Be Sure You’re Right — Then Back Up

By R.D. McCulloch

During my Navy days, while cruising ashore with a pal, in the vicinity of the R. R. Depot, Bill was approached by a very agitated and apparently cuckoo citizen, who offered him an excellent looking watch for his cash balance, which happened to be about eight dollars, cash in a hurry, with a sob story of a sick mother and a train to catch.  Well, Bill fell for it and as that was the end of his finances, the stranger turned to me and offered me a bargain of a life-time, a diamond ring for $25.00.  I prided myself on my unerring judgement and it looked good, so, finding my cash balance on hand to be $22.40 and this being acceptable to the stranger, I became the possessor of a diamond ring that I had backed my judgement on being worth around $200.  The stranger hurriedly left and then Bill began to kid me about the stone, insinuating that I had been made a monkey of, or words to that effect.  The watch was plainly an Elgin, stamped 19 jewels, with a 25 year case, so evidently Bill knew that he got a bargain, but he was dubious about the ring.  To make sure, I decided to consult a jeweler and after that expert had looked at the stone through his monocle, and turned it over and around, Bill meanwhile grinning like a jack-ass eating cactus, he proceeded to offer me $165 for the stone on a larger one.  Bill stopped grinning.

R.D. McCulloch with Jasper Baker in uniform, 1917.

R.D. McCulloch (right) with Jasper Baker in uniform during the Great War, Houston, 1917.

That was a long time ago, but it made me feel pretty confident of my own shrewdness.  We found out later that the man in need of funds had shot his wife and mother-in-law and was making a getaway, so that was that.  After two hitches as a gob, I drifted back to the old home town in Oklahoma and eventually became Sheriff.  I had been doing pretty well, chasing car thieves and bank-robbers until last summer, when I stood outside the City National just after closing time, talking to Wes Lavender, the cashier, about the Urschel kidnapping, Pretty Boy Floyd, and other every day topics in our section, when a shiny new Cadillac came roaring down Main Street and whipped up to the curb, close to us.

A hard looking jasper about forty years old hopped out and seeing Jeff Stone, our local defender of the down-trodden crooks and bank-robbers standing in front of his office, strode towards him and they were soon in a little confab, the words being just loud enough for me to get an earful.  “Two hundred cash and she’s yours”, I heard the stranger saying, and that was my cue. Any guy that would sell a swell car like that for less than a grand was a crook and Oklahoma was full of them.  I decided to subtract one car thief from circulation.  If there ever was a guy that looked a crook, that was one.  Our state was so infested with high-jackers and bandits that you could arrest almost any tough looking stranger and be sure you had a member of some gang.

Jeff was pulling out his bankroll just as I strolled over closer.  Going to buy the car.  Funny how dumb some lawyers are.  I am not any too bright (as I can prove) but the idea of selling a swell car for $200 just didn’t set with my judgement.  And about that time, as I was sizing up that bird, I recognized him.  Twenty five years is a long time, but that scar on his cheek was there and I knew that I was right.

Jim Williams was raised in my home town and while we were never pals, we had attended school spasmodically together, and after joining the navy at seventeen, I had never seen him again and hadn’t kept track of his driftins until here he was, natural as life, but older and harder.  I was about to speak to him when one of those “brain flashes” hit me and I threw out my chest with pride, for this bozo was plenty “hot”.  Just that morning I had been looking over the mail at the jail, when I ran across a “wanted” dodger describing “Two Gun” Jimmie Wilson, alias Jim Watson, alias Jim Williams, wanted as an escaped lifer from the  Louisiana State Pen, in a break just a few days previous, when seven men left the “walls”.  Just as Mr. Williams scribbled something on a paper and handed it to Jeff Stone, who was handing over the $200, I stepped in, and Jim looked up to see the business end of a .45 and I won the pot on a six full.

Stone was politely curious, kinder resentful, but Jim was raving mad and tried to bluster his way out, but papa Sheriff takes the naughty boy over to a nice safe place where he couldn’t get in any more mischief.  Jeff followed us to the jail, and naturally I let him in, as he was interested to the tune of two hundred bucks as well as him being the buyer of a “hot” car.  Williams kept on raving about fat-headed sheriffs, mistaken identity, and told me he was James G. Clark, that he bought the car for $1600, needed the money and could sell it to whom he pleased at any damned price he wanted to take and that I had better turn him out or else.

I listened to it all and to Jeff trying to soft soap me that I was surely mistaken, as Mr. Clark had signed a bill of sale and everything was bound to be regular.  He kept flashing me that bill of sale, for one Cadillac 1933 model coupe, license and motor number all included, transfer from James G. Clark to Jeff Stone, cash consideration $200.  “Well, Stone, I guess that just adds a case of forgery to car theft,” I consoled him, and he left muttering about dumb officers, damages, false arrest, etc.  Pretty hard to be stuck for a sucker, but of course he would hold up the prisoner for a fee and get his $200 back.

Robert Hatcher wth R.D. McCulloch (and dog Woolly), late 1910s or early 1920s.

Robert Hatcher with R.D. McCulloch (and dog Woolly), 1920s.

I wired the pen and they sent a man hell bent to pick up their man, but the funny thing was, when their Sheriff gets here, he just glanced at Jim and grinned.  Turning to me he said, “When the real Jim Wilson or Williams or Watson was running loose before we hooked fir a life stretch, I reckon this bird was arrested a dozen times for him.  The description is pretty close, Sheriff, but this is not the Williams we want.  Wrong eyes and finger prints.  Awful sorry.”

I was awful sorry, too, but anyway I was sending out the car number and I knew I had him on that and forgery.  Then Williams got sick.  I don’t know what was the matter, but old Doc Haswell said he had stomach trouble and so we held him about two weeks.  Had the doc and everything, and then he suddenly got all right.  The next thing I knew Jeff Stone entered suit in behalf of Mr. James G. Clark for about everything in the calendar, false arrest and imprisonment, damages, defamation of character, etc. for $25,000.

Vs. the Sheriff, et al, included my bondsmen, and they were worried.  I wasn’t worried, much, for I had dug up four or five old timers from the home town and had them run over and give Jim the once over.  They were dead sure I had Jim Williams, and two of them remembered how he got the scar.  And he signed the name of James G. Clark to that bill of sale and that was what I was holding him on.  I was sitting pretty.

Then we went to court.  I couldn’t figure why Jeff had subpoenaed Judge Morrison for he was the district Judge in the north part of the state.  There were several other strangers in the plaintiff’s list.

We went to bat with our identification witnesses.  They all were positive that the plaintiff was Jim Williams, in fact they swore to that.  I noticed Judge Morrison sitting there with a half grin on his face, and I thought I saw Jim Williams wink at him once.  Jeff called a dapper young fellow to testify that he had sold one Cadillac coupe, same numbers as the one I held, to a Mr. Somers of Vinita on the 10th day of May.  Then Mr. Somers took the stand and corroborated this, adding that he had sold the car later to Mr. James G. Clark for $1665 cash.  “Do you recognize Mr. Clark in the court-room?” inquired Jeff, and blamed if Somers didn’t point out Jim Williams.

Jeff kinder grinned, and called Judge Morrison to the stand.  After Jeff had asked him if he was acquainted with James G. Clark and if he recognized him in the court-room, and the Judge had pointed out Williams, I began to feel sinking spells.  “In order to clarify what seems to be a mix-up in identification,” he went on, “and to explain the seemingly dual personality of Mr. Clark, I want to explain to the court and the jury, the circumstances.  During this spring term of my court, there appeared before me the plaintiff in this case, a Mr. Jim Williams, petitioning my court to change the name of Williams to that of Clark, giving as his reasons, first that the name was used as an alias by a notorious outlaw and that the petitioner had been arrested several times for crimes of which he was innocent; secondly, that it caused him great annoyance and hurt his business; thirdly, that his own name was James G. and his mother’s maiden name was Clark, so, after Mr. Williams had offered sufficient proof to support his petition, I ordered that it be granted and he became legally Mr. James G. Clark.  That is all.”

That was a plenty.  I used to own three pretty nice little farms and some rental property in town.  I don’t own them any more.  I am still Sheriff, but after we compromised the suit for $12,000 my bondsmen told me to be kinder careful about arrests on suspicion.  That kind of advice was what you might call superfuless.  The boys say I make them a pretty good Sheriff, as I go to bed early and get up late, and there ain’t any danger of anybody getting arrested on suspicion  I reckon my unerring judgement ain’t what she used to be.

R.D. McCulloch enjoying a dip on the lake, sometime in the late 1910s or 1920s.

R.D. McCulloch enjoying a dip in the lake, sometime in the 1910s or 1920s.

The preceding was transcribed verbatim from papers hand typed in the 1930s by my great-great-grandfather, Robert Dawson McCulloch (the same one who had the records mentioned previously), who in his life served as a navigator in the U.S. Navy, was a circus aerialist, and was involved in hot-air balloons and aviation.  Photographs were taken from my family’s collection.  As to whether the story is fact or fiction, I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter, but after all these years, who can say for sure?

Please do not reproduce this story without my written consent, as, unless your name happens to James G. Clark, I will be forced to prosecute for plagiarism.  Thank you!

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