The Battle of Athens, 1946
Many people may think, “it has finally happened,” the people have had enough! Well, to be sure the people have finally had enough, but it is not the first time the American people have been pushed to the edge of their tolerance for government overreach and abuse. Athens
On August 01, 1946, a whole bunch of WWII veterans recently back from a war in which they had witnessed and fought against regimes who were attempting to oppress the world, saw the same thing taking place in their hometown of McMinn County, Tennessee. Athens
Alocal politician named Paul Cantrell had been running fraudulent elections in the county since 1936 and had organized a pretty powerful political regime that was used to getting away with anything and everything. Until they made the mistake of trying to silence hardened WWII combat vets. Athens
The Sheriff’s Deputies set their sites on these veterans and started arresting them for minor offenses and fining them. No doubt thinking they would get the message and back off. Well, they were right, the veterans picked up on the fact that they were being harassed pretty quick. One veteran, Bill White, later told American Heritage Magazine:
There were several beer joints and honky-tonks around Athens; we were pretty wild; we started having trouble with the law enforcement at that time because they started making a habit of picking up GIs and fining them heavily for most anything, they were kind of making a racket out of it.
After long hard years of service, most of us were hard-core veterans of World War II, we were used to drinking our liquor and our beer without being molested. When these things happened, the GIs got madder the more GIs they arrested, the more they beat up, the madder we got.
Eventually the veterans and townspeople of integrity started getting pretty tired of Mr. Cantrell’s corrupt political regime. The veterans organized and put their own political party together with candidates on the ballot for five offices. The battle for Sheriff was the one that Paul Cantrell was most concerned, after all, he was the Sheriff that a veteran of campaigns in North Africa, Henry Knox was trying to unseat.
The rumors flying around the rural community were not good, many were expecting the election to turn violent. There was no social media in the day, but veterans are and always have been a tight knit group of people and when the veterans in nearby Blount County promised at least 450 men who would be willing to assist with any need McMinn County had on election day.
Hearing these rumors, Sheriff Cantrell hired an additional 200 Deputies from outside the county to guard polling stations. What happened next has been written in the history books as the “Battle of Athens,” or the “McMinn County War.” I’m sure you all remember being taught about this in your history class right? Not likely… LOL
As the veterans began to confront the Special Deputies on election day, the tension between the corrupt and the honorable began to increase. At about 1500 hours, only an hour before the polls were scheduled to close, violence broke out.
Ablack farmer who was trying to vote was beaten and shot by Deputies and two veterans were arrested, then held “hostage” in the Athens Water Works building. This did not go over well with the veterans and when Deputies were sent to arrest them, they took the Deputies hostage.
While all this was going on, Sheriff Cantrell managed to fill the ballot boxes with purchased votes and retreated to the jail, thinking he could ensure his victory by counting the votes there.
While Sheriff Cantrell, along with his corrupt help, were hold up in the jail counting the votes, Bill White and other veterans were growing angrier by the minute. Finally, shortly after 1800 hours, Bill White rounded up a group of other veterans and led a raid on the National Guard Armory.
In 1969, Bill White said in an interview that they “broke down the armory doors and took all the rifles, two Thompson sub-machine guns, and all the ammunition we could carry, loaded it up in the two-ton truck and went back to GI headquarters and passed out seventy high-powered rifles and two bandoleers of ammunition with each one.”
Once the veterans were fully armed, they launched an assault on the jail, firing on Deputies that were outside the jail. One Deputy fell wounded during the initial assault and another was shot in the leg as he attempted to crawl under a car. Sheriff Cantrell and his crew remained safely inside the jail. The veterans knew they needed to breach the jail before the Police or National Guard arrived.
Their initial attempts to flush Sheriff Cantrell and his gang out of the jail was with the tried and true Molotov Cocktail, but they had already figured out that building a jail out of wood was a bad idea by the mid 1940’s, and the bottles of gasoline ignited by the burning rag fuse just spread flames and burned out against the solid concrete building.
Remember though, the corrupt political regime lead by Sheriff Cantrell did not anger your typical bunch of thugs he had been hassling in the years prior… He had angered a LOT of seasoned combat vets, so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that at about 0230, someone showed up with some dynamite. 🙂
About the time the dynamite arrived, there was an ambulance show up and the veterans allowed it access to the jail, assuming it was there to retrieve the wounded Deputies. Instead, the corrupt Sheriff Cantrell was only concerned about one person, himself. Sheriff Cantrell took advantage of the cover the ambulance provided, and along with one of his men escaped.
Shortly after the ambulance departed, the veterans went to work with the dynamite. The first bundle they threw blew up a Deputy’s patrol car, flipping it over. Now, I can only imagine the rush of adrenaline they felt seeing something destroyed again, but what happened next seems to support my hunch that they wanted more of it. 🙂
The veterans put together three decent bundles of the dynamite, then simultaneously launched them toward the jail. One bundle found its way under another patrol car, one landed on the porch roof, and one came to rest right up against the jailhouse wall.
At almost the same instant, BOOM! The three charges of dynamite rocked the surrounding area, destroying the jailhouse wall and patrol car, and the jailhouse porch was thrown violently right off of its foundation. I’m sure to those in the area witnessing this, there was no doubt liberty had returned to McMinn County, Tennessee. 🙂
The Deputies Sheriff Cantrell left behind while he escaped like the coward he was, may of lacked integrity and were willing to sell their souls to the devil, but they were not foolish enough to challenge the Corps of veterans who had decided they would not be oppressed at home, after fighting for and watching their friends die abroad for the liberty and freedom guaranteed them by their creator and affirmed by the Constitution of the United States of America!
The veterans, being honorable men of integrity, knew they now had to protect the Deputies who surrendered to them. The townspeople, after a decade of abuse and oppression by Sheriff Cantrell and his henchmen, were ecstatic seeing them surrender, but furious enough over the conduct of these crooked thugs under the direction of Sheriff Cantrell, that they wanted to kill them!
The veterans immediately organized a group of men to establish security patrols to keep the peace and defend against any possible counterattack efforts by Sheriff Cantrell. The townspeople were able to slit the throat of at least one Deputy and another one of Sheriff Cantrell’s crooked henchmen was shot in the jaw.
The conflict was eventually resolved without any further violence. Henry Knox took over as the Sheriff on August 04, 1946 and the remaining elements of Sheriff Cantrell’s crooked regime were dismantled in future elections. Honest and fair elections…
Today we are seeing a similar situation unfold in Burns, Oregon. The details are not the same, but the principles behind the incident are. We have a government today that has become so corrupt and overreaching that they can no longer conceal their dirty deeds as easily as they used to be able.
Social media has given every citizen the ability to shine a light on government corruption and to even sound the alarm for help nationwide in an instant as we saw happen with Clive Bundy, and now in Burns, Oregon.
Americans are for the most part divided in regard to the action we saw on the Bundy Ranch and now in Burns, Oregon where the citizens are taking up arms and firmly challenging the government. I am of the belief that with few exceptions, the American people do NOT want to see ANY situation that reaches the level of intensity that justifies armed resistance.
Ihear a lot of the talking news heads insisting that by doing so these people are breaking the law. I would remind everyone though that every person that joins the Armed Forces in America, raises their right hand and takes an oath, vowing to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC.
One has to wonder why, with so many American’s vowing to do so, one is treated, or perceived as being some sort of lunatic when discussing even the remote possibility of having to do such a thing. A person is labeled a domestic terrorist for even suggesting there is any scenario when such a thing would be required.
The truth is though, that the founders left us with the option of using force, as a last resort because even 240 years ago, history had shown them that any government that gained too much power over the people, would abuse the people. Anyone who reads the founding documents should pick up on that right away.
Iwill leave you with the following excerpt from the Declaration of Independence… You decide?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Please share your thoughts in the comments.