By:  S. Michael Boyd, Grandson of Lige Harris

Revised:  July 22, 1997


Tuesday, September 2, 1924 was like any other night in the tiny hamlet of Garland.  Not much going on.

 Some of the Harris kids had been to a meeting at the Baptist Church.  Some had stayed home and a couple had jobs and were at work.  Sarah worked the night shift at the telephone company and her sisters would often spend the night with her.  Pretty much everyone would quit using the phone in the evening, so the evening operator would merely put up a cot and wait to see if she was needed in the middle of the night.

 As Ruth was being walked home from the Baptist Church by her friend Cecil Nelson, she ran into her dad, who the Harris kids called “Papa” near Weir’s Drug store.  Ruth said goodnight to Cecil and “Papa” walked her the rest of the way home.  Home for the night was the “Garland Exchange” where sister Sarah was working.

 It was a pleasure to walk the streets with “Papa” because Elijah James Harris was the “icon” of downtown Garland.  Everyone knew him – everyone loved him. Lige was about to being his third term as Dallas County Constable in Precinct No. 3 in Garland and had just defeated Deputy Sheriff Hilliard Brite and Asa McCallum, in the July elections.  Lige began his first term in January of 1921.  Winning the primary back then was winning the election since there was not a Republican in sight!  The Garland News reported in July of 1923 that Lige had defeated Mr. McCallum and Deputy Sheriff Brite by more than a 2 to 1 margin.

 Many thought Hilliard was jealous of Lige because he was loved by all and had handled him so readily in two elections.

 Since Lige had such a large family to support, he felt it necessary to take on a night job, so, he had become the Nightwatchman for the downtown merchants.  The downtown merchants had an informal association and would take up a collection to pay him and paid him an extra “fee” for making arrests.

 The “fee” was not a very good thing for Lige.  He was too kind for his own good and had a reputation with both Blacks and Whites as a kind man who would help them stay out of trouble.  Many of the violators would be merely “escorted” home by Lige, thereby forgoing any fee he might obtain for an arrest.  Young men were often found gambling or drinking and a stern warning endeared them to Lige.

 The Garland News reports numerous arrests by Lige, ranging from theft of chickens to car theft.  Several incidents were reported where escaped convicts, who had broken out of the “Convict Camp” in Grand Prairie, were caught and returned.

 Besides, the city jail, which he and his family still call the “Calaboose”, was small, concrete and very hot.  Two cells facing each other were not the place to put even criminals if you cared for humanity at all!  In the April 5, 1921 edition of the Garland News, the “Calaboose” was referred to as “Garland’s Bastille”, an interesting term to use since the article was about 3 kids being “busted out” in the middle of the night!”

 Sometimes the kindness had some ill effects as my mother Nora often told me how scared she was the night Lige brought home a criminal and handcuffed him to the bed so as not to expose him to the “heated” conditions of the Calaboose!

 That September night after dropping off Ruth to spend the night with Sarah at the phone company, Lige proceeded on his rounds by stopping next door at the “ice house” and visiting with the folks there, before continuing making his rounds.

 Lige had missed work on that Monday night because of a stomach ailment and was not around to notice that the light was out back of Dyer’s Drug Store, which made the alley very dark on that side of town.

 Since calls were few late at night, Sarah and Ruth had moved the cots in the telephone company close to the phone and turned on the “night bell” in order to go to bed.  By 1:00, they were sound asleep.

 Shortly after 1:00 a.m., Sarah was awaked by a noise.  Thinking it was the switchboard going off she sat up, looked, listened and then laid back down to go back to sleep, only to be awaked by a “subscriber” who called to ask about the shooting in downtown.  He had just returned from downtown Dallas and had heard what he thought were shots.  Sarah had chills run up her spine as she realized it was the sound of gun shots that had awakened her the first time, not the switchboard.

 Almost immediately the phone rang again.  This time it was #175, the identifying number of the Garland News.  No one ever worked this late, so she was surprised to hear her dad’s voice say “Sarah, call Doc Ogle, I’ve been shot.”  Immediately he changed the story to “someone’s been shot”.  He didn’t want to alarm her!

 Sarah, by now terrorized by what was happening, quickly dialed Doctor J. H. Ogle’s number.  He was a close friend of the family and had delivered six of the Harris kids.

 As soon as he was alerted, the same “subscriber” called again to ask about the shooting.  Was he trying to establish an alibi, as Ruth was later to ask?  Immediately there was a knock at the door, and it was the wife of the “subscriber” who had called earlier.  She was a former night operator and had come to relieve the Harris sisters on duty.  How did she know they needed to be relieved?  They let her in and took off running to the northwest side of the square where their dad had been shot.

 The question on how this lady knew it was Lige who was shot has never been answered, but how did she know if her husband did not?  -- unless one of them was involved in some way!

 Sarah and Ruth raced the two short blocks to Dyer’s Drug.  There they found their dad, lying on the curb near Doc Ogle’s office at the rear of the Drug store.  After being shot, he crawled across the street to the Garland News office, pulled himself up by the door knob, knocked out the door glass with his gun to gain entry, and entered the News office to call the “Garland Exchange” or telephone office as we would call it today.  After being shot, he crawled back across the street to be near Doc Ogle’s office so he would be easily found.  He was back to within a few feet of where he was shot!

 Lige must have been in great pain.  He was shot in the lower abdomen, just above the belt, but still had enough presence of mind to tell Sarah she needed to get back to work, because she was needed more at her job than with him.  Sarah assured her dad, her job was being taken care of.  The 17 year old Sarah and 15 year old Ruth huddled in fear!

 Soon a friend Cliff Smith, Doc Ogle and a number of others were at the scene.  Lige was talking freely as Doc attempted to learn the extent of the injuries.  When Doc asked him how he was doing he replied “I don’t know Doc, but if I could get up from here I would get the yellow devil”.

 This quote left many to wonder in later yeas if Lige was referring to the “yellow devil”
 as merely a coward or if he was referring to someone with “yellow” skin.  However, the Dallas News reported that Lige talked freely on the way to the St. Paul sanitarium and that he had told his brother Joe P. Harris:  “The arc light at the rear of the drug store had gone out, and I was unable to see well.  I saw only one of the Negroes well.  He was tall, slim, yellow Negro, and he is the one who fired at me.  I am not sure where the other Negro was, probably squatted down in the dark nearby.”

 The young daughters listened intently to their dying dad as he told the events of the evening to Doc and others.  Lige said there were three men altogether and Cliff confirmed that as he had seen 3 men in the dark running to their car.  As he was making his rounds, he heard a noise in the alley.  He saw nothing, turned away and suddenly a shot rang out.  Other shots were fired and Lige was hit and fell to the ground.

 Falling to the ground, he pulled his gun and fired 5 shots himself.  Apparently one of them was hit as he cursed and said something about his hand.  As they left, Lige heard one of them comment:  “I think I got him”.  Some believed they were there only to “get Lige” although a more reasonable story is that they were there to rob Dyer’s Drug.  The news reported on Thursday, September 4, 1924 that the investigation of Special Investigators Allen Seale and W. W. Gully, of the district attorney’s office had found “sacks containing burglars’ tools” at the rear of the building.

 Lige remained conscious and kept telling everyone what needed to be done even down to the details of calling Mr. Holford at the Garland News office to apologize about the broken door glass!

 Before the ambulance arrived, Lee, Lige’s oldest son arrived on the scene.  Lee was fearful and angry.  His anger was obvious and Lige calmed him by telling him to “let the law take its course”.  Others began calling the rest of the family.

 One of the family members called another of Lige’s brothers, Moses G. Harris, or “Mose” as he was called.  Mose lived about three miles northeast of town (at Naaman School Road and Mud Lane) and later reported hearing a car drive by at an excessive rate of speed only moments earlier.  Lena and Nora were spending the night at Mose’s house as they had been there to help pick cotton the day before.

 Ruth and Sarah realized that their Mom needed to be notified.  Lige and Nola Josephine “Josie” Harris had always been a close family and Josie had borne him 12 children.  Lige was concerned a phone call would “scare” Josie, so Ruth decided to run home to get her.  They just lived two blocks south of Downtown Garland.  As she ran home, Earl and Susie Armstrong saw the scared young lady and went with her to get “Mama”.  They too had heard the shots!

 When Ruth yelled out “Mama, Mama”, she knew immediately something was wrong.  She dressed quickly, put her mom, Betty Nicks, “in charge” of the other children and quickly left to be with Lige.

 When Ruth had gotten back to town with her Mom, the decision had been made to carry Lige to St. Paul, so Josie rode in the ambulance with him.  The others followed in their cars and all arrived at the same time.  As they rode the elevator upstairs, Lige still remained calm.

 Lige went immediately to surgery to remove the bullet.  St. Paul in those days had a waiting area outside the operating room, so the family could barely see Doc Ogle working to remove the bullet through the pulled drapes.  Josie took the family down the hall to pray.

 The operation was not successful.  The bullet had lodged near his backbone and could not be removed.  Lige slowly drifted into a coma and died early Thursday the 4th of September.

 Lige was taken home one last time and was later buried in the Knights of Pythias section of Garland Memorial Park.  It is said that the funeral procession strung out all the way from the Cemetery to the Baptist Church.

 The outraged community was ready to take up arms against the assailants – if they only knew who they were!

 The general consensus of law enforcement and the community was that the assailants were black men.  In addition to the Special Investigators from the D.A.’s office, Deputy Sheriffs Brite, Hal Hood and Dave Bradshaw began the search for Harris’ assailants.  Armed posses of citizens began working under the direction of the sheriffs, looking for an abandoned truck if they per chance had left it on foot.

 Almost as if in a frenzy, an arrest was made of a Negro who was placed in the Dallas County jail.  Deputy Brite arrested the Negro Wednesday afternoon of the shooting.  The Negro had been an employee of Dryer’s Drug and would have known where the jewelry and other items in the store were kept.  He proclaimed his innocence and was later released because of a lack of evidence.

 The investigation of Elijah James Harris’ death went on for years.  Several persons, mostly Negro, were arrested generally without cause and generally only because they were black and in some form of trouble.  There was never any real evidence available to hold anyone with cause.  Over a year after Lige’s death a man came to Josie’s door proclaiming his innocence in the shooting.  He had been detained over a year in the County Jail.

 The small community continued to cry.  Not only had they lost an “icon”, but the mother of all those “Harris kids” was going to have to make it on her own.  Several had put up reward money for the arrest and conviction that was never to come.  H. B. Corley, who lived nearby them on a farm, gave them a bale of cotton and other things.  The community continued to respond.

 Mr. N. P. (Newt) Morrison, a close friend of the Harris family, knew that all efforts would be made by the law enforcement community to find the killers so he recommended to the community that they pitch in their reward money and other money to be collected and buy the family a house.  Enough money was raised to buy the Floyd house, at the corner of State and 3rd Street.  The family moved in.  It was a blessing furnished by a caring community who saw the need for this family to have this simple, seven room house.  The community got to work and painted it “farm implement” green.

 The investigation into the death of Lige Harris went on for years, with any new stranger in town always being suspicious.  Many speculated about who did it, but we will never know who did.

 The law enforcement people focused their investigation only on “Negroes”, part out of statements made by others and part out of the comments of Lige while laying there in the alley.  However, the light was out and he probably would not have been able to see who was in the alley.  Had they knocked out the light to make their entry into the building more secluded?

 Local blacks loved Lige because he was kind to them and stood up for them against the Ku Klux Klan, which was very active in this area at that time, so it is illogical to think a local black would have been involved in the shooting of a man they respected.  The Dallas News even did surveys prior to the elections asking the candidates whether they were “for” or “against” the clan.  Lige had always proclaimed his opposition to the Klan saying “someone with his face covered had something to hide”!

 I never heard any of my aunts or uncles say they thought it was a black man who had shot their dad.  If it was three black men, it was probably someone out of the area.  Had Mose Harris on the east side of town heard the get-a-way car that night driving by his farm?  The Dallas News also reported that George Williams, who lived 2 blocks from downtown Garland, heard the assailants (who had apparently parked in front of his house) “crank up their machine and leave”.  He believed they left toward Dallas.

 Was it the Ku Klux Klan who had something to do with this murder.  Some family members theorized the KKK was involved since they did not like Lige because he had stood up for many of the blacks in the community.

 Or, was it a political opponent?  The politics of the day were sometimes dirty, dividing blacks and whites and KKK sympathizers and opponents.  Some family members thought that Hilliard “Hickey” Bright might have been involved.  He had been a “spirited” opponent of Lige’s for the Constable position.  Hickey had also shot two men, George Sanders in the back at the local domino parlor and A. J. Morrison, Sr.  He was no billed on both instances.

 We will never know who killed Lige Harris.  We will never know the cowards who left this widow and all the young ones to grow up without a father.  We only know that when Lige Harris died, Garland cried!