Ricky Harpole Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Leo Parish and J. C. Sexton were the law in ‘Devil’s Triangle’

This week belongs to Leo Parish and J.C. Sexton, two of the orneriest and most persistent law enforcement officers the Devil’s Triangle ever saw.

The Devil’s Triangle got its name among the “outlaws” because it was located at the junction of three counties: Quitman, Panola and Tunica. There were stills (oops, I meant “illicit and severely illegal distilleries”) located in all three jurisdictions. The hot spot for area moonshine runners and local marijuana growers to get “busted” in was right in the triangle– Crenshaw, Miss. If the cargo was to reach its destination in Nashville, Memphis or Little Rock, it had to come through Crenshaw.

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If you have ever seen the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” you can sympathize with what Leo and J.C. were dealing with in those days of yesteryear. They weren’t always successful, but more times than not they teamed up and caught the legal bag limit of criminal miscreants.

They missed a few, with the help of a few friends of the runners. Now, mind you, I was not a participant of the aforementioned atrocities.

I was a totally innocent participant in the history of those days. But as you can see I have a socially outgoing personality and collect tales and lies from people in all walks of life.

I am breaking my self-imposed rule: Don’t aggravate a policeman and don’t write about anybody who is alive enough to sue you.

Well, I’m proud to say that those old reprobates are still alive and kicking, although they have retired with honor from public service. I just can’t help it, I’ve got a tale to tell about a few episodes we shared.

I was a farmer’s son. My ol’ Pop thought a son whose life ambitions were to be either a gun runner in South America or a crop duster in Quitman County or a professional musician in a “folk band” didn’t have enough farm work to do. He reacted accordingly by doubling my hours. In light of my usual financial condition (averaged by computer over 30 years) I concede he was right about most everything.

He hated the guitar-pickin’ aspect most of all, and all but forbade it. No future in it, he declared more than once.

I got a ticket at a road block about 1980 in his truck because he’d sent me on a mission after he’d neglected to have the inspection sticker renewed. As may be assumed, Leo and J.C. swarmed on that truck like a duck on a junebug and wrote a ticket he had to pay. ($25 hard cash.)

However, I was the one who had to appear in Judge Fox’s court which was held in a local gunshop in Crenshaw. I found myself standing in a procession that was longer than a sharecropper’s clothesline. Them old gunslingers had busted everybody I’d ever met since 1960 and a few I’d yet to meet. Well, I paid ‘em off and went home and wrote “The Crenshaw Song” and played it in bars. At Annie May’s, Gene Burns’ Thicket Bar and many private parties, mostly my audiences were the same people standing in line with me in the gunshop/courthouse.

They saw the humor in our previous situation. Eventually.

About six weeks later, Mama was fixing biscuits in the kitchen and gazing out the window and remarked, “there’s a sheriff pulling in the driveway.”

That was a statement guaranteed to send a shiver down the most innocent teenage boy’s heart right through his spine. I hastily reviewed all my recent miscreant activities as well as those of my heathen associates.

I drew a blank, by glory, and boldly strode out to see what he wanted. Actually, the stride wasn’t that bold and I was nervous as a long tail cat on a ballfield full of rocking chairs.

When I saw it was J.C. I began to have doubts about whether or not I had overlooked something I didn’t know nothing about. I congratulated myself for taking what may have been an embarrassing (not to mention incriminating) conversation beyond the ears of my mother.

There was no need to worry, of course, but here is the conversation as I remember it.

J.C.: “Boy, are you Ricky Harpole?” (He scowled even when he wasn’t scowling.)

Me: “Yessir.”

J.C.: “Well, I found you, at least. And there’s another feller down here, if I can find him it’ll fill my book. His name is ‘Winky’ Tillman and I need to find him today.”

(Well, I knew Mr. Tillman well. He worked a factory job, operated a small farm, went to church regular, and had a good wife riding herd on a passel of children. He didn’t have time to get in trouble.)

I ventured a question to J.C.

“What is he wanted for?”

J.C. said, “Hell, boy, he ain’t wanted, but he’s got a couple of old ‘Poppin John A’ John Deere tractors for sale with middle busters and cultivators throwed in and I’m trying to buy ‘em off him before Herman Bradley does.”

All those nightmarish thoughts I’d been having went up in smoke.

The mystery of the marijuana plant that disappeared from the Crenshaw City Hall remains a mystery.

And J.C. got his farm equipment, Mama’s biscuits were done and life was good.

Leo, being the judge of character that he is, will probably verify these facts and likely invent a few of his own.

Denyin’ and travelin’


(Editor’s Note: Those who have not heard “The Crenshaw Song” can do so by listening to the Local Yokels radio program on Saturday mornings from 7:15-8:30 on WBLE-100.5 FM.)