I was six years old in 1956 and my family lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My brother, Bill, was thirteen and in August of that year returned home after spending the summer with my grandparents in Noel, Missouri. I hadn’t missed him much and actually somewhat enjoyed the brief hiatus from the customary bickering that goes on between siblings.
I remember a morning in September of that year very well. That was the day my brother took me into the garage and showed me his new motor scooter. It was a red Cushman Highlander; the seat was black and the motor looked as if it must have been the most astounding engine ever placed in any scooter. I knew it had to be the fastest motor scooter ever, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But, how had he come to own it? When asked that question, this is what he told me.
My grandfather, the Noel City Marshall, worked every night from the time the dark of night covered the small Ozark town until the sun hinted at its arrival the following morning. He patrolled the streets and alleys in his old Chevrolet while making frequent stops at some local businesses like Don Davis’ gas station, Shadow Lake and, of course, the basement pool hall. He normally slept every day until early afternoon.
Early on a July morning the telephone at my grandparent’s home rang. My brother answered the phone and a man asked to speak with my grandfather. My brother told the caller my grandfather was asleep, but the man said it was important and insisted on speaking with him. My brother reluctantly opened the door to the bedroom and told my grandfather he had a telephone call.
There was only one telephone in the house so my grandfather got out of bed and walked slowly to the living room where he picked up the phone. My brother listened to the conversation intently and gathered that three men escaped from Camp Crowder’s Military Brig in Neosho and it was believed that they may be headed to the Noel area. In a calm tone my grandfather said “I’ll keep an eye out for them”.
My grandfather prepared a bowl of cereal and ate while relaxing on a chair in the living room. My brother wondered when he would leave to search for the fugitives but my grandfather calmly, and without speaking, consumed the cereal.
After the passing of an hour or so the telephone again rang. My grandfather answered the phone, spoke briefly, and hung up. He told my brother three suspicious men were seen by a bridge on the north side of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, and asked if he wanted to go with him to look for the men.
The two of them made the five mile drive stopping at a small bridge on the north end of town. My grandfather got out of the car and walked to one end of the bridge where he stopped and looked under the bridge. He observed the three men huddling together and still wearing their military brig uniforms. My grandfather removed his Smith and Wesson, pearl handled, nickel plated .44 caliber revolver from his holster and pointed it at the men while calmly stating “okay boys, come on out of there”. Without hesitation, the three quickly walked toward him and came out from under the bridge.
My grandfather told the three he was taking them to the Noel jail and warned them not to try to escape. None of the three said a word. My grandfather only had one set of handcuffs so he placed a cuff on one arm of two of the escapees, but that left one unrestrained. Realizing the predicament, he asked my brother if he could drive the car to the jail in Noel. The old Chevy had a standard transmission with a stick shift on the column. In actuality, my brother had never driven a car before but assured my grandfather he had driven many times.
The escapees were placed in the rear of the four-door sedan and my grandfather sat on the front passenger side seat pointing the revolver at the three. One of the men seemed much more afraid of my brother’s driving than the pistol and told my grandfather he wouldn’t ride in the car if my brother drove. While aiming the revolver at the defiant prisoner my grandfather’s thumb slowly moved the pistol’s hammer to the cocked position and he inquiringly asked “I say, are those gonna be your final words on the matter”? The man’s chin slowly fell to his chest and he didn’t utter another sound. My brother steered, operated the clutch pedal and shifted the transmission of the old Chevy flawlessly on the drive to Noel where the three fugitives were locked in the city’s small jail.
In September my brother received a letter from my grandfather thanking him for his assistance with the apprehension of the three men. Also inside the envelope was $50.00 in cash which my grandfather wrote was part of the reward money he received for the capture of the escapees. My brother used the money to buy the red Cushman motor scooter now sheltered in our garage.
In the practical and common sense driven world of my grandfather phrases such as jurisdictional constraints and powers of arrest had no practical application, and were issues to be discussed by professors in college classrooms and by politicians on the floors of congress, not on the streets of Noel.