By BRAD KELLAR
Once each May, law enforcement officers gather in Greenville to remember their comrades from Hunt County who died while in the line of duty.
Many of the family members of the fallen officers attend the local observance of the National Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15, one of several events scheduled across the nation during National Police Week.
The ceremony has been conducted locally for the past 16 years, and the family of former Wolfe City Officer/Chief Tom Ellis (T. E.) White is always well represented.
At the time Wolfe City’s only patrolman, White was killed by a sniper’s bullet early on the morning of July 8, 1975, as he sat in his police vehicle in downtown Wolfe City. The suspect was captured and convicted of capital murder, although the conviction was later overturned on appeal.
White’s murder was a tremendous loss for Wolfe City and for the Hunt County law enforcement community, but it was neither the first nor the last time tragedy touched the family, which has been involved in protecting and serving the public for decades.
John Duncan was among those attending last week’s ceremony.
“I began thinking about how unfortunate my family has been while serving in law enforcement,” Duncan said. “My great-uncle, David Turner Blassingame, was shot and killed on Nov. 7, 1939, probably near Pampa, while serving as a federal marshal.”
Blassingame was a brother to Duncan’s grandmother, Nancy Catherine (Blassingame) White, the mother of Tom Ellis “T. E.” White. Duncan said no one knows if Blassingame’s killer was ever captured and prosecuted.
“A few years ago I emailed the federal marshal’s office asking for more information, and they told me their records had been destroyed by fire some years earlier,” Duncan said.
Duncan noted his “Uncle Ellis” was married to the late Thelma (Woodruff) White.
“He, his wife, mother and dad are all buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wolfe City,” Duncan said. “On May 6 1999, the Texas Senate passed a Resolution Bill No. 877 honoring the memory of Uncle Ellis.”
White’s name appears on the Hunt County Police Memorial Marker in Greenville, the State of Texas Monument on the Capitol Grounds in Austin and also on the National Police Memorial Wall in Washington, D. C.
Duncan’s nephew, Tommy Douglas Duncan, was serving as a police officer in Olney on Dec. 29, 1975.
“Shortly after midnight, while patrolling the alley, a man shot Tommy with a shotgun, after the man had burglarized a hardware/sports store,” Duncan said. “Although shot, he chased the burglar but passed out on a local resident’s front porch, probably from loss of blood. He lost one eye, some of his teeth and as of today he still retains many of the buckshots. The burglar was captured the following day. Tommy is still serving as a police officer in Lubbock.”
In addition to White, 10 more officers from Hunt County have died while in the line of duty, including:
— Hunt County Deputy Sheriff Robert F. Hagood. On Oct. 14, 1874, Hagood followed horse thief James Glass to Marion and Cass counties in East Texas. Hagood was killed when he attempted to arrest Glass. Two $500 rewards were later offered for the arrest of the person or persons responsible for Hagood’s murder. No records have been found as to the disposition of the murder charge.
— Deputy Sheriff John William Benjamin Adair. Adair also served as a jailer and on Aug. 28, 1886, had tracked six escaped prisoners on horseback, capturing three of them before one fled again. Adair handed his pistol to another man and told the individual to go after the fleeing prisoner. The remaining two inmates overpowered Adair, attacking him with a knife.
— Deputy Joe Brigham, who died Dec. 18, 1892. Brigham and his wife were among the very first settlers in Celeste toward the end of the 19th Century. Brigham, responding to an incident at S. L. Green’s Saloon in Celeste, had been deputized by a Hunt County constable at the scene to assist in capturing a suspect burglarizing the business. Brigham stepped into the middle of a gun battle, with the suspect shooting him in the chest. Three suspects were eventually captured, but the person believed to be the shooter was never apprehended.
— Deputy Constable George William Hardin. Late on the night of July 1, 1900, Hardin, along with police officers Lee Howard and Tom Ingram, were outside of Bob Bolton’s Saloon on the east side of the town square. The officers were investigating to see if Bolton was selling liquor in violation of the Sunday closing law. During the confrontation which followed, Hardin was shot in the stomach by Bolton. Hardin drew his pistol and fired several times, killing Bolton. Hardin died at 6 p.m. the next day, July 2, 1900.
— Deputy Sheriff W. R. “Will” Velvin, who died on Sept. 13, 1902. Velvin was believed to have been attempting to arrest Jim L. Beckham for violating local options laws. When confronted, Beckham allegedly shot Velvin once in the face, killing him instantly.
— Greenville Assistant Chief of Police John L. Southhall and Special Deputy Sheriff Emmett Shipp both died Oct. 6, 1912 as the pair attempted to arrest a drunken gunman known as Sant Slemmons.
— Deputy Sheriff Rayburn L. Shipp died on Oct. 18, 1972, while transporting three prisoners from the Hunt County Jail to the Huntsville State Penitentiary.
— Quinlan Officer Billy Gene Smelley was killed on Sept. 18, 1983. Smelley had arrested a suspect on a charge of driving while intoxicated, and during the book-in process the suspect grabbed the handgun belonging to then-Assistant Quinlan Police Chief Larry Dean Boyd. The suspect shot and killed Smelley and wounded Boyd before taking his own life.
— Celeste Police Department Sergeant John Maki. On Feb. 10, 2004, Maki was en route to assist Police Chief Clint Mott on a domestic disturbance call in Celeste when his vehicle was involved in a traffic accident which claimed Maki’s life.
“Those who give their lives in the line of duty are heroes,” said Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks, during this year’s ceremony. “Each one would like to be the last name on that wall.”