Monthly Archives: July 2014

Drugs wars and the Tulsa race riot

One of the things I’ve wondered for many years is whether drugs could have played a role in Tulsa’s 1921 race riot.

Drugs, and especially opiates, were a serious problem, even in those days. At least as far back as 1907, before statehood, police raided an opium den in what was then a town of seven thousand. By 1921, morphine and cocaine addiction had become a serious problem.

In January, federal agents raided a soft drink stand adjacent to McNulty Park — the stadium which would serve briefly after the riot as a holding area for black Tulsans — operated by one Irma “The Midget” Harisson. When a search of the premises failed to turn up the expected contraband, one of the agents grabbed the four-foot, six-inch Harisson by the ankles, turned her upside down, and shook her until cocaine capsules fell from her clothes.

Over the next several months, two doctors were sent to federal prison for illegally selling morphine and cocaine; two men were arrested in Tulsa and charged with possession of one thousand grains of morphine; a double amputee working in a shoe-shine parlor was found with five morphine and three cocaine capsules; a man named J.L. Love was fined $500 and sentenced to a year in prison for morphine possession; and two men were apprehended at the train station with a valise full of “liquid morphine.”

In May, police caught two drug dealers by making a buy with a marked silver dollar.

In the immediate aftermath of the May 31-June 1 Tulsa riot and for years afterward, official blame fell mostly on armed blacked men who went to the county courthouse to defend a prisoner they believed was about to be lynched. A confrontation ensued, shots were fired and riot was on.

Several of those men were described, by both whites and blacks, as dope peddlers and drug users. Today that claim is generally dismissed and in all likelihood rightfully so. But the fact it would be accepted as plausible suggests the extent of the drug problem in Tulsa at the time.

After the riot, police reported white drug dealers did indeed enjoy a windfall from the riot. One of the buildings destroyed in the fires that engulfed much of the black neighborhoods, they said, had been a well-known den, and Officer Henry Carmichael reported white dealers were “unusually active” since their black competitors had been temporarily put out of business.

Certainly, the riot was not about drugs, and I wouldn’t want anyone to make too much of this. But, as I said, I have long wondered if just may the riot did provide an opportunity for underworld characters to settle scores or get rid of competition.

I guess it’s just one of those things we’ll never know.

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Of flintlocks and atom bombs

Considerable time and energy is spent in this country speculating about what the founders of this great nation would do or think or say if they were alive today. It is an interesting exercise and not without merit, but more often than we care to admit a futile one.

The thirteen colonies had a total of population of about 2.5 million, spread out over 375,000 square miles in 1776. Today we have more than 315 million people on 3.7 million square miles. In size, we’ve grown 10-fold; in population,  126-fold.

Technologically, we live in a world that we can barely imagine, never mind what George Washington or James Madison might have envisioned. They lived in a time of flintlock muskets and quill pens; we in an era of atom bombs and iPads.

Washington warned us to beware of foreign entanglements, good advice for a small, weak, young nation far removed from the center of the political and economic universe, much harder for a large, wealthy country from which the rest of the world takes its cues.

The concept of limited government and self-sufficiency is one thing when people are spread thinly across a seemingly endless continent with no one to answer to except themselves, something else when we are elbow-to-elbow, each of our actions infringing in some way large or small on our neighbor. We all hate rules and regulations, but the world is also a different place than it was 248 years ago, or even 50 or 100 years ago.

What would the founders say? Another trap of this line of thinking is that the founders disagreed as much as we do today. From Alexander Hamilton to Patrick Henry, they’re opinions stretched the limits of political thinking. One thing that probably can be said is that they talked, they discussed, they searched for commonalities to keep the ship of state afloat. They had ideals, but they were not necessarily idealists. Their biggest disagreements were, at their roots, economic.

It is proper to look to the founders for advice and insight. But it is also proper to recognize the world has changed, and so have we.

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Bill Tilghman

Bat Masterson called Bill Tilghman “the greatest of us all.” Theodore Roosevelt said he would “charge hell with a bucket.”

Tilghman was one of the last of the old west lawmen. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never crossed the line to the other side. Never even skirted it. He was everything in life that Masterson and the Earps and Wild Bill Hickock were in legend. He died in the line of duty at age seventy, shot to death by a corrupt a federal agent while trying to clean up an Oklahoma boom town.

Like many men of his time and place, Tilghman began as a buffalo hunter in the years after the Civil War, when the railroads were stretching across the prairie and cattle were trailing north from Texas. He found his way to Dodge City, where he opened a saloon, despite being a teetotaler, and got his first job as a lawman. It was also where he met Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

In 1889, he moved to Guthrie. Over the next few years, he, Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas became known as the Three Guardsmen, deputy U.S. marshals who arrested around three hundred desperadoes over the next decade and killed several more. Tilghman’s most famous exploit was the arrest of Bill Doolin in a Hot Springs, Ark., mineral bath.

Tilghman retired in 1910 and was elected to the state Senate, but resigned a year later to become Oklahoma City’s police chief. In 1923, Gov. Martin Trapp persuaded Tilghman to come out of retirement a second time, to accept a special commission as marshal of Cromwell, a notorious unincorporated community in the Greater Seminole Oil Field known as the “wickedest city in the world.” Cromwell had it all: prostitution, gambling, liquor and drugs. And one of the worst influences was a federal Prohibition officer named Wiley Lynn.

Lynn shot Tilghman twice on the night of Nov. 1, 1924, as they struggled for a gun. The old lawman died almost immediately. Typical of the times, Lynn was acquitted when several witnesses mysteriously disappeared; he and state Bureau of Investigation Agent Crockett Long shot each other to death eight years later in a Madill drug store.

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Wheat harvest

Wheat harvest ended Thursday for Krehbiel Farms.

It was late this year. First it was too dry, then too cold, and finally too wet.  What came up, froze. What didn’t freeze, shriveled. What was left choked on the Johnson grass, bull nettles and sand burs fed by the late rains.

In other words, harvest was pretty normal.

Let’s not leave the wrong impression. Some of the yield’s were okay, especially on irrigated fields, and the rains that came too late to save the wheat were just right to give the peanuts and milo a good start and fill the farm ponds. To a large extent, that’s what farming is: growing as many plants and animals as soil and climate allow in the hope that something will pay out.

My eighty-three-year-old father and eighteen-year-old niece pretty much run the show as far as harvest is concerned. My father is the fidgety one, the one who can’t sit still when rain and high humidity keep the combines from running. He has to be doing something. He’s in his pickup, on the phone, declaring we’ll be able to cut by three this afternoon when he knows we won’t. He has been doing this his entire life and doesn’t know how to quit. He gets up at four or five in the morning, drives around to all the farms, looking for something to do or to have one of the hired men do.

He is eager to cut a series of small patches that he thinks can be knocked out quickly, but the cool moist air lingering behind the June rain keeps the moisture content of the grain far above the fourteen percent that is the maximum allowed. Grain harvested and stored when it is too moist mildews, turns moldy, invites insects. But my father keeps cutting samples, until he’s finished most of one field and decides going on is not worth the effort. The sand burs have taken over. Talk to somebody like Whole Foods, I say. Convince them sand burs are an organic health food, that they can be milled into a nutritious flour. Sand bur cakes. Yum.

My niece wants to run the farm some day and I believe she can do it. She is smart and self-assured and seems to have a feel for what she is doing. She watches and listens. Her father, my brother, was running things until the brain tumor. Like my father, my niece is on a mission. But not the same mission. Not exactly.

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