· John W. Hooper (1855-1936)
It’s Monday, October 17, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Reno County Sheriff Fay Brown is parked in his new—actually, the county’s new–1927 Standard Six Dictator automobile. He’s parked near the northeast corner of 1st Avenue and Main Street, in the shadow of Hutchinson’s tallest skyscraper, the Wiley-Rorabaugh building, which opened in 1913. Sitting next to Fay, 35, is Houston Whiteside, 81, a friend and retired attorney.
“The disastrous flood of 1903 came down Cow Creek on Saturday night, May 30th,” said Houston. “More than a thousand people were driven from their homes. From Main Street to the river, it was practically all under water. The flood poured with a speed of a mill race through the avenues east and west.
“Stores on Main Street, from third to the south were flooded; from one to three feet of water covered their floors. But, the only building that collapsed was a portion of the Home Theater.”
“Some old timers say 1877 was the worst flood,” said Fay. “What’s your view?”
“In 1877 the water wasn’t as high, maybe two feet less,” said Houston. “Back then, on Main Street, there were wooden, not stone sidewalks. I remember the sidewalks at First and Main being washed away, even though they were staked down.
“There was so much rain that I bought a pair of brogan boots and cut holes in the toes so that I could empty the water out. It was the cleanest and most convenient way of keeping my feet comfortable.”
“In 1913, I was in town for the grand opening of the Wiley-Rorabaugh building. What a night!” said Fay. “Do you remember what business was on this corner before the department store?”
“For many years the H. King Furniture and Carpet store was here,” said Houston. “Horatio and Jennie, his wife, were the owners. They had a son named Hayden, who, when he was a young man, would have run you in circles.”
“What kind of trouble did he get into?” asked Fay.
“Hayden was a smooth-talker who began as a clerk at his family’s King Furniture, so he knew the business routine,” said Houston. “He and some others robbed the place which started a long journey through the courts for Hayden and his parents.
“After Hayden was arrested in Chicago for the robbery, and returned to Hutchinson, he broke out of jail by sawing a bar in the cell and another bar on a window. That was during John Hooper’s first term of office.”
“Jail escapes are part of the job,” said Fay. “I take each one personally. We do our best, but we must do better.”
“When Hayden King broke out, it really made headlines,” said Houston. “He didn’t just escape and disappear quietly into the night, he left a note behind in his cell addressed to Sheriff Hooper. The message was printed in the local papers.”
“Pardon my abrupt departure, but I find the state’s guardianship too confining for one of my roving disposition. Thanking you for your kind hospitality, while your guest, I am,
“P.S.—I will do my best to avoid a future meeting. Au revoir.”
–The Saturday Bee (Hutchinson, Kansas) July 23, 1904
“While Hayden was on the lamb, he visited some women friends, and even took in the St. Louis World’s Fair,” said Houston. “But, within a few months after his abrupt departure from the bastille, Hayden was captured in Memphis, Tennessee. There, he was charged with an attempt at highway robbery. Sheriff Hooper went and collected King and returned him to his cage to await trial.
“It was a lengthy legal process. Once the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Reno County District Court, the sheriff gave the young King a ride to the reformatory. He was but 23 years old.”
“Fay,” said Houston, “I hope you never have to deal with a man like Alfred Olson. He held a grudge against John Hooper that didn’t end when Hooper completed his second term of office. Of course, if someone shot me, I’d never forget it.”
“I hadn’t arrived in Reno County yet, but I remember hearing about Sheriff Hooper shooting Olson,” said Fay.
“It started in 1906 when Sheriff Hooper arrested Olson for allegedly stealing three horses from the Black barn,” said Houston. “The sheriff made the arrest because of the description of witnesses to the theft, but after they saw Olson, they reversed their statements and the case was dropped. However, Olson felt he was wronged by Hooper and sought ways to ruin the man.
“Three months after the arrest, Olson tried to blackmail Hooper and made public threats to kill him. Finally, there was a confrontation at the court house. Outside, after the horse trader again made threats, he reached to pull a gun from his back pocket. The sheriff shot Olson once, hitting him in the shoulder. Minutes later, on the interior court house stairs, Hooper shot at Olson when the man again feinted to pull a gun, charged the sheriff, and attempted to grab his gun.
“People in the court house said the gunfire sounded like a cannon going off.
“After Olson ran outside, bleeding profusely, a sales agent in an early-day automobile was pressed into service to take Olson to Stewart Hospital.
“Olson hired a Wichita attorney and a complaint for assault with intent to kill was filed against Sheriff Hooper. The sheriff gave himself up, was arrested, and released on a $500 bond.
“Until the case was decided, Hooper couldn’t work as sheriff, so Deputy Al Jones was temporarily put in charge. The criminal case was later dismissed, but Olson wasn’t ready to give up his revenge campaign. A year after the incident, Olson sued the sheriff, asking for $10,000 in damages. But, the jury handed a verdict in favor of Hooper, which was considered a vindication of the ex-sheriff. That decision ended the legal maneuverings.”
After serving two full terms as sheriff, John W. Hooper was ineligible in 1906 to run for a third consecutive term. In 1910 he ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for sheriff. Click to see his campaign ad. Vote for John W Hooper for Sheriff
“I’ve known John since we worked on the Hutchinson police force,” said Fay, referring to the ex-sheriff. “He was desk sergeant for a few years and chief of the Kansas State Fair Police. From Hutch, he was hired as Hoisington’s city marshal. I know he enjoyed the freedom to enforce law in a smaller town, except that it was difficult being away from his family so much.
“John’s wife, Sally, visited him regularly for a year or so until he hung up his star,” Fay recalled.
“I remember one of his boys, Harry,” said Houston. “He was deputy sheriff for his father for a while and helped run the jail. He was also quite the ball player on Hutchinson teams, and became a driver for the city fire department.”
“Both Sally and John were born, bred, and married in Kentucky before they settled in Kansas,” said Fay. “Did you know that John’s father died when John was only eight years old?”
“No, I would have remembered that if he had mentioned it,” replied Houston.
“In 1864, his father, Samuel Hooper, who served in a Kentucky Calvary company, died in the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville.”
“That’s compelling,” said Houston, “it’s a wonder I didn’t know about his deep personal loss.”
“One night on a slow shift at the police station, John and I were talking about our parents,” said Fay. “I mentioned becoming an orphan when I was six years old. After I told him, he seemed to open up. John shared about his devastating loss when his father died at the hands of inhumane treatment by the Confederates, but he was also thankful for a strong and loving family.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.