Oral History Interview with
Longtime friend of Harry S. Truman and political supporter
in his early campaigns for county judge; member of the Harpie Club to
which Truman belonged; and also drove Truman on his trips around Missouri
in his two senatorial campaigns.
Bruce E . Lambert
May 26, 1981
by James R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript
indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Lambert
oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened May, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Bruce E. Lambert
May 26, 1981
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Lambert, when and
where were you born?
LAMBERT: I was born in Lamoni, Iowa, two and
a half miles over the Missouri line. As I said, I moved into Missouri.
before I got tainted though. I grew up in Missouri, Independence and that area; so I'm a Missourian, by adoption
probably, now like I'm a Virginian by adoption.
FUCHS: What year did you go
LAMBERT: I guess it was
somewhere around 1916.
FUCHS: How old were you at
LAMBERT: Twelve years old.
FUCHS: So at that time Mr.
Truman would have been about 32.
LAMBERT: About 32. He was
about 20 years older than I was.
FUCHS: Yes. I was just
trying to get a little feeling for the period. Well, then, when did you first
become aware of Mr. Truman?
LAMBERT: Well, I knew of him
when he went to Mexico when they were in that action, National Guard; and
then of course, after he came back from the First World War. Being younger,
that's when I got acquainted with him personally.
FUCHS: You would have been
around 16 or 17 then?
LAMBERT: About 17 when I
first met Harry.
FUCHS: He was married in
1919, after he got back. You knew of him in the haberdashery?
LAMBERT: Yes, I knew of him
then, and knew of him in the Harpie Club.
FUCHS: Oh, the Harpie Club.
Tell me something about that. I've had different versions of the Harpie Club.
LAMBERT: I expect you've had
a lot of them. Well, that was basically a poker playing club. We usually had a
vacant room in a second or third floor of one of the buildings on the Square.
And we met together; it was his friends, those that came out of the First World
War? Edgar Hinde, who was Postmaster for years, and you've probably talked to
FUCHS: Yes. I've had an
interview with him earlier.
LAMBERT: He's gone now. He'd
have had a lot to tell you. And then, of course, in politics, when they first
went into politics, a group of us got together and borrowed money and financed
his first campaign in Jackson County. I knew him all the way through.
FUCHS: Well, first, the
Harpie Club. Was that composed of people of various ages? I thought at one time
or I had the impression, that
it might have been all men of Mr. Truman's age.
LAMBERT: They were with the
exception of two. Russell Gabriel, he's dead now, he used to be -- he's my age
-- he was assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson County, and of course, I was in it. I knew "Hiney"
real well, Edgar Hinde; and I'd been in politics there at the time. Through
Harry I was appointed Chief Deputy for John D. Burns, who was the clerk of the
courts, Circuit Clerk.
FUCHS: You were deputy for
one of the courts?
LAMBERT: Yes, not a specific
court, but for all Divisions I was Chief Deputy to John D. Burns.
FUCHS: What year was that?
LAMBERT: Oh, that goes back
when I first was appointed someplace in the 1930s. Of course, I traveled with
him on his first campaign for -- and drove him some. Hunter Allen did also, and
I drove him some, on his first campaign for Senator, and I
drove him practically all of
his second campaign in 1940.
FUCHS: What did you do in
his first campaign he had, for Eastern Judge, in 1922?
LAMBERT: I just got out and
worked, that's all.
FUCHS: You were a precinct
LAMBERT: Yes, 14th Precinct.
FUCHS: How did he happen, in
your opinion, to be first considered for the job? There are various stories
about that, too.
LAMBERT: Well, I can
remember this much about it, that I can plainly -- it came about, everybody
talked about it, you know, among the fellows who knew him, and we borrowed
money, each one of us, and put in money for his campaign. My father, who was a
councilman in Independence...
FUCHS: What was his name?
LAMBERT: Richard J. Lambert.
I remember when Harry
first came out and was
running for his first political job, my father introduced him; and my dad was
pretty well-known in Independence, and respected, and for that reason they asked him to
introduce him. Of course, we thought a whole lot of Harry, there's no question
about that. He was a great guy.
FUCHS: Well, who were some
of the other individuals in the Harpie Club, because I think they probably had
a good part in bringing him out for office?
LAMBERT: Oh, yes. Well,
Spencer Salisbury was one, Edgar Hinde, of course, Dexter Perry, Hansel
Compton, Polly Compton, Joe Clements, Hugh Miller, oh, it's hard to remember
all of them; also, Hunter Allen and Russell Gabriel. There were about sixteen
-- eighteen members. Bill Duke was one; a select number, at least we thought
so. They were people who had been in the military with him; and they were
people who had known, trusted and admired him for a long time also, in non-military
FUCHS: I've always heard
that there was quite a few of his military associates that backed him in his
LAMBERT: That's right,
that's who backed him in his first campaign. Of course those I speak of were Independence
and Eastern Jackson County in the early days. However, Kansas City
played a greater part in some respects. Also, his part in the state with the
Road Commission made him well respected statewide.
FUCHS: He was running
against Montgomery, I believe it was.
LAMBERT: I was just trying
to think. My memory doesn't tell me who it was he was running against.
FUCHS: It's been so long
since I've gone over some of this stuff, but I believe it was E. Montgomery.
Then he ran in, let's see, in '24 he ran for the term '25-'26, and he was
defeated by Judge Rummell. Did you have an acquaintance with Judge Rummell or
was it following that loss that you became
LAMBERT: Yes. Yes I
remember; that was his only defeat. And of course, later he became Presiding
Judge, and that was a four-year term. The others were two-year terms. As a
matter of fact, he was an affiliate of what we called the "Goat"
faction, Pendergast faction. He was considered as one of the leaders of it.
Pendergast was Catholic, and his was a strong Catholic organization; Harry was
a Protestant and a member of many other organizations, a leader of and respected
by many other groups though not as strong as Mr. Pendergast.
FUCHS: Now, most of these
Harpie Club members were in the Goat faction?
LAMBERT; Yes, mostly but not
all were politically affiliated. But no, there were many good "Rabbits."
Harry was universal all the way and liked and respected.
FUCHS: Do you have an
opinion about how the Pendergast
leaders influenced his first
campaign? They came in, when, into that?
LAMBERT: Oh, he was approved
-- they didn't influence it anymore than they did for all Democrats of good
report. He was a part of that group that they would back, not a member of an
opposing group. There were Goats and Rabbits, factions led by Shannon and
Pendergast, and then there was a splinter faction in the Shannon
faction. Cass Welch was that part; but Harry Truman, as far as that's
concerned, was known and liked and admired; if not especially liked, he was
respected by all. However, he was a part of the faction known as
FUCHS: But do you think that
the Harpie Club and his other friends in Independence actually put him forward before Pendergast?
LAMBERT: Not just friends in
Independence, however. Pendergast wouldn't have given him help if
he hadn't been a strong person, with strong backing
from many and a reputation
without blemish. Pendergast was at that time the solid, basic part of the
Democratic Party, and Harry always had been a part of the majority group. As I
say, there were other splinter factions of lesser import. After he had been Eastern
judge, and after he had run and Pendergast recognized his ability and came to
know him intimately, they worked together from that time on. In the beginning,
no, it was done by his old buddies in service, and many fine men and women who
had known him for years. He was well-known in the entire state. His family was
from Grandview; he married an Independence girl who was his greatest single asset over the
FUCHS: Now, to go back a
little bit, his defeat by Rummell, what did you lay that to?
LAMBERT: Frankly at the time
I could not say but believe they just didn't work hard enough for him, that's
all; just didn't work hard enough
for him. More or less, his
supporters figured they could pick it up and go ahead on their own. They didn't
try to get outside help or anything else. Of course, Rummell was a campaigner,
and a good one. Harry learned a whole lot from that campaign. In other words,
sometimes we must back up to build momentum before moving ahead.
FUCHS: What part did you
play in his campaign in '26?
LAMBERT: I worked in the
precinct; worked along with everyone else, and borrowed money and contributed.
We all did what we could financially and otherwise. But by that time, though,
he had others who had quite a little bit of money that, of course, helped. He
was well-known, highly respected, and for that reason they were looking for
those kind of people; and following the war, those people who had participated
in it had the best go as far as politics was concerned. Further, the Democratic
organization needed him and he needed it. It was a good marriage.
FUCHS: Did you work
similarly in the '30 campaign then, the second campaign for Presiding Judge?
LAMBERT: Yes. I worked in
that campaign in the 14th Precinct, as a precinct worker. Gave all I could
everywhere, as far as that's concerned. And when he ran for Senator, in the
primary, between Hunter Allen and myself -- Hunter Allen had been the chauffeur
when he was in the court, the County Court, he drove him whenever he could. I
drove him sometimes, and helped pinch-hit on that on his statewide campaign. I
worked in every campaign from the first through 1948.
FUCHS: You drove out around
the state with him.
LAMBERT: Yes. On both of his
campaigns for U.S. Senator.
FUCHS: Hunter Allen? I know
the name, but I don't know too much about him. Just who was he?
LAMBERT: One hell of a fine
guy. Didn't use many words but always there. He was one of the old buddies who
Harry had known in the Army. Also he had been,
as I say, the chauffeur for
the County Court, and he drove and served Harry well for many years as a
FUCHS: That was his job, his
LAMBERT: That was his job.
FUCHS: Now, was he in