Russell K. Dudley
Russell K. Dudley was a member of the 1ST formal Border Patrol Academy at Camp Chigas, El Paso, Texas which began in 1937. He was interviewed by Ms. Terrie Cornell at the National Border Patrol Academy on January 12, 1987. His interview covers such diverse subjects as early Customs Patrol & Border Patrol conflicts, Border Patrol activities with enemy aliens during WW 2, and even personalities of Border Patrol notables Horsley and McBee.
My name is Russell E. Dudley. I was born December 22, 1908, in Stratford, Texas. I went to school, however, in Wichita, Kansas. My father was a contractor and I spent my life there until I came back to Texas in 1936. In Wichita and also as a teenager I worked on ranches in the panhandle north of Amarillo. I graduated from high school, Wichita High School East, and I had no college.
I came into the Border Patrol on May 16, 1936. As I remember there were about 45 of us came into the Patrol in that class. H. C. Horsley was Chief Patrol Inspector at that time and Griffith McBee was acting Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector as there was no such title at that time. He was a Senior Patrol Inspector. Our starting salary was $1800 a year, but effective July 1, 1936; (a month and a half later) they raised our base pay to $2,000 a year. The ones who griped the most about a bunch of rookies getting a raise were the fellows who came into the Border Patrol the year before.
Our firearms instructor that year was Charles Askins, Jr. Most of the instructors were Immigrant Inspectors or fellow Border Patrolmen. We had no regular school. Our Spanish was taught by an instructor from the El Paso school system. I believe her name was Bertie Weimer, and she taught us a year of high school Spanish in the eight weeks that our school lasted. And she really taught us — we could almost ask somebody what their name was by the time the school was over. This was quite a feat.
I was in the Patrol from 1936 until October, 1941, and I was Stationed in El Paso from 1940. In early 1940 until April, 1941, I was in charge of the station at Deming, New Mexico. They closed the station and sent me down to Ysleta as Senior in Charge of the Ysleta Station. TC: How long were you at Deming?
RD: A year and 15 days in Deming.
TC: Until they closed it?
RD: Yes. The reason they closed it, when they expanded the Patrol in 1940 they had some new stations. when I first went to Deming I had everything from the overpass 24 miles east of Deming to the Arizona line — all the country and north as far as Reserve, New Mexico. I had a three-man station and 1 car. When they expanded the Patrol in 1940, they put a station at Columbus, one at Hachita, and one at Lordsburg, and I stayed in Deming for several months. The Senior who had been at Ysleta went over to Immigrant Inspector and they needed a Senior there. They decided to close Denting and moved me to Ysleta.
TC: Whose place did you take in Ysleta? Do you remember?
RB: I don’t remember. I believe it was Knesset. I believe he was the one just before I was. But it was an interesting station at Ysleta. There had been quite a disagreement between the Customs Patrol and the Border Patrol as to who had jurisdiction on the river. They worked it out to where we had complete jurisdiction on the river. They had orders not to lay in to look for wetbacks, as local liquor and everything was else being smuggled across at that time. And there were some old timers in the Customs Patrol down there. Doug Pyatt and Al Coppenbarger at Ysleta and they had a team this side of there and a team down at Fabens. And my territory covered all three of them, Well, I knew all of them and they were good friends of mine and good men and they needed to work the river. And Chief McBee, who took charge when Chief Horsley retired, told me, “You know those men down there, be sure nobody knows that they work the river.” So they knew where I lived; if they wanted to work some information they had, they would come by the house when I was off duty and tell me they wanted to work so I assigned my night team to work someplace else. So, officially, the Customs Patrol did not work the river while I was in Ysleta.
But one or two of the men working with me decided they wanted to make a little issue of it and they told the Chief that I let the Customs Patrol work the river. So we had a meeting in Ysleta for coffee one day and most of my group was there, they told me they were going to work the river whether I wanted them to or not. So, I told them, and most of them knew me very well, the first Customs patrolman I caught on the river at night I would shoot him. Well, they agreed to back off and that was the end of it as far as the people in my station were concerned. But, at various times, the Customs Patrol still worked the river. Chief McBee knew it very quietly and I knew it. That’s the only two people that knew it. But they backed me up at different times when it was necessary to have a back—up because I had all rookies down at Ysleta at that time and you don’t like to go down on a smuggling deal when you know the smugglers are carrying arms with just a rookie to stay by you. So, I appreciated that very much.
TC: What were the Customs men supposed to be doing? If they didn’t work the river what did they do?
RD: Well, they could stay back away from the river at least a quarter or a half mile, at the very least, and look for people crossing or liquor or narcotics crossing. It was kind of a jealous arrangement they had there because a lot of the Customs Patrol had gone out of the Border Patrol because they could make more money. There was a lot of jealousy between the two patrols at that time, unfortunately. I knew most of them and they knew me and we worked out things. That was it, period.
In the summer of 1941, I had probably the most interesting thing I did while I was in the Border Patrol. The Chief called me in and said they wanted a survey of all the Japanese all the way from Elephant Butte Dam clear down as far as Fort Hancock, but they wanted to keep it very quiet. So, I was being detailed to do it. I’d be furnished an extra car from headquarters and the Chief Patrol Inspector furnished a list of all the Japanese in the area as far as they knew and where they worked. But they would not go with me, I would go alone. And there were some reports I had to write on them. What I was told was that the FBI thought that we’d eventually go to war with Japan and they couldn’t make the investigation or it would cause an international incident because we were not at war. But by checking their Immigration status I could do it. It made some other Seniors very unhappy that I came into their territory, but it didn’t worry me because Chief McBee ran the Sector and he ran it with an iron hand when necessary. In fact, one Senior said he was going with me and I called McBee on the telephone and he got him into El Paso to talk to the Chief. So, I made a check on all of them and I found some Japanese that nobody knew were in the valley working, had farms.
TC: Were you in plain clothes or uniform?
RD: Uniform. It was strictly just a Border Patrol check for the Immigration status of the Japanese. One Japanese that I interviewed was at a farm in Ascarate was very well educated. I stopped him one day and he said, “You’re not doing this because you are worried about our Immigration status, because you know and I know that it is just a question of time until your country and my country go to war. That’s why you want the information.” He had quite a background. He was educated and was a member of the Japanese Navy with a pretty high rank in it. He was sent to the University of Chicago to study and learn English instead of some of the things they wanted him to study. When he got over here he decided he wanted to bring his wife and daughter over here. So, he wrote back with the request that they be sent to him and they said no, because he would be recalled in the next several months. And he said, “I contacted a friend of mine to get them smuggled out of Japan. My father sent me a cablegram that unfortunately they had found out about this. You won’t like the newspaper you are going to get. It showed a picture of my wife and child with all their hands cut off because I wanted to get them out of Japan. I knew I would never go back.” So I said, “In case we should go to war, will you help me?” He said, “I’ll do this much. If I tell you certain Japanese is a bad man, lock him up fast. If I say he is a good man, let him fan.” So when the war broke out and they had the hearings on the government at that time under the U.S. Attorney’s office, I was called by practically all these Japanese. They wanted me to testify for them. It was old home week and most of them were good people. A few of the bad ones they got just as soon as the war started, but the rest of them farmed and they were good people.
TC: But the man you talked with, his family never did get to come over?
RD: No, they were killed so they couldn’t bring them over. So, he said, “I’m never going back.” And he was one of the highest families in Japan.
TC: And he hated Japan after that.
RD: Oh, he sure did.
TC: Approximately how many Japanese were here in this area that you spoke to?
RD: I imagine probably 40 or 50 altogether. There were several here in El Paso and some up as far as just this side of Elephant Butte — down around Hatch — and on down the valley and the last one was on down below Fabens.
TC: And they all were farmers?
RD: All except the ones here in El Paso. Some of them were merchants of various kinds. One produce merchant I knew very well. He went to Juarez every Sunday and came back Monday morning, usually about five o’clock in the morning. And on Pearl Harbor Day I went to work at three o’clock as I had transferred to the bridge as inspector and they told us we were on duty until he crosses. Which meant a double shift. So, at five o’clock on Monday morning he crossed and was very, very surprised. He hadn’t heard anything at all about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I didn’t exactly believe him, so I went over to Juarez the next day and talked to a man who runs a bar across from one of the Japanese merchants in Juarez. And he told me, “I knew something was going on, but I didn’t know what. Because they come over here every Sunday morning and they have two or three drinks and all talk Spanish to me. So, they came in and ordered drinks that morning and they all talked Japanese. And they went back across the Street and this one fellow you picked up came back across to have another drink and he told me now there’s going to be hell to pay. He said my people are bombing Pearl Harbor.”
TC: He knew it.
RD: Oh, yes. They had good radios. They could listen all over the world and they did. So that was quite an interesting experience.
PC: The people that you spoke to in this area, were they rounded up for detention camps?
RD: They were rounded up, because this security board they had checked all of them and they decided whether to release them or not. And so I said I had called upon almost all of them and then they asked me to help. The Assistant U.S. Attorney said, do you think these people should be interned and I said, No, send them home to farm.
PC: Did your informant tell you that there were any bad ones?
RD: This produce man was one that he mentioned in particular. I talked to him, I guess, two weeks before Pearl Harbor and he shared a list with me all the time. He said this man right here, if anything happens, lock him up fast. And then search his rooms and everything. About several thousand dollars buried in the wall of one room. He claimed he made about $10 a week from his produce business clear. A radio station, you could listen to about anything you wanted to listen to.
TC: So he was locked up.
RD: Oh, yes. Several of them were locked up, but he was the outstanding one.
TC: Do you know where he was taken?
RD: He eventually went back to Japan.
PC: But in the meantime, where was he held in the States?
RD: I don’t know, we had several Japanese camps, one at Fort Stanton, one up at Santa Fe. I think he was at Santa Fe, that’s where most of the Japanese were. Ft. Stanton was primarily a German camp.
TC: Did you ever know that there was a camp around Wilcox, Arizona?
RD: Yes. I had nothing to do with any of the camps. The nearest I came was when they brought the internees off the German ship they seized with all the crew out in San Francisco. All stations from Deming, Columbus, and Lordsburg met the train in Lordsburg, just to be sure nobody tried to board the train; that’s where they changed crews. And I was supposed to outrun the train to get to Deming in time to check the crew there. And I did by driving 90 miles an hour; that train was really flying.
TC: And he was on his way to Ft. Stanton?
RD: Yes. That whole train was Germans going to Ft. Stanton.
TC: When you transfer over to Immigration?
RD: In October of 1941. You know, back in the ‘30’s we were under the Department of Labor. And Frances Perkins decided that a lot of the killings in El Paso area were unjustified and a lot of the shooting was. So we had instructions that if any fight broke out, unless somebody was injured, you made a report to the Chief, who made a report to the District Director and that was as far as it went. In ‘38 we had three shootings I was involved in down at Cordova Island. In the last one my partner and I got pinned down for about an hour. He transferred here from Arizona and he didn’t like to wear the dark green pants we had, so he wore a pair of suntan pants and they could see us over there. So they had us pinned down for about an hour until we finally got another team in there to help us get out of there.
PC: How many Mexicans were there?
RD: Well, there were actually about three doing the shooting. One of them that we later identified was Valantin Torres. He had killed a Border Patrolman back in ‘29 and hated Border Patrol with a vengeance. He and his son, Ismael, who must have died about 1970 or ‘71, and another man, I don’t know who the other man was. But, nobody was hurt, fortunately.
TC: You said you were a firearms instructor. When was that?
RD: 1937, the class of ‘37. Charles Askins, who was the national instructor was on detail to the Canadian Border.
PC: Canadian Border?
RD: Yes. Because he instructed the whole border, both borders. And Chief Horsley was very much in favor of the pistol team, he really liked it. And I had decided to quit shooting with the pistol team in the summer of ‘37. Somebody told the Chief. Some things had happened that I didn’t approve of, so he made me the instructor of the Class of ‘37. So, it was quite interesting. We shot the highest score that had ever been shot. Course we had .38’s instead of the .45’s to shoot with, which made a lot of difference. So, I instructed until around April of ‘38, April or May. Probably April.
TC: One class?
RD: Yes. But I still took the quarterly qualifications we had at that time, for the whole sector and I ran it(???). I enjoyed it, it was quite an experience. It was something different. You probably have a triangulation picture here, of some tripods.
PC: Yes, are you in there?
TC: I’ll get it.
RD: O.K. And I’ll tell you something about one of the fellows in
it. When I was a Senior in Deming in 1940 they thought they were going to have a revolution in Mexico and their election, of course, was the first Sunday in July. I was on leave in Kansas and they cancelled everybody’s leave in case a revolution broke out, so the Border Patrol could hold the border, if possible. So, I came back on a Saturday and went down to see the Chief on Sunday. He said when you get to Deming call your team that is down in Columbus, get your bedroll, and go down there and stay until you get relieved. I said, “Why?” He said, well you know about this talk of revolution. Go on down there and you and your two men stay there and camp out if you have to. Find a place to stay under cover until they relieve you. I said, well, what am I supposed to do? He said Desoto’s across there at Palomas and also at Antelope Wells. If anything happens, you’re supposed to take over any soldiers that cross. Or anything else.
So, I went down there and fortunately we had a house to stay in that the people had moved out of. And there was a battalion between Columbus and one company of the Mexican army was at Antelope Wells. I went down and met the Major and told him the situation and he said, “I know, we’re not going to have a revolution here. If we do I’ll take care of it. But I do need to send some officers over to Antelope Wells at times.” I said, “
fine, let me know when they’re going, who the Commanding Officer is, and they can go back and forth. But nobody else is supposed to cross except during Port hours, as usual, and the man in charge of the Port is away right now so I’ll take care of the Port of Entry also.” So it was quiet and peaceful for about 15 or 16 days.
They had one fellow down there that bragged that he could cross whenever he wanted to. Said he had been deported two or three times and that the Border Patrol was scared of him. And he would drive around Palomas waving his gun around bragging about how rough he was. So, we got word that he was crossing every morning about seven o’clock – the Port opened at eight – and would drive around Columbus and drive back and claim he saw the Border Patrol and they were scared to stop him. I didn’t think that was too good for our image, so one morning we waited and followed him back down about a hundred yards from the Port of Entry from Palomas and stopped him. I took him out of his car and walked him on foot all the way back to the border and told the man at the garrison there that he needed to send somebody to go back and get his car and let it stay there. If he is going to kill a Border Patrolman, if he crosses again then we’ll shoot him next time in self—defense. So that stopped everything. It was very quiet and peaceful the rest of the time we were there. People crossed at the Port and asked permission to go on if they needed permission. And we had quite a peaceful time there.
TC: How long were you there, all together?
RD: We were there about 16 or 17 days. And finally the Chief wrote a letter saying as soon as you get this letter, consider the situation as back to normal in Mexico so go back to Deming and go to work. So we did.
TC: And you never did get to go to Kansas?
RD: Well, I was coming back from Kansas from vacation. I think I was the only Border Patrolman on the Mexican Border that was on vacation at that time. The Chief didn’t know where I was, but he actually knew where he could get hold of me. But he didn’t see any reason – he told the District Director that I’d be there without any trouble in plenty of time. It would take 24 hours to get there, at the longest. So I came on back to work. But we tried to keep things quiet and peaceful in the Patrol at that time.
TC: When did you get married in your career?
RD: I got married in 1930.
TC: Oh, before you were in the Patrol.
RD: Oh, yes. My wife and I had been married 51 years when she died. After I left the Patrol I went over to the Bridge as an Inspector and then after the war I was assigned to the District Office from then on as an Investigator and Hearing Officer and Special Inquiry Officer. I had details as far as New York City and San Francisco and various places, Washington, D.C. But that was just part of my job.
TC: Were you sorry that you left the Border Patrol, or was it a good move?
RD: No, actually at that time a Senior was making $2300 a year, which was good wages, but there was no automatic increase or anything else. And it was just a little jump to go over to the Bridge because there you had five steps: $2100, $2300, $2500, $2700, $3000. But it was written into law that only a certain percentage of all the Inspectors in the country could be at $3000, a small percentage at $2700, and all the rest could be up to $2500. So, by leaving the Patrol I could get at least a $200 increase in pay, and, hopefully, if I worked at it I could go on up to $2700 or $3000 a year. So I went in the Army, and when I came back, I think it was around $3400 a year. That was big money. I went into the Army in 1943, in March and served 33 months. I had 22 months in the Southwest Pacific.
TC: What did you do there?
RD: I went in on the invasion of the Philippines one night before D—Day and took a squad ashore and came back out. There was nobody more scared in the American army that night than I was. And then I was in charge of the signal center there, the cryptographic part of it, for the rest of the time until I came back. And I had been in the cryptographic section in Hawaii for several months in headquarters there, Fort Shafter, and so I had 13 months in the Philippines. We went over for one detail and helped instruct the Philippine constabulary, which they were reforming, in cryptography. And theirs was the 5th signal Company of the Philippine Constabulary. And they were the only unit in the entire Philippine Army that fought together as a unit all through World War II until we came back out there and stayed as a unit. And they were the unit that had contacted MacArthur in Australia and kept him informed of the gorilla activities all through the war and where the Japs were. It was a big help when we went back. And their Commander had been good enough that General MacArthur had sent him to West Point, he was a west Pointer. They had an Army field site they guarded 24 hours a day with armed guard. You couldn’t get close to it. So they thought enough of me that they had a parade one day, a review in my honor, and the Colonel told me, “We want to show you something we’ve shown no other American, enlisted man or officer.” I was a Tech Sargeant, and he opened up there was the code they had used to contact MacArthur all during the war in Australia. And Officer Maginney. They were going to put it in the Philippine archives, I’m sure it is there now. And it was the nearest thing to a foolproof code you could use because you only use one setup for one message. You never used it again. And unless somebody captured the book it would do them no good because the Americans asked them to use different ones. It was that way off and on, so there was no way in the world you could break the code. If you broke it you just broke one message and that was all. They were very proud of that.
Then I came back, mostly here in El Paso, I instructed in a few investigations school two or three times because I was told to and once because I got drafted at the last minute.
TC: Were they here in El Paso?
RD: No, San Antonio and one here and Long Beach and one down at Port Isabel when they had the school down there. They had an Investigations school there and one of the instructors got sick that normally instructed on criminal immoral narcotic setup, Immigration and also on Communism. And so I was drafted. Mr. Adams, who was later District Director here and was in charge of the school, he didn’t know me. So he called me down there and said that Regional Personnel Officer Tom Rooney said that I would take one of those classes and teach them. I said that I didn’t know a thing in the world about them. Well, they had the thing written out there. And, well, he said that they said that you could do it and would you even try? I said that it I would be waste of their time and mine. And about that time the phone rang and it was Merrill Toole, the Deputy Regional Commissioner. He said, is Russell sitting there? Yes. Is he lying to you? He said, I don’t know. So, I picked up the extension phone and said, “Merrill, how could I lie about something like this?” He said, “Because you wrote the damn book.”
TC: Is that true?
RD: I had written a thing at that time, but another fellow had taken it over in the Regional Offices and changed two paragraphs and put his name on there. He was the alleged author but I had written it.
TC: A book on what?
RD: On the Criminal Immoral Narcotic Program. It is to get information on people on those categories and keep them out of the country. And, about that time Gordon Cornell, who was the Assistant District Director down there, came running in and said Merrill Toole called him and said you better get old Russell, he’s going to lie like everything. I said, well I did. so, I had about 30 minutes to prepare a lesson. I already knew the course anyway, so I taught it. I enjoyed instruction.
TC: Do you still have a copy of that book?
1W: No, I kept very few things when I retired, except I’m sure I do have some of those old assignment sheets. If I can find them I think they will be of interest to the museum. Is there anything else you can think of you would like to ask?
TC: Is there anything else you made notes on that you wanted to mention?
RD: Well, I would say I worked for two different Chief Patrol
Inspectors: H.C. Horsley, he had been a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and then came into the Border Patrol and he was Chief Patrol Inspector from 19—, well from the time I came in in 1936 until he retired in 1940. And then Griffith B. McBee came in as Chief Patrol Inspector. And both of them were fine men, just entirely opposite in the way they handled people. But they were both mighty good men and I was lucky to have worked under both of them.
TC: How did they differ in the way they handled men?
RD: Horsley was very quiet, he delegated practically all of his authority. McBee kept things pretty well under control. He knew what was going on and if you made a mistake with McBee or what he called simply ‘loused up,’ he told you about it one time so you understood it. You better not do it and have him tell you about it a second time, because if you did everybody in headquarters would know about it. He would be telling you about it at the top of his voice. He was a good man. I thought the world of him.
When they got orders that I could go over as an Immigrant Inspector he called me in, I was at Ysleta. He spent two hours telling me what an idiot I would be, or anybody else, to go over to the bridge as an Immigrant Inspector, because after all, that wasn’t the type of work I wanted and I knew that I could stay at Ysleta as long as I wanted to for various reasons and anybody could be on the bridge and pass traffic over there. And after about an hour and a half he said—
TC: An hour and a half!
RD: Oh, yes. So after all that time he said, you’re not going over to the bridge, are you? I said, yes. And so he spent another fifteen minutes telling me how stupid I was, which I appreciated. He said, Well, I got to go call Mr. Willmoth; when do you want to go? I said, how about tomorrow. So, he finally ended up telling me I never was worth a darn as a patrol inspector anyhow, so get on over to the bridge. We were good friends all the time after that. Except they didn’t want to lose me as a Senior, apparently.
TC: He tried.
RD: Oh, he did his best. I’m not going to use the language here that he used. I don’t want to shock you. They were mighty good men, I thought the world of both of them.
There was one man that I did overlook. After I got out of the Border patrol School in ‘36 they had what they called a smuggling detail. One of the inspectors in charge of it was a Border Patrolman, and Eugene P. Warren was the Immigrant Inspector and I worked with him until he got sick: about a month and a half. He had been the official interpreter for General Pershing when they went into Mexico after Poncho Villa and he told me that he told the General the first day — of course, General Pershing rode horses — it was all cavalry — “If you want me to interpret tomorrow, I’d better ride in the wagon or I’ll be so sore I can’t even interpret.” He told me had never ridden a horse. But I think he finally knew more about the Mexican people than anybody that I ever worked with.
TC: Eugene P. Warren? I’ve never heard of him.
RD: He’s been dead many years. He was one of the old Chinese Inspectors, too, before that. You could be driving down the street with him and see some man there and ask where that man from is? Oh, he’s from Chihuahua. You would see some other man or woman going down the street and ask where they were from. Probably from Guadalajara. You would stop and ask them and that’s where they were from. Now, how he could tell, I don’t know and he couldn’t tell you. But he could spot where they were from in Mexico just from watching them walk along the street. He wouldn’t miss one in ten. And he liked to try to help me — to educate me. Anytime we would talk to somebody, I would talk as much as I could in Spanish and he would help me because I was just out of school and I couldn’t. He said, if there is any question, I’m going to take over the questioning. Why don’t we ask them this. And so it worked out very well. I learned more from him than I did the next two years from the fellows that I worked with. He took time to teach me and it was interesting. If you went into some Mexican
home — of course, I’d never been around Catholics too much, and they had their various things there for the Catholic religion, different things. He talked to me and explained what these things were and what they meant to the Mexican people. So I got a background into the Mexican people that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, except over a great many years. And through him, I kept up my interest in learning Spanish and more law. I think he was one of the best instructors I ever had. After I went over to the bridge as inspector he kept me over there all the time, and when I was chairman of the Board of Special Inquiry before I went into the Army, he was one of the three members on the board for quite a while. He was one of the most outstanding men I ever met in the Immigration Service.
TC: You said he died quite a while ago?
RD: Yes. I think his widow still lives at the valley(???), but all she would have would be stuff on Immigration, not on the Border Patrol. I understand you contacted Mrs. Crossett — Egbert Crossett’s widow?
TC: No, I don’t think I have, maybe somebody else did. His son came down. Sue might have.
RD: I was told she had been contacted. She would probably have a lot of things that Egbert had. She told whoever it was that she would be glad to give them everything that she had.
I think that is all I can think of. Unless you can think of something else.
TC: You’ve been wonderful.
Transcribed by Roberta Shasteen May 1989
Edited by Terrie Cornell, August 1989