By Brendan Fillingim

When Studebaker Company executives learned late in 1924 that 12 of the 13 Arizona county sheriffs were using their “Big Six” model—a large V-6, six-passenger touring car—instead of other available brands, they dispatched Grover Sexton to interview Arizona sheriffs to discover why.

Sexton’s origins are murky, but before he became a Studebaker employee he had experience working on early aviation experimentation, followed by military police duty in Europe during WWI.  After the war he also spent time as newspaper reporter.

Upon arriving in Prescott, Sexton was sworn in as a Yavapai County deputy sheriff by new Sheriff Edwin G. “Two-Gun” Weil, who had just won election as the liquor enforcement candidate.

It appears that the voters of Yavapai County just then were ready for stricter liquor enforcement than provided by his predecessor.  As historical records note, former Sheriff George C. Ruffner would give Prescott citizens advance warning when he was going to a “sweep.”  This “sweep” would consist of Sheriff Ruffner driving around the square in his wagon several times.  Of course no arrests or seizures were made, as all bootleggers, speakeasies, bars or other liquor-consuming citizens in the county seat would stash their stills, pour out their drinks or otherwise close their doors.

Deputy Sheriff Sexton was provided a badge and a Winchester Rifle and was assigned the Studebaker Big Six model patrol vehicle.  This Big Six Vehicle had no emergency lights or an apparent siren, but it did have Sheriff’s Office graphics and a vehicle badge on the front bumper.  Sheriff Weil and Deputy Sexton proceeded to actively enforce the Volstead Act and General Liquor Enforcement throughout the county.

During a raid at the Tia Juana Dance Hall speakeasy in Cottonwood Sheriff Weil and several deputies came through the front door and the Sheriff set up on the pool table, two guns visible and legs swinging back and forth, and the sixty-seven patrons were told to be “good little boys.”

Chasing ridge runners, busting up stills and arresting homicide suspects in town and out in the vast rural expanses of Yavapai County became common practice during the Weil Administration, but after two years of stricter enforcement the voters had a change of heart and former Sheriff Ruffner was reelected, serving until his death in 1933.

During the 1925-1926 period, Grover Sexton was asked to travel southward and was a deputy sheriff for Cochise County for a time, returning to Yavapai County as deputy sheriff by 1926.

At this time in history, Studebaker Big Six Advertisements began to appear in both local and national newspapers with likenesses of Deputy Sheriff Sexton.  The Big Six was priced at a moderate figure of $ 1,375.00.  Sexton found that the reliability, high clearance and durability were key qualities of the Big Six that Arizona Sheriffs enjoyed in their new vehicle.  Sexton wrote a book describing his experiences as a Yavapai deputy that was mass produced and sent to dealerships across the country for inspection by prospective buyers.

When the Studebaker Executives reviewed Sexton’s report they found that the Studebaker Big Six was in fact very important and needed by Arizona sheriffs and so renamed the Big Six Sport Phaeton model as the Sheriff Model in large part due to Sexton’s experiences in Yavapai County.

Wednesday October 27, 1926, the Prescott Evening Courier reported Sexton would depart Friday on a 7000-mile trip to apprehend three wanted felons.  Warrants had been issued for two persons wanted for homicide and the third a bad check artist.  The Courier later reported that by February 5, 1927 Sexton arrived in Montgomery, Alabama following a 9,500 mile search that extended from Prescott to Albuquerque, NM where he apprehended one fugitive, then on to Schenectady, New York for the second fugitive and finally on to to Panama City, Florida, where the third fugitive was apprehended.  All these miles were driven in the Studebaker Sheriff Model, or as known to Grover Sexton, the “Thunder Pumper.”

Deputy Sheriff Grover Sexton’s duty issue Winchester .30-.30 caliber lever action rifle is currently on display at Sharlot Hall Museum’s just-opened Law and Order exhibit, featuring the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.