Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith

Kevin Johnson of Clarendon carves designs on silver. He’ll take a small chisel and tap on it with a special hammer he made. He says most silversmiths and engravers make their own tools. After he is satisfied with the design, he’ll polish it with another special instrument. He puts his work on bits, spurs, belt buckles and pistols. He is perhaps best known for making badges from five peso coins for law enforcement officers.

“All kinds,” he says. “Anybody from our local or area sheriff’s departments. I’ve probably made badges from every sheriff or deputy in the panhandle plus the rest of the state. I’ve done them for the secret service, FBI, United States Marshall Service, just all over. There is a limited number of people authorized to do badges for them. I’m lucky enough to be one of them.”

He’s a former high school and college basketball referee and did engraving in his spare time. His business increased when the local sheriff brought in a Texas Ranger.

“He wanted me to do some custom work for him and he took what I had made to a company meeting and he showed some of his Ranger buddies what I had done and it just took off from there. I stopped being a referee to devote fulltime to my silversmithing. That really pleased my wife because that meant I wouldn’t be traveling at night so much.”

His badges are in great demand by law enforcement people all over the United States and beyond. He has sent his creations to England and Australia.

“I’ve done close to six hundred agencies, federal, state and local. I’ve also made dog tags for cowboy’s dogs, just about anything you can think of.

Some guys want me to put designs on handcuffs. I built a set of spurs for President George W. Bush. I keep a picture of those on the wall.”

He works long hours in a barn studio behind his house.

“I usually get out here about one o’clock after lunch and work until three or four o’clock in the morning seven days a week. I have to in order to keep up with the demand. That box over there has about fifteen hundred to two thousand orders. On some of the firearms that I’ve engraved, some people had to wait two to four years for me to get them done.”

For relaxation he plays blues harmonica. He’s quite good and gave me a short sample of his playing. Then he got out his guitar and played a tune on that. He keeps the instruments around to get him away from the tedious work. He got his musical talent from his mom, Abigail Johnson, who is a professional singer.

Kevin is self-taught and does everything by hand. His studio is like a museum with pictures, old equipment and shelves full of interesting items. The walls are completely covered with his memorabilia.