Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Home » A few figs from thistles » Hiding in plain sight

Hiding in plain sight


A few figs from thistles…

by Howard A. Tabor


A little healthy paranoia is no bad thing. Sometimes they really are out to get you.

Those of us on social media may have followed the case of a Pennsylvania police chief who posted video of himself wielding an AK-15 and suggesting that Liberals ought to do something to themselves that’s, frankly, not very nice. For me the question is this: Despite his reprehensible views and his weird propensity to post them on social media, did the now former sheriff allow those personal beliefs to influence or alter his interpretation and application of the law?

Early in this blog’s history (December 2010) I wrote about an incident during the Great Depression that hinged on another law enforcement official, Fennimore county’s sheriff Joe Pyne. The Rufini Brothers’ Circus had come to town, a few days ahead of process servers intent on shutting the circus down for non-payment of debt. Sheriff Pyne accepted the papers—as required by law—but dragged his heels in serving them. He and others in the community understood the Rufinis’ problems, but they also appreciated the value of entertainment to hard-pressed families in small-town America. So, he worked behind the scene to raise a few dollars, buy the circus carousel for more than its true value, and allow the Rufinis to settle their debt and move on. Each party got something from the deal.

Was it civil disobedience for the good sheriff to look beyond the letter of the law; to find equity and even-handedness where haste would have sown heartache? I get more than a little satisfaction creating fictional folk like Sheriff Joe Pyne, especially when they counteract (if only in my mind) real characters like Mark Kessler.

Hiding in plain sight

Ted Ito, you may recall, was a first generation American, orphaned by the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Raised by relatives near Sacramento, he grew to manhood working in the fields. Eventually Ito got a job with the Union Pacific railway as a sleeping car porter, until laid off by the same depression that had afflicted the Rufini brothers. That was when he came to Agincourt.

Ted got work at The Blenheim, parlaying his pullman car management skills into a similar position on the hotel’s night shift. Things went well enough for a few years, until the outbreak of World War II and President Roosevelt’s fateful Executive Order #9066 signed on February 19th, 1942—authorizing the internment of ethnic Japanese on the U.S. west coast. [The implementation of that law is a little hazy to me: Who decided, who identified, who gathered these guiltless people and sent them to camps in places like Clarinda, Iowa?] How word got to Ted (actually Tadao) Ito isn’t certain. But when it did, I wonder at his reaction.

Ito moved discretely to the kitchen staff but was still in public life, until one day someone asked “who’s that? Isn’t he one of those” [expletive deleted in the interest of non-offence]. The person being queried was a friend of Ted’s and cleverly replied, “Nah. I think he’s from the Sac & Fox over at Tama,” seeking to divert Ted’s otherness to a different minority group more prevalent in the vicinity. It worked. Those who knew, liked and respected him instantly but silently signed on: Ted Ito had become a Native American, even though he already had been, just without the capital “N”.

And so, for three years Tadao Ito lived among his fellow citizens as someone other than who he really was. Was that civil disobedience? Perhaps. Was it illegal? Probably. Was it the wrong thing to have done? Hell, no!


Until I can find an image more appropriate for the Tadao Ito story, this is borrowed from the CSU Dominguez Hills campus newsletter. The story concerns the awarding of degrees to Nisei (first generation Japanese-Americans) and others incarcerated consequent to EO #9066.

1 Comment

  1. […] were civilly disobedient a second time when in 1942 the community rallied ’round Tadao Ito, a Nisei in our midst when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and authorized the […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: