Book Of The Month: I'm Frank Hamer
By John H. Jenkins and H. Gordon Frost
1/16/2013 by BY MARGARET BOGUE
Book of the Month – I’m Frank Hamer by John H. Jenkins and H. Gordon Frost. It’s a great book about a great Texas Ranger.
Frank Hamer was born in Texas on March 17, 1884 and died in 1955. Reared as a cowboy and blacksmith, he knew skills that were perfect for problems Texas faced during his lifetime.
In 1906 at age 22, he joined the Texas Rangers. He stood 6’2” in height and weighed 193 pounds. His career as a Ranger spans two very different periods of history. The first half was in the days of stagecoach and horseback. In the second half Texas had entered modern times, with the automobile and more scientific methods of tracing criminals. He excelled in both rural and urban settings.
Frank Hammer possessed basic qualities that made him a great Ranger. He was honest; he was completely dedicated to his work (money, fame and praise meant little to him). He was fearless, highly intelligent, and he never gave up. He was in charge of the most difficult cases. He never backed away from a fight, and never stopped until the case was solved.
The book is about his life and the difficult situations to which he was assigned. This report will take one case that is very local to us. It involved Limestone and Freestone Counties.
Until 1921 Mexia was a quiet country town of 2,500 population. Things rapidly changed when oil was discovered in 1921. Almost overnight 30,000 people rushed in seeking fortunes, not only in oil, but mostly criminal activity.
The 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect January 16, 1920. It forbade the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic drinks. Prohibition was the law of the land for 13 years, until it was repealed by the 21st amendment.
Back to Mexia. The local hotel became a gambling house and a place where bootleg liquor was sold. The newcomers started 18 other wide-open gambling places, some in tents thrown up in town. Stills were set up in the surrounding woods to accommodate the thirsty. Within a few weeks Mexia became one on the most corrupt and lawless cities in Texas history. The older citizens complained to Gov. Pat Neff, who took up the matter with Frank Hamer. Undercover agents slipped into the town and reported: “Within four miles of the City of Mexia in Freestone County…there was an elaborate building called the “Winter Garden.” The place was advertised by a large sign on the road. Within the Winter Garden were many forms of gambling – roulette wheel, blackjack, crap tables, poker tables and others.
Liquor was served from the bar and at the café tables. Armed guards were stationed on the road. Patrons were frisked and led into the hall. Inside were guards with shotguns, machine guns and rifles. The place was in open violation of many laws of the land, yet it was visited by thousands of people.
The deputy sheriff from Freestone County sold four acres of land on which another gambling hall was built. Called the “Chicken Farm”, it had open gambling and whisky selling. More “upscale” than the Winter Garden it had tall watchtowers and trap doors to enable patrons to escape in case of a raid.
Gov. Neff sent Frank Hamer and a company of Rangers to clean up the town. In January 1922 a total of 22 men set out for Mexia. Half the men took over the Winter Garden, and half were assigned to the Chicken Farm. Both squads shot their way into the halls, and captured most of the owners and their henchmen. Besides taking gambling equipment, also was taken over 660 quarts of whiskey, a large amount of narcotics and an arsenal of weapons.
Frank Hamer set up headquarters in the Winter Garden. Then he turned his attention to the City of Mexia. Within 72 hours after the rangers rode into town 20% of the population was in jail or on bail.
Hamer petitioned the governor for help because he was hampered in issuing search warrants. Many of the public officials were crooked, and there was not enough jail space to holed those arrested.
Gov. Neff declared martial law on February 2, 1922. Texas National Guard arrived the next day and turned the Winter Garden into a prison camp. The Rangers now freed by martial law were able to arrest gamblers, dope peddlers, and still owners. Also arrested were town and county officials who were involved in illegal activities.
“A total of 602 arrests were made, over 3,000 undesirables run out of town, 27 stills were captured with 9080 quarts of bootleg whisky, 53 stolen automobiles recovered, a nationwide narcotics ring broken up, and the largest amount of gambling equipment ever recovered up to that time destroyed. From over a thousand witnesses the Rangers learned that many local officials were taking payoffs of up to $250 per day and that out-of-state crime syndicates were behind most of the illegal activities.
Marshal law was lifted, and Frank Hamer returned to Austin. Mission accomplished!
I’m Frank Hamer is an excellent book, which I strongly recommend. It is well researched and easy reading with lots of pictures. Ask for it at the library.