Perhaps there has been no other sheriff in the Missouri Ozarks as widely-known as L.E. Lamb of Christian County. And certainly no sheriff as widely cussed and discussed.
Born Louard Elbert Lamb in Kentucky in 1924 to a family with nine children, he was on his own by the time he turned a teenager. He worked on a dude ranch and then joined Jack Raum’s Rodeo at the age of 16, riding bucking broncos and bulls. And fortunately for his future career as a lawman, he acquired a nickname—Buff.
He was gored more than once by bulls and a saddle bronco broke his leg in eight places. He finally had to give up rodeoing and became a stunt car driver and motorcycle daredevil, performing at fairs and carnivals. In those shows, he jumped his car over a row of several other cars and rode his cycle through a gasoline-soaked burlap tunnel that had been set ablaze.
Buff never stopped taking chances. In the 1970s when he was out of the sheriff’s office for one term, he worked for the Alaskan Pipeline as a powder charge man for two years. For a good deal of his career in law enforcement, he was often working alone, without backup.
Greene County sheriff Mickey Owen was quoted as saying about Buff: “He’s not exactly Emily Post as far as the niceties of things, but he gets the job done. Buff Lamb is a fellow the locals aren’t going to push around. If you are a sheriff in a small county, they’ll try to run you out of the county. People try to bully you or bluff you or take advantage of you. Buff realizes he’s by himself. He doesn’t have 50 deputies like I do. He’s perfectly capable of protecting himself.”
In his twilight years Buff said, “I’ve never been scared in my life.” Whether brave or just foolish, that statement may have been true—he was married five times.
Buff came to the Ozark area in 1945 to care for the rodeo owner’s cattle. Two years later he became the town marshal of Ozark. He helped develop the Ozark Police Department and served there for 18 years.
One case that Buff later chuckled over was when he stopped a car late one night in Ozark. It held two men and a dog stinking of hog manure in the front seat and seven head of hogs in the back seat and floorboards. Buff called the sheriff in Arkansas where they were from and sure enough, seven hogs had been stolen there. Buff asked the sheriff if he was coming up to Missouri to get the prisoners. “No,” the sheriff replied, “They’re so dumb that if you tell them to come home, they will.” The next morning Buff put the two men and their dog back in their car and told them to report to the Arkansas sheriff. At 4 that afternoon he got a call from that sheriff, who said, “They’re here.”
In 1964 Buff was elected to sheriff of Christian County. On July 4, 1965, a couple of thousand of college-age kids—most from Kansas City and St. Louis, descended on the popular Lake Taneycomo resort of Rockaway Beach. Late that night, 300 or more climbed onto the roof of the big dancehall there and began throwing rocks, beer bottles and fireworks at law officers. The rioters shattered windows in nine businesses and countless automobiles and overturned a police car. The call went out for help to area law enforcement officials in southwest Missouri. Buff Lamb was one of the first to arrive. According to an account from someone in the crowd, Buff came roaring into Rockaway, screeched his patrol car to a halt, jumped out, opened the back door and with his trusty five-cell flashlight in one hand and his snarling dog’s leash in the other, waded into the crowd of rioters. The crowd scattered and Buff Lamb, in his first year as sheriff, had become a legendary figure overnight.
That reputation did come in handy. Once when an inmate escaped by jumping out of a window, Buff took out after him and caught up with him at the Ozark City Park. Buff hollered, “Where you going?” and the guy threw up his hands and said, “I’m going with you, Buff.”
As Steve Whitney, who served as sheriff after Buff said, “One thing about Buff is when he’d tell you he was going to do something, he’d do it, whether it was right or wrong. He was probably the toughest man I’ve ever known. In his day, he wasn’t afraid of anything. But, as rough as he was, he had a soft spot for old people and children. He was one of the last of his kind—who ruled with an iron fist.”
That iron fist got him into trouble more than once over the years, but Buff kept getting re-elected because the residents of Christian County felt safe with him on duty. And while he may have made too many guys ‘see the light’ with his flashlight, in all his decades as a law officer, he never once had to shoot anyone.