What made Orange great: Henry Stanfields offers memories of old Orange

Published 5:29 am Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mike Louviere


If you lived in Orange in the 40s, or later you likely saw, or if you were lucky, you would have known a very nice, almost courtly gentleman. His name was Henry Stanfield, he had a 42 year career with the Orange Fire Department, spent a few years with the Orange Police Department, and had a wealth of knowledge about Orange.

He was born in a house near the railroad tracks on Main Street on March 4, 1907. His father was L.G. (Dick) Stanfield who had a history in Orange and served as Orange County Sheriff from 1941 until his death (in office) in 1947.

Henry’s parents divorced when he was a young boy and he lived with his grandmother, Mrs. Henry Weatherford, in West Orange for several years.  He attended school there and then attended old Henderson Street School, and later old Anderson Elementary School.

Always interested in the fire department, at age 13, he started “hanging out” at the old fire station located then on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

Before joining the fire department, he helped keep the trucks clean and hoses rolled up. He joined the volunteer fire department in 1928 and became a paid fireman at age 21 and stayed with the fire department until 1939 when he left and joined the Orange Police Department.

His partner in those early years was Bob Bass, who would later become police chief in Orange. They worked a 12 hour night shift until World War II started.

In 1942, he went back to the fire department and started as a “rookie fireman”. In five years, he climbed from a Third Class Fireman to Captain.

He left the fire department for a second time to work at the Griffin-Belile Clothing Store. After a short time, there he went back to the police department. On November 1,1952, he went back to his first love, the fire department. Once again, he went through the ranks and made Captain. In 1957, he was named Fire Marshall.

During his tenure as Fire Marshall, he worked six months as Administrative Head of the Inspection Department. In 1970 he was named Fire Chief to replace Vertis Sands when Sands retired.

At the age of 65, he was not ready to retire and was allowed to stay one more year by the Orange City Council. The Council then allowed him to stay another year. At the end of the second year, he had to retire.

For 15 years, he served as an instructor at the Texas A&M University Fire Training School. He had also been active in the Sabine-Neches Chief’s Association. After retiring he planned to still attend, with his wife, the conventions so that he could “keep up with old friends and the ‘fire business’.”

He remembered Orange as being a “very tough town.” Its fame or infamy, was widespread and to some it was known as the “Badlands.”

Henry remembered, “When I worked for Railway Express, we loaded some trains with produce and goods to be delivered between Beaumont and Lake Charles. One morning we were loading Train No.6 which was headed east and one of the warehousemen helping to load would say ‘one for Terry, one for Vinton, one for Badlands, one for Tulane, one for Badlands, one for Lake Charles, one for Badlands.’ I finally asked him, ‘what is Badlands?’, he said ‘Orange, Texas, that’s Badlands’”.

“Orange had a bad name, and it was hard to live down, but it has mellowed in the last 50 years or so,” Stanfield said.

He had many memories of old Orange, like Lit Reese running a water wagon to keep dust down on the town’s streets; the 2-6 Transfer company where the fine automobiles of come of Orange’s citizens were kept. The cars included the cars owned by Dr. L.O. Thompson, Miss Flavia Wignall and her mother, Dr. Blume’s Packard, Rucie Moore’s Pierce Arrow. The car belonging to W.B. Smith who lived at the Holland Hotel, Sloane Emerson who had holdings in the Edgerly oil field and the Buick owned by Dr. Wilhite. The storage company was located across from the old fire station on Front Street.

Henry recalled the willow marsh where crawfish could be caught. It was eventually drained, filled in and became the site of the Lutcher Hospital.

A humorous memory was of the time he was taken to a silent movie by the Ratcliff twins, Johnny and Moise, and their families. The movie was a western. One of the wives was reading the words on the screen. There was a scene where and Indian was crouched behind some bushes waiting to ambush a cowboy. Johnny got so excited that he drew his pistol and fired a shot at the Indian. There was a lot of smoke and when the smoke cleared, there was a large hole in the screen. They stopped the movie while they rigged a large bedsheet for a new screen so they could continue showing the movie.

“The manager threw us all out since the twins were so identical, he could not tell which one had fired the shot. The twins always carried their pistols wherever they went,” Henry said.

One of his memories was of Walter Kitchens, a man so tall he was called, Mr. Lanks. Mr. Lanks worked at the livery stable and was always a cowboy. He eventually bought a small tract of land near DeQuincy, Louisiana and had several producing wells on his property.

As a boy, Stanfield helped with cattle drives to and from the Gray Ranch at Ged, Louisiana and Johnson’s Bayou. He worked for the Gray Estate and for Rucie Moore at Gum Cove. Pete Anderson was the foreman for the Gray Estate.

The cattle would be driven to the ranch and be marked and branded. Henry also rode with Albert Griffin who worked for E.W. Brown, Jr.

Known by many as “Mr. Henry”, he will long be remembered for his part in the growth of Orange and for service to his community. Some called him “Mr. Orange”,  but his pastor Dr. Walter Kingle, said of him “He is one of a vanishing breed—A Gentleman’s Gentleman.”

He also served his fellow citizens in a unique way. He had been a long time close friend of Lannie Claybar and worked for years with him at the funeral home as a funeral assistant.

Some residents of Orange only knew him in this capacity. They knew him as a kind, compassionate man to whom the term “Gentleman’s Gentleman” could be applie