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Valentine’s Day massacres in 1929
Out of the Morgue
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The Prohibition-era bloodbath known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place in this nondescript building in Chicago, shown Feb. 4, 1959. - photo by AP Photo

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.

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re fortunate, you’ll celebrate it with someone special, and perhaps only your diet will be massacred, as you dig into a heart-shaped box of chocolates. For the jaded and love-lorn, we offer a less “lovey-dovey” version of the holiday.

It was 90 years ago today that Chicago gangster Al Capone made history when he allegedly ordered the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which resulted in the killing of seven other gangsters. For the rest of the week, it was a recurring story line on the front pages of the Great Bend Tribune. On Feb. 14, 1929, the headline read, “Seven shot down by Chicago gangsters; Victims trapped in room and shot down with sawed off shot guns and machine guns.”

According to the Associated Press, “Seven members of the powerful north-side gang headed by George ‘Bugs’ Moran were trapped in their North Clark Street headquarters today by five gunmen who lined them up with their faces to a brick wall, beneath a powerful light and shot them to death. 

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This set of photos submitted through the Associated Press, accompanied reports about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre this week in 1929. “Seven members of the “Bugs” Moran gang of Chicago, trapped in a garage by rival gangsters, who represented themselves as policemen, were shot to death. None of the slain men was armed. Upper picture, the victims. Lower right, crowd outside the garage, and lower left, Herman N. Bundsen, coroner, who began an investigation.” - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo

“The wholesale killing, the most sensational in the long and bloody history of Chicago gangland warfare, was carried out with precision by five executioners wearing stars and posing as officers who invaded a garage where the Moran gang was in conference, herded the helpless and unarmed victims to the rear and mercilessly executed them with sawed off shot guns and machine guns. Every body bore from six to ten bullets.”

Helpless indeed! We are talking about gangsters here. Still, it was bad enough to make the annals of history. Today, tour guides have created an industry around the history of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Here’s an online link to we found that includes the story of what happened to the notorious wall

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This Feb. 14, 1929, photo shows the bodies of six of the seven men who were slain in the gangland Valentine’s Day Massacre on Chicago’s North Side. The gang hit attributed to Al Capone was one of many violent acts that spurred Congress to pass the nation’s first sweeping gun control law, the National Firearms Act of 1934. - photo by AP Photo
Brutal murderers sentenced

Lest we assume that in 1929 all the really brutal crimes happened in big cities like Chicago, Feb. 14, 1929, was also the day an Oklahoma man, Claude “Blackie” Hagar, was found guilty of the hammer murder of Walter Harp, a Ulysses, Kansas, farmer, and was sentenced to death in the electric chair. 

He had committed the crime with another man, Elmer Moore, who would be serving a life sentence after pleading guilty weeks earlier, and agreeing to testify against Hagar. 

According to the AP report from Miami, Okla., “In a confession made shortly after his arrest, Moore implicated Hagar, saying they had beaten Harp to death with a hammer and wrench in order to obtain Harp’s car, $200 in cash which he carried and diamond rings belonging to Mrs. Ethel Harp, the slain man’s sister-in-law. 

“The killing occurred near here last August as the four persons were returning from a fishing trip. Moore said he and Hagar believed they also had killed Mrs. Harp, leaving her for dead in a corn field. The woman regained consciousness the following morning and crawled to a farm house for aid.” 

As it turns out, Moore had a change of heart near the time of Hagar’s scheduled execution, and confessed that he had murdered Harp. Hours before Hagar was to make his final walk July 16, 1930, the Oklahoma governor stayed the execution. You can read about it here.

Bid to build colleges and polytechnic school shot down

In state news, Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White penned an editorial that ensured Dodge City’s efforts to secure a state college of Liberal Arts would fail. 

“Mr. White said that “Dodge City has organized a legislative machine that is holding up legislation and operating with the predatory cunning of a band of Gypsy horse traders and the malice of a Mafia.” 

“The legislature is committed to a policy of reducing taxes,” Mr. White said. “To do this it seems wise and necessary to remove as much as possible of the taxes from the levy on land and to put as much as possible on indirect taxes that will be paid by town folks. This program could go through easily if it were not for the Dodge City sandbaggers joining with the governor’s enemies to add this $300,000 treasury grab to the farmers’ burden.”

The editorial went on to point out that Dodge was 40 miles from the Oklahoma border and 100 miles from Hays, the center of a good state institution.

“Every man who votes for that bill will have to answer to his farmer friends for whose increased tax burden he is directly responsible.” 

Ouch! Naturally, the effort failed. For Great Bend, this raised hopes that 1929 would be the year this city would become home to a polytechnic school to serve the western half of the state. Efforts in 1927 had failed, but now with Dodge City out of the running, a bill for the Great Bend school was still in play. 

“A polytechnic school, a school teaching trades, is needed in Kansas and the population of Great Bend territory being twice that of territory further west, it is logically a good place for such an institution if the western Kansas demand is to be satisfied.” 

But just a few days later, all hope was gone. “Any hope for passage of the western Kansas school bills at this session has been removed by the decision of the senate ways and means committee to report adversely measures to establish new state educational institutions at the Dodge City, Great Bend, Garden City and Scott City.” The blame was placed at the feet of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

It would be nearly 40 years before the Barton County Community College was established, providing local career training opportunities.

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Courtesy photo Sweet Amanda Picklestaffer as we imagine Mrs. Kelly imagined her on Valentine’s Day, 1929. - photo by Courtesy Image
Just for fun

Under the category of “massacring a name,” we found this clever little editorial in the “They Say” section of the Tribune, where guest editorials and jokes from newspapers around the state could be found. 

Mrs. E.E. Kelly commented in The Garden City Herald, under the headline Sad But True:

“Amanda Picklestauffer is a great catch but the young men do not know it. Manda can make bread that is as white and light as the driven snow. Her butter is sweet and solid, and her pies are like little bits of heaven. Manda is suntanned, and she wears her hair in a braid, pinned around her head, which gives her a distinguished air in a roomful of Marcel bobs, but the young men would as soon wear tight trousers when loose ones are in fashion as to ask her for a date. Manda’s chances of changing her name from Picklestauffer are small.” 

Talk about straight out of an television commercial! We were curious to find out more about Miss Picklestauffer. We knew it was a long shot, but we Googled the name. Honestly, we could not find one reference to the name, not even at Clearly, the name is simply a fabrication of Mrs. Kelly’s imagination.