criminals were finally caught, they admitted to stealing the car but not to the shooting. Harvey and his uncle were trying to escape and didn’t see which man shot Harvey, so the case wasn’t solid. Actually, the county attorney was following the custom of the courts. Since attempt to kill was 1-10 years, and stealing a car, 5-15 years, the county attorney dropped the lesser charge.”
“Jess always believed it was a miscarriage of justice. He said the crime was deliberate and cold-blooded; the offenders were thugs who belonged in the penitentiary, not the Reformatory.”
“If Officer Ed Cunningham had died in 1923, he would have never become our current sheriff,” said Julia. “Ed was shot during a police raid after a call had been received about a crap game and drunken brawl in progress. One of the bootlegger’s bullets struck Ed in his face and lodged in his neck.
“Ed was fortunate. He still has severe headaches, but he’s able to function and do his job.”
“In 1924, Sherman Monroe wasn’t as lucky as Harvey Langford or Ed Cunningham,” said Jr.
“When Sherman was again hired by the Hutchinson police force, he already knew from first-hand experience how desperate people can commit desperate acts,” said Houston, Sr. “Back in 1907, when Sherman was a guard at the Reformatory, he was nearly killed by two inmates who repeatedly hit him over the head with an iron pipe during their attempted break-away.”
“It was just before the July 4th holiday that Sherman met his maker,” said Julia. “He was 57. Maynor “Jack” Cheek, 32, was holding his two-year old in one arm and a gun in the other when Officer Sherman approached. Cheek was outside the Brubaker grocery on Adams Street. Monroe might have avoided being shot had he opened fire at the assailant, but he was unable to return fire because of the danger of hitting the baby.”
“The family quarrel started when Cheek’s wife, Margaret Smith, 22, wouldn’t obey her husband,” continued Julia. “Maynor slapped her and drew a gun to try and keep her home. But she wasn’t intimidated. She called him a coward. Her neighbors called the police.”
Three of Cheek’s steel-jacketed bullets from his .25 calibre automatic, ripped into Officer Monroe. The Hutchinson officer’s wounds included one through the left lung, just above the heart, and two in his right arm.
In critical condition, sinking slowly, Monroe was able to maintain consciousness while at Grace Hospital, reporting details of the shooting. The following day, July 2, 1924, he died.
In Reno County, the hand of justice moved quickly. Cheek pled guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, was convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment for life in the state penitentiary. All this occurred prior to the victim’s funeral.
Cheek was taken to Lansing on July 5, 1924, just four days after the fatal shooting took place. Undersheriff Fay Brown accompanied the prisoner.
Brown recalled talking to Cheek at the county jail and on their trip to Lansing. Cheek told him that he never intended to shoot Monroe, that the only thing he remembered was the officer coming up to him and asking, “What’s the trouble?”
In 1907, Angie Rachel Davison Monroe, Sherman’s wife, had helped her husband recover after he was brutally attacked by reformatory inmates. But in 1924 there was nothing she or the doctors could do to save his life.
“I know Sheriff Langford arrested a lot of bootleggers,” said Houston, “but there was one case that stands out to me. No one was shot and no one died. It was when Walter Grundy, president of the Fourth State Bank disappeared from town. It was soon learned that due to his unsuccessful speculative activities on the stock market, he had embezzled money from the bank.”
Click to learn more about Walter Grundy Bank Robber
“When Walter Grundy, a trusted banker, embezzled money it was unexpected,” said Houston, “but what about the Arlington bank robbery in 1927 just a week before Langford left office? No one from Greensburg could believe Delos “Jack” DeTar, a respected businessman, would do such a thing.
“Eventually, he pled guilty to the crime and did his time in the penitentiary.”
Click for more information about Delos “Jack” DeTar, Arlington Bank Robbery rabbit hole
“Jess and May Langford were happy to get back on the farm after four years in jail,” said Julia. “I’ll bet May and Jesse slept for a week after four years of working night and day for the county.”
“In no time, Jesse was auctioneering again,” said Houston, Sr., “but in April he testified at the DeTar trial.”
“Harvey graduated from the University of Kansas,” said Julia. “So did Mary Louise Morgan of Kansas City. They married in 1929 and are living in Alamosa, Colorado, where he is a salesman for Joh Deere Plow Company.”
“Have you ever considered how a split second in your life might make a difference between life and death?” continued Julia. “You might say, that when Harvey was sixteen, he dodged a bullet.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.