A Famous Unsolved Murder

Welcome back. As the 49th anniversary of the most famous unsolved murder in the southwest approaches for those of you too young to remember here is a summary of the events that occurred on September 26, 1970. According to the information I dug up at the library, the Mullendore’s Cross Bell brand was on land spread across the country totaling close to three hundred and seventy-five thousand acres. In the early days they were shipping cattle to the Kansas City stockyards by the trainload from their own shipping pens near Hulah Lake in northeast Oklahoma. This ranching empire had started with the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893 and by the late 1960s had grown to include not only the breeding of prize-winning cattle and horses but also investments in banks and oil, even an interest in the New Orleans Saints football team. Whenever they brought their cattle to the Kansas City market, the family’s headquarters was always at the famous Mulenbach Hotel. Frequented by Presidents and movie stars, the hotel was considered to be the premiere place to stay in the city. The Mullendores always stayed in the finest accommodations wherever they traveled and life was grand. In his later years however, the elder Mullendore Gene was in poor health and struggled with the responsibility of ruining the massive empire that the Tulsa Tribune had called the largest business run by one man in America. Failing eyesight and diabetes forced him to delegate more and more of the workload to his two children. Katsy Kay had married Houston oilman John Mecom and made her home there. Although they had interests around the world, their headquarters and the Mullendore family home were located on the Cross Bell Ranch outside of Bartlesville so the day to day running of the ranch was passed on to her brother E.C. Mullendore III. He had been brought up there, he knew cattle and also land management.

As a student at the University of Oklahoma, E.C. often brought his fraternity brothers home to the ranch to hunt and fish and he knew the entire property like the back of his hand. At the time of his tragic death E.C. had a wife and four children. Soon the ranch and many of the other businesses he was involved were in turmoil but he had been prepared for an emergency. He had taken out the largest life insurance policy ever written in the United States. Now 49 years later questions still linger about this case. Did the insurance company pay up and who got the money? What about the ranch? Is it still there and how big is it now?

Most of the characters are gone now. Gene died of gangrene poisoning three years after his son was killed. His wife Kathleen lived on but she, as well as most of the cowboys and other people who worked on the ranch at the time have also died. One of the last people to see E.C. alive, Rubyane Surritte lives in Bartlesville. Bill Hall who was the newly elected D.A. in 1970 is retired and runs an antique business just south of Ramona, Oklahoma. George Wayman, the sheriff in charge of the case, is in his 90s and lives in Fairfax, Oklahoma. Wayman claims he has always known what happened that cold, wet night in September but has never had enough proof.

Next week a forgotten crime in Osage County; a laundromat, a purse and a missing teenage girl. Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……

Auctions-Old and New

Welcome back. Estate sale, yard sale, auction: in my travels I see a lot of these signs at this ti me of year and when I’m not pressed to get someplace, I’ll often stop and explore what they have to oandfdfer. Locally Wayne Vineyard whom I recently mentioned runs all three types of sales as does Mary’s Auctions and if you’re in the cattle buying business, you’re sure to know the names of Brian Little and Jimmy King. These two have been selling cattle for years and Brian also conducts a lot of estate auctions. All three of these outfits are known for their honesty in handling valuable items but as we all know time is ticking for us all and there’s a new guy in town who is starting off with may just be the biggest auction of antique tractors and tractor parts that’s been held in our part of the country in years. The company is called Midwest Auctions and the owner is George Sterling Eisele. I attended one of his auctions recently to find out just who this guy is and to get more info on the July 27th sale. I found out that not only did he graduate in the top of his class in auctioneering school, he’s also quite entertaining to talk to as well. It’s adding up to be an interesting sale and close to Bartlesville. To get to the sale location you go one mile north of Dewey, Oklahoma to the Dewey Cemetary and then two miles east. Friends, even if you’re not into old equipment this still will be a fun event. This is a chance to take a look back in the past at the ways farmers planted and harvested our food, see old highway equipment, old and modern lawn mowers, along with parts and many smaller antiques. George told me that this isn’t an estate sale, the seller whose name is Mike Davis, is just getting older and wants his entire collection of museum quality equipment to be seen and passed on so we don’t forget how tough farmers had it in the old days. Mike himself is a local Phillips retiree whose passion for old tractors and early tools goes back sixty-five years when he was just a boy playing in the dirt and he’s been collecting ever since, even holding on to those play toys from his youth. Mike and George told me that a couple of other collectors are bringing some of their stuff to sell too so my suggestion is to bring a lawn chair and plan to enjoy yourself. On another subject, Arvest’s Friday Forum which is now run by retired educator and past State Representative Earl Sears featured a presentation by Dr. Ryan Vaclaw and Dr. Elizabeth Sherrock from Primary Care Associates this part Friday and I was there to hear what these two had to say about medical marijuana. Apparently the two doctors not only give the physicals needed to obtain a medical marijuana license, they also have their own dispensary which is located on south 75 across from the Jane Phillips Sleep Center. Close to a hundred and fifty people were at Friday Forum to listen to their perspectives and I’ve asked the doctors if they would give me their thoughts on the subject in print and that’s coming up next week. Till then I’ll see ya down the road…. #

Ben Johnson Museum Pawhuska

Welcome back. Breaking news and long overdue is the announcement of a new museum in Pawhuska but friends this time it has little to do with Ree Drummond. Born on June 13, 1918 in Foraker, Oklahoma this man who the museum is dedicated to grew up on what is now the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve but back then it was the Chapman Barnard Ranch and it was huge! It is said that he could ride and rope by the age of four and in Pawhuska where his dad was well known, most people just called him “son.” Millionaire film maker Howard Hughes first noticed “son’s” skills in 1940 when he hired him to bring a load of horses to Hollywood to make the film Outlaw. Hughes gave “son” more work taking care of the horses and that led to doing stunt work for the stars of Hughes’ films. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, James Stewart and Henry Fonda all called on “son” to do their stunts and double for them riding horses. In 1953 this man who often came back to visit the place he called home set the world record for professional calf roping, also winning the world championship in team roping along the way. By this time in his life he was acting as well, co-starring with the biggest box office stars of the day and even starring in his own pictures. His first starring role in Mighty Joe Young was filmed the same year “son” and John Wayne were in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and they went on to make many other movies together. Dozens of film and T.V. roles came his way along with numerous awards and then in 1971 he won the biggest award of all for his performance in The Last Picture Show. This man had done something no other person has accomplished before, winning both an Oskar and a world rodeo championship. Yes, by now I hope most of you know I’m talking about Ben “son” Johnson, Jr. He is in the Western Heritage Center and Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and he also has a star on the famous “Walk of Fame” in Hollywood. In his later years, in addition to supporting everything he could in Pawhuska, Ben worked to raise money on a national level for many causes including disadvantaged and disabled children, cancer research and the fight against cystic fibrosis. Ben died on April 8, 1996 while visiting his mom and it was a day when family, friends and fans from Pawhuska to Hollywood all cried. Now you know why this museum is long overdue. I hope you are wondering when and where is the Grand Opening so here’s your answer: June 12-15th from 9AM-6PM each day. The museum is located at 201 East 6th Street which is right around the corner from the Pioneer Woamn’s Mercantile. I also heard that the actor Buck Henry of Gunsmoke fame and several other old Hollywood friends will be around town during this period. As for me, I’m bound for Haskell, Texas for the Wild Horse Prairie Days which is a huge sanctioned ranch rodeo and I’m told by the organizers that all the top ranch teams from around the country will there . I’ll tell you all about it next week. Till then, I’ll see ya down the road….

Welcome back. Breaking news and long overdue is the announcement of a new museum in Pawhuska but friends this time it has little to do with Ree Drummond. Born on June 13, 1918 in Foraker, Oklahoma this man who the museum is dedicated to grew up on what is now the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve but back then it was the Chapman Barnard Ranch and it was huge! It is said that he could ride and rope by the age of four and in Pawhuska where his dad was well known, most people just called him “son.” Millionaire film maker Howard Hughes first noticed “son’s” skills in 1940 when he hired him to bring a load of horses to Hollywood to make the film Outlaw. Hughes gave “son” more work taking care of the horses and that led to doing stunt work for the stars of Hughes’ films. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, James Stewart and Henry Fonda all called on “son” to do their stunts and double for them riding horses. In 1953 this man who often came back to visit the place he called home set the world record for professional calf roping, also winning the world championship in team roping along the way. By this time in his life he was acting as well, co-starring with the biggest box office stars of the day and even starring in his own pictures. His first starring role in Mighty Joe Young was filmed the same year “son” and John Wayne were in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and they went on to make many other movies together. Dozens of film and T.V. roles came his way along with numerous awards and then in 1971 he won the biggest award of all for his performance in The Last Picture Show. This man had done something no other person has accomplished before, winning both an Oskar and a world rodeo championship. Yes, by now I hope most of you know I’m talking about Ben “son” Johnson, Jr. He is in the Western Heritage Center and Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and he also has a star on the famous “Walk of Fame” in Hollywood. In his later years, in addition to supporting everything he could in Pawhuska, Ben worked to raise money on a national level for many causes including disadvantaged and disabled children, cancer research and the fight against cystic fibrosis. Ben died on April 8, 1996 while visiting his mom and it was a day when family, friends and fans from Pawhuska to Hollywood all cried. Now you know why this museum is long overdue. I hope you are wondering when and where is the Grand Opening so here’s your answer: June 12-15th from 9AM-6PM each day. The museum is located at 201 East 6th Street which is right around the corner from the Pioneer Woamn’s Mercantile. I also heard that the actor Buck Henry of Gunsmoke fame and several other old Hollywood friends will be around town during this period. As for me, I’m bound for Haskell, Texas for the Wild Horse Prairie Days which is a huge sanctioned ranch rodeo and I’m told by the organizers that all the top ranch teams from around the country will there . I’ll tell you all about it next week. Till then, I’ll see ya down the road….

Ranches in Osage County, Oklahoma

Welcome back. This weekend Tulsa will host the world’s largest gun show and of course I will be there. The following weekend I’ll be in Oklahoma City for the annual Western Heritage Award ceremonies at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. If deep down inside you’re a cowboy this event is one you won’t want to miss. I’ve covered the awards for the past six years and every year they get better. If you want to meet some real cowboys this is the place. How about movie cowboys like Keven Costner who is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year? He’ll be there along with Buck Taylor from Gun Smoke and a dozen others. If you like cowboy music Michael Martin Murphy and Red Stegall are just two of the musicians who will be attending. You can’t have a good party without great food and I’m told this year’s menu will be the best yet. Ranching and the cowboy way of life have always been important in this part of the county and many famous ranches have been established in the Osage. Reading up on ranches in the area from the 1940s to the present day one name that sticks out is Adcock. The Adcock family raise cattle on thousands of acres relying on love and hard work to make their ranch a success. The Osage was well known for both grass and oil from the early days of settlement and many other families got their start here as well. It was 1864 when Henry Foster brought 5600 head of Texas cattle to the Osage for grazing and then in 1898 he received the lease for the drilling rights in all of Osage County. When Foster began to auction off parts of that lease many new oil companies were formed and fortunes made. One man who took advantage of this opportunity was John R. Kane who was already in the oil business. Kane had moved his family from Pennsylvania to Kansas where he had started a successful ranch in the Osage. The Kane and Foster families became related through marriage and the couple had a son, John H. Kane. John H. put together several large ranches in Washington County and he had two sons, Richard and John M. John M. also had two sons John F. and Henry F. who kept the family legacy going and as most people in Osage and Washington counties know their descendants play a large role in these communities today. Another family from the Osage that has played an important part in the development of the area has a name that is now known for revitalizing the town of Pawhuska and that of course is Drummond. Fred Drummond emigrated from Scotland in 1882 and soon afterwards he opened the Hominy Trading Company. The business was a success and over time the Drummond family grew to be one of the largest and most respected landowners in the region. Osage County has another landowner you may know of, radio and T.V. personality Bill Curtis. Although Bill’s ranch is mostly in Kansas just outside of Sedan, it sits on the famous Osage prairie. The Red Buffalo as he calls it is approximately ten thousand acres and he runs a cow calf operation there. Other Osage County ranches that long time locals may be aware of include the Strom family’s Valley View Ranch near Hulah Lake, the Hughes family ranch and the Osage Land and Cattle Company which was founded by past Phillips CEO Boots Adams. Of course there are many others, some old and some new but there‘s only one that grew to encompass over 375,000 acre. Elder Care’s big fundraiser will be held there on May 11th and next week I will be bringing you the history of this ranch from a personal perspective. Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…. #

Special Events

Welcome back. Volunteers are the backbone of most of the events in our community and as I travel around the country I find that this is true everywhere. From schools events and parades to a wide range of fundraising events, volunteer support is key to the success of these programs. In Bartlesville where there are many not for profit organizations volunteers play an essential role doing everything from working in kitchens and answering phones to serving on Boards of Directors. There is truly a place for everyone who wants to serve their community so no wonder we have a national volunteer appreciation day! Sponsors are also critically important to the success of not for profit programs and fundraising events. Without the financial and in-kind support of generous individuals and businesses the events that we all enjoy from the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion at Woolaroc to SUNFEST would not be possible. SUNFEST is a perfect example of what I mean. For thirty seven years this impressive three day festival has been completely run by volunteers and thanks to donors and sponsors it is always free. This year SUNFEST will be offering not only fabulous music, delicious food and an exciting arts and crafts show but also a big car exhibit and numerous youth events. The theme for 2019 is “One Town, One Home, One Family.” You gotta love it! Driving down the road from Springfield, MO I’ve been giving these topics a lot of thought and I tend to think a bit like Waite Phillips did when he was quoted as saying “the only things we keep permanently are those we giveaway.” As I have mentioned, this week I am headed to Amarillo, TX for the Texas Gun and Knife Show at the Amarillo Civic Center. With all the history and attractions this town has to offer I’m sure my visit will go by way too fast. I plan to do a follow up story and bring you all the scoop. From Amarillo it will be on to the biggest trade show of its kind in the state of Kansas. The show is held in Kansas City and I’m told to expect thousands of people so if the creek don’t rise I’ll be filling you in on this trip the following week. I’ll end this week with a mention of the passing of another icon in local history. His name was Lee Stone and he was the last in a great group of people that included Dick Kane, Arnold Moore and Tom Sears among many others. Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……….

Springfield, MO

Welcome back. Coffeyville, Kansas, a town whose history has always interested me, was the place to be last Friday and Saturday. Yes, as I wrote about last week it was the location for the big Inter-State Farm and Home Show which is becoming an annual event and with good weather people came out in big numbers. Farmers, welders, homebuilders, this show had something for every working person. I can tell you it was also lots of fun and organizers tell me to look for an even bigger show next year. This week I’m headed out to Springfield, Missouri where I’m doing a book signing at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds. Springfield is a place I’ve written about before but since I haven’t been there in a while I thought I’d revisit some local history. Springfield was officially incorporated in 1838 but long before then the area was inhabited by the Kickapoo, Delaware and Osage tribes. The early economy was centered on trade and the town grew into an important commercial hub. Today tourism is a key part of the economy due to Springfield’s proximity to Branson and all its attractions. The region also has many lakes and rivers which attract people for fishing, camping and water sports. With a population of around 159,000, Springfield is home to many arts organizations which appeal to both residents and visitors including a symphony orchestra, an opera company, a regional theater company and an art museum. In addition there are many festivals that take place throughout the year such as the Missouri Food Truck Festival and the spring Japanese Festival. From 1955-1961 Springfield hosted Ozark Jubilee and several related spin-off shows which featured performances by country music stars. The shows were broadcast around the country by ABC TV and brought attention to the town. The Ozark Empire Fairgrounds where I’ll be is a story in itself. There are two large buildings capable of holding thousands of people for any kind of event you can imagine. They also have a big rodeo arena and numerous livestock barns. Food stalls are scattered around the property which offer a wide variety of fair foods during events, all surrounded by giant parking lots. If this wasn’t enough, on the south side of the property sits the Springfield Zoo which is one of the nicest zoos I’ve seen for a town of this size. On a local note I recently learned that a beloved community leader is about to retire and move out of town to be closer to family. This is a person who has met sports legends, prominent politicians and top performers from around the country. He has also dedicated himself to many important causes in the community including Crime Stoppers and Elder Care’s The Good, The Bad and The Barbeque. A voice on the radio for twenty-five years, Charlie Taraboletti has kept us all informed on the important events of the day from sports to weather and politics. I know we all wish him well.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road…. #

Welcome back. Traveling up and down, the highways of America, bringing back the stories I find along the way, I am wearing out cars or as we called them in the old days, horses. From last week’s PBR bull riding event in Oklahoma City, I headed east on I-40 to Shawnee. After the Civil War several Indian tribes were relocated to this area and the Sac-Fox, Shawnee, Kickapoo and Pottawatomie still have their tribal headquarter here. The development of the town began with a major cattle trail used by drovers bringing cattle from Texas. With the cattle came the railroads and by 1877 with settlers and trading posts everywhere, Shawnee was born. In 1910 Oklahoma Baptist University opened its doors and much later the Sonic Corporation was founded here was well. After more research I learned that Shawnee is also a big farming community where cotton and peaches are both big crops. Today the town is divided in two between the newer part that sits along I-40 and the historic downtown. The Shawnee Expo Center where I hung my hat for two days is in the newer section but if you visit you will definitely want to see old town for a trip back in time to Indian Territory. From Shawnee, a town of thirty-one thousand residents, this weekend I will be going on to Lawton with a population of ninety-four thousand and growing. I’m sure many of you know that Lawton is home to Fort Sill which was established back in 1869. After it was completed the fort quickly became an important base for military operations. Six cavalry regiments and a bunch of early frontier scouts with names that everyone recognizes led the way. Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok and the 10th Cavalry, who were also called buffalo soldiers, all stayed at Fort Sill and played a major role in settling the west. The 10th Cavalry was led by Henry O. Flipper who was the first black man to graduate from West Point. In 1894 the famous Apache warrior Geronimo was captured and housed outside of the fort along with three hundred and forty members of his tribe. Geronimo died at Fort Sill in 1909 and is buried in the cemetery there along with another famous Indian leader Quanah Parker. Fort Sill’s important role in aviation began in 1917 when an airfield was built housing the first Balloon Squadron that was stationed there. During World War I balloon squadrons were sent to Europe where they were used to observe enemy activities. As an aviation base the fort continues to play a role in the protection of our country today. There are three museums in Lawton which are a great resource for local history. The Museum of the Great Plains is all about the early days of the town and its settlements. The Fort Sill Museum is a must see as well and sits right where the original fort was. The Comanche National Museum is of course all about the Comanche tribe, past and present. Numerous prominent people have come from Lawton including the late Comanche code talker Charlie Chibity, the famous actress Joan Crawford and NBA basketball great Stacy King. If you’re heading to southwestern Oklahoma or looking for a place for a long weekend, check out Lawton. Before I go here’s this week’s scoop and a couple of dates you might want to put on your calendar, April 12th and 13th. If you are a Kevin Costner fan here’s your chance to meet him at the 59th Annual Western Heritage Awards which are held very year at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. Call them for all the info. I’ll be bringing you more about the awards. Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….. #

Border Towns

Welcome back. With all the talk of border security along with President Trump’s visit to the border town of Nogales, Arizona this week I thought I’d take you there with me. I should add that in the seventeen years I have been writing for this paper I have stayed away from politics and today’s column is no different, I am simply trying to give you readers an idea of what this place is like and its history. Founded in 1884, Nogales is the largest border town in Arizona with a population of over 20,000 people but on the Mexican side of the border the population grows to 212,533 folks. Just a short 100 mile drive from Tucson which is the second largest city in Arizona, Nogales has four ports of entry bringing over thirty billion dollars’ worth of goods from Mexico into the United States every year. This trade has a big economic impact on thousands of people on both sides of the border and for a long time that border was left mostly unattended. The area that surrounds the border is marked by rolling hills and valleys full of the black walnut trees that Nogales was named for when it was still part of Mexico. Back in 1955 the film version of Oklahoma was filmed here and the rugged terrain has attracted many other movie and TV productions over the years. Except for a few cattle ranches this arid region has been a no man’s land during hot summer days when temperatures rise well above 100 degrees and in the winter when the cold winds can kill you. There’s not much surface water out here and critters like rattlesnakes and badgers are common, all of which can mean trouble for humans. Yet despite these difficulties people have been crossing the border in this area for years, making a path across the imaginary line separating the two countries. In the1970s smugglers of all kinds used the passage to bring in any kind of contraband a person could think of to make a buck on. If it was something they couldn’t bring through customs, they simply walked ten miles outside of town and took their goods across the border there. Taxi cab drivers could usually spot a person who needed a ride to that area and they were always obliging. The smugglers always looked the same, Americans dressed in dark clothes with hiking boots and carrying a canteen or two. Once they were dropped off they waited until the dead of night before starting their twelve mile trek across the border. Up and down treacherous rocky hills they walked all night, arriving at dawn to a prearranged meeting with a partner. If they were late the driver wouldn’t wait, figuring they had killed by snakes or other smugglers or arrested by the Mexican federal troops. If the smugglers made it, the drive back to Tucson along long deserted roads could be just as tricky. Bandits lay in wait for dumb Americans and the price to get by them was high. When smugglers disappeared it didn’t usually make the news but it happened all the time along the border of Arizona and Mexico. What we will do about border security in this area now, only history will tell. Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….