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Able and Baker, the Big House, and a beer bust in 1959
Out of the Morgue
While Miss Baker and her companion, Miss Able, both survived their 15 minute flight into space this week in 1959, Able died four days later when she had an allergic reaction to anesthesia. But Miss Baker lived another 25 years, spending her days among the adoring public who visited her at NASA until her death in 1984.

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.

On May  28, 1959, a major breakthrough by the U.S. was reported by the Associated Press, as published on the front page of the Great Bend Daily Tribune. 

“2 Monkeys Return Alive From Space Ride in Missile Nose” was the headline heralding the recovery of two female monkeys, Able, a seven-pound rhemus monkey, and Baker, a one-pound squirrel monkey, who survived a ride in a Jupiter missile fired from Cape Canaveral, having climbed to an altitude of 300 miles at speeds up to 10,000 mph.  This topped the Soviets, who sent two dogs 281 miles into space. 

“Scientists said instruments attached to the monkeys showed they suffered little ill effect from the stresses of blast-off and the weird experience of weightlessness.” 

The entire journey into space lasted all of 15 minutes, and occurred between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. 

Able was trained to press a telegraph button in response to a red light flashing once each second in the nose cone.

“Medical scientists said Able became very proficient, in training, at responding. The scientists especially wanted to know how she responded in the period of weightlessness. That would be important in relation to what might be expected of men released from the gravitational pull of the earth.”  

Able was chosen for the test because she was a primate of high enough order to provide data applicable to man. 

Two years later, the U.S. launched a chimpanzee, Enos, into space, with similarly positive results, and finally in 1961, Alan Shephard made the trip, becoming the second human in space (U.S.S.R.’s Yuri Gagarin was first). 

When NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic launch in 2009, the Huntsville (Ala.) Times reported, “Able died four days after the flight because of an allergic reaction to an anesthetic, but the smaller monkey, known as “Miss Baker” to many in Huntsville, went on to spend her last years as a featured attraction at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Baker died on Nov. 29,1984. She is buried at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.”  

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Here, The gravestone of space pioneer Miss Baker at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It frequently has a banana on top. RIGHT: Here, she is prepared for her historic mission.
Big House drama

Back in Barton County, front page news this week included a report of a South Hoisington woman, Mrs. Patricia Holder, 37, found guilty of third-degree manslaughter in the accidental death of an Ellinwood man, Reo Capps.  She testified that on Dec. 20, 1958, Capps used obscene and abusive language to her and, when she refused his improper advances, he struck her.  When he threatened her again a few minutes later, she struck him in self defense. She didn’t learn until the next day that the wound had been fatal.  

“Four men who had accompanied Capps to the Big House, scene of the slaying, testified that they did not see Capps threaten or strike Mrs. Holder and that he did not leave the room during the time they were at the tavern.”

The Big House had a colorful reputation, frequented often by people of all sorts looking for an opportunity to drink, gamble and “party,” so to speak, and do all manner of things that elsewhere in the county would be frowned upon by “polite” society. It was visited often by the Barton County Sheriff and deputies who in the line of duty raided “parties,” broke up fights and investigated incidents like the one described. Still, there were those who cooked and served hot food and cold beverages, cleaned and maintained what needed attention in order to earn a living. It was a business that operated against the grain of the pervasive discrimination that surrounded it on all sides in Barton County during its time.   

All four of Capps’ friends testified at the trial. It was noted by Tribune Staff Writer Eve Kimbrell that “the all-male jury could have found Mrs. Holder guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree manslaughter or fourth-degree manslaughter.” 

Apparently, the jury opted to split the difference. Third-degree manslaughter, defined as “killing in the heat of passion without design to effect death and using a dangerous weapon,” would carry a sentence “from three years in the state penitentiary to six months in the county jail.” The report carried no details about what sort of weapon may have been used when Holder struck Capps. 

Defense witnesses included Chester Woffard, Ponca City, Mrs. Holder’s brother-in-law; and Mrs. Cleo Richards, owner of the Big House. They acted as character witnesses for Mrs. Holder, as did justices of the peace Frank Robl, Ellinwood, and E.L. Durand, Hoisington. Holder’s defense attorney was Melvin O. Nuss. The questions he asked Robl and Durand were ruled improper. 

The following Monday, Mrs. Holder was given the maximum sentence to be served at the Kansas State Industrial Farm for Women in Lansing. It was reported that when the Sheriff returned her to her cell, he asked if she was disappointed with the verdict. She replied she was, but “it’s God’s will and it’ll have to be this way.”

We were unable to track down any further information about Mrs. Holder before press time. It is unknown if she returned to Barton County when her sentence was completed. Today, South Hoisington and the Big House are but a memory. You can find out more about the South Hoisington or “South Town” at the Barton County Historical Society Museum, where in 2014 a group of museum employees and volunteers set out to record the oral histories of past residents and document the history of the unincorporated neighborhood just outside the city limits of Hoisington for Kansas Humanities.  

Beer-bust blow-back

Meanwhile, Great Bend’s city council held a special meeting Thursday night, May 21, 1959. The public was concerned about the delinquent behavior on display by a number of the city’s juvenile citizens in recent weeks. The mayor, Don Weltmer, hoped to take some sort of action as a result of that meeting and the regular meeting held the previous Monday, May 18.  

“Police Chief Roy Hester reported on various activities of Saturday night, May 16. He reported vandalism at the city park, a fight between teenagers and investigation of teenagers as young as 13 drinking beer from gallon jugs and molesting citizens on public streets. 

One councilman related a report from one constituent that claimed his car was stopped by teenage boys in the middle of the street at Broadway and Harrison, daring him to proceed.  Then some of the young people in a nearby group grabbed the man’s car and began rocking it back and forth, while he and his wife were “subjected to vile and profane language spewing from the mouths of the liquor laden teenagers.” The group then began kicking the doors of his car and pounding on the glass with beer bottles. 

 These were reported to be part of a larger group who were under investigation by  police concerning a teenage beer-bust the previous weekend at the Arkansas River diversion dam near Dundee, an apparent “luau” style party. “Beer by the keg (three 16-gallon kegs) and refreshments including ham were available at the Luau.” 

“Teenagers from 13 years up were present partaking of the beverages.  One report to police indicated there were teenagers and others attending from points as far as Wichita and Salina.  There were also persons 20 to 25 years of age attending, one source said.” 

It was reported the kegs were purchased by teenagers under the age of 18, the legal drinking age at that time.

Several citizens reported witnessing “groups of teenagers in drunken condition, saw nude girls running across the streets and after police picked up a carload of youths, one 14 and one 15 years old, who were drinking beer from gallon jugs.  

The officers were working with he Pawnee County Sheriff L.B. Hess Jr. in questioning several Larned boys about vandalism in the park Sunday. The vandalism included “critical injuries caused to a $125 white swan in the park.  The bird is still alive.” 

About a week later, two Great Bend bartenders, Paul Smith and Donald Kelly, were charged with selling beer to the minors who provided signed statements attesting to this.  

Three  specific council actions were suggested at the council session: Closing the city park at night so that police can arrest persons found in the park; A curfew imposed on teenagers throughout the city; Increase in the police department’s rolling stock from two cruisers to three.

Ultimately, the council agreed the city should step up enforcement of existing laws, and suggestions for a curfew for teens was discussed, but not acted on.  Those laws included penalizing adults who purchase liquor for minors and driving under the influence.  A curfew ordinance was adopted in 1995, with many exceptions.  

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Girl Scout Troop 29, Hoisington, awarded First Class Rank and proficiency badges to Anne Ochs, left, Becky Humphrey, Kay Iannitti, Connie Smith, Alyce McMillan, Judy Wood, Ria Cobern, Sharon Whitt, and Jean Hardy. The girls have been in the same troop for nine years started out in the same Brownie Troop, Mrs. Ray Humphrey and Mrs. C.C. Hardy are the leaders of the troop. - photo by Tribune file photo
First Class for all

It should be noted that at the special city council meeting, some teenagers were there to add their voices to the discussion. They pointed out that many of the city’s teens were law abiding. So, we will leave you with a more positive image of the teens of 1959. A page 3 photo of Girl Scout Troop 29, Hoisington, appeared Thursday, May 21. The troop was awarded First Class Rank and proficiency badges in a special club ceremony that week. “The girls have been in the same troop for nine years and started out in the same Brownie Troop,” the caption reads.  

The First Class Rank was the highest award in Girl Scouts at the time. Imagine an entire troop of Boy Scouts sticking together for nine years, and each earning the rank of Eagle Scout, for comparison. Those girls were Anne Ochs, Becky Humphrey, Kay Iannitti, Connie Smith, Alyce McMillan, Judy Wood, Ria Cobern, Sharon Whitt and Jean Hardy.