January 24, 2007
Law and Order in Thunder Butte Country
Joe Briscoe, our neighbor, thought my brother Joe shot one of his horses (he probably did) when Joe was about 15. One day, Joe was on his way home, stopped to water his horse at the stream, and Briscoe rode up and hit Joe over the head with his gun. Joe came home covered with blood. My mother went to the sheriff in Dupree, swore out a warrant for Briscoe's arrest, and the sheriff locked him up. I never knew what happened to the case, but I stayed over night with them after that and Briscoe was home as usual.
One of the Briscoe son's, Jack, was my age, same size and generally not much smarter than me. One day, we rode up to each other out on the prairie, started to talk, and Jack said, “your brother shot my Dad,s horse,” so I piled off my horse and we started to fight. We fought for a long time until we were out of breath. Then we sat down and started to talk and decided the damn horse was not worth the effort.
Jack and I remained friends for years. When WWII was declared, he was in the Army and was visiting us in Alameda [California]. We were out sightseeing when it was announced on the radio that we had been attacked and all military personnel were to return to the nearest base immediately. We took Jack to Fort (something) in San Francisco. [Pretty soon afterward] he showed the Axis what we Americans are made of. He immediately got taken prisoner and for the next several years they had to feed him. He is dead now. So ends another segment of law and order in the old West.
A little girl I used to play with was Tiny Kelly. The last I heard she was no longer tiny and lived in Casper, Wyoming. Her father was Jack Kelly, and he was reported to have been the last outlaw shot in the West. Jack was said to have been just a common, harmless rustler, but the sheriff pursued him in to the Slim Buttes, near Buffalo, SD, where he knew the law could never find him. Sheriff Floyd Short walked up on him in the wee hours of the morning. Short said Jack reached for his gun so Floyd shot him dead.
I went to high school with two sons of Floyd Short, the sheriff, and they used to talk to me about the terrible anxiety it caused them to think their father might have killed this guy without provocation. I used to assure them he was only doing his job and he had lots of provocation, but I never knew.
Now you have heard about all of the crime that ran rampant in that part of the country when I was a kid. Oh, yeah! There was another one. When I was in high school [in Lemmon], I went in the city liquor store and bought a 1/2 pint of peppermint schnapps. When I was putting it in my pocket, the chief of police came in the store, and I ducked under his arm and out the door, slamming the door behind me. As I slammed the door and ran up the street, I discovered I still had the door knob and the bolt in my hand. The chief was locked in the liquor store. I kept that door knob for years as a souvenir. For a couple of days, I looked over my shoulder for the chief, but he never bothered me. He also used to chase me all over the country in my old cars and could never catch me. Years later, my mother met him on the train coming West and she had a long talk with him. He told her that I was one of his favorites, that he always knew I was a smart kid and I would do well. And he never could catch me because he didn't want to.
Editor's Note—John Crowley later went on to have a career in law enforcement in California.