Red River Scrapbook: Travels with the Judge - part 1
By Edward Southerland
Jan 7, 2019
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William Emmet McMahon (pronounced as Mac-Man) was born in Savoy in 1876. He played on the undefeated University of Texas Longhorn football teams of 1900-01. He graduated from UT Law School in 1902, and after a short stint in Bonham, moved to the Philippine Islands to be a school teacher. He soon went back to the law, and served as a U.S. District Judge for the islands.

The undefeated Longhorns of 1900. W.E. McMahon on top row left. S.F. Leslie, also from Fannin County, is just below him.

He came back to the U.S. in 1915, and when the America entered the Great War, he joined the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army, serving until war’s end. He then took his legal practice to Tampico, Mexico, and in time became the head of the legal department of Standard Oil of New Jersey with headquarters in Mexico City. He came back to Texas in 1938, living in Fort Worth and Dallas, before retiring and coming home to Bonham sometime in the 1940s.

In 1960, I was in high school, playing for the Bonham Warrior B team. The closest I had come to foreign travel and adventure was a trip across the Red River to Oklahoma.

Judge McMahon was from Fannin County, and when he retired, he and his wife built a big home (His living room had almost as many square feet as our entire house.) south of Bonham on a hill overlooking Bois d’Arc Creek. I never knew his wife, who died shortly after their move back to Texas, and he lived alone in the big house. A hired man, who ran the farm, and his family lived in a smaller house on the place.

The Judge never missed a Longhorn football game, home or away. Different people from Bonham with some connection to the other side usually took him to the games. My father was a Baylor alumnus, so each year we took the Judge to Austin or Waco to see Texas take on the Bears. Other folks, with other affiliations, made the trips to Austin or Houston or Fort Worth or wherever the orange and white was playing that week.

If no one in Bonham could make the trip, the Judge would shanghai the hired man, and off they would go. Once they drove to New Orleans to see Texas play Tulane only to find out on their arrival that the game had been switched to Austin because of an impending hurricane. They turned around, drove all night through the wind and rain and got to Memorial Stadium in time for the kickoff.

I was 15, with a brand new driver’s license in my pocket and four months of experience behind the wheel when my father asked me if I wanted to drive the Judge to a football game. Not just any game, mind you, but the Texas vs. Oklahoma war in the Cotton Bowl during the middle of the State Fair.

The Judge, whose prior arrangements had fallen through, had been in my father’s office looking for a ride and my father had suggested my services; why I cannot imagine. I guess he had a lot more confidence in me than I had in me.

I was not so sure. I had been to the Cotton Bowl many times and knew the route well enough, but I had never driven in big city traffic. In addition I would not be piloting the family Pontiac, but the Judge’s brand new Lincoln Continental.

The Judge got a new Lincoln every couple of years, sometimes sooner if conditions required. He smoked a pipe, and when the pipe went out, which was often, he fired it up with a silver lighter that shot out a flame about two feet long. At least twice, he put a Lincoln in a ditch while trying to relight the pipe. This was one reason he limited his driving to trips to Bonham and back to the farm.

As to my lack of city driving experience, my father explained that we were to meet two friends of the Judge in Greenville, and once there I could let one of them drive into Dallas. Driving to Greenville was a piece of cake, so I accepted.

When we got to the rendezvous point and I offered the keys to the Judge’s friend, he declined. He allowed as I could stay behind the wheel, as he didn’t know the way to the Cotton Bowl coming in from that direction. I didn’t either, but I said nothing, slid back front seat and figured it out on the fly.

Well before kickoff, we were parked, eating Fletcher’s corny dogs and finding our seats in the sea of orange and red. As a reward for my navigation, the Judge’s friend bought two $10 tickets for a ride in a helicopter and gave one to me. For ten minutes, I flew over the fair grounds in a little plastic bubbled Bell chopper. It was the first time I had ever flown in anything other than my imagination.

There are several things you ought to know about driving with the Judge. First was the aforementioned pipe. Every now and then, the two-foot flame would shoot across the seat and into your field of vision. The Judge was lighting up. After couple of times, you got used to it and didn’t swerve to the left and duck down below the dash like you did at first.

Every time you stopped for a traffic light, the Judge would make one of two remarks. “Your foot slipped,” or “You aren’t living right.” If you were caught in a line of cars, he would opine that, “There must be a garage up ahead.” This meant that there was a car parked in the street and blocking traffic.

These remarks became most abundant during the slow crawl into and out of the parking lot, and he did not like it when other cars tried to edge their way into line. Once, coming out of a game with Buster Cole at the helm, the Judge took offense at one of these interlopers, rolled down his window and attacked a car easing in on the right with his big silver-headed cane. According to accounts, he banged the hood of the offending vehicle while shouting, “Get back! Get back!” Buster, who was driving the Judge that day, was getting ready for a fight when the other car wisely backed off rather than mess with the crazy old man in the big Lincoln.

On the way home from a game, the Judge was anxious to hear the football scores. He would turn on the radio at close to full volume. (While hale and hardy in all other ways, he was very hard of hearing.) If talking came over the speaker, he assumed the scores would be forthcoming and he would leave the radio on for a while, snapping it off if no scores were announced after some period of time. If he heard music, he turned the radio off immediately. This “on and off” business could go on for miles.

At the game, the Judge and I sat not too far behind the OU bench. When the starting line-ups were announced and a Sooner starter was identified as being from Texas, as many were, the Judge would rise in indignation, shake his cane at the offender and bellow, “Traitor! Renegade! Damn Turncoat!”

During the game, any call that went against the Longhorns was denounced to all around as a conspiracy and a vile miscarriage of justice. He often wondered aloud how much the officials were being paid to make all those sorry calls, and he questioned the marital status of their parents. He did not suffer losing easily.

That day in October, the Longhorns rolled the Sooners 28-7, and after the game the Judge’s friends departed. The ride back to Bonham was quiet, save for the “on and off” radio game and the sudden stab of flame that pierced the dark at regular intervals.

Next: Travels with the Judge, Part 2.