Photo by Lloyd Borer, 2015.
Almost every small town in Ohio had a “town marshal” a century ago. They had many of the same duties and responsibilities as a chief of police does today. In villages, the town marshal was the entire police force rolled into one person. That person was not necessarily trained in law enforcement. They were often political appointments, or were named marshal by their toughness, bravado, or willingness to accept an occasionally risky job.
William Henry "Harry" Kauffman (1886-1951) was the town marshal in New Riegel in Seneca County in the 1930s. New Riegel, a farm hamlet of about 300, was never a hotbed of criminal activity. Yet there was an occasional need for a marshal, and Kauffman fit the bill. The village blacksmith for many years, Harry was an imposing physical specimen, with many years of shoeing farm horses as exercise. Everyone in a small town knew what everyone else did all day, and that made for good stories. Here are a few:
Much of what passed for entertainment at this time was held at the New Riegel Moose Hall. The Moose lodge clubbers had a dance hall above and a saloon below. In 1934, one of the offerings of the Moose was “Montana Meechee and his Cowboy Band.” Wearing cowboy hats and real spurs, on a stage ornamented with saddles and lassos, the band played an early form of country and western. Fiddles, guitars, piano, bass, and drums, their concert was well received, with an audience so large there was no room for dancing.
Marshal Kauffman, who occasionally played guitar, asked “Montana” if he could join the band for a few sets. Meechee, who didn’t want the marshal digging into his past, agreed. Harry rushed home, and returned with a white shirt and a black suit. His playing was received with great applause. Whether that was because of his playing or because he was a local boy is not recorded.
In 1935, Kauffman directed a play, a melodrama about a jilted sweetheart. Nick Borer was the MC; Harry did not act in the play but was the producer/director. The play as performed under Harry’s leadership was perhaps more towards the comical than dramatic. Most memorable however was Harry playing two pianos at the same time. Locals differ on whether it was two hands or hands and feet, but it was quite a show.
1936 brought “Chief Gray Eagle” and his medicine show to New Riegel. Gray Eagle, a Cherokee, traveled with his wife and daughter, who tap-danced between sales pitches. The Chief, dressed in a business suit, sold a line of products called Mo-Tee-Na, which included cough medicine, salve, tooth powder, and the like.
One night, the chief was doing a good business when Ross, one of the section hands on the railroad, came to the Moose Hall. Half-drunk, Ross started yelling at the Chief. “You’re nothing but a fake.” Gray Eagle politely asked him to calm down, but Ross continued to holler. The Chief asked Marshal Harry to intervene. Harry told Ross to go home, but he refused. Harry lunged at Ross, who ducked. Harry roared, “OK, you are going to jail.” The fists flew between two of New Riegel’s strongest men. Gray Eagle got the audience to turn around so he could continue his spiel, but the fight went on. The Marshal eventually dragged Ross to New Riegel’s one cell jail. Ross was released the next day. No trial or judge; Ross’s pounding head the next morning was punishment enough.
Harry Kauffman worked in art iron later in life. He could sometimes be seen in shabby work clothes singing, “I’m in the mood for love” at the top of his lungs as he walked down the street. Kauffman knew that he was a character in a village full of watchful eyes. Whether singing, acting, or fighting such crime as there was, Harry was part of the village scene, and enjoyed his role in life.
[I wish to thank Ray Schindler for sharing his memories with me.]