Frisco Depot was an anchor on the West End.
Had there been a post office, the West End could have been a city of its own. Through the years, as readers have shared their memories of growing up in the West End, the memory of Sheriff George Hooper’s nightmare has stood out among the rest.
Fred “Fritz” Rogers told of a tragic night in the West End, as lived by his grandfather, George Rogers, a deputy sheriff.
It was March 17, 1918 (98 years ago), a little past midnight and the end of a peaceful shift for Sheriff George Hooper and his deputy, George Rogers. The neighbors were headed home together and stopped by the Frisco Station to visit with the night patrolman, Oliver Rusk. A few political comments were exchanged in good humor before the duo continued toward home. As they crossed the Frisco tracks, they were stopped by Joe Noland. Noland was concerned because he had heard some gun shots coming from the home of Charlie Kinney, a close friend of Sheriff Hooper. The sheriff and his deputy proceeded north on Madison Street, noticing in the distance that a woman was running down the street with a man close behind in pursuit.
Rogers drove their vehicle into the intersection of Central and Madison streets while Hooper asked the woman if there was a problem. “He’s following me,” said the lady.
The pursuer then made a swift turn onto Central Street, running or walking briskly, diagonally across the street. Both officers called for the man to halt as they jumped out of the car and ran in his direction. Once more, they ordered the man to stop, and in response to the command, the man turned and fired. The bullet went in Hooper’s right side, penetrating the right lung and lodging in or near the spinal column.
Even though the bullet did mortal damage, Hooper stayed upright and managed to walk and keep firing his gun toward the assailant. Because of Hooper’s position, Rogers was unable to fire at the assailant. As Hooper emptied his gun and began to collapse, the assailant stepped to the side, which allowed Rogers to get aim and open fire. Three shots from Rogers’ gun found their target and the assailant fell to the ground.
Rogers went to the rescue of his good friend and neighbor. Hooper was able to speak a little. He said, “You stayed by me, Buddy. Stay by me now, I am done for. Don’t let my head down on the ground.”
At that very moment, a movement caught Rogers’ eye, and he saw the assailant raising up and reaching for his gun. Rogers had to let Hooper lay back as he sprung for the assailant, stepping on the assailant’s wrist and securing the gun. As he commanded the assailant to lie quiet, the response was, “I’m done for.”
Rogers returned to his friend and held his head. A neighbor lady, Myrtle Page, came out to investigate, and Rogers asked her to call for an ambulance. In her excitement, the lady called for a patrol car instead of an ambulance.
Knowing Hooper was in bad shape and every minute counted, Rogers had Page hold Hooper’s head while he went to summon an ambulance. All efforts were in vain, Sheriff George Hooper passed away at 5:40 a.m. at Jane Chinn Hospital.
The assailant, Mortimer St. Clair Holmes (Mont Holmes), died just a few minutes after 7 a.m.
Sheriff George Hooper had a reputation as a faithful public servant. It was stated that he never betrayed a friend, a trust or a principal. He fought fair, open and above board. His speech was plain spoken, never with words to conceal thoughts, and he was always truthful. His death was a great loss for Webb City.
The 39-year-old Hooper was born Jan. 13, 1879, in Ashgrove. He was married to Myrtle Bell Scott, and he had two daughters, Vinita, age 8 and Ruth, age 5. It was not determined exactly what Mont Holmes was attempting to do that March night, but he managed to rob a widow and her two daughters of a wonderful husband and father.
George Rogers was not injured that evening, but his life was never the same. He lost a dear friend and neighbor. He saw the changing of many lives and never found a good reason for the skirmish. He was a hero for getting Mont Holmes, but he never felt like a hero, he had lost a friend.
This was a sad memory of the West End, but a piece of history just the same. I am thankful that Fritz shared this memory with me many years ago.