DECKER, JAMES ERIC
DECKER, JAMES ERIC (1898–1970). James Eric (Bill) Decker, law officer, son of James A. and Cecille T. Decker, was born in Dallas, Texas, on August 31, 1898. He grew up there and attended local schools before dropping out to find work. On July 21, 1916, he married Clyde Ryals of Galveston. Four years later he became an elevator operator at the Dallas County Courthouse. In 1923 Decker joined Constable Murray Fisher's staff as deputy constable. In 1933 he was named chief deputy to Sheriff Richard A. (Smoot) Schmid, a position he held until Schmid lost the 1946 election. Decker resigned from his position as chief deputy and ran for sheriff in 1948, when he defeated incumbent Steve Guthrie. Decker was sheriff until his death in 1970. Throughout his twenty-two years as sheriff he never faced another opponent in an election.
Decker became somewhat of a legend as a Texas lawman. His relentless pursuit of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parkerqqv and his capture of hardened criminal Raymond Hamilton focused national attention on him in the 1930s. Even greater attention was focused on Sheriff Decker in November 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas (see KENNEDY ASSASSINATION). During the trial of Jack Ruby, the killer of alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, five prisoners escaped from the county jail. Criticism was leveled on Dallas law enforcement as a result. Decker, in his typically calm manner, answered the critics, saying that "Dallas will survive all this, partner." As sheriff, he modernized and expanded the department and led his staff with a low-keyed dignity.
He and his wife had no children; they raised his cousin, William Tennant Decker. Decker received numerous awards during his lifetime but always maintained that he was no hero, just "a professional law-enforcement officer trying to do a job." He died on August 29, 1970, and was buried in Dallas.
Dallas Morning News, August 25, 26, 1970, November 17, 1978. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Image Use Disclaimer
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Gerald D. Saxon, "DECKER, JAMES ERIC," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fde69), accessed February 09, 2016. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Get Texas history everyday,
with day by day
Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles