I was reading Farmgirl’s account of the police chase in Smalltown, CO. Like many small town police forces, the local LEOs sometimes aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Her account made me remember a lawman from my childhood, Marshal O H. For my privacy’s sake, I’ll not provide this lawman’s real name.
I grew up near Benton, IL. Benton was a farming and coal mining town and the Franklin County seat. Benton also had a “suburb” or as the residents like to say, Benton was a suburb of West City, IL. The two towns were adjacent and grew from two coal mining communities that gradually grew together. Benton had, at that time, a population of around 10,000 people. West City was, at best, a tenth of that.
Getting back to Marshal O. Marshal O was the city Marshal of West City. In fact, I think he was the only law enforcement officer of West City. At least, he was the only one I remember. You see, Marshal O was the template that was later used to develop the character, Barney Fife.
Case in point. The time is 1960, plus or minus a year. Ruger had just begun to sell their single action version of the Colt Single Action Army pistol. Marshal O fell in love with it and bought two, first in .357mag and later in .44mag. He wore them western style one on each hip and would often parade down the line of bars that made up the business district of West City.
Like many small town marshals of that era, Marshal O was paid poorly. Very poorly, but unlike other poorly paid folks, Marshal O could supplement his salary by rigorous law enforcement—traffic fines. He got a cut from every offender he bought in before the West City, JP. Usually this was speeding and other vehicular offenses, but also for truants. In addition to his other duties, Marshal O was also the Truant Officer. Consequently, he roamed West City during the school week looking for school age kids not in school. He liked to find a high schooler cutting classes and out with a car because then he’d get a twofer.
Late in the spring of that year, a kid from another town in the county owned a Ford that he’d been adding some “enhancements.” Perhaps he was working with some of the local moonshiners, perhaps not. But this kid liked to drive—fast. And, through nearby West City. He really liked to tweak Marshal O’s nose.
Marshal O’s squad car was his personally owned vehicle, a 1958 Pontiac. Marshal O had spent quite a large amount of money on “enhancements” on his car as well, plus lights, siren and a radio set up on the Benton and Franklin County radio nets. If Marshal O chased a speeder into neighboring Benton or out into the county, he was very consistent in notifying those agencies that he was in hot pursuit. It also gave him credit for the eventual capture and a few more $$ in his tip jar.
On this particular day, the kid came roaring down the curve entering the west side of West City, right past one of Marshal O’s ambush sites. The kid was spotted and the chase was on. The two tear through West City into Benton, down some side streets to North Main and then north on Illinois Rte 37. The kid weaved in and out of traffic. Marshal O followed lights, blazing and siren screaming.
A few miles north of Benton, according to the report in the Benton Evening News, the kid turned off on a gravel road. At this point, amid all the dirt, gravel and dust, the kid was winning and Marshal O thought he was about to escape and there’d be no one to pay for the new paint job the Pontiac would need after all the chips created by the kid’s flying gravel.
It was getting dark. The sun was about half way down, and the dust made visibility worse so Marshal O decided it was time for drastic measures. He drew his Ruger, rolled down the window and tried to shoot out the kid’s tires. Uhhh, I did say Marshal O wasn’t the sharpest knife in drawer, didn’t I?
Boom! Marshal O fires his first shot. The kid keeps going, a little faster perhaps.
Boom! He fires the second shot. The kid keeps going and the separation is increasing.
Boom! Marshal O fires the third shot and the car engine quits. Marshal O’s Pontiac engine, that is. The kid disappears down the road in the midst of dust.
The next day, Marshal O’s Pontiac is on display out front of the Pontiac dealer “waiting for a bay to open.” Across the hood are three large bullet holes. There is another hole in the radiator, another in the battery, and the prized dual, 4-barreled carb is in pieces.
Marshal O shot his own horse, so to speak. The Evening News printed a picture on the front page of the paper’s next edition, and Marshal O fed county gossip for months. At the beginning of the following fiscal year, the West City city council deleted the office of City Marshal and made a deal with Benton to have the Benton police provide coverage for West City.
Marshal O tried to get other LEO jobs in the county. He even tried to get a job as a Sheriff’s Deputy but no one wanted him. His reputation had preceded him. I don’t remember what happened to Marshal O after that. All-in-all, West City saved some money by having Benton take over from Marshal O.