Tough Guys

On the battlefield, in the courtroom, or in the annals of history, these not-so-gentle men have shown the physical strength and emotional determination to prove that they are not to be messed with. Here are 50 guys who know how to take a punch.

On the battlefield, in the courtroom, or in the annals of history, these not-so-gentle men* are tough as nails, mean as snakes, and rougher than 50-grit sandpaper. From the footballer who refused to wear a helmet to the submarine commander who sunk five destroyers in four days, they have shown the physical strength and emotional determination to prove that they are not to be messed with. They are role models for your kids, if you want your kids to learn that fights aren’t things to back away from. For that they all deserve the label Dallas Tough Guy.

Harston (left) seen here.

Nobody ever accused Sheriff Dan Harston of coddling criminals—he wouldn’t let the male inmates of the county jail spit tobacco juice on the floor and refused to let the women smoke. When Dallas adopted prohibition in 1917, three years before the national ban, Harston (right) found particular
satisfaction in breaking up stills—and occasionally a few heads in the process. The sheriff and his deputies delighted in posing for the local press with
confiscated contraband, once stacking banged-up stills 10 feet high on the curb of a downtown street. Harston was the last sheriff to conduct hangings in the Dallas County jail.

Roy Lumpkin
was called “Father” at Adamson High School in Oak Cliff because some felt he was fudging his age. He played running back and lineman for the state championship team in 1924, which may have been the best in Dallas high school history. After a successful college career at Georgia Tech, Lumpkin played eight grueling years in the NFL for Portsmouth, Detroit, and Brooklyn. He was a bone-rattling blocking back on offense and linebacker on defense, butting heads with all-time greats like Bronko Nagurski and refusing to wear a helmet while doing so.

James Eric “Bill” Decker, the son of a Dallas saloonkeeper, is the most renowned lawman in Dallas history. While serving as a deputy in 1935, he walked up to a heavily armed Raymond Hamilton, who had escaped from death row, and arrested him without having to fire a single shot. Decker was famous for putting out the word to a suspect that he had better come in to talk, which is usually what happened. After being elected sheriff in 1948, Decker never had an opponent, finally resigning his office from an oxygen tent just before his death in 1970.

During the 1970s, the beginning of the Golden Age of divorce in Dallas, Bill Koons decorated his office with a stuffed cobra, a mummified bat, a shrunken head, and a collection of rattlesnake rattles he personally plucked from the original owners. During his prime, Koons bluffed, tricked, cajoled, intimidated, and flat-out outworked scores of hapless opponents. And if that didn’t work, he used his right hook, which once leveled a client’s threatening husband during a meeting in his office.

Junius Peak was at various times a Confederate soldier, hired gun, buffalo hunter, deputy sheriff, and Dallas city marshal. In 1878, after outlaw Sam Bass had held up four trains in the Dallas area in two months, Governor Richard Coke appointed Peak to head a special Texas Rangers detachment charged with tracking down the robbers. Peak (Junius Street is named after him) and his men skirmished with the Bass gang for three months, capturing two, killing one, and driving Bass all the way to Round Rock, where he was finally shot and killed.

In the 1930s, Lester “Benny” Binion ran the numbers racket in Dallas and operated gambling casinos with the tacit approval of the local establishment. Binion paid a weekly “fine” of $10 per head counted by vice officers at his casino in the Southland Hotel, sort of an unofficial tax. He was implicated in a number of killings but called to answer for only two, both occasions resulting in hand slaps. When a new, straight-laced DA took office in Dallas, Binion moved to Las Vegas, where he gained a measure of respect as the owner of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino on the downtown strip.

While quarterbacking at Woodrow Wilson High School, Robert David O’Brien weighed 118 pounds, but by the time he got to TCU, he had beefed up to 150. He led the nation twice in passing and once in punt returns. During the days when quarterbacks played on defense, he intercepted 16 passes in college. In 10 regular-season games in 1937, he sat out a total of 14 minutes. “Davey” made all-pro his first year as quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, then retired in 1940 at the age of 23 to become an FBI agent.

Alphonso Jackson, who grew up here, hasn’t forgotten the segregated lunch counters, Colored High School Day at the fair, or the racist bombings in his South Dallas neighborhood. He has a scar where a police dog bit him in Alabama in the ’60s. Jackson came home in 1989 to take over the enormous challenge of managing the struggling Dallas Housing Authority and kicking out the “slimy degenerate” drug dealers in dicey neighborhoods. During his eight-year tenure, the DHA was rated the top big-city housing authority in the nation in terms of management efficiency.

Bill Bates
had no business making the Dallas Cowboys roster when he checked in as an undrafted rookie in 1983, but a year later the NFL changed the rules for picking the Pro Bowl squads just so Bates could be invited as the league’s first special teams selection. For 15 years he gave up his body on hundreds of kickoffs, heedlessly flying down the field.

Countless news accounts have concluded with a note that the alleged criminal “has been arrested and taken to Lew Sterrett.” Fortunately for the suspects, this just means they’ve gone to the pokey, not to face the old man himself. A former field worker, watermelon peddler, and coal miner, Lew Sterrett ruled Dallas County government with an iron fist for 27 years following his election in 1948. He was old-school, stubborn, and abrasive, once saying he would go to jail before he would answer to charges that he had violated the Texas Open Meetings Law.

Since Dallas banker Jean Baptist “Tiste” Adoue Jr. was the top vote-getter on the powerful Citizen’s Charter Association’s City Council slate in 1949, he fully expected to be named mayor by his fellow councilmen. When the council members selected Wallace Savage instead, the tempestuous Adoue was livid, blaming “Highland Park tycoons” for the travesty. He and his supporters spearheaded a petition drive that resulted in a charter change in which the voters elect the mayor directly, which is the system that we have today. In the election that followed, Adoue won and served a two-year term of continued combat and controversy.

He does have a real name—it’s William Forrest Sherrod, and he’s about as close as any of us will ever get to Damon Runyon. Farm boy and WWII tail-gunner, the gruff, irascible, opinionated, sarcastic, sacrilegious columnist for the Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News delighted readers and terrified editors for decades.

In naval warfare, destroyers are supposed to hunt down submarines, but during World War II sub Commander Sam Dealey took on the destroyers, sort of like a fox chasing the dogs. During one stretch, Dealey’s sub sank five Japanese destroyers in four days. In late 1944, Dealey’s sub was reported missing in action and was never recovered; the commander, who was the nephew of George Bannerman Dealey, founder of the Dallas Morning News, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Lew Jenkins was a cotton picker, saloon brawler, and prizefighter. In his first professional fight in Dallas, he beat a local stumblebum to collect a purse of $4. In 1940, he whipped Lou Ambers at Madison Square Garden with a third-round TKO to claim the World’s Lightweight Championship. He still held the title 16 months later when, after a drinking binge, a motorcycle accident threw him 60 feet. A month later, he took on welterweight champ Freddie Cochrane. Only afterward did he learn that he had three broken vertebrae in his neck when he fought Cochrane.

Before he went bad, Jack Adkisson blocked for Doak Walker at SMU, where he also engaged in the respectable sport of discus throwing, setting a school record in the process. Then, after a stint with the old Dallas Texans (the NFL entry in 1952), Adkisson became the snarling, despicable, goose-stepping Fritz Von Erich (later the benevolent patriarch of the famous Von Erich wrestling family), the scourge of the Dallas Sportatorium wrestling ring whose signature move was the dreaded Iron Claw.

George Clifton Edwards was fired by the Dallas School Board in 1908 for running for governor on the Socialist ticket. His popularity went downhill from there. After getting his law license, he defended a black man accused of molesting a white child, fought against 12-hour workdays for children in Dallas cotton mills, and defended impoverished debtors against loan sharks. In 1931, as punishment for defending “labor agitators,” the Dallas police turned him over to the Ku Klux Klan, who took him to the Trinity River bottom, stuck a pistol in his stomach, and warned him to “stay away from Commies.”

In the 1950s, it was against the law to tape an emergency number onto one of Ma Bell’s precious telephones or put a hardback cover on her phone book. Dallas entrepreneur Tom Carter changed all that. Annoyed when AT&T refused to allow him to attach his Carterfone, a device that allowed his customers to connect telephones to two-way radio systems, Carter spent a fortune in legal fees during a 10-year period until finally the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the communications behemoth was being too picky and put an end to the legalized monopoly.

As part of a frenzy of follow-up efforts after Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927, Captain William P. “Bill” Erwin sought to bring glory to his hometown by flying the “Dallas Spirit” from Dallas to Hong Kong, by way of San Francisco and Honolulu. Erwin was not averse to taking risks; as a World War I flying ace he was shot down five times. Piloting a Wright Whirlwind with a top speed of 126 miles per hour, he made it to California, then radioed from somewhere over the Pacific that he had just recovered from a tailspin. It was his last message.

Baseball might not be the obvious place to look for a tough guy, especially a pitcher who doesn’t even get a turn at bat. But if you go online looking for a Nolan Ryan poster, you will find Ryan pummeling Robin Ventura in the head when the batter made the mistake of charging the mound after being nicked by a fastball. Or you’ll find a picture of the fireballer with blood on his shirt, thanks to a Bo Jackson line drive that caught his lip. Ryan played hard.

When the Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993, Shane Churla was an instant hit. The local fans, accustomed to the imposition of costly 15-yard penalties for unnecessary roughness, went wild every time the belligerent wingman took an opponent into the boards. Churla came here with a reputation as one of the top goons in hockey, and he did not disappoint, logging 333 penalty minutes his first season in Dallas.

Sometimes being tough can get a guy in trouble. William P. “Bill” Clements spent two terms as governor of Texas (the first Republican since Reconstruction) and twice served as chairman of the Board of Governors of SMU; the State of Texas has held up okay, but SMU is still trying to recover. Clements, who made a fortune several times over in the oil-drilling business, overcame any obstacle in his path with any weapon at his disposal. The tactic finally caught up with him during his tenure at SMU when he sanctioned a cover-up of continuing infractions after the NCAA had already charged the school with flagrant violations.

Dallas Cowboys teammate Charlie Waters dubbed Randy White “half man, half monster.” White played 14 years at an unmatched level of intensity. To White, an undersize tackle at 257 pounds, every play was the play of the game. Bob Lilly, the Cowboys hero from an earlier era who could just as well be on this list himself, was one of White’s biggest fans. “Even on plays when Randy gets whipped, he fights,” Lilly said. “Even on plays away from him, he fights.”

When Wilford B. “Pitchfork” Smith moved his iconoclastic newspaper, also known as The Pitchfork, to Dallas, he selected an office above a downtown saloon where he could conveniently pursue his favorite hobby, boozing. For years Old Pitch fumed and fulminated about the transgressions of politicians, publishers, and preachers. He was once charged with disturbing public worship when he stormed down the aisle of a revival meeting to denounce a controversial Baptist preacher. Although a publication more obscure than The Pitchfork was nowhere to be found, Smith’s 1939 obituary in Time Magazine ran nearly a full page.

Neel Kearby was short and slight of build, but he was a perfect fit for a P-47 Thunderbolt, an aircraft that many thought was ill-suited for combat in the Pacific. In 1943, Kearby, having volunteered to lead a mission of four fighters over New Guinea, spotted a horde of enemy aircraft—12 bombers and 36 fighters—and ordered the group to whittle away at the superior force. Kearby personally downed six of the Japanese fighters before calling it a day. After General Douglas MacArthur presented him with the Congressional Medal of Honor, Kearby went on to rack up 22 kills before going down in the jungle.

Reverend Wally Amos “W.A.” Criswell
has been called “the Baptist Pope” and a “Holy Roller with a Ph.D.” Born on a dusty Oklahoma farm, Criswell was named pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas in 1944, where he gained worldwide acclaim for his no-holds-barred espousal of the conservative faith, which he vehemently defended against liberals, whom he called “skunks.” Criswell survived an airplane crash in a Peruvian jungle, fought tooth and nail against “evilusionists,” and wielded enormous power from the pulpit for a half-century.

Carroll Shelby
learned to burn rubber while he was a student at Woodrow Wilson High School in East Dallas. After serving as a test pilot for the Army Air Corps during World War II, he tried to earn a respectable living, first in the oil fields, then raising chickens, but he went broke when the chickens got sick and died. He took up racing at an East Texas drag strip with a ’32 Ford, then graduated to sports cars. After a few setbacks (it took 72 stitches to put him back together after one wreck), he went on to set a land-speed record at Bonneville and win the Le Mans in France.

During his prime riding days, Donnie Gay of Mesquite stood 5 feet 7 and weighed 150 pounds. On any given Saturday night, his opponent weighed between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. A successful bull ride lasts eight seconds, but the real trouble starts when the ride is over and the bull aims to get revenge. All Gay had to do to win eight world bull-riding titles was to ride about 2,000 nasty, ornery bulls, getting pitched, thrown, stomped on, butted, tossed, hooked, and gored in the process.

In 1956, the year Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown, he bought a house in Preston Hollow and opened a bowling alley in Dallas. The bowling alley didn’t make it, but Mantle stuck around. The Mantles were a family of alcoholics, and Mickey was no exception. He was often seen past his limit at the old Town Pump on Lovers Lane, where he once floored an annoying patron who was hovering over his table with a lightning-quick jab without even leaving his seat. As Bob Costas said at Mantle’s funeral, he was a hero, not a role model—a fragile hero.

Lance Armstrong is the epitome of fortitude and courage in any category. Raised in Plano by his mother, Armstrong was a youth triathlon winner at age 13. By his senior year in high school, he was concentrating on bicycling and soon winning races. Stunned at age 25 by a diagnosis of testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain, Armstrong recovered from surgery and treatment. The cancer didn’t beat him: he’s won the Tour de France six consecutive times.

William Orville “W.O.” Bankston came to Dallas on a boxcar during the Great Depression. He sold newspapers, worked as an embalmer’s assistant, logged time on the assembly line at the Ford Plant, and finally worked his way up to running his own Oldsmobile dealership. In his spare time, he was an amateur lawman, and he finagled a police radio, siren, and flashing red lights from his law enforcement buddies. He was involved in a number of chases and apprehensions, one of which got him a cauliflower nose. He helped out ex-cons, including ex-desperado Floyd Hamilton, whom he made a night watchman at the dealership.

Windle Turley started out preaching to congregations instead of juries. Corporate America would have been a happier place had Turley not moved across SMU’s campus from the Perkins School of Theology to the Dedman School of Law. In the early ’70s Turley broke new ground with the novel idea that airplane manufacturers should pay attention not only to how well airplanes flew but also how well they crashed. His ability to turn a complex technical issue into a simple moral question has had a dramatic effect on corporate responsibility.

The nine lives of Herbert Noble got complicated in the 1940s when the gambling joint owner on Live Oak Street refused to hike Benny Binion’s cut of the profits. On various occasions during the next few years, Noble was shot four times and shot at twice more, once while he was recovering at Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff. Would-be assailants bit off his earlobe and planted dynamite in his car and his airplane. The dynamite with Noble’s name on it first killed his wife and, in 1951, felled The Cat himself while he was checking the morning mail.

Robert L. Thornton came further up and did more than just about anybody else ever has around here. He never went to high school but managed to advance from cotton picker to road-gang worker, store clerk, candy salesman, banker, and mayor. As a bank president, he instituted “radical” ideas such as nighttime hours and automobile loans. In his folksy but overpowering manner, with gall, gumption, and tenacity, he led and sometimes pulled Dallas through the boom years, beginning with the capture of the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, ironic for a city that did not even exist when the state won its independence.

Curtis Cokes was best known for his mastery of the art of boxing, but he racked up nearly half of his 62 wins by simple knockout. He played basketball and baseball at Booker T. Washington High School and learned to box at the Moorland YMCA since he was barred from the Golden Gloves competition because of his race. He won the world welterweight crown in 1966 and held it for three years. He had a classic left hook, a powerful straight right, and the footwork to make it all come together. Cokes has been a successful trainer since leaving the ring in the early ’70s.

After his parents split when he was 12, Jim Mattox did everything from selling popcorn to working on freight docks to supplement the family income. Combative and abrasive, Mattox ran in some of the dirtiest campaigns in Texas history, successfully winning races for U.S. congressman and Texas attorney general by any means necessary. He called opponent Tom Pauken a “young Nazi,” and, in a televised debate during his unsuccessful bid for governor, he greeted Ann Richards by saying, “You look awfully sober tonight.”

When Ralph Rogers moved here from New England in 1950 after making a bundle of money, he had in mind a laid-back lifestyle. It was not to be. While building Texas Industries into a major player in cement, concrete, steel, and construction, he went out of his way to meddle where meddling was needed—saving the Dallas Symphony and turning around Parkland Hospital in the process. In the early ’70s, he put aside his Republican loyalties by attacking Richard Nixon head-on when the president tried to kill public broadcasting, almost single-handedly saving PBS.

Veteran Dallas sportswriter Blackie Sherrod once lamented Bobby Layne’s misfortune of “having been sideswiped by several empty cars lurking at curbside” after a typical evening’s carousing. The Highland Park High School grad became a legend as a rough-and-tumble character after hours, but his greater grit was evidenced on the football field, where he led the Detroit Lions to three NFL titles. One of the last to play without a face mask, Layne was General Patton unleashed; his glare in the huddle made it clear that losing was not an option, regardless of the score or the time left on the clock.

With a name like Schuyler B. Marshall Jr., he could have been called worse when he was elected as Dallas’ youngest sheriff at the age of 28 in 1925. He had been in office only a few weeks when two black brothers called the “Black Terrors” were arrested, accused of a series of rapes and murders. A mob of several thousand surrounded the jail, demanding that Marshall release the prisoners, and began throwing bricks and bottles, many aimed at the sheriff. Marshall manned a water hose and fired over the crowd’s head with a six-shooter until order was restored.

Dallas County waited 139 years for John Wiley Price. In 1985, when he became the first black county commissioner in the county’s history, some local leaders saw the possibility of a bright future for the smooth, smart, and capable operator as a coalition builder. But this was not Price’s bag. He has his own notion of what constitutes racial injustice and confronts it head-on in the old-fashioned way of picketing and protesting, often appearing to intentionally shun reason and practicality. The mere mention of his name raises the hackles of his detractors and warms the hearts of his South Dallas constituents.

Henry Menasco Wade Jr. was elected Dallas County district attorney in 1950 by promising to send the racketeers and gamblers to the penitentiary. After taking office, he proved his mettle by going head-to-head with the county’s best defense lawyers and coming out on top, but he endeared himself to the voters more so by tackling quality-of-life offenders—hot-check writers, drunken drivers, prostitutes, pornographers, and vandals. Relentless, sometimes overzealous, he loomed over the Dallas County criminal element for 35 years.

The stories of Larry Allen’s bench-pressing feats have become legends; some swear to 700 pounds. Whatever the case, Allen has humiliated talented and respected opponents for years with his incomparable combination of strength and toughness. New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan says Allen is the only guy players watch on film who makes them cringe. Opponents watching game films have been known to develop mysterious injuries or flu-like symptoms known as “Allenitis.” If you think his less than spectacular performance during the Cowboys ’03 season should count against his career accomplishments, then you tell him.

Woodrow Wilson Clements
used to say that he got the nickname “Foots” because “his feet grew up before he did.” Clements financed his college education by digging ditches for the Works Progress Administration, then went to work for Dr Pepper. In 1969 he was named its president. The first thing he did as head of the pipsqueak soft drink maker was take on the Coca-Cola Company, which was something like kicking sand in the face of a bully. Clements talked Coke bottlers all around the country into adding the Dr Pepper line, and in less than 10 years, Dr Pepper’s profits had increased 500 percent.

Few will recognize the name Turney White Leonard, first lieutenant, United States Army, Company C, 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. While on a lone reconnaissance mission, he destroyed a German machine gun emplacement and later directed fire that destroyed six enemy tanks, before being wounded and captured. He died on November 7, 1944, at the age of 23. More than 50 years afterward, a relative of a German war vet who found Leonard’s Texas A&M class ring on the battlefield brought the ring home. Leonard’s brother presented it to the university, where it is now prominently displayed along with the lieutenant’s Congressional Medal of Honor.

Ted Hinton (third from left) seen here.

In 1933, Ted Hinton, one of Dallas County’s best sheriff’s deputies, was assigned to track down Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Acting on a tip, Hinton and others ambushed the outlaws in northeast Dallas while they were on their way to a secret family rendezvous. Firing a Thompson submachine gun, Hinton hit Barrow’s car 17 times, but not a single shot pierced the auto. After the incident, Hinton switched to a Browning automatic rifle, and, a few months later, he and other lawmen again surprised the pair in Louisiana, this time riddling their bodies with bullets.

Andy Granatelli, the son of a Sicilian grocer, was born in Dallas in 1923. During the Depression, the store went bust and the family fled to Chicago, where Andy and his brothers walked 18 miles every day to scrounge Coke bottles out of garbage cans and from under grandstands to buy food. Andy got into the auto field by starting cars on cold mornings and soon became “Antonio the Great,” racing a rocket car at dirt track county fairs. He eventually became a success in every aspect of auto racing and later CEO of the STP oil treatment company.

When he was elected commissioner in 1960, Frank Crowley became the first Republican Dallas County official since the days of Reconstruction. He was a champion of fiscal responsibility with a knack for getting things done without giving in. He was either steadfast in his convictions or downright opinionated, depending upon one’s perspective. Elected county judge in 1982, Crowley managed to absorb Commissioner John Wiley Price into the governmental process without allowing petty bickering to stymie the system.

We don’t know how many sacks linebacker Bulldog Turner had for the Chicago Bears because, in the 1940s, no one had thought of keeping track. Someday, because of Roy Williams, we may have a statistic called “number of dropped passes because the receiver heard the defender coming and was afraid he was going to get knocked into the third row of seats.” It does not take long to count the blue-chip players on the Cowboys squad, but at least we know where to start.

That was Randy Galloway’s CB moniker before he had his own radio program on “Dubya-B-A-P.” Galloway is from Grand Prairie and will tell you he’s proud of it—and you’d better be, too. Before moving to ESPN radio last year, his was the area’s most popular evening sports radio program because of his straight-to-the-jugular, countrified delivery—no calls accepted from wimps. He got so fed up with Barry Switzer that he refused to use the Cowboys coach’s name, referring to him instead as the “insignificant sideline person.” Anybody who disagrees gets garroted by the “idiot alert” button.

At 6 feet 3 inches and 235 pounds, Derian Hatcher is bigger than ex-Dallas Stars enforcer Shane Churla, more skilled at the game, but just as intimidating on the ice. Hatcher was named captain of the Stars during the 1994-95 season and led the team until he left to go to the Detroit Red Wings in 2003. During his peak years with the Stars, phrases like “Hatcher house,” “the Hatcher zone” and “Derian’s neighborhood” came to characterize the spot on the ice where an opponent stood a good chance of getting whomped.

It came as no surprise when Dallas dairyman Earle Cabell announced his candidacy for mayor in 1959—his father and grandfather both held the office. He narrowly lost that race but won in 1961, overcoming charges by his opponent that he had been arrested for a physical fracas in a Dallas restaurant. Cabell retorted by asking, “Is there any man here who would not fight to protect the honor of his wife?” He became known as a straight-talking battler for just causes, both as mayor and later as an effective representative in the U.S. Congress.

During the first decade of the 20th century, the boll weevil drove Huddie Ledbetter from the cotton fields to the slums of Dallas, along with thousands of other displaced field hands. “Leadbelly” was in some kind of trouble his whole life, escaping once from a Texas chain gang only to be convicted of murder two years later. Not long after serving his sentence in the Texas pen, he was again incarcerated, this time at Angola in Louisiana. Leadbelly’s lyrical laments such as “Rock Island Line,” “Goodnight Irene,” and “The Midnight Special” are folk-blues classics.

* This list is men only. In her prime, Dallas black activist Elsie Faye Heggins could have whipped a handful of the following fellows, but she was ineligible.  You gotta problem with that?

Photos: Prohibitionist, Decker, O’Brien, Erwin, Clements, Thornton, and Hinton: From the Collections of the Texas/Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library; Sherrod: David Woo/Dallas Morning News; Churla: Irwin Thompson/Dallas Morning News; Price: Jim Mahoney/Dallas Morning News

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