The Life and Times of Hickory Jones

-by Greg Hoots-

Elmer Jones was born on January 17, 1878 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  His path to the American West is undocumented, but by 1895, the seventeen-year-old youth had arrived in Maple Hill, Kansas, eager to work and make his way in the world. Just as much of a mystery is the origin of his nickname, “Hickory” Jones, however, that is the name which most commonly appeared in the newspapers of the day, and Jones was often a newsworthy subject.

Newspaper reports as early as December of 1895 indicate that Hickory Jones was working at Dolley & Stewart mercantile in Maple Hill, Kansas as a clerk and a delivery wagon driver.  Hickory Jones was never one to shirk from the action, and numerous accounts of his escapades appeared in the local papers.


Elmer “Hickory” Jones worked and resided at the Dolley & Stewart mercantile in the late 1890s, the two-story building at the far right in this 1908 postcard view by J. Bowers.

The Alma Enterprise of November 18, 1898 reported, “An attempt was made Sunday night to rob the hardware store of Warner & Co. and was only frustrated by the reckless courage of Hickory Jones and Jesse Veal.  It happened to be the boys’ night out and about midnight they reached the store of Dolley & Stewart, where they sleep, and were about to enter when Hickory heard someone smash the glass in the hardware store across the street.  The boys immediately rushed across the street and when they reached the window, the thief, who had broken the glass in the door and reached his hand inside and so opened it, was examining the goods in the showcase.  Hickory at once opened fire and the thief as promptly returned it, at the same time running for sweet liberty.  Six shots were fired in all and as far as can be learned, no one was hurt.  The boys pursued the robber for a short distance, but he eluded them in the darkness.  No clue has been found that will lead to his identity.  A 38-calibre revolver is the only article missing from the store.” 

In the summer of 1899, Hickory Jones was unsatisfied with his life at Maple Hill, and the young man sought his fortune in Wyoming, spending several months in the mountains before returning to Wabaunsee County in August of 1899.  Upon his return, he initially found work with the street-cleaning gang.  At the same time, Jones picked-up work at the Tod Ranch, sharpening his skills as a handler of cattle and horses.

With his reputation established, it’s no surprise to read in the March 2, 1900 edition of The Alma Enterprise, that Hickory Jones found a new job with the City of Maple Hill. “Hickory Jones is night watchman for our enterprising little burg.”

It seemed that young Jones was consumed with wanderlust, and within a couple of months, Hickory Jones departed for Oklahoma where he seemed confident that a prosperous future awaited him.  Alas, within ninety days, Jones had returned to Kansas for good, establishing residence at Alma on a farm near the south edge of town.  Jones began his occupation as a stockman, raising cattle and hogs. But as with many ranchers, he needed to find a day job that would help finance his ranching aspirations.

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The building seen in the center of this photo, located at 310 Missouri Street in Alma, Kansas, was constructed for Louis and Gus Schroeder in 1902. When this photo was taken in 1925, the fire department occupied the building.

Two of Jones’ good friends, the Schroeder brothers, Gus and Louis, hired Jones to serve drinks at their restaurant and joint. Initially, their café was located in the McMahan building at 222 Missouri Street, while they constructed a new building at 310 Missouri Street, a block to the north. Jones was a natural for the job.  His mannerisms were friendly, jovial, and gentlemanly. All of the customers of Schroeder’s establishment became immediately endeared to the enterprising young man, and it wasn’t long before Hickory Jones became a respected businessman in town.

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Louis Schroeder, standing at the right hand corner of the pool table, and his brother, Gus “Cricket” Schroeder, standing at the bar, owned a cafe, billiard hall, and joint on Missouri Street in Alma, Kansas. Hickory Jones’ first job in Alma was to operate this joint at 310 Missouri Street.

The Schroeder brothers’ business boomed in Alma, and by 1902 the brothers decided to build a new joint in neighboring McFarland, Kansas, and they wanted to put Hickory Jones in charge of the establishment.  The Alma Enterprise of November 21, 1902 reports the opening of the new venture, saying, “Hickory Jones is going into business for himself at McFarland next week.  Schroeders are putting up a building for him.” 

Little did Hickory Jones know when he opened his new establishment in McFarland that all hell was about to break loose in Wabaunsee County for the purveyors of “wet goods.”

In the early 1900s, it was state law in Kansas that most government officials stood for reelection every two years, and thus was the case with the office of County Attorney.  In 1900, a Republican candidate for Wabaunsee County Attorney, Fred Seaman, ran for office with the support of the temperance forces in the county, promising to enforce the state’s prohibition laws.  His enforcement of those laws in his first two-year term was sporadic, at best.  While certain wet goods sellers operated with impunity, others, particularly members of the African-American community, were relentlessly pursued by the County Sheriff.

In 1902, Fred Seaman was elected to a second term by a slim margin.  The temperance lobby had been very vocal in demanding that the Wabaunsee County Attorney and Sheriff strictly enforce the state’s prohibition laws.  As for Hickory Jones and his fellow purveyors of alcohol, they had been operating in Wabaunsee County for several years with the understanding that the sellers would pay occasional fines for the privilege of operating joints in the county, but that their businesses would continue to operate.

In the first week of December in 1902, Fred Seaman made good on his campaign promise to close the joints in Wabaunsee County. A headline in The Topeka State Journal of December 30, 1902 declared that Wabaunsee County was “In A Joint War” with a sub-line reading, “Wabaunsee County is Suddenly Without Saloons”. The raid was directed at ten “jointists” who operated in Alma, Paxico, and McFarland. Those arrested included John “Joker” Horne, Wm. Muller, Gus and Louis Schroeder, Hickory Jones, Sel Fields, George Noller, and Sam Mongerson, while Ted Fields and A. Hull both eluded officers, but were arrested a few days later.

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The Topeka State Journal of December 30, 1902 detailes the “Joint War” launched by Wabaunsee County Attorney, Fred Seaman. (The entire article appears in the gallery at the end of this story.)

In a move that surprised everyone, rather than taking the eight bootleggers to the jail, the men were escorted to County Attorney Seaman’s office where he addressed the offenders. The Topeka State Journal described Seaman’s actions, “Instead of locking up the offenders, they were assembled before the county attorney who made them a proposition.  It was that they discontinue their several joints and ship the goods, consisting of bars, fixtures, and liquors, out of the state…In a short time, they all agreed to comply with the order in preference to having the goods destroyed. Mr. Seaman personally supervised the shipment of the effects, and then ascertained that they had reached the wholesalers in Kansas City as per agreement.”

Seaman soon learned that his actions satisfied no one in the community. Obviously, the bootleggers were unhappy that Seaman had suddenly begun enforcing liquor laws.  But the group that was even more angry at Seaman was the prohibitionists.  They wanted the joint-operators jailed, forever, if possible, and they felt that Seaman had let them off with less than a slap on the wrist. If that weren’t bad enough, there were many citizens of the county, both prominent and ordinary, who were very unhappy that the county was suddenly dry because of the actions of one man.  The Topeka State Journal noted Seaman’s quandary, “Alma, McFarland, and Paxico are only a few miles apart, and are located in a strong German settlement, therefore they were naturally in favor of saloons.  The old school German believes that to be cut off his beer supply is to curtail his personal liberty, and bitterly resents any attempt to do so.  For years, these three towns have supported practically open saloons, which did a thriving business. As the “German vote” is something that every candidate in that county has to consider, it is very seldom that the candidate for any office which has any bearing on the liquor question, who is extensively endorsed by the “dry” element, gets within shouting distance of the office to which he aspires.”  Seaman went so far as to lament his situation in an interview with the paper, saying, “It is a disheartening situation.  By closing the saloons, I have made no friends, but numerous enemies.  The people who are interested in having joints hate me bitterly, and the temperance faction which has been camping on my trail for the past two years, hastily retired to the tall timber. The leader of the prohibition class, Rev. Mr. Gibson of the Methodist church, is not on speaking terms with me because I did not prosecute the jointists, and involve the county in an endless and very expensive litigation.”

While all of the ten joint operators took the offer of the County Attorney and shipped their wares to Kansas City, Missouri, the majority of the men who were arrested returned to their professions as restaurant operators, bowling alley and pool hall owners, and ranchers.  Soon, life returned to normal in Wabaunsee County.


This portion of the 1908 Sanborn map for Alma, Kansas includes Hickory Jones’ bowling alley and pool hall, located a half of a block east of Missouri Street on East Main.

In the wake of the great joint war, Hickory Jones left McFarland, and Louis Schroeder opened a café in the building vacated by Jones.  Hickory Jones returned to Alma, operating a series of dining and entertainment establishments on the southeast corner of Main and Missouri Streets (today Main Street is named 3rd Street). Jones, who had considered yet another move to Oklahoma, instead opted for renewing a partnership with Gus Schroeder at the old stand at 310 Missouri Street, selling “hop tea.”  In November of 1905, Hickory Jones sold his interest in the business to Billy Horne while Schroeder sold his half of the enterprise to Billy Horne’s brother, Joker Horne.


A group of men pose for Gus Meier’s camera in this view, circa 1907, in front of Hickory Jones’ bowling alley and pool room. Seen here from left to right are Tom Davis, Howard Moore, Ben TenBrink, Skimp Simon, Frank Falk, and Hickory Jones. The two men at the far right are unidentified.

That same month, Hickory Jones rented Joker Horne’s bowling alley and pool room, located just east across the alley from Horne’s ice house, where Hickory opened his business, Jones & Co.  He operated a small cigar store in the front of the bowling alley building, and advertisements in the local papers offered customers billiards, pool, bowling, and soft drinks.


The Alma Signal of October 27, 1905 published this advertisement for Hickory Jones bowling alleay and billiard hall, located in the 100 block of East Main Street in Alma.

Hickory Jones spent the first ten years of the 20th century in Alma, and he flourished in the community. He made many friends and was well-respected. Jones was a sporting man, and he enjoyed hunting and fishing in the Wabaunsee County hills. He was known to be a proficient horseman and was successful in raising both cattle and hogs.

Hickory Jones also loved baseball.  In the 1900s, Jones owned and managed a number of local teams, and his teams were known to be very successful in the field of play. He often organized a baseball team for a special event, such as the time that Hickory’s “Leans” defeated the Alma “Fats” in a well-publicized 1905 event.

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The Alma Signal of June 30, 1905 gives a detailed account of the “Fats Verses Leans” baseball game. Hickory Jones’ “Leans” defeated the “Fats” in a hitfest by a score of 19 to 18. Publisher Matt Thomson created the illustrations for the article.

In 1908 Jones owned and managed the official Alma team.  A number of Jones’ close friends and business associates played for his various teams.  Jones’ Alma team frequently played other town teams from within Wabaunsee County. A long-running rivalry existed between the Alma and Eskridge ball teams.

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The Alma baseball team was featured in this photo in The Alma Signal of July 3, 1908. Team owner and manager, Hickory Jones is seated in the second row, second from the left.

The temperance movement continued their harassment of the joint operators in Wabaunsee County. In December of 1904, J. K. Codding, attorney for the State Temperance Union, organized a small group of men from the southeast corner of the county who traveled to Alma, Paxico, and Harveyville to purchase intoxicants which were then given to the County Attorney as evidence, along with affidavits from the “undercover agents”.  The arrests, which did not come until February of 1905, included in Alma, William Noller, George Noller and his wife, Gus Schroeder, Charles More, Hickory Jones, August Brache, Billy Morris, Victoria Horne, William Moore and his wife, and in Harveyville, William and L. A. Walker were both arrested. All of the complaints were signed by Harveyville residents. While arrests were not infrequent, convictions were harder to obtain, and life continued in Alma with some degree of normalcy.

1906 was a banner year for Hickory Jones.  He began the year with a party on January 21st to celebrate his 28th birthday.  The Alma Signal of January 26, 1906 noted the festive event, “The many friends of “Hickory” Jones gathered at the Davis Hall Sunday afternoon to help him celebrate his 28th birthday.  The Jones boy never does things by halves, and this was no exception.” 

A more significant event occurred nine months later on Tuesday, October 30, 1906, when Elmer “Hickory” Jones wed Miss Emma Loehr of Halifax at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Loehr, longtime Wabaunsee County residents. Hickory Jones built a cottage just south of the Commercial Hotel in Alma where the couple resided.


This rare interior view of the cigar counter at Jones & Co., located in the 100 block of East Main Street in Alma in 1908. Seen here from right to left are Hickory Jones, Charlie Loehr, and Emma Loehr Jones.

Hickory Jones continued his business in Alma and the surrounding area with only a minimum of interference from local law enforcement agencies.  Early in 1907 the Wabaunsee County Attorney had obtained an injunction against John Horne, Elmer Jones, and William Horne, prohibiting the Horne building at the corner of Main and Missouri Streets from operations which included the sale of intoxicating liquors. The charges were met with denials and claims that the business was nothing more than a pool hall.

A more serious legal difficulty arose for Hickory Jones in 1908 when he was convicted in Osage County, Kansas of selling liquor in a building on which an injunction had been imposed.  The Alma Enterprise of December 11, 1908 reported on Jones’ legal difficulties, “Elmer Jones, generally known as “Hickory” was handed a pretty stiff package at Lyndon Friday, the sentence being 60 days in jail and $200 fine for contempt of court. He plead guilty to selling liquor in a building on which there was an injunction.  Contempt of court is a pretty serious affair and not many judges will stand for any monkeying with their orders.  Hickory began serving time Saturday noon.” 

By 1909 Hickory and Emma Jones had decided to leave Alma.  Hickory had been successful in his ranching enterprises in Wabaunsee County, and he had been equally successful in his restaurant and refreshment business.  In the course of his business dealings, he had become well-acquainted with a number of people in Topeka, and he believed that the larger city would offer him opportunities he could never find in Alma.  The couple put their home in Alma for sale.  An ad in The Alma Enterprise of March 12, 1909 read, “For Sale—My 6-room cottage in Alma at a reasonable price.  Everything new and modern.  An ideal home.  Elmer Jones, Alma.”

Around 1910, the Jones family moved to Topeka, renting a house at 207 Jackson Street.  At the same time, Hickory became the manager/owner of a restaurant located at 214 Kansas Avenue in Topeka, located in the notorious “bottoms,” the home of numerous joints. Business was excellent, and it seemed as though Hickory Jones’ expectations for his business in Topeka were coming to fruition quickly.

As was so often the case, the good times were followed by trouble.  The Topeka police raided Jones’ restaurant on Kansas Avenue on May 10, 1912 and then made a return visit on May 11th.  According to a report in The Topeka Daily Capital, “On each visit they found “wet goods,” which Jones said belonged to him to be consumed by himself and his employees. Jones was fined $100 and sentenced to thirty days in jail yesterday in police court…Jones filed an appeal bond after being sentenced and will take the case to the district court.”

The arrest wasn’t the last in Topeka for Hickory Jones.  The police department was well aware of the operation of joints in downtown Topeka, and they regularly focused their enforcement attentions in the direction of Hickory Jones.  A newspaper headline in The Topeka State Journal, dated September 13, 1916, read, “Bad For Jointist…Fines and Sentences for Alleged Bootleggers Here…Spotters Caught Hick Jones.”  The article details one of Jones’ many arrests, “Hickory Jones was convicted on spotter evidence. Two spotters, a man and a woman employed by the city administration, went on the stand and told of ordering case after case of beer thru Jones and of paying him for it.  One check for $260 the woman alleged she sent to Jones was submitted as evidence.  Jones did not go to the trouble of employing a lawyer.  He went on the stand and told his own story without questions.  He admitted that he is a collector for Dick & Bros.’ Brewing Company in and around Topeka, but denied that he is the company’s agent.  He declared that the two spotters wrote out their own orders for beer and that he merely sent them in, then collected for the shipments.  Still he denied he was an agent for the company.  Judge Yates held otherwise and found him guilty on all four counts.  Jones gave bond.” When the date of the trial came, the prosecution was unable to produce the couple who had allegedly purchased beer from Jones, and the charges were dismissed.

A story of a similar vein appeared in The Topeka State Journal dated June 6, 1918, bearing the headline, “Sheriff Gets Beer, Wine and Whiskey in Raid, All Found in Country Home of ‘Hickory’ Jones”.  By this time, the Jones family had moved from Topeka to a farm south of town, near Pauline, Kansas. The newspaper related the details of the arrest, “Hickory was sleeping as peacefully as a baby about 4:30 o’clock this morning on his humble cot in his house on the old Hamm farm about four miles south of the city on the Topeka avenue road, when he was aroused by a knock on the door. He sat up and cast his eyes around the room at a shipment which he had just received and had not yet time to bury.  The shipment consisted of one case of beer in pint bottles, four cases of whiskey, one keg of beer and a quart of Virginia Dare wine. Then Sheriff Hugh Larimer and deputy Joe Holman walked into the room. Hickory did not attempt to get away.  He was caught with the goods and he showed the officers that he could be a “game sport,” even under these circumstances, by helping Larimer and Holman load the booze into their car…Lacking abundant training in the art of packing beer kegs in an automobile, the officers were at a loss how to arrange it so the keg would not scratch the car.  But Hickory came to their rescue with a ready hand and when the last pint of booze was stowed safely away in the machine, he jumped into the car and came back to Topeka, where he was placed in the county jail. A short time later he was arraigned and released on bond.”

Despite his success in business and ranching, Hickory Jones had difficulty in the luck department.  Such was evidenced in July of 1919 when he was bedfast, a victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic. It seems that his wife was attending Jones, and had just prepared a whiskey toddy that she was administering to her sick husband when the Sheriff’s officers burst into their Shawnee County farm residence. They arrested Jones and his wife for possession of alcohol.  Initially, upon his recovery from the flu, Hickory Jones appeared at the Shawnee County courthouse, addressing the charges.  The Topeka Capital Journal of April 11, 1919 reported on Jones’ request, “Hickory Jones came to the courthouse yesterday to tell the officers he was willing to go to jail on the charge of keeping liquor.  Hickory only asked one thing.  He didn’t want Mrs. Jones in jail on the same offense.  “I’ll take all the punishment that’s coming,” he said.  Hickory made his plea and sentence was deferred until Saturday.  The charge against Mrs. Jones was dismissed. Hickory is the Chesterfield among the Topeka prohibitory law violators.  When Hickory is arrested, his word that he will appear at the jail at any specified time is as good as a $1,000 bond.”

When it was time for sentencing, Judge James A. McClure sentenced Hickory Jones to thirty days in the county jail, and immediately paroled the bootlegger. The Fort Scott Daily Tribune of September 23, 1919 reported on the details of the case, “Hickory was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail.  His health is still bad and today his poor health, together with the fact that his wife needs him on the farm, caused Judge James A. McClure to parole him.  The officers didn’t really raid Hickory’s place at the time. They merely went there to get information from him concerning another man, and found Hickory’s wife leaning over the sick bed giving him a whiskey toddy.”

Four months later, Hickory Jones’ problems got a lot worse.  The Joneses had spent the summer and fall on the farm near Pauline, Kansas that they had rented, but when winter came, they returned to Topeka and took a room at 320 Kansas Avenue.  (Ironically, today, this is the address of the Shawnee County Sheriff’s office.)

On February 5, 1920, two men, Harrison Dempsey and William Harold Gingrich, engaged in a crime spree, first burglarizing the Nussbeck store on Seward Street in Topeka, before traveling to Pauline where they robbed a railroad tool shed, stealing various hammers and chisels.  The men took their stolen tools and went to the Berryton State Bank where they broke into the building and attempted to tunnel through a wall to gain access to the safe.  The men were unsuccessful and left with less than $50 in change and revenue stamps. The robbers then drove into Topeka, arriving at Fitch’s drug store, located at the northwest corner of 17th Street and Kansas Avenue.  Their first attempt to rob the store was thwarted when they saw a man walk through the intersection in the direction of the drug store.  The robbers sped away, only to return several minutes later to smash the front door, robbing the store of cigars, cigarettes, clothing, and the business’ safe. The men fled Topeka to the south, where they parked in a rural area, breaking the hinges off the safe, claiming $150 in cash. The men hid the safe in a ditch and proceeded to their hideout, the Hickory Jones farm near Pauline.

Ten days later, Sheriff Hugh Larimer and Undersheriff Robert Miler, acting on what the sheriff termed “a hunch” approached the Hickory Jones farm at Pauline at 10:00 pm.  The two sheriff’s officers approached the front door of the house which opened into the kitchen.  As the officers neared the porch, they were met with a hail of gunfire from inside the house, and both officers returned fire.  A small piece of molten lead from one of the Sheriff’s bullets flew into Undersheriff Miler’s eye, blinding him immediately. The officers entered the house as the occupants fled through the dining room into the parlor.  Dempsey made his way into the dark, as the house was engulfed in gunpowder smoke.  Gingrich continued to trade fire with the sheriff, and one of the robber’s bullets hit the sheriff in the chest.  Gingrich sustained three gunshot wounds in his back as he jumped through the parlor window, fleeing into the dark of night.  Miler, virtually blind from his eye injury, and Latimer, wounded in the chest, sought medical treatment, allowing Dempsey and Gingrich to escape.  The men made their way to Dempsey’s girlfriend, Grace Lasswell’s apartment located at 309 W. 7th Street in Topeka where they obtained clothes and train tickets to Kansas City, where they fled the next morning.

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The Topeka Daily Capital of February 24, 1920 details the pursuit and arrest of two robbers who had taken refuge in Hickory Jones farm located four miles south of Topeka, Kansas. (The entire story appears in the gallery collection at the end of this article.)

On February 23, Undersheriff Miler, acting on his hunch, traveled to Kansas City, Missouri where he met with city detectives who showed Miler mugshot books of many offenders known to Kansas City police. Miler was able to identify Dempsey, and Kansas City detectives had received a tip as to the location of Gingrich, revealed by a doctor who was treating the fugitive’s multiple gunshot wounds.  Miler and detectives Walston and Hickey entered a home at 2016 Spruce Street where Gingrich was believed to be hiding.  Gingrich, seeing the lawmen, ran down a hallway and jumped through a window onto a roof before leaping to the ground and racing to scale a fence.  The three lawmen opened fire on Gingrich, killing him in the backyard of the residence.

A day later, Miler and other officers arrested Dempsey at a garage at 15th and Troost Streets in Kansas City, Missouri.  Dempsey returned to Topeka with Miler to face charges of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer, bank robbery, robbery, burglary, and a variety of crimes committed in their January and February crime spree.

When officers searched the Jones farm after the Larimer shooting, they discovered two automobiles on the property. A Chandler Six was found parked by the back door of the house, idling, when Larimer and Miler raided the home.  The Chandler was found to be unregistered in Kansas and bore a stolen license plate.  A Ford sedan was discovered in the barn.  Likewise, it was not registered in Kansas, and it bore stolen plates, as well.

These cars proved to be the ammunition that the County Attorney needed to bring charges against Hickory Jones.  Jones was arrested for possession of stolen property, the cars, which was a felony in Kansas.  In his own defense, Jones alleged that he had moved out of the farm two months earlier, and that he had no idea that the criminals were using his farm for their nefarious purposes. The prosecution pressed for a felony conviction, but in the end agreed to lower the charge to misdemeanor possession of stolen property of a lesser value, and Jones would only serve a year in the county jail, if he would plead guilty.   Jones agreed and on January 20, 1921, Hickory Jones pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property.

By the time Jones was scheduled to begin serving his sentence, a new sheriff had been elected in Shawnee County, none other than former undersheriff, Robert Miler. The most curious situation of all was the relationship that had developed between bootlegger, Hickory Jones, and Sheriff Robert Miler.  They became best friends and business partners.  Miler owned a hog farm south of Topeka, and Jones became the manager of the sheriff’s ranch.  Miler also made Jones a trustee, allowing Hickory special privileges, including the ability to go home each night after serving his day at the jail.

Two months after pleading guilty, Hickory Jones was spending his days in the jailhouse, and shortly after 11:00 am, one morning, the call came into the sheriff’s office that the Farmers National Bank in St. Marys, Kansas had been robbed by three men, and that they had fled to the east, into Shawnee County.  With only two deputies on hand, Sheriff Miler enlisted trustee prisoner, Hickory Jones to join the sheriff’s men in the pursuit of the bandits. The robbers had held the four bank employees at gunpoint, forcing them into the vault where they were locked, while the thieves made a getaway with $4,451 in cash and coin. The three sheriff’s officers and Hickory Jones sped west on Silverlake Road in an attempt to intercept the robbers. Three miles west of Topeka, the men spotted the bank robbers’ car heading toward them.  Deputy Oscar Perkins was driving the county car, and he turned the vehicle directly into the path of the oncoming car, forcing it into the ditch to avoid a crash. Deputies Perkins and Pendleton pulled their guns, and the three men in the wrecked car emerged with their hands in the air. The driver was unarmed, while the two passengers, both African-American males, were carrying 38-calibre revolvers.  The men were packed into the robbers’ sedan with Hickory Jones at the wheel, while Sheriff Miler sat in the back seat with his gun pointed at the formerly armed robbers.  When they reached the Shawnee County courthouse, the Sheriff emerged from the car, leading the three robbers into the jail, singlehandedly, at gunpoint. Hickory Jones searched the robbers’ car at the Sheriff’s office, and discovered a small bottle of nitroglycerin hidden in the car.  Jones removed it, and the vial was carefully placed in the Sheriff Department’s safe.  It was later revealed that the driver of the robbers’ car was a taxi driver from Junction City, Kansas who had been commandeered by the two men to take them to St. Marys, not knowing that a robbery was to take place.

The next morning, Hickory Jones was paroled from his sentence in the stolen car case and released from jail.

Hickory Jones became a folk legend in Kansas, known as a good-natured, honest, and genial bootlegger who never lifted a hand against an officer of the law, nor a customer, nor a friend. The institution of national Prohibition in 1919 changed the game for many bootleggers in Kansas.  Previously, violations of the liquor laws were state statutes, enforced by local sheriffs. During the 1920s, liquor violations became breeches of Federal law, and subject to enforcement by Federal agents and prosecution by United States Attorneys in Federal Courts.  Those convicted in Federal court were sentenced to prison in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

But for some men, change comes slowly.  Such was the case with Hickory Jones.  Throughout the 1920s, Jones continued the production of hogs and cattle, and he sold a few half-pints flasks of whiskey to thirsty customers.  Jones was able to avoid Federal liquor charges throughout the entire fifteen years of Prohibition.  Hickory Jones ran out of luck in 1935. After the repeal of Prohibition, all alcoholic beverages had to be produced and sold by licensed dealers.  All alcoholic beverages sold had to have Federal tax paid on the product.

In 1935, Hickory Jones was arrested by Federal agents for failure to purchase a license to sell alcohol in Kansas.  Jones was compelled to appear in Federal court in Kansas City, Kansas on December 3rd, 1935 before Judge Richard J. Hopkins, an unabashed Prohibitionist in politics. The trial was widely reported in the newspapers of the day. The Kansas City Star of December 3, 1935 reported, “Judge Hopkins and Hickory Jones, it might be mentioned, have been on opposite sides of a certain question during the thirty years they have been hearing about each other.  Judge Hopkins, before his appointment to the federal bench, was attorney general, justice of the supreme court, and an active prohibitionist.  Hickory Jones in all those years has been a bootlegger.”

D. C. Hills, assistant United States district attorney, described Jones as “the dean of Kansas bootleggers,” noting that Hickory Jones had fourteen convictions of Kansas liquor laws, not to even mention the many arrests that did not result in conviction. Jones was introduced to the judge by Hill, saying, “Your honor, this is Elmer Hickory Jones, the noted violator of the Kansas liquor laws.” Judge Hopkins looked at the defendant, saying, “So, you are Hickory Jones, I’ve heard of you for years and years, but never have met you before.” U. S. Attorney Hill addressed the judge, “Yes, Hickory is pretty well known.  He has been bootlegging at Topeka as long as I can remember.  Outside of his liquor activities, he is a harmless enough fellow. He has fourteen convictions on liquor charges.  Once he was serving a sentence in the Shawnee County jail. The sheriff was notified there was a bank robbery.  Having no deputies available, he took Hickory with him.  Hickory helped to catch the bank bandits.  He was paroled the next day.”  Hill went on to describe Jones as a “hip pocket bootlegger, selling in small quantities.” Hill said that he felt sorry for Jones, but that Hickory was incurable as a law violator.  Jones’ attorney, Hal Davis, asked the judge for leniency for Jones.  Judge Hopkins addressed Jones, asking, “Do you use the stuff yourself?” Jones replied, “Yes, I take a drink occasionally.” Hopkins wanted to know, “Do you think you could quit?” to which Jones replied, “I believe so.”

Hopkins then passed sentence on Hickory Jones.  “Well, then, Hickory, I am going to make a prohibitionist out of you.  I am going to sentence you to three years in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth.  I am going to place you under probation.  If, at any time in those three years you violate the law, you go to Leavenworth without further hearing. If you don’t want to go to Leavenworth for three years, you’ll have to be a prohibitionist.”

The Star continued its report: “Jones turned to Mr. Hill and said he didn’t know what a prohibitionist would be like, having disagreed with the Kansas prohibition law for so many years, but he would be sure to see what it was like.  He thanked Judge Hopkins for his leniency.  He said he was glad to have met him.  Afterwards he said Judge Hopkins was a fine fellow, even if he was a prohibitionist.”

Hickory Jones completed his probation in December of 1938 without incident, nor arrest.  Less than two years later, on September 9, 1940, Elmer “Hickory” Jones passed away in Topeka at the age of 62.  Thirteen years later, Emma Jones died in Topeka on October 9, 1953, and she is buried beside her husband at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Topeka.

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