Reckless Government and a Battle From Not So Long Ago

I’m no fan of Cheeto the Wonder Spud.  I don’t much care for the brassy Yankee attitude and never have.  I find it especially galling in the leader of the free world.  But I must give credit where credit is due.  The policies of his administration and the bills in Congress he has supported have done more for the cause of Liberty than any recent President in my memory.  


I can wish for someone with more finesse and culture.  I consider myself a Renaissance Man and Southern Gentleman. Reasoned discourse is how I would much prefer that public policy be made.  But we have reached a point in the politics of this nation where that seems impossible to do.  Anyone talking reasonably is shouted down by the crowd.  And the septuagenarians of the Left seem hell bent on reliving their socialist youth.


They bring with them the CTRL+Left.  The Antifa.  Any politician or leader who urges moderation and reasoned discourse is boiled in their own oil, shouted down as a race traitor or bigot or insufficiently committed to “the struggle”.  So, politicians being excellent wind vanes, move ever more to the left in their policy proscriptions.  Those on the right are hardly better.  Most cannot dream of an America with true Liberty.  Giving the “people” that much freedom and self-direction would produce too few opportunities for graft.  


The betrayal of the Tea Party after the 2012 and 2014 elections proves that the incumbent class has no desire to change their private little party on the Potomac.  Many of us who saw this said if you don’t like the Tea Party, you sure won’t like what comes after, and we were right.  Trump is what you get when you disregard a popular mandate from the reasonable side of your party.  What comes after Trump they will like even less.


But, I must say I’m more optimistic we can avoid a second American Civil War than I have been in some time.  Until the end of the Obumfuck era I felt those of us who value real personal Liberty and responsibility were being forced irrevocably to a wall from which we could not retreat.  Some of that pressure has eased.  Not near enough.  I’m not even mildly pleased with where we are yet, but let’s just say I choose to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.  Faint, barely discernible, but there.  If, big if, Trump can truly reign in the bloated Federal bureaucracy and restore some of the civil rights that have been trampled since at least FDR it may be enough.


I want to leave you with a small example.  The battle of Athens, TN 1946.  As you read this story ask yourself, what would it take to convince me to do what these men did?  Is there anything?  To risk the good opinion of your neighbors and the old biddies at church?  To risk losing your job or even your life?  To make enemies of family and friends on the other side of the dispute?  What would it take for you, personally, to load up and go out to deliberately kill your fellow man?  If you don’t know, I suggest you ponder it a bit.  And if the answer is a resounding nothing, know that you have chosen the shackles of slavery for yourself and everyone else and pray you can live with that and thank God every night that better men and women than you provide for your Liberty.


We now live in a nation full of combat vets again.  Get a couple dozen together and they could rather handily decimate even a moderate sized municipality police force.  We would do well to remind our politicians that we, the people, are the ones in charge.  Before we have to follow this example.


In 1936 the E. H. Crump political machine, which occupied Tennessee, appeared in McMinn County with the introduction of Paul Cantrell as the Democratic candidate for sheriff.[6] Cantrell, who came from a family of money and influence in nearby Etowah, tied his campaign closely to the popularity of the Roosevelt administration and rode FDR’s coattails to victory over his Republican opponent in what came to be known as “vote grab of 1936” which delivered McMinn County to Tennessee’s Crump Machine.[6] Paul Cantrell was elected sheriff in the 1936, 1938, and 1940 elections, and was elected to the state senate in 1942 and 1944, while his former deputy, Pat Mansfield, a transplanted Georgian, was elected sheriff.[6] A state law enacted in 1941 reduced local political opposition to Crump’s officials by reducing the number of voting precincts from 23 to 12 and reducing the number of justices of the peace from fourteen to seven (including four “Cantrell men”).[5] The sheriff and his deputies worked under a fee system whereby they received money for every person they booked, incarcerated, and released; the more arrests, the more money they made.[5]Because of this fee system, there was extensive “fee grabbing” from tourists and travelers.[7] Buses passing through the county were often pulled over and the passengers were randomly ticketed for drunkenness, whether guilty or not.[5] Between 1936 and 1946, these fees amounted to almost $300,000.[7]


Citizens of McMinn County had long been concerned about political corruption and possible election fraud though some of the complaints, especially at first, may have been partisan carping.[5][8] The U.S. Department of Justice had investigated allegations of electoral fraud in 1940, 1942, and 1944, but had not taken action.[5] Voter fraud and vote control perpetuated McMinn County’s political problems. Manipulation of the poll tax and the counting of the votes were the primary methods, but it was not uncommon for votes from the dead to appear in McMinn County elections.[7] The political problems were further entrenched by economic corruption of political figures enabled by the gambling and boot legging they permitted. Most of McMinn County’s young men were fighting in World War II, allowing appointment of some ex-convicts as deputies.[7] These deputies, among many others, furthered the political machine’s goals and ran roughshod over the citizens of the county.[7] While the machine controlled the law enforcement, its control also extended to the newspapers and schools. When asked if the local newspaper the Daily Post-Athenian supported the GIs, Bill White, a veteran, replied: “No, they didn’t help us none.” White elaborated: “Mansfield had complete control of everything, schools and everything else. You couldn’t even get hired as a schoolteacher without their okay, or any other job.”[9]


During the war, two service men on leave were shot and killed by Cantrell thugs.[7] The servicemen of McMinn County heard of what was going on and were anxious to get home and do something about it. One veteran said he “thought a lot more about McMinn County than he did about the Japs. If democracy was good enough to put on the Germans and the Japs, it was good enough for McMinn County, too!”[7] The scene was ripe for a confrontation when McMinn County’s GIs were demobilized. When they arrived home the deputies targeted the returning GIs, one reported “A lot of boys getting discharged [were] getting the mustering out pay. Well, deputies running around four or five at a time grapping up every GI they could find and trying to get that money off of them, they were fee grabbers, they wasn’t on a salary back then.”[10]


In the August 1946 election, Paul Cantrell ran again for Sheriff, while Pat Mansfield ran for the State Senate seat. Stephen Byrum, a local history author, speculates that the reason for this switch was an attempt to spread the graft amongst themselves.[7] Bill White, meanwhile, claims the reason for the swap was because they thought Cantrell stood a better chance running against the GIs.[11] The GIs were motivated more by hostility towards Sheriff Mansfield and his deputies rather than against Cantrell whose reign as sheriff had been relatively benign.[12]


McMinn County had around 3,000 returning military veterans, constituting almost 10 percent of the county population. Some of the returning veterans resolved to challenge Cantrell’s political control by fielding their own nonpartisan candidates and working for a fraud-free election. A meeting was called in May, veteran ID was required for admission. A non-partisan slate of candidates was selected.[13]


Veteran Bill White described the veterans’ motivation:

There were several beer joints and honky-tonks around Athens; we were pretty wild; we started having trouble with the law enforcement at that time because they started making a habit of picking up GIs and fining them heavily for most anything—they were kind of making a racket out of it. After long hard years of service—most of us were hard-core veterans of World War II—we were used to drinking our liquor and our beer without being molested. When these things happened, the GIs got madder—the more GIs they arrested, the more they beat up, the madder we got ….[5]


The members of the GI Non-Partisan League were very careful to make their list of candidates match the demographics of the county, three Republicans and two Democrats.[14][15] A respected and decorated veteran of North African campaign, Knox Henry, stood as candidate for sheriff in opposition to Cantrell.[5]


Large contributions made by local businessmen to the GIs’ campaign ensured that it was well-funded, although many of McMinn County’s citizens believed the machine would rig the election. The veterans capitalized on this belief with the slogan “Your Vote Will Be Counted As Cast.”[13]


Well aware of the methods of Sheriff Mansfield and his thugs, the League organized a counterpoise. A “fightin’ bunch” was organized by Bill White “to keep them from beating up GIs and keep them from taking the election.”[16] White created his organization carefully; he later recalled: “I got out and started organizing with a bunch of GIs. Well spirits—I learned that you get the poor boys out of poor families, and the ones that was frontline warriors that’s done fighting and didn’t care to bust a cap on you. I learned to do that. So that’s what I picked. I had thirty men and … I took what mustering out pay I got and bought pistols. And some of them had pistols. I had thirty men organized”.[16] Sheriff Mansfield also organized for the upcoming election, hiring 200 deputies, most from neighboring counties, some from out of state, at $50 a day (equivalent to $614 in 2016).


Water Works Polling Place

Polls for the county election opened August 1, 1946. Normally, there were about 15 patrolmen on duty for the precincts, but about 200 armed deputies were on patrol for this election, with many of these reinforcements from other counties and states. In Etowah, a GI poll watcher requested a ballot box to be opened and certified as empty. Although he was allowed by law to make the request, he was arrested. In Athens, Walter Ellis protested irregularities in the election and was similarly arrested and charged with a federal offense.[13]


Around 3:00 p.m. local time, C.M. “Windy” Wise, a patrolman, in racist terms, refused an elderly African American farmer, Tom Gillespie, from casting his ballot at the Athens Water Works polling place. When Gillespie and a GI poll watcher objected, Wise struck Gillespie with brass knuckles, which caused Gillespie to drop ballot and run away from the deputy. Wise then pulled his pistol and shot Gillespie in the back.[5][13]


Wise was the only person to face charges from the events of August 1–2, 1946, and was sentenced to 1–3 years in prison.[15]



GIs gathered in front of L.L. Shaefer’s store which was used as an office by campaign manager Jim Buttram.[5] Buttram had telegraphed Governor McCord in Nashville and US Attorney General Tom Clark asking for help in ensuring a lawful election, but drew no response.[5] When the group learned that Sheriff Mansfield had sent armed guards to all polling places, they convened at the Essankay Garage where they decided to arm themselves.[5]


Sheriff Mansfield arrived at the Water Works and ordered the poll closed. In the commotion that followed, Wise and Karl Nell, the deputies inside the Water Works, took two poll watchers, Charles Scott and Ed Vestal, captive. By one account, Scott and Vestal jumped through a plate glass window and fled, to the safety of the crowd while Wise followed behind.[5] By another account there was a guns-drawn confrontation between Jim Buttram who was accompanied by Scott’s father, and Sheriff Mansfield. A third account argues that when Neal Esminger from the Daily Post-Athenian showed up to get a vote count, his entrance was a distraction that allowed Scott and Vestal to break through a door and escape.[17] In any case, the escape was followed by gunfire which sent the crowd diving for cover.[13]


Someone in the crowd yelled, “Let’s go get our guns,” causing the crowd to head for the Essankay Garage. Deputy Chief Boe Dunn took the two deputies and the ballot box to the jail.[5] Two other deputies were dispatched to arrest Scott and Vestal. These deputies were disarmed and detained by the GIs, as were a set of reinforcements. GI advisor, Republican Election Commissioner and Republican Party Chairman, Otto Kennedy, asked Bill White what he was going to do. White said, “I don’t know Otto; we might just kill them.” According to White, Kennedy grew alarmed and announced “Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord! No! I’m not having nothing else to do with this. Me and my brother and son-in-law is leaving here.”[18] Lones Selber in American Heritage Magazine says Kennedy “left, vowing to have no part in murder.”[5]The crowd and most GIs left. The remaining GIs took the seven deputies-turned-hostages to a woods ten miles from Athens, stripped them, tied them to a tree and beat them.[5][18]


Twelfth Precinct Polling Place

At the twelfth precinct the GI poll watchers were Bob Hairrell and Leslie Doolie, a one-armed veteran of the North African theater. The polling place was commanded by Mansfield man Minus Wilburn. Wilburn tried to let a young woman, who Hairrell believed was underage, vote who had no poll tax receipt and who was not listed in the voter registration.[13] Hairrell grabbed Wilburn’s wrist when he tried to deposit the ballot in the box. Wilburn struck Hairrell on the head with a blackjack and kicked him in the face. Wilburn closed the precinct and took the GIs and ballot box across the street to the jail.[5] Hairrell was brutally beaten and was taken to the hospital.[13]


In response to cussing and taunts from the deputies, and the actions so far that day, Bill White, leader of the “fighting bunch,” told his lieutenant Edsel Underwood to take 5 or 6 men and break into the National Guard Armory to steal weapons. The GIs took the front door keys from the caretaker and entered the building. They then armed themselves with sixty .30-06 Enfield rifles, two Thompson sub-machine guns and ammo. Lones Selber says White went for the guns himself.[5] Bill White then distributed the rifles and a bandoleer of ammo to each of the 60 GIs.[19]


Polls Closing

As the polls closed, and counting began (sans the three boxes taken to the jail), the GI-backed candidates had a 3 to 1 lead.[5][13][20] When the GIs heard the deputies had taken the ballot boxes to the jail, Bill White exclaimed, “Boy, they doing something. I’m glad they done that. Now all we got to do is whip on the jail.”[19]


The GIs recognized that they had broken the law, and that Cantrell would likely receive reinforcements in the morning, so the GIs felt the need to resolve the situation quickly.[21] The deputies knew little of military tactics, but the GIs knew them well. By taking up the second floor of a bank across the street from the jail, the GIs were able to reciprocate any shots from the jail with a barrage from above.[21]


By 9:00 PM, Paul Cantrell, Pat Mansfield, George Woods (Speaker of the State House of Representatives and Secretary of the McMinn County Election Commission), and about 50 deputies were in the jail, allegedly rummaging through the ballot boxes. Wood and Mansfield constituted a majority of the election commission and could therefore certify and validate the count from within the jail.[21]


The Battle Begins

Estimates of the number of veterans besieging the jail vary from several hundred[20] to as high as 2,000.[15] Bill White had at least 60 under his command. White split his group with Buck Landers taking up position at the bank overlooking the jail while White took the rest by the Post Office.[19]


Just as the estimates of people involved vary widely, accounts of how the Battle of Athens began and its actual course disagree.


Edgerton and Williams recall that when the men reached the jail, it was barricaded and manned by 55 deputies. The veterans demanded the ballot boxes but were refused. They then opened fire on the jail, initiating a battle that lasted several hours by some accounts,[15][20] considerably less by others.[22]


As Lones Selber, author of the 1985 American Heritage magazine article wrote: “Opinion differs on exactly how the challenge was issued.” White says he was the one to call it out: “Would you damn bastards bring those damn ballot boxes out here or we are going to set siege against the jail and blow it down!” Moments later the night exploded in automatic weapons fire punctuated by shotgun blasts. “I fired the first shot,” White claimed, “then everybody started shooting from our side.” A deputy ran for the jail. “I shot him; he wheeled and fell inside of the jail.”[5]


In 2000 Bill White claimed he said “Boys, … I’m going to tell them to bring the ballot box out of there, and if they don’t we’re gonna open up on them.’ I hollered in there, I said, ‘You damn thieve grabbers, bring them damn ballot boxes out of there.’ ‘That’s just what I said. He didn’t make a move down there and finally one of them said, ‘By God I heard a bolt click.’ Down there—one of them grabbers did, you know—they started scattering around. And I had a pistol in my belt with a shotgun. I had a shotgun and a rifle. And I pulled the pistol out and started firing down there at them. Well, when I did that, all that whole line up there started firing down there in there. A lot of them got in the jail, some of them didn’t, some of them got shot laying outside. And the battle started.”[19]


Byrum wrote in 1984 “One shot from the jail, which in previous years would have been enough to disperse any objectionable crowd, was answered by a volley of fire that continued for hours.” Then his history of McMinn County breezes over the battle proper and goes immediately to 3:30 AM when the deputies surrendered.[21]


The day after the battle, the New York Times front page reported a Sheriff had been killed, and that the shooting had started with a shot through a jail window and with the demand the hostages be released. Then the Times reported the deputies refused and the siege ensued. The account followed, revealing the Times’s source as Lowell F. Arterburn, publisher of The Athens Post Athenian. Arterburn reported shots being fired, 2,000 persons milling around and “at least a score of fist fights were in progress.”[23]


An attempt by deputies outside the jail to reinforce (or take refuge in) the jail was thwarted by Bill White’s “fighting band”. Some people in the jail managed to escape out the back door.[19] The fleeing people threw down their weapons and ran off, so White ordered his forces not to shoot the escapees.[24] One of the escapees was George Woods who had telephoned Birch Biggs, the boss of next door Polk County, requesting that Biggs send reinforcements to break the siege. Biggs replied “Do you think I’m crazy?”[5]


For the veterans it was win before morning or face a long time in jail for violating local, state and federal laws.[21] Rumors spread that the National Guard or State Troopers were coming.[5] White made hourly demands for surrender. The GIs attempted to fire the jail with Molotov cocktails but were not able to throw them far enough to reach the jail.[19] The GIs decided to resort to dynamite. At about that time an ambulance pulled up to the jail. The GIs assumed it was called to remove the wounded and held fire. Two men jumped in, and it sped off carrying Paul Cantrell and Sheriff Mansfield to safety out of town.[5]


Then the dynamite was deployed. Bill White said, “We’d put two or three sticks of dynamite together and tape it together and put a cap in there and a fuse. And we’d rear back and throw them. Well, we couldn’t get them all the way to the jail, but we got them out to them cars. They’d blow them cars up in the air and turn them over and land them back on the top. Several cars down there were blowing up.”[24] That first bomb landed under Bob Dunn’s cruiser, flipping it on its back.[5] Bill White, commander of the “fighting bunch” knew the GIs had to do better: “I … said, ‘We’re going to have to get some charges up there on that jail.’ I said, ‘Make a couple charges there…. We’ll go down there and we’ll place some charges.’ So I made up a couple charges and I crawled up and put a charge on the jailhouse porch.”[24] In fact three bombs went off almost simultaneously. One destroyed Mansfield’s car, one landed on the jail porch roof, and one went off against the jail wall. The bombs caused some damage to the jail and scattered debris.[5] The larger bomb placed by Bill White against the jail wall did the job.


As with the beginning of the battle accounts of the end differ: American Heritage states, “In the end, the door of the jail was dynamited and breached. The barricaded deputies—some with injuries—surrendered, and the ballot boxes were recovered.”[5]


The NY Times, in an inside article observed the night was “bloody” and that it ended after the GIs detonated 3 “home-made demolition charges.”[25]


End of the Battle and Vote Counting

Byrum in his history of McMinn County reported the end of the battle thus: “By 3:30 a.m., the men holding the jail had been dynamited into submission, and by early morning George Woods was calling Ralph Duggan to ask if he could come to Athens and certify the election of the GI slate. Bill White reported that “when the GIs broke into the jail, they found some of the tally sheets marked by the machine had been scored fifteen to one for the Cantrell forces.” When the final tally was completed, Knox Henry was elected.[21]


Bill White, ever garrulous, went into greater detail about the surrender: “Woo! Like that. First thing I know here come a bunch of white flags out the door. (Laughter) They’d given up! So it was about sixty of them in there. They come out there with pistols hanging on their fingers and everything else. And we come off the bank up there and we’d take their pistols off their fingers and throw them out there. We beat up some of them, you know. One that shot the black, you know, we pitched him out there and they liked to kill him. They beat him almost to death. Then they cut one … throat out there in that crowd and beat up several of them, you know. Some of them [were] beaten up pretty bad. Marched them down round the courthouse, marched them back, and put them in jail. All but twenty were beat up pretty bad, and they put them in the hospital. The one they’d cut the throat, they took him to the hospital.[26] And they’d picked up a bunch of men whose arms were shot off, legs shot off, shot through the belly, you know, first one thing—there was several of them hurt pretty bad. But they all lived, you know, it was miracle. But they all lived, we wasn’t trying to save their lives they just … got lucky.”[24]


During the fight at the jail, rioting had broken out in Athens, mainly targeting police cars.[15][20] This continued even after the ballot boxes were recovered, but subsided by morning.[22] The mob also destroyed automobiles of the deputies, many bearing out-of-state plates.[25] During the disorder the Mayor of Athens was on vacation and the city policemen were “nowhere to be found.”[27]


The morning of August 2 found the town quiet. Some minor acts of revenge happened, but the public mood was one of “euphoria that had not been experienced in McMinn County in a long time.”[28] Governor McChord moved to activate the national guard but quickly rescinded the order.[27] The morning saw the GIs call a meeting. GI Non-Partisan League Treasurer Harry Johnson opened the meeting observing it was necessary because “for some reason or other, the Sheriff’s force is not around.”[25] The approximately 400 persons in the court room elected a special committee headed by Methodist minister Bernie Hampton, joined by C.A. Anderson and Gobo Cartwright, both members of the Business Men’s Evangelical Committee, to preserve law and order. George Wood, the escaped Secretary of the County Election Commission, sent a written missive saying: “Next Monday at 10 A.M. I will sign an election certificate certifying that the GI ticket was elected.” Later the veterans turned responsibility for maintaining order in Athens to Police Chief Herbert Walker. The GIs said they were still “holding control” of McMinn County until September 1 when Knox Henry was to be installed as Sheriff.[25]


August 2 also saw the return to McMinn County of Sheriff elect Knox Henry, who had spent the night of August 1–2 in safe keeping in the Sweetwater, Tennessee jail. Sheriff Henry, a 33-year-old former Army Air Force Sergeant, observed “They were going to kill me yesterday, and I had to leave town.”


Just in case you think the above example is ancient history, here is an example from today of the same sort of reckless governmental attitude.




Athens TN story taken from:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

clear formPost comment