The passing of time dilutes history just as adding water to the soup thins the broth. It also mutes the taste by making it bland. And it also makes a homemade soup a whole lot less nutritious.
“For Rutherford B. Hayes, election evening of November 7, 1876, was shaping up to be any presidential candidate’s nightmare. Even though the first returns were just coming in by telegraph, newspapers were announcing that his opponent, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, had won. Hayes, a Republican, would indeed lose the popular vote by more than a quarter-million, but he had no way of knowing that as he prepared his concession speech.” This article from Smithsonian Magazine provides intriguing insight into the history of American electoral chaos that has reached a new high in low with the presidential election of 2020.
For the the connoisseur the quest for good soup or stew is the catalyst for epic adventures. Likewise with the curious minded person that has an interest in history.
A good biography on Abraham Lincoln provides insight into the man and his times. Visit his home in Springfield, Illinois, just a few blocks off Route 66 and you add skin to dry bones. Visit his library and museum located nearby with its state of the art multimedia exhibits and the man springs to life.
Now more than ever it is important to develop a hunger for history. History provides the needed perspective that alleviates unneeded worry, and that sharpens the focus on what is worth worrying about.
History will inspire you to visit Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in Oklahoma. As the National Park Service website explains, “Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer sought to end Indian raids by weakening their arsenal and destroying their morale at the Battle of Washita. Today, the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site protects and interprets the setting along the Washita River where Lt. Colonel George A. Custer led the 7th U.S. Cavalry on a surprise dawn attack against the Southern Cheyenne village of Peace Chief Black Kettle on November 27, 1868. The attack played a significant role in the Indian Wars, a tragic clash of cultures that is part of the American story.”
History will broaden your horizons, and challenge you to think. Pay a visit to the lost city of Cahokia near Collinsville, Illinois along Route 66 and the story of America expands dramatically. Spend a few minutes atop the mounds and just listen. You can almost feel the clock being turned back to a time when this was where science was advanced.
Now more than ever is the time to discover a passion for history, and the lessons that it teaches. Now more than ever is the time to let history inspire epic odysseys worth Jason and the Argonaughts.
When we think about Prohibition-era gangsters, it is Chicago, Al Capone, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that often come to mind. Tulsa, however, was where some of the most violent gangsters of this period got their start and honed their skills. Many would profit from the lessons they learned in Tulsa by working for syndicates in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, contributing to the rise of gangster empires such as Al Capone’s in the mid-1920s.
In Tulsa’s Central Park district at 6th Street and Peoria Avenue during the years bracketing World War I, juvenile gangs ran rampant. The roster of ruffians reads like a Who’s Who of notorious Midwestern gangsters in the late 1920s and 1930s. Volney Davis, Wilbur Underhill, Ray Terrill, and Elmer Inman were just a few. Pretty Boy Floyd had a Tulsa connection. The infamous Barker gang led by Ma Barker got their start in this district as well.
Volney Davis was an early member of the Central Park Gang. He made his way to Tulsa in 1921 after serving a three-year sentence for grand larceny in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He launched his career as a ruthless killer and opportunist when he teamed with Arthur “Doc” Barker to burglarize St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa. Thomas J. Sherrill, a hospital night watchman, was killed during the robbery. Barker was arrested a few months later, but Davis eluded capture for almost a year. For his role in the robbery and murder at the hospital, he received a life sentence in 1922.
Participating in a mass escape from the prison at McAlester, Oklahoma, Davis managed to remain free for less than two weeks. In 1932, he again fled prison, reunited with longtime girlfriend Edna Murray, also a prison escapee, and joined the Karpis-Barker gang. He was later implicated in the kidnapping of St. Paul, Minnesota, banker Edward Bremer, a crime that would result in a second sentence of life imprisonment. Hiding in Aurora, Illinois, he provided a haven for John Dillinger and Homer Van Meter. After a running gun battle with police, Dillinger left the mortally wounded John “Red” Hamilton in the care of Davis and Murray. Davis was captured in St. Louis on January 22, 1935, but escaped the following day. Four months later he was arrested in Chicago. He would join many of his associates from the Central Park Gang in Alcatraz.
In about 1910, Arthur “Doc” Barker, Davis’s future accomplice in the Tulsa hospital robbery and murder, moved with his family—George Elias Barker, his father; Arizona “Ma” Barker, his mother; and brothers Herman, Lloyd, and Fred—from Missouri to Tulsa. By the mid-teens the Barker brothers were well known in the Central Park district for theft and robbery. They were even linked to several murders. On July 18, 1918, Doc Barker was arrested for automobile theft and after his conviction was sentenced to the penitentiary in Joplin, Missouri. On February 19, 1920, he made his escape.
A series of robberies in Oklahoma were attributed to Doc Barker. After being arrested in Tulsa on January 14, 1922, Barker was convicted of Sherill’s murder and received a sentence of life imprisonment to be served at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. On September 10, 1932, he was pardoned for good behavior, and immediately joined his brother Fred and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis on a violent crime spree. Barker was identified as a participant in the robbery of the Third Northwestern Bank in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 16, 1932, and as the gunman who shot and killed two police officers during the robbery. His brother Fred shot and killed a civilian during the robbery. The gang struck again on August 30, 1933, robbing a payroll at Stockyards National Bank of South St. Paul, Minnesota. Barker displayed his vicious, cold-blooded nature by fatally shooting Leo Pavlak, a disarmed police officer.
Would you like to read more about the Central Park Gang? Would you be interested in stories about murder and mayhem on Route 66? Order a signed copy of Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66 today!
The centennial is fast approaching. How will it be celebrated? What does the future hold for this storied old highway? What will be preserved and what will be lost? The answers to these questions are as diverse as the communities along Route 66 and the reasons people from throughout the world make the drive as though it was a pilgrimage.
Iconic Route 66 is more than a mere highway that connects a metropolis on the shore of Lake Michigan with a metropolis on the Pacific coast long ago it transcended its original purpose.
The old highway is the stuff of dreams, just as it has been for almost a century. It is the quintessential American road trip. It is an odyssey worthy Jason and the Argonauts. It is a grand adventure.
It is time capsules from an era when Studebakers still rolled from the factory in South Bend. And it is the empty places where old dreams are whispered on the winds through broken windows.
To the those that have not experienced the infectious magic of a Route 66 trip, the old highway is simply a 2,291-mile (according to a 1936 map) ribbon of asphalt lined with dusty remnants, ghostly vestiges, and long dark neon. Along Route 66, from Chicago to the shores of the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica in California, whispering breezes carry the voices of ghosts from the Civil War that blend with those of French explorers, Native Americans, Spanish conquistadors, and pioneers fulfilling a young nation’s Manifest Destiny. These voices mingle with dreamers abandoning the Dust Bowl and rolling west to the promised land in California.
To drive Route 66 is to follow the path of a new nation on its journey of westward expansion. The signs bearing the double six mark the path of an American highway that is but a modern incarnation of the Pontiac Trail, the Osage Trail, and the old Federal Wire Road; the Beale Wagon Road and the El Camino Real; the National Old Trails Highway; and the Santa Fe Trail.
Route 66 is vibrant and colorful. It is the empty places. It is ghost towns and places where the past and present blend seamlessly.
Join me this Sunday morning, 7:00 AM MST for Coffee With Jim, our live stream program on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page. I will be sharing a few of the very special “empty” places along Route 66. These are a few of my favorite places to stretch the legs, listen to the voices of the past and unleash the imagination.
Walnut Canyon with its cliff dwellings. Beale Springs, site of the first Hualapai reservation. Its road trip inspiration at its finest. But telling people where to go is what I do.
Another birthday is fast approaching. That is always a reason for a bit of reflection, especially during the sunrise walkabouts. This year the thoughts seem to be running deeper than ever.
I am mere weeks away from submitting book number twenty to the publisher, and earlier this week a contract was signed for book number twenty-one. The quest to become a writer when I grow up continues, and that is reason for reflection.
As with any birthday, age is a factor that contributes to deep thoughts as the milestone draws closer. It now takes a hard squint to see sixty in the rear view mirror. Seventy is looming at the top of the hill. That in itself is good reason for reflection.
The fact that my pa passed last year is another. He was a hard man with a truly odd sense of humor. Starting at age forty, he would call me every birthday before 6:00 A.M. The message was always the same, “Another birthday. How does it feel being a day closer to death knowing that your best years are behind you?” Then he would hang up.
Well, at least from that point the day had to get better, and it always did. That summed up pa’s way of teaching, be it swimming, driving or how to confront life with a smile.
By nature, believe it or not, I am a reclusive sort of fellow that is most comfortable in the big empty places, and in towns with less than three stoplights. Still, one of my most memorable birthdays took place a few years ago.
The Route 66 Association of Kingman hosted a meet and greet for members of the Dutch Route 66 Association. Someone figured out it was by birthday. Well, in short order it turned out to be an international birthday celebration shared with friends. Adding to the fun the organizer had aged me by a year as evidenced by the writing on the cake. There was no need to say anything or make an announced correction. It was simply a time for reflection on what a fortunate man I am.
I am confident that having survived the apocalyptical year that was 2020 is another contributing factor. Last April just before the birthday, as sick as I was, survival was in doubt. So, this is reason for introspective thinking, and a tad bit of rejoicing in the year 2021.
Friends and business associates lost in the past year, that too is reason for somber reflection. Likewise with the current political situation that has me wondering when paranoia became as popular as the Super Bowl, and a large percentage of folk decided that it was a good idea to elect representatives that blend the worst of politics with the worst of televangelism.
This has also made me feel as though I have walked into the middle of a French movie with Japanese subtitles, and there will be a test about the film in the morning. Even my search of history for answers (currently reading a biography about Harry Truman) hasn’t provided solace. I just can’t seem to find a period, at least in American history, when people have been so easily and willingly divided.
I really feel sorry for comedians in this era. The politicians are writing material for them at record speed but they have no sense of humor, and it is increasingly obvious that they sure as hell don’t like the competition. I can remember when saying, “don’t tell my mother I am a politician, she thinks I am in prison” was a joke.
Lots of irons in the fire, and those also lead to some deep thoughts. Aside from the books, I am increasingly being asked to make presentations. I am hoping to be doing these in person again soon but meanwhile Zoom is pressed into service.
There is the distinct possibility that Jim Hinckley’s America, at least a few pilot episodes, will be shot for the FastTV Network soon. This is definitely another reason for deep thought.
And of course, a birthday is always reason to give thought on the twists and turns of life, and how I got to this point. This in turn leads to thoughts about what the future may hold, and how much time is left.
So, here is to birthdays. Here is to reflection, meditation, and to giving thanks, to old friends and to milestones. Here is to the grand adventure that we call life.
This monument to the bloody event known as the Young brother’s massacre stands in Springfield, Missouri near Route 66. Photo Jax Welborn
In the era of Route 66 renaissance where the old road is occasionally viewed as America’s longest theme park there is often a myopic view that centers on neon lit nights, tail fins, and the era of I Like Ike buttons. It is easy to forget that this now quiet highway was once a transportation corridor traveled by tens of thousands of vehicles every day. Today the road may be a string of living, breathing time capsules, a destination for tens of thousands of international Route 66 enthusiasts seeking the romanticized image of an authentic American experience but before being replaced by the interstate highway system it was an artery of commerce, legal and illicit. It was traveled by vagabonds and vagrants, vacationing families and serial killers, hitchhikers and truck drivers, movie stars and murderers, escaped convicts and people simply seeking a better life in the promised land that was sunny California.
It was known as bloody 66, and not just because of the staggering number of traffic fatalities. From its inception in 1926, U.S. 66 served as the backdrop for countless headline grabbing tragedies, murders, disasters, and industrial accidents.
Even though Nat King Cole crooned about getting your kicks on Route 66, and Todd and Buzz cruised it in search of adventure every week, and Lucy and Desi followed it west to California in a series of comedic episodes on their popular television program, the highway had a dark side. Route 66 was marketed as the Main Street of America for more than five decades, but in the shadows of main street, death often lurked. Route 66 today is often viewed in the context of being a 2,000-mile adventure, America’s longest attraction. It is easy to forget that the charming little villages and towns along Route 66 that seem as though they are settings from Norman Rockwell prints were often the scene of tragedy, of murder, of mayhem, and of dark deeds.
That was how I opened the book Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales from Bloody 66 written for Rio Nuevo Publishing. Even an astute student of history can have a distorted view of the past. This is especially true when a person gets caught up in the magic of Route 66 in the era of renaissance.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
The truth is that Route 66 was one of the nations most popular highways. It was the primary route of choice from travelers headed for California from the Midwest, or to the Midwest from California. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that it was a favored hunting ground of serial killers. And it was the great escape for fugitives from the law.
In the 1920s, counted among the most prolific and most violent graduates of Tulsa’s Central Park school of strong arm artists, murderers, thieves, extortionists, burglars, and pick pockets was Ray Terrill, the Kimes brothers, George and Matthew, “Creepy” Alvin Karpis, and Fred Barker.
Terrill’s first attempt at bank robbery ended with a conviction for second degree burglary and a sentence of two years in the state prison. Using the alias “G.R. Patton”, Terrill had partnered with Arthur Baker to rob a bank in Muskogee, Oklahoma on January 15, 1921, but they were caught in the act.
Within days of his release on March 1, 1923, Terrill teamed up with Al Spencer, an associate from the Central Park days who was running a gang of bank robbers. On March 26, in Mannford, Oklahoma a robbery went awry, and two people were killed during the firefight and getaway that became a running gun battle. Then on August 20, 1923, Terrill, members of Spencer’s gang, and Frank Nash stole an estimated $20,000 in cash and bonds from the Katy Limited near Okesa, Oklahoma. This was the last recorded train robbery in the state’s history.
After Spencer was killed in a shoot out with police, Terrill formed his own gang with Herman Barker, Wilbur Underhill, and Elmer H. Inman. In brazen after hours burglaries, the gang hit banks and stores, stole safes, and cut them open at Herman Barker’s hide out at Radium Springs Health Resort near Salina, Oklahoma. The gang operated with impunity until Terrill and Inman were arrested for burglary in Ardmore, Oklahoma in 1926. They each drew a sentence of five years but escaped together on September 27, 1926. Terrill immediately began putting a gang together.
George and Matthew Kimes robbed their first bank in Depew, Oklahoma (the first community that was bypassed in a Route 66 realignment) on June 30, 1926. Matt had escaped from the jail in Bristow the day prior. Then on August 20, they stole an estimated $5,000 from a bank in Beggs, Oklahoma and, a few days later, led a gang that raided two banks in Covington simultaneously.
A bank robbery attempt in Sallisaw culminated in a running gun battle with police. Deputy Perry Chuculate was killed, and two hostages were taken as the gangsters fled toward Arkansas. The next day near Rudy, at the home of a cousin, Ben Pixley, the wounded brothers surrendered to police and were jailed in Sallisaw to await trial. George received a sentence of 25 years for bank robbery and was sent to McAlester state penitentiary. For the death of police officer Perry Chuculate, Matthew was given a sentence of 30 years .
Then Terrill led a daring raid on the Sallisaw jail with Herman Barker and Elmer Inman on November 21, 1926 and freed Matthew Kimes. The newly formed gang launched a crime spree along Route 66 in several states. In Sapulpa, Oklahoma on January 10, 1927, they robbed the bank of more than $42,000. A week later Herman Barker, Elmer Inman and Matthew Kimes were caught in the act of burglarizing a bank in Joplin, Missouri. During the high-speed chase that ensued, Kimes escaped into Kansas on Route 66. Terrill and Barker made it to a safe house in Carterville but were surrounded by police a short time later. In the shootout that followed Barker and Terrill surrendered.
Terrill was being returned to prison in McAlester when, on January 19, he escaped from custody. A few days later, he rejoined Mathew Kimes, and the duo launched another crime spree. On May 27, Terrill was identified in a daring daylight bank robbery in McCune, Kansas in which more than $200,000 was taken. Two days later, Kimes and Terrill returned to Beggs, Oklahoma with nine gunmen and robbed two banks. The escape became a running gun battle and Marshal W.J. McAnally died in the street from multiple gunshot wounds.
Terrill and Inman fled east, and were arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas on November 26, 1927. In June of 1927, Blackie Wilson, a Kimes gang member arrested during a robbery, in the hope of leniency, confessed to numerous crimes and provided details on gang members.
Meanwhile Matt Kimes and Raymond Doolin fled west. Would you care to guess what highway they followed?
If your a fan of true crime stories, Route 66, and tales of the ruthless gangsters that stalked the highways of America during the Great Depression, I have a book to suggest. Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66. And if you order it direct from me, I can deface it with an autograph.