The Big Six; "dang it, Beau, you'd have to be some sort of a jet pilot to figure how to work all this stuff," I remarked to my friend and fellow lawman Beau Johnston of the new Mexico State police.
The basic concept of chasing crooks hasn't changed much, but the methods and tools sure have. Mobility; particularly in the great expanses of the Southwest, has always been imperative. During the settling of the west, tough lawmen chased tough criminals through tough country on horseback. A horseman not burdened with too much gear could make up to 50 or 60 miles in a day--not wasting any rime, that is.
The 20th century ushered in a new method of transportation that directly affected law enforcement and criminals both--the automobile. Who doesn't conjure thoughts of gangsters in the late 1920s and early '30s, terrorizing the streets of Chicago, riding on the running boards of Model T's while firing Thompson submachine guns? Motorized gangs such as Ma Barker's bunch, Dillinger and the Lawrence brothers wreaked interstate havoc in cars. While those gangs captured the attention of the country, other motorized crimes were being conducted elsewhere, including the Southwest.
The Volstead Act, enacted in 1919, prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating beverages. For the most part, the American public wasn't any too fond of the law, and otherwise-honest folks were turned into criminals as they became involved in the distribution of liquor. Criminal organizations thrived on booze smuggling both from Canada and Mexico.
Though much of the alcohol smuggled into the United States from Mexico was transported via horse and burro, by far the most efficient means of transporting it was via automobile. In response to this new-fangled crime spree, Southwestern sheriffs and other lawmen took to the roads in their own horseless carriages. In Arizona, 12 of the 14 county sheriffs of that state drove what would become one of the finest vehicles of its time, the Studebaker Big Six Duplex Phaeton. In 1924, during the height of Prohibition, the Big Six offered lawmen a large, powerful automobile that could carry up to five passengers in relative comfort. With its balloon tires, it was able to negotiate the most rugged roads and terrain. Featuring an extra-rigid frame, heavy-duty radiator and hydraulic brake system, the Big Six was a real workhorse. The car was outfitted with the same engine as the company's 21-passenger bus, one of the most potent powerplants on the road.
To study the performance of the Big Six in harsh settings, Studebaker commissioned Grover F. Sexton to head to Arizona and spend some time with the Arizona sheriffs. Sexton was actually commissioned as a deputy, and he accompanied a number of the lawmen on various investigations and apprehensions of murderers, bootleggers and thieves. Sexton accompanied Pima County Sheriff Walter Bailey on a five-day manhunt in the Studebaker, which ultimately resulted in the capture of a murderer.
The infamous Lawrence brothers, Babe and Will, whose seven-month crime spree included the murder of lawmen, numerous robberies and the theft of innumerable cars, were decommissioned outside of Phoenix by Constable Ralph McDonald. Acting on a tip, McDonald ran down the brothers in his Studebaker and later disarmed Will, who was carrying a 7 1/2-inch Colt Single Action in his waistband. Will was later hanged.
When Sexton returned to Studebaker, he relayed his accounts of the success of the Big Six with Arizona law enforcement. The company was well impressed with Sexton's escapades, so much so that it dubbed the Big Six Duplex Phaeton 'The Sheriff."
When Pima County Sheriff Walter Bailey left office, the county allowed him to purchase its Bix Six, which he continued to use as the administrator of the Mt. Lemmon prison system. He later donated the car to the Arizona Historical Society.
The Studebaker marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. It's a magnificent piece of history.
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|Title Annotation:||DOWN ON THE BORDER|
|Publication:||Guns & Ammo|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2009|
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