· Walter “Scott” Sprout (1875-1941)
It’s Saturday, October 22, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Julia, 59, and Houston Whiteside, 81, are discussing the escape of three men from the Reformatory.
“The inmates were members of a work detail digging sweet potatoes when they overpowered a guard and took his .38 calibre Colt revolver,” said Houston. “They kidnapped a man on Harvey Street while he was collecting the family laundry and forced him to drive them to Kansas City in his Ford motor car.”
“Did the man escape from the escapees?” asked Julia.
“I remember hearing about the declaration of war,” said Julia. “It was a Friday afternoon, April 6, 1917, after the Loyalty Day parade. We wound up at Convention Hall. The municipal auditorium was jammed to the doors with the great audience.”
“Yes,” agreed Houston, “Lieutenant Governor W. Y. Morgan stepped to the front of the stage and announced the breaking news. There was a hush and then a great cheer burst forth.”
“Woodrow Wilson was our war-time president,” said Julia, “but Scott Sprout was more than a sheriff. He wore another hat. He was the chairman of the Reno County Draft Board. Some people were upset when a son or a husband was drafted, but Sprout had a good reputation for being fair and square.”
“Scott didn’t know the hardships of war from personally serving in the military, but he knew one special person who had made a sacrifice,” said Houston. “His father. Francis was in the Missouri Volunteer Infantry when his Union service ended at the Battle of Shiloh. He lost his right arm on the battlefield after the hand was shattered.
“Sometimes, Sprout got blamed for doing his job,” continued Houston. “The local board examined the forms and the attached affidavits from men requesting an exemption. Not every farmer’s son was vital to the war effort. Not every married man was needed to care for a family, especially when his wife was young and employable and there were no children.”
“Our Houston wanted to train to be an aviator after graduating at West Point,” said Julia, “but instead, I’m glad he was able to train men stateside during the war.”
It’s still difficult to imagine how the Great War was fought during a world flu epidemic,” said Julia.
“In our Civil War, approximately two-thirds of the military deaths were from disease, mostly diarrhea and dysentery,” said Houston. “In the Great War, over half of our personnel were lost to disease, largely due to the influenza epidemic of 1918.”
“It was a scary time,” recalled Julia. “While our men and women serving ‘Over There’ were risking their lives in a war, they were concerned about loved ones back here becoming sick from the influenza.”
“Think about it,” said Houston, “all the men living so closely together in the training camps, packed together on trains, then in ships to and from Europe; the conditions were ideal for the disease to spread.”
I heard that Clarence Sprout got married last month,” said Julia. “He was sure in the spotlight while he lived with his parents at the jail.”
“The Sprout family—Scott as sheriff, Carrie as matron, and Clarence as deputy sheriff—adapted well to the big city life of Hutchinson,” said Julia. “It was a different world than Turon and farming in Miami Township.”
“At six-feet, three-inches tall, Clarence excelled at sports,” said Houston, “especially football and basketball. But many people from Reno County remember Clarence, at age 17, being appointed as the youngest probation officer in the state, possibly the nation.”
“Judge Charles Fulton had a lot of trust in that boy,” agreed Julia. “They became close personal friends after the Sprouts moved to Hutchinson in order for Scott to take office as sheriff and Carrie as matron. The judge saw a young man who was absolutely devoid of all vicious habits, and in addition, possessed remarkable intelligence and good judgement.”
“Clarence refused the offer at first,” said Houston, “but Judge Fulton could be persuasive.”
“Remember the star that Judge Fulton presented to Clarence?” asked Julia. “He wore it proudly.”
“If Sheriff Sprout had a thorn in his side, it was from one too many prisoners escaping from his bastille,” said Houston. “Of course, it’s still a problem today. Just ask Sheriff Fay Brown.”
“Sheriffs have always considered running around the country, retrieving escapees, a nuisance,” said Julia, “but it comes with the territory, and it can get expensive.”
“Until W. T. Clark became sheriff, the county commissioners were reluctant to replace the easily sawed soft iron bars with expensive chilled steel bars,” said Houston.
“I remember Carrie Sprout overhearing an escape plot when she was matron,” recalled Julia.
“Carrie was busy supervising the feeding in the jail, and campaigning for a detention home so that unfortunate girls and women would not need to be sent to the state detention farm at Lansing. Click to view Carrie Sprout appointment as deputy sheriff
“Armistice Day was a time for thanks,” said Julia.
“The Great War was finally over,” echoed Houston.
“Our Houston was safe,” said Julia.
“We were fortunate,” agreed Houston. “We sacrificed very little. There was no gold star displayed at our door. We couldn’t travel as much, but we remained healthy and well off. Despite the war, our crazy and colorful parties continued.”
“But remember,” said Julia, “even as people celebrated, the newspapers continued to publish the casualty lists of soldiers who had been killed in action or had succumbed to their injuries.
“The United States had fought a war to make the world safe for democracy, and as survivors—military and civilian—we wanted to go back to a time that was normal.
“At the Armistice, the schools were beginning to reopen after a three week enforced vacation due to the Spanish influenza,” Julia remembered.
“For some reason,” said Houston, grinning, “there’s one specific, minor event that made me think we might be able to regain a bit of our former life. It was when I heard that the Haven High School boys were ready to begin their football season since they were done herding all the cows off their football field.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.