Joseph Crawford HARRIS

Male 1878 - 1936  (57 years)


Personal Information    |    Notes    |    All    |    PDF

  • Name Joseph Crawford HARRIS 
    Born 01 May 1878  Fort Collins, CO Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 01 Mar 1936  Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Buried Masonic Cemetery, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I175  Wemple Family Ancestry
    Last Modified 13 Dec 2017 

    Father Thomas Thumb HARRIS,   b. 08 Jun 1849, Missouri Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 18 Jul 1922, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 73 years) 
    Mother Elizabeth Jane WEMPLE,   b. 23 Apr 1856, Adrian, MI Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 11 Oct 1942, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 86 years) 
    Married 24 Dec 1873  Milford, CA by The Reverand William McIelland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F46  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Ora Ellen BRIGHT,   b. 30 Oct 1878, of Carson City, NV Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 25 Sep 1954  (Age 75 years) 
    Married 15 Aug 1900  Carson City, NV by The Reverand J. R. Davis Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Children 
     1. Jess Crawford HARRIS,   b. 29 Jan 1903, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 08 Mar 1980, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 77 years)
     2. Raymond HARRIS,   b. 04 May 1909,   d. Bef 1990  (Age < 80 years)
    Last Modified 13 Dec 2017 
    Family ID F77  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • NORTHEASTERN NEVADA HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY 90-3 sent to the compiler by Thomas Udell Harris, grandnephew of Joseph C. Harris, on September 27, 2000. The first half of the quarterly was dedicated to the memory of Joseph C. Harris:

      THE SHERIFF-JOE HARRIS
      by Carol Hendershot

      This court will convene as a Court of Sorrow . . .

      Thus began the minutes of the Fourth Judicial District Court convened in Elko, Nevada on March 3, 1936. The Court of Sorrow convened because of the untimely death of Joseph Crawford Harris, who had been Sheriff of Elko County for 26 impressive years. He was 57 years and ten months old at the time of his death.

      By order of the Board of County Commissioners, the courthouse and all county offices closed on March 4 for the funeral. Every business in Elko closed at least two hours, many the entire day. In an unheard of move, the post office, a federal agency, locked its doors for two hours so employees could attend the funeral.

      Hundred of Elko County residents jammed the Masonic Hall for the services. There was not room for everyone who came. Among the out-of-town arrivals was U.S. District Attorney Edward P. Ted Carville from Reno. Following the services, one of the longest funeral procession ever seen locally accompanied the casket to the cemetery.

      Ironically, after a lifetime of law enforcement work in a remote rural county in a western state where law and order were not always top priority, Joe Harris died of uremic poisoning a bout with pneumonia, which he had beaten.

      He was born at Fort Collins, Colorado on May 1, 1878. His father, Tom Thumb Harris, moved his family to Huntington Valley, south of Elko, to ranch. Joe was two years old. He attended Huntington Valley School where he, at least once, finished a perfect grade in deportment and 98 in scholarship. He finished his education in Elko schools.

      Once out of school, he went to work for Reinhart Clothing Store. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he enlisted in Troop M. 2nd U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. There was a gigantic party at Harris Hall and much hoopla at the train station. After a presentation of flowers by young ladies, he left for Carson City, Nevada. He was billeted at the race track, newly christened Camp Sadler, with other Elko County volunteers.

      Cavalry regulations excluded men over 5'6 and 165 pounds. Nevada Governor Reinhold Sadler made the final selection. He simply had them all line up and county in threes and eliminated every third man until he had the required number. All but one of the Elko county volunteers made the roster.

      The group elected Harris was acting sergeant. Almost immediately, they boarded a train for Fort Russell, Wyoming. Colonel Jay L. Torrey met the train in Cheyenne and escorted the men to the camp three miles from town.

      Calling themselves Torrey's Terrors and Torrey's Rough Riders, Troop M experienced a continuous run of bad luck. After outfitting, drilling, and combat training, they discovered the unit was short 100 horses. Destined for Puerto Rico, the troops, given a choice of immediate shipment as infantry or wait for the missing mounts, voted to wait for the horses.

      Typical of the military, Troop M shipped by rail, still short of horses, to Jacksonville, Florida. The train had an accident in St. Louis, Missouri on June 24th. None of the troops was injured, but tow train crew members died. Two days later, at Tupelo, Mississippi, their train was rear-ended by another train, while stopped to take on water. Colonel Torrey and one trooper received injuries.

      Finally arriving in Jacksonville, the soldiers went to nearby Camp Cuba Libre. True to most military operations, they waited and waited. Harris spent much of his free time reading morning and evening newspapers.

      Conditions at the camp, already bad, got even worse. Casualty statistics for the short war reveals, between May 1 and September, 1898, 200 men killed in action, while 2,505 died of various diseases. Typhoid fever and other illnesses raged through the men of Troop M. Finally, mustered out in October, most of the unit left for home. They had not left the United States and never fired a shot at the enemy. Harris brought his illness and Army tent home with him. The tent is now in the collections at the Northeastern Nevada Museum at Elko.

      After several months recuperation in the hospital and at home, Harris took a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad for two months. He then became a guard at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. He stayed for three years. There, he met and married Ora Ellen Bright. The couple to Elko a short time after their wedding.

      In 1907, Elko County Sheriff L.G. Clark appointed Harris as undersheriff. Two years later, he became steward of Elko County Hospital turning it from a disgrace of an institution the county could be proud of. In 1910, he was elected Elko County Sheriff for the first time.

      This was the real beginning of a law enforcement career that encompassed 16 years of hard and often dangerous work over more that 17,000 square miles of territory. Elko County is the fourth largest area in the nation. It is larger than many states.

      He covered his territory any way he could, usually by horseback or buggy and by train when possible. The county was, and still is, sparsely populated with many miles between ranches and towns. This made his job difficult, especially in bad weather.

      A good illustration of his travel difficulties in the mail stage robbery in Jarbidge on December 5, 1916. When notified of the crime and murder of driver Fred M. Searcy, he and the district attorney, Ted Carville, said they would come to Jarbidge right away. Right away turned into a three-day trip.

      They first boarded the eastbound train for Ogden, Utah. Then they changed trains to go north to Pocatello, Idaho where they boarded another bound for Twin Falls, Idaho. From there they went to Rogerson, Idaho to catch the mail stage to Jarbidge. The crime occurred in the dead of winter and that meant foul weather all the way.

      There are four unusual aspects of the killing and robbery. It was the last armed robbery of a horse-drawn stage in the United States. A dog provided some of the evidence. A bloody palm print, found on an envelope at the crime scene, helped convict the murderer. The same man who prosecuted him paroled the killer almost 28 years later.

      There is only one open road into Jarbidge in the winter. The stage and driver, sighted only a few hundred yards from the post office, disappeared into a raging snowstorm. Several hours passed and Postmaster Scott Fleming formed a search party. He telephoned Rose Dexter who lived on the outskirts of town and she told him that the stage passed her house around 6:30 p.m. It was now after nine o'clock.

      About eleven p.m., the searchers found the stage a short distance off the main road. Searcy, shot in the back of his head, was dead. The shivering horses were tied to willows near a bridge. There were prints in the snow, some made by a large dog.

      There weren't many big dogs in town. One of the men followed a large yellow stray known to hang around a man named Ben Kuhl. Nose to the ground, the animal led the man to nearby bridge. The searcher found a black overcoat stuffed between timbers. It was later identified as Kuhl's. In the same area, searchers found a bag of money and a shirt.

      Kuhl stood trial along with an accomplice, Ed Beck. Beck, also known as Cut-Lip Swede, secured the murder weapon for Kuhl. The bloody palm print and Kuhl's palm print were flashed, side by side, on a curtain in the court room. Harris had contacted C.H. Stone, head of the Bakersfield, California police identification unit, to examine the prints. He brought another expert, O.W. Bottoroff, from Fresno. Both verified that the prints were made by the same man. This was the first use of a palm print, anywhere in the world, to convict a man of murder. Kuhl received a death sentence from the judge.

      Beck given a life sentence in a separate trial, served only six years before parole.

      One week before Kuhl's date with death, the Board of Pardons commuted his sentence to life. In 1945, Governor Ted Carville, who had prosecuted him in the first place, signed his parole papers. Kuhl went to San Francisco, where he died of Tuberculosis the following year.

      Another well known case involved an unusual rustling scheme of the UC Ranch in northeastern Elko County. . . .

      The Bob White case was another Harris investigation and perhaps, one of his most mentally painful. He believed the convicted killer was innocent.

      Robert H. White owned and operated a restaurant in Elko, ran a taxi service, and drove the school bus. He often made special trips to deliver sick students to their homes. A huge man, over six-feet tall, he weighed 280 pounds. He was genial and well-liked. White was also an active part of gambling and bootlegging businesses - that flourished in Elko in 1928.

      In spite of these lucrative pursuits, all was not roses with Bob. When his wife, Kathryne, wanted to take a trip to Ireland, he was short of funds. One of his closest associates was Louis Lavell, called Louis the Greek. A third man, Mike Connis, was in partnership with White and Lavell. The three ran crooked card games at local hotels.

      On Sunday, May6, 138 Connis and White knew that Lavell had over a thousand dollars in cash on him and a cashe of expensive jewels at his home. Connis saw Lovell and White getting into White's car about eleven p.m.. It was the last time Louie the Greek was seen alive.

      Mr. and Mrs. Walter Gale and Mr. and Mrs. Opal Richardson left the movie theater that night and took a short drive. They saw White sitting in his car near the Hesson powder house east of town. As they approached, he sped off.

      On Monday, May 7, Kathryne White caught the eastbound train for New York. She carried a large roll of bills ad a passport for Ireland.

      At 8 p.m. that same day, unable to locate Lavelle, Connis contacted Sheriff Harris who started a search. They eventually went to the Ryan place near Secret Pass which White had leased. Mysteriously, the cabin had burned to the ground the night before leaving smoldering ruins, a few pieces of metal harness buckles, an iron bedstead and five empty, charred gasoline cans.

      The following afternoon, Emerson Elliott and two friends were east of Elko hunting rabbits. Near the powder house, they discovered a gray hat and a small pool of dried blood. Nearby was a larger of blood. When they returned to town, the ELKO INDEPENDENT was on the newsstands with the story of Lavell's disappearance. Elliott immediately told Harris of his discovery. The hat belonged to Lavell.

      Harris went back to the Ryan cabin early Wednesday and dug through the charred debris. He found a belt buckle bearing the name Louis along with partially burned platinum dental plates and several bones.

      Returning to Elko, Harris saw White nervously filling his car's gas tank at a service station. Harris picked up a warrant at the District Attorney's office and went to the gas station, only to find White gone. He eluded search parties in Elko. Joe issued a nationwide bulletin for his arrest.

      White was captured a week later, hiding out in a bunkhouse 25 miles south of Chicago. His wife had been arrested a few hours earlier in New York City, and police located him from an address on a telegram she sent to him. Sheriff and Mrs. Harris traveled to Chicago too bring White back to Elko.

      A large, unruly crowd gathered to see White taken from the train to the courthouse. A drunken member of the crowd yelled, There goes the bloody murderer now! Someone kicked him in the seat of his pants and he retaliated. General fighting broke out, resulting in the arrest of three men. Harris, aware of the crowd's mood, approached the courthouse steps with White.

      Veteran newsman, Chris Sheerin said, The train stopped and the Sheriff came out with White. We decided to use a flash on our camera so we'd be sure to get a good picture of them, but we hadn't cleared this with the Sheriff, which we should have done.

      As White and the lawman started into the courthouse, people shouted and brawlers were subdued by deputies and local police. Suddenly, the camera flash went off. White ducked and Harris went for his gun.

      The picture was a fiasco, Sheerin says. It was a mess all the way around. We never got a picture and Joe Harris was disturbed. However, the editor of the ELKO INDEPENDENT did a whole column about the photographer from the ELKO DAILY FREE PRESS taking a picture that didn't turn out.

      White was sentenced to die in the gas chamber in Carson City. He became the second man in the United States executed in this manner. Nevada, in 1921, was the first state to use lethal gas as capital punishment.

      Ruthe Gallagher of Elko, Harris' niece recalled, My Uncle Joe was so distressed over this execution. He always felt that Bob White would have told him some things when they were talking the night before the execution. But then the warden came in and he wouldn't talk any more.

      On June 2, 1930 White was calm and offered no resistance when strapped into the chair. Warden M.R. Penrose asked if he had any last minute requests. Bob smiled, then said, Yes, would you please bring me a gas mask?

      His body, claimed by friends, was taken from the prison. Some time later, an article in a national magazine reported that Bob had been restored to life and was seen in Alaska. Before Kathryne died in January, 1934, she had insisted she knew nothing of any plans her husband made about Lavell. She also said she had his body cremated in San Francisco, thereby ending the resurrection stories.

      All the sheriff's cases were not this spectacular, but they were certainly interesting.

      One February, he searched for Alta Peters. She stripped of her clothes, crawled out a basement window at the hospital and went for a walk. He and forty searchers found her three miles east of town at the Green Ranch. She asked Harris if he had an overcoat. She borrowed it and asked him to take her to jail. She didn't want to go back to the hospital because they were trying to kill her.

      Another time, Harris went to South Fork to recover some cattle. In the caller's words, the cows were attached. He took his son, Jesse, with him. The cattle got away and they had to hunt them on foot.

      Jesse later reported that they walked 20 miles in the dark, stumbling into ditches, badger holes and willows. He said the Sheriff's usual jovial disposition underwent a distinct change in the process. . . .

      In 1917, Harris went to Shafter to investigate a runaway train report. An inebriated railroad employee, J. Wells Brown, decided to go for a train ride. He practiced backing and going forward until he derailed a passenger coach. he panicked, opened the throttle, and leaped off the engine. It jumped the track and plowed through 400 yards of sagebrush before finally stopping.

      Brown, unarmed when Harris approached him, submitted to arrest. His wife, though, had an automatic weapon concealed in her bosom. She gave the gun to Joe and he asked her to leave the room where he and deputy were questioning her husband. She left and returned almost immediately with a loaded, cocked rifle. She herded the two lawmen into an adjoining room. She pointed the rifle at Joe and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, she had forgotten to press the ejector in and the gun didn't fire.

      The two lawmen struggled with her and she fought like a wildcat, kicking and screaming. She then attacked Harris with a pair of scissors. Disarmed a third time, she and her errant husband finally were hauled off to jail. . . .

      On August 15, 1933 Harris and a deputy drove to the UC Ranch. They were looking for Steven Smith, a fugitive named on a warrant from California. They contacted the ranch foreman, Archie Bowman, and the three went to a field where the suspect was running a mowing machine. They approached him and talked about the warrant. Smith said he would tie the horses and come along peacefully. He tied his team to a fence at the edge of the field, suddenly whirled around and began shooting.

      Harris, hit in the neck, ended up in a ditch after dropping his gun. Smith took a ranch hand hostage and stole a car for his getaway. He was apprehended about four days later and returned to California.

      The day after the encounter, (John) Oldham (of Elko), noticed Joe limping and commented, Mr. Harris, I heard you fell in a ditch.

      The lawman growled, Fell in a ditch? Like hell! I jumped in. I'd rather be a live coward than a dead hero. . . .

      Harris turned down an offer of the warden's job at the State Prison in Carson City in 1923. IN 1935, Reno officials asked him to be Chief of Police. At the time, Reno was a wide open western town and city fathers wanted a strong, proven lawman to clean it up. Harris refused the job. He wanted to stay in Elko County where he knew everyone by first name.

      He never wore a uniform. According to Chris Sheerin, he usually wore a big hat and western garb - light tan shirt and pants. (Sheerin said,) He was a personable and fine looking man. He looked like a sheriff. . . .

      Truly, the Court convened as Court of Sorrow in 1936. The sentence of the court was that The Sheriff will still be remembered with affection and respect more than fifty years from now. He is remembered, affectionally and with respect, 56 years later.


Home Page |  What's New |  Most Wanted |  Surnames |  Photos |  Histories |  Documents |  Cemeteries |  Places |  Dates |  Reports |  Sources