The Last Wild West Town
Whiz Bang City
A Texas style ‘Tall Tale’ from Oklahoma, loaded with full historical action and half truths – Whiz Bang City depicts the final chapter of the bloody saga of the American West. It’s also the legend of the double-edged gunslinger hired by the big oil companies in 1921, “to use any and all methods necessary to tame the last ‘Wild West Town’
Copyright © 2016 Bill Russo
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission of the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Fort Sill 1
[* Chapter Two: Entering Whiz Bang City – Population Zero 7*]
Chapter Three: The Soft Black Gold 14
[* Chapter Four: Gun Battle in The East Room 23*]
Chapter Five: Pains, Rains, and Trains 33
[* Chapter Six: The Post Office Says No to Whizbang 46*]
Chapter Seven: A Two-Bit Bar 54
Chapter Eight: Chalky 59
Chapter Nine: On the Job 64
Chapter Ten: Trouble on the Way 66
Chapter Eleven: Planning the Job 80
Chapter Twelve: The Heist 83
Chapter Thirteen: The Rainy Night Flight 91
Chapter Fourteen: Showdown on Pistol Hill 96
[* Chapter Fifteen: More Troubles for the Sheriff 104*]
Chapter Sixteen: The Last Gunfight 110
Chapter Seventeen: Revenge for Big Red 117
Chapter Eighteen: The Federal Investigators 124
Chapter Nineteen: Who Was That Hermit? 130
The end 136
About the Author: 137
While in Field Artillery School at Fort Sill in 1962, I first heard about the abandoned city of ‘Whiz Bang’. A place frozen in time – it was the last, and perhaps the rowdiest of all the wild-west towns.
Forty years after the Gunfight at the OK Corral and twenty summers past the Ford Model T pushing the horses out to pasture; bank robberies, shootouts, and crooked poker games were still as common as the street walkers on Main Street.
I had some leave coming after graduation and I wanted to learn more about the Ghost Town, so I hired a car and headed northeast on Interstate 44 for Osage County. Pushing the rental as hard as possible, I flew by Oklahoma City in less than an hour and picked up Interstate 35. Edging the speedometer past 90, I had fleeting glimpses of the corpses of a dozen towns born of the 1920s oil boom and killed off two decades later by the bust. Tulsa was in my rear view mirror in another 45 minutes as I motored from the central part of the state to Northeastern Oklahoma.
A little more than three hours after leaving the order and predictability of one of America’s most storied military installations, I had driven more than 230 miles across vast empty stretches and found myself gazing down the biggest and busiest
Main Street anybody’s ever seen in a Ghost Town.
Not that it was that large – but it was supposed to be deserted! Instead, there was a welding supply store, a chamber of commerce, a general store, barber shop, post office, restaurant, a saloon, a cluster of houses and two paved side streets that quickly degraded into dirt roads that twisted into dead-end paths.
A handful of cars languidly traversed the roadway. A dozen or more farmer types were dodging the 104 degree summer heat by lounging in shady spots around the sides of buildings. An ancient commercial truck piloted by a white bearded man pulled out of a space in front of the dry-goods store, apparently going out on deliveries.
The painted lettering on the side of the 30 year old vehicle said “Whiz Bang Seed, Feed, and What Else You Need.” The old man behind the wheel smiled and waved to me as he passed by
I walked the short distance to the ‘Osage Bottles and Booths’ at the corner of Main and First Avenue – a combination take out liquor store and lounge.
Pushing my way through the batwing doors, I saw four high-back booths hugging one wall. On the opposite side stood shelves of bottled liquors standing alongside a walk-in cooler stuffed with chilled beer and sodas.
In the rear was a surprisingly elegant mahogany bar with eight stools. Highly polished, it gleamed almost as brightly as the brass foot rail at its base.
A massive floor to ceiling mirror highlighted a back-bar trimmed in homage to the oil crew roughnecks who built Osage County. Tools of the drillers, derrick-hands, ginsels, and roustabouts hung from hooks on the wall where one might customarily expect to see paintings of scantily clad women.
“Howdy stranger. Step up and have a beer. The first one is on the house.”
There being no one else in the place, I knew that the smiling barkeep was talking to me. He was about five and a half feet tall with dark hair and an indoor complexion. Though trending towards obesity, he hustled up my beer with the skill of a juggler and proudly set down a frosty mug before I had a chance to get seated.
“My name’s Bert. Bert Shidler. What brings y’all to town? We don’t get a lot of visitors here anymore.”
“Well Bert, I expect that’s because besides myself there aren’t a lot of people who want to visit a ghost town – especially one as crowded as this! Don’t take it personally Bert, but I like my abandoned towns to be a lot more abandoned than Whiz Bang is.”
“You got it wrong stranger!” he laughed. “This ain’t Whiz Bang! Y’all are in Shidler! Whizbang is about two miles from here on Route 18 West. If it’s ghost towns you want, y’all have come to the right place. There are 12 of them within 30 miles.”
The beer was cold and I was hot, so I stuck around for two more and listened to the woes of Osage County.
“They found oil here in 1921 and within weeks the boom towns sprung up like posies after a rainstorm.
Why Shidler had 5000 people back then. Whiz Bang had over 8000.
“Then there was Bigheart, Carter Nine, Blackland, Cooper, Foraker, and Gray Horse. We even had a town called Hulah. They are all gone now. Nothing left but a few crumbling foundations, a couple of falling down buildings, and a whole lot of useless cement slabs next to rusty oil rigs.”
“What about this town Bert?” I asked. “Why didn’t Shidler die out like the rest?”
“Well it would have except that every time one of the other towns played out, they gave something to us. When Carter Nine shut down, Shidler got their school house and movie theater. As Blackheart failed, Smokey’s Barber Shop came over. This here bar that I have, was from Lucas town. My grandfather bought it for seven dollars. We got our own library when Cooper died. Upon the closing of Apperson Town High School, we got their three students. The last store in Whiz Bang, the Seed and Feed moved here and never bothered to change its name.
As the other places withered and expired, they passed along just enough to keep us going. We won’t hold out much longer though. We have less than 900 people now. As late as 1930 we had almost 1200 souls here. I guess ten years from now there might only be three or four hundred left.”
As I quaffed my last beer, Bert gave me directions to Whiz Bang and told me to be on the lookout for a travel trailer hitched to a long black 1957 Cadillac, parked at the edge of town.
“If he’s a mind to, that old hermit in the mobile home can tell you anything you want to know about the wild days of Whiz Bang. He rode into town in 1921 on a ‘Tin Lizzie’ – that’s a Model T ford – and he’s around Whiz Bang ever since.
“He’s the only person living there now. Course he don’t really live there, if you know what I mean. He parks his car and trailer near the town line, and when he needs supplies, he comes in to Shidler. If y’all are really fixing to palaver with him, take a few bottles of beer with you and maybe a bottle of Rye. He loves his Rye Whiskey.”
Firing up the rental, with a take-out beer in one hand and the wheel in the other, I headed down Route 18. I only had to cover two miles but the desolation of the highway made it seem like it would take hours to get to Whiz Bang – and it nearly did.
As I found some classic Bob Wills Western Swing on the car radio the sky, like a petulant child, got angry for no apparent reason.
Two formations of thick, gray clouds, one coming from the West and the other from the East, converged overhead. Eerie crawler lightning shot out from the ill tempered haze like coins sprouting from the fingers of a master magician – accompanied by rolling thunder that shook the car as if it were a rag doll.
Pelting rain thumped the vehicle so hard and fast as to make it impossible to see out the windscreen. I killed the motor and sat back to await my fate.
Having experienced Oklahoma twisters before, I realized that there was at least an even money chance that my first trip to the Ghost Town of Whiz Bang might be not as a tourist, but as one of the ghosts.
The growling Oklahoma sky pressed downwards and the car was shuddering like an overloaded washing machine. As quickly as the torment began, it eased off and sun rays pushed through. Restarting the car, I dodged puddles on the highway for a thousand feet or so until I spotted the shiny new Airstream Land Yacht belonging to the hermit of Whiz Bang City.
Wheeling over to the side, I pulled in behind a dusty 1957 Cadillac Eldorado. Before I could shut off the motor I spotted a tall, rangy old man striding towards me clutching a long barreled pistol pointed directly at my head.
Dressed in wild-west garb from head to toe, the old timer shouted, “What business have you got here stranger? State it quick or back off and get out now!”
He held the weapon with conviction – straight, true, and steady. I sensed that he and that six-shooter had a relationship that was most likely long standing and probably bloody.
Photo of the hermit of Whiz Bang City taken in the 1920s at the height of the oil boom.
“No need for the weapon Sir. I have brought beer and whiskey in hopes you’ll tell me about this old town of yours.”
It wasn’t my words as much as the sight of my back seat filled with sweating bottles of frosty lager and a quart of Rye that quickly made the hermit stick his iron back in his belt and build a watermelon grin… “C’mon over to the Airstream and set a spell and I will tell you anything about this once great city that you might want to know.”
We settled into cast aluminum lawn chairs out of the sun on the shady side of the trailer and began working on the brews and exchanging introductions.
“I’m Sgt. First Class Bill James, on furlough from Fort Sill. I’ve heard many stories about your town that I find hard to believe. I hope to be a published writer after I retire from the army. If half the yarns I’ve heard have any truth to them, this town would make a great subject for a book.”
“Nice to meet you Sergeant Billy. I was military myself in my youth. I respect any man of any nation who puts on a uniform and wears it the right way. It looks to me like you do, so it will be my pleasure to tell you about the town. My name is Bert Bryant, originally from Texas. I followed the smell of oil back in 1921 and it led me to Whiz Bang just about when the ‘black liquid gold’ first began oozing up from the ground. I’ve been here ever since, except for a few brief forays elsewhere.”
Bert Bryant had a face that might have looked old even when he was young, so he could have been anywhere from 60 to 85 – he never told me his exact age. He had let the goatee of his youth spread to a full white beard. Surprisingly it was well trimmed and he himself was groomed more in the fashion of a showman than a hermit.
His clothes were old, perhaps very old, but were in good repair. He wore faded dungarees (now called ‘jeans’ in most of the nation) and a clean white shirt under a dungaree vest. His hat, though broad brimmed, was not the typical cowboy style, nor was it a sombrero. It looked more like an easterner’s version of a western hat. Tucked into his belt was the long barreled Colt MRP that he had threatened me with. One of the most prized military revolvers of the 1870s, the vintage piece looked to be in mint condition.
He also wore a cartridge belt and a single holster, filled with a white handled Remington 1875. As a student of Old West weaponry, I thought that the Remington was an odd choice. The popularity of the ‘1875’ never matched the offerings of Smith &Wesson or Colt – except with lawmen and outlaws. I wasn’t sure which side of the street that old Bert Bryant had walked on, but if you forced me to put down a bet on it, my money would say that he never wore a star.
As the sun went well past its midpoint the sky became a cloudless, sweltering blue blanket, driving the temperature into triple digits. We cracked open the Rye. With each swallow old Bert became more like a carnival barker than a hermit.
“You should have seen it back then Sergeant Billy,” he cackled. “At first the whole area looked like what you see on the sides of Highway Eleven and Eighteen. Nothing but nothing – as far as the eye can see! A scrubby tree here and there, some ragged brush, a few desert rats; but not much else.
“Then that sweet black gold started pushing up through the red Oklahoma clay. In less than a month we had ourselves a city. Most everybody that came here had their own copy of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. You know it? It was a racy little publication that came out every month with jokes and pictures of ladies. When they wasn’t working or gambling, every cowpoke, farmer, and oilman would be reading their Whiz Bangs.
“It was so common here to see people thumbing through Captain Billy’s paper that pretty soon it became the name the town went by – Whiz Bang City.
“You could buy a newspaper for a penny back then – but the Whiz Bang was two bits and worth every penny of it.”
The old-timer told me that a man named E.W. Marland was the first to discover the oil, less than a mile from where we sat.
“Welling up from the clay so fast was the stuff that Marland and his crew had to scramble to get equipment sunk in so that they could store the ‘soft black gold’ before it seeped back into the ground.
“Overnight they got 600 barrels from that first well. Soon they drilled a score more. The oil that came out was so sweet and smooth that cars would run off it with no refining needed.”
“You got to understand Sgt. Billy,” Bert said, “that there was a huge built-up demand for oil in 1921. Henry Ford was selling one million cars a year at that point and everybody needed fuel.
“The big oil companies quickly moved in, giving birth to our town and 29 other similar places that came up faster than blood on a hammer-smashed thumb.
“In a few years our wells and the wells in the other ‘oil rush’ towns in what they call ‘The Burbank Field’, had produced more wealth than the combined total of all of the great American gold rushes.
“Some of the places, like Carter Nine, were named for oil companies. Some were owned by the corporations which erected company stores and company housing for the employees.
“Not so here,” said Bert proudly. “We owned everything ourselves. The wells were privately owned, so were both hotels and the various stores and businesses.
“There were 24 bars and sporting palaces. The biggest of the fun houses was called the “Whiz Bang House” run by an ample woman known as Whiz Bang Red, or more often, Big Red.
Miss Red was a friend to all the oil workers with a need and a wallet. Red and her girls filled the one while emptying the other!”
The hermit chuckled at his own joke and paused, raking his fingers through his white beard. Working a ‘church key’ with the skill of a surgeon, he punched open two more cans of beer. Handing me one, he took a long draft of the second before resuming his tale….
“At its peak, there were 10,000 people in town and more than 300 commercial buildings. It was so crowded that people slept everywhere – in chicken coops, storm cellars, attics and even in the outhouses!”
I interrupted him with a question… “I guess with both the oil and whiskey flowing freely, the town was bound to become rowdy. I’ve heard that Whiz Bang was even wilder than Dodge City. Is it true?”
“Much wilder,” said, old Bert, “and you have to remember that Dodge was raucous in the 1860s while our wanton times were more than a half century later, in the 1920s. We had one foot in the present while the other was firmly planted back in the frontier days.
“We had cars and electricity. On the wireless, we listened to Amos and Andy, Ed Wynn and the Grand Old Opry. We even heard President Harding speak over the radio.
“But on the streets and in the dance halls we still had our guns strapped on. The town’s bank was robbed regularly. Even the train was ambushed a few times. Saloon brawls and shoot-outs happened at least twice a week. After dark the only women walking the streets were women walking the streets, if you get my drift.” He chortled again, in the manner of a neighing horse, with his beard and mustache bobbing up and down like branches of a Redbud tree in a windstorm.
“Bandits would lie in wait at Pistol Hill, the highest peak in town. A lot of the cars back then were not very powerful and could just barely make it to the top. Almost all of those older vehicles were touring cars – meaning they were ‘open-tops’, with no roofs. So when the machine slowed down to almost nothing, the crooks could just hop on board.
“Most of the time they only stole money and valuables while slapping the citizens around a bit. But sometimes there were brutal beatings and even murders.”
Things got so bad in town, Bert told me, that the oil companies got together and brought in a “sheriff” from Texas.
One of the first things the new lawman did was to bring the Pistol Hill robberies to a quick end.
“He stopped that situation jack rabbit fast, by putting on a 24 hour watch. Him and a couple of deputies would catch the crooks and hang ‘em instantly right there on the spot. Then they’d leave the corpses dangling on their ropes to discourage any other ‘yeggs’ that might get the same thoughts.”
“Word was, that this hombre they appointed sheriff, named Jose Alvarado, had fought for Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution. He even saved Villa’s life after a pivotal battle in Agua Prieta in state of Sonora.
“After a devastating defeat, more than 4,000 of Villa’s men had been killed and another 6000 had been captured.
“Following that slaughter, only 200 fighters remained loyal to Villa. Alvarado rallied the two hundred and led a surprise bee sting attack directly in the face of the enemy. Killing more than 300 in the shocking foray ; they were able to punch open an escape route to the mountains of Chihuahua for Pancho Villa and the remaining soldiers.
“For his actions that day, Alvarado was given the honorary title of ‘Don’. From then on, even his enemies called him, ‘Don’ – Don Jose Alvarado. He was also a close associate of the martyred Mexican hero Salvador Alvarado and some say he fought with Alvarado when the great patriot was ambushed and killed during a war between two Mexican political groups.”
“The oil companies called a meeting of community leaders to announce the hiring of Don Jose Alvarado as the first Sheriff of Whiz Bang and the surrounding area.
“Driving a brand new 1921 center-door, Model T, the city’s first peace officer arrived soon after and made straight for the Whiz Bang House to have a chat with Red.”
“Some say that he did this in order to negotiate how much ‘protection’ money he would receive from the community’s largest sporting house. Others speculate that he merely wanted to sample the house specials before beginning his new job.”
1921 Model T
Old Bert told me that the truth was most likely that he landed at the Whiz Bang House for both reasons.
“It didn’t take Don Jose very long to demonstrate his skills with his Colt MRP,” the hermit told me. “He gunned down four men in his first month on the job. It was all legal. They drew first, although some of the softer hearted citizens said that Alvarado had forced his foes into filling their hands.”
“How could he force them to draw on him?”
“Why Sgt. Billy, I’m surprised you even ask that. You should know that in a land where everyone carries a filled holster it is very easy to goad an enemy into drawing on you – especially when there are other men watching. To fail to draw is an embarrassment of the highest order. A man who did not respond when challenged would soon find his life in shreds. Friends and loved ones would see him as a coward. He would be shunned. He would truly be better off dead.”
The hermit informed me that the men that Sheriff Alvarado shot were not especially liked by the community. Since all were suspected of being bandits or crooked card players, there was little fuss about adding four more graves to Boot Hill.
From the outset, the inhabitants of the town had split feelings about their new lawman. One group saw him as Robin Hood, another said he was ‘no-damn good’.
A third faction vowed “he’s not Robin Hood – he’s robbin’ everybody”!
Still another cluster of citizens thought that he was doing as well as anyone could.
By the end of his first year on the job, most folks lost count of how many rowdies Don Jose had outdrawn and killed. Though opinions on him were still divided, there was one time in the “Bird Cage” when everybody cheered as Alvarado forced a gambler’s hand and shot him four times through the heart.
Lute Fowler came to town in March of 1922. He rapidly built a reputation as a bully and a hard man to beat at poker. Suspected of cheating by nearly all, nobody ever had been able to catch him at it.
A pretty fast hand with a Colt, Fowler had killed the half -dozen hombres who had openly accused him of card sharping. Finally he was shunned out of the gambling business when the oil field workers and the other townsmen simply refused to let him sit in on any games of chance.
Running short of cash, Fowler began taking odd jobs in the oil fields and with area farmers. During one such stretch he signed on to help out at Gawk Larkin’s ranch a few miles outside of town.
A bookish man, Gawk was a patient farmer who prodded more than three tons of hay from every one of his acres – about twice as much as anybody else was getting. His chickens were fed the finest feed and in return gave the best eggs in Osage County. They commanded the highest prices when sold to the town’s preeminent restaurants, like Ma Glockner’s place and a couple others.
An ample, raven haired beauty, Vickie Larkin worked alongside her husband and helped to make their spread the most profitable in the County. She fell victim to one of the last outbreaks of Smallpox in the West. Though there’s no sure cure, Gawk tended her day and night and brought her through the worst of it.
Needing a few weeks rest before she would be able to resume work, she advised Gawk to hire temporary help. As ill fate would have it, he engaged Lute Fowler.
Fowler stayed two months at the Larkin spread and his work was adequate but Gawk noted that he spent almost as much time looking at pretty Vickie as he did working. Tension between the two men mounted although Mrs. Larkin never once gave Fowler any encouragement or reason to believe she didn’t love Gawk.
Lute Fowler was a dandy, and his pride didn’t take kindly to a woman ignoring him.
When his employment at Gawk’s was done, he took his pay and went back to town. Flush with enough cash for a few weeks’ idleness, he strolled from bar to bar. The quarter mile of Main Street that was devoted to saloons and fun houses, was lined with more than two dozen establishments on both sides of the roadway – and Lute drifted in and out of them all.
In each watering hole he bragged that he had not only plowed Gawk’s fields but also had tended to Mrs. Larkin’s plowing needs. Word of this soon got back to Gawk.
“I’m going to town Vickie! I’m taking my gun and I’m gonna shut that lying Fowler’s trap once and for all.”
“No Gawk, don’t go,” Mrs. Larkin pleaded. “You’re a farmer not a gunman and Fowler’s a fast draw killer. You can’t go. We’ll just ignore his lies and they will go away.”
“No they won’t Vickie. Some people are going to believe it. You’ll never be able to go in town again without people whispering and staring at you. I’ve got to settle this.”
His Ford started on the first crank and Gawk drove as fast as he could towards the city – a rusty 60 year old Colt Civil War pistol stuffed into his pants.
Parking the Model T at the beginning of the dance hall district he sprinted from saloon to saloon in search of the slanderous Lute Fowler.
“He left here a few minutes ago Gawk. He said he was heading for The Whiz Bang House,” reported Oil Can Slim, the bartender at the Bird Cage. “Don’t go after him Gawk. He’s fast. You don’t have a chance!”
Larkin bolted from the bar more rapidly than a racehorse and was out of earshot before the barkeep was halfway through his warning.
Big Red’s place was the largest and most elegant of all the sporting houses. On the ground floor was an ornate great room with a grand stage and seating for 200 patrons who were treated to Vaudeville every night, Sunday included. The shows featured dancing ladies, comedians, jugglers, singers and a variety of other acts. Most of them were pretty good. The ones that weren’t would get a shower of rotten fruit if they were lucky – if not, they might get a shower of lead. The patrons of The Whiz Bang Theater were fussy and not much given towards tolerance.
On either side of the Great Room were twin lounges and gaming areas. There were several small areas in the rear of each lounge where patrons could have a few confidential moments with their choice of Red’s painted ladies. Longer conversations, if desired, were available for a higher price on the second floor where there were a dozen private suites set aside for such tender fleeting intimacies.
Each downstairs lounge had its own Honky Tonk piano player banging out the hot tunes of the day like the million selling “Three O’clock in the Morning” or “Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye.
One of the most popular ditties among Okies that year was “Ain’t it a Shame”; which was being rendered in the East Room by piano player Big Blake Ivory. His stomping arrangement was accompanied by a few dozen patrons singing along and tapping their feet.
“Brothers, it’s a shame to gamble on Sunday.
Ain’t it a shame to gamble on Sunday? Ain’t it a shame?
Ain’t it a shame to gamble on Sunday, When you got Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday too. Ain’t it a shame?
I say brothers, it’s a shame to flirt around on Sunday. Ain’t it a shame, when you get Monday, Tuesday, Wednes –
A thundering shot from Gawk’s ancient Union Army percussion pistol stopped the music and singing in mid syllable. Pushing through a cloud of gun smoke, the enraged man burst through the swinging doors and blasted off another slug.
With the smell of the black powder lingering in the air, Gawk growled, “Where’s that lying, no good Lute Fowler? Show yourself Fowler. I’m gonna kill you for what you been saying.”
Fowler’s hands which had been busy groping one of the bar maids, flew to his twin Colts.
He checked himself and chuckled when he saw the hapless figure which had fired the two rounds. Dressed in faded farmer dungarees with half a dozen motley patches sewn around the knees and even one on his behind, Gawk Larkin did indeed look like a man more suited to comic dancing on Red’s big stage than one bent on clearing leather against a proven killer.
“Larken, go home to your wife and my girlfriend before you get hurt,” sneered Lute, as he stood up and slowly swaggered to within 20 feet of his infuriated foe.
Shaking off the pleadings of his friends and other bystanders, Gawk defended his wife’s honor and denounced all of Larkin’s lies and insinuations.
Lute Fowler had slain at least a dozen hombres, but had never been held to account, because the other man had always drawn first. He chose his adversaries with the cunning of a viper – only baiting those he knew he could beat; even while letting the opponent clear leather first.
“This is your last chance Larkin. Turn around and go back to your farm or you’ll be spending the rest of the day, every day, in Boot Hill.”
Larkin didn’t turn tail. Drawing down his eyebrows, he screwed up his mouth into a grim scowl. His eyes seemed to become very strange. Even from a distance of 20 paces, Lute Fowler could see the change that eerily began to transform Gawk’s eyes from the round shape of a human to the vertical slits of a cunning rattlesnake or a lion on the hunt.
Farmer Gawk Larkin didn’t move. Frozen to the floor, he stood completely motionless but for his piercing, slitted eyes – eyes that seemed to be sending a message and an unseen force across the smoky room.
For the first time in a gunfight, Lute Fowler, the slick shooting card sharp, felt a twinge of fear. He knew he could beat Gawk. He should have been even more confident than usual. But the eyes. The slitted, penetrating eyes!
Lute thought that his hands were shaking. He looked at his right hand. His trigger finger was making slight involuntary movements. Now, Lute Fowler felt full blown terror.
Gawk Larkin had passed into a state beyond fear. Squinting to see better in the dim light of the saloon, he had only one thought – contentment.
He was standing up to Larkin and had called him out in front of the whole town. No matter which way things went, everybody would remember the courageous way he protected his wife’s honor. Gawk was proud of himself and completely at peace. He was fully prepared to kill or be killed.
Meanwhile, Fowler was in full panic mode. He tried to force Gawk to draw, but Larkin wouldn’t take the bait, leaving his pistol tucked into his waistband. Lute begged him to fire first – still he refused.
“C’mon Gawk. I’m giving you a chance. Fill your hand. I won’t even start my draw until you’ve got your weapon aimed at me. Shoot dammit shoot!”
Sweating from the strain, Lute could wait no longer. He drew first and killed Gawk instantly with a head shot.
“You drew first Fowler,” shouted Big Blake Ivory. “You drew first! The farmer never had a chance!”
Don Jose Alvarado, the sheriff, raced through the doors just after Larkin fell. Running over to Lute Fowler he grabbed both of the gunfighter’s pistols and threw them to the floor. With flying fists, he began tattooing the gambler’s face with a series of hard punches. When Fowler fell to the floor the sheriff commenced to kicking him furiously in the ribs, breaking several.
Big Blake Ivory and a few others finally pulled Don Jose off of the helpless Fowler. Shoving the Don into a chair they gave him a shot of Rye.
Big Red came down from her apartment and sat next to the enraged sheriff. Smoothing his hair with supple, manicured hands she spoke softly, “You’ve seen many men killed Don Jose. Why is it that this time it bothers you so much?”
“I’m sure in my mind Red that I always did my duty when I had to use violence. In the revolution and in this here town, I truly believe that everybody I tangled with had a fair chance and got what they deserved. All the people here in Whiz Bang liked Gawk Larkin and he never hurt anybody. He was a friend of mine. I’m gonna kill Fowler.”
“We’ll talk about that later,” said Red softly as she guided the sheriff up the stairs to her bedroom. She bade him to lay down on her scented queen sized canopy bed while she fixed him a Gin Rickey.
“You can’t kill Fowler even though he’s guilty of murder. He drew first but you have to give him a trial,” said Red, looking more like a moving picture star than a fun house Madam. Drink in hand, she glided towards the soft bed.
“I can kill him if he draws first.”
“Let’s not talk about that now. Tilt your head back and open your mouth.”
She held the glass to his lips and tipped it gently. Alvarado swallowed slowly, taking in both the liquor and the view of Big Red. As she leaned over, her ample charms were showcased by a low cut pink gown and framed by blazing crimson hair.
Even in the dim light of her boudoir she sparkled. Dazzling shiny orbs glowed on her fingers, her ears, and in her hair. She was wearing more glittering diamonds on her body than you could find in three decks of the house’s playing cards.
He let Red unbutton his shirt. As she began to take it off he said: “In a minute Red. First I want you to go find Big Blake. Tell him to patch up Fowler and then lock him up in the jail. I’ll tend to him later.”
The next morning shortly after dawn, Don Jose lightly kissed the still sleeping Red and tiptoed out to Main Street. He was on his way to the jailhouse to settle up with Fowler when the smell of ham and eggs drew him to Ma Glockner’s restaurant.
“Morning Sheriff, come on over and sit with me”.
“Hey Doc. What are you doing up so early?”
“I’m not up – because I haven’t been down yet. Get yourself some breakfast and I’ll tell you about it.”
Don Jose ordered a full pot of coffee, four eggs over easy, ham, fried potatoes, a side of beans and a full loaf of sop bread.
“What about grits?” asked the waiter.
“Right Sam, gimme a big pile of grits. And Sam…thanks for reminding me about the grits.”
“You hate grits, why’d you order some?” wondered his friend Doc Galen.
“You know why Doc. Ma Glockner gets mad if people don’t eat her grits. She came here from Georgia where that stuff is the ‘State Food’ and the last time I talked bad about them, Ma retaliated by serving me a burned fried chicken dinner. She’s the best cook in the county, as long as you don’t make fun of her grits!”
Soaking up the last of his bean gravy with the sop bread, Don Jose finished his meal while Doc Galen told him what had kept him up all night.
“I got an urgent message to come straightaway to Vickie Larkin’s place. I figured she heard that Gawk was dead and she needed me. I drove out there and found her tending a young boy who was half dead.”
“Who is he Doc and what’s wrong with him?”
“His memory is a little fuzzy. At first he couldn’t remember his name or much of anything else. I gave him the name “Chalky” on account of the half inch of white dust that was covering him. He walked about 1500 miles to get here to see you! And that hike almost killed him. Think about it. He traipsed the alkali trail from Lone Pine California all the way here. To get across the Humbold region he had to scratch through hundreds of miles of dried up alkali lakes, scorching mountains, and burning deserts.”
“Why did he want to see me and why did he walk?”
“One thing at a time Sheriff. He can tell you more about it if he pulls through. After his memory cleared up a bit he said that his Pa was one of your soldiers in Mexico. His folks died, leaving him with no relatives and almost no money. He started off with just 40 dollars and when it played out he lived on poison water and buzzard leftovers. When his shoes gave out, he walked in his socks until they shredded off, and finally he walked barefoot until the skin tore off his feet clean down to the bones. If Mrs. Larkin hadn’t found him and tended to him, he’d be dead for sure.”
“I’ll go see the boy when he’s feeling good enough. I was kind of surprised that Vickie Larkin wasn’t in town to make funeral arrangements for Gawk. I guess this explains why.”
“She didn’t know for sure that he was dead until I told her. She expected it of course. She tried to tell him not to go up against Fowler but Gawk wasn’t about to let anyone get away with what that gambler was saying about his wife.”
“I’m going to kill Fowler right after breakfast Doc.”
“You can’t kill him Don Jose. He has to go to trial.”
“There ain’t gonna be a trial Doc. I’m gonna force him to draw on me. It will be a fair fight.”
“You’re a knothead sheriff. A regular knothead. Do you know that?”
“No I didn’t Doc. I thought I was a knucklehead.”
“You’re that too!”
Peeling off a five dollar bill from a hefty roll, Don Jose handed it to Sam to pay for his food and for Doc’s too. The waiter returned with four dollars change.
“Keep the change Sam. Split it with Ma and tell her the ham and eggs were good – and please make sure you inform her her that the grits were even better!”
Doc wandered off to get some sleep while Don Jose headed for his office. His deputy, Bart Tremmers, told him that he and Big Blake taped up Fowler’s side and threw him in one of the cells where he was still asleep.
“Good work Bart. Now here’s what to do. When he wakes up you tell him that he’s charged with murder and that there will be a trial just as soon as the judge gets here. Give him breakfast and lunch. Don’t turn your back on him and make sure he’s cuffed to the bars while you’re in the cell. I don’t want him getting away. I’ve got things to do today, but I’ll be back about supper time. You make sure that he’s still here.”
“Don’t worry Sheriff he will have zero chances to get away.”
“Okay Bart, but don’t be thrashing him cause I want him in the best possible shape when I get back. Give him coffee or anything else he wants except booze. He’s to be alert and sober at supper time.”
You might think that since Whiz Bang was a rowdy, dangerous place full of desperadoes and gunslingers; that all the locals would be riding sturdy horses. There were a few old cow punchers who shied away from motor cars, but most of the men loved their automobiles.
The average citizens all ran Fords which cost less than six hundred dollars brand new. The rich crowd preferred 54-hundred dollar twin six cylinder Packards, or Pierce Arrows at seven thousand dollars.
E.W. Marland, the discoverer of the Osage oil, ran around in an eleven thousand dollar Locomobile. Most folks, including some of the wealthy ones, thought that was a silly name for a car. But Marland, who by then had gone into politics, was so rich he didn’t care if anybody thought he was ‘loco’.
The roadways of the era were not suited for long distance travelling so the train was still preferred for most citizens wishing to go back East or on west to San Francisco and such.
The Acheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe came to town in 1923 and built a bustling railroad station on Main Street across from the Whiz Bang House. Passengers could go as far west to California or head eastward to Chicago without changing trains.
On Main Street there were still a few hitching posts for horses along the side of the wide roadway, but cars were by far the most popular means for getting around Osage county.
Vickie Larkin’s place, shielded from the sun and wind by a glade of Redbud trees teeming with garlands of pink flowers, was about five miles out of town. Though Don Jose had ridden many broncos in his revolutionary days, he was far happier in his ‘flivver’. He had a brand new electric start model which cost an additional twenty dollars.
The majority of buyers didn’t want to part with two sawbucks for the option and stayed with the sometimes dangerous system of crank starting their vehicles.
After a final check with Deputy Tremmers and a look in on his prisoner, Alvarado pushed his starter button and motored down highway 18 East for about three miles until he came to the fork leading to the Larkin ranch. The road narrowed into a one lane path with ruts on either side and a hump of dirt and grass in the middle. His tires picked their way through the grooves that sometimes got so deep that the center mound scraped his undercarriage.
Vickie Larkin spotted the sheriff’s car through her kitchen window and had coffee on the table by the time he knocked on her front door.
“Mrs. Larkin, I’m very sorry about what happened to Gawk. I got his killer in a jail cell and I promise you that very soon he’s going to pay the ultimate penalty for his crime”
“Thanks sheriff. I appreciate you saying it. But why are you so formal today? I’m still Vickie.”
“I know that. I was just trying to show respect. How’s your patient?”
“He’s doing better. He had some lunch a while ago and is taking a nap. Let me pour you some coffee and in a few minutes I’ll wake him up so you can talk to him. You’re the reason he came to Oklahoma.”
“Doc Galen told me that Vickie. I’d like to find out why.”
As he sipped the coffee and ate fresh baked cornbread, she asked him to help out with Gawk’s funeral arrangements.
“I’m going to be tied up here with Chalky so it would be a big favor for me if you can talk to the undertaker and the preacher. I’d like to have the funeral in about two days.”
“I’ll make all the arrangements and I know that a lot of people are going to want to attend the service. Gawk was a well respected man.”
While Don Jose was finishing his coffee and the last of the cornbread, Mrs. Larkin went into the spare bedroom to check on the boy.
“Come on in sheriff. Chalky’s awake and he wants to meet you.”
He walked into the well kept room and was struck by the frailty of the youth. It was obvious that he had lost a significant amount of weight and his skin color was still as white as paper despite spending many weeks under the blazing western sun.
“Hello Chalky. I’m Alvarado. Did you really walk fifteen hundred miles to see me and if so, why?”
“My pa. He was Corporal James Hidalgo. He talked about you all the time. I can tell you every detail of how you led the 200 against a force of 5000 and cut a swath right through them, allowing the surviving men of the Pancho Villa army to escape the slaughter that already had taken 10,000 lives.”
“You’re Jimmy Hidalgo’s boy?”
“Yessir. And Pa said that you were the biggest hero of the Mexican revolution. “
“There were a lot of heroes Chalky and your Pa was one of the biggest. I did lead that bee sting right into the middle of the enemy but I never could have done it without your daddy’s help. What happened to your father?”
“He died Don Jose. That’s why I have come to you. After Pancho Villa’s army disbanded, Pa settled in Lone Pine, California. He met my Ma and they fell in love. Starting a little spread outside of town they had me a year later and were doing pretty well. The farm was an abandoned property they bought from the Lone Pine bank. They were getting pretty good crops and doing fairly well. From the time I could walk and talk I helped Pa in the fields. While we worked he spoke endlessly of his glory days with you and Pancho Villa. He never forgot what you did at Agua Prieta.”
“As I told you before Chalky, your father was as much a hero that day as anyone else.”
“That’s not what Pa said. He told me that everybody would have been killed if you hadn’t rallied the men. As the years went by, I never tired of hearing the stories. A little bit after my 13th birthday my Ma got sick and died. Pa not only lost my mother but also seemed to lose his spirit and his mind. He was never the same. About the time I hit 14 he died, mostly from a broken heart I guess.”
“So after your Dad died, you decided to come to see me?”
“Not at first. I tried to run the farm. I was doing okay for a few months until the bank men came. They said they were foreclosing the mortgage and they kicked me out.
“I didn’t have any relatives or anyplace to go. The only real friend my Pa ever had was you, so I decided to look you up. Seth Perkins at the Lone Pine General Store was kind to me. He did some checking and found out where you were. I bought some supplies and maps from him and left Lone Pine on foot. As Mr. Perkins was packing up my order, he told me that there were only seven payments left on the mortgage when the bank foreclosed on me.”
“Bankers are heartless sometimes Chalky. Maybe in a while, I’ll take a little automobile trip with you to Lone Pine and we’ll have a talk with those bankers. In the meantime you stay with Mrs. Larkin and get better.”
Back in the kitchen Don Jose whispered… “Vickie that boy looks really bad. Is he going to make it?”
“Doc Galen said that at first it seemed likely he’d die. But after just one day here, he was much improved. When Doc left, he said he thinks Chalky is going to make a full recovery though it might take several months.”
“Well I owe that boy something because of his father, so I’ll make arrangements to move him in town….”
“Oh no Sheriff, please let him stay with me. What with poor Gawk gone, the best thing for me right now is to feel needed and be useful.”
“If you’re sure you don’t mind, that’ll be fine. And it’s probably also the best thing for Chalky right now.
Promising to check back in a few days, Don Jose headed back towards the jailhouse where he had unfinished business with Lute Fowler.
It was close to one o’clock when he parked in front of Ma Glockner’s – being drawn there by the delicious smell of fried chicken that overpowered everything else for a hundred feet in all directions. Don Jose decided that his dealings with Fowler could certainly wait until a little longer.
Doc Galen was sitting by himself at a table near a window, so he wondered… “Hey Doc, is there room for one more at your table?”
“I can squeeze you in. Come on over.”
“What are you readin’ Doc? The latest medical journals?”
“Don’t be a wiseacre and act like you don’t read the Whiz Bang just like everybody else.
This is the new issue and it’s a good one. Captain Billy even mentions our town. He says that in the town named after this publication, ‘Whiz Bang City’, you need cold cash to have a hot time!”
“That might be funny Doc if it weren’t so true.”
“He mentions you – by name! Captain Billy writes, ‘When in Whiz Bang City – eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow your bootlegger might be captured by Sheriff Don Jose Alvarado!”
“I guess that Captain Billy hasn’t heard that prohibition skipped over Osage County,” laughed Don Jose. “Maybe you better write a letter to the editor and tip him off Doc.”
“No I don’t think I should, it might give the revenuers ideas,” countered Doc. “Wait until you hear this next one Sheriff. It’s a bit racy, are your ears over the age of 21?”
“You see the size of my ears Doc. They were grown up before I was!”
“Yes, you’re all ears, it’s plain to see. This here’s a pretty funny story….
“BOBBY NELSON, the neighbor’s boy, is the worst kid in the world for betting, and the unusual feature of it is he usually wins. Bobby’s father took the matter up with the school marm to see if she could break him of the gambling habit, promising her a reward if successful.
The next morning when Bobby came to school he bet the teacher that she had warts on her knees and the school marm, knowing she did not, and thinking she had an opportunity to win a bet from Bobby and by so doing, discourage his betting habit, accepted Bobby’s challenge.
After school that evening, the teacher pulled up her dress and showed Bobby that he was wrong and won the two dollar bet. She then called on Bobby’s father.
“Mr. Nelson, I have broken Bobby of the betting habit. It was a little embarrassing, but this is how it was — Bobby bet me two dollars I had warts on my knees and in order to make him lose and cure him of the betting habit I accepted his challenge.”
“Oh no teacher! Why did you do it? Bobby bet me this morning ten dollars that he would get to see your knees before the day was out!”
Before the Doc could read any more silliness from the Whiz Bang, Sam came over to take their orders, followed by the zaftig Ma Glockner herself, her abundant silver hair pulled up into a bun.
“I’ll take care of these two boys Sam. I’m pretty sure I know what they want.”
While Sam busied himself clearing away tables, Ma sat down and chatted with Doc and the Sheriff …“How’s Mrs. Larkin fellas? Does she need anything? Should I send some food?”
“Nice of you to ask,” said Don Jose “she’s doing just fine. She’s helping out Doc by taking care of one of his patients.”
After hearing the latest news about Chalky and the funeral preparations, Ma volunteered the use of her home for the wake and the funeral and also said that she’d provide the food.
“Whichever of you goes out there first, tell Vickie not to worry about a thing. I’ll handle everything on my end. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me I’ll go see if your fried chicken is ready. I’m sorry to disappoint you Don Jose, but I don’t have any grits this afternoon. You’ll just have to make do with mashed potatoes, gravy and cornbread”
“Ok Ma, for you I will suffer,” he laughed.
After lunch the sheriff checked in at the jailhouse and was told that the prisoner was sore but he was fine.
“He was in good spirits after I told him what you said about the trial and all Sheriff.”
“Thanks Bart. He’s probably happy because he’s always gotten away with gunning down people before. A judge might let him go again, even though he drew first.”
“I was thinkin’ the same thing Sheriff Alvarado.”
“You’ve done a good job Bart. I’ll be back in a couple hours to relieve you.
The lockup consisted of three cells on either side of the sturdy jailhouse, which had been fabricated of red brick with tempered steel bars. The oil companies had spared no expense in building one of the finest cellblocks west of Boston. It was generally at least half full but on this particular day Fowler was the only occupant.
Shortly after the sheriff left, Bart heard the grating of a tin cup raking across the cell bars.
“What do you want Lute?” he asked as he put down his newspaper, got up from his desk and strode into the cellblock.
“That office out there don’t run itself. I’ve got more important things to do than come in here to find out why you’re making all that noise. If you’re trying to break out that way I have to tell you that those bars are made of…”
“Stop talking nonsense Deputy. I wanted you in here to ask you to make a phone call for me. When I go to trial I want a real lawyer standing up for me. Call Alfalfa Bill Murray. His office is in Tulsa. Get him on the phone for me. I need him here by tomorrow night.”
Alfalfa ‘Bill’ Murray
Cigar chomping ‘Alfalfa Bill’ Murray was an eloquent public speaker although early on, he failed as a newspaper publisher and in politics. After multiple setbacks he took up the study of law and eventually became one of the most successful attorneys in the West. He later was elected Governor of Oklahoma.
At one time Bill lobbied for separate “Indian” states to be admitted to the Union. He was a champion of underdogs and would probably jump at the chance to fight Don Jose Alvarado – especially because, in a defacto sense, he would be fighting the oil companies. As his nickname suggests, Alfalfa Bill was a farmer at heart and had no love for the petroleum industry.
“I don’t have the authority to let you call that lawyer,” Bart said. “The sheriff will be back soon and you can take it up with him.”
Later when the deputy told Don Jose about the request, the sheriff said, “Go home now Bart. I’ll take care of everything. I’ll see you in the morning.”
As soon as he had left, the sheriff went into the cellblock.
“Did you call Alfalfa Bill for me?”
“You don’t need a lawyer Fowler. I’m letting you go.”
“You heard me I’m releasing you. I’m going to unlock your cell and then before you leave, we’re going over to the Bird Cage and have a little drink together.”
Lute couldn’t believe his good luck. With a big smile on his face he clapped his hat on his head and strapped on his twin colts.
“You lead the way to the Bird Cage Lute,” said Don Jose, “I will be right behind you.”
“Howdy Sheriff. Howdy Lute. I’ve got a table reserved for you right in front of the bar,” said Oil Can Slim, as they walked in. Setting a bottle of Rye and two glasses on the only vacant table in the saloon, Slim directed them to sit down.
Slim acquired his nicknames from two things. ‘Slim’ came from the fact that at 400 pounds – he wasn’t. The ‘Oil Can’ came from his fondness for beer which people in Osage county called ‘oil’. On a bet Slim would pour a gallon or more down his throat just like it was coming out of oil cans.
As if they knew something was in the air, scores of rig workers, farmers and cowpokes jammed into Whiz Bang’s second biggest funhouse.
All eyes were on the sheriff and Fowler. In hushed voices many people questioned why Fowler was out of jail and what he was doing in the Bird Cage with the sheriff.
After two or three drinks Lute was beginning to feel like his old self. He began to get talkative.
“You’re okay Sheriff Alvarado. I’m sorry about shooting Gawk, but you gotta remember he came after me. Then when you said I didn’t need a lawyer I thought sure you were up to something. But now that there’s going to be no trial, you’re right. I don’t need a lawyer.”
“Oh there’s going to be a trial Lute.”
“But you said tha…….”
“Fowler, you’re going to get a trial right here in the Bird Cage!” Don Jose was shouting now loud enough for everyone to hear – although it suddenly got so quiet in the big room that he could have whispered and they still would have heard it even above, in the second floor bedrooms.
“You’re going to get a trial by fire. We’re going to draw on each other. First fire wins! You kill me, you go free. If I kill you then you take one for Gawk. I don’t have many friends in this job. Other than Doc Galen, Larkin was about my only one and you murdered him.”
“Finish your drink then stand up and make your play,” yelled Don Jose, his booming voice spilling out even into the street where a huge crowd had gathered as word of the strange happenings in the Bird Cage started going round town.
Beads of sweat welled up on Fowler’s face, on the back of his neck, and in various other parts of his body.
He looked into the eyes of the Sheriff and they seemed to have the same slitted tiger look that Gawk’s eyes had. The pupils, normally as round as a penny, looked like steel spikes. Lute thought at first it was his imagination and he tried to blink it away. As he looked again, it seemed that Don Jose’s countenance had become that of a swaying viper – the vertically slitted eyes glittering and seeming to send off an invisible ray that made Lute’s hands shake.
“I’m giving you more of a chance than you gave Gawk. Draw. Fill your hand you varmint! Draw Fowler. You either draw or I’m gonna beat you to death with my bare hands. Draw!”
For 10 minutes Don Jose jabbed at the reluctant Fowler, prodding and goading him relentlessly.
The crowd got so big inside the Bird Cage and outside on the street that it seemed as though literally the whole town was within earshot of the confrontation.
As Don Jose kept irritating Lute and daring him to draw, Fowler finally realized that one way or the other, he was going to die that day in the overstuffed Bird Cage. He knew he had little chance against the much faster Don Jose, but since a little chance is better than no chance, he filled his shaky hand and cleared leather.
Like Gawk before him, Don Jose’s viper slit-eyes seemed to narrow down to a razor thin vertical focus on Fowler’s gun-hand. The knifelike pupils recorded Fowler’s movements in slow motion. They saw Lute’s Colt clear the holster. The beast eyes saw him raise the weapon. They saw his finger start to embrace the trigger – and then the piercing slits sent a message up to Don Jose’s brain – FIRE!
Fowler’s Colt was pointed straight at Don Jose’s head and his finger was less than a thousandth of an inch from the trigger and yet before it could cover that miniscule distance, the sheriff reached for his holstered Remington 1875, cleared leather, carefully aimed the six-shooter, and fired a kill shot.
To a man and to a woman; everyone in the Bird Cage rose to their feet and cheered the feat of Don Jose as he continued to pour hot lead, putting three more shots into Fowler’s heart before using the last two bullets to erase Lute’s face – in the unlikely event anybody had the foolish idea of an open casket.
Even Big Red had left her place to witness the battle. “You did what you had to do Don Jose,” she said admiringly. “Come back to the Whiz Bang House with me. I’ll take you upstairs and I will help you ease your mind a bit.”
Before she departed with the Don in tow, Red gave Oil Can Slim a thick roll of bills and told him to serve up free drinks to everyone for one hour to celebrate.
Love him or hate him, on that particular night, nobody had a single bad word to say about Don Jose Alvarado, the Sheriff of Whizbang City.
(Author’s Note) Whiz Bang in the 1920s was a cluster of about 500 hastily built structures surrounded on all sides by two thousand wheezing oil rigs nodding their ugly steel heads. Up and down for 24 hours a day they bobbed – never resting even for a second, until they died, around 1943.
Bert Bryant pried open a fresh beer and informed Sgt. Bill James… “Before I can say any more about Whiz Bang back in the day, I have to come clean about the name.”
Tilting his beer with one hand while raking his white beard with the other, he sheepishly admitted, “It ain’t really officially Whiz Bang.”
“The prohibition laws were ignored here because the government realized that Osage County was vastly different from just about anywhere else in the Union. It was the same with the funhouses and the gambling halls. They were not strictly legal, but in Whiz Bang they were allowed.
“We never had a problem with any government agency except one – the Post Office.”
“How could the Post Office affect you?”
“Well Sergeant Billy, it was a regional postmaster who started the trouble because he hated the name of our town. He demanded we change it. We told him he could take a flying leap we were not going to alter our name by even one letter.”
“What was wrong with Whiz Bang?”
“That galoot thought it was not dignified. He ordered us to rename the town De Noya, a family name of a group of people in the Osage tribe of Indians.
“The battle of words went back and forth and heated up after that knucklehead refused to deliver any mail addressed to Whiz Bang, OK. Since almost nobody ever sent anything in the name of De Noya, the situation caused a big problem for Tulsa.”
“How was Tulsa affected?”
“All the mail they couldn’t deliver to Whiz Bang was being stored in Tulsa and it was taking up too much space. The regional postmaster conferred with the top man in Washington, Postmaster General Hubert Word.”
“What did he say?”
“Word sided with the regional guy in Tulsa. No mail would be delivered to us if the address read Whiz Bang. We fixed him. We wrote to Captain Billy Fawcett – the publisher of the racy magazine with the same name as our town. Captain Billy would later become enormously wealthy and influential as owner of Fawcett Publications and a vast business empire. Back in 1922 all he had was his bawdy little Whiz Bang – but that was enough because he sold a million copies every month. Captain Billy addressed all his west of the Mississippi copies ‘care of postmaster at Whiz Bang, Oklahoma!”
“So all those copies had to be stored in Tulsa?”
“Yes indeed,” replied old Bert. “The train pulled into Tulsa with three freight cars worth of Whiz Bangs that had to be stored and protected from the elements. There was no room for them. Besides that there was the matter of a lot of important people who were not going to get their Whiz Bangs! Finally the Postmaster General interceded. He said that both names Whiz Bang and De Noya would be considered acceptable for the town. The mail went through!”
Satisfied that he had come clean about the naming of Whiz Bang, Bert smiled and tilted back in his chair while closing his eyes for a spell. Raking his beard with his fingers he started to speak but the word quickly degraded into a snore.
Sgt. James didn’t mind the old cowpoke napping. It didn’t matter. He had plenty of time and was willing to wait for Bert to resume the chronicles of the abandoned town. Sgt. James reached for the ‘church key’ on the table in front of him and punched a pair of triangular holes into another cold can of ‘Colorado Cool- Aid’.
Sgt. Bill smiled as he remembered seeing Johnny Paycheck live on stage at Lawton, Oklahoma before 2000 service men. Ol’ John brought the house down when he sang his number one hit “Take This Job and Shove It” and then followed it up with “Colorado Cool-Aid”.
“Well I was sittin in this beer joint down in Houston, Texas
Was drinkin Colorado Cool-Aid and talkin to some Mexicans
An we was ‘what’s this you say?’
What’s Colorado Cool-Aid?
Well it’s a can of Coors brewed from a mountain stream
It’ll set your head on fire and make your kidneys scream”
Johnny Paycheck – country singer: 1938 – 2003
Captain Billy Fawcett was one of the most colorful characters of the early 1900s. At 16 years of age and just five and a half feet tall, he volunteered for the U.S. army in 1902 and fought in the Phillipine-American War. He was wounded in the conflict but remained in the service and found that the military life suited him. Later, in World War One, he rose to the rank of Captain. He took to calling himself ‘Captain Billy’ and was known by that ‘handle’ the world over.
The original ‘Hugh Hefner’, Fawcett found immediate success with his lurid magazine, The Whiz Bang. The name came from his war days when he and his buddies called the falling shells from German artillery – ‘Whiz Bangs’.
A world traveler, Captain Billy was not only a publishing magnate, he also owned resorts, was an Olympic athlete, a boxing promoter, and a big game hunter.
“The Whiz Bang was the top publication of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. Later magazines started by Captain Billy included the iconic “Mechanics Illustrated”, “Family Circle”, “True Confessions”, “Women’s Day”, as well as Captain Marvel and many other ‘funny-books’.
Captain Billy’s friends were legion, and included many of the most prominent names of the day. His boxing pals included heavyweight Champ Jack Dempsey. He was also buddies with the biggest Hollywood star of the era, Harold Lloyd – whose box office eclipsed the number two man Charlie Chaplin by several million dollars. In a period when it cost a few pennies to see a motion picture, Lloyd’s films grossed over 15 million dollars compared to about ten million for the Chaplin comedies.
April 1923 – a typical cover of an issue of the wildly popular monthly, Whiz Bang
After Gawk Larkin’s funeral, Don Jose was fixing to go out the following afternoon to visit Chalky. Vickie had phoned him and said that the boy was making a rapid recovery and was already handling some of the daily chores like milking the cows and seeing to the chickens.
Several things came up at once that prevented him from leaving town. Two oil field roughnecks burst into his office just before lunch with news that a bandit gang had hit six oil field crews. At the point of their guns the crooks relieved the work gangs of money, rings, watches and anything else of value. Two oilmen who refused to surrender their valuables were shot and killed.
“They won’t be too hard to find boys. I’ll put in calls to Shidler, Carter Nine and the other towns. When they start spending your money on funhouse girls and booze, I’ll go pick ‘em up. Then I’ll string ‘em up on top of an oil rig. It’ll be just like ‘Pistol Hill’ all over again. Once those yahoos start swinging by the neck, anybody else who had similar ideas will quickly forget about it!”
True to his word, within a week Don Jose and the other lawmen in the area had captured the hold-up men. Under the Sheriff’s direction the roughnecks hanged the crooks from working oil rigs. The decaying corpses bobbing up and down on the undulating rigs put an instant stop to the oil field hold-ups.
The second bit of trouble that day required immediate action. While he was speaking with the roughnecks, he got a telephone call reporting that Oil Can Slim had just gunned down a customer in the Bird Cage.
Excusing himself, he ran to the dance hall where he saw a lifeless body lying face-up, splayed across the rough plank floor in front of the bar. Blood streaming from his shirt had turned the sawdust around him red, giving evidence that the man had been shot at least once in the chest.
At a table by the side of the bar, with several of the house girls tending to him, was a visibly shaken Oil Can Slim. So bulky was the bartender that two seats had to be propped under him to allow enough space for him to be seated.
One of the girls was wiping his sweaty face with a wet bar rag. Another was holding a bloody cloth against his protruding belly which more closely resembled the water boiler of a steam powered oil rig than a human abdomen.
A third girl, red haired Jenny, put her hand up to block the sheriff.
“You just stay back Sheriff Alvarado. That dead city dude on the floor fired first. He got off two shots with a little pistol before Oil Can blasted him with the shotgun he keeps under the bar.”
“How bad are you hit Slim?”
“The little rat got me with a pocket pistol – probably a derringer,” wheezed the bartender, his ragged breath impeded by stabbing pains. “Doc’s on the way. I’ll be fine. I don’t think those little ‘22’ slugs went in more than a half a foot. It’d take about twice that to get to something important.”
“I think the dude had been drinking somewhere else before he came to the Bird Cage. He swaggered in with an attitude and right away he started acting a little crazy. He muttered something about showing ‘those girls’. I guess he had trouble somewhere else.”
“Maybe he was kicked out of one of the other taverns. I’ll check on that later. But why did he shoot you?”
“Well Don Jose, he ordered a house whiskey and I gave it to him. After he finished it, he put a short-bit (a dime) on the bar and slid it towards me.”
“This is a two-bit bar Mister,” I informed him. “It’s not a half-bit bar. I figured he probably didn’t understand how things work in the West so I explained it to him.
“I patiently told him that there are two kinds of saloons in Whiz Bang; the Two-Bit Bars and the Half-Bit Bars. I said, ‘now young feller, in a two-bit bar a drink is twelve and a half cents. You pay two bits for your first drink and then the second one is already paid for.
“But if you go into a half-bit bar you pay a long bit (fifteen cents) for the first one and if you want a second drink it will cost a short-bit (ten cents). I stated again that the Bird Cage is a two-bit bar.”
“Did he understand what you were telling him?”
“He said he did sheriff. He shouted…‘Listen fatso, I know all about half-bit bars and two bit-bars. I had heard that the Bird Cage was a two-bit bar and I had no reason to believe otherwise until I drank that rotgut that you cut with turpentine. That’s why I gave you a short-bit!”
“I lost my temper after that insult Don Jose, and I told him to get out. He screwed up his face into a sneer and says “make me”. So I started after him. Before I took two steps his hand went to his vest and he yanked out a palm pistol. He emptied both his barrels before I got to my shotgun.
I was hit but I laughed at him as I pointed the 12 gauge at his chest. As he looked at me in disbelief while he was fumbling to reload, I gave him both my barrels.”
“Death by misadventure is what I’ll write in my report Slim. Go lay down in the back room now and wait for Doc. Those little 22 caliber slugs can actually do a lot more damage than you think. You were pretty lucky tonight.”
Author’s Note: Bit Coins at a Glance
It was close to supper time when Don Jose guided his ‘Tin Lizzie’ into a space by the side of the Larkin barn.
“Come on in sheriff. I was just setting the dinner table” smiled Vickie, opening the front door for him even before he stepped out of his car.
“Don Jose, please come and sit with me while Mrs. Larkin finishes getting dinner ready,” said a much improved Chalky who looked nothing like the pale wraith who had collapsed in the dirt in front of Vickie’s house less than two weeks before.
“How are you feeling Chalky? You look good. I think you must like Mrs. Larkin’s cooking.”
“She saved my life Sheriff – her and Doc Galen. I’d do anything for her and Doc – and you too.”
“Why are you including me in that group Chalkie? I didn’t do anything for you.”
“No, but you did something for my Pa. He told me how you saved his life that day in Mexico. You saved him and about 200 other soldiers. Pa said he never saw anything like it. You got those men to charge right into the main force of…..”
“We did what we had to Chalky and I didn’t do it by myself. I told you before that your father was as much a hero that day as anyone.”
“Let’s talk of heroes after dinner men,” Vickie Larkin broke in, carrying a platter of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and fresh corn on the cob. “I heard you like country fried fowl about better than anything Don Jose. Now this won’t be as good as Ma Glockner’s but I think you’ll like it just the same. Chalky says it’s pretty good.”
The “Don” did like the chicken. He liked it so much that he began to check in on Chalky at the Larkin farm every few days during the rest of the summer and the fall. Always arriving at dinnertime, he was a welcome guest.
Growing faster than the tall grass the ranch was famous for, Chalky had picked up almost three inches in height and a good 35 pounds by the time of his fifteenth birthday in November.
Vickie Larkin threw a party for the boy. She invited Doc Galen, Don Jose, and Ma Glockner.
“Mrs. Vickie, this golden sponge cake is the best I’ve ever had. Even in Virginia they couldn’t top this!” exclaimed Ma Glockner.
“Well how ‘bout that Vickie,” laughed Doc Galen, “The best cook West of the Mississippi is taking her hat off to you.”
“I’ve got to say that I’ve eaten in some pretty fine establishments from Mexico to Montreal and this cake is the best I’ve ever had too,” vowed the Don.
“No disrespect to you Mrs. Glockner. You are a fabulous chef, but I think Mrs. Larkin is just as good,” Chalky offered tentatively.
“I think so too Chalky,” Ma replied. “If you ever want to make up a batch of those cakes to sell, I’d pay top dollar to have ‘em in my restaurant.”
“In the winter when there’s not much to do here on the farm I might take you up on that,” Vickie responded. “Let’s open the presents now Chalky.”
The birthday boy attacked a large box wrapped in the ‘funny pages’ from Sunday’s Tulsa World, the largest newspaper in Northeastern Oklahoma.
Happily tearing away the comics featuring Popeye, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Orphan Annie, and Snuffy ‘Smif’; Chalky dug into the box and drew out a long, heavy motorist’s coat – it might be called a car coat today – as well as a pair of goggles, a scarf, a pair of driving gloves and a hat.
Puzzled, Chalky looked at Mrs. Larkin.
“There’s something else that goes with those clothes Chalky. It’s outside in the old stable.”
She gave the boy her late husband’s 1921 Model T – with a newly installed electric starter.
“Gawk would have wanted you to have it Chalky. The automobile is yours.”
Chalky was thrilled and would be even more so when he obtained his other gifts.
“I’ve got something for you son,” said the Don.
Chalky eagerly attacked the package offered by the sheriff and was astounded to find a cartridge belt and a holster, filled with a white handled Remington 1875 SSA, Single Action Army revolver.
“It’s just like mine Chalk! And it’s just like the one your Dad had too. I’ve also got something else for you. It’s getting on towards winter and there’s not going to be a lot for you to do here until spring. You’ve got a car now so you could come to town every day if you accept this.”
The Don held out a shiny tin star which the youth joyously accepted.
“You’ll be the youngest deputy in the West Chalky and since you’re Jimmy Hidalgo’s boy, I think you’ll also be the best.”
“I have something for you too Chalky,” said Ma Glockner, her long, soft silver hair framing a face that still retained the vibrancy of her youth and southern beauty. “It’s not much but on the tiny paycheck the Don is going to part with, this will be a help.”
Happily opening a thick manila envelope Chalky read the enclosed carefully lettered document, “This entitles Deputy Chalky Hidalgo to free meals anytime and any day at Ma Glockner’s Restaurant.”
Not to be left out, Doc Galen provided the young man with a sizeable wad of cash to purchase new clothes and of course, a new pair of leather boots.
After the birthday party Ma and Doc decided to take a stroll to look at the new hay barn that Chalky had built at the Northern edge of the Larkin farm, with the help of a few men from town,.
Excusing herself, Vicky Larkin went to the kitchen to tend to the dishes.
“It’s a little cold for Doc and Ma Glockner to be out walking, isn’t it Don Jose?”
“I’m pretty sure they will be warm enough Chalk. Ol’ Doc doesn’t want to admit it and neither does Ma, but I think those two are starting to get pretty friendly.”
“Sheriff that reminds me of something I have been meaning to talk to you about. I guess now’s as good a time as any.”
“Sure Chalk. What’s on your mind?”
“You’ve been spending a lot of time here Don Jose and I don’t think it’s just because of me. It’s well known in town that you have a close friendship with Miss Red at the Whiz Bang house.”
“What are you getting at Chalk?”
“Well Don Jose, you are my hero and my friend, but Mrs. Larkin is almost like a mother to me. She’s been so kind to me that I swear I would have a problem with anyone who hurt her.”
“If you mean me son, I certainly have no intention of harming that lovely lady.”
“You may have already done so. She’s lonesome naturally, what with being a widow and all. I think she’s beginning to fall in love with you and I think that you might take advantage of the situation.
I keep thinking of something my Mother told me when I was about 12 years old. She was raised in a church going family, Don Jose. We didn’t have one near us but she told me about the bible and she read me the part about how a man cannot serve two masters, for he will love one and hate the other.”
“I’ve heard that Chalk, but how does it apply in this conversation. “
“Because I think it applies to women as well Don Jose.
I like Miss Red and I like Mrs. Larkin and I wouldn’t want either one of them to get hurt.”
“I see what you’re getting at Chalky. There’s no reason to worry. I like both of those ladies too and if you are implying they are the masters – I promise you that I’m not going to be trying to serve both of them at the same time.”
That ended the matter for the moment but Chalky had an uneasy feeling that if, instead of people; the sheriff, the madam, and the widow were ingredients in a test tube and a little heat was applied to the glass – there would be an explosion.
The early part of the winter of 1923 was for the most part a quiet one. There was one tornado that ripped up neighboring Carter Nine, killing three people. The customary weekly thunderstorms commonly knocked out electrical power, stimulating sales of kerosene lamps at the Whiz Bang Seed and Feed.
In mid January one of the bigger snowfalls of the new century dropped close to six inches of snow on the rooftops and streets of the community. Within a day the temperature sprang back up into the high forties, quickly melting away the precipitation.
Rapidly mastering the mundane workings of the law business, Chalky learned everything there was to know about swamping out the cell block, sweeping the floors, and sorting out the mail in addition to sifting through the endless piles of Wanted Posters.
Whether the lack of excitement in Whiz Bang that season was due to the ever growing reputation of Sheriff Alvarado or because of a typical winter lull, Chalky wasn’t sure. What he did know was that he craved some action. He wanted to stand by the side of his mentor and gun down some desperadoes.
With the tenderness of a loving mother for her newborn, the youthful deputy took doting care of his Remington. He could disassemble and reassemble the ’1875’ in less than 10 seconds. He inspected, cleaned, and lubed it regularly.
Fast draw practice consumed most of his spare time. Whenever he had the chance he sharpened his shooting eye by blasting tin cans and old glass jars. His progress was so swift that his mentor Don Jose remarked that the boy was faster on the draw than any man he had ever seen.
Doc Galen and Big Red broke up the monotony of early February by sponsoring a shooting contest on the big vaudeville stage of the Whiz Bang House.
Chalky surprised and amazed the town by winning first place; beating out the best hands in all of Osage County.
Claiming the honors at the Whiz Bang House in front of an audience of 200 hombres was satisfying, but Chalky yearned for a bona fide scrum to overtake the town and give him a chance to display his skills under combat conditions.
Neither he nor the Sheriff realized that just such a situation was brewing in Southwestern Oklahoma and was working its way to Whiz Bang.
In early summer, convicted bank robbers Divitt Brant and Roll Stockdale, while on work detail, staged a bloody jail break in Wichita, Kansas.
Feigning a fight, they overpowered and killed a guard when he intervened. Using his weapon they murdered four other corrections officers during their desperate break. There were 20 prisoners in the detail and all escaped – but 18 of them were rounded up within three days.
Only Brant and Stockdale had an effective flight plan; which was long in the making. Aided by paid accomplices said to have run with Butch Cassidy’s gang at the turn of the century – they fled to Mexico and evaded capture for several months by holing up in a ‘safe town’ just over the border from Douglas Arizona.
By Christmas, with their funds swiftly diminishing the pair decided to head back to the States. Working their way to New Mexico and on to Texas, they stuck up a few businesses and banks as they travelled. They did it both for sport and to expand their depleted bankroll.
During a brief respite in a Texas panhandle saloon, the murderous escaped convicts were drinking tequila and planning their gory itinerary. A fracture in their partnership developed when Brant said he wanted to strike out for Oklahoma while Stockdale favored motoring towards California.
“It’s too dangerous there. The heat’s still on in Sacramento. We’ll have a far better chance if we go north,” claimed Brant.
“It’s just as risky going to Oklahoma. I’ve had enough of that state. There’s nothing there but red clay and oil rigs. I want to set on the veranda of an elegant San Francisco hotel while drinking fancy booze and sampling low toned women.”
The rift between the killers widened and rapidly threatened to go lethal.
Graff Headley, a drifter and part-time train robber who had been drinking with them, suggested that the only fair way to settle the matter was a duel.
“You two guys stand back to back,” Headley directed, “and take ten steps forward on my count. When I reach ten, turn and fire.”
Rising from their stools, Stockdale and Brant went to the center of the saloon’s sawdust covered floor and stood up straight, their backs a thousandth of an inch from touching.
“One – two – three,” counted Headley as a space of more than two yards opened up, dividing the combatants.
“Four, Five, Six, Seven,” he continued as the gunslingers gingerly stepped off the paces in opposite directions in time to his tally. The separation between the opponents had grown to better than fifteen feet.
Divitt Brant whirled around at the count of eight, cleared leather, and fired two deadly shots into the middle of Roll Stockdale’s back.
As Graff Headly stared in disbelief at the trickery, Brant shot him twice; first in the head and then in the heart.
Waving his pistol wildly in the air Brant screamed, “I’ve still got a dose of lead left for anybody who tries to stop me.”
There were 24 men in that little saloon situated about 20 miles south of the Oklahoma border. Many of them were hard cases, fast on the draw and accurate with their shots. Not a single one wanted to tangle with the ‘maniac’ who had just shot his partner in the back and slaughtered the ‘friend’ he’d been playing cards with.
Brant was fearsome even when he didn’t have the look of a raving lunatic; but when the killing fever came on him, Divitt looked like he had just marched in from Hell.
He was tall for the times, close to six feet. A bulky man who bristled with muscles, he was said to weigh 240 pounds without an ounce of fat. His coarse, black straw hair seemed to have a life of its own – jumping out from under his hat in roaming clusters that looked like spikes of raven colored lighting flashes. Bobbing up and down while he screamed at the crowd, his unkempt beard looked more like a bounding grizzly bear than facial hair.
His face was the worst of all – round like a pumpkin with eyebrows as big as hairy snakes hovering over oval eyes that burned like glowing campfire coals. The eerie grin that ran across his face from ear to ear looked like a broken fence with black spaces outnumbering the rotted, off-white pickets that passed for teeth.
Jumping over the bodies of his victims he raced to the parking lot and bounded into the beefy 1921 luxury, twin six Packard that he had been sharing with Stockdale.
Soon, driving through sparsely populated Osage County, Brant felt safe and in little danger since there were few lawmen in Northeastern Oklahoma. He had never heard of Sheriff Don Jose Alvarado and would still have headed for Whiz Bang even if he had.
Arriving in the boom town on a cloudy late afternoon in early March, Brant took a room at the National Hotel and swiftly fell asleep. After a few hours nap he woke up refreshed and hungry. Walking leisurely while casing the town, he went to the Whiz Bang House.
Taking in the final Vaudeville performances of the day, he was relaxed and in a good mood. Counting the house, he noted that the till was overflowing with cash from 200 paying customers. In addition, the East and West lounges had at least another 200 patrons each.
In 34 years of living Divitt Brant had never been called smart, but he could figure out that 600 customers equaled a huge pile of money – probably a lot more than he could get from a train robbery or a bank job.
As Maud Allan closed the Vaudeville program with her signature ‘Salome Dance’ that she made famous at the Palace Theaters both in London and New York; Brant began planning his heist of the Whiz Bang House.
The undulations of the nearly 40 year old Miss Allan distracted him for a few moments as she performed the fabled dance of the seven veils. Though it had been two decades since the lady had played big time Vaudeville, she was still able to command the rapt attention of every man in the theater.
Mellowed by the performance, Divitt decided to spend the night sampling the amusements of the house before devising his stick-up plan.
Getting up from his seat to participate in the standing ovation for Maud Allan, he decided to drift into the East Room to find some Rye Whiskey and a bar girl to share it with. Both were soon found with ease.
The next morning he woke up in one of the second floor suites of Big Red’s establishment. Brant found himself lying next to a well stuffed, raven haired woman who was a ‘dime a dance’ girl who aspired to be a singer in the Vaudeville chorus.
She wasn’t beautiful but she had been cheerful and willing. In a rare display of generosity, Divitt Brant dug into his wallet stuffed with ‘walking around money’ and left a wad of bills on the bedside table for the sleeping lady.
After a hearty breakfast of hotcakes, ham, and grits at Ma Glockner’s, he tossed out some feelers for men of dubious character that he could mold into a gang big and tough enough to skin the Whiz Bang House.
A series of questions among a few seedy looking rowdies led him to a string of ‘half-bit’ bars off First Avenue. He walked into “Skeet’s Hot House” because it looked to be the sleaziest of the row.
Plunking down ‘a long bit’ on the shabby bar, he forced a smile and began conversing with Skeet Grimmer, the barkeep as well as the owner. It rapidly became evident that he’d have to search no further; for he had surely arrived at a place where immoral men abounded.
Plying Skeet with a 20 dollar gold piece, he was able to gain introductions to six men who were vile enough to fit his model perfectly.
Using one of the saloon’s private rooms he invited the quartet to sit with him around a worn table that had seen thousands of poker games and probably almost as many scrums and gunfights.
He ordered beer and steaks for everyone, served by the best ‘five cent’ dance girls that Skeet had. Shooing the women away after the luncheon, he came quickly to the point.
“My name is Divitt Brant. There’s at least four or five Wanted Posters over at the post office with my name on ‘em. I prolly got a price of $500 on my head, dead or alive. If anyone wants to try for it, make your play now – or sit back and listen to a plan I got to make ten times that much dough.”
The six men around him knew him by reputation only. His fame, or rather his notoriety, had spread all through the West. None of the six wished to make a move on Divitt Brant, and they were interested in hearing his scheme.
“Before I tell you boys what I have in mind, I want to hear your credentials. Tell me what you’ve done against the law. Don’t add nothing to try and impress me – I’ll know it if you do.”
“My name is Dart Davis,” an angular middle aged man spoke first. “I’m retired now and scraping by, pulling occasional jobs on the Q.T. – but back in aught-8, I ran with the Eastman Gang in New York City. I was close to the boss, Kid Twist. I was in on all the big heists and dozens of murders.
One of the best times we ever had was when the Kid and I got the drop on Louie the Lump, who led a rival outfit. We were drinking Rye Whiskey in a Coney Island dive; Kid Twist, me, and Cyclone Charlie. I clubbed the Louie the Lump over the head with my Colt 45 and we dragged him up to a room on the fifth floor. When he woke up, I gave him a choice of jumping out the window or getting shot up piece by piece.
“Louie the Lump was a tough guy so he chose getting blasted. He prolly figured I’d kneecap him and let it go at that. I had something else in mind. Sticking the 45 under his left ear lobe, I squeezed the trigger and blew off his ear! Since he was screaming in pain, I don’t think he was listening when I told him the next shot was going to take out a nut – but when he saw my Colt moving down towards his crotch, he flew out the window!
“By 1911 many of the New York gangs had been weakened and broken up by all the in-fighting. Kid Twist, Cyclone Charlie and I were ambushed. The Kid and Charlie went down fighting and I barely survived after being shot five times. Before I passed out, I got the last of the dry-gulchers. Don’t let the gray hair and this battered body fool you Divitt. I’m ready for one last big score.”
“I’ve heard of you and your gang Dart. You guys were as ruthless a pack of mad dogs as ever there was in any town on earth. Welcome to the club!” said Divitt Brant flashing a smile of approval.
The other five men, younger, and not as accomplished as Dart Davis, nonetheless were murderous thieves in their own right; who had been waiting for some crooked opportunity to come along.
Diamond Jimmy Tea, a 27 year old card sharp who always carried three tiny, semi-automatic vest guns. Invented in 1911, the Colt Pocket 25 caliber, at just a half pound, was flatter, smaller, and more powerful than a derringer. It was an extraordinary ‘hide out’ gun. Diamond Jimmy had one in each sock and the third in his pocket. His skill with the mini Colts equaled his acumen with cards. He did well for himself.
Croaker Kelly: a black-jack artist and killer for hire. Originally from Boston the 25 year old had fled west to evade one of the largest manhunts in history, initiated after he had exterminated all the witnesses against a Massachusetts crime king, as well as the trial judge.
Kid Utica, an upstate New Yorker who was said to have had such a powerful hold on horse racing that he could give you a complete list of the winners at Saratoga a week in advance. Like Kelly the 31 year old ‘Kid’ had to flee the state after knocking off too many influential citizens.
Smoke Tarrette, a firebug from Philadelphia whose specialty was called “Jewish Lightning” or “Italian Lightning” or “Irish Lightning” – depending upon the ethnicity of whoever hired him. The 32 year old flame thrower had cost insurance companies more than $500,000 in claims they had to pay out for the buildings he torched. Dozens of human beings had died in the infernos he touched off.
Fingers Dugan. He was a 33 year old second story man whose specialties included safe-cracking, lock picking, and carving people up with a folding knife that he called a ‘butterfly’. When he slashed an enemy they thought they had been struck by lightning.
Upon hearing about the background and the crimes of his companions, Divitt Brant was satisfied that the motley group would be ideal for his purpose.
“I’ll give you the details over the next couple of days, but in a nutshell the plan is to hit the Whiz Bang House on Saturday, its busiest night. The six of you are going to split into two teams. One gang will knock off the East Room while the Second one takes out the West Room. I’ll work the middle and clean out the box office in the Great Room soon after the Vaudeville show starts,” explained Brant.
“There’s going to be close to 600 men, many of them armed, in the building; so we have to discourage any heroes right off the bat,” he continued. “That means we have to be as brutal as possible. Before we take a single gold coin or ten dollar bill, we have to start spraying lead everywhere, killing as many citizens as possible. Each team of three men will enter their assigned room and get right down to business.
“The first thing to do is to grab bar girls to use as shields. Then one guy will empty his pistol into the crowd, killing four or five men. The other two will cover the pack to make sure they drop their weapons. If anybody is slow to disarm, just keep on killing people. Indiscriminate butchery will soon get everyone to comply.”
Brant knew that his plan was crude and not well thought out. But he had learned by experience that raw brutality trumps brains every time when it comes to the rapid submission of groups of people, even among the hard-cases that were found in the oil towns.
After emptying out all the cash registers, drop boxes, safes and other places where money might be kept, the unholy seven were to meet in front of the building where they would all pile into Brant’s large, seven passenger Packard and make their getaway towards Texas.
Divitt Brant dismissed his thugs and drained another glass of Rye Whiskey before trudging back to Big Red’s place for further surveillance. As previously mentioned, he wasn’t a very bright thug, but he was a thorough planner – an ingrained habit which had kept him alive longer than most of his associates.
Being early afternoon, the opening Vaudeville performance of the day was still an hour off, so he chose first to study the side venues. Starting with the East Room he made a mental note of the set-up.
There were two main entrances. One was from an interior wall of the Vaudeville Theater. This portal was closed and locked except during the performances. The other access point was from the street. The two major entries, one for each hall, were designed to funnel patrons through the piano bar before they could enter the main part of the wing.
A dozen tables were clustered around the area of the East Wing where Big Blake was noodling around on the ivories. Beyond the music lounge was the main dining area with seating for one hundred guests.
The meals were eaten in an egalitarian spirit that might find the owner of the Strickland Oil Company daintily sipping his ‘Bouillabaisse’ just one table away from one of his own roughnecks chomping down a side of mutton.
Adjacent to the dining hall and stretching all the way to the far wall, was the gambling den. Wild West games like Faro and poker were still popular – but people had of late had begun to favor the recently invented Liberty Bell Slot Machines.
Whiz Bangers of all ages would spend hours cranking the handles of the machines in hopes of getting ‘three bells’ and winning the biggest jackpot of all, four bits – fifty cents.
The machines were so trendy by 1922 that they were found in most of the saloons, general stores, cigar shops, bowling alleys, barber shops and brothels.
The Whiz Bang house had hundreds, scattered in the dining room, the piano lounges, along the walls of the Great Room and even in the private upstairs suites. The largest concentration of Liberty Bell Slot Machines naturally, was in the gambling dens of the East and West Rooms.
The thought of the many thousands of dollars tied up in the bellies of those grubby metal monsters excited and angered Divitt Brant.
He wanted the cash that they held, but the sheer weight of it and the time required to harvest it, made the idea of emptying the slots unworkable.
Folding money would be the target, not coins – unless they happened to be in piles of pre-bagged 20 dollar gold-pieces.
The best and most popular Slot Machine of the early 1900s – as shown in a photo from Wikipedia.
Dripping of polished mahogany, the Long Bar occupied the entire length of the rear wall. Padded stools of the finest saddle leather were queued up by the dozens in front of the gleaming brass rail at the foot of the sturdy bar.
Hundreds of twinkly lights illuminated the back-bar – a collection of mirrors, oil tool knick knacks, and shelves fully stocked with more than 100 brands of spirits of all types. The assortment included everything from ‘Coffin Varnish’ and ‘Tangle-leg’ to quarts of the finest Kentucky Bourbon – shipped direct to Big Red by the son of the late Jack Daniels at twelve dollars per case of a dozen, freight included.
Satisfied that he was completely familiar with the East Room, Divitt went to the opposite wing. A brief study led him to conclude that the West wing was a mirror twin to the East side.
By the time he wrapped up his research, the first of the six vaudeville acts had taken the stage. He sat in the fifth row from the stage in the nearly empty house. The opening act was usually, as on this day, a group of dancers or singers whose number really had no start or ending, but just plodded along as the seats began filling up.
When the house was nearly at capacity, a beautiful ‘card girl’ would run to a large signboard displaying the names of the acts and replace the label for the opening act with the names of the next performers.
On this particular day the second act was a husband and wife team performing their version of Fanny Brice’s hit song, “Second Hand Rose”. While his lady sang, ‘hubby’ pantomimed the male part.
(Author’s note Second Hand Rose – written by James F. Hanley and Clark Grant, was an immense success for Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921. The ditty was given a second life in 1965 by Barbra Streisand in her homage to Brice entitled ‘Funny Girl’.)
“Father has a business, strictly second hand
Everything from toothpicks to a baby grand
Stuff in our apartment came from Father’s store
Even things I’m wearing someone wore before
It’s no wonder that I feel abused
I never get a thing that isn’t used.
I’m wearing second hand hats, second hand clothes
That’s why they call me Second Hand Rose”
Even our piano in the parlor
Daddy bought for ten cents on the dollar
Second hand pearls, I’m wearing second hand curls
I never get a single thing that’s new, Even Jake the plumber
He’s the man I adore, had the nerve to tell me he’s been married before!
Everyone knows that I’m just second hand rose, from Second Aveneue
Second Hand Rose from Second Avenue, Second Avenue – New!
The singing couple was reasonably talented and their routine went over well. By the time the third act came on stage Divitt felt that he had seen enough and was ready to go to work. He decided to pull the job in three days time, Saturday, February 24, 1923.
Summoning his sinister band to a meeting the next day in Skeet’s Hot House, Divitt laid out his final instructions.
“Here’s how we’re going to take Big Red’s joint. The first thing we do is hit the till in the Vaudeville Theater, during the fourth act. By that time, all the admission money will have been added to the cash from meals and drinks. Last night I saw the way that show crowd spends. They think nothing of dropping two or three dollars each on booze and food while watching the acts. I figure our haul will be better than $2,000.”
Divitt said that he and Fingers Dugan would handle the theater segment of the job. Diamond Jim and Croaker Kelly were assigned to enter the East Room where they would later be joined by Fingers.
Dart Davis was put in charge of Kid Utica and Smoke Tarette, whose job would be to occupy the West Room.
“Fingers and me will get seats in the very back row of the theater because that’s where the money will be,” explained Divitt, his long, thick black eyebrows curving in the shape of a letter V.
“In the middle of the fourth act the dough from the box office will be brought to the serving area near where we will be sitting. I noticed yesterday that they take in money so fast that they don’t even close the lock box under the cash register. When the waiters bring back the dollars from the drinks and food they serve in the theater, the just shovel the cash into the open box along with the customer receipts.”
“My job,” said Fingers, momentarily taking over the briefing “is to give a little butterfly kiss to the mug who’s in charge of the cash register. I’ll slit his throat like lightning. He’ll drop silently to the floor and Divitt and I will grab the sacks of cash and slip out the door before anyone is wise to what happened.”
“So that’s it boys,” beamed the leader. “We’ll have one third of this heist done before anybody even knows we’re on the job. When they see the stiff on the floor, they’ll be focusing on him, during which time we will start up our ruckus in the other two rooms.”
Looking over at Dart who was thoughtfully draining a glass of Rye, Divitt asked… “What’s your job Dart?”
“Me, Smoke, and Kid Utica will wait for a signal from you and then we’ll grab the girls we’ve been chatting up at our table and use them for shields. Since I’m the best shot, I’m going to be the gunner and blast four guys. I’ll take ‘em out with head shots at close range to get maximum effect. Kid and Smoke will keep their gats trained on the crowd to make sure everybody drops face down on the floor.
We will kill any slackers on an ‘as needed’ basis. Walking over the dead bodies and dragging our shields along, we’ll head for the bar and grab all the cash. Next we’ll hit the gambling den and empty the currency boxes there. After that it’s out to the street where we hop into the Packard.”
“Perfect,” smiled Divitt, his shaggy uncut black hair giving a feral, ursine look to his face.
“How ‘bout you Croaker? What’s your job?”
“Diamond Jim and me are to go into the East Room and get a table in the gambling den. We sit there and wait for Fingers. When he joins us, I do the same thing as Dart. I’m the gunner on my side. I take out four hombres at close range and scare the eyeballs out of the rest of the galoots. Then we drag the dames along as shields while we skin the place. First the gambling den, then the bar and dining room. After that we run outside and get in the car.”
Their plans finalized, all that remained was the two day wait until ‘show time’. The hours dragged along at a snail’s pace for the gang, being spent chiefly by playing – both with cards and the saloon girls at Skeet’s Hot House.
Saturday night at last arrived; accompanied by an oppressive sky that ignited perhaps the worst outbreak of twisters in Oklahoma history.
Touching down in nearly every Osage County oil town, there were 28 of them in a twelve hour period – 26 were ‘category four’ killers. By sunset the body count had reached 42 dead and over 400 injured. Hundreds of businesses and homes had been destroyed or damaged – though Whiz Bang had mostly been spared.
At seven o’clock when the evening’s Vaudeville was about to start, the gang got up from their table in Skeet’s place and prepared to leave.
“I’m thinking maybe we should do this next week instead of tonight,” offered Diamond Jimmy.
“No. We’ll do it tonight,” barked Divitt Brant.
“The tornadoes have pretty much stopped,” replied Diamond Jim, “but the rain’s pouring down heavier than a dry-gulch flood. There’s at least an even money chance that the roads might wash out and prevent us from getting away.”
“That ain’t a problem Jimmy. If the roads are bad for us, they will also be bad for anybody who tries to follow us. Besides, we’ll have a good head-start,” Divitt replied confidently.
The seven veteran masters of murder and mayhem went outside and began the short walk to the Whiz Bang House. The menacing cloud cover that had opened up was dumping close to a season’s worth of pounding rain in a single night.
The gang sloshed along the unpaved streets in ankle deep, muddy water. Pulling their soggy hats down close to their eyes, they strained to see ahead of them through the pelting downpour.
On the outskirts of town, dry riverbeds were filling up and sending the resulting overflow onwards to engulf roadways and drown the fields. By dawn the only place in the Osage that would escape flooding was Pistol Hill, the county’s highest spot and site of the hangings of the infamous hilltop robbers.
Undaunted by the torment, Divitt led Fingers toward the Vaudeville box office while the rest of the crew split into the two pre-arranged factions.
Dart led Kid Utica and Smoke Tarette to a table in the West gambling den. Croaker Kelly and Diamond Jimmy Tea went to the East Room and occupied seating near Big Blake Ivory’s piano – where they would wait for the arrival of Fingers Dugan.
When Divitt and Fingers slid into seats in the back of the theater, the house was nearly empty. The first Vaudeville act came on stage. The song and dance troupe was in the last night of their week-long engagement. Their job as customary was to provide a musical backdrop for late arriving patrons and to keep performing while the room was filling.
When the venue was nearly at capacity, a scantily dressed ‘card girl’ came to the billboard at the front of the stage and removed the painted sign saying “New York City Songsters”; replacing it with a new one that read “Myrt & Mike – Songs You Like”.
The husband and wife team performed their customary tune, “Second Hand Rose” to an enthusiastic reception from the spectators.
In the middle of the fourth act Divitt nudged Fingers and commanded quietly… “Go!”
The two killers left their seats and walked casually to the food and drink serving area alongside the theater entrance. Several waiters and bar girls were transporting meals and beverages to the customers, whose seats were equipped with adjustable wooden snack trays.
Bus boys wandered in and out with dirty dishes. Waitresses and waiters returning with customer receipts and cash, handed them over to a well dressed manager who quickly thrust the money into a bulging lock box with a door that was kept wide open during most of the show.
While Divitt Brant stood about a dozen feet away from the cash area to steer away any workers who might approach, Fingers swiftly walked to the manager… “Big Red told me to take over for a while because you are going to be indisposed”
The puzzled manager turned his head and looked at Fingers, who withdrew his butterfly knife with the speed of a magician and slit the unfortunate man’s throat with the precision of a surgeon. Without uttering a sound, the manager thudded to the floor.
Divitt Brant blocked the view and continued to fend off approaching waiters and waitresses as Fingers deftly filled flour sacks with piles of currency. The pair dodged out the nearby front door before anyone realized there had been a murder and robbery.
Running through the flooded street, they reached the Packard and sat down for a moment to examine the take. There wasn’t time to count, but Divitt, hefting a few handfuls sensed that they had at least three thousand dollars.
With a will of its own, his hand finger-walked to the six shooter holstered on his cartridge belt. In the darkness, he involuntarily eased the gun from the comfort of its leather.
He could effortlessly plug Fingers Dugan and flee unfettered with money enough for a year or perhaps two.
The intense drumming of the rain beating out a steady rhythm on the roof of the Packard, reminded him of the many thousands more that still remained to be plucked.
Deciding that it would be easy enough to eliminate the others later, when there was a lot more cash, he relaxed his grip. The gun slid back into the holster.
“Okay Fingers. Great work in there. You go back now and join your crew. I’ll be along in a minute.”
Fingers Dugan went straightaway to the West Room to meet Croaker Kelly and Diamond Jimmy Tea.
Instead of proceeding to the Whiz Bang House, Divitt Brant fired the engine of the big Packard and drove off. He didn’t go far – only to an alley behind the main structure.
After parking the sedan, he sloshed his way around the side of the building and walked through the front door to join up with Dart and his crew.
As for Fingers, he had entered the lounge and quickly noted that Kelly and Tea had selected a table about midway between Big Blake Ivory the piano player, and the cashier. Three of Big Red’s bar girls were sitting with them – laughing and chatting mindlessly.
“Look girls, here’s the friend we have been waiting for. C’mon over and join us Fingers,” smiled Diamond Jimmy Tea. “Ladies, just as I promised you, the fun starts as soon as Fingers Dugan arrives.”
Without bothering to sit, Fingers grabbed the nearest girl by her hair with one hand and brutally dragged her to her feet while applying a choke hold with his other hand. Diamond Jimmy and the Croaker similarly manhandled the other two girls and held them in as shields in front of their bodies.
Croaker Kelly, using a 1905 Smith & Wesson 38 M & P, rapidly fired off six shots aimed at the heads of nearby patrons. As the bodies were falling, he pulled out a pocket 25 caliber and fired three more times.
“Listen up everybody. Get on the floor face down, and put your hands behind your back,” shouted Dugan. “We’ll kill anybody who doesn’t drop.”
The panicked customers did as told and soon the floor was carpeted with scores of terrified, splayed bodies.
Diamond Jimmy Tea headed for the lock box where the cash was kept and started to scoop it up, but never finished. A single shot fired from behind the piano found a home in Tea’s tiny brain.
The blast came from the one man in the room who didn’t obey the orders to hit the deck – Big Blake Ivory, who had his own S & W Military and Police 38 special.
Croaker Kelly and Fingers Dugan directed a rain of fire towards the large man crouching behind the piano. Outnumbered two guns to one, things looked dire for Big Blake. Of the nearly 200 other people in the room, not one dared to get up and face the killers.
The shots kept coming at the brave Ivory, with Croaker and Fingers edging closer to him by the second.
Soon the death shots were fired – not at Big Blake Ivory, but at Croaker Kelly; who fell while clutching his chest where a blossom of red rapidly stained his shirt. Chief Don Jose Alvarado was the marksman. He had been upstairs with Big Red. After hearing the gunfire, he threw his pants on and joined the fray as quickly as he could.
The last gangster standing, Fingers Dugan, had strangle holds on two girls as he backed his way out of the piano lounge, towards the door.
Frustrated, Big Blake didn’t have a clean shot so he held his fire. Don Jose also was unable to discharge his weapon for fear of hitting the girls.
Fingers kept backing up towards the exit. He was within twenty feet of it, when young Chalky Hidalgo blocked the doorway; his fist filled with his white handled Remington 1875 SSA, Single Action Army revolver.
Chalky fired high. The slug went soaring into the ceiling – exactly where the sandy haired deputy had intended it to go. Startled at the gunfire behind him, the retreating killer relaxed his grip. The two girls were able to break away. Freed of the fear of hitting the women, Chalky put his next round directly into the feeble gray matter of Fingers Dugan.
“Nice shooting Chalk!” said a grateful Don Jose. “How’d you know what was going on? With the storm outside, you couldn’t have heard the shooting.”
“As soon as you went downstairs, Miss Red telephoned me at the jailhouse,” responded Chalky. “She said you might need some help.”
While the sheriff, Chalky, and two more recently arrived deputies started the grim task of identifying bodies and tending to the wounded, Divitt Brant joined his gang in the opposite wing of the building.
“There’s been a little adjustment of the plan boys. Forget about the piano lounge and the gambling room – it’s too risky. We’re just going to grab the proceeds from the main bar and then duck out the back door. Have your guns ready but don’t shoot unless I give the order.”
“What’s up?” queried Dart, “Why the change? And if we go out the back, how are the other guys going to be able to join up with us?”
“I think that the crossfire coming from the other side means that the citizens in the East Room fought back. Fingers and the other two are either dead or captured. Unless we want the same, we are going to have to move fast. We’ll walk up to the bar with our guns drawn, make them hand over the receipts and make a fast getaway.”
Without encountering opposition the four remaining gangsters collected five sacks of folding money and then three others that were bulging with gold coins. Clutching the loot and shooting indiscriminately into the panicked crowd, they fled the building following Brant’s lead to the getaway car.
The continuous, heavy rain was turning the road into a bathtub. With floodwaters edging up to the hubcaps of the whitewall tires, the beefy Packard grudgingly slogged down Main Street. Heading towards Pistol Hill, Brant intended to connect with Interstate 44 and then on to Route 35 towards Texas and Mexico.
Straining to be heard over the din caused by the pounding rain beating on the car, Dart shouted…“So Divitt, you’re pretty sure that Fingers and the others were caught and killed?”
“Sure Dart. From all those gunshots back and forth, it’s obvious that they got into trouble.”
“And that’s why we changed the plan?” Dart queried, his face presenting a look of doubt.
“Course that’s why we changed it. No sense us getting croaked too!”
“The only problem with what you’re saying Divitt, is that you moved the car behind the building and it was supposed to be out front. It seems like maybe you figured from the beginning that those guys were not going to make it out alive. Looks like you sacrificed them.”
“Well what if I did!” Divitt suddenly raged. “The place was too big. There was no way we could have knocked if off without using Fingers, Croaker, and Tea as a diversion.”
“You guys have got nothing to complain about,” he added. “We’ve got probably ten grand or more and now we only have to split four ways, not seven.”
For the moment nothing further was said, but Dart, Kid Utica and Smoke Tarrette shared a single thought – Brant had callously sacrificed the other three members of the gang.
They recalled too, the stories they had heard of how Brant had killed his partner Roll Stockdale by cheating in a duel. Without speaking, each knew the mind of the other two. They were not going to give Divitt Brant a chance to double cross them.
The powerful car inched forward – weighed down by its four occupants and impeded by a road that had become a waterway.
Ultimately, about half way up Pistol Hill, the mighty twin six cylinder motor could push the vehicle no further.
Brant gunned the accelerator but it only made the wheels spin so fast in their muddy ruts that the rubber began to melt.
The car began to creep sideways on the road, swerving toward the narrow shoulder leading to a drop-off of better than 500 feet.
Realizing that the Packard had become useless, Brant ordered the others to pick up the loot and start walking. It took less than five minutes to realize that staying with the vehicle until the weather cleared was a better option.
Back at the Whiz Bang House, the sheriff had discovered that the carnage in the East Room was nothing more than an inhuman smokescreen, touched off so that the other members of the gang could easily plunder the rest of the establishment.
As he was sorting out the dead while Doc Galen tended to the wounded, Sheriff Don Jose Alvarado promised that he’d hunt down whoever was responsible for the bloodbath and have them hanging in the town square by Sunday night.
With Chalky and Alvarado in the lead car, a quickly organized posse of 14 automobiles containing two persons in each, fired up their engines in front of the Whiz Bang Theater and took off in pursuit of the killers.
In single file the motorcade and its band of 28 angry men struggled to make headway against a swiftly moving river that hours ago, before the rain, had been Main Street. The straining cars thrashed through hubcap deep waters, leaving behind a bubbly, foaming wake.
At midnight, three hours after the firing of the first shots, the posse was creeping towards the half way point of Pistol Hill. The rain had lessened and there were breaks in the clouds, allowing for an occasional glimpse of a moon so new that it was barely a sliver.
Less than a quarter mile in front of them, splayed on the side of the soggy road dangerously near the drop off, was the Packard with the four fugitives.
“Hey Divitt, the rain has almost stopped. Why don’t you start the engine and see if we can get moving again?” suggested Kid Utica.
Smoke Tarrette added his weight to the recommendation.
“The road is still too muddy,” grunted Divitt Brant. “We have to wait another four or five hours before it will be safe enough to travel.”
“If we try to move the car now, we could end up slipping off the ledge,” cautioned Dart Davis. “I’ll get out of the car and take a closer look.”
His shoes squishing into ankle deep mud, the wiry Dart crept gingerly towards the rear tires to see how near to the edge they actually were. As he noted that the car was less than two feet from the cliff, he saw something else.
In the darkness below, it looked like somebody had hung an enormous string of Christmas tree lights. A long unbroken set of twinkling white circles was draped across the roadway less than a mile away. Quickly Dart realized that the glowing pinpoints of illumination were car headlights – the posse!
“Brant, Kid, Smoke! Get out here quick!”
As the trio spilled from the Packard, Dart explained the state of affairs.
“The only cars that would be out tonight are ones that are looking for us,” he reasoned.
Taking command of the troupe, he ordered the others, including Divitt Brant, to mask the car.
“Cover all mirrors, headlights, and anything that can reflect light,” he ordered. “We have the advantage because we can see them and they don’t know that we’re here. We’ll wait until they get within about fifty feet and then open fire.”
When the job was done they counted their weapons. Between them they tallied 12 handguns and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Smoke Tarrette spoke for all of them when he said he wished they had thought to bring along a few machine guns.
“We’ll be okay,” said Divitt Brant hopefully, brushing aside the rain from his hairy, bearlike face.
“Brant’s right,” Dart affirmed, “There’s no light coming from that new ‘sliver moon’ so there’s almost total darkness. We’ll be invisible and have the element of surprise on our side. Let’s get set up down the road a bit, where there are trees to hide behind. Brant and I will stand about thirty feet apart and shoot from one side of the road. Smoke; you and Kid Utica will do the same on the other side. Put a gun in each hand and use ‘em both.
They don’t know how many men we’ve got. They’ll figure that they are up against at least eight guys.”
Like a crawling funeral procession the fourteen car posse inched up Pistol Hill fighting against the pounding, wind-swept rainstorm. The lead vehicle, piloted by Don Jose Alvarado, began to cough and sputter.
“What’s wrong Sheriff? Why is the car conking out?” The questions came from deputy Chalky Hidalgo sitting in the passenger side, his Remington poised and ready for action.
“It’s the rain Chalk. The water has soaked the ignition wires. We’ve been acting as a plow, taking the worst of the deluge and shielding the other vehicles. We’re going to have to fall back. I’ll pull over and let Bart Tremmers’ car take the lead.”
After a pause of a few minutes to discuss the problem, Deputy Tremmers put his vehicle in the lead position. At his side was the other regular deputy, Aaron Jones.
Under the partial cover afforded by a grove of Redbud trees, the engine wires of the sheriff’s car dried slightly. The hacking and belching of the Model T’s four cylinders began to diminish as the sturdy little auto fought to regain its full complement of 20 horsepower.
Flicking his headlamps by a prearranged signal, a slot opened up and Don Jose slid his Ford into the seventh space of the slow moving line.
“When we get to the top of the hill, Bart is going to stop and we will retake the lead,” Alvarado explained to Chalky.
The sheriff had no idea that he would not be reaching the crest, for his quarry was just ahead with guns ready, waiting to attack. As the pinpoints of light beneath them gradually became larger, the four desperadoes fortified themselves behind Redbud trees. The Redbuds, with their small trunks and arching limbs were poor barriers against bullets, but the hardy little 30 foot trees were the only cover available on the narrow shoulders of the steep roadway.
Divitt Brant and Dart Davis secreted themselves to the left of the oncoming procession. Smoke and the Kid were veiled by the slim arbors to the right. The lead car inched closer to the groves shielding the fugitives.
The torment had stopped and the sky was clear but opaque. The new ‘sliver moon’ failed to send even a tiny slice of illumination that could warn the posse of the imminent ambush.
When the lead Model T was so near that it was about to pass beyond him, Divitt Brant opened fire. Alternating rounds triggered from both his hands quickly found homes in the flesh of Deputies Tremmers and Jones who died without having a chance to clear leather.
Almost before the sharp report of Brant’s pistols faded away, the two men in the second car quickly met the same fate when Dart Davis opened up on them.
By that time the two dozen men in the remaining twelve vehicles had their weapons drawn and were desperately, blindly firing through open car windows, in the general direction of the shots.
In the confusion, Kid Utica and Smoke Tarrette threaded their way downwards through the stand of slim trees to launch an attack on the occupants of the third and fourth cars. Although able to squeeze off a few shots, four more citizens of the posse came to the same quick death that took the first four.
From his position in the seventh car, Sheriff Alvarado realized the intent of the killers to pick off the posse one car at a time. He jumped from the Ford and dashed for the protection of the Redbud trees, ordering everyone else to do the same.
Don Jose’s decision to seek shelter in the grove leveled the battlefield and halted the sitting-duck slaughter which had claimed eight of his force of 28.
During the next few hours shots rang back and forth between the quartet of killers and the posse. After four more of his number had been killed and three wounded by the blind, but lucky firing of the gang, Don Jose ordered a retreat.
He sent everyone except for himself and Chalky back to Whiz Bang City.
Just before the first rays of the dawning morning began to brighten the distant horizon, the caravan of retreating vehicles inched its way backwards down the hill. With their lights off, and a volley of cover provided by the pistols of Chalky and Don Jose, the procession made good its escape with no further bloodshed.
The sheriff was fairly sure that the efforts of his posse had claimed the life of at least one of the killers. He didn’t know how many there were, but he reasoned that there must be about five in the gang – at most six.
The old soldier in him prompted the ‘Don’ to remember his days with Pancho Villa. The general’s force of 10,000 men had been unable to claim victory that day. Almost half of Villa’s men were killed in the melee and the other half either surrendered or turned traitor – leaving Villa with just 200 men still faithful to him.
The 200, led by Don Jose himself, managed to do more damage to the enemy than had the whole army. It was the bee sting attack that he organized, that turned the trick.
Don Jose ordered the posse back because there were too many men, presenting too large a target in too narrow a space. He was certain that he and Chalky stood a better chance by themselves.
He formed a plan and started to tell his deputy about it when he realized there were two cars in the mucky road, yet he had sent back all but his own Model T.
The door of the second car swung open and a large, dark man emerged with a six-gun in each hand.
“I started to leave, but I got to thinking you might need me.”
It was Big Blake Ivory. He had chosen to return and fight along with the sheriff.
“Why’d you send us back Don Jose?” wondered Ivory.
“The men were ready to fold Blake. Almost half our posse was killed and those still alive were terrified. With the arrival of dawn, there would have been too many visible targets. We’d have lost six or eight more men in less than an hour. We’re better off with a smaller, focused group.”
“I get it Don Jose. Before the sun starts hitting us here, I’m going to try and sneak up the hill a little bit and see if I can learn anything about what we’re up against.”
Before the sheriff could say a word against the plan, the brave piano man had already begun silently slithering towards the killers.
Moving as nimbly as a tight-rope walker despite being well over six feet tall with a bulk of more than 260 pounds, Blake threaded through the trees until he saw the outline of a hulking Packard luxury sedan.
Ducking behind a clump of Redbud trees, his sharp eyes scanned the area. It was a few minutes before daybreak – the time where there are no shadows and no direct light: only a glow emanating from the atmosphere picking up rays from below the horizon and sending them indirectly towards the earth.
In the distinctive, ephemeral dimness he spied the shapes of three men silhouetted against the brightening Redbud grove.
Each of Blake’s large hands grasped a Remington 1875 – a white handled revolver just like the weapon favored by Don Jose. Carefully he sighted down the barrels, lining them up with the two closest figures.
He pulled the triggers and waited for the sound of the gun and the clouds of powder smoke. He heard nothing but empty clicks. Both weapons had misfired due to being soaked during the rainstorms and the flooding.
Dropping quickly to the ground Blake scampered back towards Don Jose and Chalky. He was expecting to be fired upon but apparently the noise of the trigger clicks had been cloaked by the brisk wind.
Soon, the gun toting piano player reached Don Jose and gave a report of what had happened.
“Unless somebody was hiding out somewhere else, there are only three of them,” smiled Don Jose. “That makes things pretty even. Good work Blake. After we make sure that our weapons are still in working order, we’ll start up the hill and capture or kill that trio.”
Meanwhile back at the side of the Packard, the three silhouettes, who were Dart Davis, Divitt Brant and Kid Utica, were still waiting for the road to dry out enough to drive off.
The fourth gang member, Smoke Terrette was killed shortly after the start of the shooting.
Brant was in no hurry to leave and Dart agreed that they should wait a while longer before attempting to mount the hill. He pointed out that the sky was darkening again and the rains might resume.
“We’re better off in this spot for a while Kid, instead of chancing getting the car stuck for good somewhere else,”
Nervous and jumpy, Kid Utica wanted to set out immediately. He started bemoaning the history of Pistol Hill.
“You don’t know it Brant but the sheriff of Whiz Bang city is even colder than you. There used to be a lot of robberies up here. It was easy money. You could just sit on the hill and wait for some old clunker to stall out at the top and grab some easy money.
After a couple of the suckers got knocked off, that sheriff started lying in wait and when he captured some of the guys robbing the cars, he strung ‘em up here right on the spot. No trial. – no chance to escape.
He just hung those guys instantly and then left ‘em swinging till they rotted and fell off the ropes. I don’t want to end up like that I’m getting out!”
Brant listened with increasing anger as the Kid got more and more agitated. Finally, Divitt looked over at Kid Utica and said, “Okay. You can go,” as he drew his pistol and shot the Kid three times in the head.
The sounds of those shots sent the sheriff and his men to the ground. They drew their weapons and waited for more gunfire.
“I don’t think that was meant for us”, speculated Chalky.
“Perhaps there was a little disagreement among the trio,” offered Big Blake.
“Well that would be nice,” added the sheriff. “It would bring the odds down even more. Blake, I want you to do me a favor. Will you go back to town and fetch us some fresh weapons from the cabinet in the jailhouse – more ammo too. Grab eight or ten boxes of bullets and bring them back.”
Blake reluctantly agreed and drove for town.
Chalky asked Don Jose why he sent Blake off since they have plenty of weapons and ammunition, after taking them from the deputized men who left earlier.
“Bee sting Chalk. Bee sting,” was the only response he got.
Chalky persisted and Don Jose said that their weapons had become unreliable due to being wet. He claimed that the proof of it was what happened to Big Blake.
Chalky didn’t know that Ivory’s guns were the only ones who had actually been submerged under water. This had happened when one of the cars had become stuck in a deep puddle. When Blake sunk to his knees to literally lift the car to higher ground, his guns had been soaked under water.
A few moments later Don Jose ordered Chalky to stay behind. He went alone to confront the killers, snaking his way towards the spot where Blake said the Packard was parked.
As he neared to within 20 feet, he climbed upon a rock that gave him a clear shot downwards into the Packard where he saw that the two thugs were sitting in the front seat.
The thunderclouds were slowly dissipating. A swath of sun suddenly illuminated the rock on which Alvarado stood with his gun trained on Brant.
A ray of bright light bounced off the barrel of Don Jose’s Remington, and the resulting bright flash drew Dart Davis’ watchful eyes. He turned his head and saw the sheriff drawing his bead. Davis fired two rapid snap shots. Alvarado was hit and he fell.
The two murderers dashed from the car to finish off the sheriff. He had been hit on the right side of his body, both in his leg and his shooting arm.
As he writhed on the ground, the killers prepared for the finish. “I’ll take care of this,” announced Dart as he waved his pistol back and forth in sync to the thrashing of the sheriff who was desperately trying with his left hand to draw his weapon.
Watching in eager anticipation, Divitt Brant heard gunfire, but was shocked when the sheriff continued to thrash around in the dirt, while Dart Davis crumpled to the ground.
“Hands up or I’ll shoot,” came a command from behind him. It was Chalky Hidalgo speaking. Ignoring the order to stay behind, he had not reached the battle in tine to save Don Jose from being shot, but he was there soon enough to blast Davis before he could finish the sheriff off.
“I said drop your gun and put your hands up,” Chalky repeated.
“I’m not gonna hang here kid – and you’re not takin’ me in,”
Divitt Brant whirled around quickly to face Chalky. He raised his gun in a blur and fired a single shot – not at Chalky but into his own twisted brain. Divitt Brant committed suicide rather than face justice.
Don Jose was losing blood fast from his leg wound. The injury to the arm seemed was less severe, but blood was gushing from the leg. Chalky used his belt as a tourniquet and managed to stem the flow.
As he was debating whether the Sheriff would survive the trip into town a car drove up. Big Blake Ivory had returned. Even better, he had Doc Galen with him.
After a preliminary examination Doc Galen told Chalky and Blake to load the sheriff into the car and take him back to his medical office.
After two days with his life in the balance, Don Jose opened his eyes and spoke two words, “What happened?”
Doc Galen filled him in on the details of how Chalky had saved him and how Brant had avoided the hangman by killing himself.
A number of people had been waiting outside Doc’s office to visit with the sheriff, but were not allowed inside during the time Don Jose was unconscious.
Among the group were Big Red and Vickie Larken who regarded each other politely but with the coolness that a prizefighter reserves for a formidable opponent.
Doc Galen allowed each visitor, in turn, five minutes with the sheriff before he sent them all away. Before they left, both Vickie Larken and Big Red told the sheriff that they wanted to care for Don Jose at their respective residences.
Over the next day or so tensions mounted between the two women as they vied for the rights to have Don Jose recuperate in their homes and in their tender embrace.
“Doc, you’re headed for trouble if you turn the Sheriff over to either one of those women.” The advice came from Ma Glockner who had been preparing the meals for both Doc and Don Jose.
“I know that you’re right Ma. Either way I’m going to turn one of them into an enemy and maybe set the stage for the biggest catfight this town has ever seen. It’s going to be weeks, maybe even months before he can get back to work. He’s got to have some place to stay.”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing Doc. I think you should have him stay at my place. It’s neutral. The two ladies can come visit him without being able to claim ownership of him.”
Doc Galen agreed to the plan and Don Jose was installed in the apartment over Ma Glockner’s restaurant. Mrs. Larkin and Big Red were assigned a schedule of when they could visit and things worked out pretty well.
Chalky was given the job of ‘acting’ sheriff and the whole town agreed that the young hero was more than suited for the position. There was no spike in criminal activity during the period of the sheriff’s recovery.
There was however increasing tension between the two women, who had taken the ‘gloves off’ and confronted each other.
They both admitted they wanted to settle down with Don Jose and raise a bunch of little Don Joses.
After a few weeks the sheriff was improved enough so that he could partially resume his duties. He began spending an hour or two at the jailhouse each day.
He also began spending an hour or two at Vickie Larken’s house and another hour or two with Big Red at the Whiz Bang House.
Vickie Larken knew Don Jose was also seeing Big Red and Big Red likewise knew that the Sheriff was seeing Vickie Larken.
During this time, Jed Bartlett started to become a frequent visitor to the Whiz Bang House.
The oil companies had recently appointed him sheriff of the neighboring town of Carter Nine,
Bartlett had first come to the Whiz Bang House to do some gambling and perhaps check out some of Big Red’s girls who were said to be the finest in Osage County, but when he saw Big Red, his eyes were stuck to her and he never gave so much as a glance to any of the other women.
He began lavishing gifts on Big Red and Red started encouraging him. More than one cowpoke claimed to have seen Red and Jed locked in a moonlight embrace.
Word of this got back to Don Jose, which was exactly what Red had hoped for. Jealousy did what Red’s ample charms could not – prompt Don Jose to choose her over Vickie.
But on the very day that the sheriff was going to tell her that, Jed Bartlett told Red that he was about to arrest Don Jose.
“I’ve got a warrant for his arrest. I’m going to bring him back to Carter Nine. He’s going to have to stand trial.”
“What did he do,” Red asked.
“He’s a no good crook Red! He stole $2500 from Sassy Chancy who ran “Sassy Chancy’s Fancy Parlour” in Carter Nine a couple years ago. There was a fire in her building and when she opened her safe to get her money to safety, he slapped her around and took her cash.
I found the old arrest warrant when I started sifting through the files shortly after I got appointed as sheriff.”
As they sat at a table near Big Blake Ivory’s piano and Bartlett said he was going to serve the warrant that very day, Don Jose and Doc Galen walked in and sat at an adjacent table.
Bartlett told Don Jose that he had a warrant for his arrest. Don Jose looked at the warrant and admitted that he did take the money.
“That was years ago Bartlett. I did take the money. Her place was burning to the ground. She was panicked. She took the cash out of her safe and was running around in circles while the burning ceiling beams were crashing to the floor.
I ran out of the building with her and her money in tow. I stole her money that day but I also saved her life. I ran for my horse and fled to the hills. When I woke up in the morning by the side of a stream, I had slept off the whiskey of the day before.
I went back to Carter Nine and found Sassy Chancy and gave her all of her money back. The judge dropped all charges against me.”
“It’s no good Alvarado. You can’t talk your way outta this. I got a warrant and it’s still good. I’m taking you in today, dead or alive.
As the two argued, things got hotter and louder by the second. The town started buzzing with the news of a possible gunfight. Everybody knew how fast Don Jose was and word was out that Jed Bartlett also was as fast on the draw as lightning.
It was obvious that neither man was going to back down. The Whiz Bang house was quickly filled to capacity by cowpokes, oil workers, and anybody else who wanted to see a gun duel and bloodshed. An overflow throng lined both sides of Main Street, anticipating that the wide roadway would be the arena of the gun battle.
Bets were being made by everyone in the city including spinsters and widows. The odds were slightly in favor of Don Jose.
“Shut up a minute Jed!” Big Red commanded as the tension continued to escalate. “I’ll go over and have a talk with Don Jose and see if we can settle this matter without you guys killing each other.”
Jed Bartlett grabbed Red and pulled her back to her chair as she tried to go to Don Jose – but suddenly Bartlett found himself sailing through the air and landing hard, next to the piano.
As soon as Jed had grabbed Red, Big Blake intervened, leaving his piano and grabbing Jed by the collar, pitching him to the floor like a horseshoe.
“You stay there on the floor mister and don’t try nothing. Miss Red is going to speak with Don Jose. You will not move until I say so. Do you understand?”
Bartlett took one look at the hulking figure above him and rapidly decided that he wasn’t going to tangle with the huge piano man. Jed wondered how anybody with fists as big as hams and fingers that looked like tree branches could play the piano as skillfully as he did.
“Okay Blake, Miss Red can speak with Alvarado with no interference from me. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to sit in my chair rather than continue mopping up the sawdust.’
Blake made no objection as Bartlett sat down. Jed felt relieved and decided that he had been able to retrieve a bit of his dignity by getting up instead of cowering to the big guy by lying prostrate among the discarded cigar and cigarette butts littering the floorboards.
Doc Galen silently moved to another table as Red sat down with Don Jose. Her emotions were taking control of her and it was difficult to think. She started to speak but was interrupted…
“Red, I came here today to ask you to marry me. I like Vicky Larken a lot, but I’ve realized that you are the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I love you Red.”
With all two hundred patrons looking on, the Sheriff and the Madam locked into a passionate embrace. The kiss lasted a full two minutes, according to witnesses, and was only broken up when the enraged Jed Bartlett flew across from his seat and dove right between the lovers, knocking the table over, as well as Red and the Sheriff.
The men came up swinging. Jed had the advantage. As Alvarado lay on his back on the floor, Bartlett ground his knees into Don Jose’s midsection and started flaying alternating lefts and rights to the face.
Don Jose absorbed half a dozen solid punches before he was able to spin on his side and reach up and grab the long pony tail worn by his foe. He slammed Bartlett’s head against the floorboards. The cushion provided by the layer of sawdust and litter on the wooden planks, saved Jed from being knocked unconscious and he scrambled to his feet.
With arms extended, the fighters circled each other, sending out scout jabs in search of a clear shot; when Blake stepped in between and stopped them. He tried to get them to resolve the conflict without bloodshed, but neither man would listen.
“If it’s going to be blood,” said Big Blake, “then you two best be getting outside on the street to do your business.”
With a malevolent stare at Don Jose, Jed Bartlett strode swiftly through the batwing doors.
“I’ll be out in one minute Bartlett. I have to tell everybody something. Folks, after Bartlett and I conclude our business, you are all invited to a wedding. Miss Red and I are going to be married right here in the Whiz Bang House. Tell the cooks to start preparing a feast for tonight there’ll be a ceremony unlike any that’s ever been had in our town.”
To the cheers of the two hundred people seated and standing at the bar, Sheriff Don Jose Alvarado happily walked out to Main Street, where Jed Bartlett was waiting for him – his hands poised an inch above his twin six-shooters.
Confidently Jed Bartlett strode to the arena. He took note of the weather, for it was important in a gun battle to the death, to gain the advantage of unimpeded vision. If a man could force his foe to fight with his eyes squinting into the sun, he had a significant advantage.
It being a typical autumn day in Osage County, there was however, little sun that September afternoon. The temperature was 59 degrees. Though it was several hours before sunset, the sky was as murky as the pre-dawn. Angry, puffy clouds smeared with gray splotches were being pushed down from the limestone hills at ten miles an hour. A thunderstorm, one of the 50 or more to hit the Osage each year, was most likely going to charge in right behind. The nasty clouds looked dirtier than the apron of a barkeep in one-bit bar.
Bartlett had the confidence and reflexes of youth in his favor. Ten years younger than Don Jose, he considered that the sheriff of Whiz Bang had probably lost a thousandth of a second from his quick draw. Jed figured that tiny fraction would take enough off Alvarado’s speed that he could beat him.
Jed had the two things a gunfighter needs for success; speed and accuracy. Speed matters little if a gunman can’t hit his target. In Barlett’s case, he could outdraw just about anybody around Carter Nine, and his first bullet never failed to find flesh.
The one thing he didn’t have was experience. He had gunned down more than a dozen men, but most were drunks or farmers who couldn’t really handle a gun. Compared to a sodbuster or an oil hand, he was fast – but Don Jose had proven his speed against some of the swiftest gunfighters in the land.
Jed’s confidence began to flag. He considered making a run for his horse and going back to Carter Nine. But the stakes were too high. The winner of the skirmish would be able to lay claim to both Whiz Bang and Carter Nine. The spoils also would include the lovely Big Red and her Whiz Bang House – for the man who owned Red would also get to be lord of the funhouse. He decided he had no choice but to face Don Jose Alvarado – but he didn’t have to fight fair!
Back inside the Whiz Bang House, the Don and Red were locked in a final embrace.
“I’d best be getting out there and take care of business Red. You wait here for me. I’ll be back before you know it and we’ll start planning the wedding ceremony for real. I promise it.”
Checking his twin pearl handled 1875 Remingtons, he shoved his way through the swinging doors and walked out onto the street. He didn’t have to wait for his eyes to adjust because it was darker outdoors than it had been at Big Red’s table.
He noticed that the hordes of onlookers completely filled the street. But they had moved away from Jed Bartlett leaving a wide space behind and on either side of him. The open space extended across the street to the boardwalk in front of the Whiz Bang house where he was standing. Don Jose thought that the cleared out section looked like a giant horse shoe pit and he and Jed were the stakes.
He didn’t have much time to think about this however, for without warning and against the Code of the West, Jed Bartlett drew both of his Colt 45s and started firing at him.
Don Jose felt the pain immediately. He was hit twice. Amazingly, Jed’s aim was not fatal. It was worse than fatal. The slugs had landed in his arms – one in his left elbow and one in his right fore-arm.
He was unable to draw either of his twins.
Jed Bartlett, a wild grimace on his face, advanced slowly. The wounds prevented Don Jose from using his weapons, but he was able to scramble for cover under a merchandise table and dry goods display on the boardwalk in front of Jordan’s Mercantile.
Bartlett took aim and fired at the table.
The sturdy Oak boards and the boxes on top of it repelled his shot. Angered that the shell wouldn’t penetrate the wood, he aimed downwards. The table only protected the sheriff from the knees up, leaving his legs exposed.
Bartlett fired four times, twice from each Colt. Four slugs shattered the legs of Don Jose. Blood was streaming from the sheriff’s leg wounds and also from the two slugs in his arms.
Suddenly, Big Red bolted through the batwing doors of the Whiz Bang House. Her crimson hair flying like the mane of a racing mare, she darted straight for Jed Bartlett, with a tiny derringer in her hand.
Taken unaware, Jed stared in shock as Big Red blasted off two shots from her little pocket pistol. One went wide, but the other caught him in the left arm.
“You filthy witch, I loved you,” he cursed as he deposited two cartridges into Red’s heart. She fell to the ground and died without being able to utter a word.
When Don Jose saw Red go down, he somehow forced his shattered arms to move shakily to his Remingtons. Using the table top as a holder and a site, he began firing at Bartlett.
His accuracy was off and he wasn’t able to put Jed down, but he did put one in his arm, one in his side and a third in his left thigh.
Still on his feet Bartlett charged forward.
Due to the three slugs from the Don and one from Big Red, his charge was actually more like a turtle’s shamble than a dash
Don Jose wasn’t in much better shape. Light headed from the loss of blood from his six wounds, the Don’s aim was unstable, yet he was able to snap off two more rounds before he lost consciousness.
Bartlett fell into the dirt of Main Street. A widening red pool of blood formed around his prostrate form.
As the last wisps of gunsmoke were blown away by the breeze from the limestone hills, an eerie silence descended upon the town. The hundreds of people who had watched the fierce battle were quieter than the town church on a Saturday night.
Jed Bartlett, the Sheriff of Tombstone lay motionless in front of Jordan’s Mercantile, his blood saturating the hard packed dirt of the street.
Don Jose Alvarado, the Sheriff of Whiz Bang City, lay unmoving on the boardwalk by the merchandise table, his blood painting the rough planks a bright crimson.
For what seemed like minutes, nobody moved. Suddenly, Chalky arrived and pushed his way through the crowd. He went first to Big Red who had fallen on her back after being shot twice in the chest.
Seeing almost immediately that she was gone, he dashed to the unmoving body of Sheriff Alvarado. As he was examining the Don for signs of life, Big Blake came up behind him.
“Is he dead Chalk?”
“He’s still breathing Blake. Let’s get him to Doc Galen’s office.
To the crowd he commanded, “Somebody find Doc and tell him what happened and get him to come to the office right away.”
To Blake, he added, “Go check on Bartlett and see if he’s still alive.”
“He’s shot up pretty bad Chalk, but he’s breathiing. He killed Miss Red, so I’m going to finish him off.”
Blake drew a colt from his waistband and pointed it at the unconscious man’s head. He drew back the trigger….
“No Blake. You can’t shoot him. That would be murder. I’d have to arrest you and you’d hang. He’s a no good, dry gulching murderer, but I can’t let you kill him. Get a couple guys to take him up to Doc’s office. We’ll patch him up and then later on we’ll hang him for the murder of Big Red.”
Six hours later, Doc Galen, assisted by Ma Glockner acting as his nurse, had succeeded in removing six slugs from Don Jose and six more from Jed Bartlett.
With the two unconscious patients in bunks on opposite walls of his treatment room, Doc stepped into his outer office where a large group of interested citizens awaited him, including Deputy Chalky Hidlago, Blake Ivory and Vicky Larkin.
“Don Jose is still alive. He’s badly hurt, but he’s going to make a full recovery,” the doctor reported.
The group received that news happily, but something else was on their minds. – “What about that no good rat Jed Bartlett?” demanded several people at the same time.
“Bartlett’s alive. He took six slugs and he’s in worse shape than Don Jose because one of those bullets hit an artery. If he’s lucky he’ll pull through.”
“No Doc, if he’s lucky he’ll die in bed in your office, cause if he lives we’re going to string him up for killing Miss Red,” vowed Big Blake Ivory.
“I’ve got some sad news to say about that,” interrupted Deputy Chalky Hidalgo.
“What are you saying Chalk? Ain’t we going to hang him?” wondered Blake.
“It looks like we can’t. I’ve been contacted by the U.S. Marshall’s office in Oklahoma City. The government is pretty upset about what happened. They’re in a snit after hearing that two Osage County peace officers were trying to kill eachother in a shootout on Main Street. They’re sending a real U.S. Marshall and a judge to Whiz Bang to investigate.”
“Let ‘em come,” said Vicky Larken. “Sheriff Alvarado’s in the clear. That no good Bartlett drew on him with no warning. Don Jose had every right to fight back.”
“Course that’s true Mrs. Larken.” Chalkie agreed, “But the case is getting complicated. Sheriff Alvarado was cleared in that robbery case. That’s a fact. A judge found him not guilty, but they failed to rescind the arrest warrant, so Bartlett had the right to serve it.”
“Even if that’s accurate,’ offered Big Blake, “he had no right to murder Miss Red.”
“Well that’s a problem too Blake. Big Red fired twice before he gunned her. She fired first, so the Marshall up in OK-C said that we got no charges against Bartlett on that score. The killing was self defense – 100 per cent legal.”
The mood of the dozen people crowded into Doc Galen’s office soured at this unexpected news. They advised Doc to withhold treatment and let Bartlett die.
“You know I can’t do that,” Doc said. “I’ve sworn an oath to save life, not take it. It doesn’t matter that Jed Bartlett is a no good, ambushing rodent. I still have to give him the best medical treatment I can and I’m going to do it.”
“Okay Doc. You got your job to do. We understand that, we just hope that in this one particular case, you’re not as good as you usually are.”
“Thanks Chalky,” Doc responded. “I’ve got to go home and get some sleep. Will you do me a favor and stand guard here tonight. I’ll be back by seven in the morning.”
“I can’t do it Doc. You know that while Don Jose was recovering from the shootout with the Divitt Brant gang, things were pretty quiet in town, so he didn’t get around to replacing the deputies that we lost on Pistol Hill. I’m all by myself and I gotta get ready to meet the Judge and the Oklahoma City Marshall. They’ll be meeting me at the jailhouse first thing in the morning.”
Reluctantly, Doctor Galen went home and left his office unattended with the two wounded men inside.
The housekeeping staff at the Whiz Bang began gathering up Miss Red’s belongings shortly after they heard the news that she had been killed. Big Red had given them prior instructions as to what to do if anything ever happened to her.
She had ordered that her clothing, jewels, furniture, and accessories be divided among her ‘girls’. She left a will in her top bureau drawer, with a copy at her lawyer’s office.
Elena Bella Blanco, the head of housekeeping, took the will to her room where she happily noted that Miss Red had left each of her workers a cash gift of $1,000.
The last few lines shocked her. She had to find Big Blake, the piano man.
Blake was discussing the fate of Jed Bartlett at his piano bar in the East Room. His instrument was the only grand piano in Osage County – all the rest were the typical honky-tonk uprights. It easily accommodated the dozen sets of plates and glasses that were laid out on top of it, around the sides and back.
Vicky Larkin was seated next to Blake’s piano stool. Chalky was next to Vicky. Nine more close friends of Red and Don Jose, completed the group. They were growing angrier by the moment, that Jed Barltett was still alive and wouldn’t have to face murder charges.
His face twisted by anger, Blake shouted…“Chalky, I was going to put that rat’s lights out forever. You stopped me because you said the law would take care of him. Now it seems like the law won’t do it; so it’s up to us.”
Before he could say anything else, he was interrupted by Elena Bella who shouted…
“Blake. I’ve got Miss Red’s last will and testament and you need to read it.”
She handed the paper to Blake and he silently perused it. Tears clogged his eyes, preventing him from finishing. Gently, he placed the document on the piano and Vicky Larkin picked it up. She scanned it for a minute and read…
“I leave all my money, except for that which I have given to my other employees, to Mr. Blake Ivory, for his faithful service, without which I never would have been able to sustain and build the business of the Whiz Bang House.”
“That’s as plain as spinster Jane’s underwear,” commented Doc Galen, “Blake, you are now the owner of the Whiz Bang House. Congratulations my friend, you deserve it.”
Big Blake, probably the strongest man in Osage County, could say nothing. He was crying louder than a new born baby.
“I’d give it away in a second if it would bring that dear lady back,” snuffled Blake. “Now more than ever, I have to kill Jed Bartlett. When that Marshall and the Judge come here in the morning they’re going to find a dead Jed!”
“I sure do agree with you,” Chalky allowed, “but as a lawman I can’t abide something like that.”
“I agree with you too,” said Doc Galen. “If I had known it was going to turn out this way, I might not have been so eager to uphold my sworn oath. I’ll say one thing to you Blake, and I’m not encouraging anything you understand but….”
“What Doc? What are you saying?”
“Only this, Blake – and I want everyone here gathered around this piano to hear it. The door to my office is not locked. If anybody such as a judge or a Marshall should happen to ask me any questions tomorrow, the answer is simply, I forgot to lock the door.
Ma Glockner spoke. Her long silver hair shined brightly from the many Edison electric bulbs placed near the piano. With a faint smile decorating her face which still held great beauty, despite her age of well over sixty, she advised Blake…. “Blake. You’re the owner of this establishment now. You’re going to be one of the most important men in the entire county, and the first man with roots in Africa, to have such a lofty position in Oklahoma. Don’t jeopardize it my friend by an act of needless revenge.”
“With all due respect Mrs. Glockner, what do you mean by needless revenge? That varmint Bartlett needs killing more than almost anybody that ever lived.”
“Dear Blake, I agree with you completely. I simply mean that as good as our wonderful Doctor Galen is, there is only so much he can do. Doc had to put more than a hundred stitches into him. I helped Doc sew up those threads and I can tell you for sure it’s possible those stitches will break open during the night. I think it is very unlikely that he will live until morning. ”
“Doc, is it true what she’s saying? Is there a good chance that Jed Bartlett will die tonight?”
“Listen Blake, nothing in life or death is guaranteed, but with that said, I do think it’s very probable that my patient will not be alive by seven tomorrow morning. And Ma is right, you should stay out of it. You’ve got a business to run now, and Big Red would want you to make that your only concern.”
Next to speak was Vicky Larkin…. “It’s no secret that Big Red and I were rivals in the fight for Don Jose. She won him and she won fair and square. I never had any grudge against her, she was an admirable woman and I know she would have made a fine wife for the Don. I guess on some level I should be happy that the field is open to me again – but I am not! I feel as bad as anybody about this. I don’t care what the government says. Jed didn’t have to kill Red. She had two bullets in her pocket pistol. One missed and the other just clipped him. She was called Big Red, but Bartlett was more than strong enough to fight her off, even with his wounds. He’s pure evil and I hope he dies tonight.”
As she was speaking Mrs. Larkin’s hands were flying faster than a greyhound over a ball of white yarn that she was knitting.
“What are you making?” Chalkie questioned.
“It’s a Mass Hat for Red.”
Everyone wondered what a Mass Hat could be. Vicky explained that she and Red had on occasion met at Ma’s restaurant for a meals and conversation. Red told Vicky that she had been raised in the Catholic faith and that by custom, women wore white woven hats when they entered church for the Holy Mass service.
“One afternoon while we were having lunch, Big Red’s eyes filled with tears. When I asked her why she was crying she said – ‘I’ll probably never get to wear a ‘Mass Hat’ again since I have become not only a soiled dove, but the manager of a whole house of soiled doves – so I’m sewing her this head covering for her and when Rev. Frost gives her eulogy, she’ll be wearing her Mass Hat.”
“That’s a wonderful memory Vicky,” said Doc Galen, “but you are flashing those knitting needles so fast you might hurt yourself. Be careful.”
“You’re right Doc. One of these needles could do a lot of damage if someone were careless. I expect somebody could even knock an eye out of a person, if they wanted to.”
Deputy Bart Tremmers’ widow Julie spoke next. “After my husband was killed in the Pistol Hill shootout, I thought that life was over for me too. What with the four kids and no income coming in, I had no idea how we’d survive. The Don came to my house after the funeral and told me that Bart was still on the payroll. He said that Bart was a great lawman and that he’ll continue to draw a paycheck whether he’s alive or dead. As good as his word, I’ve gotten Bart’s pay every single month, though I don’t know how the Don manages it.”
Mrs. Tremmers paused and picked up her handbag which was sitting on top of the piano. She retracted a Remington 44 – just like the ones carried by the Don and Chalky.
“The Sheriff gave me this. It’s Bart’s pistol and I always carry it with me, though I’ve never fired it. I wonder if it’s still in proper working order. Perhaps I’ll test it tonight.”
“Please Mrs. Tremmers,” Chalky asked. “Put the pistol away. I think I see what you’re getting at, but we can’t take the law into our own hands. Ma Glockner’s probably right. Bartlett most likely will not last the night. I wouldn’t want you to get your hands dirty needlessly.”
“I’ve been thinking about what you said Mrs. Larkin,” said Deputy Chalkie. “You’re right. Bartlett didn’t have to kill Big Red. She was called Big Red mostly for that great mass of crimson hair, but she probably wasn’t more than an inch over five feet tall and I’m guessing that she weighed barely a hundred pounds. She had fired both rounds and her derringer was empty. All he had to do was push her aside.”
Chalkie shook his head rapidly back and forth as if giving a negative response to a question. He rubbed his forehead where a throbbing ache served as a constant reminder that the Sheriff was badly wounded, maybe dying, and his attacker was still alive.
“You folks all know that there’s no real law in Osage County.” Chalkie continued. “The government never bothered to officially set up sheriff’s offices. They never appointed territorial Marshalls. The only law we’ve had in Whiz Bang has been Don Jose’s law – and it has been pretty good law. Justice under the Don has been fair and swift. When we hung the Pistol Hill thieves, robberies there got stopped overnight. Same thing plenty of other times; when people were guilty, we didn’t bother with trials and such. I’m thinking that under Don Jose law, Jed Bartlett needs to pay for killing Big Red.”
Around the table they went one by one. Each person agreed that the world would be done a great favor if Jed Bartlett was to be separated from the living.
After a while Doc excused himself and said that he was going to check in on Don Jose and make sure he was alright. “I’m also going to have a look at Bartlett. If he’s in severe pain, I’ll have to give him something for it. He might be in a lot of pain, in which case I’ll have to give him a large dosage of the medicine.”
Five minutes after Doc left, Ma Glockner followed suit, a pair of sharp scissors in her hand. “I think Doc might forget to check on Don Jose’s stitches, so I’ll do it for him. I’ll also peek in on Bartlett,” she said, snapping her scissors shut with enough force to make them sound almost like a hatchet hitting a chopping block.
One by one they all departed, leaving Big Blake Ivory alone at his piano. His tears still hadn’t dried and they made tracks all the way down his cheeks before puddling up at the base of his neck.
Blake closed his fists tightly and raised his hands in a fighting pose. Looking hard at them he wondered what everyone else who saw him wondered, how those big mitts could smoothly caress the ‘eighty-eights’ of a piano. Those fists were made for bashing things, not for noodling on the ivories. He stood up, his fists still raised in a classic boxing pose and walked briskly towards Doc Galen’s office.
The Tulsa Marshall, Whit Clayton and the Circuit Judge, Roger Banter got off the morning train and walked the few hundred feet to the Whiz Bang jail house. Chalky sat at the Sheriff’s desk waiting for them.
They introduced themselves and told Chalkie that they had been ordered by the Governor to investigate The Whizbang Shootout and make a recommendation as to whether ‘martial law’ should be instituted in Osage County. Such action would bring ‘proper law enforcement officials’ to the area for the first time.
“We need to interview both of the sheriffs,” said Judge Banter, “Are they conscious?”
“Sheriff Alvarado is in a great deal of pain from being shot six times, but he is awake and alert. As for the man who murdered Miss Red and drygulched our Sheriff, he died during the night.”
“Take us to the doctor’s office,’ ordered the Marshall. “We have to examine the body and we still have to question Don Jose.”
The Oklahoma City men followed Chalky to Doc Galen’s office. They went inside where Doc was seated at his desk alongside Ma Glockner. After Chalky made the introductions, Judge Banter asked them for their accounts of what happened.
“It’s very simple,” said Doc Galen, “Jed Bartlett came here with a warrant for the arrest of our Sheriff on a charge of the theft of $2500. Don Jose had been found innocent, but for some reason the warrant was never rescinded. Bartlett was told the facts of the case, but he refused to check the details or even to listen to Don Jose’s explanation. He said he was going to take Don Jose back to Carter Nine, dead or alive. A fight broke out and the piano player, Mr. Blake Ivory, told them to take it outside. Bartlett went out to the street. Don Jose stayed for a minute or so to talk to Big Red, to whom he had just proposed marriage.
“After a few brief words with Red, Don Jose walked through the swinging doors and didn’t even get past the boardwalk before Bartlett ambushed him. The Don was hit twice without a chance to fight back,” Doc continued.
“The Sheriff was badly wounded and he took cover behind a table in front of the mercantile,” Ma Glockner took up the account. “Miss Red saw what was happening and came running out to try to protect her fiancé. She had a pocket pistol and fired wildly at Bartlett. When she had emptied both barrels of the derringer, Bartlett murdered her in cold blood. He easily could have pushed her aside, but he fired point blank at her and put two slugs in her chest. It was murder, pure and simple.”
“Ma’s right.” affirmed Doc Galen, “It was a homicide and there’s not a jury in Osage County who’d say otherwise. I don’t know what you two boys are doing here, but I suggest you go back to OKC and tell the Governor, that there’s no problem with our law here. If they want to start sending the town money to pay for a Sheriff or a Marshall, that’s fine, as long as the man they choose is named Don Jose Alvarado!”
Judge Banter stepped closer to Doc’s desk. He was a tall, stringy man dressed in an expensive suit, who still retained the look of a farmer, which is what he was before he studied law. He pulled at his short white beard and then scratched his head.
“We know about the good work that Sheriff Alvarado has done Doc,” the Judge said. “While his methods are not always strictly legal, he’s done a remarkable job here. And this young man Chalky is one of the finest deputies in Oklahoma – but we’ve been ordered by the Governor to investigate this shootout and we’re going to do it. We’d like to talk to Don Jose now and then we’ll examine the body of Sheriff Bartlett.”
Alvarado closed his eyes when the door to the dispensary opened. He had never met Banter or Clayton, but Chalkie had done a bit of research and told him that both men seemed honest and reasonable. Still, he didn’t like the idea of Federal men butting in on Osage County business. They had offered no help when he had to deal with matters like train robberies, bank heists, and the Pistol Hill holdups. He decided to pretend to be asleep.
“It looks like the Sheriff is asleep, told the Federal men, as he peered into the treatment room. I’ll check on him and if he’s all right I’ll let you speak to him for a few minutes,” Doc said.
Doc and the Sheriff had a brief, hushed conference, after which the Doc said that they could have five minutes, but were not to get his patient excited.
“Good morning Sheriff Alvarado. I’m Judge Roger Banter and this is Sheriff Whit Clayton of Oklahoma City. First, let me say I’m very sorry for your injuries and I know that you were found innocent in that Carter Nine matter. Bartlett should have checked the facts of the case – number one because it involved a lawman, and number two because the warrant was several years old.”
“Thank you Judge. Am I under any suspicion in this matter?”
“I’ll answer that,” said Marshall Clayton, a stern look dominating a face that looked as if it were chiseled from granite. “In a case where two peace officers are involved in a gun duel watched by hundreds, maybe thousands of townspeople, both parties are suspect. The Governor is worried about this shootout because it is front page news all over the country.”
“The Governor has tasked us to find out something for him,” said the Judge. “He’s wants to know if the Whizbang Shootout is the kindling that could touch off a roaring blaze of lawlessness in this part of the State. He’s given us the power to declare martial law, if we think it’s needed. There are 500 National Guard troops on standby right now in the Capital. They’re ready to deploy here by train in an instant, if we give the word.”
“Well now that you’ve seen our town, do you think that any problems likely?” questioned Sheriff Alvarado.
“Frankly, no. It seems to me and I think that Sheriff Clayton will agree, that Bartlett was out to get you. He wanted you out of the way and he thought he could use the ruse of the warrant to get rid of you.”
“That’s exactly the way it was,” agreed the Don.
Everything was going well and it looked like the Federals were ready to drop the entire matter, until the Judge and the OKC Marshall saw Bartlett’s body. It was a gruesome sight. His purple face gave mute testimony that he had been choked by a pair of very strong hands.
A sunken red circle of blood occupied the space below his brow where his right eye once resided. Where the eye had gone was unknown. It was either shattered into pieces or perhaps gouged out, leaving nothing but a yawning fissure filled with thickening, darkening red blood.
Bartlett’s bare chest and arms had were covered with snaky blood trails where dozens, perhaps hundreds, of stitches had been pulled out or perhaps cut open, allowing his wounds to bleed anew.
“Doctor Galen! Deputy Hidalgo! This is outrageous, those wounds were not sustained in the gunfight!” fumed Judge Banter. “Someone, or perhaps more than one person must have sneaked in here during the night and killed Bartlett. We’re going to have to declare Martial Law. I’ll need to use your phone. I’m going to have the National Guard here on the very next train.”
“You’ll do no such thing Judge Banter!”
The voice came loud and strong from the bed of Sheriff Don Jose Alvarado who had propped himself up on his pillows, and injured as he was, still looked like he was ready for a battle.
“Sheriff Alvarado, what do you mean?”
“Unless there’s a law against self defense, you don’t need to call anybody. In the middle of the night Bartlett attacked me. He had one of Doc Galen’s scalpels and tried to kill me. Luckily I was awake and heard him coming. He was moving very slowly. I could see him through slitted eyes. When he lifted the scalpel I grabbed his wrist and turned it on him. I jabbed out his eye by accident and the scalpel dropped. We wrestled for a minute or so until I got him in a choke hold and killed him. I guess his stitches popped out during the fight.”
Judge Banter was satisfied by the explanation and declared the investigation closed.
The flint-faced Sheriff, Whit Clayton seemed to disagree, but he held his tongue.
Ma Glockner invited the Judge and the Sheriff to a special lunch of Fried Chicken and Grits at her restaurant, after which the two Federals declared the matter ended, and returned to Oklahoma City.
Meanwhie, back in his office Doc Galen was sitting in a chair next to Don Jose’s bed.
“What are you laughing at Doc?”
“I’m laughing at you, you Knothead. How could you tell those two fools from OKC that you strangled Bartlett, when you’ve got casts from your armpits to your wrists on both your arms?”
“Well they bought it didn’t they? Seriously Doc, I wasn’t going to let anybody face murder charges on my account. And speaking of lies and deception Doctor Galen, it wasn’t just a knitting needle, a choke hold, and a pair of scissors that killed Jed Bartlett. I kind of think that some fool ‘horse doctor’ might have given him an overdose of medicine which could have killed him before anybody had a chance to strangle him or jab him with needles and scissors.”
“You’re delirious Sheriff,” Doc replied. “I recommend you take a nap until suppertime, when I’ll join you right here for some of Ma Glockner’s famous chicken.”
“Okay Doc, it’s a date, but please tell Ma that just this once I want mashed potatoes and gravy instead of grits!”
“I’ll tell her, but there’s no guarantee she’ll listen.”
Bert Bryant, the old hermit of the gloomy landscape that used to be Whiz Bang City, reached for his ‘churchkey’ and snapped holes into the tops of two fresh cans of beer.
He passed one to his attentive listener, which was me, Sgt. Bill James of Fort Sill, and lifted the second to his lips. Tipping it back, the oldtimer drained about a third of it before he set it down and wiped his beard. After an exaggerated burp, he sat back languidly in his chair and smiled.
“Well Sergeant Billy, that’s pretty much the whole story of Whiz Bang City. As long as the oil flowed, we had the horns of this old ‘bull world’ twisted right down the ground. Sometime after the mid 1920s the oil wells started drying up. Businesses around the country commenced to seeing bad times that just got worse as the 1930s arrived, along with the great depression.
“The railroad pulled up its tracks and left town. Paved roads were built that led people to places where they would at least have a chance for a job and enough food to eat. Property values in Whiz Bang and all of Osage County tumbled down to nothing. The oil companies abandoned their rigs and two dozen towns, including ours, died almost overnight.
“By the 1940s there was nobody living in Whizbang except the Sheriff and his wife. Don Jose married Vicky Larkin and they stayed here right up until the end.
“Now, all that’s left is what you see. A few abandoned and rusty oil rigs, a couple of foundations, a graveyard, and a pile of rubble that includes the cell bars of the Whizbang City Jail.
“What about the Doc, Chalkie, and the rest of the Don’s friends?” I wondered.
“Well Sgt. Billy, Doc and Ma Glockner stayed in town till there was almost nothing left, then they headed for Boston. The Doc retired from the medical business and helped Ma open a fried chicken restaurant that was said to be the best in Massachusetts.
“As for Chalkie, you’ve probably seen him on TV. He stopped using the name Chalkie when he went into politics. He’s in Washington now, representing the State of Oklahoma. There’s even some talk about him running for President one day.
“Mr. Blake Ivory? He’s a man you’ve probably heard on the radio a thousand times. Blake left Whizbang along with thousands of other Okies and went to California.
“He settled into Bakersfield and became a session musician. His pounding, honky tonk piano helped to invent the ‘Bakersfield Sound’. If you’ve ever heard of Merle Haggard or Buck Owens, then you’ve heard Blake’s music. He works with all of the best West Coast Honky Tonkers.
“What about the Don? Where did he end up?” I asked.
“I already told you. His wife died. She’s buried up in the graveyard, along with Big Red. It’s getting dark now so you’d best be going back to where you’re going. Good luck in writing that book. You can use everything I told you – It’s all Gospel! Goodbye”
The hermit declined further conversation, saying he was tired and needed to take a nap. He got up from his lawn chair and went into his motor home, leaving me with several questions still unanswered.
I decided to go back to Shidler and spend a little more time with bartender Bert.
The rental car covered the short distance back to Shidler with no interruptions from weather or anything else and I soon pulled into the parking lot of the Osage Bottles and Booth.
I got out of the car and looked at Main Street. The bar, the Seed and Feed, the welding supply store, the Chamber of Commerce; that was about it. Those buildings and a few others; plus a few score of old houses comprised the entire town of Shidler, Oklahoma – the last survivor of the Osage Oil Fields.
Bert Shidler was still behind the bar which had about a dozen customers, a good sized crowd for early evening in the middle of the work week. All eight stools at the bar were occupied by middle aged and old men clad in dungarees – dungaree pants and dungaree shirts – with dusty cowboy boots and ten gallon hats. Four more men, dressed the same, were sitting in a booth.
“Howdy stranger. Welcome back. I told a few of the guys about you coming here today thinking that this was a ghost town. The boys decided to have a few beers and wait for you,” said Bert.
“Hello Sergeant,” said one of the oldest men, “I was at Fort Sill myself many years ago. I’m a 20 year man – retired at 80 per cent pay. Sgt. Norm Whalen is my name. When I heard that you were interested in Whiz Bang City, I told some of the others and we came here to tell you the story of the town.”
“Yes we’re here because we are sure that the old hermit wouldn’t tell you anything,” added another man, who was one of the youngest of the group. “The last time I was out there, the old buzzard warned me off with a couple of rounds blasted from that old long-pistol he always carries.”
“Hey Charlie,” Bert said, “Slide outta that stool and let the Sergeant sit so we can fill him in on some Whiz Bang stories.”
“Thanks men,” I said, as I slid into the stool at the end of the bar, “but the old guy actually told me the whole story of Whiz Bang. He even told me his name – Bert Bryant.”
That comment got the whole place laughing.
“What’s the joke guys? I don’t get it.”
“He told you he was Bert Bryant? We know that old boy pretty well, but nobody ever called him by that name,” said the retired army man who had introduced himself as Sergeant Whalen.
“Actually that is the hermit’s real name. But when he came to Osage County he was using the name of one of his old war buddies in Mexico. When he became the Sheriff of Whiz Bang city, he called himself, “Don Jose Alvarado!”
“You mean the old hermit is actually the gunslinger who became Sheriff?” I asked.
“That’s it,” said Bert. “He’s the real thing, The last gunfighter and the last Sheriff of the last Wild West Town. If he gave you his story, then you best write it up. There will never be anything like it again in these 48 United States.”
I stayed an hour or so with the men of Shidler and promised them I would send them copies of the book as soon as I finished it. I would have done it too, except that when I got back to Fort Sill, there were new orders waiting for me.
I was off for a far away place called Viet Nam. President John Kennedy had ordered my outfit to a province in South Viet Nam where 50 South Vietnamese soldiers a day were being slaughtered by the fierce invaders from the North.
Kennedy started ‘Operation Chopper’ which ferried a thousand American and Vietnamese troops a day into the area. My group was part of a new fighting element started by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that consisted of 40,000 U.S. soldiers with M1 Carbines. McNamara said we were to “Clear and Hold” the province against the Viet Cong. We did our job and we were proud to do it….but that war was Hell in more ways that most.
After several long years, and a wound or two, I was sent to a VA hospital in Southern Massachusetts. I thought a lot about Whiz Bang City, but I didn’t want to think about “Ho Chi Mihn City” – the new name they gave to ‘Saigon’.
The VA hospital and all the doctors, nurses, and support people were wonderful to me.
When I was finally released, on a one hundred per cent disability check, I had both the time and the money to do whatever I wanted to do.
I wanted to go back to Shidler.
Shidler: the only surviving town of the Osage Oil fields. When I first went there in 1962, Bert Shidler had told me there were less than a thousand people in town. The census record for 1960 indicates that the population was 870.
By 1980 the town had almost shrunk in half, to 500. When I drove down Main Street in 2015 there were just 450 hardy citizens left. Main Street looked even older and more worn out than it did fifty years before – and it looked pretty ancient even then. Bert Shidler’s bar was long gone, but the welding supply store was still there, and the post office, and the barber shop.
After a few minutes looking over the town, I decided that I would write and finish the book as soon as possible. I also decided that I would not do it in Shidler or in the ruins of Whiz Bang City.
I got back in my Lincoln and drove straight for Tulsa where I took a room in the Ambassador Hotel. I decided to finish the book in the iconic 1929 hotel overlooking downtown Tulsa.
There are only seven rooms on each floor and each room is distinctive. When darkness came my first night in the hotel, I turned off all the lights and looked out my window. The Oklahoma sky seemed to pull me from my chair and transport me back to 1921.
I saw a noisy Model T car bumping along the roadway towards Whiz Bang City. A tall rangy man, with a goatee got out of the auto. He was wearing a cartridge belt fully loaded with 44 caliber cartridges, built for the pearl handled six shooter that fit loosely into his holster.
I could see him and hear the sound of his boots as he walked along the boardwalk and into the Whiz Bang House.
It was Don Jose himself, and I was going to write his story. The story of the last quick draw gunman and the tale of the last Wild West Town – Whiz Bang City.
Thanks for reading about Whiz Bang City. If you liked the book, please consider leaving a review on the site where you got the book.
Bill Russo is the author of The Creature from the Bridgewater Triangle and Other Odd Tales from New England; in which he recounts his meeting with a swamp creature called a Puckwudgie. His blog about that scary encounter led to an appearance in the award winning documentary, The Bridgewater Triangle. He also was also featured on national television in ‘Monsters and Mysteries in America’ and ‘America’s Bermuda Triangle’.
A number of his fictional works are centered in the Bridgewater Triangle, where he says “Fanatasy and reality are crowded together into a haunted 200 square mile area of Massachusetts – where they share an uneasy truce”.
‘Swamp Tales’ and its prequel, ‘Jimmy Catfish’ take readers deep into Southeastern Massachusetts and neighboring Cape Cod for various adventures involving ghosts, monsters, and a strange amphibious boy who swims with, and leads, a school of shark-like, killer catfish.
In ‘Ghosts of Cape Cod’, Russo does not write the typical tale of people waking up and seeing spectral beings at the foot of their bed; rather, he probes into the fascinating lives of the real people who became the legendary ‘haunts’ of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
Many of the ‘Ghosts’ are well known such as the real ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’, Sam Bellamy.
He was Captain of the Whidah – the richest prize ship in history. Others are lesser known but no less fascinating, like the Reverend Joseph Metcalf who owned the first of the once ubiquitous Cape Cod Flower Boats. The story of the Ghost of the 13 Churches is told in detail for the first time. It’s an odd yarn of a peculiar doctor who amassed one of the biggest fortunes in Colonial Massachusetts. He gave it away to the 13 churches of Cape Cod when he died; but then returned from the grave to take it all back!
The Ghosts of Cape Cod audio book is available at all major retailers. The narration is by Scott R. Pollak of National Public Radio.
Another of Russo’s books centering around one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations is, “Cape Cod’s Figure in Black”. It’s a fact based fictional account of a mysterious train traveler in the early days of the 20th century. After suffering a near fatal brain injury, the man is given the curse/blessing of ‘second sight’. He’s bound for Provincetown because he’s convinced that he will find out what happened to him there. Along the way, his ‘curse’ forces him off the train at nearly every stop to assist people in desperate need. He wonders if he’ll ever get to the end of the line to find the answers to his own problems.
Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His other employment included management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at [email protected] All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space: http://billrrrrr.blogspot.com/
He also shares news and videos on his Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/billrrrrr