He stood 6’6” from the top of his hat to the heels of his boots. He weighed at least 350 pounds and always wore western garb. His boots were handmade by a fellow in Clarendon, his jacket was a twill Texas Mesquite Exclusive made in Fort Worth, and his Resistol hat had a sweatband that read, “Like hell it’s yours. This hat belongs to Sheriff Rufe Jordan.” He was known to everyone in Gray County as Sheriff Rufe Jordan, keeper of the peace…and that he did. In 1950, Jordan named Shirley Nickols as his chief deputy in charge of criminal investigations. He brought him over from the Pampa Police Department. Jordan had four deputies. Deputy Shirley told me that four inmates in the county jail jumped Rufe, and they were all on the floor within 60 seconds…no guns were necessary.
I met Rufe when I was only five years old. His wife, Viola, was my Sunday School teacher. And at the age of nine, I became their paperboy for four years.
He became my first mentor, and I can genuinely say he helped mold my character as I grew up in Pampa, Texas. I gained respect for my elders, law enforcement, even how to treat a lady, and above all else, my God.
Most often, Rufe was soft-spoken with a gravel-type voice. A highly respected person who helped anyone in need. He would send them to Johnson’s Café for a hot meal, and Owen Johnson would feed them. Both of these men were good examples of the kind of folks abiding in our little panhandle town. If someone needed a doctor or a specialist, Rufe would be on the phone making arrangements, clothes for the needy, glasses for the kids, dental work done. Rufe would see to it. But hardly anyone knew about these things as they were sworn to secrecy.
Rufe would give his lists to the civic clubs at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they were eager to help deliver toys and food. He loved these holidays because he was helping others. The clubs, Lions, Kiwanis, Moose and Elks Lodge, Rotary, were eager to help. The largest Civic Club in town was the Jaycees, and they made a lot of the deliveries. The police and fire departments were also heavily involved.
When drugs came upon the scene, Rufe called a meeting of all the Panhandle law enforcement people, including the FBI. Together, they became highly organized and coordinated to deal with the drug pushers.
One significant incident involved stopping an eighteen-wheeler loaded with drugs on Highway 287. There was gunfire involved but only for a short time! Nevertheless, it was considered the biggest bust in the Panhandle. In 1954, Pampa played Borger in a big basketball game. Of course, Pampa won the game. Borger decided to prove they were better than us, so they met our guys in Skellytown, 10 miles west of Pampa, and settle the score. Wellsir, about 30 guys from each town arrived, and a big fight commenced. I was told that baseball bats, chains, brass knuckles, and other weapons were used to harm to the other side.
Pampa had two or three end up in the Highland General Hospital. Rufe got word of the fight and called a rancher friend to borrow his 18 wheeler cattle truck and meet him in Skellytown. The Borger guys suddenly vanished, but Rufe knew every name of every boy from Pampa and, with his “booming” voice, called their names and told them to get into the cattle trailer, where at the end of the trips were usually cleaned out; but this trailer had not been cleaned of all the cattle poop! When they arrived at Rufe’s office, located in the courthouse, the PHS kids were told to sign in and then call their parents to come to get them!
Our Sheriff had a beautiful tenor voice and loved to sing the old Irish and gospel songs. Wife Viola and daughter Anne and could play the piano, and they all did a lot of singing at home and the First Baptist Church.
Pampa was known for its yearly rodeo, The Top of Texas Rodeo, in late August. It had the reputation of one of the top five rodeos in Texas. It always began with a big parade with many cowboys on horseback and Sheriff Jordan leading the way. He rode a horse that was 15 1/2 hands high, Palimano, named “Yellow Dog”. He was a magnificent animal that Rufe had for 18 1/2 years.
Rufe Jordan was a very active member of the Pampa Roping Club and was presented with beautiful hand-carved saddle and chaps he always wore at any Western event.
One unique thing about living in the courthouse apartment was you knew when a jailbird was sawing or burrowing his way out!
Quotations by Rufe
• “As a Christian, I’ve never messed around with women, but I do love a good chew or cigar, ... the downside is having the ashes fall and burn a hole in my clothes!”
• “I never was big on dogs until my daughter, Ann, presented the wife and me with a little white poodle, which we named “Honey.” She is really a smart dog and runs the apartment!”
Wellsir, Rufe Jordan was Gray County’s sheriff for 54 years and listed in the Law Offices Hall of Fame. As everyone who really knew him will say, “He was one of a kind.” And I miss him...
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