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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 to Independence?"
LAMBERT: I guess it was somewhere around 1916.
FUCHS: How old were you at that time?
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 him.
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 worker?
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 related endeavors.
FUCHS: I've always heard that there was quite a few of his military associates that backed him in his first campaign.
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 "Goats."
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 years.
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 an