Route 66, like the yellow brick road that led to the Emerald City, followed a twisted course through some very dark places on the way to the golden city by the sea. There were never any flying monkeys or vengeful witches but there were bandits, desperado’s, and some generally nasty people.
In writing the Route 66 encyclopedia, as well as Ghost Towns of Route 66, I made the decision to avoid a great deal of sugar coating in telling the tale of this highway. That has been done far to often and as a result the image we have of the highway is often one dimensional instead of multifaceted.
John and Judy Springs, publishers of the exciting new publication 66 The Mother Road asked if I would share a few of the stories from the dark side of the highway for a forthcoming issue. So, I dug through the files to find news stories that would provide a little depth and context, as well as a little dark levity, to the Route 66 story. Here are a couple of my favorites –
Syracuse Herald, January 29, 1928 – dateline Wildorado, TX – “Wildorado, Texas, the most plundered town in the United States has an itching trigger finger.
The Wildorado State Bank has been robbed eight times in the last three years and he general store next door has been visited by bandits so frequently that its proprietors have lost count of the number of times they have looked down revolver muzzles.
Mrs. W.E. O’Neal, wife of the Wildorado State Bank president, acts as cashier of the institution and has been on the ground during most of the holdups.
Mrs. O’Neal is the woman who crossed swords with Jose Alvardo, famous gunman and state officer of Oklahoma, whom Governor Johnson recently took under his wing but who was found guilty of robbery since then and sentenced to eight years in the penitentiary.
Mrs. O’Neal identified Alvardo as the bandit who called her “sister” when the Wildorado bank was robbed last spring and who again warned, “Be careful what you say, sister” when she appeared at Alvardo’s requisition hearing in Oklahoma City.
The last robbery of the bank occurred when two youths armed to the teeth entered the building. Sharp-shooting citizens of the town had gathered quickly and captured one of the bandits. They were forced to release him, however, when his partner threatened to kill O’Neal, the bank president.
The bandits got only $100 in cash, all the bank dares keep on hand at one time.
One of the men participating in the attempted capture of these bandits was the night watchman who killed one robber and wounded another in a recent gun battle during an attempt to rob the Wildorado Grain and Mercantile store.
“How does it feel to be stuck up?” Mrs. O’Neal was asked after the last bit of banditry.
“It has happened so many times we are getting used to it,” she replied.”
The Hutchinson News, March 13, 1923 – dateline Wichita – “Basil Quilliam, Wichita grocer, who is said by local police to be a member of the Edie Adams notorious bandit gang, pleaded guilty in federal court here today to charge of conspiracy to rob the Rose Hill State Bank, Butler County, Kansas, November 10, 1921. Quilliam was arrested several weeks ago here and detectives found $19,000 in liberty bonds in his possession, they stated, which Quilliam said today was part of Halltown, MO. Bank robbery.”
Santa Fe New Mexican – March 24, 1928 – “Paul B. Campbell of Fairfield, Me. had one ear almost torn off, and Everett Hunter of the same place, was stunned and bruised but not badly hurt when a Ford overturned at the top of Little La Bajada Hill.
…Campbell said he had fallen asleep while driving on the highway, they reported. The Ford was wrecked.”
Alton Evening Telegraph – August 20, 1943 – dateline Edwardsville, IL – “Stolen early Thursday morning by burglars who broke into a service station adjoining Rut’s Corner tavern at Litchfield, Montgomery County, a 300-pound steel safe was recovered later in the day on a farm east of here, off Route 43, where it had been blasted open and abandoned.
Approximately $700 worth of liquor, stored in the service station was hauled away by the thieves, whose only reward for transporting the safe thirty miles and blasting it open was a meager $45 in cash the strongbox contained.”