GIBSON, AUDIE LEE

                    
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GIBSON, AUDIE LEE 

August 20, 1891 - December 16, 1932 

The Dallas Morning News
June 17, 2001

At a service for fallen law officers, a writer reflects on a heroic grandfather he never knew

06/17/2001

By BRYAN WOOLLEY / The Dallas Morning News

Woolley family photo

Audie and Clora Gibson, 
photographed around 1913.

 

WASHINGTON A prayer has been said. The speeches have been made. "A police officer never knows when a life-threatening moment might come," the master of ceremonies has said. Candles thousands of them have been lighted and lifted toward the night sky in remembrance. A trumpeter has played taps. 

The roll call begins at 9:15 with Alabama, then continues alphabetically through the states. It will take a long time. Three hundred and thirteen names are to be read. They have been carved into the marble walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. They join more than 15,000 already there. 

At 9:50 comes the name I'm listening for: "Audie Lee Gibson, Dec. 16, 1932." My grandfather. I never knew him. 

'He hadn't come back'
"We were getting worried because he hadn't come back," my mother is saying. She and I are sitting in a Dallas cafeteria, having lunch. 

"We heard somebody coming up the front walk, and we thought it was him," she says. "We opened the door, and it was these people coming to tell us he had been killed. Dr. Kennedy and his wife and Mr. Waldrop and another person I don't remember." 

It was the early morning hours of Dec. 16, 1932, just nine days till Christmas. She was 16. The man who didn't come home was her father, Audie Lee Gibson, a farmer who also served as deputy sheriff for the tiny community of Carlton in Hamilton County, Texas. 

"Nothing ever happened in Carlton," my mother says. 

Around midnight the phone had rung. The caller was G. L. Griffin's sister. Mr. Griffin was co-owner of the Griffin & Pierce Drug Store. He also owned the local telephone office and lived in the building. He had rigged an alarm that would sound at the telephone switchboard if someone broke into his store. It had sounded. While Mr. Griffin went to investigate, his sister called Audie and Sheriff Mack Morgan in Hamilton, 18 miles away. 

It was cold. Snow was falling. Audie had drained his car radiator to keep the block from freezing. He said he would walk to the drugstore. It was about four blocks away, just down the hill. He got his gun and left. 

His wife, Clora, and his daughter, Beatrice, wouldn't see him alive again. 

When Mr. Griffin arrived at his store, he saw a man sitting in a car. Mr. Griffin spoke to him, but the man didn't respond. Mr. Griffin reached inside the car and jerked out the keys. The man got out and ran. Mr. Griffin heard a commotion inside the store and shouted for the burglars to come out. 

Two men dashed out the back door and fled. Near the railroad depot they encountered Audie. He struggled with them. They wrestled his gun from his hand and shot him with it. 

Apparently nobody heard. Falling snow soon covered the body. When Sheriff Morgan arrived, he organized a small posse and found footprints in the snow along the road toward Dublin. The posse followed them. 

A few miles outside Carlton, Jim Pierce, Mr. Griffin's partner in the drugstore and a member of the posse, noticed footprints toward a stand of timber. He went to investigate and saw two men crouching in dead weeds. 

Mr. Pierce was unarmed, but he held his flashlight like a gun in his coat pocket and accosted them. They surrendered. 

Following more tracks, the posse found the driver of the car. He had sought shelter at a farmhouse. 

Nobody knew the burglars had killed Audie. As the hours passed, his wife and daughter were more and more frantic. When Sheriff Morgan returned to Carlton with his prisoners, Clora was able to reach him by telephone. "Where is Audie?" she asked. "Where is my husband?" 

The sheriff organized another search. Because of the snow, it took a while. The searchers at first thought Audie's body was a junk car fender. 

When Clora opened her door and saw the four callers, she knew why they had come. "Mother and I nearly went out of our heads," her daughter says. 

The grief of survivors
Almost 69 years have passed since that terrible night. Audie was 41 when he died. The men who murdered him were sentenced to life in prison. His widow, Clora, never married again. She lived to 91 and wore his gold wedding band always. Nearly everybody who knew Audie is gone. The little town he died defending has almost disappeared. The drugstore is a roofless ruin. 

His daughter, Beatrice, soon will turn 85. His five grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren have seen a few pictures of him and have heard the story of his death. 
 

It's all we ever had of him. 

At the memorial during the roll call, there are more than 3,000 people like us. "Survivors," the speakers keep calling us. Wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren of men and women who died defending the law, protecting the community. Every year since 1991, when President Bush dedicated the memorial, new people come to honor their dead. 

Many survivors are weeping. Their grief is still new and raw. 

Of the 313 men and women whose names are being read, 150 were killed in 2000. Many left young widows, children, even infants. Thirteen were Texans. 

One of them, "Aubrey Wright Hawkins, Dec. 24, 2000," of the Irving police, died like my grandfather, shot by burglars just before Christmas. 

The other 163 officers whose names are being said have been gone for a longer time. 

Until now, their service and sacrifice, the master of ceremonies says, "had somehow slipped through the cracks of history." 

Forty-eight Texans were added to the wall this year, more than twice the number of any other state. Many of them, like my grandfather, died in out-of-the-way places and primitive times when record-keepers were few and news coverage scant. Terry Baker, a retired Dallas County deputy, spends his days researching the stories of lawmen who fell and were forgotten. Among the Texans are 20 that he has found. 

Who was "Robert Goode, July 28, 1868" or "Alpheus D. Neill, Feb. 6, 1877" or "Dallas Hodges, May 5, 1881" or "Hatch York, Jan. 22, 1896" or "Ben J. Hill, Oct. 19, 1902" or "Peter Howard, Aug. 16, 1915"? 

Somebody once wept for them. Does anybody still say their names? On this night someone did. Their nation honored them. 

Now their names are etched in marble. 

The Dallas Morning News
June 17, 2001

Carlton Cemetery

   

 
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People and Places: Gazetteer of Hamilton County, TX
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Copyright March, 1998
by Elreeta Crain Weathers, B.A., M.Ed.,  
(also Mrs.,  Mom, and Ph. T.)

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