More Jackson History

This is a picture of chief of police Thomas C.Gaston. He served the citizens of Jackson Tn as a law enforcement officer from 1882-1915. the reason his picture is in profile he lost his right eye in the line of duty. Yes he wore an eye patch .

Jackson/ Madison Co. History

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Before we get into the story of Thomas Gaston I want to share some Historic facts.The first sheriff of Madison Co.was in 1822 was Thomas Shannon. The first constable(1822) for the City of Jackson was John David Shannon the 21 year old brother of the sheriff. The first U.S. Marshall for the Western District of Tennessee was Robert I. Chester 1838.


At the age of 21 Thomas Gaston was elected to the position of. patrol-officer for Jackson Police Dept. 1838. (yes the Chief of Police and Patrol Officers (all 4 of them )were elected by the City Commission. From Patrol he became a Lieutenant, Captain, night Chief of Police then Chief of Police in 1897.In 1846

Gaston was called to the jail to break up a lynch mob.Shots were fired several people were struck including Gaston.Gaston had taken a direct hit losing his right eye and a wound to the chest. Many thought he would not survive his wounds.One of the Memphis paper wrote an article as if he had died.“ Gaston had only been on the force for 8 years yet he had a reputation as a one of the bravest officer to wear a badge.He proved to be a terror to many a rouge he came across. There was even talk about Maj. Sam Hail writing a western romance novel about this Tennessee lawman.”Imagine the surprise of the reporter when arrived in Jacksonto cover the funeral only to find Gaston alive. It was reported when the reporter went to the hospital to interview this amazing lawman. Gaston was quoted as saying. “ Son, I just lost one eye and I got another one them. I will back on duty in no time.” and he was.The man who shot Gaston was identified as Rashe Kelly aka Round House Kelly. He was tried for attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary.

One of the stories concerning Thomas Gaston concerned a Saloon owner , W.C. Strickland, from Ripley, Tn. Strickland’s Saloon was located at 205 Market (Highland).Mr Strickland was known as a bully who did not abide by any law and did not like Gaston. He went as far as sending a letter to the local paper threatening Gaston . Strickland was selling whisky on Sunday, selling to minors and conducting a gaming operation this did not set well with Gaston.The following is some of what was written about the shooting by a reporter from the Memphis Commercial Appeal in Dec 1892.“On this morning Thomas Gaston was walking down Market St to purchase some hay from the feed store the proprietor was not there so he left. As he had walked past the Strickland Saloon he had seen W.C. Strickland and his brother Pat walk into the Saloon . As he left the feed store W.C. came out the door of the saloon he and Gaston had a heated discussion. All of a sudden shots were fired Gaston was not hit but W.C was dead on the ground . He had a shot to the temple and died instantly.Gaston ducked into a another store before Pat could get out the Saloon with his shotgun. When the other officers arrived they found W.C. laying on the ground with a copper shield across his chest. He had made the shield at the local railroad machine shop. What he had not counted on was a head shot from a “one eyed” law officer.”

Gaston turned himself in and was charged with murder. He was put on a $10,000.00 bond. The Who’s Who’s of Jackson made the bond in no time. He never missed a beat as an officer as a matter of fact in 1893 he was appointed Fire Chief as well as day Chief of Police.In 1894 Thomas Gaston came to trial and was found not guilty.

In 1897 Thomas Gaston was elected Chief of Police a position he held until 1915.

.Note : I was told that Mrs. Day ,owner, of the Southern Hotel provided Thomas with a room. When she died she had made sure Thomas would have a place to stay. It was the morning of Feb 23,1918 when the housekeeper found him dead. It was said he had a stroke. Thomas C. Gaston was buried in Riverside Cemetery,

.When I was researching this story in 2000 I was talking to a friend who worked in the archives of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. It was then I discovered that Eddie Ashmore was doing research on Thomas Gaston also. When I found that out and since Eddie worked at Lambuth I called him.I had many an interesting conversation with him about Jackson Law Enforcement he had great stories.At that time he was finishing work on his book “A CHRONICLE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT IN THE SOUTH” The history of the Jackson, Tennessee Police Department It is an excellent study in the history of the police department.

Other research for this story was done at the JMCL and many conversations with Gaston family.

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