Tom Jernigan

Sheriff of Portales 1929-1932

Tom Jernigan was born June 25, 1893 in Llano, TX, the son of William Franklin Jernigan and Josephine Riley. Will and Josephine moved to Portales, NM in 1912, where they lived the rest of their lives. Will was a carpenter and he ran the Custom Mill in Portales. He and Josephine died within 6 months of each other in 1930.

Tom married Ora Guffy in 1913, Wichita Falls, TX. He then served in the Navy during World War I. By 1927, Tom & Ora had moved to Portales, where his parents were already living, and this is where Tom's career in politics began.

Tom Jernigan was elected Sheriff of Portales from 1929-1933. Those were wild days and there were quite a few stories of shoot-outs. This was also the era of Prohibition. In October, 1931, Tom was said to have captured the largest still in
New Mexico, located five miles south and two miles east of Melrose. It had a capacity of 1,250 gallons and could produce 500 gallons of liquor per day.

The following is one of the more amusing articles regarding the busting of
these stills (from the Portales Valley News, Feb. 5 1931)

"150 Gallons Booze Dumped in Sewer

On last Friday evening at 1:30 o'clock, Sheriff Jernigan and deputies dumped
over 150 gallons of booze into the sewer in the alley between Warnica's and
the pool hall. This booze consisted of beer, whiskey, near whiskey,
rattlesnake poison, and bonded liquor. Some was contained in cream cans and
iron barrels, and when poured out was of a thick, rusty color. A large crowd
witnessed the pouring out, amid tears and watering of mouths. They absorbed
the fumes but were denied a taste. It is reported that at the other end of the
sewer, where the disposal plant is located, that the jack rabbits became so
vicious that they whipped several bull dogs."

One has to wonder if those who reported the jack rabbits whipping the bull
dogs had been in some booze other than that which was poured out!

The biggest event to occur when Tom was sheriff happened when three men who
had robbed a bank in
Olton, TX, were hiding out at a Roosevelt Co. ranch. A
Texas sheriff was killed and one of Granddaddy's deputies, R. L. Hollis, was
severely wounded in the ensuing shoot-out with the robbers, who were led by a
man named Pebsworth. The story was carried in a
Portales Valley News article
August 25, 1932. At the time, Tom's son-in-law, Murl Wallace, was the
jailer in Portales and his daughter, Leora, cooked for the prisoners. Leora
Wallace writes the following account about this story:

"In each posse was a Sheriff, at least one deputy from Roosevelt/Lea Counties,
and a
Texas deputy. So they would have jurisdiction wherever they found him.
There were two places Pebsworth could have gone. So one posse went to each
By lucky chance, the posse that Daddy headed didn't find him. So the
Lea County sheriff's posse found him and brought him into the jail. Dr.
Hensley met the Lea Co. Sheriff at the jail. I was there by myself, as Daddy
and Murl were in the second posse. We put a mattress on the floor, covered it
with a sheet, and Dr. Hensley treated the wounds. Pebsworth had an open pocket
knife in his front pocket when he was shot. The bullet hit it just above where
it was joined to the handle--bullet went one way and knife blade
another--exiting in his back, not hitting anything vital. Feelings were
running high in Portales. A large number of people came to the jail and looked
in the windows, but left when they heard Mr. Hollis would live. The men took
Pebsworth upstairs to a bed in a cell. About that time, Daddy's posse got back
from their futile search. I was sure glad to see Daddy and Murl. We kept
Pebsworth in jail, with daily visits from Dr. Hensley, until Dr. said he was
well enough to travel. Then they took him to
Santa Fe Prison for safekeeping
until his trial. After they took him away, we took everything off--sheets,
mattress, etc., and were surprised to find a steel, heavy bar, 2', between the
mattress and springs. If he had recovered sooner, I expect he intended to use
it to escape. We never knew how it got there. Mr. Hollis was shot through one
jaw, tongue and out the other jaw. After Daddy's two terms were over, Mr. Bond
was elected sheriff, then Mr. Hollis was elected Sheriff for two terms. Life
was never dull!"

In 1932, Tom Jernigan decided to leave the office of Sheriff and he ran
unsuccessfully for State Senator. By 1934, he had left the Portales area. He
held many government offices the rest of his life, working as a U.S. Marshall
in Roswell, for the State Bureau of Revenue, Chief of the Division of Liquor
Control in Santa Fe, Veterans On-the-Job Training, and the Land Dept. He also
served again in the Navy in World War II. He died May 14, 1975 in Albuquerque,
NM, survived by his wife, Ora; his four children: Leora (Jernigan) Wallace;
Max O. Jernigan; Rex R. Jernigan; and Betty Sue (Jernigan) Wilson; a brother,
Frank Jernigan of Pampa, TX; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

--graciously submitted by
Sharon Jernigan Tingley

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