Jess Crawford HARRIS

Male 1903 - 1980  (77 years)


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  • Name Jess Crawford HARRIS 
    Born 29 Jan 1903  Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 08 Mar 1980  Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I258  Wemple Family Ancestry
    Last Modified 13 Dec 2017 

    Father Joseph Crawford HARRIS,   b. 01 May 1878, Fort Collins, CO Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 01 Mar 1936, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 57 years) 
    Mother 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 
    Family ID F77  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Florence Mary GORNY,   b. 26 Feb 1917, Chicago, IL Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 06 Jun 1997, Elko, NV Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 80 years) 
    Married 01 Jul 1944  Reno, NV Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Children 
     1. Joellen Carole HARRIS
    Last Modified 13 Dec 2017 
    Family ID F253  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • NORTHEASTERN NEVADA HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY 92-2 sent to the compiler by Thomas Udell Harris, first cousin, once removed to Jess Harris, on September 27, 2000:

      JESS HARRIS
      THE FLYING SHERIFF
      by Carol Hendershot

      On January 30, 1903 the ELKO DAILY INDEPENDENT printed a small. prophetic birth announcement: Joe Harris is the proudest man in town. The cause of it all is the arrival of a young voter at his house yesterday. May the youngster grow up to be as good a man as his father. . . .

      This young voter was Jesse Crawford Harris, son of Sheriff and Mrs. Joseph C. Harris, and he did fulfill the wish expressed in his birth announcement. He grew up to be an aircraft mechanic, a motorcycle police officer, a test pilot and, following in his father's footsteps, Elko County Sheriff for more than twenty years. He also became known nationally as The Flying Sheriff.

      Jess preferred to spell his name without the final e and called himself Joos as a child, a nickname which stayed with him all his life and was especially appropriate during his young adult years.

      he began an independent lifestyle early. When Jess was six years old, he told his dad he didn't want to go to school because, I don't know nuthin'. He wrapped his arms and legs around a piano stool and held on. Unable to pry him loose, Sheriff Joe Harris carried him and the piano stool to Rose Gardene's first grade class. . . .

      When Jess was 17, he went with his father to meet the first air mail plane to fly into Elko and that experience fired his lifelong love of airplanes. He even perfected his signature so the J in Jess looked like a propeller. He was offered a job at he airport and for he next seven years, worked as a mechanic with a group of young people. . . .

      Pilot William Blanchfield flew into Elko in an open cockpit U.S. Mail plane and left it with Jess to be serviced. (John) Oldham (of Elko) borrowed a car and took Blanchfield to the Mayer Hotel to eat, leaving Jess to work on the plane. During the meal, they heard a plane buzzing the hotel. Knowing his was the only plane in Elko at he time, Blanchfield rushed out and saw his plane flying in the direction of the airport. Without finishing dinner, they returned to the field in time to see Jess make a perfect three-point landing. Jess had never been up in a plane before but explained to Blanchfield that he wanted him to know the plane was serviced and ready to go. . . .

      In 1928, Jess delivered a stolen car to Santa Barbara, California for his dad. While there, he met some friends who asked if he was interested in a job as a motorcycle cop in Burbank. He was and when he joined the force he received his brand new uniform. He daughter, Jodi, says, The second day after receiving his new uniform, the cycle slid out from under him. When the smoke cleared he had to buy a new uniform and wasn't quite as smart as he thought he was. Jess told her he eventually left a little skin on every intersection in the San Fernando Valley. . . .

      In 1940, a friend suggested that Jess apply for a job as a pilot with Lockheed and he began ferrying planes in August. Jess said, One day I was ferrying a P-38 to Palmdale (California) when Tony LeVier pulled in on my wing until our wings overlapped. We were playing a game of chicken out. Jess stayed right with him until they began putting dents in the aluminum and then punched the mike button and asked LeVier if he thought they'd proved everything they wanted to prove.

      Jess later checked out as a production test pilot with Lockheed, a job he held until June, 1945. He flew everything that Lockheed built. Jess said, Test flying was interesting. I had my share of engines blowing up on takeoff, but never used a chute.

      Jess met Florence Gorny, a cashier and hostess in a restaurant near Lockheed and they were married July 1. 1944. When Lockheed began experimenting with jets soon after their marriage, Jess left the company. He and Florence moved home to Elko. Their only child, Joellen Carole (Jodi) was born September 28, 1946.

      That same year, Jess ran for sheriff against Charles Smith and was defeated. Smith immediately appointed him undersheriff, launching Jess on his second law enforcement career. . . .

      In 1950, Jess was elected Elko County Sheriff for the first time. he was never defeated after that, sometimes running against several opponents and sometimes unopposed. In a turnabout from the election in 1946 when Charlie Smith defeated him, he immediately appointed Smith as a deputy.

      Florence is intensely proud of the years Jess spent as Sheriff and was, herself, an unfailing source of strength, support and encouragement to him. She says he was on duty 24-hours a day of often got calls in the middle of the night. When he left. she never knew for sure when he would be back. She kept water, survival gear and lunch packed so no matter when he had to go, or what the weather was like, he was always ready. She often served as matron when female prisoners were involved and as a temporary mother in cases involving juveniles.

      She says Jess, like his father, did not wear a uniform, but he did pin on with much joy the solid gold star that was custom-made for Joe. He carried a gun, but seldom drew it, relying instead, on courtesy and his ability to talk people into doing what he wanted them to do. . . .

      He could fly into Jarbidge, for instance, in 30 minutes, a trip that once took his father three days by train, wagon and horseback. . . . More than once he flew in and picked up a sick or injured resident after landing on top of a rocky, sagebrush covered plateau at the edge of town. The plateau sat in a narrow valley between steep, high mountains that showed no mercy for pilot error. If he had to come in after dark, the residents would line up their cars with the headlights on so he could see the landing field. They bought an old car and left it parked at the airfield so Jess wouldn't have to walk into town.

      Jess could talk people into anything. In all the years I worked with him, I never did see him lose his temper, Stenovich said. There weren't any shootouts and nobody ever got away from Jess and me when we were together. The only time he ever saw Jess almost lose his temper was when Jodi took his loaded .38-caliber pistol to school for show and tell when she was nine years old. . . .

      Jess investigated a grisly murder the day after Christmas in 1965. The emasculated body of a man eventually identified as John Russell Blair was discovered by sledders on Adobe Summit. he had been shot three times in the head. The legend Born to Raise Hell was tattooed on one arm and the dead man was at first incorrectly identified by a Reno woman. Jess said his office had reports of at least eight missing men with the same tattoo. There was more than one suspect in the case which was not solved until two years later, when Neil Phillips of Carlin surrendered to Jess after a warrant was issued for his arrest. Phillips was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. . . .

      Owen Barton, a rancher from the Diamond A Desert, had been searching on horseback and by truck for several days for some lost cattle and asked Jess to help him with an air search. He was so impressed with Jess's help in locating his cattle my airplane that he bought one himself. Barton wrote and recited a poem about Jess at the 1988 Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. Titled ELKO LAWMAN - JESS HARRIS it begins:

      There's been some famous lawmen
      Who bought law and order to the West,
      For twenty-five years in Elko County
      There was one of the best.

      Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Matt Dillon
      All were men of fame,
      But here in Northern Nevada,
      Jess Harris was the name. . . .

      Jess earned many honors during his years of service. Some of his cases were written up in national magazines: INSIDE DETECTIVE, TRUE DETECTIVE (twice), STARTLING DETECTIVE, and the FBI LAW ENFORCEMENT BULLETIN. MASTER DETECTIVE MAGAZINE named him Police Officer of the Month in 1970. Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt presented the award. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC asked Jess to participate in their film segment, The Haunted West, which featured his use of an airplane in law enforcement. . . .

      Jess decided not to run for re-election when his term expired in 1974. To clear up all leftover business, he left Elko on the morning of December 14, 1974 in a snowstorm to deliver two prisoners to Carson City. The weather got worse and soon Jess was flying below power lines to see the road. He flew into a blind canyon and, in turning, clipped a wing on a mountain side, and crashed.

      He was severely injured, lost consciousness, and was trapped in the cockpit of the wrecked plane. The two prisoners, Ivan Dambrowskie (aka Donald Mentel) and Jack Lindsey, were also injured.

      At the time of the crash, were were over $200 and a loaded gun in the plane. Lindsey, who was not severely injured, could have easily abandoned Jess and Dambrowskie. Instead, he helped Dambrowskie to a nearby shack and tried to free Jess, but could not. He covered him with his own jacket and returned to the shack where he built a fire. Throughout the stormy night, he continually went back and forth between the fire and Jess, where he lay down against him trying to keep him warm.

      They were rescued in the early morning hours of December 15, after their electric beeper was finally traced. The two prisoners were hospitalized and then turned over to prison authorities. Lindsey was later pardoned as a result of his actions at the crash site.

      Jess sustained chest injuries and suffered a severe stoke because of his terrible head injury. He later said his head got bent up a little. He was hospitalized in Reno and Elko for several months and then Florence brought him home where he made a remarkable partial recovery.

      August 29, 1975 was proclaimed J.C. Harris Day, and a well-attended ceremony was held changing the name of Elko's airport to J.C. Harris Field, in honor of Jess and his father. Mayor George Corner, in announcing the name change said, Jess C. Harris, son of Joe C. Harris, ...Served with distinction and dedication and...exhibited an exceptionally high degree of dedication, unselfish service, good citizenship and family life.

      A huge retirement dinner had been held August 22, 1975. . . .

      Jess and Florence spent their next few winters visiting Jodi and her family in Yuma, Arizona where Jess's storytelling was a favorite form of entertainment. . . . Jess died March 8, 1980. After the funeral Florence wrote:

      Jess C. Harris was cremated and his ashes scattered over his beloved Ruby Mountains between the Pyramid and the Dome. His duties carried him over these mountains on many, many flights. He requested his last flight be over these mountains. He will fly forevermore. God watched over him. I love you, Jess, Florence.


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