A Note About the Tents

For people who study the murders at Camp Scott, the tent logistics are a source of confusion and speculation.

The Kiowa Unit had one tent for the three counselors and seven four-person tents for the campers. During the pretrial hearing, Counselor Dee Ann Elder drew a diagram of the unit and labelled the campers’ tents one through seven. Tent seven was Denise, Lori, and Michelle’s tent. Surprisingly, there’s a book called Tent Number Eight, which is a reference to the same tent. I don’t know where the author’s numbering system came from, but he apparently counts the counselors’ tent. As far as I know, Elder’s numbering was consistent with how the staff referred to the tents.

There were supposed to be 28 campers in Kiowa Unit, but there were only 27, and there was an empty bunk in tent seven (or tent eight, if you prefer). According to the lore, somebody was supposed to be the fourth tentmate in that tent. At least one person has claimed to be the fourth tentmate, and perhaps others are haunted by the thought that they might be the one. In reality, no one in particular is the fourth tentmate.

Before the campers arrived, the counselors had a list that assigned each camper to a specific tent. However, the assignments weren’t mandatory, and the counselors in Kiowa Unit let the campers choose their tents. All the campers who were assigned to tent seven happened to choose other tents. Any four campers in Kiowa Unit could have ended up in tent seven.

The campers were grouped by age, and Kiowa was for the youngest campers. One girl who was the age of the Kiowa campers ended up in Cherokee Unit with older girls. The counselors planned to move her to Kiowa, but they were going to wait until the next day.

Sources differ on whether the girl in Cherokee Unit was originally assigned to Kiowa. According to Dee Ann Elder’s testimony, the girl in Cherokee Unit was assigned to Kiowa but had gotten mixed up when the campers arrived. Other sources say she was assigned to Cherokee beforehand, due to a mixup in paperwork. At least one source says that a girl who was assigned to Kiowa Unit didn’t show up at Camp Scott. If that’s true, then the mixed-up camper presumably would have stayed in Cherokee if the other Kiowa girl had been there. In any case, if a 28th camper had arrived in Kiowa Unit at the same time as everybody else, she would have changed the selection process for everybody, so there’s no reason she would have been in any particular tent.

 

Camp Scott, Part 1

One of the reasons I created this site was to clear up misconceptions about Sid. Although Sid has been in the news many times for many reasons, people mainly remember him in connection with the Camp Scott murder investigation. In that context, what I’ve read about him in books and online is almost universally negative, and the statements are often incorrect or misleading. I’ve put this off for a long time, but it’s time I said something about Camp Scott.

Camp Scott was a Girl Scout camp in Mayes County, Oklahoma. In 1977, three Girl Scouts were raped and murdered there. Sid was the district attorney, so he helped investigate and prosecute the case. In court, the defendant was found not guilty, so people generally refer to the crimes as “unsolved” or a “cold case.”

Forty years later, the case is still on people’s minds. Compared to other horrific crimes, these murders felt closer to home for many people, especially other Girl Scouts. Many women feel that they could easily have been among the victims. Some believe they were supposed to be in the tent that night but escaped by chance.

The suspect’s acquittal leaves many armchair detectives wondering who really killed those girls, how many perpetrators there were, and if they might someday be brought to justice. Some of these sleuths work diligently to learn real facts about the case, such as the people who scanned and published the pretrial hearing transcripts. Others simply recycle rumors and casually name suspects. The sleuths mean well, and I appreciate their concern for justice. However, I think many of them are playing telephone with the facts, repeating information without knowing where it came from or how it got altered along the way.

In often-repeated versions of the Camp Scott story, the investigators and prosecutors are inept and corrupt. In these versions, Sheriff Pete Weaver has a grudge against an innocent man (I’m using the word “innocent” loosely here), and Sid Wise is a bumbling prosecutor who thinks he can get fame and fortune out of the case.

Not surprisingly, I have a very different view. I don’t think the case is unsolved, I don’t think Pete and Sid were inept, and I certainly don’t think they were corrupt. I’ll give you my version of the story and try to correct some misinformation.

If you’re one of the sleuths — and if you’re reading this, you probably are — I hope these posts will give you some new things to think about. This won’t all be about Sid; I’ll include some details that don’t often get covered elsewhere.

Two weeks before the camping season began, Camp Director Barbara Day visited the police in Locust Grove, a small town near Camp Scott. She asked whom she should call if there was an emergency, such as a fire, at the camp. Back then, you couldn’t just call 911. They told her the fastest thing to do would be to call the Oklahoma Highway Patrol dispatcher in Vinita.

The week before the camp opened, Sid attended a meeting of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association in Tulsa. Although he had only been a district attorney for two and a half years, Sid was the president of the association. He was well-known for combatting drug abuse and organized crime, and he was often asked to speak at conferences in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

As the district attorneys checked out of the Tulsa Hilton on Saturday, famous golfers were checking in. The U.S. Open would be a few days later at Southern Hills Country Club. Reporters converged on Tulsa for the golf championship — ABC used 30 cameras to cover it. This may be one reason why three murders in rural Oklahoma would soon be international news.

On Sunday, Girl Scouts and their parents arrived at the council headquarers in Tulsa, where the girls would board buses to go to Camp Scott. Two of the youngest campers, Michelle Guse (pronounced “goo-say”) and Lori Farmer, introduced themselves to each other. Lori’s parents had to leave before the buses arrived, so Michelle’s parents looked after both of them.

The buses arrived, and the campers piled onto them. They left the city and were soon among the ranches, farms, and forests of northeastern Oklahoma. They followed the old State Highway 33, a narrow and crowded road that has since been replaced by US 412. They went through the tiny town of Chouteau and a rural intersection that locals knew as Sam’s Corner, named for a store that was long gone. They turned south at Locust Grove and soon rolled into Camp Scott.

The camp counselors were already at the camp, where they had been training for a week. They met the campers and divided them into groups of 25 to 28 girls, using lists made ahead of time. Each group headed off to a different part of the camp. The youngest campers, including Lori and Michelle, followed three counselors to the Kiowa Unit.

When they reached the Kiowa Unit, the campers chose which tents they wanted to sleep in.  Michelle and Lori ended up in a tent that was set off a bit from the rest of the unit, near the edge of Camp Scott. Another camper, Denise Milner, joined them. The tent was made for four people, but one bunk was empty.

The three girls happened to be a cross-section of Tulsans. Denise was the only black camper at Camp Scott, and she lived on the north side of Tulsa — the bad side, where “The Outsiders” was set. Her parents were divorced, her mother was a “domestic” (an underpaid housekeeper), and her grandmother helped raise her. Her father was a Tulsa cop. Michelle lived in Broken Arrow, a growing, middle-class suburb. Her parents were a department store credit manager and a high school math teacher. Lori’s father was a doctor, and she lived in an affluent neighborhood on the south side of Tulsa.

Station Wagon Bombs

According to Sid, I almost got blown up by a car bomb when I was three or four years old.

At that time, Sid was the district attorney for three counties in northeastern Oklahoma. He had campaigned in 1974 on an anti-corruption platform. He took on the so-called “Dixie Mafia,” a loosely-organized, interstate community of criminals. It was a dangerous time to take a public stance against organized crime.

In 1969, young Angie Bliss and her cousin, Becca, were playing with Suzie Homemaker ovens in the Blisses’ garage. Angie’s father, Bill, started his pickup truck and detonated a bomb. The three were injured but survived. Bill was an assistant district attorney in Cherokee County, next to Sid’s future district.

A year later, Judge Fred Nelson of the Tulsa County District Court started his station wagon and set off another bomb. It was primary election day, and he was on his way to vote for himself. Like the others, he was injured but survived. As far as anyone knows, the motive for the bombing was to help his primary opponent get elected.

A grand jury convened to consider two suspects, Albert McDonald and Tom Pugh, in Judge Nelson’s bombing. One of the witnesses was Cleo Epps, commonly known as the Bootleg Queen, who had once almost married McDonald. She testified in secret while wearing a wig. She said McDonald and Pugh had come to her ranch to ask for dynamite, which she used for blowing up stumps, and she had given it to them. The Bootleg Queen and another witness, Arles Delbert Self, were soon dead. McDonald and Pugh were never tried for bombing the judge, but they were convicted for murdering the witnesses.

A year after that, another pickup truck exploded, killing 28-year-old kindergarten teacher Fern Bolding and sending her remains into a neighbor’s yard. The bomb was meant for Fern’s husband, Don, who was scheduled to testify in a car theft case.

The suspect in the car theft case was Rex Brinlee, who had also been a suspect in the Bliss bombing. Brinlee had a career of diverse criminal enterprises. In the ’60s, he was suspected of using a small plane to case out farms and plan thefts in Mayes County. He was convicted of cattle rustling but got off on a technicality. At that time, he wore a belt buckle that read “Mayes County Flying Bandit.” He had since moved to Cherokee County, where he owned several businesses and threatened people.

Don Bolding, undeterred by his wife’s murder, testified against Brinlee, who was convicted of the car theft.

Brinlee was also charged in Fern Bolding’s death. Soon after that, there were death threats all around. Reporters, the sheriff, the wife of a juror, and Bill Bliss, who was now a judge, received them. Brinlee had a dispute with a propane dealer and hinted that one of the dealer’s tanks might explode.

Brinlee was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. While he was still in the courthouse, he swung at reporter Mike Miller, who ducked, and hit cameraman Richard Wilson.

In prison, Brinlee made it clear that he had connections to the Dixie Mafia on the outside. He somehow acquired a gun. He escaped twice, but he got caught both times.

It was in this environment that Sid, who had arrived in Mayes County shortly after the Flying Bandit left, decided to take on organized crime.

According to Sid, he was giving a lecture in Tulsa when an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) agent interrupted and took him aside. The agent explained that they had picked up someone who was transporting a bomb. The bomb was intended for Sid’s car. They had reason to believe that the suspect had made two bombs, and the other bomb was already in Carol’s (my mother’s) station wagon. The OSBI agent told Sid not to call Carol, but instead to go home and make sure she didn’t start the car.

I’m not clear on the details or the rationale. Maybe they wanted to warn Carol but just hadn’t gotten in touch with her yet. In any case, Sid put a magnetic cop light on his car and drove home at eighty miles per hour. He says he arrived at the same time as the sheriff’s deputies, and he told Carol just to stay inside and not worry about what they were doing in the driveway.

I was too young to remember any of this, but my oldest sister says Sid had a new ritual after the bomb scare. Before the family got in the car, we would stand in the front yard while he checked for bombs. If he had ever inadvertently set off a bomb during his inspection, we would have all been there to see it happen.

Hart’s Pretrial Transcripts

I’m posting the transcripts of the preliminary hearing in The State of Oklahoma vs. Gene Leroy Hart.

A while back, two of the regulars at girlscoutmurders.yuku.com raised money and went to a lot of trouble to get these transcripts, scan them, and post them online.  Their websites, girlscoutmurders.com and campscottmurders.com, both seem to be gone now.  I’m posting the transcripts here because they don’t appear to be available anywhere else.

Thanks, betrumka and SKAB, for making these available.

 

Saved by Mountaineering

As Sid’s first year of teaching — which turned out to be his last — was ending, he asked a fellow teacher what he did for work in the summer.  The teacher said he was in the painters’ union and made good money painting houses.

The coworker said he could get Sid into the union.  He gave Sid a list of equipment that he would need to buy first.  Oddly, the list included a painter’s suit in a specific size, which was much too big for Sid.  Sid bought the suit, but he didn’t know why he was buying it.

When they next met, the coworker looked at the suit, said it would do nicely, and put it on.  He handed Sid his own suit, which was covered with paint, and told him to put it on.

They went to the union hall, and Sid looked the part.  The coworker explained that Sid was an experienced painter from Waynesburg, where they didn’t have a union, and he wanted to join.  They welcomed him.

One of his jobs was painting the rafters in a tall arcade at an amusement park.  The park was open, and he and the other painters worked high above the crowd.  On another painting job, he and the other painters were on a tall, movable scaffolding.

He told his fellow painters that he was going to New Hampshire to climb Mount Washington.  They asked if he had ever been mountain climbing before.  He said no, and they all thought it sounded much too dangerous.  They advised him not to go, but he went anyway.

When he got back, he only recognized one of his coworkers.  All the rest had been replaced.  He asked where they’d gone, and he learned that the scaffolding had fallen while he was away.  Everybody was in the hospital except the one guy.  The one guy, who already had a limp from a previous accident, happened to catch his overalls on a hook on the way down, which saved him, cartoon-like, from the fall.

When I was a teenager in Colorado, I took up rock climbing.  During college, I put new shingles on my mother’s two-story house.  Sid thought this stuff was too dangerous, and I said, “Wait a minute — weren’t you painting steeples or something when you were my age?”  I didn’t hear any more comments about the climbing and roofing.

Solo Patience: Getting Used to Not Soloing

I’m on the verge of soloing.  Actually, I’ve been on the verge of soloing for almost three weeks, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about a state that most pilots are only in for a few minutes.

I’ve read stories about instructors who surprise their students, unexpectedly hopping out of the plane (on the ground) and saying, “Now fly around the pattern three times.”  I can see why instructors do this, because anticipating a solo is stressful.  The first time I thought I was going to solo, I was more nervous driving to the airport than flying.  If you’ve just made some good landings with your instructor, you might actually feel relaxed.  Now that the right seat is suddenly empty, you’re too busy to be nervous.  Set the trim, check the fuel selector, and get on with it.

Oh yeah, and remember that the plane is now significantly lighter.  My father clipped a tree on his first solo, which was in a two-seater.  I’m flying a four-seater with a petite instructor, so the fuel I burn during a lesson weighs almost as much as she does.

My instructors were stealthy at first.  I passed my pre-solo stage check without even knowing I had taken it.  One day I happened to have a lesson with the head instructor, because my regular instructor was off that day.  He had me do some things I had already covered, including stalls and engine-out procedures.  At the time, it seemed like we were just reviewing random stuff.  In reality, he wanted to see me demonstrate all the skills you need before you solo.  He was taking me through a stage check in the guise of an ordinary lesson, because my regular instructor had already told him I was about ready to solo.

My next lesson was on my regular instructor’s last day before going on vacation.  She told me that I would probably solo before she got back.  I had kind of read the syllabus, so I asked, “Am I supposed to have a stage check or something?”

That’s when the cat was out of the bag.  “Well,” she said, “I don’t want to make you nervous, but John told me your last lesson counted as a stage check.”  So this was it — my next lesson was likely to be my first solo.  It was time to start wearing an old shirt and being nervous on the drive to the airport.

This was twelve days before my forty-second birthday.  I was born on my father’s forty-second birthday, so number 42 was a big deal to me.  I’m not big on setting goals, but I was hoping to solo by then.  My father is an old pilot, so I guess soloing was something I wanted to have in common with him by that day.

Have you heard of get-there-itis, the dangerous tendency for pilots to take off when they really shouldn’t?  Part of me worried that wanting to solo by a certain date was a form of get-there-itis.  I tried not to worry about the date, but I had a lesson scheduled a few days later, and of course I wanted to solo.

The day of my lesson, my day to be nervous, happened to be a windy one.  It was also a weekend, and for a small airport, things were a little busier than I would have liked.  A couple people were doing IFR approaches, so they were intersecting the pattern but not following it.  Somebody from out of town came for a check ride.  Even the ionosphere seemed to conspire against me, as we were picking up radio chatter from another airport that’s a couple hundred miles away.

With an instructor — one of the part-timers who come in on weekends — I taxied out to the hold-short line, announced that I was taking off, and then realized that I had forgotten the run-up.  It was a big omission, and it made me feel like I wasn’t on my game.  I did the runup and announced my takeoff for the second time.  By this time, I really didn’t think I was going to solo, just because it was so windy, and I was kind of glad.

Flying around the pattern a few times, I thought my landings were pretty rough, but apparently the instructor was happy with them.  Surprisingly, he told me I could solo if I wanted to.

For the first time in my life, I had the option of flying an airplane all by myself.  I could solo before my forty-second birthday.  And you know what?  I didn’t.  With the wind, the traffic, and worrying that I might forget something — as I had with the runup — it just didn’t seem like a good idea.  I made a few more landings with the instructor, but the wind was getting worse, and pretty soon we both thought it was time to quit.  In my logbook, the instructor gave me credit for crosswind takeoffs and landings.

At the beginning of my next lesson, a warning light came on in the plane while we were still on the ground, and we didn’t take off.  At least that lesson was free.  After that, I had a lesson that got cancelled due to low clouds.  Someone I know soloed at another airport that day, so I was a little jealous.  Then there was a Saturday morning with perfect weather, but I was busy.  My forty-second birthday came and went.  I had another day with low clouds, and we flew the pattern at 700′ AGL to stay in Class G airspace, gaming the system in terms of cloud clearance rules.  We had to stop when rain moved in and reduced the visibility.  Then my regular instructor came back — she had been gone for two and a half weeks — and I told her I still hadn’t soloed.  She said she was actually kind of glad, because she wanted to be there for it.

Not surprisingly, my instructor’s first day back was another windy day.  I had some more gusty landings, and we saw a wild turkey near the runway, but it was mostly uneventful.

After a full-stop landing, as I was about to taxi back to the beginning of the runway, my instructor gave me the choice again.  She said I could solo if I wanted to.  We were approaching a fork in the taxiway where I could either turn left and drop her off or turn right and go straight back to the runway.  My instructor said, “Left or right, it’s your choice.  There’s no pressure.  I’ll close my eyes.”  I was too busy taxing to see if she really closed her eyes, but I think she did.

By this time, I was used to not soloing.  I’ve come to realize that even though the first solo is a big deal, it doesn’t need to happen at a certain time.  I’m learning and progressing.  According to the syllabus, I’m working on stuff that comes well after the first solo, so really I’ve just kind of skipped the solo and moved on.

The lesson was going better than the day when the other instructor had offered to let me solo, or at least I was less nervous.  However, the wind was getting a little worse each time I went around the pattern.  It had started out blowing straight down the runway, but it was becoming more of a crosswind and getting a little stronger.  My instructors haven’t touched the controls in a long time, so in theory, I should be able to do all this by myself.  But what if the wind got worse?  What if the instructor’s timely advice helped me get through the flare, as it often does?  I wanted to solo, but I wasn’t totally comfortable with the situation, and I wasn’t in a hurry.  I turned right, back toward the runway, with the instructor still in the plane.

Just like before, the wind did get worse, and we only made a couple more landings.  Now that I think about, the gradually worsening wind was great for practice.

After the lesson, my instructor endorsed my logbook for soloing.  The school has stickers with text on them so the instructors don’t have to write too much, and she got out the number two sticker.  In other words, she skipped the usual first solo endorsement and essentially gave me the second solo endorsement, allowing me to fly with a little more wind than the usual first solo.  After all, that’s the kind of weather I’ve been flying in for a while.

Pretty soon I will solo, and in a way it will be a surprise after all.  It might not happen on a calm day, but it will happen on a day when I feel good about it.  And I won’t mind if it’s not the next lesson.

Update:  The day after I wrote this, the wind was zero, but the ceiling was only 200′, so we cancelled my lesson.  The next time I had a lesson, my instructor showed up in flip-flops, thinking she was just there to watch me solo.  That happened to be the day that an aerobatic club came to town, so no pattern work was allowed.  We flew to another airport and worked on stuff that’s supposed to come after the first solo.  Ah, patience…

Heroin Aviation

If you’re a smuggler with an airplane, and you want to move heroin from Mexico to Chicago or New York, you need to refuel somewhere along the way. A dark cornfield in northeastern Oklahoma might be just the place for clandestine refueling, if you plan ahead.

Sheriff Weaver and Sid were alarmed when kids in Mayes County started turning up with heroin instead of pot. Sid and Pete had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Sid was a pilot, and Pete Weaver was omniscient in Mayes County.

“We relied on informants to tell us where they were at, or we would fly. You’d see a corn field or a wheat field where they had obviously cut an airstrip.” The smugglers were flying twin-engine planes, generally Beechcraft. “They had to have a landing spot ’cause that’s when their fuel would run out. They would make arrangements for somebody to meet them.”

Sid was hanging out at the sheriff’s office when one of the deputies called Pete on the radio. “We’re sittin’ there pickin’ our nose and whittlin’ when this deputy calls in,” says Sid.  The deputy was at the small airport outside Pryor, the small town that’s the county seat for Mayes County.

The deputy said, “Uh, a couple o’ hippy-lookin’ kids just put 250 gallons of aviation fuel into barrels in the back of this van. Is there any law against that?”

Pete looked at Sid, and Sid said, “Not a thing in the world.”

Pete asked the deputy if the van had placards for flammable cargo. The deputy said no. “Does it have any kind of fire extinguishers in it?”

“I didn’t see nothin, Sheriff.”

“You stop ‘em.”

Along with the fuel, the hippies had two hand pumps and hoses.

Sid says, “So he brings these two kids into the sheriff’s office, and they’re tremblin’ in their boots. Of course, we didn’t have a thing in the world on them. You know, they were just innocent drivers of a van. And when you walk into the sheriff’s office, there in front of you is the dispatcher, i.e. booking agent. So Pete just went like this, and the kids walked up there, and he says, ‘Empty your pockets.’ And of course, in their pockets was a diagram of the landing field.” On the same piece of paper were instructions to cut the wires on their brake lights so they wouldn’t be seen.

Pretty soon, a lawyer showed up. “Boy, I mean the Mafia worked quick. By the time we got one of ‘em in the office to try to visit with him, there was a lawyer walking in the front door, says, ‘I’m here representing a couple of my clients that you’re holding without charges, and I demand you release them immediately.’ We said, ‘Well, we’re not holding them. They’re right here. We’re just visitin’ with ‘em.’”

Pete and Sid didn’t catch the smugglers, who presumably found another airstrip and a stealthier pit crew.

Speaking of himself in third person, Sid says, “Of course, the reason this was uppermost in Sid’s mind, and had been for a couple o’ years, was that anytime you would capture something like that — confiscate it — it became sheriff’s property. Sid would have a twin-engine Beech in his collection.”

I asked if he had a twin-engine pilot, since he wasn’t qualified to fly twins himself. “I’d be one pretty quick. Oh, damn!”

Fishing for Drugs

When Sid was a district attorney, he had a police radio in his pickup truck. He would often talk on it with Sheriff Pete Weaver, his friend and crime-fighting companion.

“And of course, that was the occupation for every farmer. You’re out there ridin’ a combine or a tractor, and you had earphones on and you were listening to the scanner, police scanner. You knew when ambulances went out, and you knew what people Sid was talkin’ about.”

One Friday at the office, Pete told Sid he had a tip about a drug delivery. “We knew who was making it and who they were making it to, and it was going to be at the dam. I said, ‘Well, dammit, we don’t know when it’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna destroy our weekends.’”

Pete said, “That’s alright. My weekend is taken up. Whaddo you plan to do?”

“Well, I was gonna take Carol and the kids to the cabin this weekend.”

“Go ahead,” said Pete. “You go on to the cabin, and you can contact me and ask me about what’s goin’ on over at the dam.”

When I was a kid, I loved going to our cabin, which was at a place called Cedar Crest.  We would row our little boat, or walk down to the Swimming Hole, or just hang around the cabin playing board games and stuff. I had no idea what else was going on while we were there.

During this trip, unbeknownst to me, Dad was occasionally going out to his truck to talk to Pete, who had deputies staking out the dam.

“I’d say, ‘D.A. 1 to Mayes County 1.’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah, Sid.’ And I’d say, ‘Any activity down there, fishin’ at the dam?’ He said, ‘Not a sign. We haven’t gotten a bite.’”

It doesn’t seem especially stealthy, but they kept it up all weekend.

“Not bitin’ yet?”

“No.”

“Whaddya think?”

“I think we oughtta leave the bait out there just a little longer and see what happens.”

Naturally, a lot of people overheard this on their scanners. To all appearances, the D.A. and the sheriff were spending a great deal of time fishing and talking about it on the radio.

I asked if they caught the drug runners. He said, “They had excellent communications, too.”

On another occasion, drug dealers made sure to let law enforcement know how good their communications were.

“One time, we had a raid to go on, and we had highway patrol and deputies and all kinds, and we all met a mile or so away… We parked the cars and went on the raid, and there wadn’ a damn thing. Nothing. I mean, it was clean as a whistle.”

When Sid and the cops got back to their cars, the state trooper yelled, “Somebody’s been under my hood!” His hood was open, and his windows were open a little bit. Of course, everyone was worried that there might be a bomb in the car. It turned out there was no bomb — the drug dealers just wanted to let the cops know they had been there.

“Oh, they were ornery,” says Sid.

You can smoke it, but don’t eat it.

I was three years old when my father was elected district attorney. Some of my earliest memories are of courthouses and law enforcement officers. One of the adults I remember fondly from back then is Pete Weaver, who was the sheriff of Mayes County at that time.

Sheriff Weaver was a smart and streetwise man who had served in Burma during World War II. From what I can gather, he knew pretty much everything there was to know about Mayes County and its rural underworld.

Pete and Sid were inseparable. While other men might go bowling or fishing, Pete and Sid’s favorite pastime was chasing drug dealers and pot farmers.

When I was about five, we had a big cannabis plant in our house for a while.  It was evidence for a trial, and of course it would die if they put it in the evidence locker, so somebody had to take care of it.  I didn’t understand what it was, but I knew my parents thought the plant was funny, because for some reason people weren’t supposed to have this kind of plant.

On one occasion, Pete got a tip that somebody was growing pot in the woods, where it wasn’t visible from the air.

“We had snitches who would go out and check. And sure enough, in a week or two, the people that had it had cut the marijuana and kinda bundled it and put it up to dry and were gonna come back and get it. So then we staked out that treed area and caught the guys that were doin’ it, and then of course we had to have a photo op. And we brought all this in and piled it up… And so, boy, we made the front page.

“And so we sent it off to the Crime Bureau [the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, or OSBI], and the Crime Bureau came back and said, ‘That’s not marijuana.’ We said, ‘It looks like marijuana, it has all the leaves like marijuana — we know what marijuana looks like.’”

In fact, the would-be pot farmers had inadvertently grown hemlock, the stuff that Socrates drank. Smoking hemlock isn’t especially harmful, unless you’re a grower with disappointed customers. But if you eat it — in brownies, for example — it will kill you.

For the growers who got caught, it was lucky they were botanically challenged. It turned out they hadn’t committed the crime they thought they had committed.

On the other hand, Pete and Sid were afraid some hemlock might have hit the street. Embarrassed, they had to go back to the newspaper and explain that they didn’t really have a big pot bust after all, and that people shouldn’t eat what they smoke.

Milking the Brahma Mama

In 1974, Sid got elected as the district attorney for three counties in northeastern Oklahoma. He defeated the previous D.A., Bob Vinzant, in a close race.

Soon after the election, there was a rodeo in Rogers County, the county where Bob Vinzant lived. Somebody had the idea to invite Sid and his staff to participate in one of the less prestigious events in the rodeo, the wild cow milking contest.

As Sid tells it, “They would bring these humpback… what do you call the cows that are so mean? Brahma. They would bring in brahma cows, ’cause they had to have cows to produce those calves. So they had these brahma mamas, who were meaner than shit. They weighed a thousand pounds. And so they would have a brahma milking contest. And they’d bring one o’ those brahma ladies out with a rope around its neck, and then hand you a paper cup, and it was up to you to figure out… with two of you, one holdin’ the rope and one underneath. And they had a clock goin’ — how long it’d take for ya to get a little milk outta this damn brahma cow.”

I asked if they cared how much milk you got. “Oh, any amount would do. God, if you had any, you were the winner.”

The organizers invited Sid because, as he puts it, they didn’t give a shit about him. “So they came in, and really, you could just see the guilt in their eyes, and they said, ‘We want to invite you — and we’re so excited that you’ve been elected district attorney. We haven’t had a chance to meet you yet.’ So they explained the contest in detail, you know, to the city boy. And I said, ‘Oh, we’d be pleased to.’”

Rather than milking the cow himself, Sid delegated the task to two members of his new staff.  Apparently, the organizers didn’t realize how much rodeo expertise was in the district attorney’s office.

The district investigator, J.B. Hamby, was an imposing man who had a reputation at the rodeo. Supposedly, he had stopped riding bulls because he broke them, literally. He was a former deputy sheriff who would later become the police chief in the town of Catoosa. He died in a gunfight in Catoosa, and he is fondly remembered to this day.

When Hamby faced the brahma mama, he was with a coworker who had lower standards of virtue. I’m not sure what his job was or what his name was, but Sid calls him Nipshit.

“If there was an illegal way to do it, he’d rather do it that way. He wanted to know if I’d like to have a fish fry for the offices. I said, ‘That would be nice.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll furnish the fish if you wanna grill ‘em.’ And by God, he came up with all these beautiful fish. Somebody later told me that the way he fished — you know the crank in an old telephone? Well, that’s a generator. He would go out in a wooden boat — fiberglass or wood — and he’d put the two wires in there and then crank like hell, and stunned fish would come floatin’ up. You pick the good ones, leave the rest, and they’ll shake it off and go back to swimmin’ again.”

Nipshit, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, also had rodeo experience. He was a former president of the Junior Rodeo Association. According to Sid, Nipshit was also a great-nephew of the famous humorist Will Rogers, who was himself a son of the county’s namesake.

When Investigator Hamby and Nipshit went out with their paper cup, they knew what they were doing. “The two of them went out, and the crowd all cheered, and I mean, in a matter of seconds, they had milk in the cup. And they won this great big trophy.”

From then on, if you walked into the Rogers County courthouse and went to the district attorney’s office, the first thing you’d see was the brahma-mama-milking trophy.

As it turned out, Nipshit’s milking technique was just as shady as his fishing. “Years later, I learned that Nipshit had a mouthful of milk. And while he was under there, he spit the milk into the cup.”