Paul Cantrell was a three-time sheriff and two-time state senator from McMinn County, Tennessee, who always aspired to be a cliche movie villain. He had the brilliant idea to pay the county's deputies based on their number of arrests. That wasn't a well-meaning but poorly thought out initiative on Cantrell's part; he had deputies wait at bus stops to literally nab everyone who got off. One of those people was Bill White, a World War II veteran who was mere minutes away from returning home after spending a few years gutting the Japanese war machine.
This angered the veterans.
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
An artist's representation.
In the 1946 election, Cantrell found himself running against the G.I. Non-Partisan League. Hundreds of Cantrell's armed deputies showed up at the voting stations, arrested all the civilian poll watchers and any watching WWII veterans, then beat up an elderly black man with brass knuckles and shot him in the back as he ran away. Short of cutting him a paycheck, that's the surest way we know to get Van Damme to show up in your town.
Unfortunately for Cantrell, those WWII vets he arrested earlier were WWII vets. They weren't about to let him get away with these shenanigans. When Cantrell shut down the polls early and took the ballots under armed guard to the local jailhouse (his usual spot for rigging the vote), White had the G.I.s raid a goddamn federal arsenal and follow him. Once there, White yelled: "Would you damn bastards bring those damn ballot boxes out here, or we are going to set siege against the jail and blow it down!"
Archives Photograph Collection via State of Tennessee
Which is really a more effective threat than promising to "huff and puff."
By that time, anti-Cantrell riots had broken out all over town. The governor of Tennessee considered calling in the National Guard to suppress the revolt, but he realized that since the National Guard was mainly WWII veterans, they'd probably just join in. The siege ended when someone decided to make good on White's threat and blow up the jail with dynamite. The crooked cops surrendered and were locked up for the night. Cantrell fled the county, and after an official count, the G.I. candidate was certified as the legitimate winner. The G.I.s cleaned their stolen rifles and put them back in the federal arsenal before daybreak, and then fixed the jail. This is the South we're talking about, after all -- a total revolt is no excuse for rudeness.
Zachary William Frey the First is currently a student at Greenwich High School, and you can read all his other crazy articles and (not) be his friend here.
For more mini coups, check out 5 Lesser Known (Completely Ridiculous) American Civil Wars and 5 Forgotten Revolutions That Created The Modern World.
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