I Remember When . . . .
Great Stories about growing up in the Horntown, Oklahoma area!

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A Holdenville Afternoon In The 1940's 

     Saturday afternoon in Holdenville, Oklahoma during the forties was a crowded, exciting  place. The sidewalks, literally, did not hold the people. Some had to walk in the streets. As often as possible we spent the afternoon at the Dixie theatre watching Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Sunset Carson, Tex Ritter or other of our favorite Cowboys. But we did not always have the dime needed for a ticket. On one such occasion, my
parents parked in front of the Hughes county court house. Cousin Weldon Jackson and I were ordered to stay on that block only. We were not to cross the street. That was not all bad. There was plenty to do.
     We started by listening to the music. Two old men played fiddles for the many who crowded around them. They were skinny little men, wearing overalls and blue chambray shirts. They did not sit, but rather squatted on their heals and played. I can still picture their long, narrow beards, hanging almost to their waists.
     When we tired of the music, we moved to the horse shoe tournament. The lawn east of the court house was huge and easily accommodated the horse shoe crowd. Once immensely popular, this event was waning in popularity. It was Lee Gibson's fault. No one had ever beaten him and fewer and fewer came to try. Once, money had freely changed hands after each bout, but Lee put a stop to that. I watched him throw nine ringers out of ten. He often did this. He was a good natured Indian boy from down south of the Hickory Grove community. He was a likable young man, but few wanted to play against him.
     Next was the wreck. A thirty nine ford coupe sat on the court house lawn, all bent and twisted. It had been in a horrible wreck the night before. They said the driver was in the hospital and would be going to jail shortly. Whisky still dripped from every seam in the old car. The bootlegger had been to Missouri for a load of whiskey. Sheriff Harve Ball had been waiting for him at the county line. In the ensuing chase, the bootlegger had wrecked his car and now lay in the hospital.
    Sheriff Ball was a legend in his own time. He served Hughes county during the thirties and forties, serving until he was into his seventies. He had other help, a lady to ran the office and a man ran errands, but when a bootlegger was on the run, Sheriff Ball was the one in hot pursuit.
    This aroused my curiosity. I wondered what the jail was like. It was on the third floor of the courthouse and I had never seen it. I suggested that as our next stop. Weldon, a well behaved boy, was reluctant, but I suggested we could at least go into the courthouse and get a drink. The courthouse was open on Saturdays for the convenience of people who needed a drink or a restroom. He agreed to go that far.
    After the drink, I suggested we go up the first flight of stairs and see what we could see from there. Reluctantly, he followed. There was little to see there but the County Superintendent's office. Besides, it was closed. But the stairs up to the jail were a magnet to me. Weldon thought we should go back outside but I persuaded him to go just halfway up the stairs to the jail. From there, maybe we could see over the top into the jail. We saw nothing. I argued to go higher; he said our parents would not approve.
    While we were arguing, a voice from the head of the stairs said, "Come on up, Boys".
    We stood, scared and ready to run when the man repeated his invitation. "Come on. I'll show you around."
     We did as we were told. He led us back to a cell area, opened the door and went in. We followed. He went back out, locked the door and left. It was dreadfully quiet there. There did not seem to be another soul in the jail. We soon began to panic and tried forcing the door open.  Yelling did not help. Kicking the door did no better. This went on for some time. We were not yet hysterical but there were tears in our eyes when  he reappeared. He opened the cell door, came in and sat on the cot.
    "I did this on purpose," he said. "I wanted you to know what it is like to be in jail and helpless. You see, I am not an employee of the jail. I'm a prisoner. I'm a trustee but I'm still a prisoner. I cook for the sheriff and his prisoners. I can't get out until I pay some money I owe, and I can't pay the money until I get out. I'll be here a long time. If you are ever tempted to do something wrong, I want you to remember what it feels like to be helpless and in jail. Now, let me show you the rest of the jail."
    He took us out to the balcony. It was eight feet wide and covered the entire front of the third story of the court house. The stone and concrete wall around it was three feet high. He said there had only been two prisoners escape from Sheriff Harve Ball, and that one of those escapes happened here. The jail had no air conditioning, no fans and with the asphalt roof, no insulation and the top floor, it grew unbearably hot in the afternoons. Around sunset, the prisoners were allowed out onto the balcony to cool off.
     One day a particularly agitated prisoner ran the forty foot length of the balcony, leaped as far out as he could and clung to branches of a giant elm tree that grew nearby. He climbed down the elm and ran off. He was only able to remain free until shortly afternoon of the next day. Sheriff Ball was not a man to mess with. The prisoner was not only back in jail, he had lost his balcony privileges. No one ever tired that again.
    I do not know who the trustee was. Weldon and I were only about eight years old at that time. But for all of my life, I have remembered that admonition. Today, I can still feel the panic of that door closing, the lock clicking and the helplessness we felt. I do not know what crime the trustee had committed, but I do know, there was also some good in that man. I wish I could tell him thank you.
Clayton Adair, Class of 1954

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