While no one may ever confuse Oklahoma with Hollywood - the air's a lot cleaner in Oklahoma, for one thing - that's not to say the Sooner State doesn't have it's own unique history as a filmmaker's Mecca.
The cameras first rolled in Oklahoma in the earliest days of motion picture history. Filmmakers from Thomas Edison's studio trekked there from New Jersey to capitalize on the success of the 1903 western The Great Train Robbery. The 101 Ranch near Ponca City served as a popular backdrop for cowboy pictures from many of the genre's first stars, from Broncho Billy Anderson and Tom Mix to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. There were even visits from a few genuine Wild West legends such as Bill Tilghman, who served as "advisors" on the first westerns to bury their facts beneath a tall tale.
The western was among the first film genres, growing in status alongside the development of Hollywood's studio production system. There were only a few great silent westerns, although the best ones established some of the archetypes that are part of the genre even today. The earliest westerns (silent films without the sound of gunfire, horse's hoofbeats, and the cattle trail) are gems of American history.
But the 'first real movie' or commercially narrative film that gave birth to the genre was Edwin S. Porter's pioneering western The Great Train Robbery (1903). Porter (named 'the father of the story film') was responsible for the one-reel, 10-minute long film, shot - curiously - on the East Coast (New Jersey and Delaware) rather than the Western setting of Wyoming. [The first westerns were shot, until 1906, on the East Coast.]
Charles J. Hite of Thanhouser Film Company put up the money to make a motion picture of Al's life (starring Al) based on the story he had co-authored in Saturday Evening Post. Jennings departed for New York. Beating Back was completed in the Thanhouser studios at New Rochelle and on a rented farm near Ogdensburg, New Jersey, in April, 1913, but was not released for several months because of litigation. Jennings had assigned his story rights to two men, for which he was to receive 297 shares of stock at a par value of $100 each. He took them to court in Oklahoma City, contending that his name had been forged on the stock certificates and the certificates sold and that some of the shares were now held by his partners in the Beating Back Film Corporation.
Beating Back was scheduled for release, and Al toured the country, proudly displaying his citizenship pardon from Roosevelt in the theaters where the five-reeler was showing. Eventually, he landed in California, where he spent the next three decades in the "picture business," but his dark influence in Oklahoma continued for many years. Beating Back depicted Al's bandit life about as accurately as it did the life of a butterfly. His followers were gallant heroes, "forced" by one reason or another to live outside the law, and their deeds were made to appear both glamorous and profitable. Deputy marshals were alternately contemptible, bloodthirsty assassins or sniveling cowards who didn't stand a chance against brave criminals.
In the battle at the Spike S Ranch, for example, the Jennings gang, a handful of men, held off more than one hundred officers. And in a chase scene, Bud Ledbetter was portrayed streaking over a rise on a long, gangling horse, lying low over the saddle horn and firing promiscuously as he rode, his coattails and exaggerated moustache streaming in horizontal lines. Behind him raced the posse, long guns waving, six-shooters blazing, their horses shying left and right at every shot.
Emmett Dalton, who had been out of prison since 1907 and. was traveling the lecture circuit with a film about his own career, wrote Ledbetter from Wheeling, West Virginia: I have just witnessed the exhibition of "Beating Back" by Al Jennings, and I hasten to inquire, what's the chance to borrow the long-tailed Prince Albert coat, boots, star, and heavy fierce black mustache you wear in the picture.... I had one hell of a good laugh when I saw a party impersonating you dressed up as above mentioned, and knowing you as I do, I could not help think while looking at it, how I would like to hear you express yourself.
Even lawyers who had helped Jennings reestablish himself after his release from prison were indignant and told Bill Tilghman: "Somebody ought to make a picture showing the truth." E. D. Nix had left Guthrie in 1898 and reentered the wholesale mercantile business in Joplin, Missouri. He was now living in St. Louis, dealing in bonds, stocks, and investments. Tilghman contacted him; Nix liked the idea and agreed to finance the venture. He, Tilghman, and Chris Madsen formed the Eagle Film Company, with Nix as president, Tilghman vice-president and treasurer, and Madsen secretary.
J. B. (Bennie) Kent, an expert cameraman and longtime friend of Tilghman, was the photographer. Captain Lute P. Stover of Iola, Kansas, a successful magazine writer and scenarist with considerable experience in directing, was hired to write the script. The company, with a corps of actors, arrived at Chandler on Monday, January 18,1915, secured offices in the Raedeker Building, and made plans to film The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws.
Nix outlined their purpose to the Chandler News-Publicist on January 22: We are undertaking the production of a moving picture story of the decline and end of the practice of outlawry in Oklahoma territory.... The robbing of different banks and railroad trains, and the pursuit, capture and punishment of the outlaws engaged will be shown, as will also the different battles in which the outlaws engaged against the deputies. The reproduction of all the important events connected with the breaking up of such notorious gangs as the Doolin and Dalton organizations will be given. The famous cave in the Creek Nation, where the outlaws were accustomed to meet and divide their loot will be an important portion of our setting; for the pictures are to be taken ... as near the exact spots where the actual events occurred as our data and memories will enable us to place them. Interwoven with the accounts of the outlaws are many unusual romances. . . . We will show the capture of two noted women outlaws who were taken, armed and ready for fighting, while masquerading in men's clothing. . . . While we are of course concerned with making our undertaking a great success financially, and our motives are therefore not wholly philanthropic, we hope to impress upon the young people of the country ... that never did the outlaw succeed in his defiance of the law; that the only life worthy of living is the upright and law-abiding life and any other life must inevitably result in ruin.
In 1908, 520 territorial convicts were transferred from Lansing, Kansas, to the old federal stockade at McAlester, which Oklahoma had rented for a state prison. Among them was Arkansas Tom. The Reverend Sam Daugherty, pastor of a Methodist church at Greenville, Texas, Tom's brother, had worked long and diligently for his pardon, "obtaining scores of signatures and testimonials as to his uprightness" before Tom joined Bill Doolin in Oklahoma." At a hearing in Guthrie on April i6, 1908, Governor Haskell denied executive clemency in the face of "vigorous protest of Payne county citizens in general . . . strong individual remonstrances drawn up by officials involved in his capture and trial, and relatives of deputy marshals who fell in the battle with the Doolin gang. "
This did not stop the Reverend Mr. Daugherty, who finally visited Nix in St. Louis. Time had mellowed the former marshal's feelings in the matter, and, impressed with Tom's record as a model prisoner during his fourteen years of incarceration, he used his influence with other federal officers who had participated in the arrest and prosecution.
During the last months of his administration, Governor Haskell granted pardons or paroles to "no less than twenty life termers and to nearly sixty persons serving sentences for homicides of various degrees." The list was "smothered and not discovered" until after Haskell left office, "when it was brought out to be indexed and filed as required by state statute and the constitution with the upcoming legislature." Among the "most famous names" was "Roy Daugherty, alias Tom Jones." He was paroled on November 29, 1910, with orders to report to Bill Tilghman at Oklahoma City."
Tilghman found work for Tom in the store of an old friend, and for a time he operated a restaurant in Drumright. He later visited Nix in St. Louis, where the former marshal "got him a position as an accountant" and found him to be "very accurate and reliable." When the Eagle Film Company was organized, Tom was brought back to Oklahoma to play himself in The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws.
Nix, Madsen, former Chief Deputy Hale, and former U.S. District Attorney Brooks also appeared in the film. Impersonating other well-known characters were Ed Lindsay and his wife, both excellent riders; Lem Rogers, Montana Williams, and Bill McNamee, former members of the 101 Ranch and Pawnee Bill Wild West shows; and F. A. Gleason, "a soldier of fortune and adventurer ... with Captain Lawton's troop at the surrender of Geronimo." Mrs. J. B. Kent and Miss Faye Kent played leading feminine roles, and other Chandler residents were outlaws and possemen. Excepting Tilghman's capture of Cattle Annie and Little Breeches, his "Cave of Death" episode, and the mythical Rose of Cimarron (who allegedly leaped from the hotel window and carried guns and ammunition to her sweetheart, Bitter Creek, as he lay helplessly wounded in the street at the height of the Ingalls fight), the motion picture was reasonably accurate. These bits of fiction, which have confounded historians for half a century, originated with Captain Stover, who, in addition to directing, prepared Oklahoma Outlaws under a pen name, Richard Graves, "to give a short history of each of the reproductions given in the film . . . these books to be sold at the theaters in which the picture is shown."
The train robbery scenes were shot early in February, "utilizing the beautiful and picturesque scenery" of Lincoln County. Then the company moved to Guthrie to stage the federal jailbreak, traveled to Eureka Springs for the capture of Doolin, and spent several days with Bud Ledbetter filming the battle at the Spike S Ranch and the capture of the Jennings gang.
They were back at Tilghman's ranch for the concluding scenes on March 27 when word came that Henry Starr, noted Indian Territory desperado, and his gang had just galloped into nearby Stroud and robbed both banks. As the gang was marching down the street with the terrorized bankers and clerks as hostages to make their escape, a seventeen-year-old boy named Paul Curry shattered Henry's leg bone below the left hip with a "hog rifle." His second bullet struck another robber in the neck, breaking his left shoulder and injuring a lung. Both men were captured.
Tilghman and his cameraman hurried to Stroud to film the bandits under guard and being bandaged in the doctor's office and obtained additional footage as they were being brought to the Chandler jail. The fiasco was added to The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, and a brief account of Starr's career was included in Stover's red paperbound book.
Photographer Kent now had "four sets of reels, about 9,000 feet to the set; a total of approximately 36,000 feet, or seven miles of film" and "outside the cost of the raw material and finishing work, the estimated total expense of $ 10,000 had been spent in Chandler for salaries, labor, props and rent." The film was premiered at Chandler on May 25, and people from throughout the area "crowded the Odeon theater until after midnight."
In keeping with the tradition of the time, Tilghman went on the road with the picture, lecturing his audience from the theater stage and introducing Arkansas Tom as the lone survivor of the Doolin gang. He did good business and soon bought out his partners. However, he finally grew tired of the schedule. During a slack period in 1924, he accepted a job policing the oil boom town of Cromwell in Seminole County and was slain by a drunken prohibition officer he had trusted.
Long before that, however, Arkansas Tom had quit the show and returned to St. Louis. Traveling with the film had made him restless, and he was frequently seen hanging around with the tough element. In December, 1916, he became involved in a bank burglary at Neosho, was found guilty in the February term of Newton County Circuit Court, and was sentenced to eight years in the state penitentiary at Jefferson City. His Oklahoma parole was revoked, but somehow the revocation was canceled. He was discharged from the Missouri prison on November 11, 1921, again a free man. For the next two years, Tom worked in and around the tri-state areas of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, living most of time with a cousin at Galena, Kansas. It seemed that he had turned over a new leaf, as promised. Then, about 2:30 on the afternoon of November 26, 1923, four men held up the bank in the small farming town of Asbury, Missouri. By the summer of 1924, two members of the gang had been captured and were serving fifty-year sentences in the penitentiary, a third member was in jail charged with first-degree robbery, and Joplin police were searching for Tom.
They finally located him on August 16, hiding at the home of a friend on West Ninth Street: W. F. Gibson, chief of detectives, narrowly escaped death when Daugherty opened fire on him as he stepped on a rear porch of the house to cut off escape, one bullet clipping the officer's hat. Gibson returned the fire, three of his four shots taking effect. Daugherty then ran into another room to meet Detective Len Van Deventer, who had entered the house through a front door while the bandit had been engaged by Gibson at the rear. Van Deventer fired first, the fatal bullet striking immediately above the heart and the bandit pitched on a bed, his pistol clutched in his upraised hand.
At the Hurlbut Undertaking Company, more than five thousand persons viewed the remains of the last of Bill Doolin's Wild Bunch. The death of Arkansas Tom Daugherty brought to an end the story of the great horseback gangs west of Hell's Fringe.
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