Manuscript Annotations

Manuscript Annotations 2017-06-13T21:01:39+00:00

The original draft for Killing Albert Berch was 50% longer than the published version. As cuts were made, many of the side trips not directly pertinent to the story were removed. In other chapters, details were shortened. Some of those sections are included here. CLICK on the topic to read the original draft.

  • OKLAHOMA HISTORY

    OKLAHOMA HISTORY

    With pseudo-bravado lifted from James Michener, let me drop back and punt into the Paleozoic, which includes the Cambrian Explosion of life forms, followed 300 million years later by the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction that wiped out virtually everything in the ocean as well as most land plants and animals, laying the chemical basis for oil. The true age of dinosaurs was yet to come, and contrary to the implication of Sinclair Oil’s logo, you don’t need dinosaurs to make oil. Hydrocarbons were being brewed epochs earlier, most impressively with soup stirred by this mysterious mass extinction of life forms, an annihilation that occurred several hundred million years before the asteroid-in-the-Yucatan served up the dinosaurs for desert.
    And what does this Permian story have to do with the price of oil in Marlow, Mr. Michener? Well, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, in zeroing in on Stephens County, Oklahoma, explains that the sedimentary bedrock is Permian – marine red sandstone and shale with some thin beds of limestone. And while not officially part of the oil-rich Permian Basin of west Texas, Stephens County had its own heyday, and with it, many oil men traveling to Duncan and nearby Marlow, taking up semi-permanent quarters in the town’s hotels, people unknown to census-takers who struggled to put their fingers on exact figures. We’ll visit the oil boom shortly. For now, let’s return to the origins of Marlow, Oklahoma.

    For those Oklahomans who sat through high school courses on state history, and have now forgotten more than remembered, I will offer some memory triggers – words and phrases that should strike deep and ring some bells. For non-Oklahomans, I apologize, as some of my ink blots on paper may be more Rorschach than remembrance:

    Clovis migration, now debunkable. Coronado searching in vain for the seven cities of gold, swings through Marlow country. New France. Spanish North America. Louisiana Purchase. Lewis and Clark miss Oklahoma, but Washington Irving hits in full stride. Andrew Jackson and Indian Removal Act of 1830. Trail of Tears and the now-passé term, “Five Civilized Tribes.” Tears saturate more than Five Tribes. Slave state or free state in the Civil War? Trick question…neither. It was only a territory, one that permitted slavery. Plenty of fighting, though. The Five Tribes sign on with Confederacy (as anti-federalist slaveowners), with major dissent within. Other tribes work for the Union as “federal Indians,” with internal dissent here as well, creating many civil wars within Civil War. Last Confederate General to surrender in the Civil War – Brigadier General Stand Watie, a Confederate commander of the Cherokee Nation. Reconstruction Treaties push the Five Nations toward eastern half of the territory – including potential right-of-ways to a maximum of two railroads, not yet built. By the 1880s, oops…11 additional charters for railroads instead of two, those right-of-ways looking better all the time. And there’s more:

    1889 Unassigned Lands open (April 22, 1889), and now Twin Territories – Oklahoma and Indian – with “official” settlement only of Oklahoma Territory via 4 more land runs, 6 allotments, 2 lotteries and one sealed bid, through December 1906. Sooners enter Unassigned Lands too early through the sneak approach right before a land run, while Boomers (as in “land boom”) enter well in advance, openly, based on their liberal interpretation of the Homestead Act of 1862, where all are entitled to 160 acres, but with government strings attached. As for these land grabs, while schoolchildren in Oklahoma celebrate the first land run and opening of Unassigned Lands in 1889, this was not the biggest. The granddaddy of them all, indeed the largest in the history of the world, took place on September 16, 1893. After all, it took Tom Cruise to immortalize the event in the 1992 movie, Far and Away, where 100,000 hopefuls lined up along the border of the Cherokee Outlet in northwestern Oklahoma and rode for their new lives.

    Meanwhile, also in 1893, the Dawes Commission goes to work stripping the “Five Civilized Tribes” of their communal land. The Five Tribes were previously exempted from this maneuver applied to other Native Americans in the Dawes Act of 1887, which converted tribal ownership to individual parcels of land for tribal members. Of course, given that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, there was a land surplus in the division process that was used for white settlement. Thus, “Indian Territory” was anything but. With railroads and Dawes at work, Indian Territory was deconstructed to allow white settlement as effectively as any land run in Oklahoma Territory. And if a white man missed out on land through the direct route, there was always the newfound interest in marriage to a tribal woman and her dowry of land.
    The panhandle, stripped from the new state of Texas as part of the Missouri Compromise, then a failed attempt as Cimarron Territory, ends up as No Man’s Land, and is welded onto the frying pan of Oklahoma Territory by the U.S. government in 1890. Adding the last piece to the jigsaw puzzle, Greer County at the southwest edge is wrenched away from Texas in the first Red River rivalry, this bone settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896. So, Oklahoma assumes its modern day shape, but the western half is Oklahoma Territory and the eastern half is so-called Indian Territory.

    And the final stretch of Rorschach: the proposed State of Sequoyah fails in 1905, whereupon Teddy Roosevelt signs the Oklahoma Enabling Act in 1906, authorizing the Twin Territories to join into one state, new to the union, which officially happens on November 16, 1907.

  • THE MARLOW BROTHERS STORY

    THE MARLOW BROTHERS STORY

    While the Marlow brothers’ story took place over 30 years before the story at hand, and has no direct connection, it will serve in the end as metaphor for the difficulty one often has in distinguishing the white hats from the black ones, especially when vigilantes overpower due process. So, here’s the modern day account of the brothers’ story, a four-year saga that spanned the duration of the multiple Oklahoma land runs, this version siding more with the Marlows:

    In 1888, one could consider retrieval of wandering longhorns from the Chisholm Trail as a legitimate business enterprise. Granted, the urge to cause a stampede, no matter how subtle the provocation, was a staple of 1950s Westerns, both film and TV, so it’s not too hard to imagine a fine line here. Nevertheless, in August of that year, a federal deputy in Texas received a report that the Marlow boys had stolen 40 horses from a Caddo Indian named Bar Sin De Bar. A posse was organized, but before leaving for Oklahoma, word was sent to the deputy that Bar Sin De Bar had located his horses. At this point, the Marlow brothers are innocent of this particular charge. But the federal deputy ignored this new information, perhaps inspired by the promised bounty, and proceeded to lead the charge to Oklahoma where he arrested four of the five brothers anyway and took them back to Graham, Texas (one of 3 federal courts in Texas and the one that had jurisdiction over Indian Territory). The fifth brother moved the family to Graham to help his brothers, but he was arrested as well.

    All were bonded out of jail by step-mother Martha, the child bride of Dr. Marlow, but then an indictment arrived accusing one of the brothers, Boone Marlow, of killing a man in Vernon, Texas, two years earlier. In fact, Boone had been cleared of killing the man (“self-defense”), but when the sheriff and his deputy arrived now to arrest Boone, a gunfight ensued and the immensely popular sheriff was killed. This is where the waters of history turn muddy as multiple versions lay blame on different shoulders as to who fired at whom first. Boone escaped across the Red River to Oklahoma’s Hell’s Creek near Marlow. The other four brothers were re-arrested and put back in jail. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, the decision was made to shackle the brothers together – Charlie to Alf, and George to Llewellyn (a.k.a. Ely). A lynch mob was turned back by the shackled (innocent) brothers, but during the melee at the jailhouse, one of the mob was killed by a blow (possibly, from a sewer pipe to the head) wielded by shackled prisoner Charlie Marlow.

    Given this volatile situation, the decision was made on a January night to take the prisoners to Dallas via Weatherford, Texas, along with two other prisoners, bringing the total to six, all shackled at the ankles, hands left free. The prisoner wagon was then ambushed at Dry Creek by perhaps 25-30 vigilantes. Alf and Ely Marlow were killed on the spot, but the surviving two Marlow brothers, injured and each shackled to a dead brother, somehow managed to grab firearms, whereupon they killed several guards and ambushers. In a macabre twist to the tale, George freed both himself and Charlie from their shackles by amputating the feet of their dead brothers at the ankles.

    Federal authorities finally caught up with George and Charlie and took them to Dallas to await trial. Meanwhile, back on the ranch (literally), Boone Marlow, with a $1,700 bounty on his head, dead or alive, was poisoned by the brothers of his girlfriend using arsenic obtained from a local doctor. And to secure the bounty as an honorable capture, as opposed to a gutless poisoning, they shot Boone twice in the head. When Dr. R.N. Price confirmed poisoning as the true cause of death, the bounty hunters were arrested, but eventually released. Three of the five Marlow brothers were now dead, and these three would rest together at Finis Cemetery in Texas.

    The trial process would last 3 years, and it was not only the two Marlow brothers under fire, but also the ambushers who had allegedly been in cahoots with the prisoner wagon drivers and guards. Deputies, attorneys, constables, tax collectors were all part of the conspiracy to kill the Marlow brothers while under protective custody of a U.S. Marshal. And to score one for the modern historical version, the Marlow brothers were found innocent of all charges in federal court, while three of the ambushing mob were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison plus a $5,000 fine. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Graham Court, and the new trial ended up with acquittals for the three mobsters, one of whom hung himself shortly thereafter. The Marlows won damages in a civil case in the spring of 1891.
    Federal Judge A.P. McCormick, upon sentencing the mobsters in 1891, said: “This is the first time in the annals of history where unarmed prisoners, shackled together, ever repelled a mob. Such cool courage that preferred to fight against such great odds and die, if at all, in glorious battle than die ignominiously by a frenzied mob, deserves to be commemorated in song and story.” Versions of McCormick’s pronouncement vary, some less clunky, but nevertheless, the two surviving Marlow brothers were vindicated. Charlie and George Marlow moved to Colorado where they led exemplary lives, serving as Deputy U.S. Marshalls as well as deputy sheriffs for Ouray County, Colorado, in the Gunnison mountain area.

    George and Charlie began trying to clear their names immediately with their book in 1891, later revised in 1932 by William Rathmell who interviewed both Charles and George in Ouray, Colorado. This version, Life of the Marlows: A True Story of Frontier Life of Early Days is back in print with introduction and annotations by Robert K. DeArment (University of North Texas Press 2004 hardcover; 2008 softcover). Another recent treatment of the story is The Fighting Marlows: Men Who Wouldn’t Be Lynched by Glenn Shirley (Texas Christian University Press, 2009 softcover). Charles Marlow died in 1941 so, conceivably, he had access to the aforementioned 1940 American Guide Series history and its version of the outlaw “band.” He was buried next to his wife, Emma Jane, in Forest Lawn Glendale, California. George Marlow died just shy of his 90th birthday in 1945 at the home of his daughter in Montrose, Colorado. He is buried next to his wife, Lilly, at Crown Hill Cemetery, Jefferson County, Colorado. The inscription on his tombstone is more au revoir than epithet: Good Night Till Morning Comes Again.

    Understand that the above version is an amalgamation of many that appear on memorial markers, online, and written accounts, so details vary from person to person. For instance, a Marlow family descendant with an online blog posted in 2000 that the official version of the boys as outlaws was “all of this being lies made up by a bunch of land grubbing ranchers and corrupt sheriffs, wanting power and the land.”

    And whatever happened to Dr. Marlow and his child bride? Williamson Marlow died in 1885 and was buried along the Chisholm Trail, never knowing about the ill winds that fell upon his five sons in 1888. With his second wife, in their five years together in the dugout, they produced four children that eventuated in many descendants alive today. The End.

  • COMBS FAMILY HISTORY & GENEAOLOGY

    COMBS FAMILY HISTORY & GENEAOLOGY

    When my mother Almarian made her mid-life decision to novelize this story, she chose as the protagonist her mother Lulu, spoken as “Lula,” a spelling I’ve adopted for consistency. Lula signed her name as such when younger, waffling back and forth until it was mostly Lulu later in life. Both are diminutives for her given name, Lucinda, honoring her paternal grandmother. Regardless of spelling variants, the pronunciation was always Lula.

    For daughter Almarian, Lula was the most durable and determined person she ever encountered. And, with overwhelming respect and guarded love, daughter paid tribute to mother in the fictional rendering, One Half-Dream, unpublished. Early in the creative process, Almarian asked her mother to write an autobiography. And, when Lula was in her 80s, she obliged, offering nearly 60 handwritten pages, barely legible, and with tortured spelling and syntax. Lula’s formal education was sparse, limited to a few months each year when work on the farm was in recess. Such an education does not allow easy quantification, so it’s difficult to say whether Lula had a 3rd grade education in terms of months in the classroom, or if she had a 12th grade education counting consecutive years in which she walked through the portals of a schoolhouse. From a practical standpoint, though, we will see that she learned what she needed to know from business school and the business of supporting herself.

    When I first came across this handwritten autobiography in the Oxyrhynchus Excavation (hereafter called the El Reno Excavation in order to ease eye strain), I was delighted. Here it was, in Lula’s own words, every detail I would need about her early years. Perhaps, the pages would even shout the answers to the remaining mysteries about the murders.

    Halfway through deciphering the bold and angulated cursive writing, I realized it was not to be. As if a censor had stripped the pages of all key information, there was not a single mention of a place, a time, or even the name of a person. “My mother” and “my daughter” were the only tell-tale references, given that “my husband” could apply to any one of three men. But without dates or places, and without mention of the murders, this particular document offered little to my research.

    Yes, the reading of the account was captivating, and once I had finished, I knew every step in the process of making lye soap (one year’s worth at a time), how to dye the thread spun from shorn wool (poke salad berries for blue, apple skins for red), and how to wring a chicken’s neck (Lula abhorred it at first, but the killing grew banal). Upon completion of Lula’s autobiography, however, my jigsaw puzzle was still in pieces.

    One sentence from the autobiography, however, haunts me still – the opening sentence. Lula’s account of her own life begins with a summary bang: “Life has been a great disappointment for me.”

    I still hear the words in my head with my grandmother’s voice, but this dismal summation should come as no surprise once you’ve finished this book. As you will discover, this is not a story that brings light to the art of living – it’s a story of survival.

    Fortunately, over the course of the next year, as I sorted through other writings in the loose leaf rubble, I got my wish, with names, places and times written in excruciating detail and with tangents aplenty. Fully armed with the patchwork of Lula’s lifelong documentation, “early” writings distinguishable from “late” by handwriting that evolved into quasi-calligraphy, as if her increasing frustration forced its way through pressure on the pen, I can now reconstruct the gist of her story leading up to the pivotal year of 1918 when she purchased Johnson’s Hotel.

    Lula, or Lucinda Jane Combs, was the oldest of five children in a subsistence farming family headed by William David Combs and wife Arrie. Lula was born on June 3, 1884, in Nocona, Texas, Montague County, less than 10 miles from the Oklahoma border. None of the children in her family wore shoes until they were 12 years old, and schooling was permitted only when there was no work to be done. Regarding her parents, Lula would write late in her life: “If there was ever a man and woman without a sin in this world, besides Jesus Christ, it would have been my mother and father.”

    Lula’s paternal grandmother was Lucinda Mashburn of Monroe County, Tennessee, who became a Combs when she married William Buford Combs of Warren County Tennessee. William B. Combs was the son of Jeremiah Combs and Charity Rhodes who moved the family to Kingston, Arkansas, where William David Combs, Lula’s father and my great-grandfather, was born—

    Let me stop to touch briefly on genealogy here. I don’t intend to bore you with begats. Even the Bible, after all, with its well-known repository of “begats” cautions us in I Timothy 1:4 – Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do (King James Version). But it’s worth noting that during Almarian’s quest in the 1970s to trace her father’s roots (nearly a dead end), her simultaneous study of the maternal side, the Combs family, took her all the way back to the 1500s and England’s Richard Combs, Lord of Combs Manor, Devonshire, and Richard’s grandson John who arrived in Jamestown in 1619 aboard the “Marigold.” Along the way, she discovered that Mason Combs, Jr., father of Jeremiah, participated in the Revolutionary War, landing Almarian smack dab in the middle of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

    As for Lula’s maternal side, however, the story holds little glory. Her mother, Arrie, christened as Arella Cordelia Loving, had a rough start, orphaned by age 8. Arrie’s father was from Tennessee (with the given name Tennessee as well), where “something” during the Civil War Era prompted the young couple, Tennessee Ben Loving and Sarah King, to move to Kingston, Arkansas. The timing of this move coincides with the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, a set-back for the Confederacy that might well have spurred mass emigration to Arkansas.

    Arrie was born September 18, 1863, 17 months after Shiloh, with most sources (including Arrie) claiming her birth to be in Arkansas. Several years after arriving in Arkansas, when Arrie was 6, Tennessee Ben died of pneumonia, possibly an aftermath of a war injury. Arrie’s mother, Sarah King Loving, died two years later at age 29, the cause unknown.

    Online ancestry services revealed to my siblings and me, for the first time, that Arrie had three sisters – Margaret, Sinah, and Melvina – so the deaths of the parents generated more than one orphan. Arrie’s sister Margaret died at age 2, Sinah Elizabeth died at 32, and little is known about the youngest sister Melvina born in 1867. However, Sinah Elizabeth lived long enough to have 9 children with John Seamon Hedgpeth, and the family tree branches profusely in this direction.

    The 1880 census includes both of Arrie’s younger sisters, Sinah Elizabeth and Melvina, living in Kings River, Arkansas, with the maternal grandmother, Margaret King, but Arrie is not listed. Given that Arrie was not married until 1882, we are on fairly safe ground to assume that her adoption into another family occurred exactly as Lula reported. It remains odd, though, that Arrie appears to have been the only sister farmed out as an orphan.

    We have little information on Arrie’s grandparents, which would be a nice complement to one of the most remarkable documents in my possession – “Copy of Mother’s War Stories, Chapter One” – the title written by Lula’s hand at the top of a 10-page typewritten story where the flip side of each page is an empty Procter and Gamble invoice form. The “War,” of course, is the Civil War. This document, discovered relatively late in my research, explains the “something” that prompted the Combs family move to Arkansas.

    Written in the voice of my great-grandmother Arrie, she refers to her slave-owning grandparents on the paternal side, which would have been John David Loving and his wife Sina Lowry: “My father’s family was wealthy people before the war. They had two plantations and about 600 negro slaves. The largest plantation was in Tennessee, a 12-room house, full basement, 2,500 acres of land.”

    Arrie relates the story as told to her as a child, wherein Union bushwhackers arrived en masse and terrorized the family, forcing her great-grandfather to stand on hot coals until he fainted. Then, the bushwhackers began shoveling the hot coals onto the floor, whereupon the mansion caught fire. In Arrie’s words, bushwhackers were “men who hid out during the war and would not be drafted, professional thieves and robbers” (commonplace on both sides of the war). After stealing the horses, the bushwhackers burned down the barn and all standing structures. Afterward, Arrie’s grandfather sold the land, converting the property into gold coins, and moved the family to Arkansas. Later in the document, one learns that this grandfather had been fighting in the Confederacy, but had been wounded (“shot in the lung and shoulder”), with his official release from service coming only after arrival in Arkansas.

    One of the most bizarre passages of the story describes at length the freeing of the slaves, “none of whom wanted to be free,” though, in the end, when it came time to pack up and leave, only 2 of the 600 went with the Loving family to Arkansas where “they lived 26 years after the war with us.”

    It is difficult to render this story unto history, as Tennessee was exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, given that the state had already returned to Union control. Only in selected states did the proclamation apply, and there was no emancipation for Tennessee slaves at this point. So, it appears that the freeing of the Loving’s slaves and the exodus to Arkansas was in response to the bushwhacking terror, rather than any direct mandate stemming from the Civil War that was still in progress. And, of course, the outcome at Shiloh might have offered prescience of the inevitable outcome and spurred them toward Arkansas as well.

    With Tennessee land converted to gold coins and transported to Arkansas, Arrie’s grandfather bought one of the only mills in Kingston, Arkansas, and it was at the Loving family farm nearby that Arrie was born. The typed document describes how a bag of surplus gold coins was buried by Arrie’s grandfather and his brother “at night under an old dead apple tree,” and this story became a source of fascination for our mother when she was a child. Almarian would later use gold coins as the dominant symbol in her book, One-Half Dream. And as we will see, by the end of her life as an avid coin collector, she would use her hobby to fulfill the folklore that included the tantalizing notion that the gold coins had never been recovered by the descendants.

    Details are sketchy about Arrie’s adoption, but the family who “took her in” apparently considered her as servant or slave rather than sibling to the other children. Even Almarian didn’t know much about this era. However, it might explain why Arrie was willing to leap into the 16-year-old arms of my great-grandfather when she was 18 years old, establishing her own home as a newlywed in northwest Arkansas in 1881 after a honeymoon in a covered wagon. More accurately stated, they used a covered wagon for transportation to their honeymoon site.

    One of the great bugaboos in genealogic pursuits is the mismatch of dates. Arrie and William Combs celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 1951. However, I have their original wedding certificate indicating 1882 as a wedding date, not the commonly referenced year of 1881. It’s only a guess, but they might have moved the 70th anniversary up one year, as William Combs was dying of cancer at the time.

    Arrie was not allowed to go to school when living with her adoptive family. However, her new husband taught her to read and write, and she was an avid reader throughout her life. It is not clear what prompted the move from Arkansas to Texas, but a number of relatives and other families made the journey together in covered wagons. Texas had its own Homestead Act, having been exempted from the national act of 1862, and in its various iterations, Texas might have offered more land on more favorable terms than other states. Another lure of Montague County, Texas might have been the boom created by the first railroad in the area. According to a roadside historical marker, the first railroad opened in 1882 as part of the conversion of the Chisholm Trail from feeder branches near the Red River.

    Today, Nocona has a steady population in the 3,000 range and claims itself as the “Leather Goods Center of the Southwest.” And while the title may be unwieldy, it is a true story that Mr. H.J. “Daddy Joe” Justin started making his leather boots in Nocona in 1887. His sons took the company to Ft. Worth where it became Justin Boots, while his daughter stayed in Nocona and founded Nocona Boots. Although the family reconciliation was post-mortem, “Daddy Joe” might have rejoiced from the grave when the two companies merged in 1981, and likely let out another shout when Warren Buffett purchased Justin Boots in 2000.

    Within a few years of those first Justin boots, my great-grandparents chose the life of subsistence farming near Nocona, though they also dabbled in cotton as a cash crop during this pre-boll weevil era when cotton still wore its crown.

    In touring the area, I had a hard time imagining how this particular Texas countryside had been so popular for farmers. A rolling terrain, sometimes approaching hill status, is thickly covered by trees and brush. And while the valleys are broad, there are narrow gulleys and twisting cracks in the earth that would have made any plow horse balk. However, a patch of level land here and there was enough to suffice, it seems. With farm antiques stationed throughout the area as pillars of rust that decorate every patch of land that has a farmhouse, I had to wonder – was I looking at equipment once owned by William and Arrie Combs over 100 years ago?

    Given that my great-grandmother’s age was 18, while William’s was 16 when they married, one is luridly drawn to the notion that Arrie might have been pregnant. Perhaps. If so, the baby didn’t make it. The 1900 census lists the Combs couple in Montague County, Texas with “6 children/5 living,” and of the 5 living, the first born was Lula (Lucinda Jane Combs) on June 3, 1884, three years after the marriage began. It is well within reason that the first baby died. The other children that followed were: Nettie, Freddie, Fanny, and finally, Jessie, born in 1900, a full 16 years after Lula.

    Without too much diversion from Lula’s story, let me dwell for a moment on the “famous relative” who emerged from the 1907 union of second-born Nettie Combs (b. 1886) to A. Barrett Collins – their son, my mother’s first cousin, medical doctor and Brigadier General Glenn Collins, a 1935 graduate of the medical school at the University of Oklahoma. While I remember Aunt Nettie and Uncle Barrett as a child, I never met Glenn, though my sister Susan stayed with him and his wife while on a trip to Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. Glenn held numerous positions and racked up countless medals from WWII onward. He served as Chief of Staff of Walter Reed Hospital, deputy Surgeon General, and Commandant of Medical Forces during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, he was responsible for all 23 hospitals – both the permanent field-type and the MUST Units (Medical Unit, Self-contained, Transportable), which were the less familiar relatives to the MASH units (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) still in use at the time. As it pertains to this story, it is possible that Lula’s younger sister Nettie named her son Glenn, born in 1913, in honor of Lula’s infant son Glenn who had died in 1909.

    To demonstrate how far apart the branches of our family separated after the death of my great-grandmother Combs, I offer this story: in the course of writing this book, I came across the fact that one of Glenn’s children, Roger Collins, had been a radiologist in Oklahoma City for many of the years that I practiced medicine in the same community, though at a different hospital. Remarkably, I had never met him, nor had my sisters. Although he had retired to Florida by the time I was researching this book, when I phoned and introduced myself as his second cousin, he knew the members of our branch of the family, and of course, he remembered “Aunt Lula” and “Grandma Combs.” Yet, Roger had never heard about the murder of Albert Berch. In fact, he had never heard of Albert Berch at all. He only knew “Aunt Lula” by the name that all of my generation in the family knew her while growing up – Lula Reynolds.

    I should mention one other family tale that ties closer to the story at hand, this time from the dark side. Lula’s sister Fannie, fourth of the five children of Arrie and William Combs, and the virtual twin of her mother Arrie, died young, age 31. Her first husband (Wassie Vaughn) died in France during World War I. During her second marriage (Frank Teel), and with one female child already by Teel and pregnant with another, Fannie Combs discovered that her husband had molested Fannie’s pre-teen daughter by the first marriage, that is, Teel’s step-daughter. Horrified that she was bringing another potential victim of sexual abuse into the world, Fannie performed a self-induced abortion using the unimaginative coat-hanger technique. She and her unborn child bled to death. We will visit Fannie’s grave in Marlow later on, Fannie being the only sibling who rests with Lula in the same cemetery.

    Fannie’s surviving daughter who had been abused then lived with her grandparents, and Arrie once claimed Fannie’s daughter to be her favorite grandchild “because I raised her.” This favorite grandchild ended up marrying a prominent Oklahoma City official, and she was one of the “regulars” in the crowd of relatives who paid Sunday visits to the 1805 N.W. 27th house in Oklahoma City where Arrie and daughter Lula lived during the years of our childhood. Like Brigadier General Glenn Collins, she was our mother’s first cousin, a first cousin once removed to my sisters and me.

    Of the five siblings, we’ve met Lula, Nettie, and Fannie. The only male sibling was William Fred (Freddie) who will appear again in this story as the sole sibling who was living in Marlow with his wife Mittie at the time of the murders. And finally, the late surprise of Jessie, a girl born in 1900. Jessie raised some eyebrows when she grew up to marry (and divorce) a Native American. Bennie Marion “Ben” Willingham and Jessie Combs had one girl named Ben Marion who, as my mother’s first cousin, ended up being more of a sister, both girls named after their fathers. The origin of the “-marian” part of Almarian was never clear to us children, nor to our mother until she began her own genealogic pursuits (to be covered in a later chapter). The closeness in age of Almarian and Ben Marion, in spite of a 16-year difference in the age of their mothers, was due to the fact that Almarian was the product of Lula’s second marriage.

    Almarian and Ben Marion vowed as young girls that they would name their first-born boys Alan and Ben respectively, and they did. Unlike so much of our family, the two cousins kept in close contact throughout their lives, and with telepathic eeriness, Ben Marion died a few months after Almarian in 2011, both sister-cousins being in their late 80s.

    Returning to cotton-farming in Nocona, Texas, my great-grandparents finally gave it up in 1905 and moved north to what would later become the state of Oklahoma. The first tornado that wiped the family farm off the map wasn’t enough to make them move, but perhaps they took the second tornado as a sign from Providence that they should travel north and try out a different atmosphere. Or, they might have had a more practical bent in crossing the Red River, believing that rivers offered protection from tornados, a widely held belief at the time. Regardless of motivation, unwittingly, they moved along the center lane of “tornado alley,” a phrase that wouldn’t be coined for another 47 years when U.S. Air Force meteorologists used the term as a title for their research project studying the unusual linear concentration of twisters in Texas and Oklahoma.

    The change in their geography was accompanied by a change in livelihood, from farmers to mercantile shop owners. My great-grandparents started off their new lives in Indian Territory in the town of Katie, today a stop sign, a community building, cemetery, and fire station, without any evidence of a “downtown.” Elmore City was close by, and this site then became the home of Combs Mercantile, run by William and son Fred. Although Elmore City was Combs Central over the course of many years, the 1920 census lists Arrie and William Combs with their residence in nearby Marlow where they had opened a branch store. However, by the time of the murders, they will be back in Elmore City where William David Combs continued in the dry goods business until he semi-retired in 1933.

    One quick point about Elmore City, located a little over 30 miles due east of Marlow on state highway 29. Like Marlow, in spite of its small size (pop. 700), this tiny town prompted a major motion picture. In 1980, a nearly century-old ban on public dancing was lifted after pressure from maverick students who had been lobbying for several years, allowing the high school’s first prom. Readers may be more familiar with this story as Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon in the 1984 version, remade in 2011. Starting in 2010, the town began hosting an annual “Footloose Festival.”

    After William’s retirement, the Combs family business in Elmore City was assumed by their only son, Fred, who died of kidney cancer at age 57, whereupon the store continued operation through a grandson, Doyle. In 1949, after being diagnosed with inoperable bladder cancer, William David Combs moved to Oklahoma City with wife Arrie for his end-stage care at St. Anthony Hospital. I have no memory of “Grandpa Combs,” though my sister Susan has faint recall.

    When “Grandpa Combs” died at age 86, he left an estate valued at $9,000 (a modest $80,000 in today’s dollars), indicating a small step beyond subsistence. Arrie moved in with her daughter Lula at the house at 1805 N.W. 27th in Oklahoma City. Lula’s itinerant adventures were winding down by this time. In her later years, Lula wrote: “My mother lived with me 18 years after my father died. She was very active. She made her own bed, washed the breakfast and dinner dishes when she was 100 years old. She could see and hear as good as she ever did up to the time of her death. She was always a sports fan. She would turn on the television at 10:00 a.m., and it was on until 10:30 p.m. each night. She would watch football games, and would slap her hands and scream, ‘Play, boy, play, you can do better.’ If they got too far behind she would say ‘I’ll have to turn it off,’ but she never did. She loved life, she loved young people and no boy or girl was ever bad without a reason. She always said they never had enough love and praise at home or if they had played with the wrong crowd, she always pitied them. My mother had worked hard all her life. She had helped Dad in the field. (Even after they went into mercantile), she always planted and cultivated a big garden, canned fruit and vegetables. We was poor for a few years but never hungry…She had an active life and a happy life because of good health.”

    And while Grandpa Combs may be a lost memory, Grandma Combs (Arrie) is not. Many great-grandchildren, 13 by my count, remember this remarkable woman well, as we were in our teens when she died at the age of 102. Arrie was quoted in the Oklahoma City Times newspaper article covering her 99th birthday: “I don’t yearn for the good old days – television and all these modern conveniences have the good old days beat by a mile.”….“I get a kick out of seeing young folks make love and if girls want to wear shorts that’s fine by me.”….“I live for the future and never in the past.”….“I love basketball, football, boxing, and wrestling. Those first five games that OU played were pretty rough but I’m a Sooner fan and always have been.” Lula comments in the article that, after moving to Oklahoma City, her mother Arrie couldn’t remember her new house number, but she “could name very player on the OU team.” (For the record, Arrie was referring to the first 5 football games of 1961, where the more senior Sooners will remember the shocking start to the season at 0-5, and yes, Bud was still at the helm). Arrie’s closing quote in the article: “I’m looking forward to my 100th birthday, but if I don’t make it, it’ll be my own fault.”

    Arrella Cordelia “Arrie” Loving Combs was born two months after the Battle at Gettysburg and two months prior to Abraham Lincoln’s famous address. She was old enough at age 7 to hear that Charles Dickens had died, she was a 40 year-old woman when the miracle occurred at Kitty Hawk, and she was nearly 50 when the Titanic sank. Centenarians were a rarity in the 1960s, and in the celebration of her 100th birthday, she received a congratulatory letter from Oklahoma Senator Mike Monroney, while on her 101st she was graced by another feature article in the Daily Oklahoman, where she reported being excited about the prospects of OU’s football team. (The Sooners were 6-4-1 that year.) Avoiding hospitals for the first century, her series of heart attacks began at 101 and ended at 102. She outlived all but two of her children, Lula and Nettie.

    When Arrie died in 1965, her daughter Lula received an unusual condolence from Ruby Vandiver Reeves, a long-time teacher in the Oklahoma City school system. Ruby claimed to be a descendant of the family that had taken in Arrie as an orphan in 1871. Mrs. Jordan B. “Ruby” Reeves, born in Elmore City, explained that she was the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Cecil of Arkansas who were friends with Arrie’s parents, the Lovings. Apparently, the Combs family moved to Montague County, Texas, in the same wagon train as the Cecil’s; and, judging from the birthplace of Ruby Reeves, made the next move to Elmore City as well, following the (second) devastating tornado in Texas. Mrs. Reeves’ mother was Jessie Cecil Vandiver (married to Ben Vandiver), the daughter of the Cecil couple who adopted Arrie. She writes about Arrie: “They considered her almost family. I have heard so many nice things about her from all my relatives. You must be proud to have had her for a mother.”

    Almarian kept many files that included instructions to unknown persons who discovered said files, presumably her children. She did this with everything. Objects were tagged on the bottom with instructions, all meant for “after I’m gone.” Even tape recordings made 30 years before her death described objects in rooms and their origins. In her notes, she kept in touch with Ruby Reeves, the descendant of Arrie’s adoptive family, until 1989 whereupon Ruby had no further information. Mother noted: “John Cecil was known to have killed a man, which might account for Grandma Combs disliking the past.”

    Arrie was sharp until the final few years. Tiny, terrifically wrinkled, with gray hair always on top in coiled braids, she forever sat a mere two feet away from her black and white TV, hunched over to get the closest look possible. I especially recall her as she watched boxing, this wee woman with fists flailing, mimicking each blow. And, she was forever jolly. Perhaps, it was this joyous glow that overrode the natural aversion some children have for elders with witching wrinkles. For her many great-grandchildren, Arrie was total delight.

    In the many years that passed, I have wondered if that memory of her as “jolly” was valid, or if it was an altered recollection from my youth. But in the treasures we found in the El Reno Excavation, my mother saved a reel-to-reel recording of her mother and her grandmother in 1959, with Arrie Combs approaching age 96. In 2012, I had that reel transferred to a CD where I heard it for the first time, a half-century after Grandmother Combs’ death. Indeed my memory was spot on. Just as I recalled, as Arrie spoke, every word seemed pregnant with joy, every phrase punctuated with a triplet-chuckle of “heh, heh, heh.” “Just how old am I, Lula? – heh, heh, heh – well, that’s right, I’ll be coming up on 96 this September.” Or, “we had a good rain – heh, heh, heh – yes sir, first good soakin’ we’ve had in a while – heh, heh, heh.”

    In the recording, the subject of rain triggers a response from Lula whose slant on life differs from her mother: “We always start to the storm cave whether there’s a storm or not. Yes, we go when the thunder is loud enough. Heard a man was killed on the golf course. Lightning. I worry so. Haskell (an in-law) plays so much golf you know. Just can’t go under a tree when it’s lightning.”

    Considering the totality of trauma in Arrie’s life, i.e., Lula’s many travails, daughter Fannie’s abortion horror story, daughter Jessie’s early death from leukemia, son Fred’s early death from kidney cancer, and so on, one almost wonders about “la belle indifference” in Arrie. Had Arrie simply gone bonkers over the years, explaining her perpetual joy? Yet, both Lula and her daughter Almarian would testify to this having been Arrie’s nature for as long as they had known her. As Lula says in the 1959 recording, “Anybody couldn’t live with mother couldn’t live alone.” The recording ends there.

    As a child, I wanted to know everything about Arrie’s pioneer days, and the parental admonition to avoid discussing the past gave me even greater motivation. Yet, upon questioning, great-grandmother Combs did nothing in the way of actually re-living the “olden days.” She simply agreed with my prompts. “Oh, yes, we crossed the prairie in a covered wagon. What’s that? Oh, yes, there were Indians.” Her conversation was strictly confirmatory. If I suggested it, then, yes, it happened. Nothing was ever offered.
    As for Lula, a gentle smile was the maximum expression of emotion. Piercing eyes met you head on. Taciturn, not gloomy. Cool, not cold. Stern on occasion, but never angry. Always kind. No hugging. And I didn’t dare ask about her past when I was a child, nor her age, strictly following Almarian’s guidelines. To look at her photographic portraits today, especially those taken when I first knew her, one is met by an unsmiling face, part choleric, part melancholic. But this was in the era before orthodontia and “cheese” altered photographic souvenirs forever. I do not recall witnessing even a momentary loss of temper. On the contrary, Lula managed restrained laughter at our antics as grandchildren, and she was always kind, though while her mother was alive, it was Arrie that did most of the talking.
    Later in her life (and Lula lived to age 98), it would be a different story entirely. She became more like her mother Arrie, chuckling, smiling and talking. But there was still a difference – she was in the grip of fear, a powerful anxiety over unmet disasters on unseen horizons by suns not yet risen. But with a nod to her foresight, or merely the betting odds that come with global anxiety, disaster would follow Lula into her 90s.

    Combs Central, as it turned out, was defined by Arrie’s location. From Elmore City to the duplex located at 1805 N.W. 27th near the campus of Oklahoma City University, the family congregated on Sundays, though my memory is blurred when it comes to the great aunts and uncles and cousins. By the time of my early teens, when it was my duty to mow the lawn at the duplex, I no longer saw the other branches of the family. After Arrie died in 1965, the visitors to see Lula dropped precipitously. The matriarch was gone, and ill health settled in for others. The home grew silent, and it is here that Lula’s anxiety bloomed. We children did not know or understand, but after reading hundreds of letters and documents from the time, I am greatly saddened that I didn’t think to visit her more often as a young adult.

    I did not attend my great-grandmother’s funeral, even though I was 16 when Arrie died. Oddly, my mother easily excused both my sister Susan and me from attending, if not outright discouraging attendance, as though she wanted to protect us from death as long as possible. Yet, that doesn’t explain why younger sister Dawn attended the services in Elmore City. Nevertheless, since religious denominations will emerge as an issue during the murder trials, let me point out here that William and Arrie Combs were members of the Methodist Church in Elmore City, so this was Grandmother Lula’s background as well.

    Growing up, I had always thought Lula was Catholic, this concept persisting into adulthood, not only through a crucifix that she hung on her wall, but also through my mother’s belief (incorrect) that her father, Albert Berch, had been Catholic. Then, as children, we learned that our mother Almarian had been Catholic in her young adult years (explained later), opting out to become a Presbyterian for reasons obscure to us. The facts seemed clear – both parents and the daughter were Catholics. As it turns out, Lula was not Catholic, Albert Berch was not Catholic, and the significance of this confusion will become clear as this story evolves, given the Ku Klux Klan’s aversion for Catholicism.

    Arrie was buried next to her husband in the Combs family plot in Elmore City, Oklahoma where some 35 years later, standing alone in front of Arrie’s grave for the first time, I would experience one of the most remarkable coincidences in my life. But I will leave that for the Third Obsession.

  • A SECOND ACCOUNT OF THE 1896 TORNADO

    A SECOND ACCOUNT OF THE 1896 TORNADO

    Later in my research, I found another account of this same storm, handwritten on paper that had aged to a caramel color with dark brown edges, crumbling as I touched it. The handwriting was definitely Lula’s, but softer, without the angulations. And, this version was more coherent, even with a literary bent: “…the clouds looked unusually angry. Big Black Thunderheads flying like they didn’t know where to stop or where to go…a green-black roll entirely across the west, then it looked like it was raining up from the ground.”

    Given the more tranquil handwriting, I’d guess this was a version written decades earlier, and it was notable that some phrases were nearly identical to the account later on, as if she had rehearsed the story in her head hundreds of times. She describes how the first clap of thunder occurred when her father was still strapped to his team of horses while plowing. They took off and “dragged him raw until he could release himself and get the family in the storm cave.” Then, the thunder was a constant rumble, with lightning constant as well, contained by the dark roll of clouds. When they emerged from the cave, the house was gone except for its rock chimney, and the pet squirrel “frisking” on the stump of the tree that had been stolen by the storm (the same “frisking” she had used in the later account). Horses, cattle, ducks, geese, chickens, gone – all but one hog that had been lifted by the storm and landed face-to-face with a neighbor’s storm cave where the animal began to grunt. The neighbor thought it was a human trying to get into the storm cave, and was greeted by the pig’s face when he opened the door.

    Another neighbor helping her crippled brother into the storm cave was blown away and killed, while her brother survived. Yet another woman rushed to the storm cave with a baby in her arms, and as she removed one hand of her cradling arms to open the door, her baby was snatched away in a malevolent rapture and blown to its death miles away.

    A nephew of Lula’s father was a field hand in a neighboring farm where 25 were killed. He ran to a ravine and gripped a persimmon bush while the tornado banged him repeatedly against the ground as if tenderizing meat, then lifted him into the air. As he swirled, an old wicker rocker swirled with him, and while aloft he caught a glimpse of blue sky he considered Heaven, whereupon he was deposited safely to the ground. He kept the rocker on his porch the rest of his life, a companion survivor of the storm.

  • GARVIN GENEAOLOGY AND THE STORY OF ROY GARVIN

    GARVIN GENEAOLOGY AND THE STORY OF ROY GARVIN

    The Garvin family plot in the Marlow cemetery was filling up quickly. We have the graves of Walter (husband), Glenn and Guy (sons), but other Garvins as well. The Garvin family is large and prominent in Oklahoma history, with the majority of its deceased resting at other cemetery sites. When I first noted the other Garvin graves in the same plot with Walter and sons – Roy Garvin, a contemporary of Walter, and a married couple from a generation prior – I was quick to assume that Roy was a brother while the couple was Walter’s parents.
    From the standpoint of the double murders about to take place in Marlow, I could have left it at that. However, I found it troubling that this lone Garvin (Walter) had strayed to Texas where he met my grandmother. Most Garvins in this branch of their family were in Oklahoma. And when I put Walter to the test through the ancestry web sites, he didn’t meld into the large Oklahoma family at all.

    Then, almost a year after my initial research, by eavesdropping on Garvin bloggers working on their genealogy, I stumbled on another murder – Roy Garvin gunned down by a female cousin in the same year listed on the tombstone of Marlow’s Roy Garvin (1921) in the same plot with Walter. I had to search out the details.

    Roy Garvin was not Walter’s sibling. And, the Garvin couple from a prior generation in the Marlow cemetery were not Walter’s parents. Yet, Walter turned out to be part of the large Garvin clan from Oklahoma history after all. As any genealogy buff has learned, when you reach a brick wall, think “second marriages and half relatives.”

    Risking mind-numbing detail (skip to the next paragraph if so inclined), but with a nod to the busy Garvin genealogists, as it turns out, the mystery graves were as follows: G.T. Garvin (1854-1926) was the half-brother of Lula’s husband Walter (not the full brother as implied above in the Marlow Review). The wife of George Thomas Garvin, Nancy Kivett Garvin (Nancy C. on the tombstone – 1852-1913) is buried next to G.T. Walter and G.T. had the same father in John T. Garvin, but G.T.’s mother was Louisa Tippett, while Walter’s mother was the second wife, Rachel Bobbett, accounting for a large age difference between Walter and half-brother G.T. This branch of the Garvin family was living in Nocona, Montague County, Texas at the time, such that 9 year-old Walter would have overlapped the same time and place as his 33 year-old half-brother.

    So who is Roy Garvin, buried nearby? Roy is the nephew of Walter’s half-brother G.T. Garvin. One of G.T.’s full brothers was a prominent rancher near Bray, Oklahoma, James Robert Garvin, Senior, who had among his children a son named Roy. Then, of G.T.s 6 children, the fourth in line was Della Garvin who married Littleton Hobbs Conklin. As it relates to Lula’s world, the cousin pair of Roy and Della were half-nephew and half niece to Lula’s first husband. Here’s the point of all this: Della and Roy were first cousins, and Littleton would have been an in-law. Littleton Conklin and Roy Garvin are both buried in the Marlow cemetery after a bizarre double murder.

    First, Roy killed his cousin Della’s husband, Littleton Conklin, allegedly over a bootlegging dispute, in Jim Price’s broomcorn field on August 10, 1920. Or, so goes the popular version from multiple sources. The Marlow Review states the motive was unknown at the time, but in later coverage of the story notes that Conklin had made disparaging remarks about Roy Garvin’s wife. Regardless of motive, the newspaper account states, “Garvin drove up in a Ford and called to Conklin that he had come to shoot him. Fellow workers sought to prevent the murder, but the shots were fired while Conklin was pleading for his life, the second one taking effect in his right lung, passing through his arm, which he had thrown up in defense of the shots. Conklin lived two hours after the shooting occurred. Garvin gave himself up to authorities and is awaiting preliminary trial at Duncan…”

    Della was left with eight children, one of whom was deaf. It was said that Della used to disappear into the woods for long periods of time. Roy was imprisoned and tried for the killing, but remarkably, the trial ended in a hung jury. Many believed the outcome was influenced by his prominent father. In the days before the second trial, rumors circulated that Roy would escape punishment completely, again through Garvin influence. The widowed cousin took the rumors hard.

    According to family bloggers (who have identified the location as Pauls Valley, when it was, in fact, Marlow), Roy was sitting on a sidewalk curb with his father, James R. Garvin, in the days prior to a planned second trial, when Roy spotted his cousin Della and said, “Oh, hello, Della,” whereupon she pulled out a six-shooter and emptied the gun into her cousin. He was dead after the first shot, which caught him just above the right eye.

    The Marlow Review on April 7, 1921 offers more details as Della ran screaming into Hodnett’s store and threw the gun on one of the show counters. She “went into a spell of hysterics” until she realized that her “bullets had gone true,” whereupon the “heavy load seemed to be relieved and witnesses say she immediately braced up as if every worry had been removed.” Della was taken into custody, though her friends managed her bail.

    I was fortunate to learn Della’s fate as I was racing through Marlow microfilm looking for something else entirely when a back page blurb near the Classifieds caught my eye, “Mrs. Conkling Acquitted of Murder Charge.” I’m still surprised that I stopped to read it as my research had been about a “Garvin” story dealing with Della Garvin, not Mrs. Conkling. Nevertheless, the brief story comes right to the brief point – it took the jury 9 minutes to acquit her. As stated in the Marlow Review, “A general belief seemed to prevail in Marlow that she would be cleared of the responsibility when the case was tried.”

    Roy Garvin is not buried with his parents who are elsewhere in the Marlow cemetery, having outlived their son by several decades. He is buried with Walter Garvin, half-brother to Roy’s uncle and Lula’s first husband.

    So, in our cozy Garvin plot, we have G.T. and Nancy buried a few feet away from their nephew Roy, the murderer of their daughter’s husband, Littleton Hobbs Conklin, who is also buried in the Marlow cemetery. And to think, I nearly let this story lie six feet under.

  • TULSA RACE RIOT (1921)

    TULSA RACE RIOT (1921)

    In 1920, Governor J.B.A. Robertson held an Inter-racial Conference to address the issues of lynching, civil rights, and education. Nothing changed, and in 1921, Oklahoma would host what many call the worst race riot in U.S. history. Despite its significance, while growing up in Oklahoma, I never heard of these riots during my school years. I was not alone. Few had. The story was not included in the state history books in our schools. No one seemed to talk about it. Then, in 1997, the legislature formed a commission to study the riots, issuing their final report in 2001. A landslide of interest followed, with books and magazine articles educating Oklahomans about their white-washed past.

    On May 31, 1921, a black man named Dick Rowland was arrested for the alleged assault of a white girl. Stories vary widely as to what happened when Rowland stepped into an elevator operated by white Sarah Page. But when the elevator doors opened, Sarah alleged, “Attempted Rape.” Incendiary rhetoric followed in the newspapers, and the call for a lynching was so loud that a group of black men offered services to Sherriff William M. McCullough to protect Rowland. This group of blacks joined the white crowd gathering at the courthouse on May 31. Then, a shot was fired and heard around Tulsa, launching a gun battle of wartime proportions.

    Guns and ammunition were stolen from pawnshops and sporting goods stores, and both sides turned into armed encampments. More than 1,000 whites were appointed “special deputies.” The Greenwood district (called “Little Africa” by whites and the newspapers) was sometimes referred to as the Black Wall Street, with countless small businesses, two newspapers, two theaters, 13 churches, a hospital and a library, considered collectively as the wealthiest African-American community in the country. Twenty-four hours later, only one school remained. Participants stayed awake those 24 hours, looting and burning. Martial law was declared, and when it was over, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed in a 35-block area, another 500 looted, and casualties were never accurately determined. One estimate claims 800 people were admitted to local hospitals, while more than 6,000 blacks were arrested and detained. The death count has never been solidified. Although the official rendering at the time, made by the whites who staffed the Department of Vital Statistics, was 39, contemporary historians have placed the number at 300 or more.

    And with a postscript steeped in irony, during the chaos, Sherriff McCullough had slipped out of town with the accused Dick Rowland. Sarah Page refused to prosecute, and Rowland was later exonerated.

  • OU CHEMISTRY PROFESSOR AND THE KKK

    OU CHEMISTRY PROFESSOR AND THE KKK

    A post script is due for Grand Dragon DeBarr, the chemistry professor forced to resign his Grand Dragon Klan position by the OU Board of Regents after DeBarr campaigned so aggressively for the Klan candidate for governor in 1922. The Grand Dragon responded to the allegations as follows: “If thirty years of living and doing in Norman and Oklahoma is not sufficient defense, then I have none other to make.” The Norman chapter of the OU Alumni Association added, “If DeBarr is a Klansman, then the Klan is to be congratulated on the high type of its membership.” The esteemed professor threatened to take the matter to court, but eventually accepted the reprimand. A few months later, however, he resigned as Grand Dragon and was succeeded by N. Clay Jewett, an Oklahoma City “dental wholesaler.”

    DeBarr left OU in 1923 and served out his career as the Norman Public Health Officer. His name lives on as DeBarr Avenue in the DeBarr Historic District, a near-campus zone listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As it turns out, a common practice of early faculty at the university was the buying and selling of property near the university campus. DeBarr lived at 12 S. University Boulevard, surveying and platting what would become the historic district. The first concrete sidewalk laid in Norman was placed by DeBarr on the street where he lived, University Boulevard, this very avenue serving as the source of a book title familiar to a few readers of fiction.

    Although these remnants of his memory exist today, DeBarr’s name was stripped from the chemistry building in the late 1980s, according to a university web site when the KKK connection “came to light.” As long as the 1916 building stands, OU now calls it by the uninspired title – the Chemistry Building. Odd, though, that it was the 1980s before things “came to light.” All this information about DeBarr was in my mother’s files in the 1970s.

  • ORIGINS OF JOHNSON’S HOTEL

    ORIGINS OF JOHNSON’S HOTEL

    In 1920s Marlow, with a bustling downtown and busy railroad, there were at least four hotels – Johnson, Kentucky, Lumpkins (officially, the “Midway Hotel” in the second story of the Hodnett Building), and Skinners. The Kentucky was one of the earlier hotels, opening in 1912, in competition with a Parks Hotel at the time, and judging from the number of anecdotes and ads in the Marlow Review, it seems these two dominated. The Parks Hotel burned down March 12, 1914, killing one, and providing Marlow with one of its first major natural disasters. The wood-framed Kentucky was dismantled in 1922 to make way for a brick building, over a year prior to the double murders at the Johnson.
    The burning of the Parks Hotel in 1914 may have sent a message of opportunity, along with the smell of the pending oil boom, to Mr. W. A. Johnson who decided the town needed a hotel located in that most ideal location, directly across the street from the railroad station.

    The original deed to the land was held by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations who then transferred ownership to Marlow pioneer, George Siever, on February 11, 1916. Perhaps this was part of the aforementioned “railway rights” that withdrew strips of Indian lands, given that George Siever was the agent of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Company at Marlow. Through the internet, one can find mind-boggling extraneous details, for instance, that George Siever cast his first presidential vote for Grover Cleveland, subsequently opting for William Jennings Bryan. But for purposes here, the noteworthy connection to this story is that George was one of 10 siblings, only two of whom migrated to Marlow, and it is his brother, Lloyd A. Siever, who plays a role in this story. More precisely, it will be Lloyd’s drugstore, “Siever’s,” that will be the site where the mob congregates before storming Johnson’s Hotel.

    George Siever deeded the land to William A. Johnson on November 30, 1918, a transaction I have viewed in the abstract office of Stephens County. However, by that time, the hotel had been built and in operation for more than two years. Mr. Johnson announced his plans to own and operate a “20 room brick hotel” in the Marlow Review February 10, 1916, later amending it to 27 rooms, announcing the opening on May 25, 1916. In the shape of an “L,” the two-story hotel faced 72 feet of Main Street and 50 feet of First Street, with “all the modern equipment.” Newspaper accounts described it as “the largest and most up to date hotel in Stephens County and is furnished with appropriate furniture and electrical fixtures.” Given the gap between building and deeding, one has to assume that Johnson was making payments to Siever before final transfer of the deed.

    The next transfer of the real estate deed was directly from Johnson to Lula Combs Garvin on January 2, 1919, three months after the death of Lula’s husband in the 1918 flu pandemic. Oddly, transfer of the deed to Lee W. Steel (a.k.a. Will Steel) is never recorded, even though he is listed as “owner” in the 1918 business directory noted in a previous chapter, and as the person from whom Lula bought the hotel in her own log. It is conceivable that Mr. Steel purchased the building, but not the real estate.

    I considered that the Marlow Review on microfilm might be able to clarify these transactions, specifically the role played by Lee W. Steel, but my discovery of the hotel sale in the November 28, 1918 edition of the newspaper only clouded the scanty facts. “Important Real Estate Deal” was the front-page story about the Johnson Hotel being sold directly from W. A. Johnson to Mrs. Lulu Garvin. The story reads:

    One of the most important real estate deals of the year was made last Friday when W. A. Johnson sold his hotel property to Mrs. Lulu Garvin, consideration being $10,000. Mr. Johnson in turn bought George Putty’s residence property one block north of the High School building for the sum of $2,750. All were cash transactions.

    Mrs. Garvin has assumed the management of the hotel with Will Steele and wife, experienced hotel people assisting her. Mr. Johnson will occupy the Putty residence with his family just as soon as Mr. Putty gives possession. Mr. Putty has not stated where he will go, although Dame Rumor has it that he will move to a larger City where he has attractive inducements.

    Incidentally, George Putty was a former mayor of Marlow.

    Confusing as it may be with regard to the Siever-Johnson-Steel-Garvin purchase agreements, this front page story helps us to understand who helped to mentor Lula, a woman with zero experience in hotel management – Will Steele and his wife. In the end, Lula emerged as sole owner of both the property and the hotel. And for those interested in the magnitude of $10,000 up front cash in that era, it would translate to $153,752 in 2013 dollars using the U.S. Department of Labor inflation calculator.

    W.A. Johnson and wife Zetta Johnson are listed with ages 49 and 47 respectively in the 1920 U.S. census, on the same page with Lula Garvin and son Guy. This census recording is dated Jan 16, 1920, three months before Guy would die on the track field. Mr. Johnson lists his primary occupation in the census as the operator of a “wagon yard,” a facility common to all self-respecting towns of the era where rural travelers stored their wagon and teams when doing business in the city (in contrast to a “livery stable” where horses and wagons were rented to those in town via the trains). The Marlow Review records Johnson’s purchase of the O.K. Wagon Yard as involving a “large amount of money” and the “second big real estate deal of the year.” When the purchase of the wagon yard was announced December 12, 1918, the roads in Marlow were not yet paved, though momentum was brewing to begin the process on Main Street. Nevertheless, it has to be considered that Mr. Johnson may have underestimated the future impact of those novelty items, horseless carriages, which were already sharing the dirt roads.

    Mr. Johnson did not lose out in the end. After the murders, Lula will deed the land back to William A. Johnson on April 17, 1924, while leasing the hotel’s contents to Mr. Johnson as well, this contract finalized on February 11, 1925. As for the hotel building itself, she will lease it to J.B. Klein of Oklahoma City in 1925 (details of final sale are unknown), shortly before the lease contract for the inventory is signed with Johnson.

  • DELETED CHAPTER – WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HARRY?

    DELETED CHAPTER – WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HARRY?

    During the El Reno Excavation, we were overwhelmed. Out of the voluminous records, memorabilia, and trash, my sisters and I agreed that, when it came to sorting family keepers, I would retain the Combs and Berch records, given my intent for this book. Related files were scattered throughout the three-level house, and document boxes filled a walk-in attic, floor to ceiling. There was little time for on-spot review. Our rallying cry was, “if it’s not trash, then transfer it to a storage box and take it home for later review.” In the process, I relied heavily on the recognition of Lula’s handwriting, previously described as having angulated, bold strokes, with the pressure of the pen point torturing the ink into calligraphy.

    So you can imagine my shock when I lifted a document out of a file drawer, with this horror jumping off the page in Lula’s handwriting: “You must help me. I’m desperate. My husband has lost his mind. He will sometimes hold a gun to his head and threaten to blow his brains out. I don’t know what else to do…”

    It was a sickening moment. First of all, which one of Lula’s three husbands was she writing about? And to whom? If she was writing about Albert Berch, my story was in big trouble. Furthermore, how could we, the children of Almarian, know nothing of this personal nightmare of Lula?

    Harry Elwood Reynolds was born in Adams, Nebraska in 1888, the youngest of 4 boys in a farming family, at least according to the 1900 census. Later, a sister appears in the narrative, offering a remarkable span of birthings that would have to exceed 27 years if the online listing is accurate. The father, John Reynolds, originally from Virginia, died in 1908, having fathered Harry at age 51. The mother, Sarah, was originally from Indiana, and she died in 1924. Harry married a girl in her teens sometime after 1921 and was divorced on October 5, 1926.

    According to an account written by Lula, during the divorce proceedings, the judge said that Harry would have to pay “child support,” to which there was great laughter, as the “child” being referenced was Harry’s soon-to-be-ex-wife. Several pages tell the story of a complex and devious family that had sacrificed their teen-age daughter as a gold-digger into the marriage originally, seeking an overestimated pittance that Harry had accumulated after World War I.

    Lula continues, “This leads up to myself. I was working at the Reynolds Realty office in Duncan… Of course, I knew the whole story of divorce and separation so I felt sorry for him and his family. I offered sympathy to all. Well, it came to the point that the older brother who had saved his money for him could see how nervous Harry was after the divorce. Began sending him out of the office to list houses for sale, also oil leases and farms to sell, so he would send me along to do the driving, since William could see his brother was too nervous to drive and William was too crippled with arthritis to do it himself. Well, we were together 12 to 14 hours out of the 24 hours a day for 2 years and there was an attachment or an awareness that we needed each other as companions. We knew we could get along and appreciated each other and I thought his health was getting better. The doctors said he would be okay soon as he got settled, so he began to beg me to marry him. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to accept his proposal because I never believed you could mix two sets of children and not show partiality, so I finally said to him why I was not eager to accept his proposal to take this step into matrimony. I said I don’t want a second family. He said he didn’t want any family except me. …I told him it might not be right, but I didn’t think I could stand to see anyone finish my daughter but myself, then he told me I will never finish your child if that’s all that is keeping us from getting married. And we did.”

    Almarian was five years old when Harry became her step-father, a man she always referred to in the kindest of terms. In her youth, when home from boarding school, Harry taught her about nature, how to fish, and generally served as a friend. Deep attachment would have been difficult with their times together confined to the summer months. Yet, this friendship continued through the years until Harry’s death.

    My sisters and I do not recall a single unkind word about Harry, other than he had a mild case of “shell shock” after the war, a term that held great fascination for me as a child. With Harry’s death occurring in 1947, none of us siblings remember him, and there were no photos on display as we had with Albert Berch. However, our father was a pioneer in the home movie arena, and he shot footage of the Combs family as early as 1939. Harry’s medical diagnosis is obvious in this film that I viewed for the first time in 2011.

    In fact, Harry’s diagnosis is suggested in a photo we found during the El Reno Excavation, taken in his army uniform as he entered World War I. How so? Because the signs were not apparent in a photo taken a few years earlier. But in the wartime photo, Harry’s eyes are starting to protrude. Would this be enough to make a diagnosis prior to 1920? I doubt it, as it is not yet striking, and I have the advantage of medicine’s greatest tool – the retrospective vantage point.

    From his army discharge records: Harry enlisted October 3, 1917, age 29, no experience. Single. Excellent character. Vocation: auto mechanic. 5 feet 8 ¾ inches. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Served in France. Cook. Wounds during war: none. Physical condition on discharge: good. Service was honest and faithful. No absences under (code) and no AWOL. Entitled to $60 and travel pay to Pond Creek. Honorably discharged.

    Married to Harry in 1927, Lula reflected years later that, in the first four years of their marriage, they worked the oil fields together as wildcatters, but Harry’s increasing “nervousness” finally prevented him from working at all. Although the diagnosis of “shell shock” came early, it now seems unlikely that Harry had any symptoms related to World War I.

    The diagnosis of “toxic goiter” or “exophthalmic goiter” was correctly made on March 10, 1920, over a year after the end of what was then called the Great War. Today, this type of hyperthyroidism is more commonly called Grave’s disease, a term originally used in the 1800s though not popularized until it emerged from a crowded field of competitors. Lacking a known etiology, the stress of war (even for a cook) was invoked as the causative agent. This worked to Harry’s advantage through disability payments that became another fighting cause for Lula later on, as she struggled to increase those benefits.

    Today, Grave’s disease is rooted as an autoimmune condition that prompts the thyroid to produce an excessive amount of thyroid hormone, resulting in extreme nervousness, tremor, insomnia, sweating, palpitations, muscle weakness, cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, agitation, depression, emotional instability, and psychosis. While many of the symptoms are easily managed today with antithyroid drugs, surgery or radioactive iodine, not all symptoms are easily controlled. The neuropsychological symptoms and exophthalmos (buldging eyes) can be particularly persistent.

    In a later affidavit of a field director, written as part of the disability process, there is a different version of Harry’s discharge from the army as a private in Company 12, 1st Air Service, Mechanic’s Regiment: “Upon the date of his discharge (he) was in a very nervous and vacillating condition and that when examined by physicians on said date of discharge he was asked by them what caused his extreme nervousness and through his ignorance of his true condition (diagnosed months later), and his desire to be discharged and get home he answered that he presumed his nervous condition was caused by excessive smoking and excitement…symptoms gradually grew worse and that he expected rest at home to cure this condition but that it failed to do so and he developed violent headaches at spasmodic periods and that the first knowledge he had of the true cause of his condition was when told by Dr. McGregor of Duncan, Oklahoma that he was developing exophthalmic goiter…”

    In reviewing available records, it is difficult to pinpoint the first doctor to raise the possibility of “toxic goiter.” However, his various physicians included Dr. Drennon in Pond Creek who correctly made the diagnosis, as well as Dr. B. J. Plunkett, possibly at Ft. Sill in Lawton. However, it was Dr. D. T. McGregor, an osteopathic physician in Duncan, who considered Harry’s condition so bad (“extreme nervousness and extremely high pulsation”) that he insisted Harry be accompanied by a nurse to visit “the Mayo brothers.”

    In November, 1920, Harry made the trip by train to the Mayo brothers in Rochester, Minnesota, accompanied by a nurse. The trip cost Harry “$152.20 for fare and Pullman accommodations.” He entered the Colonial Hospital located in Rochester, Minnesota (also known as Mayo’s Clinic) November 26, 1920 and was discharged from the hospital December 5, 1920, though he was transferred to a hotel room in Rochester to stay 30 days for observation. A letter from his physician indicates that, given the advanced state of the disease, Harry’s condition might have been present months, or even years, prior to 1920. His care at Mayo was under the direction of William A. Plummer, MD, a noted thyroid specialist and brother to Dr. Henry S. Plummer who, in addition to the Mayo Brothers (William and Charles) was one of the seven founders of the Mayo Clinic. Harry’s status was so fragile during his period of observation that “at no time was condition sufficiently improved to warrant either a ligation of the superior thyroid vessel or a thyroidectomy.”

    Although there is no record of any directed treatment at Rochester, Harry seems to have improved for about 10 years, lasting through the first four years of his marriage to Lula. Lula writes, however, that the last 16 years of her marriage were quite another thing.

    Harry also had a stint in the sanitarium of Dr. E. E. Sonnanstein in Oklahoma City, from January 2, 1921 through March 26, 1921 (“sanitarium” being a hospital for long-term care). Later, Dr. Sonnanstein turned out to be a “fugitive from justice” in Oklahoma County and Harry hired an attorney to get reimbursed for the medical expenses he had paid. The district office of U.S. Veterans Bureau located in Dallas, Texas, refused to cover Sonnanstein’s expenses, but “If at any time in the future you are able to locate Dr. Sonnanstine (sic) and secure a fully itemized, receipted bill, the claim will be given our careful consideration.”

    In addition, there were trips to see specialists in Oklahoma City, as well as nationally-recognized thyroid disease specialist Leigh F. Watson who had once practiced in the Hotel Kingkade, located near the Sante Fe Depot in downtown Oklahoma City at the beginning of the 20th century. One can track Dr. Watson’s career by noting the city where he lived when publishing articles on thyroid disease in the major journals of the time. Dr. Watson was granted two special diplomas by the American Medical Association for his research and discoveries as related to thyroid disease, specifically toxic goiter. In fact, it is largely Dr. Watson’s sworn deposition that ends the debate, proclaiming that Harry’s toxic goiter was “caused by nerve strain and fatigue and intense excitement brought on during his eighteen months service in the United States Army in France.”

    Although he moved from Oklahoma City to Chicago and then Los Angeles, Dr. Watson continued to treat Harry and would even write him personal letters, now in my possession. Dr. Watson noted that Harry’s pulse, the simplest way to measure efficacy of treatment, varied between 120 to 160 beats per minute, and was never out of that range. Dr. Watson predicted a one-year cure, but this would not be the case. It is unclear as to the nature of the specific treatment used on Harry, but Dr. Watson was publishing on various approaches at the time, including direct injections of caustic substances into the thyroid gland to destroy it in part. Perhaps, one of these invasive approaches aimed at thyroid destruction was responsible for Henry’s initial improvement. Watson’s advice in letters to Harry included, “stay out of the heat, drink water, eat fruits vegetables and melons.” Treatments under Dr. Watson lasted from 1921 to 1931 and, by then, the resultant heart damage from the unchecked hyperthyroidism was so severe that surgeons refused to operate, as had been the verdict at the Mayo Clinic.

    Harry Reynold’s nephew, Joel Scott Price, while still a medical student at the University of Oklahoma, helped care for Harry, often making “house calls” to Duncan from 1920 to 1928. Dr. Scott would write, “he was so ill that everyone in the family thought he would not live very long. We all knew that he had a toxic goiter and that he had been considered too ill for an operation to correct it. During my years as a medical student, I was especially interested in his condition and took special notice of it. I saw that he was nervous and infirm and had to be helped always. He trembled. He had the protruding eyes of the toxic goiter sufferer. In my opinion, he was totally disabled through these years.”

    Throughout the 20 years of this marriage, Lula was carrying on correspondence with the Veteran’s Administration to improve benefits for Harry and her. In Lula’s mind, Harry had a 100% service-connected disability, while in the eyes of the government, it was far less, starting at $8 per month immediately after the war. As a result of Lula’s efforts, we have a large pile of affidavits swearing to Harry’s status. In July, 1928, Lula received notice that due to “wife #2 and your step child,” monthly payments would be increased to $75.05. Medical costs must have been staggering. And while we don’t have a full accounting, Dr. Watson’s bill alone totaled $2,200.00 over the years, and this was a small fraction of the total. If I were to estimate 30 years of treatments in today’s dollars, all of which would have been out-of-pocket and with Lula helping 20 of those 30 years, I would place the sum at well over $150,000.00. And the best I can tell, Harry and Lula paid their medical bills.

    One of these supporting affidavits for an increase in disability came from Lula’s neighbor, Mrs. C.D. Hunnicutt, also one of Lula’s renters from 1934 to 1938, living in one side of a duplex, opposite Harry and Lula. She wrote, “All the time I lived there, Mr. Reynolds was unable to do any manual labor and not drive a car so that I was called on to drive him and his family any place it was necessary. I know that Mrs. Reynolds had to attend to all business, even to buying his clothing. I remember she also cut his hair as he was too nervous to go to a shop. I also remember after he returned from the veteran’s home in Kansas, Mrs. Reynolds got tools for a woodworking shop as a hobby to help him mentally. My husband and I helped to suggest things to make in order to keep him interested, such as lawn chairs, dog houses and what-nots. …My husband enjoyed helping Mr. Reynolds with his hobby. I can remember the anxiety of Mrs. Reynolds when Mr. Reynolds would threaten to end his suffering, as it worried him not being able to make a living.”

    Although Almarian was not emotionally tight with Harry, she did have fond memories of him and kept some of his woodworking products in our home in El Reno. Even after her marriage, Almarian wrote letters to Harry and enlisted his help in her dealings with Lula.

    Lula had battled the government for 20 years while Harry was alive, and her efforts continued post-mortem due to a lapse of several monthly payments ($3.45 each) on a $5,000 Bureau of War Risk Insurance policy that promised a benefit of $28.75 in monthly installments, “subject to payments of premiums.” Lula maintained, and had receipts of proof, that Harry had compensated the government for his lapse in payments on this policy, and that, if anything, he had overpaid. To prove her point, she displayed her calculations and wrote to every agency she could think of as her letters bounced around Kafka’s Castle interminably for years.

    From one of Lula’s documents: “Then Harry developed lip cancer and that took an awful lot of money. I had 80 acres of oil leases and I sold them at fifty dollars an acre to get enough money for his medical care. A lawyer named Reuel Little took care of selling this for me. Oil was later discovered on the land, and if I had not had to sell it, I would be a wealthy woman now. He survived the cancer operation of the lower lip. In 1933, we moved to Elmore City, Oklahoma where my parents lived but he was dissatisfied there as they only had one doctor. His name was Dr. Sullivan and he is now deceased. We only lived there one year and in 1934 we moved to Oklahoma City so he could be near his nephew, Dr. Price, who treated him at intervals the rest of his life….In 1934, Harry had a stroke. He was paralyzed in his right side for several days and his right arm was paralyzed to a certain degree the rest of his life. I fed him all his meals for 9 months. When he tried to feed himself he would always end up by either dropping the food or hitting his face somewhere besides the mouth….From 1934 to the day he died I shaved him every day. In 1934 he became so mentally ill that he tried to kill himself and kept threatening to kill himself until the Veterans Administration sent him to their facility in Kansas. He only stayed a month or two and he begged so hard to come home. I made a trip up there and secured a furlough for him but he would never go back. I bought him wood working machine tools and until he died he made what-nots and lawn chairs and gave them away. Sometimes he would be 2 months making one chair. He became more reconciled to his condition and was not dangerous anymore, but I lived in constant fear even though he was so good to me. From 1920 on through his entire life he was never able to follow a gainful occupation…”

    Dr. Joel Scott Price continued as Harry’s nephew-physician for many years. In one of his final notations, he wrote this about Harry, a 3-pack-per-day smoker. “He had a chonic cough. On May 6, 1946, he had a lung hemorrhage following a coughing seizure. On the following day, X-rays were made which showed a bronchogenic carcinoma. A chest surgeon saw him with me and we decided it was inoperable.” Scribbled at the bottom of the letter is Lula’s handwriting, though it is not known to whom she meant this: “Check Dr. Joel S. Price, you will find he is one of the best M.D.s in Okla. City. Mrs. Lula Reynolds.”

    In my review of the records, I cannot tell that Lula was successful in her extraordinary efforts addressing the life insurance claim. She did, however, receive benefits as a veteran’s widow, albeit not service-connected, so the monthly amount ranged from $4 monthly to a peak of $42 per month. However, in 1950, after three years of receiving these payments, they were discontinued when Lula’s annual income from rentals was $1,229.48, exceeding the $1,000 maximum. Of course, the government promise was made to reinstitute payment if her income ever dropped below $1,000. As a side note, Lula drew up her own will at this point in time, listing 13 properties as assets.

    Returning to our shock during the El Reno Excavation upon discovering Harry’s mental aberrations and threatened suicide, my sisters and I could not fathom how this could have been kept secret. But how much did our mother know? Did Almarian simply accept the many boxes of documents from her mother near the time of Lula’s death and store them without scrutiny?

    Within minutes of the discovery, my sister Susan went straight to the phone and called Almarian’s sister-cousin Ben Marion, then living in Florida. Ben Marion would have been around Harry almost as much as Almarian, and we wanted to learn all we could about Harry’s behavior and mental status. At the time of this phone call, we knew nothing yet about the hyperthyroidism, only the mental manifestations. Ben Marion was surprised, stating that Harry’s behavior always seemed normal, there had been no mention of mental illness in the 20 years of marriage to Lula, and Harry was well-liked by both her and Almarian. A few months after this conversation, sister-cousin Ben Marion died, the two women linked through the end.

    In sequencing the events, it is clear that Harry was well into his disease by the time he and Lula married. And, Lula’s impression that the first four years of marriage went fairly well seem to fit the idea that some form of treatment by Dr. Watson had offered temporary relief. In a letter dated November 2, 1931, Dr.Watson comments to his colleague, Hugh Scott, MD of Chicago (in discussing possible radium treatments as an option for Harry’s lip cancer): After recounting the lack of intervention at Mayo’s, “Mr. Reynolds goiter disappeared entirely soon after (Dr. Watson’s) treatment but it has been necessary for him to see me once or twice a year because of heart and kidney damage done before he came under my care. In April, 1931, he had a reappearance of the diabetes that was present when I first treated him. While the blood pressure and pulse are normal, the electrocardiogram shows serious and permanent myocardial damage which in my opinion will be persistent throughout his life. Come and see me whenever you are in California. Yours truly, Leigh F. Watson, MD, 727 West Seventh Street, Roosevelt Building, Los Angeles, CA.”

    The “disappearance” of the goiter is specifically addressing the size of the thyroid gland, but if blood pressure and pulse were normal in 1931, over 10 years since disease onset, then the symptoms had improved as well. It can be deduced that Harry was in a partial, albeit temporary, remission during the first four years of marriage to Lula, just as she described.

    The impact of Harry’s untreated thyrotoxicosis on family and friends over a 30-year time frame cannot be measured or described adequately, except to say it was only a fraction of what he suffered personally. To think that today, most of his symptoms would be easily controlled early on, before the permanent heart damage and severe psychological changes – well, it’s another sad story to add to a long list.

    After Harry’s death, Lula immersed herself even more in the hard work of property management and real estate, buying and selling, forming and dissolving partnerships, struggling with low rent and low renters, and the traumas as we saw in the last chapter.

    Harry Reynolds was buried in Pond Creek, Oklahoma. He had no descendants, though his siblings had many. And while this medical saga is not part of the Berch-Johnigan murders, it is integral to the story of Lula who was 63 at the time of Harry’s death, a third of her life left before her. Little wonder, then, that Lula began her handwritten autobiography with: “Life has been a great disappointment to me.”

    Hell had been dishing itself out to Lula on the installment plan. Yet, if one could identify a single point of light in her dark life, it had to be her only living child, Almarian Berch.ORIGINS OF JOHNSON’S HOTEL

    In 1920s Marlow, with a bustling downtown and busy railroad, there were at least four hotels – Johnson, Kentucky, Lumpkins (officially, the “Midway Hotel” in the second story of the Hodnett Building), and Skinners. The Kentucky was one of the earlier hotels, opening in 1912, in competition with a Parks Hotel at the time, and judging from the number of anecdotes and ads in the Marlow Review, it seems these two dominated. The Parks Hotel burned down March 12, 1914, killing one, and providing Marlow with one of its first major natural disasters. The wood-framed Kentucky was dismantled in 1922 to make way for a brick building, over a year prior to the double murders at the Johnson.

    The burning of the Parks Hotel in 1914 may have sent a message of opportunity, along with the smell of the pending oil boom, to Mr. W. A. Johnson who decided the town needed a hotel located in that most ideal location, directly across the street from the railroad station.

    The original deed to the land was held by the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations who then transferred ownership to Marlow pioneer, George Siever, on February 11, 1916. Perhaps this was part of the aforementioned “railway rights” that withdrew strips of Indian lands, given that George Siever was the agent of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Company at Marlow. Through the internet, one can find mind-boggling extraneous details, for instance, that George Siever cast his first presidential vote for Grover Cleveland, subsequently opting for William Jennings Bryan. But for purposes here, the noteworthy connection to this story is that George was one of 10 siblings, only two of whom migrated to Marlow, and it is his brother, Lloyd A. Siever, who plays a role in this story. More precisely, it will be Lloyd’s drugstore, “Siever’s,” that will be the site where the mob congregates before storming Johnson’s Hotel.

    George Siever deeded the land to William A. Johnson on November 30, 1918, a transaction I have viewed in the abstract office of Stephens County. However, by that time, the hotel had been built and in operation for more than two years. Mr. Johnson announced his plans to own and operate a “20 room brick hotel” in the Marlow Review February 10, 1916, later amending it to 27 rooms, announcing the opening on May 25, 1916. In the shape of an “L,” the two-story hotel faced 72 feet of Main Street and 50 feet of First Street, with “all the modern equipment.” Newspaper accounts described it as “the largest and most up to date hotel in Stephens County and is furnished with appropriate furniture and electrical fixtures.” Given the gap between building and deeding, one has to assume that Johnson was making payments to Siever before final transfer of the deed.

    The next transfer of the real estate deed was directly from Johnson to Lula Combs Garvin on January 2, 1919, three months after the death of Lula’s husband in the 1918 flu pandemic. Oddly, transfer of the deed to Lee W. Steel (a.k.a. Will Steel) is never recorded, even though he is listed as “owner” in the 1918 business directory noted in a previous chapter, and as the person from whom Lula bought the hotel in her own log. It is conceivable that Mr. Steel purchased the building, but not the real estate.

    I considered that the Marlow Review on microfilm might be able to clarify these transactions, specifically the role played by Lee W. Steel, but my discovery of the hotel sale in the November 28, 1918 edition of the newspaper only clouded the scanty facts. “Important Real Estate Deal” was the front-page story about the Johnson Hotel being sold directly from W. A. Johnson to Mrs. Lulu Garvin. The story reads:

    One of the most important real estate deals of the year was made last Friday when W. A. Johnson sold his hotel property to Mrs. Lulu Garvin, consideration being $10,000. Mr. Johnson in turn bought George Putty’s residence property one block north of the High School building for the sum of $2,750. All were cash transactions.

    Mrs. Garvin has assumed the management of the hotel with Will Steele and wife, experienced hotel people assisting her. Mr. Johnson will occupy the Putty residence with his family just as soon as Mr. Putty gives possession. Mr. Putty has not stated where he will go, although Dame Rumor has it that he will move to a larger City where he has attractive inducements.

    Incidentally, George Putty was a former mayor of Marlow.

    Confusing as it may be with regard to the Siever-Johnson-Steel-Garvin purchase agreements, this front page story helps us to understand who helped to mentor Lula, a woman with zero experience in hotel management – Will Steele and his wife. In the end, Lula emerged as sole owner of both the property and the hotel. And for those interested in the magnitude of $10,000 up front cash in that era, it would translate to $153,752 in 2013 dollars using the U.S. Department of Labor inflation calculator.

    W.A. Johnson and wife Zetta Johnson are listed with ages 49 and 47 respectively in the 1920 U.S. census, on the same page with Lula Garvin and son Guy. This census recording is dated Jan 16, 1920, three months before Guy would die on the track field. Mr. Johnson lists his primary occupation in the census as the operator of a “wagon yard,” a facility common to all self-respecting towns of the era where rural travelers stored their wagon and teams when doing business in the city (in contrast to a “livery stable” where horses and wagons were rented to those in town via the trains). The Marlow Review records Johnson’s purchase of the O.K. Wagon Yard as involving a “large amount of money” and the “second big real estate deal of the year.” When the purchase of the wagon yard was announced December 12, 1918, the roads in Marlow were not yet paved, though momentum was brewing to begin the process on Main Street. Nevertheless, it has to be considered that Mr. Johnson may have underestimated the future impact of those novelty items, horseless carriages, which were already sharing the dirt roads.

    Mr. Johnson did not lose out in the end. After the murders, Lula will deed the land back to William A. Johnson on April 17, 1924, while leasing the hotel’s contents to Mr. Johnson as well, this contract finalized on February 11, 1925. As for the hotel building itself, she will lease it to J.B. Klein of Oklahoma City in 1925 (details of final sale are unknown), shortly before the lease contract for the inventory is signed with Johnson.

  • HARRY AND LULA AS WILDCATTERS

    HARRY AND LULA AS WILDCATTERS

    Lula wrote exhaustive accounts of her life as a wildcatter. To sample Lula’s words:

    “Moved to Madill. Still had Al’s small water well machine. Could drill to 1,500 feet with it. We drilled 3 shallow wells 1,000 feet. Got oil in all the wells. Sold out to our partners from Ft. Worth for $1,500 for one year’s work. Sold drilling rig for $750 in 1929. Harry’s health failed. Made a trip to Chicago and found he had to stay in Chicago 5 years under government supervision. We couldn’t stay, though. Almarian was in school so we came back to Ardmore where we lived then moved to Oklahoma City in 1932 on account of being near a government M.D. They operated on Harry, but he became mentally sick, and the government put him on total disability.”

    Though $1,500 was far from striking it rich, it was still better than the events that took place at another drilling site where the oil strike landed them in court rather than Easy Street. Referenced earlier, the Cruce Oil debacle ended on December 7, 1929, when the outcome was an Order Overruling Demurrer by District Judge M. W. Pugh (the judge who had recused himself in the Kincannon trial for the murder of Albert Berch). Over 200 pages of legal documents follow, and the bottom line is this: Harry and Lula spent one year living and drilling on the property, exhausting their total life savings, and they walked away with nothing after striking oil.

    Lula and Harry were two-thirds of Cruce Oil, and Lula did all the talking for the company in court. As Lula would later state, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to have your life savings tied up in one man, and for the man to be killed the day after your agreement.”

    Lula and Harry returned to real estate. Usually, they would live in the home they were preparing to sell, often while working on other properties at the same time. Their vagabond existence went something like this from the time of their marriage: Duncan, Madill, Elmore City, Ardmore, Oklahoma City, back to Elmore City, Norman, Oklahoma City, then perhaps 30 different residences in Oklahoma City. Over the course of Lula’s life, she would flip somewhere in the range of 75 properties, continuing this exercise into her 90s, almost 30 years after Harry’s death. She focused on run-down houses, duplexes, and small apartment houses, usually living in one unit while fixing up other units, sell, and move on.

  • MORE ON ONE-HALF DREAM

    MORE ON ONE-HALF DREAM

    Although autobiographies can be passports to self-deception, they still reflect how a person views herself, valid or not. So, let me present a mini-autobiography that Almarian was asked to write as part of a short course in writing that she took after obtaining her Master’s degree in journalism.
    “The dullest years of my life must have been those I can’t remember. I know I learned much in the first five years of my existence, but I didn’t learn to read. What matters most to me now wasn’t available. After I was able to distinguish my a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y, a completely new world opened up to me.
    The process of my learning to read began in a private boarding school, after my mother and step-father decided to follow the “wildcat” life of oil exploration.
    For the next 12 years in the schoolroom, I struggled through the multiplication tables, devoured the history and geography books, and memorized some of the great poems of literature. On my own time, I traveled with the Bobsey Twins, solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, and welcomed my teens with the confession magazines. I can’t remember a time when I was not in the process of reading some book.
    During my college years at the University of Oklahoma, studying for tests, reading for book reports and writing themes, sometimes interfered with my social life, but I managed to survive and keep my love of reading intact, while earning a B.S. degree in zoology.
    Following a year of practical training at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City and passing a dreaded national examination, I became a medical technologist. I married a doctor, and worked during the early years of our marriage in interesting places in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Alabama while he served our country in the Air Force (U.S. Army Air Force at the time).
    We had a family of two daughters and one son. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales became my reading fare. My family was my career for the next two decades, but looking back now, it seems it didn’t interrupt my education. I was always attending some kind of formal lessons: sewing, cooking, camping, snow skiing, golf, ballroom and square dancing, Girl Scout administration and leader training, and Great Books discussion groups.
    Taking a turn at civic affairs, I served as president of “this” club and chairman of “that” drive, but I did it only from a sense of duty and after a number of years gave it up to continue the learning process. I even tried politics – working for democrats or republicans, whichever believed as I did.
    About eight years ago, with my children self-sufficient, I decided to try writing. I knew nothing about it, and following my natural inclination toward formal instruction, I enrolled in a class at the week-end University of Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education, with Helen Reagan Smith, acquiring nine hours of journalism on my transcript. This counted for naught when I was accepted in the Graduate School at OU, where I received my Master’s degree in journalism in May, 1976.
    Since that time, I have taken two courses in fiction and am now enrolled in this course on non-fiction. My fields of interest are so varied that I find it difficult to pinpoint one as the most significant. I play gold, do gourmet cooking, snow-ski in the winter, collect coins, play bridge, mastering none of them. The only civic responsibility I have accepted is Chairman of the literature discussion groups for the El Reno Arts Council. I still read anything, from Peanuts to Saul Bellow. I wonder if I spend too much time reading and not enough writing. It is tempting when I receive a rejection slip to give up and concentrate solely on reading. But I have a desire to keep trying.”
    By the time Almarian had enrolled in this course, her novel, One-Half Dream, had been rejected by a fair number of literary agents and publishers, a fate most writers know quite well, including those who have had a string of success. Her second novel, The Green Canopy, was drawn from her trip to the Amazon and was rejected as well. In the end, she never accomplished her dream to become a successful novelist. For Almarian’s 90th birthday, my sister Susan proposed that we should publish her books, using the self-publishing avenues so easily accessible today. Almarian never made it to 90. In fact, she died just weeks after my sister’s idea.
    The title of One-Half Dream was drawn from a quote she inserted after the cover page:

    “O woman, you are not merely the handiwork of God, but also of men; they are ever endowing you with beauty from their own hearts. You are one-half woman and one-half dream.”
    — Rabindranath Tagore
    Almarian described the book as a tribute to her mother. My initial reading was so long ago that, years later, I only recalled one aspect – the murder of her father was a relatively minor component of the story, and it made me wonder why she had spent so much time researching his life and murder. As I have come to appreciate, Almarian’s search for her father’s roots, traveling both to Los Angeles and Fargo, was an independent quest that she would have performed with or without having the book as her excuse. As for One-Half Dream being a tribute to her mother, I think it was more than that. It was, primarily, a peace offering.
    Growing up, what we saw of the Lula-Almarian relationship was perfect civility. There were no outward signs of affection or terms of endearment, while at the same time, not a hint of friction. Their pet names of “honey” and “darling” were long gone by the time we arrived on the scene, and Almarian always referred to Lula as “mother.”
    So, imagine my surprise when, days after Lula’s funeral, as Almarian said good-bye to me at the airport on my way back to California, she fell into my arms sobbing, “What am I going to do now? What am I going to do?” I was shocked. I had never noticed a shred of emotional interchange between Almarian and Lula, until that moment after Lula was gone. In fact, I can’t recall Almarian crying more than a few times. Angry, yes. Crying, no.
    Lula’s box of letters recovered in the El Reno Excavation held 500 envelopes by my rough count, well over half from Almarian. By reading them over time, I came to appreciate a relationship to which I had been oblivious. Granted, the letters were only those received by Lula, half of the full conversations, but one can draw enlightenment from half, much like listening to half of a phone conversation.
    A postcard from Almarian at boarding school (labeled “age 5” by Lula) says, “My dear mother, Joyous greetings for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We may go home Friday the 23rd. Your little girl, Almarian.” Thinking it unusual for Almarian to be writing in a primitive cursive form at age 5, not to mention the precocious “joyous greetings,” I checked the 1927 calendar, and December 23rd fell on Friday that year. Almarian was indeed only five years old. Her excitement over “may go home Friday the 23rd” is somehow reminiscent of the effusive optimism of Tiny Tim, as though the 23rd were a bonus day.
    The letters continue through boarding school where, in the pre-teen years, they begin to sound more like shopping lists: “Send me this or that for the next event,” and “Can I have the money to travel home to see Nelson Eddy when he comes to Oklahoma City?”
    A letter dated August 27, 1941 is from Almarian while an undergraduate at OU. On the outside of the envelope, Lula has written: “You will appreciate this letter when I am not here (Lula lived another 41 years). Wish I had one from my mother.” In the letter, Almarian writes, “I am beginning to get lonesome for you, by the time the week is out I will probably sure be ready to get back.” That’s it for sentiment. The 3-page letter moves on to nothing but trivial events. At the end of the letter, Lula wrote another note, as if she had been unable to tell Almarian any such thing face-to-face; instead, hoping that her daughter would read the message after Lula’s death: “You will never know how sweet you was to me. That’s why I tried so hard to give you everything you wanted – you are a darling to me. I love you too much. Mother.”
    Then, after Almarian’s marriage, the letters arrive from Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, then Aberdeen, Maryland, and finally, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania while Francis served his time as a medical officer in the Army Air Force in the immediate post-war era. During this time, a trace of tension still flutters from the pages whenever long term plans are discussed that do not include Oklahoma. Clearly, Almarian “didn’t mean to imply” that they were not coming back, and she apologizes if she was understood in that way. Lula has been planning a variety of real estate deals to facilitate the kids’ return to Oklahoma, and in their letters, they both tell her to calm down and to focus on her own welfare.
    After one long absence of no letters from Almarian or Francis, Lula sends them a generous supply of stamps. “Message received,” writes Almarian in thanks.
    In a letter dated May 14, 1945, received from Portland, Oregon, Lula has once again left her impression written on the outside of the envelope: “This is a letter I appreciate more than any letter I ever received. God bless you both. Keep this after I am gone. Mother.” Interestingly, the letter is remarkably bland, almost entirely about business and daily routine. There is one key sentence where Almarian expresses her appreciation for the guidance her mother has given her throughout life, including the reassurance that Almarian was marrying the right man.
    A 1946 letter from Almarian to Harry, one year before her step-father’s death, is unique, as this is the only letter of its kind. Usually, Almarian would send Harry her good wishes buried among the lines delivered to Lula. But this time, it was: “Dear Harry, I’m writing to you to let you know how much I’m depending on you to watch Mother. The one big argument Mother and I had you took it upon yourself to intercede and make me realize what I was doing to her for which I’ve been thankful ever since. In comforting Grandpa and Grandma (Combs), she may go beyond her capacity. You’re there and know what she can understand if she will just realize she’s sick, too, and can’t take too much. So I’m turning to you to look after her. You’ve been a wonderful stepfather. I hope we can get home sometime this summer, but now is the time when she will need someone. Love, Almarian.”
    Although my mother did not save letters to the same degree as Lula, we have ample documentation from Almarian. In addition to a daily diary that she kept her entire life, her hypergraphia took her to free-standing, free-associating accounts, addressed to no one in particular, perhaps a form of self-therapy. In one of these documents, writing at age 48, Almarian reveals a major rift about which I knew nothing:
    “I feel so guilty. I have just had an argument with Mother. She gets so wound up over these apartments and houses. I don’t understand her love of these things. All I can see in them is work, work, work. I know she doesn’t understand why I dislike them. It may be because that’s all I’ve heard – all my life. She has had no other interest except these low cost apartments and me. She has no friends – true friends. She knows people and renters come to see her even after they have moved away. But just let an idea for a deal come to her mind and she’s off and running. I can’t stop her. She has needed our money recently and our signature on notes. Therefore, she has been dependent on us. We want to use a lawyer for making contracts, etc., but she doesn’t want to wait for one. She just goes right on. She told me about a deal to gain our money back on an apartment house on which we were supposed to have a second mortgage. We didn’t. It had been sold on a contract for deed and had not been owned by the man who gave us the second mortgage. By obtaining the property and reselling it, it is possible we could have regained our money. But the current owner wouldn’t give us a warranty deed. I told her not to sign anything until he made a contract for a warranty deed and not a Quit Claim Deed. But she gave him a check for $500 earnest money and didn’t sign anything and he didn’t sign anything. It upset me that she gave him the money without getting a contract for a warranty deed. I told her if she just wouldn’t push me at times when I had other things I had to do, it would give me time to let a lawyer handle it. But she’s always in a rush. I yelled at her. She’s 86 and I know I shouldn’t, but it’s like these old cantankerous people that make homes miserable. I hate myself for not having patience. But when I try to be patient, she mistakes that for permission or submission and rolls right on over me. When I see her worrying about money, unable to enjoy life, even though she’s busy, and incapable of making good judgments the way she used to, then I am sure I don’t want to live to a ripe old age. She is not a burden on me financially, but she is a mental strain. I must be selfish, because I don’t want that worry. She is really a nice person and a lonely person and I wish desperately I wouldn’t lose my temper with her. I love her and I know that most of the work has been for me, not only for monetary reward but so that I would have respect for her. If I liked the real estate business, it would be different.”
    One curious feature of this document is the fact that Almarian edits herself, crossing out words and revising, as if the work were for publication. (And now, sure enough.)
    The simmering conflict was brought to a head with the “Mark Affair,” (fictitious name), a young man with whom Lula went into partnership, and a person who could do no wrong in Lula’s eyes. Almarian, right or wrong, gradually came to believe that Mark was guilty of taking advantage of Lula in their real estate dealings. And, Lula was outraged at her daughter for interfering. In an undated letter, Lula wrote:
    “This letter will explain more and better than I can talk with you since you are always in hurry and I am not mad about that as you know I have always been in a hurry. Now about our partnership, as the old saying goes, no relatives ever get along in partnerships. We never had a cross word in our lives until this partnership arrangement came about. I never intended it as a partnership to start with. I only intended your name on the deed so you would have no expense at my death, but I find out that the will would take care of that. You know you didn’t buy in as a partner. I let $2,000 in stock go into it to reduce the loan which I should have kept….(2 pages of mathematical computations)…what I’m saying is, between my bad judgment on 23rd Street I have come to the point of asking you to sign a quit claim deed to this property and have sent an F.H.A. appraiser….(more mathematical computations)…Let’s see if we can be mother and daughter again…(more real estate lingo, culminating in profits due to Mark)….I don’t know why all at once, you think I don’t know how to handle my affairs. I have got a lot more out of my business with Mark than he has out of me. I am so glad he don’t know how you feel. He don’t deserve criticism. He is honest. He is a hard worker and good morals. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him, but you did. I sold out to him or rather I made him buy me, when he decided not to sell. I wanted you to get your strange ideas out of your mind. I would have sold at a loss rather than have you upset….(several pages of all that Mark has done for Lula)….I am tired of pinching pennies. I live worse than people on welfare. My income just won’t meet all my bills….(listing of expenses over the course of 2 pages)…I feel like a pauper, what I get don’t pay my debts, leaves nothing for Xmas, birthdays, and not even an eat out dinner once a month for myself, no clothes. So don’t fence me in. Let me get all these little equities sold and in something that I can get a comfortable life out of. I have worked like a slave all my life, no vacations, not even a lunch downtown without wondering if I could afford it. I am so lost since mother died. I never noticed being lonesome before. I don’t get lonesome until night, so if had 4 families living around me, I would know if needing a Dr.or someone trying to break in, then some one of the 4 would be home. Now I would have to go outside for help, and that would be impossible. The stormiest night we had this year there wasn’t a person at home nowhere. I had very bad feelings, so hope we can get these F.H.A. through and get things straightened out at least so I can feel I am on my own again. There is nothing hurts my pride as much as asking you for money, and worst of all having you think I spend it unwisely. God knows I have never spent one 5-cent piece that I can’t account for. But maybe you was so upset by Mark that you felt you should spy on me…”
    In another record, Lula explains to herself how Almarian was not a true partner, but a passive co-signer of a loan according to new regulations. Lula bemoans the offensive government regulations where, after a lifetime of flipping properties, she was told she needed a co-signer because she was over the age of 65. Reluctantly, she asked Almarian to co-sign. Her daughter refused at first, asking her mother to retire and move to El Reno. After a tirade against age discrimination by our government, Lula continues to write:
    “I can’t live in her society. We live in 2 different worlds. I educated her to be a medical technologist, her husband is an MD surgeon. She has charm and grace. Her daughter is a medical technologist, her son is in medical school. So you can see I couldn’t fit in. They know social life. I know working life. I am not against social life but I have never had time to study ediquette(sic) and I don’t want to embarrass them, with my baked beans, corn bread and buttermilk manners. I have given her education so she wouldn’t have to live in my world. I also tried to get my sister (Jessie) to give her daughter (Ben Marion) the same chance….Her reply was, ‘You are educating her out of your life.’ That one remark has been 20 years ago, and it’s real to me now. That’s just what I did.”
    Lula goes on to describe her personal misery since the death of her mother, Arrie Combs. “If I could have made myself believe there was no Hell, I would have ended my life if I were no longer useful….Shame on the day we began keeping birth certificates. People would live 25 years longer if they didn’t know their age.”
    In multiple writings that served to ventilate, Lula points out that she is not able to reconcile the death of her mother: “I miss her more and more as time goes on. Maybe I feel neglected from all the relatives that used to come visit mother, and now my only daughter has so many social obligations….They want me to come live, but I just couldn’t fit into their world.”
    Contrast this to a letter written by Lula 30 years earlier: “It will be still harder in your generation for one without special education. We are so proud of Francis and you and the more education you have the prouder Francis will be of you. With his disposition he could not endure a dumb-Dora, and neither can I.” In fact, Lula wrote about the importance of education in many of her pages, often helping with the financing, such as Almarian’s fellowship at Charity Hospital.
    The tension in their relationship simmered to boiling with Mark. Almarian wrote in an essay to herself: “Have I been wrong? Have I misjudged a young boy trying to start out in life? I have made Mother, Mark, and myself unhappy. What have I gained except money? And if he was innocent, I’ve hurt someone unnecessarily….I guess I will never know. I pray most heartily that if I have hurt someone unnecessarily that it won’t be too long before it is healed. I can never be sure.”
    The next page has two columns: 1) Proof that Mark is innocent, and 2) Proof he is guilty. Indicators of innocence, such as “The bank account is in mother’s name,” and “the titles are tenants in common,” are countered by indicators of guilt, such as “He has used mother’s charge accounts,” “mother got rid of the people around her who were criticizing Mark,” “he has no friends his own age,” and “mother always had enough money until Mark appeared on the scene.”
    Perhaps to put her mind at ease, years later, Almarian wrote a short story recounting her life as the daughter of Lula Combs Garvin Berch Reynolds. She had just placed Lula in a nursing home to recover from a broken hip. As Almarian looked into Lula’s room through a window, she recounts: “Mother was talking constantly. First the nurse, then someone I didn’t recognize. She never stopped. I knew she was discussing real estate – it was all she ever discussed. We were not even comfortably seated in her room until she started on some deal. This was not surprising. It had been her whole life. I had been secondary. Mother had never realized it or wouldn’t admit it, but it was always obvious to me.
    “She had never been a big-time operator – not the kind who made millions in buildings. She had made a comfortable living, not by fleecing buyers, but through hard work. When I was a child in the depression, I can remember mother and Harry, my step-father, would buy an old run-down house. Many houses were run-down at that time. It had been four years since the stock market had crashed. Mother and Harry had no stock, but everyone’s life was affected. I had been in boarding school, so mother and Harry could live on the land he leased for wildcatting. Then the wildcatting stopped. People worried more about food than oil. We moved to smaller and smaller houses – each time we moved we had to take a house worse than the one before. Harry had been on partial disability from the first World War, but he couldn’t find a job. I didn’t like boarding school anymore because most of the kids were gone. Before the crash it had been full of life and gaiety. Now money could not afford the luxury of a private school. We moved to Oklahoma City into a house with two very small bedrooms. It looked unbelievable. I hated it.”
    Almarian then describes how a carpenter lived with them for months while building an add-on and a storm cave. After the carpenter left, the finishing work was yet to be done. “Mother, Harry, and I would work long into the night, sanding hardwood floors by hand (the only nice feature of the house), painting, sanding the paint, adding another coat. Mother would make the curtains, cutting of the frayed ends of long curtains to hang them in the shorter windows….”
    In the end, they spent two years renovating the house, then Lula received an offer of purchase, and she sold it for a $2,000 profit. Almarian makes reference at this point to Harry’s disability as “shell-shocked during the war and was quite nervous and restless,” a remarkably durable misconception given that it was really his thyroid gland that was beating him to death. The story continues, pointing out that Harry learned many skills from the live-in carpenter, such that Harry could now help Lula renovate her properties. It also prompted their interest in duplexes where they could live on one side while renovating, then move and draw rent from the other side, then move out when both sides were done.
    “And so began a life of buying dilapidated and not so dilapidated houses, fixing them up, and selling them for a profit. My mother remained in this business for a period of 40 years, well after the death of my step-father. She began to hire more of the work done, but she continued to do everything she was able – painting, hanging curtains, and the most horrible of all, cleaning up the messes others left. No wonder she could think of nothing else.”
    End of story.
    Almarian never seemed to grasp that, long ago, Lula had replaced people with property.
    Around this same time, Almarian completed her novel, One-Half Dream.
    From her files, under Characters:
    Loring Howard (Lula) – oldest child of a farm family in early Oklahoma. Father is kind but a strong head of the family. Never asks mother what she wants. Her mother accepts this role graciously. Saves everything because “you never can tell when you might need it.” Thrifty, not stingy. Happiest when she saves something. Goal: to have gold coins in her possession. Secondary goal: to get an education and be independent. Learning would represent the school she missed due to lack of money. Embryonic women’s lib developing because her mother is dominated by her father. First action: tries to go out into a storm to retrieve her gold coins. Heroine.
    First husband dies of Spanish flu, then after acquiring the hotel, Loring encounters marriage proposals from men who are only interested in the hotel. Finally, has a proper proposal from a well-educated, attractive man from California. First, she has to decide if she loves him and he loves her and also whether they could be happy with their very different backgrounds. She comes from pioneer stock, hard workers and poor. He’s a Catholic from wealthy parents in Los Angeles and has been educated at well-known college in the east. He wins her heart. She trusts.
    Dramatic moments: Tornado as a child, her sister’s death, her husband killed by KKK, grandfather tries to kidnap child, discovering oil.
    As I read the character outline above, I had to ask myself the question: Other than changing Lula to Loring, and granting Albert Berch an east coast education, where’s the fiction? And, given the true-to-life outline, I also had to ask: Is the grandfather who tries to kidnap the child fictional, or now that we know more about “Doctor Berch,” did this really happen?
    Almarian drafted the plot in many versions, and I’m not entirely sure which of my manuscript copies is her final rendition. Outside of a few stray characters (a fictional niece, for instance) the story follows Lula’s life to the letter:
    Gold coins, tornados, an arranged first marriage, flu epidemic, sister’s child raped by stepfather, sister’s death trying to abort, Loring remarries, has a daughter, husband killed by KKK, Loring loses hotel and gold pieces, goes to wealthy relatives of deceased husband, trust fund as long as child is Catholic, deceased husband’s father tries to get control of the child and money, daughter rebellious, Loring wildcats in oil fields, strikes oil, sells too cheaply to large company, Loring gets gold pieces back, move to the city to begin life in real estate, Loring’s daughter is a problem as there is no closeness, Loring fears storms and death, Loring has to give up gold coins to government in 1934, daughter marries well after rebellious years…
    And then, moving to Loring’s later life – the story turns to a young male renter who bonds with Loring through their common fear of storms, then fills the void left by the daughter’s absence. From Almarian’s synopsis:
    Loring goes into partnership with him and he cheats her out of most of her hard-earned money. Saved by the daughter. Daughter resents mother’s business and the kind of people who she deals with…
    Government acts as a competitor to her in real estate, with FHA loans and apartment tax advantages. She keeps her property which becomes low cost housing and poor rentals. She befriends some and some take advantage of her…
    Loring is now elderly and she is mugged from which she recovers. Daughter has to admit at this time that the friends among her renters who help out are not all bad…
    Loring resents the government and wishes she had never given up her gold pieces. Later she finds a man murdered in one of her apartments. After all the publicity and the parents of the man come to get his things, Loring finds a garage full of furniture which does not belong to her or any of her renters. She consults the police who tell her she has the right to get rid of it. It is probably that of the murdered man who has been part of a ring of thieves. Her granddaughter comes to help her move out the furniture, and in a small draw full of newspapers they find a box with three gold coins in it…
    The granddaughter is excited and tells her that they belong to Loring, who at age 91, says: “No, if I take these now, what will I have to look forward to?” She gives one to the granddaughter and sends the other two to the young man’s mother who was so distraught.”
    End of Synopsis.
    Take away the gold pieces (drawn from the Combs family story told earlier), dust off a few names, places and details, and you have, not a novel, but a work of non-fiction. Concerning my theory that One-Half Dream might have been a peace offering with regard to the mother-daughter fight over the “Mark Affair,” it can be considered that, in fact, Almarian used the story to bolster, or rationalize, her stance on the controversy. From her notes on how to address the mother-daughter battle in her novel:
    Daughter hates it (boarding school). Sneaks out to meet a boy. Expelled. Mother is understanding and lets her live at home her last year of high school. Daughter marries well, but her mother thinks son-in-law’s family belittles her. After WWII, FHA enters housing picture and everything changes in real estate with the new housing boom. Everyone wants new homes. Old property values fall. Daughter can see new era coming but mother won’t stop. After a few years, daughter leaves husband and comes back home. Mother takes husband’s side and realizes he is the right person for her daughter. Daughter returns to husband where they complete family. Now, daughter can’t get over to see mother except once a week. Grandmother dies, leaving mother alone. Meets young man (one of her renters) with no money who is looking for a way of livelihood. They buy an apartment together and she turns back to her old ways of real estate….hard of hearing and mind is starting to dull…women friends suspect the boy is duping her out of money and notify daughter. Daughter and mother have harsh words. Mother gets rid of women friends, not the boy. Daughter checks mother’s financial status behind her back. Makes mother mad. Big scene. Daughter accuses boy. Mother takes up for him. Daughter demands mother to break all relationships with boy. Mother says it’s none of her business. Daughter threatens court action. Mother threatens suicide. (Haven’t decided how to end it yet. Can either make the daughter realize that this is what makes her mother happy even if she loses all her money, or let mother lose all her money and has to admit daughter is right.) Finally, to admit times have changed and she is not as bright as early in life.”
    If this mother-daughter relationship sounds vaguely familiar, you might be thinking of the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, or the movie by King Vidor, both titled Stella Dallas. And the deliberation above regarding “how to end” the conflict may well have been Almarian’s true life considerations at the moment when she was penning the “novel.”
    In the story’s denouement, Loring realizes that gold is a symbol for the “satisfaction of knowing you can be useful to someone and being able to furnish understanding in their times of trouble. Loring realized that she had not been meant for material wealth but she had been blessed with unusually good health and a daughter for a friend. She was actually now a very rich woman.”
    Most creative writers are attracted to the notion that, when developing a work of fiction, one is in complete control of their characters, a luxury that real life does not afford. To say that Almarian’s work of fiction is thinly veiled truth gives too much thickness to the veil. In fact, the story is so aligned with reality that I have to wonder if my parents might have had a separation early in their marriage, before the kids arrived. And, if mothers mellow after the kids are born, the fiery independence I saw growing up in Almarian’s home might have been volcanic in the early years of their marriage.
    As the boxes laden with letters, diaries, and documents began to dwindle over many months as I completed my readings, I came across another story, this one at the bottom of a stack of Lula’s free-floating chronicles. Written on large financial ledger paper, brown & fragmented, in Lula’s more youthful handwriting, was a 4-page story that I assumed was one more out of scores of similar essays and observations, until I deciphered it and realized that Lula had written a short story. To my knowledge, this was her only attempt at creative writing, quite a surprise given her apparent disinterest in anything artistic.
    I had nearly tossed it aside at first, not recognizing any of the names. But like Almarian’s “fiction” above, once the relationships were established, I realized Lula was telling the story of a fight she had with her father in the cotton fields in Texas. Oddly, she picked the name Marian for herself, and I could not determine how to date this document, other than the handwriting of her youth. However, if she lifted the name Marian from her daughter, Lula would have been at least 38 when she wrote the short story with these excerpts:
    “…though she had rosy red cheeks, she also had red rough hands, which she hated as much as she hated the squalid surroundings of poverty she was being reared in….one day, while sitting on her cotton sack (…which contained nearly 50 pounds of cotton picked in about one and a half hours or at the rate of 35 pounds per hour or 400 to 450 pounds in 12 hours…), she realized what hard work meant, and that women had no business doing this kid of work. As her father hastened the smaller children on, he looked at Marian and said, “Sugar, you look tired. Maybe you had better take off the rest of the day. She was so hurt and so irritated that her father should read her thoughts, she lost control of her Irish temper and flew into a rage, something unknown to her father. She had always been so sweet, so obedient, being the oldest, she had always managed the younger children and kept them at work. …She railed at him at the top of her voice. I am tired! I am tired of it all. Poverty, poverty, never get ahead. No clothes decent to wear, no school. Why on earth did you have so many children? You could have been well off with only one child. Do you think we are enjoying life? Do you think we will ever amount to anything? Say, do you?
    “Sugar, you are my pet of the family….(father goes on to remind his daughter all he has done for her)….My heart is broke at your saying such things and to see you so unhappy. Tell me what you would like to be or do. Old Dad will try to make you happy. Would you like to marry that fellow who looks at you with those big calf eyes?”
    “Now, Dad, I must insist that you don’t try to turn this into a joke. I’m not interested in marriage. What would I want to get married for?”
    “Why, sugar all girls get married (father tells vignettes of old maids).”
    “Old maid or not, I’m not going to get married and if I should change my mind, I will get married to someone who has enough money or land or cattle that I will not have to slave like my grandmother’s negroes did before the war. And put your foot down on one thing, I will not have any children brought into this old poverty-stricken world to have to struggle for existence like we have done. And this very day is the day I call a halt to my field work.”
    “What did you say?” her father yelled at her. “You, not work. You’re my best cotton-picker. How dare you? After all the raising I have given you and you talk like that to me. I am ashamed to own a daughter like you. Yes, I am.”
    “Certainly you are, Dad, I pick you 2,000 bales of cotton a week for 5 or 6 months a year. Fairly nice investment you got, with 5 of us. And what goes with the money I never see? (part of document torn and missing, then…) don’t even have a decent dress to wear to church, no amusement of any kind, you never gave us a party or took us to a picnic, but we work from daylight until it’s so dark we can’t see another ball of white cotton. If you would only let us go to dances and see more of our friends like Clarice Wringingsmith, there would be some fun in working.”
    “Let me talk awhile, Marian. You want to go places like Clarice? Do you know what people think of Clarice? You are a girl and you don’t know that not a man in this whole neighborhood would want her for a wife. She is indecent, she rides a man’s saddle astride, gallops her horse up to the church yard gate, then slips into church while the preacher is praying, kneels down behind some person and giggles. No one keeps company with her except that reckless cowboy Edward Hillman. I saw them two with my own eyes running a race on that long straight road from Lone Oak Church house to her home, a distance of two miles, and no girl of mine will ride my horses in a run for two miles. It is no wonder her father’s horses have heaves. She is just a spoiled only child that is just like all girls when there is only one in the family.”
    “Now, Dad, it’s my turn to talk. You say she is spoiled because she is an only child. Yes I would imagine it would be a heaven on earth to be the only child of a wealthy land and cattle man. Clarice tells me her father has acres and acres of land and hundreds of cows and hogs, money to lend his neighbors. She goes to school a whole nine months out of the year. We go 3 or 4 months out of the year.”
    Marian looked at her Dad for the first time she had begun telling how dissatisfied she was. She could see his eyes were full of tears and his voice choked with sobs. She lost her anger at once for she loved her Daddy dearly. She lifted the cotton sack strap from off her shoulder and untied an old faded rag from around her beautiful white neck. She always wore one there to keep the sun from blistering her skin, walked over to where her Dad had bent down on one knee to solve the problem of discontent, and she put her hand on his shoulder and said, “Daddy, I’m so sorry I hurt you. I love you dearly and I’ll tough it out. I have made you think that I admire Mr. Wringingsmith …(docmuent damaged)…but did you know that if Mr. Wringingsmith had as many kids to feed and clothe as you have had ever since mother and you were married, he couldn’t have saved his money. I have studied it all out and you and mother have been married 18 years, and in ten years you have 5 children, now dad…(Lula performs mathematical calculations to arrive at a sum of money that her parents have spent on them)…if had only one child you would have as much as Mr. Wringingsmith, and not have to work so hard.” Marian said with a sigh.
    “I wouldn’t sell any kid I have for all the gold in the world, to say nothing of Mr. Wringingsmith’s cattle, hogs, and land.”
    “Maybe not, but you wouldn’t want to invest in any more children, would you?”
    “Oh, I don’t know, I think I would like another little cooing, gurgling baby since our baby is 8 years old and your mother don’t have to work in the fields anymore.”
    Marian looked her Dad in the face. Something seemed to be on his mind, and he looked more troubled than Marian had ever seen him. Suddenly, it began to dawn on her. Was she going to have another baby sister or brother? Surely not, and if so, she would run away from home. Her dad got up and slowly made his way toward the old weather-beaten farm house to tell Marian’s mother the whole story of his and Marian’s quarrel.
    End of story.
    Then, in her late-age handwriting, in ink rather than the pencil used to write the story, Lula made this notation at the bottom: “Really, mother was pregnant and in 4 months my last sister was borned and the whole family was thrilled. Everyone wanted to take care of her. I forgot all about not wanting another baby and was she a spoiled younger…(illegible).
    The baby was Jessie, the mother of Ben Marion, Almarian’s cousin-sister. Jessie would die of leukemia at age 56, August 15, 1956, her final stages of supportive care provided by my father at the new Park View Hospital in El Reno, Oklahoma.
    Like her daughter, years later with One-Half Dream, Lula apparently felt that simply changing the names of her characters constituted a work of fiction. For both, however, it seems catharsis was the goal. And who’s to argue that this purging is not a universal rite whenever events are forged anew with the written word?
    In a letter written late in life, Lula finally acknowledges the common endpoint when our personal dreams are left unfulfilled – the great hope that one’s existence will have had a net positive gain on progeny. She writes to Almarian after receipt of an unnamed gift, “The older you get the more you appreciate being babied, but I could hardly keep back the tears. If it wasn’t for you and your family, I wonder if I would care for life at all. Everything I do I am doing it for your benefit. After Alan left today, I began to live in the past (unusual for me)…,” whereupon she tells vignettes about her three grandchildren. I was making daily house calls on Lula at this point in time, to be covered in the Third Obsession.
    Lula kept scrapbooks about our family that we knew nothing about, filled mostly with clippings from the El Reno Tribune. Our mother gave Lula a subscription to the town’s newspaper that she received in the mail, and apparently she scoured it daily for some mention of one or more of the Hollingsworths. The pages are filled with Almarian and the Girl Scouts, Francis as city councilman, both of them with the Jaycees, or any of the three kids doing almost anything, given that anything is fodder for the small town newspaper. If one of my sisters served on the decoration committee for a pep rally, well, that article was enshrined in Lula’s scrapbook, with a common thread throughout – in every story where a Hollingsworth appears, our names are underlined in red. In the end, we were, unwittingly, her raison d’être, and it remains difficult to think about how lonely she was, just 30 miles away.
    Another poignant discovery was a letter Lula had written to her parents, Arrie and William Combs, shortly after the death of Lula’s husband Harry in 1947. For this letter to be in Almarian’s possession in El Reno meant that Arrie had saved it, Lula inherited it, Almarian inherited it, then I inherited it. Lula was writing from Oklahoma City, asking her parents in Elmore City to join her for Christmas. “I wish I were a little girl again,” it begins, sadly, in a mood of regret and regression, by a woman of 63. Lula describes in detail her very favorite Christmas, including her father dressed as Santa Claus. She recounts every kind of homemade candy. Even her syntax is child-like. Then, recently widowed yet again, she pleads for “Santa Claus” to join her in Oklahoma City for the upcoming holidays.
    Three husbands dead, two sons dead, one sister dead. Everything was riding on Almarian who had, in that year of 1947, brought Lula’s first grandchild into the world, my sister Susan.
    Lula and Almarian, two very strong-willed women, shared a horrible bond, whether it was spoken or not. They had been together at the side of Albert Berch as he lay bleeding to death from a gunshot wound to the chest, and the Cascade of events that followed the murder bore no resemblance to what would have been.
    In spite of Almarian’s comment above that she did not want to live to a ripe old age, she did – 89 years’ worth. She waited until her late 80s to stop coloring her hair, but when she did, she began to resemble Lula. Her speech pattern devolved to her mother’s as well, rapid-fire, tangential, and non-stop.
    We promise ourselves we will not drop into the same abyss of deterioration where our parents fell, and that we will not be a burden to our survivors, but apologizing in advance, we will.
    Death is never as real as when you walk into your mother’s room and find her stiff with rigor mortis, eyes and mouth open, in a look of eternal astonishment, hopefully at a celestial life beyond. Earthly life, however, is altered at that point, no matter how old you are. At that moment, I understood why Almarian had cried at the airport in June 1982 after Lula’s funeral, falling into my arms, pouring buckets of tears. Too, it explains why Lula became so lonely after the death of her mother, even though Arrie had been 102.
    We’d found an aneurysm….
    A large one. The neurosurgeon said it was inoperable, and the non-surgical approaches through interventional radiology carried a risk for stroke that was about the same as doing nothing. Nothing worked pretty well for two-and-a-half years, though the constant thought of rupture loomed large in everything Almarian did.
    Although many of her friends had already passed on, we heard common tributes after her death that declared her stature, such as “end of an era” or “grande dame” or “one of a kind.” Perhaps a big fish in a small pond, but nevertheless, Almarian Berch Hollingsworth had risen well above the bizarre circumstances of her youth.
    About the same time that Almarian began research on her novel, One-Half Dream, she enticed her mother into returning to Marlow, against Lula’s 50-year-old vow. Almarian was on a mission to find her father’s grave, and she needed Lula’s help. I don’t have a date for this expedition, not even the exact year, but it was circa 1975, about the same time that the mother-daughter crisis occurred, so perhaps it was part of the reconciliation. We believe this was also the pivotal event that prompted the unusual burial pact, incorporating the threesome who had been together in Johnson’s Hotel at the moment of Albert’s death (while our father’s ashes went along for the ride).
    Lula had never returned to the grave of Albert Berch after his funeral. In fact, she had not returned to Marlow since moving to Duncan in 1924. How sharp would her memory be? Almarian had procured records from the city that provided proximity for the grave, but without a headstone, all remnants could easily be gone. The trip was intensely emotional for Almarian and, of course, she produced a manuscript detailing the event:
    I stood in the middle of the cemetery and stared at the bush. Surrounding it was a blank expanse of land, enough for many more graves.
    “It should be here somewhere.” My mother was speaking to herself as well as to me.
    I scanned the area for some kind of marker. My skin battled the afternoon sun with defensive moisture, but there was no breeze for reinforcement.
    I twisted a stem from the bush. “Mother, do you think this is wild or did someone plant it?”
    If mother answered I didn’t hear as I had uncovered a dull metal square object.
    “Mother, look.” I parted the bush. We both leaned over for a closer look. A dirty celluloid window with faded yellowed paper behind it gave no clue.
    Mother rose up and read from a slip of paper. “This should be it according to the description the girl at city hall gave us.”
    I dusted some dirt from the metal. B-I-R– “Mother, this is it!” It has BIRCH written in pencil. A caretaker must have written it because it’s spelled wrong.
    I don’t know why my heart was pounding. I had not known my father. I was only two years old when it all happened. And it had been so long ago. Yet this was the closest I’d ever been to him. I didn’t want mother to see the tears that I could feel hesitating on my eye rim. I blinked and they were gone.
    Very quietly, mother said, “I waited too long to come back. I kept planning to move him. But when you marry again…well….
    I put my arm around her. “Mother, I think we are very fortunate to have found him so quickly.”
    “After 50 years?”
    “I mean quickly after we started.”
    “I hated this town. I still do. Fifty years is a lifetime, but now it seems only like a few.”
    “Mother, I’m sorry to bring back painful memories. I didn’t do this to be morbid. I have just reached a point in my life that it seemed important. One of those loose ends you are always going to tie up but never seem to get to. I wonder now if it was wise.”
    “I’m glad you made me come. I still hate the place. Come over here and I’ll show you why.”
    She led the way across the road and down two rows. Four stones loomed.
    “Here is Walter’s grave. And our two sons. All of them dead. Glenn the baby went first, then their father. Guy’s temperature was so high (from the Spanish flu) the day of Walter’s funeral that I couldn’t go.” Her voice quivered.
    “Shall we go? Now that we’ve found them?
    She didn’t hear me.
    “Next to them is your Aunt Fanny, my sister. She was only 31 when she died. There was no need– So young—
    “Let’s go.”
    Either Almarian never finished the story, or the rest of the pages are missing. Or, perhaps that was the end. Lula said, “Let’s go,” and that was it.
    In speaking of “the town,” Lula was not referring to the townspeople that included her friends and relatives. She was speaking of the totality of the “place” where five very close relatives had died young – first husband(40), sister(31), second husband(30), son(15), and son(1).
    On the flip side of this document, Almarian was at work on a poem:
    I stood there gazing at the lonely bush
    The lonely bush which marked your bed
    Around were stones neatly hewn
    While you had a living monument at your head.

    It tore my heart to see neglect
    So long you rested there alone
    But the wind whispered to me that God carved yours
    And the others were fashioned of man-made stone.

    What is left in the lonely grave
    What is left after many a year
    It’s not what’s left in the grave that counts
    It’s eternal life we hold so dear

    Your life still lives in the lonely bush
    The bush was planted by God I know
    For only He could know where you were
    He dropped the seed…

    The poem was unfinished, at least the version I found. In typical Almarian style, she had made multiple corrections, placed accents, and divided syllables with slash marks in a system of scansion known only to poets. Somewhere, there’s a finished version, even if it’s only in Almarian’s memory that she took to her grave. After all, death is only a dream.
    From the El Reno Excavation, I have a faded 35 mm Kodachrome™ with not much “chroma” remaining, taken by Almarian of that lonely bush on that remarkable day. However, to be clear, Almarian subsequently had a nice tombstone erected at the site, with BERCH on one side, where Lula and Albert are buried, and HOLLINGSWORTH on the other side of the same stone where Almarian Berch Hollingsworth and Francis Hollingsworth, MD are buried.
    The 4 funerals, spanning 88 years, took place in the 4 seasons: Albert in winter, Lula in summer, Francis in the fall, and Almarian in spring. My sisters and I attended three of the four funerals.
    As for us “kids” at the time, our mother’s discovery of Albert’s grave was revealed to us without any emotion on Almarian’s part. It went something like this: “Mother and I found my father’s grave. The marker was hidden beneath a bush.”
    While it sparked a modicum of interest for me at the time, nevertheless, it was still their story.HARRY AND LULA AS WILDCATTERS

    Lula wrote exhaustive accounts of her life as a wildcatter. To sample Lula’s words:
    “Moved to Madill. Still had Al’s small water well machine. Could drill to 1,500 feet with it. We drilled 3 shallow wells 1,000 feet. Got oil in all the wells. Sold out to our partners from Ft. Worth for $1,500 for one year’s work. Sold drilling rig for $750 in 1929. Harry’s health failed. Made a trip to Chicago and found he had to stay in Chicago 5 years under government supervision. We couldn’t stay, though. Almarian was in school so we came back to Ardmore where we lived then moved to Oklahoma City in 1932 on account of being near a government M.D. They operated on Harry, but he became mentally sick, and the government put him on total disability.”
    Though $1,500 was far from striking it rich, it was still better than the events that took place at another drilling site where the oil strike landed them in court rather than Easy Street. Referenced earlier, the Cruce Oil debacle ended on December 7, 1929, when the outcome was an Order Overruling Demurrer by District Judge M. W. Pugh (the judge who had recused himself in the Kincannon trial for the murder of Albert Berch). Over 200 pages of legal documents follow, and the bottom line is this: Harry and Lula spent one year living and drilling on the property, exhausting their total life savings, and they walked away with nothing after striking oil.
    Lula and Harry were two-thirds of Cruce Oil, and Lula did all the talking for the company in court. As Lula would later state, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to have your life savings tied up in one man, and for the man to be killed the day after your agreement.”
    Lula and Harry returned to real estate. Usually, they would live in the home they were preparing to sell, often while working on other properties at the same time. Their vagabond existence went something like this from the time of their marriage: Duncan, Madill, Elmore City, Ardmore, Oklahoma City, back to Elmore City, Norman, Oklahoma City, then perhaps 30 different residences in Oklahoma City. Over the course of Lula’s life, she would flip somewhere in the range of 75 properties, continuing this exercise into her 90s, almost 30 years after Harry’s death. She focused on run-down houses, duplexes, and small apartment houses, usually living in one unit while fixing up other units, sell, and move on.

  • KING JACK – GOVERNOR WALTON

    KING JACK – GOVERNOR WALTON

    Jack Walton was born in Indianapolis in 1881, migrating to Oklahoma Territory in 1903 as a contractor in civil engineering, with some sources more specifically stating that Walton was a “sewage plant builder” with all the metaphorical trappings therein. One observer described his personal appearance as “thick set, of medium height, with college-cut brown hair, the rounded, fleshy face of the politician, large protuberant eyes, and a weak mouth.”
    Walton holds the distinction of being the only Governor of Oklahoma to be impeached and removed from office, this occurring less than a year after his term began in January 1923. The impeachment process was not unique for Oklahoma. By 1922, the state had had four governors, three of them threatened with impeachment by hostile legislatures, with fourth governor J.B.A. Robertson missing impeachment by a single vote.
    Walton was living in Oklahoma City in 1907 with the arrival of statehood, working his way up as Commissioner of Public Works, then mayor of OKC until his election as governor. His Democratic Party affiliation was somewhat misleading. He had the image of a Populist with labor and farm coalitions as allies, but the Populist Party was on its way out after the defeat of William Jennings Bryan. Likewise, the Socialist Party had been very strong in Oklahoma, more so than the state of New York in terms of voting percentages. By 1914, up to 30% of the vote statewide was for the Socialist Party. As these parties declined, members gravitated to factions within the Democratic Party.
    Enter Jack Walton who was interested mostly in building alliances that would send him to the Governor’s chair and beyond. Even his close aides, reflecting on the saga years later, found Walton a bundle of paradox. Most historians today, however, simply pigeon-hole Walton as a prototypical demagogue. But this is where one paradox lies – at this point in history, with Klan enrollment mushrooming, the vacancy for a demagogue would have called for a Klansman. Therefore, the question is, “How did Walton’s only anchored political position emerge as a fight against the Ku Klux Klan?” Most would argue this answer: “Out of desperation, to save his neck.”
    In an article written by Scott Cooper for the Oklahoma Gazette September 5, 2007, “Klan Clash,” the portrait of Walton is the typical charismatic orator with little to back it up, a Huey Long without savvy. Fond of campaigning while surrounded by a party atmosphere, Walton earned one of his several nicknames, “Jazz Band Walton.” Oklahoma historian, William Savage, Jr., is quoted in the Gazette article as saying this about Walton, “He was really a stooge for leftover Socialists from the beginning.”
    As Mayor of OKC, Walton supported the meat packers who went on strike, making him a man of the people. The Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League had a different nickname for Walton, “Our Jack,” and they backed him for the 1922 gubernatorial bid. The KKK neither endorsed nor opposed Walton at this point, supporting the current view that Walton’s eventual stance was a last-minute fabrication to save his political neck. Certainly, he did not run for office on an anti-Klan platform. Yet, a few early actions in Walton’s career suggest an anti-Klan proclivity that, upon his election as governor, was driven into latency by the Klan-led legislature where he wanted to make friends.
    In a book on Walton, written at the time of the events, History of Governor Walton’s War on Ku Klux Klan, the Invisible Empire (Southwest Publishing Company, Oklahoma City, 1923), journalist Howard A. Tucker noted, “Walton opposed the Ku Klux Klan as mayor, and notified members of the police force that no Klansmen would be allowed on the city pay roll in his department.” Interestingly, Tucker published his book prior to Walton’s impeachment, noting on the inside of the cover page: “compiled largely from my personal acquaintance with Governor J.C. Walton, while a newspaper writer, from the time he entered politics in Oklahoma City in 1917 and from sworn testimony taken before the military courts while Oklahoma was under martial law.”
    Tucker goes on to point out that in the gubernatorial election, the KKK openly supported Klansman Robert H. H. Wilson of Chickasha, state school superintendent. Furthermore, Tucker describes how two men, whom he names, approached Walton to get him to join the Klan as a litmus test. When Walton refused, they organized a scheme to discredit him. This first-hand, real-time account by a journalist who followed the career of Jack Walton casts a different light on the many versions of this vignette, some highly detailed, where Walton actually joins the Klan as an “honorary” member early in his short tenure as governor.
    One of these versions names Dr. W. T. Tilley, a Muskogee Kleagle (recruiter) and Dr. A.E. Davenport, state health commissioner appointed by Walton, as arranging a meeting with the new governor, taking his money ($20 for the special title of “Klansman at Large”), then forwarding the klectoken (fee) to the Grand Dragon, OU Chemistry Professor DeBarr. For this recruiting coup, Tilley was honored by Klan founder “Colonel” William J. Simmons. This account by Charles Alexander in The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest, goes on to note that Representative Fred Brydia of Pontotoc County introduced an anti-Klan bill shortly thereafter requiring publication of the names of all members of secret organizations in Oklahoma. Walton reportedly ignored Brydia and his bill, and it died, offering support for Walton being a secret Klan sympathizer, or even a “Klansman at Large.”
    In the Gazette article, Larry O’Dell, a research specialist with the Oklahoma Historical Society, shared similar views as William Savage, Jr. concerning Walton: “I’m surprised he stood up to the Klan the way he did because he shifted in the wind so much.” In fact, when Walton took office, he appointed several Klan members to his administration, including the aforementioned state health commissioner. But political allies one day can be enemies the next, and soon, charges of corruption began to creep in against Walton.
    A common accusation against Governor Walton was his granting of too many pardons for too many criminals, with alleged cash payments for the benevolence going to Walton appointees or even Walton himself. The numbers were impressive. By the fall of 1923, more than 250 pardons had been granted, though some of these were criminals on death row whose sentences Walton commuted to life in prison. Claims were made that Walton was pardoning some criminals before they reached the state penitentiary. As a result of this apparent moral laxity, the Oklahoma Klan became more united in its hatred of Jack Walton than any of its primary targets. Historians believe that whippings and beatings escalated during this time period as a “call to justice” in order to counter a wild-eyed governor who had invented his own form of indulgences.
    Great uproar also occurred when Walton announced his intent to raise his own $5,000 salary. While modern accounts have inflated Walton’s desired target to $200,000, sources at the time, such as the January 6, 1923 issue of Harlow’s Weekly, tell us that Walton’s asking price was $12,000, still more than a doubling of income and a highly offensive salary to many who believed in “Our Jack” as a man of the people. That said, it does appear that Walton proposed that his gubernatorial discretionary spending account be raised to $200,000. Cronyism, corruption, extravagant personal spending all brought forth mutterings of impeachment, nothing new for a governor of Oklahoma.
    The former Populist favorite now enjoyed a personal butler, was riding around in a chauffeur-driven limousine, and to top it off, engineered the purchase of a $48,000 mansion under unusual circumstances involving a loan from a man who would be Oklahoma’s 10th governor, E.W. Marland. Walton’s purchase of the Caldwell mansion in what is now the Heritage Hills section of Oklahoma City would become Article IV of the impeachment hearings, an item that failed 18 to 23, most believing it failed due to the power and wealth of Marland.
    Two months after Walton’s ouster, my grandmother, the newly widowed Lula Berch, will be granted her first audience with Jack Walton by “camping out” (as told to us as children) on the steps of this mansion.
    The story of Walton’s final downfall is complicated, only to be made worse by conflicting accounts that reflect the vantage point of the particular author. So, the version that follows will be abbreviated, with apologies to historians who have devoted their careers to its study. I draw much of my coverage from two manuscripts on file at the Oklahoma Historical Society. One is a senior thesis submitted to the History Department of Princeton University by John Hunter Montgomery, dated April 11, 1962, in “partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts,” titled “Oklahoma’s Invisible Empire.” The second source is more focused on Jack Walton’s story, a 287-page manuscript titled, “Oklahoma’s Hundred Days” by Aldrich Blake, then of Laguna Beach, California, dated June 12, 1957.
    Aldrich Blake was a protégée of Thomas Gore (grandfather to Gore Vidal, and a distant relative of the Al Gores, Senior and Junior). Oklahoma Senator Thomas Gore, incidentally, had been blinded in childhood. Blake was campaign manager for Senator Gore in 1920, then subsequently became Governor Walton’s private secretary. Importantly, Blake was truly anti-Klan, and many believe that he contributed greatly to Walton’s downfall by coaxing him into his anti-Klan stance while simultaneously satisfying his personal agenda.
    In June 1923, not yet six months into his tenure, Jack Walton imposed martial law in Okmulgee County, sending the National Guard to stop mob violence. The “riot” was allegedly stirred by the Klan, though evidence was flimsy. The troops were present only a few days, and the response by the public was lukewarm at best, a critical bumbling at worst.
    But then, in August, an incident of police violence against a boarding house operator in Tulsa (other sources say Klansmen beat and mutilated a drug peddler) prompted Walton to declare martial law again, sending 150 troops to Tulsa. A few days later, he placed the entire Tulsa County under martial law, providing 200 more troops. Soldiers ousted elected Tulsa officials, while uniformed troops patrolled the streets and shut down a hostile press. Private citizens were then summoned to stand before a military tribunal for acts attributed to Klan membership, with allegedly 700 complaints against the Klan addressed. But it was Walton’s suspension of habeas corpus that rankled observers the most, adding to the mutterings for impeachment.
    Walton went directly to his public, accusing the KKK of obstructing his efforts against mob violence. He also demanded that Klan members quit wearing masks. Interestingly, his efforts worked, at least temporarily. Newspapers were prompted to investigate alleged atrocities by the Klan, and the hypocritical actions of a “moralizing” group were exposed. Emboldened by his victory, Walton banned all KKK parades and demonstrations. The KKK fought back, reminding the public of Walton’s soft stance on crime, pardoning criminals while allegedly pocketing bribes in the process.
    In the 1957 memoir written by Aldrich Blake, Walton’s chief political aide, Mr. Blake noted: “Before Walton declared martial law in Tulsa, none of us knew the Klan’s numerical strength in Oklahoma. Also unknown to us at the time was the fact that it already controlled most of the judges in the state, possessed a powerful bloc in each branch of the legislature, and that it counted nearly all the prosecuting attorneys, police chiefs, and sheriffs in the state as among its members. The Klan’s popular strength lay in the county seat towns and cities. Most of the Protestant ministers had joined. A great many politicians and businessmen, often just to go along with the crowd, already were in. In addition, thousands of people had been attracted to the Klaverns by sheer morbid curiosity. And, once in, these people did not dare to get out!”
    Written 30 years after the fact, one has to consider that Aldrich Blake might have been motivated to exaggerate the extent of the Klan to justify his eventual actions in this soap opera. Nevertheless, no reasonable historian denies that the Klan was powerful in its day.
    Within a few days after Walton suspended the writ of habeas corpus, N. Clay Jewett, the new Grand Dragon of the Oklahoma Klan (after DeBarr was scolded by OU), emboldened by the widespread denunciation of Walton in the press, announced that Klan parades would be held throughout the state on the night of September 12, 1923. According to Aldrich Blake, Jewett asserted that Walton “never could break the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma.” Blake also notes that the Daily Oklahoman, the primary newspaper in Oklahoma City and the state, was strongly opposed to Walton, and that Walton’s response to this snubbing was to threaten that he would someday start his own newspaper. In fact, the Daily Oklahoman was both anti-Walton and anti-Klan.
    Blake writes that in a speech at Madill to a “wildly cheering crowd”, Walton said, “The unspeakable and damnable outrages accredited to masked bands upon the helpless and defenseless citizenship of Oklahoma have until now gone unpunished. Not a single instance can you find where the culprits have been required to face criminal trial. If this is justice, then the whole fabric of our government which has come to us as a priceless heritage from the heroes of the past is gone. Ninety percent of the floggings, or midnight tar and feather parties, murders and other beastly and brutal assaults upon both men and women have been done by parties wearing masks.”
    Then, one can understand how Walton became his own worst enemy as he continued in a soft voice: “No doubt you have read in the stinking newspapers that the Grand Dragon has announced that a lot of Klan parades are going to be held. I have no objection to these parades if no masks are used. Put on your “hardware,” boys, and the first Klansman you see coming down the street wearing a mask, shoot, and shoot to kill!” The governor paused again as the tense crowd waited for his parting shot: “You know, there is a big difference between being a Grand Dragon and a Governor, for it so happens that the governor has pardoning power. If any of you kill one of these masked Kluxers, don’t bother to write me. Just phone collect, and I’ll wire you a pardon!”
    Although not confirmed, Aldrich Blake claimed there was never a demonstration of mask-wearing Klan members in Oklahoma after that, perhaps providing an answer to one question that arises concerning the upcoming murders in Marlow – If the murders of Albert Berch and Robert Johnigan were Klan-sponsored, why didn’t members simply put on their hoods, do the deed, and disappear?
    Then Walton announced, “I have crossed the Rubicon. It is a fight to the finish. If necessary I shall arm every man in the state who is opposed to the Klan empire. The burden of this fight is falling on me and Aldrich Blake.”
    Open warfare, including whites fighting whites was anticipated, and the entire nation watched. In September, 1923, after a grand jury investigated his shady machinations, Governor Walton declared martial law in Oklahoma County where national guardsmen took control of the police station, city hall, and the county courthouse. Most sources claim that this move, in effect, placed the entire state of Oklahoma under martial law.
    Speaker of the House of Representatives was W. D. McBee from Stephens County, home to Marlow and Duncan, who was the chief architect of the plan to stop Jack Walton. Naturally, McBee was labeled “Klan” by some, though the 1962 thesis by John Hunter Montgomery includes interviews at that time with former Klan members who state otherwise. The legislature was out of session at this point in the crisis, but Speaker McBee ordered an emergency session, and 64 members of the House of Representatives arrived in Oklahoma City on September 25, 1923.
    The Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Division leader, General Baird Markham, issued a now-infamous order “forbidding the gathering of pretended sessions of the legislature to meet in the capitol or anywhere else.” At the time, no governor of any state had ever sought to disperse a duly elected legislative body using armed troops. When Speaker McBee tried to organize the group in a federal building, Governor Walton telephoned President Calvin Coolidge who, in his usual laconic style, considered options and rendered a summary “No.” Governor Walton turned the capitol into an armed encampment, surrounding it with barbed wire and machine gun nests, with troops stationed to turn legislators away. In essence, Oklahoma was on the brink of a statewide Civil War.
    The Daily Oklahoman headlines read as follows, using the archaic term “solons” for the legislators: “Solons Yield to Bayonet Rule.” The key excerpt: “The iron heel of Waltonism, personified by the six-shooter and bayonet, stamped down upon Oklahoma City Wednesday when an armed cordon of national guardsman was thrown around the capitol at daybreak.”
    Before he was impeached and removed, Jack Walton kept his word about starting his own newspaper, and Charlie McCloud, a socialist supporter of Walton, began editing and circulating Jack Walton’s Paper, a weekly that was supported by voluntary contributions to the “anti-Klan newspaper.” McCloud’s tally of Klan in the House: at least 67 of the 107 members belonged to the Klan, 12 were opposed to both Walton and the Klan, and others supported Governor Walton to some degree.
    Speaker McBee was undeterred. His group of legislators met in the historic Skirvin Hotel in downtown OKC, today the temporary home for many NBA teams who have come to play against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Some sources claim the ad hoc legislature met at the Huckins Hotel, but Aldrich Blake records the Skirvin as the correct site, and the confusion may be due to the fact that the Huckins was the site of many organizational meetings of the Ku Klux Klan. Walton, of course, referred to the meeting as a “Klan assembly.” Historians today still struggle with how many of the group were Klan members or sympathizers, but it was clear you didn’t have to be a Klan member to oppose Jack Walton.
    In short, the petition to pursue impeachment continued, and when the statewide vote was set for October 2, 1923, Governor Walton threatened to use the military to stop it, and by one account, he also threatened to retaliate by pardoning all the convicts in the state prison system. He backed down, and impeachment was approved in a landslide vote. On October 23, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved the articles of impeachment and Jack Walton was suspended. On November 19, he was removed from office, deemed guilty on 11 counts.
    Riding the surf of statewide hysteria, a mob in Marlow, Oklahoma, would murder Albert Berch and Robert Johnigan 28 days later.
    Historians note that Walton’s stand against the Klan was largely ineffective while in office. Afterward, however, the legislature considered all of Walton’s recommendations, though only the “unmasking” provision made it into law. As William Savage, Jr. stated in the Oklahoma Gazette article, “I think in regard to that, Walton did the right thing for the wrong reasons. It is possible to accomplish good things while trying to save your own ass.” Indeed, the conflict turned the “Invisible Empire” into a highly visible political force, which had an ugly wing of terrorism, about which many had been ignorant until the light was shone on them by a frantic politician whose back was against the wall.
    Walton was mostly oblivious to the sentiments against him, it seems, He never gave up on politics. Somehow, he won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 1924 as the only candidate to openly criticize the Klan. When he lost the general election in a landslide to William Pine, Walton deemed the new Senator as “Klan.” Walton then served on the State Corporation Commission. He made another run at the governorship in the primaries of 1934 to replace William H. Murray, and again in 1938 to replace Ernest W. Marland as governor. He didn’t come close. He practiced law in OKC where he died at age 68, buried in Rose Hill Burial Park in Oklahoma City.
    Speaker McBee was a Walton nemesis to the end, stating after Walton’s later defeat in the 1924 Senate race, “I am the happiest man in Oklahoma today.” Walton reportedly had refused a KKK march of protest in Stephens County during his final days as governor, but the feud was well underway prior to that, at least as early as the inauguration. McBee did his own share of writing as a member of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and in his memoir, “Oklahoma Revolution,” he described Walton’s 3-day inauguration, designed to appeal to the common folk: “Twelve brass bands for square dancing, 3 miles of trenches for the barbeque, and over 20,000 gallons of coffee on the first day alone. The circus atmosphere created apprehension in many of those concerned with sound government.”
    On the other side of bias and in another post script, Walton’s personal secretary Aldrich Blake was a casualty of the undeclared war. In the final days, Blake claims that he had talked “King Jack” (as the newspapers had dubbed him) into resigning to avoid the inevitable, under the provision that Walton’s newly introduced anti-Klan legislation would be passed in its entirety. This is where loyalties get muddled. Was Blake using Walton at this point? Or, was he using Walton all along? Certainly, in his final days, Walton felt manipulated by Blake. Walton agreed to resign…at first. The next morning, Aldrich Blake read the newspaper to discover that his own head had been lopped. He had been fired. As it turns out, other advisors to Walton had pointed out that, instead of becoming the national hero Blake had envisioned, if he followed Blake’s advice, Walton might end up in jail.
    Walton to Blake, “You almost tricked me into resigning. I’ve never run from a fight in my life, and I’m going to vindicate myself of the stinking charges those Klan stinkers have made against me.” Blake replied that a kangaroo court was about to convict him, and that the fight was over. Then, another head rolled, that of top advisor, Ernest T. Bynum. At this point, Governor Walton began making the claim that all the bad things happening to him were due to Blake and Bynum. The Daily Oklahoman responded with these headlines: “Wanted A Goat.” The newspaper went on to state that the King’s head should roll, not his most loyal subjects. Blake notes, “On November 20, 1923, exactly the 100th day of the Klan War – there were both cheers and tears on Oklahoma’s political front. The ‘King’s’ head had rolled.”
    In spite of this shocking turn of events against Aldrich Blake, he writes his memoir without overt bitterness, his trauma softened by time. While he states that Walton did not have the “qualities which would have made him competent to be the head of an American state,” he did have many redeeming aspects, and Blake maintained in 1957, at least, that the Klan was the primary force behind Walton’s ouster. Blake writes, “15 of the country’s leading metropolitan dailies agreed that Walton had been an incompetent leader in a worthy cause, exactly what Ralph Pulitzer told me in New York.” He also explains how the full force of Walton’s anti-Klan legislation was watered down after Walton was removed from office, such that the final issue put to state voters, State Question 123, was only an “anti-mask” law. We will return to State Question 123 later in the story, as its impact may have been greater than what Blake implies, at least for Berch and Johnigan.
    My final source for this background on Governor Walton comes from the extensive files generated by my mother, Almarian, discovered in the El Reno Excavation. Included in these files is her own treatise titled, “The Controversial Candidate of the Farmer Labor Reconstruction League,” as “partial fulfillment of the Masters of Arts Degree in Journalism at the University of Oklahoma,” signed in 1976 by the chairman of the Graduate Committee, OU Professor Jack Bickham. Bickham is known to all Oklahoma journalists of a “certain age,” but is otherwise known to many in the state as the author of numerous novels, including The Apple Dumpling Gang made into a 1975 Disney movie.
    The “Controversial Candidate,” in Almarian’s document is Jack Walton. She describes Walton’s entry into politics, a remarkably thorough effort, quoting 80 references. From her many files, and drawing upon a faded memory of my own, I believe it was her intent to write a book about Governor Walton. Judging from the labeling of her files, her proposed title was to be King Jack. In reading her work, it becomes clear that she, too, became befuddled by the many paradoxical acts of this man whom her mother, Lula, adored. In one passage, she throws up her journalistic hands and declares, Walton’s “innermost thoughts are an enigma.”
    Moving one generation earlier, Lula also documented her feelings about Jack Walton. Her bias, given her experience, was so powerful that she never acknowledged that Governor Walton was removed from office. In contrast to Almarian’s highly organized, professional files addressing this enigmatic character, Lula’s newspaper clippings are pasted into popular magazines that served as backbones for her scrapbooks. She collected Klan articles from any source, any state, any event. And when writing about her encounter with ex-Governor Walton and his subsequent support and protection to be described shortly, she never includes the “ex-.” She believed Walton would eventually be exonerated and returned to his rightful place on the throne.
    Who could argue with Lula’s personal slant? As it turned out, King Jack probably saved her life.

  • FINAL MISCELLANEOUS EDITS

    FINAL MISCELLANEOUS EDITS

    Chapter 1 – Introduction to the Cascade

    Yet, El Reno is braided tightly in this story. Shortly after Lula and Albert fell in love in 1920, they rode the Rock Island line north from Marlow to El Reno, 65 miles away, where they were married by a local Baptist preacher. They honeymooned at the still-standing Southern Hotel near the train depot, never returning to El Reno again as a couple. Over 60 years later, however, Lula spent her final months at the town that, by coincidence, had become the lifelong home of her daughter. I point out the El Reno marriage and honeymoon of Albert and Lula Berch as one of many interwoven facts that, remarkably, my mother did not know until late in life, and I did not know until the story that follows began to slip from my mother’s fingers into mine.

    Chapter 2 – Marlow, Oklahoma

    Oklahoma, prior to statehood in 1907, was structured as the Twin Territories, with Oklahoma Territory in the west, Indian Territory in the east, while the line that separated them zigzagged north to south. Oklahoma Territory was the more loveable twin, romanticized in books and film through its land runs and lotteries. As for the somber twin, the Dawes Commission systematically stripped Native Americans of their communal land in Indian Territory, converting tribal ownership to individual parcels of land for tribal members. Given that the whole turned out to be greater than the sum of its parts, there was a curious land surplus in the division process that was used for white settlement. Thus, “Indian Territory” was anything but. The majority of inhabitants were white.
    And if a white man missed out on a claim through this “surplus,” there was always the newfound interest in marriage to a tribal woman and her dowry of land. This approach was taken to its extreme in Osage County and its fabulous mineral rights where, during a brief series in tandem with our story at hand, white grooms permanently disposed of their Native American brides after the ink was dry on the wedding certificate but still wet on the deed to the land.
    Marlow fits into this geographic puzzle as part of Indian Territory, in that the north-south zig-zag ballooned west, far enough to encompass most of Stephens County. Thus, a letter addressed to Marlow in 1892, at the city’s founding, would have been addressed to Marlow, I.T. (Indian Territory). Specifically, Marlow and nearby Duncan were located at the absolute western limit of I.T., Chickasaw Nation, linked by the Chisholm Trail.

    As with many Hollywood renditions, the original story is nearly unrecognizable, but a 1932 account of the Marlows, with author William Rathmell interviewing the two surviving brothers and offering a pro-Marlow angle, drew $1,000 for screen rights in 1953 from producer/screenwriter William H. Wright who saw the book in a Los Angeles bookstore.

    Chapter 8 – From Zeitgeist to Kyklos

    In 1920, Simmons added a two-person publicity firm from Atlanta that struck an impressive deal – for every $10 initiation fee, $8 would go to their firm, the Southern Publicity Association. From this 80% take, the firm would supply field agents and clerical help. This was no small force. They put 1,100 solicitors, called Kleagles, into the field, with instructions to play upon whatever prejudices were most acute in the particular area where the Kleagles were working. In Simmons words, “They made things hum all over America.” The Kleagles received half of the $8 cut to Southern Publicity for each new member. One dollar and fifty cents went to the “Grand Goblin,” or regional administrator, and the remaining $2.50 went to the publicity firm. Simmons received his 20% take ($2) of the original fee, thus accounting for the full $10 paid by each new member.

    Evidence for the late-1923 peak for the KKK is suggested by an article from that time in The Daily Oklahoman in which the state’s Grand Dragon, N. C. Jewett (having replaced Dr. DeBarr), offered this claim in the headlines: “Jewett Says Ku-Klux In Oklahoma Adding 500 To Its Rolls Each Week.” In response to increasing criticism from the press about the Klan, the Grand Dragon had organized a massive parade where marchers had chosen to roll up their “visors” to expose their faces. Although this appears to have been a response to the anti-mask legislation under review, Jewett made it clear that he didn’t intend for this to be a precedent – “the klan will never unmask,” he said.

    The most striking discovery in my viewing of the 1915 silent film was its intertitles that quoted President Woodrow Wilson as highly supportive of the KKK. Attribution has been contested by historians, but this is an example: “…until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern Country.”
    In remembering Woodrow Wilson as president of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey, it is easy to forget he was a Southerner, and historians note that he set back the cause of integration during his presidency. Although he had many black supporters in the 1912 election, they were soon disillusioned.
    But here’s the point of interest – while a student at Johns Hopkins, Wilson was close friends with Thomas Dixon, Jr. who was the author of The Clansman, the second book of a trilogy, and upon which D.W. Griffith based his movie. Dixon claimed to have written the trilogy as a message to Northerners to maintain racial segregation, and it appears that Woodrow Wilson, a pseudo-Northerner took him at his word.
    Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia. His father was a slave-owner and also served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army. As a child, Woodrow stood at the feet of Robert E. Lee. So when you hear today’s politicians claim to be an “old-style Progressive in the vein of Woodrow Wilson,” recall these tidbits. Progressivism was a slick moniker that cut across party lines (almost everyone wanted to be one), and one of its tenets was social Darwinism, prompting an interest in eugenics where the lot of human life could be improved through birth control for the less desirables, even if it meant forced sterilization.
    Woodrow Wilson fits into this story in a peripheral way as a symbolic overseer. As noted in the earlier description of Johnson’s Hotel, in our only photograph of the interior, President Woodrow Wilson is looking down at Lula from a picture frame on the wall above. If he was still hanging on the wall through 1923 as ex-president, then he had a front row seat to witness the murders.

    Chapter 9 – King Jack

    Tucker goes on to point out that in the gubernatorial election that Walton won, the KKK openly supported Klansman Robert H. H. Wilson of Chickasha, state school superintendent. Furthermore, Tucker describes how two men, whom he names, approached Walton to get him to join the Klan as a litmus test. When Walton refused, they organized a scheme to discredit him. This first-hand, real-time account by a journalist who followed the career of Jack Walton casts a different light on the many subsequent versions of this same vignette, some highly detailed, where Walton actually joins the Klan as an “honorary” member early in his short tenure as governor. Similar KKK accusations swirled around President Warren G. Harding, but the evidence rests in that all-familiar category – hearsay.

    Chapter 12 – Kincannon to the Pen, While Gandy Goes It Alone

    How much of this maneuvering was done to avoid prosecuting the promising sons of good citizens is unknown. However, one curious vignette implies more bumbling than brilliant maneuvering. The county attorney, Sullivan, had an opportunity to meet with one of the defendants, Homer Thompson, along with Homer’s father. During this meeting, Homer revealed incriminating evidence against Gandy, but the prosecuting attorney failed to get a sworn statement. In the Gandy trial about to unfold, County Attorney Sullivan will let it slip to the jury that he regretted not introducing the evidence given by Homer Thompson. The defense will then use this blunder as grounds for appeal.

    The next witness was L.E. Toney, deputy sheriff for Stephens County who arrived at the scene of the crime at the Johnson Hotel about 9:00 p.m. and left at 1:00 a.m. He went there with the state’s attorney, Mr. Sullivan, who was now asking the questions. Mr. Toney found one bullet hole in the phone booth, while another went through the booth and into the wall. He also testified that Mr. Sullivan found two broomsticks, one at the front door of the hotel and one farther up street, west, in the direction of Siever’s.

    The witness Homer Steele (not to be confused with defendant Homer Thompson) was nearly arrested as part of the mob, but saved himself by staying outside. Homer testified that he ran into Elza Gandy and Frank Cain, and that they were going after some sticks. (Frank Cain had been arrested and released without being charged; no explanation is known.) Homer couldn’t verify that Gandy actually procured a stick, but he heard conversations about “going down to run the n_____ out.” Homer testified that most of the big-time talking was by Ira and Homer Thompson, Byron Wright, Elza Gandy, Mr. Stotts (Marvin Kincannon’s father-in-law), and Ollie Loyd. As noted in the preliminary hearing, Kincannon did not mix with the mob until they were already charging en masse toward the hotel, joining them in a diagonal line from the south side of the street.

    Original close of Chapter 12:
    In longwinded reply, Mr. Bond, closing for the State, then delivered a 27-page oration sprinkled every few paragraphs with “I have no personal feeling in this case, no not none.” Then he would spew forth a fountain of hyperbolic passion that, today, is as unsettling as it is inspirational. After defending the word ‘n_____’ as of African origin, he proceeded to explain his own background in Kentucky and the nobility of his father’s slaves and how they were loyal to the South even after the War, protecting the women and children while the men were fighting. He also described how someone set fire to his own house in 1908 because he had a “n_____ family” living on his land, helping him work his property. After describing the God-given paternalistic obligation of the white man, Mr. Bond pulled out all stops to sway the jury in recognizing the obligation of the law to treat blacks as equal to whites. The oration lasted one and a half hours.
    Excerpts:
    “Robert Johnigan was shot that night, nobody disputes that, he was killed while at the feet of Campbell, doing the work they couldn’t get a white boy to do. He was shot that night and as he saw the dawn breaking, his soul took its flight and went to the other shore, and some day the defendant’s soul will go the Great White Way and I would love to see what transpires.”
    “Go to them and ask them how Al Berch ran his hotel in Marlow and if they don’t tell you that they were running a fair, square, decent place and I will stop right now and tell you to turn this man (Gandy) loose… They (the boys) said they wanted to have a little fun! I imagine it must have been funny to that woman there, when she stood by the grave of her husband and heard the clods beating on the coffin of her husband as they put him away forever.”
    “Doctor Rodgers testified that the negro had a lick on his forehead. Somebody hit him there. What did Elza Gandy go there for? What did he tell Kincannon, ‘Here, take this’ for? He never explained it. He never denied it. Then he said, ‘Watch Kinney, I have seen him get out of tight places before’. Elza Gandy knew that he had a gun in his pocket and he knew that Kincannon would use it.”
    “That was Al Berch’s misfortune. He felt it was his duty to protect this old Robert Johnigan and he went out and he did it like a man and he gave his life for Robert Johnigan, and then it costs Robert Johnigan his life too. I wonder if these lawyers for the defendant can do that? If they would stand up and say, ‘You can’t do it. I must protect him and I will give my life in doing it? That was what Al Berch did, Gentlemen. Al Berch was no ‘slouch’ of a man I can tell you.”
    “Had Robert Johnigan hurt that boy? No, he was shining shoes and these boys walk in there, but do they call Berch and say, ‘We don’t want this n_____ to stay here?’ No. They don’t consult Berch at all. They walked in there and when Al Berch came out they turned on him and shot him and he lays there with his wife and baby on his breast listening to the death rattle in his throat….But that woman there lost the support and protection of her husband that night and they come and tell you it was all a joke! That is the grimmest joke I ever heard any man tell. We just want to have a little fun so we can go into your home and blow out your brains.”
    “I have no personal feeling in this case, but are we going to uphold the laws or make a travesty of them as was done in Chicago, where Leopold and Loeb took a boy and hammered his brains out and then the judge said they should not be hung…I say to you that Oklahoma is ahead of Illinois and we are only sixteen years old. I wish they had had a jury of Stephens County men instead of that judge and he had given them a dose of Oklahoma justice…instead of a judge letting them off because they happened to be nineteen years old.”
    “If they can do that and escape the penalty, then we just as well tear down our court houses, close our churches, and raise the Dragon of Hell instead of Old Glory on the top of our courthouses….Yes, they wanted to have some fun. They say, “Take it in that way.” They ask you fellows to look at it as a joke… It is horrible – the most horrible thing that ever happened in Stephens County, and you Gentlemen know it.”
    “I think it is the greatest thing on earth that a man is strong and has the courage to fight with his fists. He may be dead and gone and I don’t know whether in Heaven or Hell, but I say to you that I would rather be in his place than in Marvin Kincannon’s place or in Elza Gandy’s place, the men who had to resort to firearms. I have often wished I was big enough that I could fight when a man jumps on me but God Almighty made me this way and he didn’t build me to fight so I keep out of them. I don’t want to kill anybody and I don’t go get a crowd at a drug store to go help me overcome a poor old crippled n_____ like Robert Johnigan. He had a right to live just as much as you or me and he hadn’t done a thing… Why, ever since the Savior gave his life for us, human life has gone through the ages as being the most sacred thing in the world…it must be protected.”
    “Elza Gandy knew that Kinney was going to get out of that tight place before they went there. Do you think the people of Marlow approve of that? That night a shame fell over the town of Marlow for the good people have told me so. It was a blot upon the town where they have as good people as any town in the State of Oklahoma. They say this is the greatest disgrace that ever befell the town and they hope and want the jury to do its duty….I would like to know if in Stephens County there is one man so low, so depraved, that he would say, ‘I think you done the right thing when you went there and killed that n_____’”…
    “Gentlemen, I don’t believe there is any man on earth that is so hard that he don’t sometimes think of the Master up there, waiting, and having to look him in the face and answer some questions about his life here. What did Johnigan do that night when his soul winged its way up there? He went up there and the Master said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and Robert Johnigan’s soul answered, “Marvin Kincannon and Elza Gandy came to the hotel where I was working and started to fight me and they shot Mr. Berch and then they shot me. I ran in the telephone booth but they shot me in there and dragged me out and shot me again. That is the reason I am here.” And then what do you think the Lord is going to say, “You are a negro. They had a right to do it?” No! He will say, “Robert Johnigan, come in. You did nothing in the sight of God that is wrong. Your soul is as pure as a white man’s.”
    After the 90-minute oration had ended, defense attorney Wilkinson responded in his closing statement by once again questioning the character of J. L. Clark and O’Quinn, then blaming the whole affair on Albert Berch who, in spite of an impeccable track record in Marlow, had motives of his own that had backfired and resulted in his own death and that of Johnigan as well. Wilkinson also remarked on the sympathy that had been paid to the two widows, but he reminded the jury that there is nothing like a “mother’s love,” and that the jury should be thinking of poor Mrs. Gandy and the fact that her son would be facing prison time.
    County attorney Sullivan offered the last soliloquy for the State: “You have no evidence in this case in any way that smirches the memory or the conduct of Al Berch in his life time…all you have heard in this case was conceived in the minds of Joe B. Wilkinson and Ben Saye and it didn’t come from the witness stand. It is not the best evidence. Now, we find Al Berch, the owner and proprietor of the leading hotel in Marlow, Oklahoma. We find that it was a respectable hotel. Why do I say that? You could see by the class of people that told you from the witness stand that they made that their stopping place when making that town, that first class people frequented that hotel, and if it hadn’t been a first class hotel such people never would have frequented that place.”
    Sullivan then reminded the jury that over the past year, people had plenty of time to discredit Robert Johnigan. And, if there had been a single count of criminal activity, it would have been brought forth. But no one could come up with one negative word about Robert Johnigan. In fact, there had been “talk on the streets” of “running Johnigan off” from the day he arrived. Sullivan reminded the jury that shining shoes is something whites won’t do. He then told the story of a white boy in a barber shop in Waurika, Oklahoma who was standing next to a shine stand. A train conductor entered the shop, assumed the white boy was shining shoes, and asked for a shine. The white boy was so insulted at being called a shine boy that he pulled out a knife and killed the train conductor. Yet, Gandy is outraged because Johnigan is willing to do the things they wouldn’t do? And as for defense witnesses, attorney Sullivan called them “booze hounds,” and proceeded to explain to the jury that those witnesses claiming J. L. Clark had been the instigator actually had numerous bootlegging charges, with additional charges pending. As for McReynolds and those implicating Clark as the instigator, “you can look at them in the face and tell what kind of cattle they are.” Sullivan admonished the jury to remember that the “act of Kincannon is the act of Gandy.”
    The jury was confined to quarters and rendered their verdict 10 minutes later:
    “We, the jury, drawn impaneled and sworn in the above entitled cause, do upon our oath find the defendant Elza Gandy guilty of manslaughter in the first degree and fix his punishment at confinement in the penitentiary for a period of 7 years.” (Signed) G. W. Young, Foreman.
    The October 16, 1924 issue of the Ada Weekly News summed up the outcome:
    “The prosecution scored its second victory in the Berch-Johnigan murder cases Friday afternoon when Elsa(sic) Gandy, 22 years old, of Marlow, was found guilty of manslaughter in the first degree, and assessed a sentence of seven years imprisonment. The jury received the case at 4:00 Friday afternoon and returned the verdict ten minutes later. Gandy was being tried for the murder of Robert Johnigan, negro porter, who was shot to death in the hotel of Al Berch, Marlow, on the night of December 17, 1923, during an alleged riot precipitated by the introduction of the Negro to Marlow. Custom had drawn a color line in the town. Berch was also killed when he is alleged to have come to the defense of the negro.”
    Elza Gandy was ordered to serve 7 years in the state penitentiary at Granite, Oklahoma, a different prison than the one where Marvin Kincannon was already serving his time.
    Two weeks after the jury verdict, the Duncan Banner described a visit to their town by N. Clay Jewett, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan of the realm of Oklahoma where “around a thousand klansmen and klanswomen were said to be present” at the Duncan event. A magnificent banquet was served, much of the feed being brought in from the country by members of various lodges of the county. Mr. Jewett’s visit had no political significance, according to local officials of the klan.”
    At the time, there was no evidence that linked the KKK to the murders of Albert Berch and Robert Johnigan.
    In spite of the “victory” for the prosecution, the defense had already won the lion’s share of the contest in that no charges were ever filed against Gandy as an accessory to the murder of Albert Berch. Furthermore, Gandy’s 7-year sentence for the “manslaughter” of a negro had been measured differently than the 25-year sentence to Kincannon for the same crime against a white man, while both sentences ran well below the electrifying consequences for murder.
    Nevertheless, given the pervasive mood of the times, one can argue that it’s remarkable that charges were filed at all, and even more remarkable that convictions were obtained. So, when it comes to delivering the wreath of roses in victory to either the prosecution or the defense, we should consider that the only floral wreaths in this story belong on the caskets of Albert Berch and Robert Johnigan.

    Chapter 17 – Almarian Berch and the 2nd Obsession

    Almarian was bored. She wrote to Lula:
    “Honey, I don’t want you to think I’m griping all the time about the lab. But I don’t like their methods of dealing with their technicians. But they probably don’t like my attitude either. You know how open-mouthed I am and I just say what I think but I try hard not to mainly on account of Francis.… I don’t feel I’m learning anymore and that’s when your work becomes work. That’s one reason I’m so happy about the Parasitology Course (author’s note: a mini-fellowship offered at Charity Hospital in New Orleans). It is a field in which very few are acquainted. I got just a taste of it with those night courses at medical school. It will be something I don’t know hardly at all. I don’t like this standing still. I like to learn new things.”
    Her acceptance to the program at Charity was one of the most thrilling moments of her life, and Lula helped financially with her daughter’s temporary stay in New Orleans. From many letters, I discovered that, in spite of her own marginal nest egg, Lula supported her daughter financially long after I would have thought the reverse might be true.

    Chapter 18 – One-Half Dream

    (remaining stanzas of unfinished poem):
    I stood there gazing at the lonely bush
    The lonely bush which marked your bed
    Around were stones neatly hewn
    While you had a living monument at your head.

    It tore my heart to see neglect
    So long you rested there alone
    But the wind whispered to me that God carved yours
    And the others were fashioned of man-made stone.

    What is left in the lonely grave
    What is left after many a year
    It’s not what’s left in the grave that counts
    It’s eternal life we hold so dear

    Your life still lives in the lonely bush
    The bush was planted by God I know
    For only He could know where you were
    He dropped the seed…

    Chapter 20 – The Cardboard Box

    Fred and Mittie Combs knew Albert Berch as well as anyone in the family outside of Lula, yet my siblings and I never appreciated this, not even after we visited her in the nursing home on the afternoon of Lula’s interment. Additionally, Fred Combs, Jr., Barbara’s uncle, served as a stand-in for the fatherless Almarian in her wedding, walking her down the aisle to “give her away” at the Hollingsworth-Berch marriage in 1943.

    Chapter 21 — Oxyrhynchus

    A peculiar letter from the Cardboard Box had a return address of U.S. Veteran’s Hospital No. 32; 2650 Wisconsin Ave, N.W.; Washington, D.C., dated December 19, 1923 – two days after the murders:
    My Dear Mrs. Berch:
    I saw in the paper the sadness that was brought to you so innocently and so unexpectedly, that I have worried so much about your grief, the loss of your dead husband and how he came to the end of his life. We read in the Bible: “He that loses his life for my sake shall find it,” and I know that the Lord will reward justice, as your brave husband fell for the life of his colored porter… I will send you a bunch of flowers, that you may look upon them, as a thought and token of my respect.
    I am a World War crippled soldier, a patient at this hospital, and only wish that there was something more I could do for you. I will pray to the Lord for you, that you may be comfortable all the days of your life.
    Respectfully yours,
    L.J. Jones
    This letter was written five years after the end of WWI, so the fact the L.J. Jones was a hospitalized veteran in Washington, D.C. caught my eye, and I spent a good deal of time trying to nail down who this man might be. To have that much empathy, to the point of sending flowers to a stranger, I considered that he might have been African-American. I found several candidates, but no confirmation. The most intriguing possibility is one Lucius J. Jones, whose history I found in the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, a library founded in 1919 by Herbert Hoover. There, one Mary Green Jones has offered her reminiscences of slave life in Mississippi as told to her son Lucius, a gift of L. J. Jones in 1952. It was only in my re-reading of the list of those who had sent floral arrangements to Albert’s funeral that I noticed one L. J. Jones. No other reference to this man was found anywhere in the murder archives.

    I have listed the names on the petition below as best can be interpreted, given some shabby handwriting. But keep in mind, even though State Question 123 was successfully passed later by the legislature, the reason I have this petition in my possession is that this particular document (#83) was never notarized or turned in to the State. According to Lula, Albert Berch was responsible for driving the petition, and he was murdered before it could be submitted. Here’s how the petition reads, in part, with the document printed to allow only 20 names maximum, the instructions noting that each group of 20 must be notarized:
    State Question No. 123; Initiative Petition No 83
    To the Honorable M.E. Trapp, Acting Governor of the State of Oklahoma
    Shall the following proposed law be adopted?
    A Bill Entitled: An act requiring the filing and recording of the names and addresses of officers and members of all secret organizations in the office of the county clerk of the county of their residence; making threats and intimidations of persons a felony; prohibiting wearing masks or disguise; making demand for or entrance upon premises of another at night or while disguised prima facie evidence of intention to commit a felony; making such acts an assault to commit a felony; defining assault to commit murder; defining perjury; fixing punishments for violations hereof; prescribing the duties of judges and courts; and repealing conflicting acts.

    The list of signees:
    A.W. Berch – Marlow
    Lula Berch – Marlow
    L. C. Benight – Marlow
    Mr. L. C. Benight – Marlow
    Roy Scott – Marlow
    Paul C. Teas – Norman
    J.W. O’Quinn – Oklahoma City
    Jean H. Knox – Oklahoma City
    J.J. Meeld (?) or Weld(?) – Comanche rural route
    Ruth Watson – Marlow
    E. Gaschal – Oklahoma City
    Ed Middleton – Comanche
    C.L. Scott – Marlow
    Lu Payne – Marlow
    H. Jarboe – Marlow
    R.A(?). Williams – Marlow
    J.W. Paritt – Marlow
    C.M. Forth – Tulsa
    Fred Combs – Marlow
    O.J. Elles(?) – Marlow

    Note the next-to-last name, Fred Combs, Lula’s brother, whose granddaughter I would meet for the first time graveside, at the Combs family plot in Elmore City, Oklahoma, quite by coincidence, or Coincidence.

    Chapter 22 – Loose Ends and Dead Ends

    What is the final truth about Albert Junior’s birthday? The birth date of Albert Berch, Junior has now been confirmed as October 5, 1893. So what was the fuss about?
    Albert’s death certificate adds to the mystery, rather than offering any solution. The doctor who filled out the form was J. Arthur Mullins, MD, a man with mystery in his own right. Dr. Jack Gregston of Marlow informed me that Dr. Mullins’ body was found in a burned car years later, leaving a wife and kids in Marlow. Yet, there was always doubt as to whether or not the body was really Dr. Mullins. As it pertains to this story, Dr. Mullins recorded the information for the death certificate taken directly from Albert Berch, Senior. Cause of death, of course, was “homicide – shot through the left breast.”
    However, there are bizarre entries on the death certificate relating to date of birth and age. The handwriting is by one person, and the correct date of October 5, 1893 is the official listing; but, written in the same hand, then crossed out, is October 6, 1884, the date on Albert’s tombstone and the phony birthdate that was perpetuated for decades thereafter. And, the age of “39” is crossed out as well and replaced with the correct age of 30.
    Apparently, Albert Senior was in on the ruse, for whatever reason, and he repeated the phony birthdate so often that when Dr. Mullins asked for the date, the father of the deceased simply regurgitated the answer he had rehearsed so many times before. Then, he recanted and told the truth. One can almost recreate the father’s mental process as, “What the hell. My son is dead now, so I might as well give the real dates.” But why the deception? Likely, it was at Lula’s insistence, an attempt to erase their age differential, given her many idiosyncrasies about age.
    As anyone doing research knows, for every door opened, you face several new doors that are closed. It is an exercise in perpetuity. But one step I had not yet taken, saving it for last, was to scour the newspapers in the years prior to the murders, searching for any stray clues.

    Chapter 23 – A Prequel

    On October 12, 1922, a front page article caught me by surprise: “Berch Leases Johnson Hotel,” not only because my family knew nothing of this, but also this is one of the few times Berch was spelled correctly in the newspaper. Announcing the one-year lease, the article states, “Mr. and Mrs. Berch expect to depart the latter part of the week to Los Angeles for a well earned vacation covering an extensive trip through the west.”
    Family folklore had taught us that Lula took the 2-year-old Almarian to L.A. after the murder to prove to Aunt Helen that there was a baby from the marriage. But we now have a photographic record of this trip to Los Angeles, with Aunt Helen DeLendrecie and husband O.J. in their final years, holding my mother as an infant rather than a two-year-old. This disparity between family folklore and these photographs was put to rest by this issue of the Marlow Review.
    While my first inclination was to believe that Albert and Lula had leased the hotel to provide some distance from his father, an alternative explanation for the one-year sabbatical may be found with stationery I pulled from the Cardboard Box, personalized as Albert W. Berch, Oil Properties. The “Personals” column in the Marlow Review helps out here, as it follows Al and Lula as they do some “test drilling” here and there throughout the county. Stephens County mineral rights are still held by our family.

    Chapter 26 – Osteopathy Meets the Underground Railroad (Basye & Berch)

    Samuel Basye’s parents were Elizamond and Elizabeth Thorpe Basye, with Elizamond, the father, claiming to have built the first house in Indianapolis, Indiana around 1815. True or not, son Samuel Basye moved to Racine, Wisconsin in 1835 with his new bride where they eventually had eight children. Three of the eight are characters in this book – Josephine Ellen (Helen), Mary Ann (Marian), and Edward E. (Ned).

    In an 1879 family biography, Marian Basye is noted as Mrs. Jesse L. Berch, living in Centreville, Iowa. The Basyes and the Berches go way back. It appears that Harrison Berch, Jesses’s father, married Samuel Basye’s sister Elizabeth. Thus, my great-great grandparents, Jesse Berch and wife Marian Basye were, yes, first cousins. “Not uncommon” were the words of my sister Susan who worked out this part of the genealogy. Thus, my siblings and I are a little bit Basey, a little bit Berch.