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Two courageous cops take on Klan

The Hays Free Press of Buda, Texas

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When two county cops confronted a howling mob of sheet-shrouded Klansmen on Oct. 1, 1921, no one gave a plug nickel for their chances of getting out of Lorena, Texas alive.

In the year since rearing its hooded head in Houston, the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan had swept the Lone Star State like a wildfire. Such slogans as "one hundred percent Americanism," "booze must and shall go" and "keep this a white man's country" attracted 100,000 Texans from all walks of life. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, merchants, preachers, policemen and other pillars of polite society joined the crusade.

McLennan County Sheriff Bob Buchanan and Deputy Marvin "Red" Burton suspected the Klan's flag-waving rhetoric concealed a sinister agenda based upon vigilante violence. They had taken an oath to enforce the law and were not about to look the other way if masked neighbors broke it.

Several citizens from Lorena met with the sheriff on the first day of 1921 to express concern over a KKK rally that night in their small settlement south of Waco. Klansmen planned to march through the black neighborhood, and the lawman's presence might be needed to keep the peace. Buchanan consented to the request and asked his most trusted deputy to accompany him.

The sheriff thought he had defused the powder keg in a heart-to-heart talk with Klan leaders earlier in the evening, but the parade still started right on schedule. Hundreds of marchers in white sheets and hoods carrying American flags and blazing crosses swarmed onto the highway and headed toward the tiny town.

Angered by the defiant double-cross, Sheriff Buchanan with Deputy Burton covering his back met the trick-or-treaters in the middle of the road. He grabbed the nearest burning cross and threw it to the pavement. Ripping the hood from the head of a surprised stranger, he growled, "I don't know you, but if I ever see your face again I will."

A Waco policeman in Klan costume sneaked up behind the sheriff and struck him on the head with a blackjack. Buchanan vanished in a sea of white as he collapsed on the pavement. Simultaneously half a dozen law-and-order advocates attacked the deputy.

Seconds later the sound of gunfire suddenly silenced the screaming mob. Burton heard his boss cry out, "Red, they've shot me!" Someone had turned the sheriff's own pistol on him.

Although bleeding badly from the chest and a leg,

Buchanan fought back with his only remaining weapon - a four-inch pocketknife. The rioters gave him plenty of room after he fatally stabbed a Waco businessman and slashed several other assailants.

Burton pulled a .38 automatic from his pants pocket and emptied the clip into the mob. His primary target was the Klansman who had shot the sheriff, and he dropped the would-be assassin in his tracks.

As soon as the deputy exhausted his ammunition, the Kluxers pounced on him like a pack of mad dogs. Burton unholstered his sidearm and jammed the business end of the Colt in the beer belly of a man he had known since childhood.

"I love you like a daddy," declared the deputy, "but if I am not released I'm going to kill you." The frightened father figure implored his comrades to back off, and the county cop broke free.

Burton caught sight of Buchanan, who had staggered to his feet, just as a Klansman was drawing a bead on him. He saved the sheriff's life with two squeezes of the trigger and continued to fire at any threatening form in the darkness.

Sensing the tide had turned, the Klan scattered like a covey of quail. Only after his adrenalin level returned to normal did Deputy Burton become aware of the bullet in his right thigh. He limped down the highway littered with KKK paraphernalia to the drugstore, where a sympathetic bystander had carried the wounded sheriff.

Buchanan looked like he was not long for this world. A red river flowed from the hole in his chest, and he had trouble breathing. Burton wanted to wait for an ambulance, but the sheriff feared the Klan would storm the store and finish them off before help could arrive.

Egged on by a rabble-rousing ex-judge, the Klansmen had regrouped and were working themselves into a frenzy for a counterattack. Shouts of "Get a rope!" and "Let's hang them!" changed Burton's mind, and he had a car brought around to the side door of the drugstore.

Balancing 225-pound Buchanan on his shoulder with one hand and gripping a cocked .45 with the other, Burton stepped outside. He knew the Klan would be waiting, and indeed they were with hate in their eyes and their hearts.

But instead of tearing the sheriff and deputy to pieces with their bare hands, the Klansmen let them leave untouched. Was it an act of mercy or healthy respect for "Red" Burton's marksmanship?

Bartee Haile welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at or P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549. Come on by for a visit and follow Bartee on Facebook!

Original Publication Date: October 5, 2011

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