Western Union messenger learned morals from prisoners

By Don McAlavy

Paul Crume was a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. He came from Farwell, yet wrote many columns saying he grew up at Lariat, a skip and a hop east of Farwell.

Crume’s daily morning column, “Big D” received front-page space. He was born in 1912 and died in 1975.

Here’s one of his columns:

“Yes, W. W. Vinyard was the Santa Fe agent at Farwell and Texico and when he said something, people listened. Had the habit of knowing what he was talking about. He even knew who broke the top of his roll-top desk while wrestling with an apprentice telegraph operator, even though I personally propped up the broken part so that it didn’t show until the end of the desk came off in Mr. Vinyard’s hand a week later.

“I spent a lot of my early years as Western Union messenger out of the railroad station. Those were the years when the telegram was the symbol of death or high business indeed. Ordinary people used to wake up sometimes in the night and lie awake for hours worrying that they might get a telegram. My duties were to run the messages, clean and fill the semaphore lantern, and sleep most of the day in the mail car under the station archway. I netted $20 a month clear profit from this and usually owed Claude Rose and Leroy Faville, the local soda fountain barkeeps, $20 and a quarter.

“Mr. Vinyard was one of a collection of adults who grimly endured my growing up and prevented the growth of juvenile delinquency simply by not telling about it. Mr. Vinyard was perhaps the greatest moral influence of my life. He was even a great deal more of a moral influence than the prisoners at the county jail, and they had a great influence for the good among the brats of my set.

“The county jail was a small brick building out back of the courthouse. Except for the unusual prisoners, it was the practice of the jailer to unlock the jail each morning and let the prisoners spend the day in the air outside and hit a few licks on the postage stamp lawn. It was understood that none of the prisoners would be so dishonorable as to escape. The small boys my age and the prisoners were on first-name terms always.

“Once we did have an Amarillo smartie who was left in jail alone all through a Sunday, probably because the jailer was out of town having Sunday dinner. Out of pure boredom, perhaps, the prisoner knocked the back end out of the jail and ran off. If there had been other prisoners, they would have looked on him as a low character.

“We mostly came for one thing, because the jail always had in it an expert with the guitar or Jew’s harp. I recall one bony, tall guitarist who could sing, ‘Prison bars all around me, guard a-pacin’ by the door’ and weep to himself though the door to the jail was obviously wide open.

“Also, the jail held men with wondrous life stories that were the nearest thing in the prairie country to the Arabian Nights, and all with a moral ending.

“On that semi-frontier we probably had a higher grade of criminal than the city punks. We had bootleggers. We had men who had thieved, often because they were hungry or otherwise desperate. The sheriff often found jobs for these after they had served their term.

“None of the men wanted a boy to follow his example.

“Mr. Vinyard never asked anybody to follow his example either, but if you were a boy, he was the kind of person you hoped you would become.”

Paul Crume’s daily morning column, “Big D” received front-page space. He was also the author of the book, “A Texan at Bay” and a compilation of his daily columns and was also featured in “The World of Paul Crume” edited by his wife. Paul was born in 1912, died in 1975.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: dmcalavy@telescopelab.com