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Jefferson County’s fifth sheriff was a ‘devoutly honest’ man who loved horses and serving his community

E.T. Fillmore served as Jefferson County’s fifth sheriff from 1933 to 1942. | Courtesy William Fillmore
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventeenth in a series about former lawmen in eastern Idaho.
RIGBY – Edgar Thomas Fillmore burned his face as the whiskey still in Rigby exploded.
It was 1933 and the 54-year-old man had been elected Jefferson County’s fifth sheriff the previous fall. He’d run for office in hopes of making some extra money during the Great Depression, according to a written history provided by his grandson, William Fillmore.
It had been 20 years since Jefferson County had been formed and for 13 years, the 18th amendment, making the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal nationwide, had been in effect. The ratification of the 21st amendment, which overturned Prohibition, was just months away.
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It was during this transitional time that Sheriff Fillmore had bootleggers and moonshiners to deal with. A whiskey still on the dry bed just below the bridge on Yellowstone Highway had been brought to his attention. He investigated and found it dug into a cave, covered up with grass and twigs.
“He went to town and got five gallons of gasoline and poured it down into the still and then threw a match in the hole. This caused a terrific explosion and fire,” a written family history says.
Though it destroyed the whiskey still, Fillmore’s face was badly burned. The extent of his injuries is unclear.

This photo of E.T. Fillmore is on display in the Farnsworth TV & Pioneer Museum in Rigby. | Courtesy Pat Scott

Fillmore’s early life
E.T. Fillmore, as he was known to friends and family, was born in Salem, Utah on Jan. 14, 1879. He was the fifth child of Edgar and Lydia Fillmore.
Family members describe Fillmore as six feet tall with an athletic build and a pleasant disposition.
He’d moved to Rigby with his wife, Mabel Garrick, in 1903.
“The railroad was offering settlers a reduced rate. For $38, you could get a box car from Manti, Utah to Rigby, Idaho. E.T. chartered a box car. He loaded his livestock and household goods and left Utah on Nov. 8, 1903. They arrived in Rigby on Nov. 9,” family members write in their personal history.

Courtesy William Fillmore
Fillmore’s father bought 160 acres of land in Clark (three miles east of Rigby) the following spring. E.T. settled in a two-room cabin on the farm with Mabel, where four of their five children were born.
In December 1918, E.T. bought the adjoining 80 acres on the north side of the property, which “had an almost new five room home on it with a full basement.”
They lived here for 13 years until it burned down.
In a family history, Zada, E.T.’s only daughter, says they were on their way home from seeing a movie in Rigby when they noticed the flames.
“It looked like the neighbor’s house was burning,” Zada says. “A quarter mile away, we could see the pattern of trees around the light. It exactly matched the pattern of trees around our house.”
By the time they arrived, Zada says the roof had caved in and the flames were 30 to 50 feet high.
Her brothers, Kenneth and Blaine, were home alone at the time and made it out safely, but the home was completely destroyed. The cause of the fire was not specified.
They gathered whatever belongings they were able to salvage and eventually moved to another house in Rigby.

Courtesy William Fillmore
E.T.’s kids remember their father as a “daybreaker,” who worked dawn to dusk every day of his life. The written history includes accounts of clearing land, plowing fields, growing crops, milking cows and hauling firewood.
E.T. especially loved his horses.
“He trained them well. His horses were in better shape than anyone else’s. He talked to them, and at times he didn’t even need a rein to let them know what he wanted of them,” son Stanley says.
Fillmore ‘was esteemed by all who knew him’ in his civic and church service
E.T. also loved serving his community. He reportedly served on the school board and as director of the Great Feeder Canal and Burgess Canal. He unsuccessfully ran for county commissioner in 1924.
Though E.T. was skilled with a rifle and loved to hunt, the decision to run for sheriff seems to have been motivated purely by financial reasons. Despite many long, backbreaking hours working the farm, the Depression left him unable to make the farm payments. Serving as sheriff provided an additional income.
Under Fillmore’s leadership, everyone was held accountable and he “did not give favoritism to anyone, even his own relatives.”
He didn’t do himself any favors, either.
“While in office, he had to serve foreclosure papers on himself, as he was delinquent with the Federal Land Bank. They (bankers) wanted either the money or the land. He made a deal with them to retain the original 80 acres, and they could have the north 80. They agreed to this,” writes Stanley.
His characteristic of “devout honesty” earned him the respect of the entire community and neighboring counties, according to his obituary in the Rigby Star.

Copy of Fillmore’s obituary, as it appeared in The Rigby Star in 1956. | Courtesy William Fillmore
E.T. Fillmore was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but wasn’t active for most of his life.
In those early years living in Idaho, Gwen Barrett, E.T.’s daughter-in-law, said his lips would get chapped and bleed while working in the hot sun.
“Someone told him if he would chew tobacco, his lips wouldn’t get sore like that,” Gwen writes.
That was the beginning of a lifelong addiction that E.T. struggled with for many years.
His son, Kenneth, who was Gwen’s husband, recalls his dad warning him about tobacco and alcohol before his first school dance.
“He said that he would give anything if he could quit smoking,” Kenneth says. “I was confronted with these things, and I remembered my dad’s advice.”
But that didn’t stop E.T. from serving his church in any way he could. Gwen says he helped gather money to build the Rigby Tabernacle, which burned down years ago.
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“He paid a double amount on the building of the Clark Ward meetinghouse,” says Gwen.
And E.T. was always doing acts of service for his neighbors.
“It was not unusual for E.T., during a blizzard, to hook Chub and Fly (two of his horses) to the sleigh and go to Rigby, three miles away, just to break roads for his neighbors, or anyone that had to use the road,” according to Stanley.
“He was a friend to everyone and everyone seemed to like him,” Kenneth adds. “He never had any trouble getting hired help when needed. He paid a little more wages than the neighbors did. I asked him why he did that and he said, ‘I want to be fair to everyone and not be in their debt.’”
His son, Garrett, says his dad never swore if he got mad, and he appreciated that example.
“The thing I appreciated (most) about my dad was his tolerance,” Garrick writes in a family history. “I learned from him that no matter what comes your way to make the best of it. If people take advantage of you in any way, it isn’t your sin, unless you try to get even, then you knock the props out from under yourself until you are on their level. You can’t help anyone up if you are in a hole yourself.”
A ‘useful and active life’ comes to a close
E.T. and Mabel eventually retired and lived in a small house in Idaho Falls the rest of their life. Declining health resulted in E.T. living his final years in a rest home.
He passed away on Oct. 28, 1956 at age 77.

Courtesy William Fillmore
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