Sunday, August 28, 2011

What became of prostitutes' children?

A young mother leaves her infant at a "baby farm"
    Many divorced prostitutes and madams lost custody of their children or they simply left them behind after embarking on a career in the skin trade. Others either sent their children away to live with relatives or they managed to keep and raise them in the business. Not surprising, many daughters followed their mother's professional footsteps. 
    While prostitutes used a variety of contraceptives--from alum to carbolic acid--pregnancies still resulted. Abortions, though illegal, could greatly endanger their health. History professor Ruth Rosen, author of  The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900-1918, explains that prostitutes were known to tote their unplanned offspring to what was called a "baby farm," where children were cared for by an older woman who was often a one-time worker in the skin trade. The Oldest Profession in Texas: Waco's Legal Red Light District gives examples of madams and pimps adopting the offspring of their working girls. Such arrangements were not always formal adoptions, but they were often the only choice a prostitute had to "place" her child. (Society frowned on the mainstream adoption of these "tainted" children.) 
    In 1912 The American Journal of Clinical Medicine declared that, among prostitutes, both illegitimacy and abortion were "comparatively infrequent." However, social reformer J. T. Upchurch disagreed. "There are born in the United States annually one hundred and fifty thousand babies under the scarlet curse," he wrote in his novel, The Scarlet Mask.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rube Burrow gained notoriety as a daring train robber

Homer Stephen holds the weapon Rube Burrow 
used in his train robberies.  
(Courtesy of Stephenville Museum)
    "Organized Crime," a chapter in Sins of the Pioneers, ends with a brief story about Reuben Houston "Rube" Burrow, who formed a band of outlaws. The Burrows gang gained infamy throughout the South as the most daring train robbers since Jesse James. In 1872 Rube Burrow left his native Alabama and came to Texas, first settling on the small ranch of his uncle, Joel Burrow. After being joined in Erath by his brother, James Buchanan "Jim" Burrow, Rube organized an outlaw gang.
     Harry Hawkeye's Rube Burrow, the Outlaw (Baltimore: I. & M. Ottenheimer, 1908, pp. 9-11), states:
     "At this time his party, consisting of Jim Burrow, Nep Thornton and Henderson Bromley [Brumley], returning from a bootless excursion into Indian Territory, rode in the direction of Bellevue, a station on the Fort Worth and Denver Railway. Here Rube proposed to rob the train, which they knew to be due at Bellevue at 11 o'clock a.m. Hitching their horses in the woods a few hundred yards away, they stealthily approached a water tank three hundred yards west of the station, and where the train usually stopped for water. Thornton held up the engineer and fireman, while Rube, Bromley [Brumley] and Jim Burrow went and robbed the passengers, but did not molest the express.
     "The booty amounted only to a few hundred dollars and some miscellaneous jewelry of no great value.
     "This, his first train robbery, a rather impromptu affair, far from satisfied the greed of the amateur and stimulated his predisposition to take up the business as a profession."
     While none of Rube Burrow's robberies happened in Erath, he did garner arrests for less serious offenses in the county.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Legend of Old Man Snow


     Killer F. M. Snow, convicted of the 1925 murder of Bernie Connally, became a character in folklore--while sitting on death row--when Milton Brown wrote a song entitled "Old Man Snow." (Brown is now remembered as "the father of Western swing.") Decades later came Carroll Martin's ballad, "The Legend of Ole Man Snow."  Both ballads were reprinted in the updated Blood Legacy: The True Story of the Snow Axe Murders. 
     Now only did several embellished versions of F. M. Snow's bloody saga unfold in detective magazines over the years, but the gruesome tale inspired two vignettes in Mary Joe Clendenin's Galloping Ghosts (1997). Most recently, the murders and the Snow farm made appearances in Donna Walker-Nixon's novel, Canaan's Oothoon (2010).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

1976 Murder Case Continues to Fascinate

    Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the shocking shooting rampage at a Fort Worth mansion that left two people dead and two others wounded, all at the hands of "a man in black." 
     Cullen Davis stood trial for the crime and was acquitted in 1977. Melody McDonald, a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, recently interviewed attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes about his defense of Davis. The saga unfolded in a television miniseries as well as several books, most recently in Sex, Murder and the Unwritten Law by Bill Neal. Cullen Davis declined to comment for the Melody McDonald article. However, a few years ago  I interviewed him for an online magazine article, "A Texas Oil Dynasty," which told about the roots of the Davis family.