Sheriffs, Good and Bad


The Prague Times-Herald, 30 Oct 2008
by Jan Vassar

Part 1

As the campaign for sheriff grows warm, it is interesting to remember a little about some of the 27 men who have held the position since the county began. This first of a two-part series will tell about a few of the sheriffs who served from 1891 to 1940, and the second will be about some of those who held the office from 1940 to the present.
In the early years some of our most colorful sheriffs made good and bad news, and local newspapers weren’t afraid to report their transgressions on the font page. Most were well meaning “officers of the law” who had their hands full keeping cattle rustlers, bank robbers, moonshiners, bootleggers, and other criminals at bay.
Claude F. Parker was the first Lincoln County sheriff, and he was appointed by the territorial governor in 1891. Frank Benedict Goebke of Davenport was the first county sheriff elected by the voters. He became sheriff in 1895 and served until 1899. He had homesteaded in the 1891 opening on a farm three miles north of Davenport. 

Bill Tilghman

Bill Tilghman is the best known of all the sheriffs on Lincoln County. He will be featured in the new Oklahoma Law Enforcement Museum and Hall of Fame being established in Chandler and was the inspiration for it. But, you may not know that by the time Tilghman was elected sheriff in 1900, he was a well-known breeder and owner of fine race horses and also fighting cocks on his homestead farm two miles northwest of Chandler where he settled in the 1891 land opening.
During Tilghman’s successful re-election campaign in 1902, one Chandler newspaper editor accused him of padding his bill for serving subpoenas and said, “He would walk through a saloon and see a poker game in full blast and yet not arrest the gamblers.” The same editor wrote that Tilghman “promoted cock fights and his with own hands has fastened to the unfortunate birds the gaffs with which they killed each other.”
Lewis Edward “Lew” Martin, who served under Tilghman, was elected sheriff in 1904 and held office until 1911. As undersheriff, Martin was shot in the arm and hip in an ambush during an arrest near Avery. 
    Charles F. Buzzi was elected sheriff in 1910 and made front-page news in 1912 because he went to California in the middle of his re-election campaign to arrest a man who’d swindled some folks from Stroud. 
George Arnold’s term as sheriff was cut short in 1917 when he was killed after he went unarmed to investigate what a local paper called “some trouble” downtown and tried to arrest two men, who shot him with a shotgun. An interesting twist to the story reported by local newspapers is that Arnold’s assailants had been to a lecture by Al Jennings, a one-time notorious Oklahoma outlaw, before they tried to burglarize the Chandler Department store.
Before his death, Arnold made news as part of the roundup of Henry Starr and his gang after they robbed two Stroud banks in broad daylight. The injured Starr was transported by train to Chandler and the procession from the train station to the courthouse was watched by hundreds and filmed by Tilghman and Benny Kent as the grand finale of their movie Last of the Oklahoma Outlaws.

Henry Starr

Arnold invited people to view Starr at the county jail and many came to see him as he lay on a cot in a room at the courthouse, including my late mother-in-law, Mrs. Bill Vassar. He told her to be a “good girl.”
The sheriff also welcomed Starr’s mother, his ex-wife, the wild-west show promoter Zack Mulhall, and members of the state and national press to visit his famous prisoner. Some posed for motion pictures by Tilghman and Kent.
Henry Brown, who served from 1919 to 1923, is an example of a Lincoln County sheriff who went about his business without fanfare. “He’s not a braggart, but instead goes quietly about his official business,” said an editorial about Brown in 1920. In 1921, during the height of the lynching era in Oklahoma, Brown stopped a rowdy crowd from lynching a black prisoner by moving him out of the Lincoln County jail to a safe place. 
Brown was followed into office by Jerritt T. Ridpath of Tryon. He went by the nickname “Doc” because he was a licensed veterinarian before becoming sheriff. He must have been a good one because voters elected him to three two-year terms. In the early years all county officials were elected for two-year terms.
Lewis Palmer Wallace became sheriff in 1931 and was killed while searching for car thieves in the summer of 1933. He was visiting relatives in his hometown of Meeker when he got a call from his office at the courthouse saying the thieves had stolen a car from a man named O. Sheppard in Chandler and were headed south.
Wallace and a posse gave chase, and the sheriff and the Chandler police chief were in a creek when Sheppard, who had joined the chase, saw them, thought they were the carjackers and commanded them to put up their hands. The sheriff yelled not to shoot, but Sheppard didn’t hear him and shot Wallace in the chest and stomach with a “heavy load of buckshot.” The sheriff died a few days later and his funeral was one of the biggest ever held in Chandler. 
Before Marvin Roberts was elected sheriff in 1939 he’d already led an exciting life as a law enforcement office in several Lincoln County towns, including his hometown of Davenport. In 1981 Roberts told a reporter that “The boom was pretty rowdy and I’ve had 30 people in a little jail not as big as a living room and I’ve booked as many as 50 people in one sitting with the justice of the peace.”



Part 2

Marvin Roberts served as Lincoln County Sheriff from 1939--during the time illegal whiskey was being made allover Oklahoma. He and his deputies spent lots of time literally using axes and other tools to destroy still, barrels, and other moonshine-making materials in an effort to put them out of business.
A photograph of Roberts and two of his deputies was taken at an unknown site of one of these whiskey-making operations somewhere in Lincoln County. The picture is mounted on “Office of Sheriff” letterhead that lists Boyd Hicks as undersheriff, H. E. Niccum as jailer, and Andrew Orr as deputy.


Sheriff Roberts and Deputy Babe Orr break up a still

Andrew Orr, whose nickname was “Babe,” was elected sheriff in 1943. He was sworn into office in 1944 and served until 1947. He was present at the state prison in McAlester when the first man from Lincoln County was put to death in the electric chair in 1945. The man had asked Orr to be there after he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
W. A. “Abbie” Moore was elected sheriff in 1946 and served two terms. It was during his service that two Chandler ministers and the county judge poured whiskey down a drain after it had been used as evidence in a bootlegger’s trial. A Chandler newspaper reported that when jailer Sam Myers asked for a receipt the judge at first refused but, after a yelling match, eventually agreed. The paper said the sheriff’s officers were “hot” about the matter because they might be accused of wanting to resell the whiskey.
Andrew Orr’s son, L. P. Orr, was elected sheriff in 1958 and held the office until 1966. The day he was sworn in on Jan. 5, 1959, he wore a plaid tie to reflect his Scottish heritage. Known as a very tough law officer, one story about him told by his wife, June, shows his softer side and is worth sharing.
She said a little girl once telephoned the sheriff’s office to report her kitten missing and asked Orr to find it for her. The sheriff assured her he’d try to find her lost feline. Later that day, Orr located a stray kitten of the same color, took it to her, and made her very happy. 
A few years after Orr was sheriff he was appointed a federal marshal. Before she died, Mrs. Orr donated her scrapbooks, photographs, and other Orr family memorabilia to the Museum of Pioneer History in Chandler in 2003. The collection is valuable to the museum since it’s a historical record of several eras of law enforcement activities in Lincoln County. Some information and photos used for this story are from those materials.
Meeker native Hubert Kinnear, who’d worked as both deputy and undersheriff, followed Orr into office in 1968 and was re-elected several times. During his ten years in the office, his wife, Ruby, and other volunteers gathered pictures of most of the former sheriffs and had them displayed in the sheriff’s office at the jail.
Ray McLain of Wellston was elected sheriff in 1982 and served until 1986 after the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested him on civil rights violations connected his his mistreatment of two prisoners in the Lincoln County jail. McClain pleaded guilty to the charges on Nov. 7, 1986, resigned from office the next day, and was sentence to a term in federal prison.
The Lincoln County Commissioners accepted applications from 14 men who wanted to become sheriff and on Nov. 8, 1986, they appointed A. T. Brixey Jr. to serve the remainder of McLain’s term of office. It was a time of great unrest for both citizens and the law enforcement community in Lincoln County.
Brixey, a retired Oklahoma City police office and native of Lincoln County, brought calm to the office and the community after he was sworn in as Lincoln County sheriff. He was re-elected in 1988 and 1992 and retired from the job in 1996.
After Dale McNelly of Carney was elected sheriff and sworn into office in 2001, he found some of the photos of former sheriffs that had been collected years before in storage. He asked a volunteer to help restore the badly damaged pictures for his courthouse office. Copies and research materials about them were donated to the Pioneer Museum in 2003.
Brixey ran for and was elected sheriff again in 2004 and continues in the office but did not file for re-election this year. He holds claim to the most years served of any of the 27 men who have served as sheriff of Lincoln County. According to Brixey, when he retired again in January 2009, he will have held the office for a total of 14 years.
As the current campaign for sheriff of Lincoln County continues, a remnant of a former sheriff appeared recently. One of L. P. Orr’s old campaign signs was put up anonymously near his former home at the intersection of SH 18 and 1st Street in Chandler.
The vintage sign reminds us of the importance of the sheriff in our county’s history and that most have been well trained, courageous and brave law officers who made good news. Some have been more colorful than others and a few have proved to be scoundrels who made bad news. Let’s hope whoever is elected to the office this year will make nothing but good news.

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