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 17, 1954, the Supreme Court passed down its ruling on the historic Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka lawsuit, which was the beginning of the end of segregation in our country. Linda Brown, a Negro student, attempted to enroll in a whites only school that was both closer to her home and offered better educational opportunities. She was refused, and her family sued the district for not providing her with an equal opportunity for education. It would take a number of years and a lot of work to change the hearts and minds of enough people to desegregate public institutions in the country.
But the weekend before the historic event, people in Barton County were busy celebrating the centennial of the Santa Fe Trail and Kansas becoming a Territory, according to several front page stories on the May 16, 1954 edition of The Great Bend Daily Tribune.
Early Saturday morning, a band of desperadoes on horseback arrived, leaving some scratching their heads and wondering what year it actually was. From the front page of The Great Bend Daily Tribune, May 16, 1954:
Desperados on the Loose: Bandits Swoop Down on Three Business Firms
Desperadoes swooped down on three Great Bend business firms Saturday morning, kidnapped a trio of unsuspecting citizens and rode off on horseback, exchanging shots with law enforcement officials who sought to halt them.
The 12 armed men, faces covered with masks in the fashion of the early days in Kansas banditry were able to make their getaway without casualties although a posse chased them for several blocks and a fusillade of gunshots was thrown by both sides.
Taken as hostages by the masked men were L.L. Plunkett, dressed as an 1854 storekeeper at the Home Appliance Co. He was made to climb on behind one of the horsemen as the dozen desperadoes opened fire on the undersheriff and an aid who sought to halt the kidnappings.
The group then sped away to the Security State bank where they entered and took hostage Joan Wilhite, 13, dressed as an early-day Kansas girl. Here the holdup men met resistance in the form of state Highway Patrolman Dee Doughty, whose effort to prevent the kidnapping was to no avail as the horsemen reined away and down North Kansas avenue to the Missouri Pacific depot where they opened fire on the agent, played by Raymond Haines, 15, who was forced to accompany them.
After raiding the station house and shooting up the countryside, the 12 rode hell-for-leather down Kansas dirt road with their pursuers throwing hot lead all the way to the city park.
There, the foaming hot ponies suddenly became part of the Big Bend Saddle club as did their fate at the hands of the desperate outlaws.
Law discovers Identity
Law officers by this time had drawn up and were ready to go all out in a final gun slugfest --when they discovered that the men they had been chasing were none other than: Owen Boyle, Gerald Ross, Floyd Smith, Thad Mumy, Tex Stedman, Willard Guy, Hody Thies, Earl Haines, Fred Wilhite, E.D. Wright, Dr. Buford Gregory and Harold “Butch” Powell.
The holdup and kidnap sequences were all part of the Kansas Territorial Centennial program in Great Bend that began at 7:30 a.m. Saturday with a chuck wagon breakfast served at the city park for the caravan personnel and a score of hungry residents who turned out to eat western style food.
Purpose of the pseudo holdup, as explained by Saddle Club President Butch Powell, was to stir up interest in the parade which began at 10 and followed the major city streets before passing in review before the judges stand at the corner of Main and Forest.
Fewer people ride horses in this area today, but there is still a saddle club. In fact, the Great Bend Saddle Club is having a fun day Saturday. For more details, take a look at Breakfast Briefings.