The governor who hated horse racing

Vice laws seem to have been more ignored than enforced in early twentieth century Tulsa. Liquor, prostitution and gambling all flourished. According to one account, an early Tulsa mayor owned an interest in a brothel. A former police chief went to prison for shooting a federal prohibition officer.

Oklahoma’s second governor, Lee Cruce, was very much agin sin. When gambling was reported at a horse racing meet in Tulsa in April 1914, Cruce declared martial law and sent the National Guard under Adjutant General Frank Canton to enforce it.

The injunction that race organizers obtained against the state did not impress Canton. He was a tough character who, under his real name, Joe Horner, had killed at least one man, robbed a bank and escaped from jail. Changing his identity, he signed on with the cattle barons’ Regulators in Wyoming, then became a deputy U.S. marshal.

Acting on Cruce’s orders, Canton ordered the races cancelled. He was ignored. Ten horses were hurried to the post and the starting gun sounded. As the horses thundered down the stretch, several Guardsman assembled on the track and fired into them. The horses rushed right past them to the finish line.

But that was the end of the meet. Gen. Canton ordered his men to shoot to kill any man or animal that got near the starting line, and everyone knew he meant it.

Tulsa World Editor Eugene Lorton took to the front page of his own paper to assail Cruce.

“You are making an ass of yourself,” Lorton wrote. “You are an egotistical, law-defying, self-centered bigot. It was only through the unfortunate circumstances of having a lieutenant governor who is even less trustworthy in .. mental capacity than yourself that you escaped impeachment.”

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