Nov 28 2013
The Battle For Votes and Guns

Although the margins were slim Paul Cantrell won his bid for Sheriff of McMinn County, TN in the elections of 1936, 1938 and again in 1940. This is the story of  the battle for votes and guns as seen in Athens, TN. Sheriff Cantrell was noted for his brutality, vote fraud and bribe-taking operations. He was responsible for taking bribes to allow illegal activities such as making whiskey, gambling and for buying votes. In spite of many unhappy voters he was elected to the State Senate in 1942.

Wealthy votes… for guns

Cantrell’s chief deputy, Pat Mansfield was elected Sheriff in 1942 with considerable help from the wealthy Canfield family and what was thought to be considerable voter fraud. No surprise to anyone the corruption continued under the new Sheriff’s administration.

When primary season again rolled around in 1946 Paul Cantrell wanted to return to the Sheriff’s office. By now the people of McMinn County had weathered numerous economic, physical and political storms and were ready for serious honest law-abiding change in their county.

At this same time World War II veterans were returning from foreign battle fields. They found their efforts to preserve America’s freedoms abroad were still in dire need of reform at home. This is the story of the battle of votes and guns here at home that most Americans know little to nothing about. This is another story of government control.

Battle of Control for Votes and Guns

We’ve been speaking about control of the US economy in previous articles. This is a related issue and is a battle for control of both votes and control of guns which can result in the control of our economy. This very interesting battle on American soil was named The Battle of Athens and took place in rural Tennessee on Election Day of August 1 and into the early morning hours of August 2 of 1946.

Over 3,000 returning soldiers saw the tyranny of their local government continuing to take place before their very eyes and were determined to win this battle at home. Paul Cantrell was held responsible for Sheriff Mansfield’s brutalities and the people of McMinn believed the best course of action was to put forward their own slate of candidates.

McMinn citizens requested the Department of Justice look into election fraud in 1940, 1942, and yet again in 1944 but received no response. For the 1946 election 159 GI s petitioned for election monitors from the FBI. Again, no response received.

Election Day, August 1, 1946

On this election day of August 1 Sheriff Mansfield determined to do it his way and brought in 200 armed deputies to control the voting process. The Sheriff was so desperate for a strong show of force that one new deputy was appointed and given a gun or face arrest and a fine for a traffic violation. They who have  the guns rule.

The veterans set up poll watchers as per TN law but were beaten early on in the proceedings. Tom Gillespie was forcefully told he was voting in the wrong place. Tom persisted that he had always voted in that precinct. One report states a deputy beat him with brass knuckles and as he was struggling to leave through the doorway was shot in the back. Fortunately it was a flesh wound and he did recover. The situation was escalating and now out-of-hand.

Other strange events on that Election Day included Walter Ellis, a GI election judge, who was arrested for allegedly “attempting to perpetuate a fraud” by marking the ballots. Ellis was held without bail and was refused any visitors by Sheriff Mansfield’s officers.

In the over crowded courthouse about 20 deputies, some police officers and a highway patrolman pushed their way through with Billy-clubs in hand, and fire arms ready, to take the ballot boxes. Many watching in the crowd were veterans recently returned from Europe and the South Pacific who were deeply concerned about these proceedings. Things were just not right. But the GI s felt unprepared, unorganized and were unarmed to do anything about this “Gestapo” force.

Poll Watchers and Ballot Counters

Deputies made poll-watchers stand far enough away from the ballots being counted that they could not see what was taking place. Some watchers were allowed to leave while others were forced to stay. James Vestal and Charles Scott eventually escaped by smashing through a locked plate glass door. Deputies with guns drawn were ready to shoot but held their fire.

Prominent citizens were beaten, and at least one poll was closed early and doors and pathways blocked with vehicles to prevent further voting. Ballots were stolen at gun point from the precincts by Sheriff Mansfield and his deputies and taken to the jail for counting.

The GI s searched for firearms throughout the county finding enough to arm many. Some arms were borrowed from the National Guard and State Guard Armories. McMinn county citizens, veterans and locals alike, were determined to have a fair and honest count of the ballots cast. They prepared to storm the jail. Those who control the weapons control the ballot boxes and many other decisions as well.

Several encounters ensued resulting in the capture of 7 deputies in 3 different situations who were promptly taken out of town. It is reported that about 500 armed veterans and citizens gathered around the jail. I find it interesting that they surrounded 3 sides of the jail leaving an escape route for any who wanted to exit the scene.

It was about 9:00 pm August 1 when firing to and from the jail began. By 11:00 pm the Sheriff and deputies threaten to kill the three GI hostages they had taken earlier from the precincts to help count the ballots. The officers in the jail were estimated to be about 75 and reports are that thousands of rounds were exchanged before firing weakened in the early morning, around 12:40 am of August 2.

Report to the Governor

A report of Governor McCord mobilizing the Sixth Regiment of the State Guard was later proven untrue. Some believed that the Governor thought the State Guard would not fire on the returning GI s. The GI s cut telephone lines around 1:00 am and the deputies retaliated with another threat to kill their hostages. This triggered a response from the veterans to surrender or face a rush on the jail. About 40 minutes had lapsed when the GI s escalated the conflict with explosives. After about the fourth dynamite stick the call of surrender was heard from the panicked deputies.

The deputies were held in the cells and guarded by the GI s. The town calmed down but not until after the deputy’s cars were overturned, smashed and burned in the streets. Ballots were counted and the GI candidates won the day with Knox Henry as the new Sheriff of McMinn County. Weapons borrowed from the Armories were cleaned and returned before daybreak.


Whether control is of the US economy, control of votes or control of guns, it is not something to be taken lightly if we desire to preserve our freedoms.

Controlling votes by any means apart from free elections can not be acceptable in America. The returning soldiers of McMinn County acted within the 2nd amendment to keep their county free with a well regulated Militia.

Today the stealing of votes cast by citizens and our representatives has been reported in many areas and done in various ways, often undercover, hidden in such a way as to escape the eyes of most citizens. We often hear of votes being cast by deceased persons. Peter Schweizer in his book, Extortion, gives an example of how Representatives extort each other for votes needed to pass bills they support. The anticipated question from the one whose help is requested is “So … when are you planning to do a fund raiser for me?” In other words help given is expected to be returned with money, a fund raiser.

The Battle of Athens not only shouts vote control it also shouts gun control. The Sheriff and his deputies would have won the day if the citizens were unable to gather enough weapons. When ever possible we want to reach justice without the show of arms but sometimes it is essential. Let us never get to where control reaches the place where citizens are forbidden to own weapons.

Lessons Learned:

These law abiding citizens in TN stood their ground for law and order, we owe them a debt of gratitude for their example. Unlawful voting should not be tolerated – no – it cannot be tolerated, if we are to preserve any remaining freedoms enjoyed in America. More people throughout free countries need to know of this example of how this group of American law abiding citizens who lawfully followed the use of engagement with armed force.

When we loose the power of the peoples voting privilege the government then gains power to do whatever they want. In history this has not turned out well. We do not have time or space to review these historical events here.

However, suffice it to say that some seven governments in the last 100 years, since 1915, have removed more than 56 million people who opposed their government’s views, yes, murdered them. “That will not happen here”, is the response often heard. Those folks did not think it could happen in their countries either. Slow, methodical steps can lead us to repeat this history if we do not stand firm as did the people of Athens, TN in 1946.

Another Mass Shooting

Every time we hear of another mass shooting we hear the cry that weapons must be controlled. The gun kills no one until a person pulls the trigger. The control factor is now turning to focus on disarming the incompetent. However, who decides who the incompetent are, or who the mentally incapable folks are? These definitions must be carefully crafted so that they remain narrow definitions and not so broad that most citizens are denied the ability to secure and possess arms.

The purpose of gun control is to control the people from opposing the government when they are wrong. Government officials in Athens were miscounting votes in order to make sure their candidate won. The only way this could be stopped was to overcome the wrong-doers by force, with guns. There will come other times when we the people will need to stand as they did in Athens. We must not let our guns be controlled.

The point is we need to be very careful about these two issues, namely, honest, well monitored vote casting ability and wide freedom of arms owned by citizens. The 2nd amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America is written in clear English. It reads as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

“Shall not be infringed” I think this means that this shall not be infringed. If you missed the beginning of this 11 part series please see the introduction here.

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Battle for Athens Price: $10.63 - $8.89
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About Joe Voutour

Joe Voutour now lives in Arizona via the Seattle WA area. He has an BA in Psychology and a Masters in Business. Joe is retired from his Life Insurance and Financial Planning career. Joe speaks, teaches and loves writing articles focused on helping people think about various businesses and other issues. His writing includes business reviews, economics, Christianity and other subjects of interest. Joe and his bride, Shirley, live in the White Mtns. region of AZ. Joe Voutour is a Founding Member of Vertical Rising.