The Redbud City: Hard times continued in Shawnee in 1939

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
By April of 1939, VAN’S PIG STAND was celebrating its ninth anniversary. It was one of the most popular eating and dance halls in the city at that time. The dances were held in the basement and received a few complaints about the noise and disorderly conduct. Most of the dance halls in town received the same complaints.

HOTEL GAMING LOUNGE RAIDED

A full truck load of furniture and equipment from a modernistic bar and gambling lounge on the ninth floor of the Aldridge Hotel was stored in the basement of the police station Thursday, April 13, 1939. This followed a gambling raid by police and sheriff deputies.

Only two arrests were made. C.C. Coulston was booked at the police station, as was N.B. Miller, an employee of the lounge. Led by Chief F.A. Budd, officers raided a suite of rooms on the top floor of the hotel about 9:30 p.m. Other officers on the raid were Sam Martin, Bill Miller, and Mark Frazier.

Only Coulston and N.B. Miller were in the gambling quarters when the raid was staged. A complete layout of gambling equipment, including an ornate roulette wheel, dice, and card tables were set up and ready for play. At a miniature bar were several high cocktail stools, while modernistic furniture filled the rooms. Only a small amount of whiskey was found.

It was the second such gambling raid by officers within a few months at the hotel. Coulston was among a group arrested in a similar raid in December, when equipment was confiscated, although the lounge was not as ornately furnished at that time.

CITY WOMAN KILLED IN CAFÉ ARGUMENT

Mrs. Hattie Greenlee, 42, of 213 N. Seventh Street, was dead, her mother, Mrs. E.G. Cook, 68, had a fractured hip, and her brother-in-law, George Thompson, 52, was in the county jail. This was all the aftermath of a family argument that resulted in a fight in a café at 109 S. Union Street on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 25, 1939.

Thompson was charged after the questioning of witnesses. Mrs. Greenlee died of a fracturing of the trachea. Dr. T.D. Rowland, city physician, announced the cause of death that afternoon following an examination.

Mrs. Greenlee received a blow on her neck. Only a small bruise on her neck was found. Otherwise, she was uninjured. The investigation of the event was performed by Captain Jack Cook of the police department and County Attorney Tom Wyatt. The fight resulted from marital difficulties between Thompson and his wife, Josie Thompson, who was the sister of Hattie Greenlee.

Following an argument that morning, Thompson and his wife re-started their argument at the café, where Thompson was employed. The café was operated by V.L. Greenlee, husband of the deceased.

During the argument, Thompson slapped his wife. She left, returning later with her mother and sisters. Upon arrival of the women, the argument was renewed, and a fight resulted.

Thompson fled the café and was arrested later by Officer Clarence Roberts in a beer parlor in the 200 block of east Main Street. When ambulance drivers arrived, Mrs. Greenlee was on the floor, her head in her husband’s lap. Mr. Greenlee took no part in the argument, although, he was present. Mrs. Greenlee was dead by the time she reached the hospital. Witnesses said no weapons were used during the fight. Examinations at the hospital revealed that Mrs. Cook had a fracture of the left hip.

Hattie Greenlee was a resident of Shawnee since 1934, moving from Shamrock, Texas. Funeral arrangements were handled by Cooper’s of Tecumseh. Burial was in the Resthaven Memorial Park east of the city.

By the next afternoon, murder charges were filed against Thompson by Assistant County Attorney Fred Albert in the court of W.F. Durham, justice of the peace.

OLD-TIMERS PICNIC ALL DAY

The annual picnic of the Pottawatomie County Historical Society was held at the little Quaker Church south of the Shawnee Indian Sanitorium all day Thursday, June 29, 1939. Mrs. Florence Pigg, secretary, was in charge.

A full day of reminiscence-feasting and speaking was capped by an old-fashioned spelling contest late in the afternoon. It attracted many state pioneers, in addition to old-timers of the county.

In the morning, first settlers of the county told interesting stories of the early days, utilizing a public-address system, provided for the occasion. After the picnic at noon, Dr. Emma Estill-Harbour, vice president of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and Park Wyatt, prominent Shawnee attorney, addressed the group.

Musical entertainment was furnished by the Shawnee High School band, directed by Paul Boone. Anita Hutt Lester then gave an old-fashioned reading.

WAR HITS CLOSE TO HOME AS CITY FOOD PRICES SKYROCKET

Since Germany’s invasion of Poland a few days earlier, soaring food prices Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1939, brought the European war very close to Shawnee. There were shortages reported of some staples, as several Shawnee residents began buying big stocks of canned goods, anticipating even greater increases in prices.

Limited purchases of sugar, reminiscent of World War days, were ordered in several stores, 10 pounds only being permitted to a customer. Several grocers reported stocks of dried beans exhausted and none were available at wholesale houses. Sugar, flour, and cooking fat prices were advancing steadily, often changing several times during the day. Flour that sold at $2.08 for 100 pounds the previous week, brought $3.50 on Wednesday.

Wholesale houses also limited orders on some staples. One grocer said his wholesaler refused to sell more than five sacks of sugar to his store. One Shawnee resident purchased $300 in canned goods on Wednesday. The same grocer said he filled innumerable orders for more than $59 in canned goods for individuals who ordinarily purchased less than one dollar’s worth at a time.

Most stores were attempting to prevent the exhausting of their supply of staples through bulk purchasing by customers. They also endeavored to keep their prices on as even a scale as possible. One grocer declared he discovered he was selling flour at 20 percent less than his competitor across the street was paying for it.

J.T. Griffin, president of a wholesale grocery firm at Muskogee, said there was “at least 10 percent advance in the prices of all goods, including canned goods” since the war started.

These stories all appear, along with hundreds of others, in the six-volume history of the City of Shawnee. The first four volumes, through 1989, are now available for purchase at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. You may order them online at their website, or by calling (405) 275-8412. Each volume is $35, but a purchase of two or more volumes can be obtained at $30 each. We are offering a special deal. If you purchase any other volume, you may obtain Volume One (1830-1929) for just $20. Volume five, (1990-2009) is coming in the late spring. Volume six, (2010-2021) should follow quickly in the fall.