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Lawton's first police chief honored during ceremony

LAWTON, Okla._Some say he helped conquer the west, others say he simply a fair man that believed in the City of Lawton. People gathered Monday to pay tribute to a different kind of hero, Lawton’s first police chief.

Henry Andrew Thomas, better known to turn-of-the-century Lawton as "Heck" was memorialized in his resting place in Highland Cemetery. Members of the Fort Sill Museum's Deputy U.S. Marshals along with representatives of the Lawton Police Department were all on hand to pay their respects to the man who jump-started law enforcement in the city.

In proper frontier fashion, museum representatives dressed up as both enemies and allies of Thomas, including his partner from his U.S. Marshal days, Bill Tilghman. By remembering Thomas' career, it was the goal of organizers to take this Memorial Day and preserve history by honoring the legacy of a man whose passion was to make Oklahoma a safe place to live long before it was even a state.

"I knew why they hired him. They needed somebody that the outlaws, the criminals, the bootleggers in Lawton respected, somebody they feared," explained one museum employee.

"We are here today to honor Heck Thomas who as a law enforcement officer, showed bravery, integrity and fairness," said another museum employee.

"I'd love to sit down and have dinner with this guy. Hear stories. And I'm just proud to be connected with him," said Sgt. Don Pestun of the Lawton Police Department.

Chief of Police Heck Thomas was a force to be reckoned with during a time when criminals on the run ruled the land that's now known as the Sooner State. It was his reputation as a ruthless U.S. Marshal under famous hanging judge, Isaac Parker in Arkansas that nabbed him the job as Lawton's go-to man.

"At one time, he turned down a commission up in the Guthrie area for a deputy U.S. Marshal appointment. He turned it down simply because he loved Lawton. He did not want to move from Lawton and the people loved him," said Alvie Cater, coordinator for the Fort Sill Museum of Deputy Marshals.

During his career, Thomas was shot seven times and survived them all and putting fear in the hearts of Lawton's worst was his specialty.

"A lot of the bad guys just left town. They weren't run out of town, he didn't even go after them and they left. His reputation preceded him I guess you could say," said Sgt. Pestun.

He was a man that many today look up to and although times have certainly changed in law enforcement and in Lawton, organizers hope the message never fades.

"People need to understand that we've come from that to now. The struggles that are here are struggles they dealt with back then too. Local history is important, it's part of community pride," said Sgt. Pestun.

This was the second annual memorial for Chief Thomas. Organizers with the Fort Sill museum hope to continue the tradition going forward by making it bigger and better each year.

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