By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
1929: Tag wars, township spats, and fish tales
Out of the Morgue
otm_vlc_Billie Holiday.jpg
Courtesy photo Billie Holiday was a Jazz singer performing in the 1930’s through the 1950’s. - photo by Courtesy

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

Ninety years ago today, a young Billie Holiday (age 14) and her mother were arrested in a brothel in Harlem for alleged prostitution. Thus marked the start of a tragic tale for the jazz singer that was punctuated with some notable highs, but ultimately ended on a sad note. The website offers a great overview of Holiday’s life. A few years later, she started her singing career; after being turned down for a job dancing at the Log Cabin Club, she convinced the owner she could sing. She was paid $18 a week. Her fame grew, and she toured all over the U.S. and Europe. But abusive relationships, and drug and alcohol overshadowed her life, which ended relative young at the age of 44. This is how it ended, according to “Billie Holiday: The Tragic Life of Lady Day ( ):

“(Holiday) was admitted to the hospital for liver and heart problems in May 1959. The authorities levied one final insult by arresting her on her death bed on narcotics charges after someone allegedly found heroin in her hospital room. A guard was placed outside the room, and flowers and notes from well-wishers were removed, as was her record player. When Billie Holiday died, she had $750 taped to her leg and another 70 cents in the bank. She was 44.”

Closer to home, Kansas and Oklahoma were in the midst of an automobile tag war, according to the front page of the May 2, 1929, Great Bend Tribune. 

Deputy license inspectors were sent to the state line around Arkansas City, “...where state and county officers have arrested a number of Sooner state traveling salesmen and truck drivers this week for failure to exhibit Kansas licenses on their vehicles.” 

Earlier in the week, a truce had been reported after Cowley County officials and Oklahoma oil company executives had agreed no more commercial vehicle operators from Oklahoma would be arrested in the county for failure to secure the Kansas license. Apparently, the assistant Kansas secretary of state, his boss away, took the opportunity to throw some weight around and sent reinforcements. Here’s why:

“Oklahoma law requires operators of commercial vehicles entering Oklahoma to buy that state’s licenses. The recent Kansas legislature passed a law authorizing a reciprocal arrangement with other states for the exemption of foreign commercial vehicles, but Oklahoma failed to make similar provision.”

While this may seem strange to those who do not operate commercial vehicles, it’s only been in the past 40 years that a workable solution has been used. The International Registration Plan (IRP) allows operators that travel between jurisdictions to register in just one state, and apportion their registration according to where they travel. Until then, these quibbles between states popped up from time to time. Kansas periodically updates its reciprocity agreements with neighboring states. 

Comanche township split?

On May 4, county commissioners heard arguments between petitioners in favor of splitting Comanche township, and those who were against the split. 

“Dissatisfaction over the fact that a large share of the money of the township has been spent in the west end and accusations that Art Tonkin, road boss has hired men who have worked a great deal on the roads in the west part of the township are among the main issues involved in the desire to bring about a separation of affairs, it is reported.” 

Charles Hagan and Wilbur Bryant were residents of the east end of what was described as a “double township”, and presented their claims. Jake Hartshorn and Jake Batchman, presumably from the west end, presented arguments against. Hagen accused the township treasurer of neglecting to file reports that would indicate where township funds were spent. He suggested the township was simply too big for one man to manage.

But the people in the west end, Batchman said, demanded road work be done there because early on, all the road work had been confined to the east end, even though the west end folks were taxed for it just the same. 

A case was made that the east end had half as many miles of mail route road to maintain, and the roads there could be maintained by contractors with tractors, while the west end required horse and man power using horse-drawn scrapers and slips to maintain the roads. 

The argument touched on who was getting work, how many officials served on each side, and the possibility of having the township officials resign and replacing them with new people. Neither side would be satisfied with any of these solutions, so finally the commissioners declared an armistice, and after some more discussion between both sides, the room was cleared. 

Comanche township, then as now, includes townships 19 and 20 on the south side of the Arkansas River, both south and west of Ellinwood. Lakin and Cheyenne townships are also double townships within Barton County. 

Cheyenne Bottoms in the news 

This was an active news week in 1929 for the Cheyenne Bottoms. Members of the Chamber of Commerce were trying to choose the best of three options for draining the big lake through a ditch to the Little Cheyenne and eventually into the Arkansas River at the east side of Ellinwood. Another group, the Izaac Walton League, was described as “solidly behind the movement to create a federal game refuge at the Cheyenne Bottoms.” Meanwhile, the Tribune reported on fishing action there. 

“There must be lots of fish in the Cheyenne Bottoms for hundreds of people have been fishing there during the past few weeks and most of them have not gone away disappointed. Mudcat weighing 2 1/2 pounds are not uncommon, it is said, and several five-pounders have also been caught.”

It was noted that the Bottoms were flooded in the fall of 1927, so it was a wonder such large fish could be grown there in that time. 

“Fish weighing up to seven pounds have been caught.” (Surely those had to be tall tales told by fishermen.) 

It was predicted that, “the Bottoms should soon become a mecca for anglers as well as duck hunters.” 

otm_vlc_vintage comic.jpg
Courtesy photo A vintage comic strip that appeared on the editorial page of the May 2, 1929 Great Bend Tribune.