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Richard A. “Smoot” Schmid

12 Apr

A paragraph in a 1939 issue of a newspaper in Decatur (Illinois, not Texas) began “No. 1 Name of the year, so far, is that of Sheriff Smoot Schmid of Dallas, Texas.”

smootschmid

(Image source: unknown)

Richard Allen Schmid was child of two immigrants, Abraham and Annie Forler Schmid, from Switzerland and Canada, respectively.  He was born in Dallas County, Texas in 1897 and as was commonly done, he was named for the doctor who delivered him, Dr. Richard Allen.  He went to Bryan Street High School (also known as Dallas High School and Crozier Tech) which still stands in downtown and is now being reborn as residential property.

Schmid was unusually tall for his day.  He stood over 6 feet 5 inches in height and acquired his nickname “Smoot” while in school.  He didn’t mind it.  One of his earliest jobs was to own and operate a bicycle shop on Commerce Street downtown.  He quickly expanded into motorcycles, becoming an expert operator of each.

When he was about thirty-five years old, he won an election for County Sheriff of Dallas in 1932 and became Dallas County’s twenty-eighth sheriff, succeeding Hal Hood.  This decade was one that was marked by gangsters and bank robbers who regularly made headlines in the daily newspapers.  Most Americans were dealing in some way with the effects of the Great Depression and also with the enactment and repeal of Prohibition.  In Texas, there was the menace of Barrow Gang: Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, Floyd and Ray Hamilton and others.

A partial Barrow timeline: Clyde and Bonnie meet in West Dallas in January 1930, Clyde is jailed in Waco and Bonnie helps him escape in February, Clyde is captured in Ohio and sentenced to  serve time in the Eastham Prison Farm in March 1930 and paroled in 1932, several 1932 murders are committed and Barrow Gang is suspected.

It was in this context that Schmid took office.  He had no former law enforcement experience, but campaigned as an outsider who said could run the office efficiently, both from a financial and administrative point of view, and provide better treatment of the prisoners.  He began his administration by hiring many new deputies, including deputy constable Bill Decker as his Chief Deputy, while retaining only a half dozen holdovers from the previous administration.

He instituted a number of innovations including being the first to staff the sheriff’s office twenty-four hours a day, including Sundays and holidays, a four car night patrol, two officers to each car, and radios for the officers.  He kept his campaign promise of feeding prisoners three times a day versus the previous twice daily routine.  Although deputies had to pay for them, they first began wearing uniforms under Schmid’s leadership.  A 1936 newspaper article praised him for working in harmony with local police departments “and officers all over the state and nation.”  Schmid saw to it that chili was served to the prisoners on Friday nights and the chili became legendary.

The Barrow Gang continued to elude authorities and stay on the move, passing in and out of the Dallas County and North Texas area.  Schmid got word that Clyde and Bonnie were likely coming to town in November 1933 for a family reunion and also for Clyde’s mother’s birthday in Sowers, Texas.  Sowers never had more than about 120 residents and now it is part of Irving, roughly near the intersection of Esters Road and Highway 183.  Only the cemetery still exists.  In a scene that foreshadowed the final ambush seven months later, Sheriff Schmid and some deputies including Ted Hinton and Bob Alcorn set up an ambush.  As Clyde drove through, he slowed down and the lawmen fired on the car.  Both Clyde and Bonnie were wounded and the car was badly damaged, but they still got away.  The duo abandoned the car and stole another one.  Hinton and Alcorn would be involved in the final ambush in Louisiana led by Frank Hamer.  Schmid would later take part in the capture of Ray Hamilton in a Fort Worth rail yard.

One of his regrets was the 1933 escape of bank robber Harvey Bailey, one of the kidnappers (along with Machine Gun Kelly) of Charles Urschel, the Tulsa oilman.  Bailey escaped from the Dallas County jail and kidnapped deputy Nick Tresp.  Bailey took Tresp’s car from the jail’s parking area.  With Tresp as his captive, he eluded authorities for a while until an officer in Ardmore, Oklahoma spotted the vehicle at a gas station.  Bailey took off, dragging the gas filler and hose behind him until he wrecked the car.  He was apprehended and finally convicted of the Urschel kidnapping.  An investigation revealed that a local butcher and another jailer had conspired to smuggle hacksaw blades to Bailey, enabling him to saw his way out of the jail.

Schmid also figured into the odd case of Richard “Dapper Dick” Gallogly.  The grandson of James R. Gray, Jr., owner of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and son of Col. James Gallogly, Richard had been convicted of one 1928 murder and sentenced to life in prison, though the gang of college students he ran with were suspected of committing several armed robberies and one more murder, allegedly all just for the thrill of it.  Accordingly, references to the cases sometimes would refer to them as “Great Gatsby” crimes because of the financial and educational status of the suspects.  Gallogly had served some of his sentence when he was hospitalized in 1940 or a nervous breakdown, was treated but then he escaped on his way back to prison.  He found his way to Dallas, Texas where he turned himself in to the sheriff’s department.  One of the newspaper accounts cited Gallogly’s explanation of desiring Texas justice over what he had experienced in Georgia.  Nevertheless, Schmid turned him in and Gallogly was returned to Georgia after fighting extradition for a while.  Schmid eventually received a $500 reward for capturing Gallogly.

Gallogly and another member of the gang, George Rutheford Harsh, Jr. were convicted of the thrill killings.  Harsh and Gallogly were both pardoned by Governor E. D. Rivers in early 1940.  Harsh could not find a suitable job, so he went to Canada and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a tail gunner on a bomber until he was shot down over Cologne and taken prisoner, repatriated at the end of the war.  Harsh lived a relatively quiet life, wrote a book about his experiences and passed away in 1980.  Of Gallogly, not much is known except that lived well into his senior years, passing away in 2002.

Despite law enforcement’s best efforts, crime still flourished in Dallas in the form of local mobs that promoted gambling and other crimes.  Schmid and other law enforcement officials would fight crime lords like Benny Binion throughout the rest of Schmid’s term as sheriff.  Schmid served as sheriff until he lost the election of 1946 to returning World War II veteran Steve Guthrie, who beat him in a run-off election.  By then, he had served longer than any previous Dallas County sheriff.  A newspaperman would remark that Schmid served longer than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

After his last term as sheriff, Schmid was chosen by Texas Governor Beauford H. Jester (the only Texas governor to die in office) to be a member of the state prison Board of Pardons and Paroles.  He served in that capacity for one six year term. Schmid then served as Chief Inspector of the Texas Department of Agriculture, based in Dallas. He was still working for the Agriculture Department in 1963, when he died of a heart attack at his home at the age of 65.  He was interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Dallas, Texas and a simple gravestone marks the location.

Veteran newsman Charles A. Guy was born in 1902 in Maryland but grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  There he began to get his exposure to the newspaper business, working while in high school and later while getting his college education at the University of Oklahoma.  After that, he worked for the El Reno (Oklahoma) American, the Tulsa Democrat, the Tulsa World and then the Bristow Record before he and a partner bought the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.  Guy would go on to serve as editor and publisher from 1931 to 1972.

A few days after Smoot’s death, Guy devoted his regular column “The Plainsman” to an encounter he had with Schmid at a Texas high school football game back in the late 1930s.  A long time Mason, Schmid was there to support his “adopted” team, the Fort Worth Masonic Home, as they faced the Lubbock High Westerners in a post season match up.  In the stands at the old Texas Tech stadium, Smoot was seen whooping, hollering and waving his big hat, leading some observers to think that he might have been drinking, as were some of the other patrons.  After the game, the Lubbock newspaper got some calls suggesting that the paper ought to let those Dallas folks know just how their sheriff had behaved.  Editor Guy was quick to set them straight, since he had been with the sheriff at a pregame dinner.  Guy said that not only could he testify that Schmid was not tipsy, that this was his natural exuberance “as anyone who knew him personally would know.”  He added that he never knew anyone who got more sheer joy out of living than did Smoot Schmid.

© 2018, all rights reserved.

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