The Life Story of Patti Page and More News from Oklahoma City

Welcome back.  I was on the lookout for an interesting place to hang my hat last Friday night and I had the good fortune to catch the opening night of an exhibit that just fit the bill. The Claremore, Oklahoma Museum of History was my first stop for the opening night of a display about the life of Clara Ann Fowler. Clara was born on November 8, 1927 in Claremore where her dad worked on the railroad and her mom picked cotton.  She was the youngest of eight and like many in that era her parents often struggled to make ends meet. While she was growing up the family lived in many small towns in northeast Oklahoma including Foraker, Hardy and Avant, frequently in houses without electric or indoor plumbing. By the time Clara was in high school they had landed in Tulsa.

When Al Clauser and his Oklahoma Outlaws band heard eighteen year old Clara sing at a school function they booked her to sing with them on their fifteen minute program on Radio KTUL in Tulsa. The program was sponsored by the Page Milk Company and before long Clara Fowler became known as “Patti Page.”

From 1947-1950 Patti recorded a series of semi-successful songs and then in 1950 she had her first million selling records with “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming.” 1950 was also the year Patti released her version of “The Tennessee Waltz” and a major star was born.

In the later 1950s Patti appeared on many TV variety shows including Ed Sullivan, The Dean Martin Show and Steve Allen. Then in 1952 she had her own series, The Scott Music Hall on NBC. She went on to star in different series on ABC and CBS as well, making her the first person to have shows on all three major networks.

The 1960s brought more hit records, starring roles in movies and numerous television appearances as Patti became one of the most recorded performers in the U.S. In the ‘70s she recorded additional albums and made guest appearances with the country’s leading symphony orchestras which were broadcast live.

Patti toured the country doing live shows throughout the eighties and nineties and in 2005 she headlines a series of performances in Branson, MO. Then in September 2012 without any fanfare she announced on her website that she was retiring because of health problems. On January 1, 2013 Clara Ann Fowler died at the age of 85 but the recordings and filmed performances of Patti Page will live on forever.

I’ve just scratched the surface of all the information that is in the exhibit so if you want to learn more, in my opinion a trip to Claremore and their museum is well worth the effort.

After the opening, a special reception was held at the Will Rogers Memorial where Bob Blackburn, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, spoke about Patti Page’s legacy. Listening to Patti’s younger sister Peggy speak was a special treat and there were several other family members in attendance as well. It was a wonderful night as the family took questions from the guests about Patti that seemed to bring her back to life.

Another highlight of the evening was a performance by singing star Darla Z who sang several of Patti’s hits. Darla has opened for Wayne Newton in Las Vegas and is currently working on a screen play for a movie.

Will Rogers, Patti Page and Claremore all made for quite an exciting Friday evening.

Saturday night brought more tornadoes and heavy rain to the Oklahoma City area as 400 close friends of a man who is fortunately still with us gathered at the National Western Cowboy Hall of Fame for a surprise 75th birthday celebration. I was happy to be a part of this great occasion. My friends this is still a story in the making as there will soon be a life size bronze statue of this man on his favorite horse erected on the Chisholm Trail west of Oklahoma City.

I’ll be bringing you more on the history of the Chisholm Trail and just who this man is and where the bronze will be placed soon. Till then I’ll see ya down the road……………




Travels on the Santa Fe Trail

The short course I am leading about Footprints in the Dew continues to go very well and last weekend found me at a big bash in Oklahoma City making more contacts for the project. And now to the Santa Fe Trail…..

Welcome back. The year was 1827 and in Kansas City wagon makers, blacksmiths and horse traders were already in demand. After the United States invaded Mexico in 1846 the lands bordering New Mexico became the next great frontier for adventurers and by the end of 1848 the flood gates were open, increasing the demand for these trades even more. At its peak in 1858 one thousand eight hundred wagons were headed west as traders, gold seekers, settlers and the military kept the Santa Fe Trail as busy as many modern day highways. Spaniards called this “La Jornada” or ‘The Journey.”

The trail crossed nine hundred miles across mountains and prairies that were filled with danger. I’ve recently traveled along part of the route, camping at night in some of the same locations where early travelers stayed. With good water, the Santa Fe Trail remained open most of the year except in the winter when the water would freeze. Some travelers chose the shorter Cimarron Trail which started in Dodge City, Kansas and went south but water was much harder to find along this route.

You can see old wagon tracks along both trails along with the grave markers of those who didn’t survive the trip. The end of the Civil War in 1865 brought about the demise of these historic trails as railroads expanded westward. The mud, mosquitos, bad weather and treacherous river crossings that were typical of wagon travel became a thing of the past.

The military outposts that were constructed at strategic points along the trails to protect travelers are mostly gone as well. Forts Mann, Atkinson, Union, Larned and several others attempted to keep the peace from the Indian tribes whose lands were in the area. Dozens of books and movies have depicted the perils of travel along the old trails, including encounters with robbers, dangerous wildlife and hostile Indian tribes.

It’s all an important part of American history and the not for profit Santa Fe Trail Association in Colorado is dedicated to keeping the story of the Trail and the people who traveled it alive. The association maintains maps of the parts of the trail that can still be walked by visitors and the historic landmarks along the way. Now that spring is here you may be looking for a road trip and they are a great place to start and if you want to learn more their number is (620) 285-2054.

Moving along to another story which includes some Oklahoma history. Elder Care’s big fundraiser, The Good, The Bad & The Barbeque took place last weekend at the historic Cross Bell Ranch and despite the threat of bad weather the turnout was great. Hundreds of guests enjoyed great food, music from three bands and an entertaining live auction lead by Roger Skelly. The proceeds from the event support Elder Care’s many programs for senior adults and their caregivers.

For those of you who may not know Elder Care is the only not for profit provider of these services in the region. From humble beginnings in a church basement in 1983, the organization has grown to serve over 800 people each month, including residents of Nowata, Osage and Washington counties. Among the many programs designed specifically for people 60 and older, Elder Care offers physical therapy, professional care management, adult day health and a medical clinic. Over the past year Elder Care has been recognized with several significant awards, most notably Best Not for Profit Organization in Oklahoma in 2014. With over 19,000 not for profits in Oklahoma, I’d say that’s quite an honor.

Elder Care’s Golden Opportunities program which provides a wide range of educational, travel and social opportunities has also been acclaimed as the most innovative program for seniors in the state.

The next time you are on Swan Drive, stop in and take a tour. I have. You may be surprised by all the resources available to you there. They also offer an open house at 10 AM on the first Monday of every month. For more information call (918) 336-8500.

You may have heard that I am offering a short course through OSU’s adult education program about my project Footprints in the Dew. Next week former Osage County D.A. Bill Hall will be joining me to discuss his investigation of the murder of E.C. Mullendroe in the 1970s.

Join us if you can or till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…….





Century 16 Theater: A Story of Mayhem and Horror

The attendance at my OSU seminar about the life of Chub Anderson is good and everyone seems very interested in the project.

And now a story sure to give you nightmares……………

Welcome back. The dictionary defines horror as shock, revulsion and dread and the witnesses who were called to the stand described the Century 16 Theater tragedy in just those terms. During the opening week of testimony which I just attended, my preassigned seat was approximately twelve feet directly behind the defendant. At the request of the victims his name will never be mentioned in this story. They believe that the focus of people’s attention should not be on the shooter but on the overwhelming heartbreak that he has caused.

With that I’ll take you back to the scene of the catastrophe that occurred during the premiere of the Dark Night Rises which I described last week. Its three o’clock in the morning. The midnight showing had a full house when the admitted shooter began his rampage and the shooting didn’t stop until he had emptied his guns. Shortly thereafter he was arrested outside the theater.

According to the lead investigative officer for the Aurora Police Department the seventy people who were wounded had all been taken to one of several hospitals in the area and the survivors were being interviewed at a local high school. The building had been secured with police officers at every entrance and at 3 a.m. only the dead were still inside the theater.

It was the investigator’s first time to see the crime scene and as he retraced the shooter’s path from the exit door near the screen he found an assault rifle on the floor near a plastic clip that the killer used to prop open the exit door. The odor of tear gas and gun powder still filled the air as the investigator continued exploring inside the theater. As he walked, he slipped on what he discovered was blood covering the floor. There was blood everywhere, on the hand rails, the walls and the seats and it was the most gruesome scene he had ever witnessed in over twenty-five years in law enforcement. Many in the courtroom wept when at the D.A.’s request, the investigator went on to explain what had disturbed him the most.

The crowd in the theater had been mostly young teenagers and pre-teens and when the shooting started many of them called out on their cell phones. As panic broke out the phones were dropped throughout the theater and they were still on. When the investigator arrived the news media had gotten ahold of the story and were broadcasting live from the scene. It was mayhem. Standing just inside the theater door with only the dead, what would give him nightmares were the dozens of cell phones ringing. The friends and families of the victims were frantically calling hoping their loved ones weren’t among the dead and would pick up the phone.

It was none too soon for me when I started going south on US Highway 25 out of Denver. The route is a treat for the eye as the snow packed peaks of the Rockies go by. Crossing into New Mexico, the first town you come to is Raton which is the highest point on the railway system. It’s also the first exit that that will take me to Cimarron and Philmont. I’ve covered the Boy Scout ranch before and the vision of Waite Phillips’ that made the ranch a reality. While I was on the road word reached me that Waite’s only son, “Chope” Phillips died last Sunday. I wrote about Chope several years ago right after I met him. This story, along with stories about the St. James Hotel and the Express UUBar Ranch can be found online at  This spot is a favorite layover for me and after a week of horrific testimony the beauty of the surroundings was just what I needed to recharge my batteries.

After resting up at the UUBar I headed east out of Cimarron where the old Santa Fe Trail is still in use. First used by American Indians, the trail offers awesome views of beautiful grasslands as well. The Santa Fe Trail crosses another famous trail, Governor George Nigh’s southwest passage highway which goes straight east through the Oklahoma panhandle where miles of the majestic plains roll by like tumbleweeds. But that’s another story for another day.

This weekend you will get the chance to explore some wonderful scenery and history right here at home when Elder Care’s big fundraiser, The Good, The Bad & The Barbeque takes place at the Mullendore Cross Bell Ranch. For ticket information call Elder Care at (918) 336-8500.

If you are interested in local history you might also want to check out a short course I am offering through the OSU extension program in Bartlesville. The course will focus on my book about the life of Damon “Chub” Anderson in three two hour sessions held at Arvest’s eastside branch.. Contact Sally Banard for enrollment at (918) 812-3807.

So if I don’t run into you at the ranch, till next time I’ll see ya down the road……









Centennial Colorado

The first part of my coverage from the Century 16 theater shootings

Welcome back. I am in Centennial, Colorado, a southern suburb of Denver which is just two miles east of 1-25. In the parking of the Arapahoe County District Courthouse I am surrounded by satellite trucks from all the major TV networks and the portable stages from which the reporters are sending in their daily commentaries.

Before I go any farther let me take you back to July 20, 2012 and the reason we are all here. Along with other theaters across the country, the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was featuring the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Several of the theater’s many screens were featuring the movie and the sold out midnight shows had received a lot of attention in the media.

The movie had been on for about thirty minutes when a man dressed in black entered one of the auditoriums through the front exit door nearest the screen. He threw a canister of tear gas into the audience and began shooting, spraying bullets into the crowd from three different weapons, a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol. In a matter of minutes twenty people were killed and seventy people were wounded, many while trying to escape. The shooter was wearing full body armor and a gas mask which made it difficult for people to defend themselves. After the attack he calmly left the theater through the same exit door and police found him standing next to his car in the parking lot outside the theater.

We now know that the shooter was twenty-seven year old neuro-science student James Holmes and his trial started on Monday. Legal experts here are saying that this could be the most complicated trial in history, largely because of Holmes’ psychological condition.

Security is tight as D.A. George Brauchler and Judge Carlos Samour, Jr. have laid out strict rules for courtroom observers and the press. In an unusual move, the full component of jurors and alternates is being seated and the identities of the actual jurors will not be known until after the verdict. The 19 women and 5 men are being escorted to and from the courtroom in secrecy all of which is unprecedented.

Holmes is represented by attorney Tamara Brady who had fought to have the trial moved to another locale because she does not believe he can get a fair hearing in this area. She has said that the case is “just too big.” Holmes has 165 charges against him including many for first degree murder and if he is found guilty the jury will have to decide between life in prison or death by lethal injection. A unanimous vote of all twelve jurors would be required for Holmes to receive the death penalty.

On the other hand, if Holmes is found “not guilty by reason of insanity” he could be sent to the Colorado State Mental Institute in Pueblo where the length of his stay would be determined by doctors. According to Denver Magazine, in Colorado the average stay in a mental health facility for individuals found not guilty by reason of insanity from 1995-2013 is 7.3 years. Although this is unlikely in Holmes’ case, like other high profile patients such as John Hinkley, he could eventually enjoy a level of privileges that would make him essentially a free man.

By all accounts from the judge, the attorneys and the reporters here in the parking lot of the courthouse, this trial will last several months and cost millions of dollars before it is over.