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The Suffragette Sheriff

This 1912 film was adapted into a short story for the People's Popular Monthly in September 1915

The People's Popular Monthly, Vol. XX no. 9, September 1915

Header for Alice Joyce series in People's Popular Monthly
Presents to People's Popular Monthly Readers an Amusing Drama of a Suffragette Victory in the Wild West

[Editor's note: Assuming the plot synopses in the trade papers were accurate, this story has very little to do with the plot of the film "The Suffragette Sheriff (1912, reissued 1915)]

The Suffragette Sheriff

by E.M. Wickes

The day Elizabeth Deering said farewell to her girl friends in Mrs. Murray's boarding house she looked the picture of health; nevertheless, her physician had ordered her to a western climate, saying that she was threatened with a nervous breakdown from overwork while teaching. Elizabeth was aware of her failing appetite and a difficulty at times in wooing sleep and decided to migrate to Stanley, Nevada, where she once spent three weeks with a friend.

"And what can you do in that forsaken part of the country?" Mr. Murray queried with a frown.

"Teach, of course," replied Elizabeth.

"What, the bronchos to tango?"

"Possibly," she smiled, and then dropped the subject.

Two days later she started for the west and arrived in Stanley the following Monday morning. The first person she encountered was Thad Howard, a tall, rangy fellow, with a pleasant face and a quiet smile. When she inquired for her friends, the Baileys he gazed at her in surprise.

"They've been gone from here for a year," he said. "They moved plumb down to Texas!"

Her regrets and disappointment escaped in a heavy sigh, which induced Howard to add:

"Looks to me like the Baileys were your one best bet, and I'll bet you never wrote to find out what was what. Guess you knew them years ago and thought they would always stick here like the mountains. Who drove you out here-some M.D.?"

She nodded. "But how did you know?"

Scenes (supposedly) from the Alice Joyce film The Suffragette Sheriff

"I wasn't sure, just guessed it. Pretty young girls don't come to these parts unless it's a case of have to. It's a hundred-to-one you're in a bad mess now and don't know what to do. If you're going to stay maybe I can help out some."

"I suppose I'll have to stay," Elizabeth answered quietly, feeling that the good-natured stranger was one to be trusted.

"Then as a good citizen of Stanley I'll look after you until you can navigate for yourself." And he picked up her two grips as if they were paper bags. There's a nice reasonable hotel down a bit," he said. "Better put up there for a day or so. My name is Thad Howard, foreman at the Short H. Ranch."

Elizabeth thanked him as she walked by his side. A few minutes later while protecting her from being hit by an automobile, he was bowled over with the grips.

"Oh, I'm so sorry you were hurt on my account!" she cried brushing the mud from his cheek and revealing a long scratch.

"Don't mention it. Just a little pleasure in this case. I'll tell that fool what I think of him when I meet him alone."

That was the beginning of their friendship, and as the days passed they became more and more chummy.

One year from that day she married Howard. She contributed most of her savings to his little hoard and they purchased a small ranch, as she had decided to spend the rest of her days there.

When she had been married about six months Thad became indolent and indifferent, and had it not been for her own heroic efforts the ranch would have gone to ruin. A number of her neighbors were bothered with lazy husbands, and when she found that talking had no effect on Thad she set her mind to organizing a women's club to eliminate the Rip Van Winkle tendencies in the men. The initial meeting was held in the church with twelve charter members present. In her opening address she said:

"We have too many able-bodied men in this town that refuse to support their wives as they should and something has to be done. And the saloons should be made to close at midnight."

All present agreed with her and she continued:

"Tomorrow the town council meets, and as you have the vote here you should all attend and see what steps we can take to better conditions. I would suggest that we have the council pass a law that every able-bodied man without an income should be forced to work at least ten months out of the year, or be made to clear out of town, unless he wants to go to jail and have his wife get the benefit of his work there. There is plenty of work to be done here that is never done, and the country is the loser, as well as the wives."

Her remarks met with a hearty approval, and she was about to resume, when another woman asked for permission to speak. Elizabeth sat down to listen.

"Your ideas are fine," the new speaker, a short, stout woman, said, "but how are we going to enforce these new laws, even if we be lucky enough to have the council adopt them? The sheriff and his deputies are Rip Van Winkles themselves and won't budge unless they see a fee in sight."

"Elect a woman sheriff; and give her women deputies," Elizabeth responded.

This suggestion met with cheers and hand-clapping, and before the meeting broke up, the members decided to attend the town council session on the following day. The matter was presented to the Council on the ensuing morning, and as that body represented the business element, it found favor and the suggestions of Elizabeth became laws.

Elizabeth's efforts did not cease here. She marshaled her forces together for the coming election, two weeks off, and without making any personal campaign for the office, she was nominated and elected sheriff, carrying with her into office three women deputies and old Cy Crane who had been a fixture in the sheriff's office for years.

Cy pulled at his short goatee and grinned when Elizabeth met him and informed him that he had been elected with the women.

"That's darn sweet of the wimmen folks," he said "But I'm wondering how my own wife will like to have me take orders from other petticoats."

"She's one of us and perfectly willing." Elizabeth answered.

"The boys had an idea you was an angel when you blew in," Cy mused. "I wonder what they think now? The wimmen folks didn't say anything about such doings when they cajoled me into giving them the right to swap lies and stick ballots in the box on election day."

"Well, all that goes with the franchise," she laughed.

"Do you get much more with that pesky thing-much more that we boys don't understand?"

"Not so very much-but enough to make the town good."

"Say, according to this franchise, who bakes the bread and makes the bed?" Cy said.

"Why, the women will still do that, unless the men need extra exercise."

"I'm for whatever is right," Cy said, scratching his head thoughtfully, "but I think the boys had better call a meeting to see which way the town is going."

"You don't need any. You'll be real men or go to the dogs."

Cy puckered his lips and shook his head. Then he strolled away.

Elizabeth anticipated opposition from the idlers, and felt that her own husband would become very active if a movement should be started to out her and her assistants. When she returned home early that evening she found Thad reading a newspaper.

"From now on, Thad," she began, as soon as she had closed the door, "you will have to become a useful citizen and a good husband. No more card playing when you should be working. You know of the new laws, and possibly you have heard I've been elected Sheriff."

"I sure do know all about this female revolution," he grinned. "Hank Rowley just came by and told me. But you didn't get my vote. But say, what in the world ever put it into that pretty head of yours to want to be a sheriff. If you have to carry a pair of handcuffs around for a day you will be plumb tired out-not fit to do washing or ironing!"

"Then you can give a hand with it.

"Me wash!" Exploded Thad, dropping the newspaper.

Elizabeth nodded.

"I think we boys had better hold up a train and get sent to jail for life. When does all this new fangled stuff begin?"

"We are going to start to enforce the law tomorrow, and the Town Council will back us up."

"Them mummies!" Thad sniffed. "They couldn't back up a load of dirt! What ever made you double-cross me in this way? Haven't I always been a kind, faithful husband?"

"Yes; kind, faithful and lazy," she returned. "When we were married you said you would honor, love and obey, as well as support me. You dishonored me by becoming an idler, and now you must become a respectable citizen and work."

Thad studied her features for a moment, then smiled.

"I think we boys had better have a meeting tonight," he said. "And did you get your badge?"

She displayed her badge for his benefit.

"You ought to go and flash that on old man Grumpy, and tell him if he don't pay up that two dollars he owes me from a poker game that you'll jug him."

"I'm the sheriff, not a debt collector." She replied, as she began to prepare the meal.

"Then what good is it having a sheriff for a wife?" Thad remarked.

Elizabeth offered no reply and continued with her work. That said no more, but as soon as he had finished with his meal he went out, saying he had an appointment. Elizabeth surmised that he was up to some mischief. He had not been gone five minutes when Mrs. Jenny, one of the charter members dropped in.

"How does Mr. Jenny take to the new change of affairs?:" she asked.

"He said every women in town ought to be jailed for getting the vote under false presences. He said we never mentioned anything about women being sheriff and the like, and he's going to put up a kick-blames your man for it all."

"Thad isn't to blame any more than the rest."

"Jim claims he had no business to marry you, and that he should have stayed single and kept the town out of trouble."

"Thad didn't get the town in trouble. The rest of the idlers are just as much to blame. And Thad couldn't have married me unless I wanted to marry him. He's not a bad sort; and if he gets to see things right he'll be all right, I dare say. So will the rest of them. You husband is just as much to blame as Thad-"

"It's not so," Mrs. Jenny broke in. "And if you're going to accuse my Jim of being lazy I'll resign. My poor Jim hasn't always got his health, whereas your man is a big strapping fellow, and never knew a moment's sickness."

Mrs. Jenny's sallow cheeks were becoming flushed from the excitement and resentment, and Elizabeth deemed it unwise to make additional comments of a disparaging nature. Discord at the outset would be fatal.

"I suppose there is some truth in what you say," Elizabeth remarked, called back the smile in her brown eyes, "but we won't argue about it or we won't make any progress. And that's just what the men would like.

"Well, they won't get what they like," Mrs. Jenny snapped. "My Jim has got to go out and work like a real man or take the consequences. He's no more sick than you or me. I'm tired of his fooling."

"I think Thad is up to some mischief," Elizabeth said. "And Cy Crane, who should be with us hand and foot, spoke about calling a meeting. Maybe he'll be the first I'll have to arrest."

"That old goose is always up to some mischief," Mrs. Jenny declared. "I didn't want him on the ticket from the beginning. He better pay my sister for the eggs he owes her."

Mrs. Jenny went on her way shortly after that, but returned about nine in the evening with a wiry little spinster, who was one of the new deputies. The idlers had always detested her as a meddler and had come to call her "snoozing" Ann. Now they had more cause to dislike her.

The trio finally sallied forth with the intention of trying to learn something of the idlers' plans, and as they passed Cy Crane's barn they saw the reflection of a light from within.

"I'll bet that is where they are holding a meeting." Elizabeth whispered. "And we should go over and find out."

This being agreeable to the others the three women stole cautiously over to the barn and listened at the chinks in the side. The voice of Thad Howard was audible. He was saying:

"I tell you, friends, something has to be done, and done in a hurry. We can't have a lot of petticoats flying around this town with badges tagged to them!"

"There wouldn't be any if you hadn't gone and made a fool of yourself," Jim Jenny retorted.

"How did I know she was loaded with new fangled ideas?" Thad shot back. "When I saw her the first day at the station I'd a trusted the life of every man in town with her."

"Gol darn it, don't you ever go putting anything I own in a woman's hands." Cy Crane was heard to say. "My wife's got seven dollars of mine now that I'd been trying to get for six months!"

"But that's getting away from the main question," Thad announced. "For any woman, sheriff or no sheriff, to say when a man must work is unconstitutional. But we can't take the matter up with the President now, for he's too busy with the war. What we have to do is to fix up a scheme to scare the petticoats out of the jobs, and get men back."

"You were the one that made it easy for them to get the jobs," Crane observed, "so it's up to you to think of the scheme. I don't think General Sherman ever tried to chew tobacco with a woman around when he spoke of war."

"I think I have it," the women heard Thad say. "We can fix it up with Bud Downs to be traveling along the mountain trail some afternoon and I'll come by and hold him up. You fellows can arrest me and take me back to town and charge the petticoats of not attending to duty. When I'm tried, my wife can have the choice of resigning or seeing me go up for twenty years. Now she won't see me railroaded, and when we get a man back on her job it will be easy to get rid of the others."

"Hurrah for Howard!" a strange voice shouted.

For a moment there was a dead silence. Finally Crane drawled."

"But how about Judge Bilkins?" he asked. "He won't stand for any shinanigin. He might give you twenty years for fooling with the court."

Crane's talk produced another pause in the talk, but the women could not tell the physical effect it had left, as the speakers were beyond the focus of the chinks.

"Cy is right," Jenny put in. "Old Bilkins won't stand for any monkey shines. And besides he has a warm spot for the women folks."

"When we'll have to get rid of Bilkins for a time," Thad said.

"How?" chirped Crane.

"Leave it to Howard," another strange voice laughed.

"I tell you, boys, this means our freedom, and we got to be serious. Now Bilkins is a bug for fishing. We can take up a collection and buy a nice fishing rod. And you can bet that the moment he gits his hand on it he'll want to bolt off on a trip. We'll present it as a token of our appreciation of his wise rulings, although he couldn't rule a ten-inch plank right. Then Sam Hall, who is dead set against the female deputies, will be the judge, and the rest will be easy sailing."

For the next five minutes the men discussed the possibilities of success with Thad's plans, and finally agreed to put them into practice. And when they filed out they little dreamed that the much despised petticoats had overheard all.

Saturday afternoon while Thad was out working on the ranch Mrs. Jenny and Nan called on Elizabeth.

"We've got to invent some means to defeat them, and at the same time teach them a lesson," Elizabeth said.

"And your man is the ring leader in the thing," Mrs. Jenny crowed, patting the side of her head.

"I know it," Elizabeth admitted, "and he will have to take his share. I think the best plan is to make the judge acquainted with the facts and see what he can do to help us. He might be able to scare them into their right senses. I'll go to see him before he starts on the fishing trip."

At four o'clock Thad came in and Elizabeth told him she was going out on some business. Such a remark always brought a smile to his face since the day she had been elected.

"Be sure you don't arrest any innocent man," he grinned. "That's the worst thing a new sheriff can do."

The way things are going along now I don't believe I'll have to arrest any one for some time, unless it is you," she smiled back from the doorway.

Howard flung away the paper he had picked up and stared at her.

"What do you mean, he cried.

"Oh nothing. I was just joking." Then she darted away.

Judge Bilkens met her in his office with a broad smile, but it quickly vanished when he had heard what she had to say.

"So that's their game!" he snorted. "I'll break the fishing rod over the head of the first one I meet!"

"But that won't do any good," Elizabeth protested. "You must help us to teach them a lesson, and make real men of them."

"They'll put Hall in my place and make a joke of the court will they Well, I'll joke them before I'm through. It's treason-downright treason, and I'll have every one of them strung up to a tree. And you say they're going to have a fake hold-up? Well, it won't be any fake trial!!"

Elizabeth gazed at the puffed cheeks of the old judge and feared that his hot temper might lead him to do something rash.

"But you wouldn't really harm them, would you?" she asked, catching hold of his arm.

The stern look in his eyes softened as he gazed into hers.

"They are not really bad," she went on. "They just don't know their places. And before I'd care to see them harmed I'd rather resign and tell them what I know."

"For your sake I won't hurt them," Bilkins replied. "But it makes me boil to think of them trying to monkey with the court. Just leave it to me and I'll teach them a lesson. Go home and say nothing. I'll leave word that I have gone fishing to give them a chance to get to work."

"And you'll promise not to send them to jail?"

"You want them cured, don't you ? And I might have to give them a scare. But you just leave it to me."

Seeing that she would gain nothing by trying to exact a promise from him she went out and later stopped in at her office to attend to some of her new duties. When through, she started for home, and on reaching there she found Thad carting in wood.

"I hear that old Bilkins just started for a fishing trip," he remarked, as he straightened up with an armful of wood. Jim Jenny just went by and told me. He said Bilkins is just tickled to death with his new fishing outfit. That, by the way, will give Sam Hall a chance to do some real judging if any cases come up."

"But there are no cases likely to come up," Elizabeth said quietly.

"Still, you never can tell just when one will bob up. And they make quick work of them out here. You women had had a snap since you have been in office. I guess the men have been so amused at it that they haven't had any time to break the laws. But wait. When they begin you'll soon get tired of the job."

"No good citizen ever tires of doing his duty," she sent back.

"His or her do you mean? Some women were born tired you know."

"No, I don't To me it looks like as it some of the men around here were born tired."

The last sentence sent Thad's brow into a mass of wrinkles and silenced his tongue.

Early the following morning Thad departed saying he had an appointment with Sam Hall about some cattle, but she felt confident that he was on his way to arrange for the counterfeit hold-up. She pretended to believe him and he left smiling. She heard nothing more until about two o'clock, when the station agent's daughter came to the door.

"Mrs. Howard!" the girl cried out, "your husband has just been arrested for robbing Ramp Bole near the mountain trail. I saw Mr. Jenny and three others holding him on the ground!"

"My God! Don't say that!" Elizabeth exclaimed in feigned alarm. "You must be mistaken!"

"No, no; it was Thad!" the girl insisted.

"All right; I suppose I'll have to go down," she signed, holding her hand to her head.

The girl left then, and Elizabeth had not been alone five minutes when Cy Crane called. He pulled at his short goatee several times before speaking.

"I come for orders," he muttered.

"What kind of orders?"

"Why, your man has been caught robbing on the highway."

"And don't you know your duty in such a case without running for a woman's skirts?"

Cy made a wry face as he spat savagely at the grass.

"Darn the women!" he growled and turned on his heel. Had he looked around he would have caught her grinning.

As soon as Cy had departed she took off her house wrapper and dressed herself to suit the occasion. She expected that she would have to assume her proper role at the trial. After pinning on her badge she hurried out, and on reaching the court discovered that the trial was about to begin.

Sam Hall sat on the bench frowning at her handcuffed husband, who was surrounded by his cronies. She looked about for Bilkins, but could see no sign of him, and she began to fear that something had happened, or that the men had outwitted him.

With very little ceremony, Thad was called to the bar and charged with highway robbery. At the end of the reading of the charge a voice in the rear sang out:

"I think I'll relive you of the trouble of trying this case, Sam."

The plotters, as well as the others in this room, quickly turned, and beheld Judge Bilkins standing in the rear doorway; Elizabeth drew a sign of relief. Thad and his friends stared at him as if he had been a ghost, but they could offer no objections.

"I understand that Howard is charged with highway robbery," Judge Bilkins said, taking his seat on the bench.

Hall looked from the judge to his colleagues. He was confused and bewildered; but he dare not lie. On receiving an affirmative answer, Bilkins made the men who captured Thad swear that they were ready to tell nothing but the truth. Thad was growing more and more nervous as the minutes passed, for the affair had lost all of its humorous phases. Even his friends carried frightened looks. The judge was calm and dignified.

"But, your Honor," Thad finally blurted, "it was all a joke!"

"What! Highway robbery a joke?" snapped Bilkins. "You're a fool, Howard, as well as a rogue! And what you have just said does away with the necessity of a trial. In that, you admitted that you committed the robbery. I suppose this is the evidence." And the judge picked up the watch that Hall had forgotten to take with him. "Looks like Ramp Bolen's watch. Ramp Bolen, come forward!"

Bolen, a tall, wiry fellow, came to the front and was made to take an oath.

"Howard held you up, didn't he?" the judge asked. "Don't you dare lie or I'll send you up for ten years."

"But it was all a joke," mumbled Bolen.

The judge leaned over and shook his finger at Bolen. "Say that again and I'll give you five years!" he thundered. "Next you think I'm a joke; and this court is a joke! Howard," he resumed, shifting his gaze, "you're as guilty as if you held up a train and I could send you up for twenty years. And the rest of your crowd could get ten for monkeying with Justice."

The frightened looks in the eyes of the conspirators seem to indicate that they wished they had never bothered with the affair.

"Now I know all about this little joke, and why I got the fishing rod," the judge said. "We have a good sheriff here, and I know you fellows are trying to drive her out of office. Now she's ready to resign if you want her to; but if she does, I'll send you all to jail, and give you all that is coming.

The judge stopped for several seconds and studied the faces before him. Then he went on:

"Now I want her to be the sheriff, and the good citizens do to; and if you want to stay out of jail you'll have to sign a pledge to respect her and help her keep law and order. I'll give you just ten seconds to answer. What is it to be-a suffragette sheriff or jail for the jokers?"

The words had scarcely left his lips when a chorus of voices sang out: "A suffragette sheriff, your Honor!"

"You're all discharged when you sign the pledge I've got all written out for your benefit."

And as the men filed up to the bar Judge Bilkins looked over at Elizabeth and smiled.

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