The Redbud City: Hard times part two
FIERY OIL MOVES ON THE CITY
A floating mass of highly inflammable crude oil, ready to be ignited by a careless match or grass fire, was creeping steadily down the North Canadian River toward Shawnee on November 4, 1930. Leaving in its wake a series of fires that destroyed bridges, timber, brush, and crops. It was a potential blanket of fiery destruction. It was expected to reach Shawnee sometime during the day. Efforts of the Shawnee Fire Department, the Police Department, and the Pottawatomie County Highway Department, were underway to prevent the inevitable fires which accompanied the oily flood.
The oil came from a recent wild overflow of the Morgan Oil Company’s well on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. The “Waner Bridge,” a steel and wooden bridge over the North Canadian River, two miles northwest of McLoud, was destroyed early the day before by fire. This happened despite the combined forces of the McLoud and Shawnee Fire departments.
By early Tuesday the 4th, most of the fires were contained near McLoud. However, a big blaze threatened to do damage near Harrah, before it was controlled and allowed to burn itself out. Fires appeared to be inevitable. A.J. Ownby, county commissioner, and Shawnee Fire Chief, W.W. Wicker, said they were dedicated to resisting the fires and keeping them from causing further damage.
“Skimming dams,” made of wire were used Monday with success to combat the blazes. These were placed across the river at strategic points and catching and forming the oil into controlling points. Then they could be ignited and allowed to burn themselves out, with no fear of causing damage,” said Commissioner Ownby. “Such dams, if the oil continued to pour downstream, as conditions seem to indicate, will be used to protect bridges and crops in low-lying areas,” he continued.
Many fires were still burning on Monday night, November 3. Near McLoud, one ignited early in the afternoon between that city and Dale, being the furthermost downstream toward Shawnee. They were somewhat under control and did not expect to do serious damage, unless they began to spread out.
Some oil was carried by the river under the Beard Street Bridge on Monday, but the main body of the oil did not arrive until Tuesday. Guards were stationed along the river near McLoud and Dale on Monday night to guard against fires springing up. Ownby urged that everyone take the utmost caution so that no fires endangered property near the city.
THREE BANDITS SLUG AND ROB RAILWAY AGENT
Three masked bandits robbed the Rock Island passenger depot at 1 A.M., on the morning of November 4, 1930. After slugging J.G. O’Neil, ticket agent, bound him, and made their escape in an automobile. About $50 dollars were taken in the holdup. They left only a few pennies in the cash box as they made their hurried exit.
Entering the station, which was deserted at that hour of the morning, two of the bandits appeared at the ticket window and demanded that O’Neil raise his hands and approached the window. He obeyed and was ordered to turn over his keys. They entered the office and demanded that he open the cash drawer. The two bandits called his attention to a third, who stood on the platform outside the window, and requested that he hurry.
O’Neil’s first attempt to open the drawer failed. He was cursed and told by one of the men that another murder did not mean much to him and that he had better open the drawer at once or they would “carry out his body.” The second attempt failed and the bandit, who then declared that he was wanted twice for murder already, struck him over the head with his pistol. O’Neil saw the blow coming and partially deflected it with his wrist, which was swollen and bruised.
The third attempt also failed, since O’Neil explained that he was somewhat nervous in opening the cash drawer. The spokesman of the robbers struck him a hard blow in the ribs on the right side because of the third failure and told him that unless the fourth effort was successful, they would shoot him dead.
On the fourth attempt, the drawer opened, and the bandits sorted out the checks, which they left. They questioned O’Neil closely as to whether any other money was in the office, and after a search during which many records were thrown about, they securely bound O’Neil’s hands behind him. They crammed a hand full of paper into his mouth and tied a handkerchief around them to secure the papers in his mouth.
The bandits locked O’Neil in the office and left the depot in an automobile. A passerby noticed the three men coming out of the depot, masked, and got a good description of the car as it drove away north on Union Street. He immediately notified police, who spent some time in reaching O’Neil, because of the locked doors. Police immediately notified officers in surrounding cities.
MANIAC SOUGHT IN AX SLAYING
Four days had passed since the brutal “ax murder” of Andrew W. King, night watchman at the Traders Compress Company. There were no additional clues presenting themselves toward the solution of the mystery that happened on November 1. Speculation in official police circles drifted in the direction of a connection of the Shawnee slaying with similar alleged attacks at Weleetka, Ada, and Frederick gins.
It was learned by police on November 5, that in addition to the murder in October of a night watchmen for the company at Weleetka, attacks were perpetrated on employees at the other two towns. It was understood from local officials of the compress company that the attack at Ada, which proved fatal also, was on the property of another company.
The Frederick assault was not a fatal event. It was not learned from local officers whether an extensive search for the common criminal, evidently a maniac, who was perpetrating the wholesale murder, would be made from the evidence. Headquarters for the company was in Fort Worth, TX.
(These stories appear in volume two (1930-49) of the six-volume history of Shawnee, entitled “REDBUD CITY.” The first three volumes, through 1969, are now available for purchase. They can be purchased for $30 each. Normally, they are available at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society, but it is temporarily closed for moving to the new facility. If you wish to purchase copies, call me at (918) 470-3728, and I will arrange to get you copies. Volume four, (1970-89) is back on course and should be available late in the year.)
Clyde Wooldridge is a local historian.