Our Arklahoma Heritage: Franklin County Sheriff gunned down in barbershop over political differences
Political differences, especially in this time of social media when we all think people with opposing views are morons and “snowflakes”, have always defined relationships.
Sometimes turning friends into foes, the chasm between ideology and beliefs have resulted in marital break-ups, Hatfield and McCoy feuds and even evolved into wars between countries, states and kith and kin.
But for most of us, our everyday reaction to those that don’t wear the same political hat we do is to unfriend them on Facebook, ignore them at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings or to silently endure their views.
Back in 1942--at least in Franklin County--the solution was a little different. Back then you waited for about fifteen months, caught your foe in a barbershop chair getting a shave and gunned him down in cold blood to settle your differences.
Champ Clay Crawford had served three two-year terms as the duly elected sheriff of Franklin County and had won reelection in 1940 to his fourth post to the office over James Madison Williams.
According to newspaper reports from the time, the lead-up to the election had been a series of accusations, innuendoes and unfounded gossip from both sides of the race. The worst of it appears to have come from the respective candidates’ political backers, but both Crawford and Wilson seemed to have given as good as they got in the back and forth exchanges between the two.
Crawford, who had been born in 1903 in Franklin County had married his wife Ora sometime in late 1923 or early 1924. That union had produced a son, Champ Jr., in 1926. They lived in the White Oak Township, which included all of Ozark and most of the area where the Weiderkehr Wine Village stands today.
Wilson, three years younger but also born in the immediate area, was also a married man. He and wife Ora moved to the town of Altus sometime before 1935 and had one son named Jerry.
It’s certain that the men knew of each other before they had become hearted political rivals, as Wilson had served as the county treasurer for at least part of one of Crawford’s terms. One report claims they lived--at least for a time -- within a few miles of each other.
Sometime before 1940, though, Wilson had gotten out of politics and was apparently working in a local hardware store. Sometime in late 1939 he decided to make a run for the post held by the popular Crawford, who was considered somewhat of an expert angler and had gained a modicum of fame when he had tracked and arrested a notorious kidnapper by the name of Jack Russell a few years before.
Although actual party affiliations have been lost over the years, it’s a pretty safe bet from all accounts that Crawford was a Democrat, since that party dominated Franklin County politics from 1896 through 1976. The actual vote count in the 1940 election has also been lost to prosperity, but one newspaper account said Crawford had taken about 84% of the vote.
Wilson seemingly didn’t take the loss well. Stung by the resounding defeat, and still offended by the rhetoric that had transpired during the campaign, Wilson brooded. His disdain for Crawford grew and over the next year and a quarter he was a vocal critic of the sheriff.
The festering Wilson experienced over the next fifteen months boiled over on February 26, 1942.
Crawford had stopped in at the King-Jacobs barber shop for his usual Thursday morning shave. Attending barber Mollard Jacobs had scrapped the stubble from one side of Crawford’s face and was stropping the razor when Wilson walked through the door of the shop.”
“Stand aside, Mollard…. I’ll finish this gentleman,” Wilson yelled out.
Jacobs raised the back of the barber shop and replied, “Now don’t do anything rash, Jim.”
“This is none of your affair,” Wilson answered as he drew a .38 revolver from his pocket.
Jacobs and his partner fled out the door as Crawford started to stand telling Wilson “You’re wrong about this, Jimmie!’ and within seconds gunshots rang out.
When the barbers returned a few minutes later with the help they had mustered in what they had thought might be an effort to make peace between the men, they found carnage.
Crawford lay dead on the floor with two holes in his chest and another through his heart. Wilson lay next to him, mortally wounded with the smoking gun still in his hand, and two hours later he expired from the two shots Crawford had managed to return.
A few days later, despite a snow that began falling before noon and continued throughout the day, the Presbyterian church was filled to absolute capacity of more than 600 at the memorial service for Crawford, The Knights of Pythias lodge of Altus conducted the committal service at the Highland Cemetery in Ozark.
Later the same day, Wilson was laid to rest at the Nichols Chapel Cemetery in Altus.
Mourners included his wife and son, a few other family members and a handful of assorted mourners and curiosity seekers.
So, the next time you run for office--or get into a political argument with someone for that matter --it might serve you well to stay out of barbershops.
At least in Franklin County.