by Jim Foreman
The elections were scheduled for Tuesday, the third day of November, and the candidates were working every angle in order to gain votes for themselves. Lloyd Brewster was running to retain his seat as the County Judge, but was being opposed by the new lawyer in town, Clayton Edwards. Warren Brewster and Edward Masterson were running against one another for the office of sheriff.
For the election of the Board of County Commissioners to run the business of the county, Potter County had been divided into three precincts with one commissioner to be elected from each. The north precinct, where only a couple dozen people lived, covered all of the county situated north of the Canadian River. Ten of those people were members of the Freer family and the remainder worked for them, so the election of Oscar Freer to represent that area was an assumed fact. The other two precincts to the south of the river were divided along the fence which separated the Brewster Ranch from the City of Amarillo. Three people signed up, one of whom was John Polk, to run for the office commissioner from the western precinct. However, the other two dropped out after Lloyd Brewster had a talk with them, leaving Polk to run unopposed. Roger Bates was running for election in the eastern precinct, opposed by two cowboys who worked for Brewster but had moved across the fence into Amarillo in order to qualify as residents of that precinct. If Brewster was behind them, it was a bad political move because they would simply split any votes coming from his supporters.
Two or three people were running for each of the other elected offices in the county, but the real surprise was when Walter Scott, the postal clerk, announced that he was tossing his hat into the ring for the office of County Tax Accessors and Collector.
Roger and Joe were looking over the list of candidates for the various offices. "I wonder if Brewster is behind Scott in his bid for the Tax Collector's job," said Roger.
"It's hard to tell but I doubt it," replied Joe. "Harkins, the man who Brewster put in the office when the county was formed, is also running."
"Yeah, but Brewster and John Polk stick together like day-old hotcakes and Scott is married to Polk's sister," said Roger. "Polk is living in the bunkhouse at Brewster's place now that he is down and out broke again. He got into a poker game over at the Wild Horse Saloon and lost nearly two hundred dollars. It was every cent that he had left out of the money you gave him for his land."
"The Old Man Brewster ought to put him up. I hear that he was the one who walked away with most of Polk's money." said Joe.
"Polk was drinking with Knox and was already pretty well gone when Lloyd and Warren Brewster walked in. Knox suggested that they play some poker and the game started. There is talk that the three of them ganged up to cheat Polk out of his money, but he was too drunk to realize what was going on."
"You notice that Polk didn't move back in with Mary and Walter when he lost his money; he went to Brewster's place. When I bought the land from Mary and John, I got the feeling that Scott is his own man and isn't especially fond of Polk, even though he is married to his sister."
"I'll see if I can arrange a meeting with Scott to see which direction his wind is blowing," said Roger. "Since he is running against Brewster's hand-picked man, he might deserve our support."
The meeting was arranged and Walter came to Joe's office after the post office closed for the day. "I understand that you wanted to see me, Mr. Armitage," he said.
"Yes, I was interested in the fact that you have announced that you are running for the office of County Tax Accessors and Collector. I must say that it came as a surprise since you would have to give up your job at the post office if you win."
"I decided to run because the Tax Collector makes more than twice the money I get from the post office, but after what I saw today, I will be running because I want to do something about the unfair tax situation which exists in this county," replied Walter.
"Just what do you mean about the unfair tax situation?" asked Joe.
"The county taxes will be ten dollars a year on that little house and one lot that I own here in Amarillo while the house next door, which belongs to a man who works for Brewster, will pay only a dollar. In fact, Brewster will be paying only one dollar in county taxes on the entire sixty sections of land he owns," replied Walter. "Incidentally, the highest taxed piece of property in the county is this hotel, which will be paying over two hundred dollars."
"How do you come by all of this information?" asked Joe.
"Simple, the tax notices were dropped off at the post office today. They were sent out on penny post cards to save postage. All that I had to do was sit there and read how much each person's property was accessed and how much he would be paying in taxes. The longer that I looked at those tax bills, the madder that I got and just decided to run and straighten things out if I was elected."
"Are these isolated situations or do they cover just about everyone in the county?" asked Joe.
"Brewster and all of his friends will be paying a token amount of one dollar each, no matter how much land that they own. The rest of the people in the county will be paying more, and anyone whom he doesn't like will be paying a whole bunch more."
"How about other ranchers, especially those in the eastern part of the county?" asked Joe.
"As I said, those which are buddies of Brewster will be paying one dollar and the others a lot more," he replied.
"Can you afford to run a successful campaign?" asked Joe.
"Mary still has a little of the money that you gave us for the land and she said that I could use that," replied Walter. "It just means that we won't be able to build another bedroom onto the house like we had planned."
"I'd hate to see you use your house money to run for an office which will benefit everyone if you are elected, so I'll see what I can do to help you," said Joe.
"I'm sorry Mr. Armitage, but I can't accept anything from you. If I did, you might come back and want me to do exactly what Brewster is doing to the people now. If I win, I don't want to have any strings that someone can pull."
"First of all, Mr. Scott. I am offering to help because I have faith in the future of Amarillo and Potter County, and I want to do what I feel is in their best interest. Second, you have my word that I would never ask any man to compromise his position or values, whether he had accepted help from me or not," said Joe.
"As a man who has worked for both sides in this matter, I can truthfully say that the difference between Mr. Armitage and Mr. Brewster is like daylight and dark," said Roger. "Mr. Armitage may hold his cards close to his chest, but he will never mark one."
"Tell you what, Walter," said Joe. "Go by the newspaper and talk with Buck Henry. Tell him just what you have told me about the tax situation and say that you'd appreciate it very much if he could run something about you in his paper. He's an honest editor and I have a feeling that he will throw the support of the newspaper behind you. Can you accept help like that?"
"I'd never given the newspaper any thought," replied Walter. "I could accept support from a newspaper, but I would feel badly about accepting actual money from anyone."
"I'm glad that you are running, Walter, and I can assure you that you have my support and my vote. I hope that you win," said Joe.
"Same goes for me," replied Roger.
After he had left, Joe told Roger, "Tell Buck to send any of Walter's bills for printing or advertising to me."
Three weeks before the elections, several of the races were too close to call, especially the one for County Judge. Everyone in the Panhandle knew Lloyd Brewster and many of them owed him a favor in one way or the other. At the same time, if they should find out how he had abused the office, things might be a lot different. The other candidate, Clayton Edwards was a skilled attorney who had served under the Dallas District Attorney. As far as they knew, he was honest. To Joe, his only problem was being a newcomer, something which the long-time residents tended to distrust. Joe still felt that the more conservative voters from the outlying areas would pick Edwards over Brewster when they got to the ballot box, but he wanted to make sure.
Joe went to see Buck Henry. "Would it be possible for you to run the entire county tax rolls in your paper?" he asked.
"It would require a special edition, but it could be done," replied Buck. "Walter Scott told me about the present situation in tax valuations. Tax accessments are public record and I feel that the public should be told about what is going on. The special will run three days before the elections."
The race between Warren Brewster and Edward Masterson was another one which might go down to the wire. Warren rode on the coat tails of his father and would probably receive vote for vote along with him. The name of Masterson was well known to everyone, although not all of them regarded it in a favorable manner. Many of the cowboys around the Panhandle had been on cattle drives to Dodge City at one time or another and several of them had visited the Dodge City jail as a result of meeting up with his cousin. The two biggest things that he had going for him was his job as brand inspector and the fact that he had served with the Texas Rangers.
"The way that I see it," Joe said one morning. "Is that the outcome of this whole election rests on just how many of the people that live on ranches outside of town we can get to come to town and vote on election day. Generally speaking, the cowboys will vote the same as the man whom they work for. Do you have any ideas about what can be done to bring them in?"
"There are three things which will bring people out when everything else fails," said Roger. "Cowboys will leave their dying mothers to go to a rodeo and women will do just about anything to go to a county fair. If the women come, so will their husbands. Finally, if all else fails, almost every person alive will drop whatever they are doing if they are offered free food."
"In other words, we could bring just about every person in Potter County into town if we had a county fair, rodeo and free barbecue," asked Joe.
"That's a fact," replied Roger. "But how in the world can we get something of that magnitude together in the short time that we have left?"
"God created heaven and earth and all its animals in six days, so we should be able to put together a little county fair and rodeo in three times that long. Let's you and me see who can sign up the most sponsors in a single day," replied Joe.
By the time darkness fell, every business in town had agreed to donate time, money or materials for the new fair and rodeo facilities. The Armitage Development Company donated five acres of land out east of town as a location and the Foxworth Galbraith Lumber Company had agreed to erect a large building in which the fair would be held if they could use it the rest of the year for storage purposes.
The Fort Worth and Denver Railroad offered to send the lumber and a crew to build the corrals and chutes for the rodeo. Finally, the Lazy L and Flying T Ranches each offered to butcher half a dozen yearlings and have their cooks barbecue them. Various other ranches agreed to furnish livestock for the rodeo.
The special edition of the newspaper ran two full pages promoting the First Annual Potter County Fair, Rodeo and Free Barbecue, but the big thing was the entire county tax rolls. On the morning after the paper hit the streets, Lloyd Brewster was in Buck Henry's office. "I'm going to throw your ass in jail," he screamed. "You published secret county records in the newspaper."
"If they were all that secret, Mr. Brewster, then how was I able spend five hours in the tax office making a copy of them?" Buck asked.
"I talked with Harkins and he said that you lied to him about why you were wanting to see the tax rolls, and that is perjury," replied Lloyd.
"Perjury is lying under oath," said Buck. "I had been there four nearly four hours when he came in and asked what I was doing. I simply told him that I was checking the tax records. At any rate, county tax rolls are public documents and available for anyone who wishes to see."
"You ain't heard the last from me and you can bet your ass on that!" shouted Brewster as he stormed out the door.
Joe and Roger lined up the schedule of events for the fair. On Saturday, the things like quilts, cakes, pies and canned goods would go on display with judging to be held on Sunday, just after special church services and before a big covered dish picnic. Nothing will bring women out faster than a chance to show off their handiwork and cooking abilities.
A parade down Polk street would kick off the festivities on Monday morning, followed by speeches by everyone who was running for office. Monday afternoon was devoted to the preliminary rodeo events. Tuesday morning was set aside for voting, and since every voter in the county was expected to already be in town, the polls would close at two in the afternoon to leave time for the election judges to count the votes.
The main events of the rodeo, such as bull and bareback bronc riding, bulldogging and calf roping would begin as soon as soon as the polls closed. The results of the election would be announced at five sharp, along with awarding the prizes for the fair and rodeo. Last but certainly not the least, the free barbecue would begin.
"One thing bothers me," said Roger. "The official voting location is in the court house, and if Brewster decides to lock the gate and keep everyone out, how will the election be held?"
"I've already considered that problem and Ed Masterson has taken care of it," replied Joe.
People began to arrive as early as the Wednesday before the fair in order to get a good spot for their wagons and buggies. Some people set up tents while others planned to stay in the wagons. Since there was little else to do after their camps were set up, most of them took the opportunity to visit the dozen or more new stores in Amarillo. Not realizing the number of people who would come to town for the fair, few of the storekeepers stocked up and as a result, most of them had completely sold out by noon on Saturday.
Monday morning came and everyone was gathered at the rodeo grounds after the parade. A small platform had been placed in front of the bleachers and most of the candidates were seated on it. Buck Henry, the editor of the newspaper, stepped to the podium and said, "Good Morning, folks. I have been asked to be the moderator for the speeches which you hear this morning. I have set a five minute limit for all speeches and I expect all speakers to limit themselves to that length of time."
At that moment, a lone rider came through the gates of the rodeo grounds. He was covered head to toe with the dust of several days in the saddle and had the hard looks of a man who could eat nails for breakfast. He couldn't have been an inch over five feet tall and the huge roan horse he was riding made him look even smaller. He was dressed completely in buckskin and wore a huge hat made from rawhide. Around his neck hung two bandoleers of ammunition, a pistol swung from each hip and the handle of a Bowie knife stuck out of his right boot. A rolling block 45-90 rifle was stuck into a boot on one side of the saddle and a sawed-off double barrel shotgun swung on a leather strap on the other.
As he rode toward the speaker's platform, he pulled up where Ed. Masterson was standing off to one side. He nodded and stuck his hand out to him and said, "Mornin' Ed, ain't seen you in a spell."
"It has been a while, Oscar. Nice you could come," replied Ed, shaking his hand.
He rode to the front of the speaker's stand on his big horse and looked at the assembled candidates with those cold blue eyes, never saying a word. Every person was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. Finally, he reached into his saddle bag, pulled out a folded paper and spoke in a voice which was almost a whisper, "My name is Oscar Short and I am a Texas Ranger. I have an order signed by the Governor of the State of Texas, which places this county and all of the people in it, under my jurisdiction until the elections have been completed. I am also ordered to see to it that the elections are carried out in a proper and legal manner and to impound the ballots after they have been counted."
A few whispers ran through the crowd, as Warren and his deputies strode up to the ranger. "I'm the sheriff here and you will have to work through me." said Warren.
Oscar looked down at Warren and his toadies, "And not only will I shoot any person who attempts to interfere in any way with the legal process of this election, but I'll shoot his dog and then I'll shoot the horse that he came on." He folded the paper and returned it to the saddle bag, reined his horse around and rode slowly along the front row of people. He picked out four men and asked them to step forward. He pointed to the first man in line and said, "You will be the election judge and the rest will be the election officials. You will report the results to me when it is over."
Once the crowd had recovered from the shock of the arrival of the Texas Ranger, Buck introduced Judge Lloyd Brewster, who was the first candidate to speak.
He strutted to the podium, looked around and began, "Friends and neighbors. Most of you people have known me for as long as you have lived in this area, because I was one of the first people here. I built the vast Brewster Ranch and brought in the railroad for you. I have given you jobs when you needed them and loaned you money when you were broke. Now I expect you to repay those debts be re-electing me so I can continue to help my friends." He received scattered applause as he turned to leave the podium.
"How come my ranch isn't a tenth as big as yours and I'm paying a lot more taxes than you?" shouted someone from the back of the crowd.
"You will have to take that up with the tax accessors," replied Brewster as he sat down.
"He's your kinfolks and you're the County Judge, so I'm asking you," he shouted back.
"Why don't you just answer the question?" shouted someone else.
Knowing that he could never win a shouting contest with the crowd, Judge Brewster lowered his head and refused to answer.
Clayton Edwards was introduced and he came to the speaker's platform. "Ladies and Gentlemen, and fellow citizens of the great state of Texas. I have been a resident of Potter County for only a short length of time, but I'm sure that each of you is interested enough in this election to learn of my qualifications and background, so I will not bore you with a personal history. One of the benefits of having lived here for such a short time is that I haven't formed any close friendships nor have I created any enemies, so I feel that I can judge any case which may come before me and render decisions based on the law and merits of the case, not on any debts which may be owed in either direction. I thank you and ask for your vote tomorrow." At least two hundred people jumped to their feet, clapping and yelling.
Joe whispered to Roger, "One down and one to go."
Warren Brewster came to the stand, "I'm sure all of you know that I am the sheriff of Potter County and plan to keep on being the sheriff. Me and Pa, I mean Judge Brewster, run this county according to what is right and we don't get all bogged down by a bunch of silly laws that sissy lawyers down in Austin make up. One thing that you can say about us Brewsters is that we know right from wrong and you know that the right thing to do is keep us in office." From the best that Joe could count, three people clapped as he returned to his seat while Lloyd Brewster sat there scowling at him.
Joe never realized just how eloquent Ed Masterson could be as a speaker. He stepped easily to the podium, stood straight as a rail, smiled and held the crowd in his hand as he spoke to them. "Ladies and gentlemen. Our country was founded on the constitution, which in its own way, is a very simple set of laws by which we all must live if we hope to make our land grow and prosper. It says that each man is equal to all others and no one person should be subservient to another. By the same token, no man is above nor beneath the laws which were written to apply equally to all of us. As your sheriff, I will enforce the laws to the letter, because any person who violates a law, not only harms our country and the constitution, but also causes injury to each and every one of us. I thank you for your attention and would appreciate your vote tomorrow." The crowd shouted and stamped their feet until Joe feared that the bleachers might come crashing down under the force.
Tuesday morning came and Oscar Short, who had spent the night with his horse in the livery stable, rode off toward the court house in San Jacinto. The gate through the Brewster fence was open and tossed aside. He dismounted, dropped the reins to the ground and walked to the door of the court house.
Warren Brewster, John Polk and Emmitt Knox were standing sullenly in the door, but they moved aside barely enough to allow him to enter. Since the court room was the largest in the building, it was set up for the election. Tables and chairs usually used by lawyers during trials were turned around to be used by the election officials that Oscar had picked the day before. Judge Brewster was sitting at his desk behind them.
"Where are the boundary markers?" Oscar asked the election judge.
"What boundary markers?" he answered.
"Buy law, you are required to erect boundary markers at least one hundred feet from the door of the place where the election is being held."
"What kind of sign does it have to be?" asked the judge.
"Just a sign of any sort that says Election Boundary, no electioneering beyond this point. It must be at least 100 feet from the door of the court house," replied Oscar. "After it is up, you may open the polls and once that they are open, no one other than the election officials and people who are actually in the process of voting will be allowed inside the markers. That goes for you too, Judge."
"Are you telling me that I can't stay in my own court room?" asked Brewster. "I'm the County Judge and I own this damn building, so I can stay any damn place that I choose."
"Not only do you have to go outside of the election boundary the same as everyone else, but I'm also ordering the sheriff and his deputies to leave the area because their presence might tend to influence the voters," replied Oscar.
"The sheriff and his deputies are here to prevent any disturbances," replied Brewster. "And they are going to stay."
"If there is any sort of disturbance, I'll handle it," replied Oscar.
"Suppose we refuse to go?" said Brewster.
"Then I will do whatever is necessary to remove you," answered Oscar "And I'm sure you don't want to force me to do that, Mr. Brewster."
"I demand that I be allowed to vote before I leave," shouted Brewster.
"When the signs have been erected, the polls may open and you can cast your vote, just like any other citizen of this county."
When the signs were up and the polls officially opened, a long line of people were waiting to get in. Oscar watched while the Brewsters and the deputies voted, then he walked with them to the back door. As they left, he pulled a chair up against the door and sat down. Even though he was out of the sight of the voters, everyone was well aware of his presence. Voting went along very smoothly and by noon, all but three of the registered voters of the county had cast their ballots. Since those people were out of town and would not be back in time to vote, the election judge asked Oscar if he could close the polls and count the votes. Oscar told him, "You are the election judge and if you feel that all votes are cast, you may declare the polls closed and count the votes."
After the election judge locked the doors, Oscar returned and sat across the room from where the tabulating was taking place. He watched as each ballot was counted and placed in a pile to one side. When the last one had been tabulated, he came to the table and handed a leather folder to the election judge, saying, "Place the ballots and counting sheets inside of this pouch and we will both seal it. I am instructed to deliver them to the State Attorney General and I hope for your sake, that the totals are correct."
With Oscar looking on, the counting had progressed much faster than had been anticipated and only the wild bulls had been ridden when they were ready to announce the results. Oscar and the election judge came to the arena to deliver the results.
The election judge stood in the middle of the rodeo arena and read the results, "For Judge of Potter County; Brewster, 21 votes; Edwards 216."
Shouts and cheers erupted from the bleachers. When the crowd had quieted, the judge continued. For Sheriff of Potter County; Brewster, 6 votes; Masterson, 231." The shouting and cheering broke out again.
Emmitt Knox, who was standing next to Warren, whispered, "As unpopular as you seem to be, perhaps it's a good thing that you are wearing a gun."
"Go to hell!" replied Warren as he stalked away in pursuit of the elder Brewster who was headed for his horse.
The judge continued; "For County Accessors and Tax Collector; Harkins, 3; Scott, 234."
"It looks as if we held the fair to bring in the voters for nothing," said Bates.
"When the people are able to vote their feelings without any outside influences, they usually make the correct decision," replied Joe. "Also, I wouldn't say that, except for bringing in the voters, the fair was a failure by any means. Look at all of the happy merchants, and I hope you haven't forgotten that we sold 36 lots to future residents of Amarillo."