Regarding the murder of special police officer Jack Chelton Harris of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Police, at the Calwa Yard, Fresno County, on July 15,1919.
On Tuesday, July 15,1919, between 0100 and 0200 hours special police officer Jack Chelton Harris, A. T. & S. F. Railroad Police, was murdered while in the lawful performance of his duties.
On July 15,1919, at approximately 0100 hours, a northbound freight train pulled into the A.T.& Ss. F. R.R. yard at Calwa on track 8. The yard workers went about their responsibilities preparing the train for the remainder of its destinations.
Charles Elmer Jones, car sealer, testified at the coroner’s inquest that while checking the cars, he observed two men laying on their backs in a wabash coal car. Jones proceeded northbound toward the head of the train and encountered officer Harris. Jones said to Harris, “Well, there is two bums down there in that wabash coal car.” Harris kind of laughed and said, ” Well, I will go down and talk to them. ” Jones was 12 cars north of the coal car when he heard shots fired. Jones stopped what he had been doing and walked quickly toward the area that the shots had come from. Jones met up with witness James William Shaw. Shaw asked Jones what the shots were. Jones said he did not know, unless the policeman was running the two bums out of the yard. Shaw asked where they had been. Jones pointed out the coal car and suggested they see if they were still there. Shaw climbed up on the car and said, “My goodness, here is the sheriff, shot, in the car”. Jones climbed up on the car and confirmed Harris lay dead. Jones testified that ten minutes passed from the time he first saw the men laying in the red wabash coal car and heard the shots fired.
James William Shaw, car inspector, testified at the coroner’s inquest that at the time of the shooting he was about 14 car lengths, or 100 yards, south of the wabash coal car. Shaw said he heard five shots, a group of three followed by two in rapid succession. After the shots, Shaw looked in the direction of the coal car and saw two indistinct shapes visible in the available light appear to head for the highway from the coal car. Shaw went to the area of the shooting where he met witness Jones. Shaw climbed up on the coal car and flashed his lantern into the wabash coal car. Shaw said, ” Here lays the officer. He is shot deader than hell”. Jones confirmed Harris’ presence. Harris’ flash light was on and located under an arm. Shaw noted that Harris was shot in the temple.
Special police officer Harris is part of a law enforcement tradition that includes the likes of Bat Masterson and Allen Pinkerton. There are over fifty-nine railroad police officers and special agents included on the national law enforcement officers’ memorial. Here in California, one need only look at the newspapers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century to see the contributions railroad police made to public safety. Wherever there was a railroad line in this state, the railroad police were there, keeping the peace.