| Features | People
isn't anything you can't do something about."
OF COLEMAN COUNTY
AND HIS LARGER THAN LIFE WIFE
- H. F. Fenton
(Triple homicide, Novice, Texas)
Courtesy Shawn and Lisa Fenton
Nine Years a
Special Texas Ranger and thirty-two years a Sheriff, H. F. Fenton's
record will stand a long time. If someone were to surpass his time
in law enforcement, it's doubtful they could equal his war record.
Even if somehow they could equal his war record, they still couldn't
equal the man, because they don't make them like that anymore.
Fenton enlisted at the age of 16, lying about his age. He received
training at nearby Camp Brownwood and he and his unit (Co. B, 142nd
Infantry, 36th Division) landed at Salerno, Italy and fought their
way to Germany via Monte Casino.
He was awarded two Purple Hearts. One by being shot through
the torso under one arm with the bullet emerging under the other
arm, missing his heart by a fraction of an inch. He received a battlefield
commission and filled every rank in his company from Private to
Company Commander. Only one other man from his original company
made it through. Fenton told of capturing a coastal village from
the Germans three times. He said they went back the third time "because
there was no place to go except the ocean."
Despite such intensive combat experience, Sheriff Fenton never fired
a gun during his forty-one years in law enforcement.
He won the Distinguished Service Cross and both a Bronze Star with
cluster and Silver Star with cluster. For younger readers, these
are the military's highest awards given, just short of the rarely
bestowed Congressional Medal of Honor.
It's personalities like the Fentons that help us understand the
times as they were. As Sheriff, he got free housing. That sounds
good until you find out it's the bottom floor of the County Jail.
If you had nightmares about monsters under your bed as a child,
think of the three Fenton children (Ginger, Judy and Shawn)
with a whole ceiling full of scary characters just a few feet away.
Besides the prisoners there were rats, bats and snakes. Shawn Fenton
added to the zoo by raising pigeons on the jail's roof.
While many men today think of camping as a boy, they remember boy
scouts singing around a campfire. Shawn remembers camping on the
Mexican Border waiting for goat rustlers with no fire, lest it reveal
their position. Shawn always had an interesting essay for "What
I did this summer."
H.F. and Loretta Fenton
Wedding photo 1950
Courtesy Shawn and Lisa Fenton
But there were
Shawn learned to catch from a trustee, when chasing escaped prisoners
kept his father away. He later attended this prisoner's wedding
and the prisoner attended his. Shawn's sisters would have trustees
push their swings for them and Ginger once told a prisoner that
if he didn't push harder, she'd have her daddy "put him back upstairs."
Drawbacks of living in a jail included being called "Jailbird" at
school, although there was never a shortage of classmates who wanted
to spend the night with the Fenton children.
Before the children came, Loretta would accompany her husband on
calls. There was no backup, and Loretta would often fill in with
her "do- right" stick. She once pulled her gun from her purse when
the Sheriff was facing uneven odds. It scared the villains, but
it also scared H. F. to the point he took the gun away. Sometimes
H. F. would be pulling a reluctant prisoner up the stairs and Loretta
would be prying the prisoner's fingers from the iron handrail.
Loretta eventually became a Reserve Deputy and a Certified Jailer,
after she had been performing both jobs for years.
hearted doesn't mean soft-headed.
Sheriff Fenton knew that fate could sometimes reverse the positions
of the players. That's why he kept a .38 Derringer in a hollowed out
Bible on his desk.
When you visit
and you drive the 8 miles between Coleman
and Santa Anna
in your comfortable air-conditioned car, you'll be taking the same
road Sheriff Fenton took on his first emergency call. But in his
case it was a freezing night and his wipers were frozen to the windshield.
There was no defrosting device and he had to drive with his head
out the window. When he got to the "emergency" it was a man that
had a pack of dogs under his house and he wanted them out.
County Sheriff meant the WHOLE County. H.F. needed to know he had
settled a "domestic disturbance" in Trickham
for the rest of that evening, because he didn't want to have to
drive all the way back from Novice to settle things again.
Sheriff Hiram Frank Fenton Jr. passed away in 1990, a few years
after he retired.
Loretta Fenton still lives in Coleman.
thanks to Shawn and Lisa Fenton for their interview, photographs
More on H.F. and Loretta Fenton can be found in the entertaining
and well-written book: Texas High Sheriffs by Thad Sitton,
Texas Monthly Press. Although out-of-print, Mr. Sitton has a new
one coming out this fall from the University of Oklahoma Press entitled:
The County Sheriff - Lord of the County Line.
was written from interviews with Shawn and Lisa Fenton, from information
obtained from Mr. Sitton's interview with H.F. Fenton for his book
Texas High Sheriffs , and Sammy Tise's excellent book Texas
with portrait of his father
The feature on Sheriff Fenton is great! ...We've
been sending this site to everyone! Everyone thinks it's wonderful!
... - Lisa F July
Sounds like a stay in their jail was much nicer than many jobs I've
worked at. ....... I just wish I had been born a little earlier
and had the good fortune to get caught stealing chickens or running
whiskey through Coleman County. Who knows what good fortune I might
enjoy today as the result of helping a youngster feed his pigeons
on the jail roof. - PJH September 1, 2000