Dayton, Texas, residents came together on Friday, Oct. 27, to remember two police officers – Louis “Frenchy” Cashat Sr. and Joseph Hurley Provost. The ceremony, held in the training room at Dayton Police Department, was organized by Operation Blue Remembrance, which has provided grave markers for each at Acie-Linney Cemetery where they are buried a short distance from each other.
At the ceremony, Dayton Police Chief Derek Woods began by providing a life history of Cashat, Sr., who was tragically gunned down at the age of 51 in 1950 while working as a night watchman in Dayton. At the time, the small town did not have a police department, so Cashat and a city marshal, an elected position, were responsible for enforcing the law and keeping the community safe.
In the early morning hours of June 15, 1950, Cashat was on patrol in Dayton when he encountered local resident John Griffitts struggling with two youths beside his car on the northeast corner of US 90 and Church Street. Griffitts, armed with a handgun, was stabbed a couple of times by one of the assailants – 17-year-old Johnny Deciga, who took the gun and used it to fatally shoot Cashat three times.
Earlier in the evening, Deciga and 15-year-old Jimmie Simmons, both of Houston, had decided to steal a car in the Houston area and go on a joyride to Dayton with their girlfriends. Along the way, the vehicle ran out of gas, so they stopped in at the home of John Griffitts and his family on SH 146 south of Dayton. The teens explained that they needed gas for their vehicle, but Griffitts had none to spare. They also asked to use his phone, but it was out of order.
As the teens left Griffitts’ home, he reportedly had an inkling that the boys were up to no good, so he offered to drive them into town for fuel. Somewhere along the way, he grew suspicious of the teens and began driving around slowly, looking for the night watchman on duty.
“They knew from being from Houston that the night watchman in Houston carried guns, so they had assumed that he was carrying one, too,” Woods said. “They were later captured and brought to justice. But I guess it was what happened after that that really kind of touched my heart and just reminded me about this community. This community pulled together. They raised money. A lot of the local merchants gave discounts and did all kinds of things. The fire department came together and I think they raised $670 or $680 or something at the time. That would have been around seven or eight thousand dollars in 1950, so it’s just a real testament to this to this community.”
According to Tonya Smikal, wife of Glenn Smikal, one of Cashat’s surviving grandsons, the murder shook the town but none more than Cashat’s family who were forced to live in fear of retaliation from the teenage boys who had taken his life. For years, they kept their story private, afraid of what might happen if they spoke out about Cashat’s heroism. In 2011, the late local historian Kevin Ladd began to dig into the story for a feature article, and Cashat’s surviving children and grandchildren finally learned of his sacrifice for the first time.
Since that time, Cashat’s name has been added to the Texas Police Officer Memorial Wall in Austin and the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.
To this day, Cashat is the only Dayton Police Department officer to be killed in the line of duty, a distinction that nobody wants to see repeated.
The ceremony was also held to remember Officer Joseph Hurley Provost, the first black peace officer for Dayton Police Department. Provost died last year at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy of service and dedication to his community.
Provost’s grandson, Jeremy Winters, spoke about his grandfather’s impact on the family and the community.
“Hurley Provost, in my eyes, was a true hero, someone who always put the needs of others before his own. He was an example of what it means to be a husband, father, grandfather, and police officer. His unwavering commitment to the safety and well-being of those around Liberty County was an inspiration to us all,” Winters said. “I will never forget the sacrifices that he made in the line of duty, nor will I forget the countless lives he touched during his time with us. We are forever grateful for the impact he had on our community.”
Long after he retired in 1989, Provost remained passionate about law enforcement and continued to seek schooling, certifications and awards in criminal justice.
“The last one he received was a Gang Intelligence certificate. I have no idea why he wanted to do that, but I was going into that field as well. He would go and get certificates, and I would help him study, and we would practice law inside the house,” Winters remembers. “Even after that, he was still studying and staying up to date with rules and regulations of a peace officer. That showed me how dedicated he was to serving the community and how dedicated he was to keeping his options alive just in case he had to put me through college.”
Herbert Sims, president and founder of Operation Blue Remembrance, pointed to the parallels of the two men, even though they were born a generation apart and never knew each other.
“We’re here to honor two men from two very different times. Two men, who on the surface, are very different. Two men, if they had met on the street, would likely probably not have spoken to each other because they didn’t know each other. Probably would not have stopped at the same diner, maybe not have had lunch together, would probably would not have gone to the same church, not have shared the same town, would have likely have nothing in common. But upon closer examination, one man was married, had seven kids. The other man was married and I believe had ten children,” Sims said.
Both Provost and Cashat were born in Louisiana and remarkably ended up in the town of Dayton, both performing the job of a peace officer.
“Both men were well respected in their community, and evidence of that is seated in the room here. So, in fact, both men were buried about 250 feet apart. So how does this come to be? How do the lives of these men intersect? What is so compelling that brought these men together over a span of 70 years? Both these men wore a badge. Both of these men recognized the necessity of having law and order in their community and were willing to make the sacrifices to ensure the sanctity of that concept. They were dedicated in making their community, their home, a safer place for families to live, and a safer place for their children and others to put down roots,” Sims said.
One man paid the ultimate sacrifice. He was shot and killed. The other sacrificed his life in a very different way.
“As a retired peace officer, I can tell you that every man or woman that wears that badge makes a sacrifice to some degree. It may not be as drastic and tragic, such as the ultimate sacrifice that Night Watchman Cashat made, but Officer Provost, I can promise you, made sacrifices every day of his career,” Sims said.
The event ended with presentations from Melanie Cotten with State Rep. Ernest Bailes’ office. She gave the family of each officer a certificate and a flag that was flown over the Capitol in Austin.