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.
While 1963 brought the Beatles to America and the Million Man March brought Civil Rights to the forefront of the American psyche, 1964 is when the momentum that would change our culture really got going. This week in history, readers of the Great Bend Daily Tribune contemplated the upcoming execution of serial killers, as well as the implications of the first gun control measures. The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, and a new addition at the City Park Zoo brightened the collective mood.
Serial killers fight broadcast
George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham were in the headlines Monday, Jan. 20, 1964. The convicted serial killers of a 1961 shooting spree that spanned six states including Kansas stated through their attorney, Roy Cook, that they would fight to stop a television broadcast of their Salt Lake City trial to be aired on the local KCKT-TV station in Great Bend.
“Cook said police permission for the television interview and showing of the film violated the pair’s constitutional rights,” the UPI story stated. “York, 20 of Jacksonville, Fla. and Latham, 21, of Mauriceville, Texas went on a killing spree after escaping from the disciplinary barracks at Ft. Hood, Texas in May, 1961.
They confessed to taking seven lives, including that of Otto Ziegler, a 62-year old railroad man, near Wallace. Ziegler had reportedly pulled over to help the two because they appeared to be broken down on the side of the road--it was only a ruse.
According to Wikipedia, “Execution loomed over the pair in a number of different states; had they been tried by Florida, Illinois or Tennessee, they would have most likely been electrocuted. Had they been tried by Colorado or Missouri, they would have most likely been gassed. Ultimately, they were tried by Kansas, where hanging was the prescribed method of execution.”
They were killed June 22, 1965. They were the last two executions to have occurred in the state of Kansas. In October, 2012, the sister of George Ronald York was interviewed by the Hutchinson News’ John Green when she came to that city to research a book she was writing about her brother and James Douglas Latham.
Grumblings about the gun rights made the editorial page thanks to the introduction of U.S. Bills 1975 and 2345 threatened to “seriously infringe on interstate shipment of arms and ammunition within these 50 United States.”
The bills would required ordinary citizens to go through their local police to purchase guns.
“Of course we know the reason why some watchdog in the Senate is all fired up over restrictions. Lee Oswald ordered an Italian-made rifle and telescopic sight from a Chicago mail order company and is accused of having employed the weapon to assassinate President Kennedy,” wrote Will Townsley, Tribune editor at the time. “New York, ironically, has a law on the books that ought to get the heave-ho. Handguns must be registered and are sold only with special permit. Yet, New York has a constantly rising history of armed robbery. Ad the ordinary citizen may not keep a pistol on his premises to protect himself and his family from prowlers.
It’s up to the people. If they don’t care a fig about being able to keep their property, then they can look the other way and be stunned when Nos. 1975 and 2345 become laws. If they care, they can get busy and sed letters and telegrams to their senators.”
Well, the Gun Control Act didn’t pass until 1968, after the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Since then, Kansans have complied begrudgingly as the country has enacted ever-tightening restrictions on gun laws, until 2013, when the the state legislature paved the way for public citizens (who are properly licensed) to carry concealed weapons into governmental buildings--unless adequate measures could be taken to ensure their safety. As it turns out, the cost of metal detectors and security personnel has proven too high for the vast majority of local governments.
According to John Gettings and Catherine McNiff in their essay Milestones in Federal Gun Control Legislation, “Kansas set a state record for concealed-carry interest last year (2013) with 24,000 applicants. Since the Legislature passed its first concealed-weapons law in 2006, more than 75,000 residents have received the license, which requires eight hours of training.”
Poll taxes decreased votes amongst the poor and the black populations in the country, mostly in the former Confederate states, who prior to the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, may have had to decide between voting and putting food on the table. Readers of the Tribune learned on Jan. 24th that the State of South Dakota beat Georgia in ratifying the 24th Amendment. It was the 38th state, fulfilling the requirement of a two-thirds majority, making poll taxes illegal for federal elections.
It would be two more years before the U.S. Supreme Court would declare poll taxes on every level unconstitutional, with the Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections decision. Shortly before that, Federal District courts struck down poll taxes in Alabama and Texas. This meant no person would be required to pay for the right to vote, no matter where in the country that they lived.
While the fight to decide between Kansas becoming a free or Confederate state ultimately was settled as free, Kansas didn’t have poll taxes, so it’s not surprising the state was one of those that ratified the amendment. But today, Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering.
“In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year (2011) designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process,” according to Ari Berman in Rolling Stone Magazine. The rationalization for these obstacles--to fight voter fraud.
“A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility.”
Perhaps, as before the 24th Amendment, the real reason for these restrictions is to take away votes, or make voting more difficult for people with very little power or influence of their own.
Just for fun
The bears at the city park zoo, Pokey and Pester, were proud new parents, and the Tribune ran the baby picture that day also. Park Superintendent Brit Spaugh held the tiny bear for the camera, in the palm of his hand. The Tribune was unable to determine what happened to the bear, but would love to know if anyone can recall.