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The Redbud City: ‘I am sheriff and it will take the Supreme Court remove me!’

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
I’M THE SHERIFF!” This was Elza Evans’ claim as he barricaded himself in his office at the courthouse, not allowing anyone to enter and take over the duties.

SURETY BOND FOR SHERIFF EVANS CANCELLED

The surprise announcement that the surety bond of Sheriff Elza Evans for $5,000 was cancelled, effective in 30 days dominated the news of the day. All this stirred the Pottawatomie County political pot to frothing fury on March 23, 1937, as grand jury probers continued their deliberations.

County commissioners were notified by the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Baltimore, Maryland, Evans’ bond would be cancelled April 21. The law required 30 days’ notice be given.

Sheriff Evans hotly charged the move to political enemies, who resorted to subterfuge in attempting to oust him from office. “That’s exactly it,” Evans declared. “They wait until right in the middle of a grand jury investigation and then do something like that, hoping it will reflect on me. If the county wants it, I will put up $5,000 in United States government bonds. And I’d like to see that bunch do something about that.”

Evans said he also was checking into the attempted jail break the previous week on a tip it was plotted by political antagonists to cast a bad light on Evans’ office on the eve of the grand jury probe.

EVANS BARRICADES OFFICE

Slumbering peacefully on a jail mattress and army cot, Elza Evans remained barricaded in the sheriff’s office at the courthouse on Wednesday night, March 31, 1937. He defiantly declared nothing less than a supreme court mandate would cause him to relinquish his authority to Rufus Lyon, appointed to succeed the late Walter Mosier as sheriff. This ruling came from a revamped board of county commissioners earlier that morning.

Two armed guards, Harve Weatherford and Sam Thompson stood watch over the man whose appointment to the sheriff’s vacancy five weeks earlier stirred Pottawatomie County’s most heated political battle since Shawnee hauled the county seat north from Tecumseh. Undaunted by the den of battle emanating from Evans’ camp, Lyon, a city commissioner for seven years and no stranger to political hot water, quietly arranged for a $15,000 surety bond, and was to take his oath of office on Thursday morning.

Lyon, well-known Shawnee livestock dealer, was tight-lipped about his general plan of strategy and gave no indication of his first move in the event Evans refused to vacate the sheriff’s office.

Elmer Rawlings, deposed third district county commissioner, likewise was rallying his forces to arms as he enlisted the legal counsel of Fred Reily and Roscoe Arrington, veteran attorneys. Notice was filed in district court and with County Attorney Tom Wyatt, demanding a jury trial before April 10. District Judge Leroy Cooper, who sustained the motion to suspend Rawlings from office pending the hearing, had not yet set a trial date.

Liquor possession indictments against brothers Virgil and A.P. Robinson, were not served since the documents were not yet transferred into county court. It was understood the Robinsons were ready to be arraigned, enter guilty pleas, and make bond. Neither had indictments been served on J.C. Lee of Tecumseh, for the sale of whiskey, nor on M.M. Crane, indicted for assault with a dangerous weapon.

First move of John “Little” Green after he took the oath of office, replacing the suspended Rawlings, was to file his bond before County Judge J. Knox Byrum on Wednesday morning. He then nominated Lyon as sheriff to succeed Mosier, completely ignoring the A.C.H. Hospital appointment of Evans on February 23. That meeting was now branded illegal by the county grand jury.

When it came Frank Sims’ turn to vote on Lyon’s nomination, seconded by Chairman John Gentry, the first district commissioner passed on the roll call. He declared it was a matter for the courts to decide. Sims moved to approve all salary claims for the month of March, but his motion failed to receive a second. Instead, Gentry and Green voted to approve all claims, except those of Evans and his deputies and all his employees.

It appeared that Sheriff Evans was forced to carry on his “sit-down strike” without pay. The board of commissioners, composed of Rawlings, Sims, and Gentry passed Evans’ salary claim for the five days he served in February and early in March.

“I’m going to stay in this office until I’m removed by an order of the supreme court,” Evans declared as he reclined on his improvised bed Wednesday night. “I’ll ignore any order from the county commissioners or the district judge telling me to get out. Two other men and I are sleeping here tonight. We’ll eat and sleep here till this thing’s all ‘blowed’ over.”

All of Evans’ meals were brought to him in his office during the day. He did not leave it and gave instructions to guards in his office to relinquish it to no one. He carried keys to the office and the county jail on his person.

The county attorney issued a statement saying Evans had served as sheriff de facto since his appointment in the illegal meeting and legality of litigation handled by him since that time was not endangered. Wyatt said Lyon, after his appointment would be forced to file quo warranto action in either district court of the state supreme court to obtain possession of the office in the event Evans refused to vacate it.

In Wyatt’s opinion, Roy Wellman was acting sheriff since Mosier’s death, and would continue in that capacity until Lyon took possession of the office. Other legal opinions were that Evans’ appointment in the hospital meeting, even if it were illegal, was ratified by subsequent acts of the commissioners in approving his surety bond and his February salary claim.

There was also some question of the legality of the grand jury that resulted in Rawlings suspension. The other question was if Evans’ appointment was invalid, why did he draw half the jury panel, acting in the sheriff’s capacity?

 These stories appear in Volume Two of the six-volume series on the history of Shawnee, entitled, “Redbud City,” (1930-1949). They will be followed by some very unusual circumstances. The sheriff refused to give up his position and finally, the commissioners acquiesced and revoked Lyon’s bond. The first four volumes are now available and can be purchased by going onto the Pottawatomie County Historical website, or by calling (405-275-8412). Volume One covers from (1830-1929); Volume Three documents the years (1950-1969); and Volume Four, (1970-1989). All are now available at PCHS. Volume Five, (1990-2009) is scheduled for the summer or early fall of 2021. Volume Six, (2010-2022) is almost finished and should be shortly after Volume Five comes out. Each volume is $35, but any purchase of two volumes or more can be purchased at $30 for each volume.