Camera Rolls: 312:07-09
Sound Rolls: 312:04-05
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Ruth Ring Morgan , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 27, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
OK so, now, Charlie used to come to your house a lot, and tell me what that was like, what, and, and what your parents did and everything [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] .
OK. In 1929 is my first remembrance of
** And we lived in a little town Boynton some—probably an hour away from here. And he came to our house - now this is my first remembrance of him - he came to our house, and mother was telling him about a family that lived out at the edge of town
** that, whose children didn't go to school because they didn't have any shoes. So he said, "Well, we'll fix that. I'll just go out there and give them some money." Mother said, "Well, if you're going to go, let's get them some groceries." So she gave me a grocery list and said, "Ruth can show you the way." We went to a nearby grocery store that was run by a neighbor, a neighbor of ours. And we went over to the store. Charlie drove me over there. He stayed in the car, left the motor running, and obviously he would, you know, now as I look back. I went in the grocery store with a list, and asked the man to fill it. He put it in a basket, which I think was probably about a half a bushel basket. My memory wants to say it was a bushel, but I'm sure it was a half-bushel. We, he took it out to the car, tipped his hat to Charlie, and Charlie did the same to him, gave him a signal of "Hi," and put the groceries in the back seat. I crawled in there and showed Charlie how to go out to their farmhouse,
** because my mother and dad often played cards with these people, and I knew how to go. So, when we got out there, these people have this farmhouse, you know, with a long front porch and the, some small pillars, big steps going up, and so Charlie gets out of the car,
** leaves his car running yet, he gets out of the car and puts the basket of groceries on the porch. And then he gave me a bill and put it in my hand and he said, "Dink," I was tiny then, he called me "Dinky," but he said, "Dink, give this man this bill, and tell him to buy his children some shoes."
** I never did look at the bill, I wish I had so I'd know how much it was, what denomination. So, he went back to the car. I knocked on the door, and the man came out and got the groceries, which I said, "Momma sent you these, and, and, and here's some money that Charlie said to buy your kids some shoes." I even told him that Charlie did. Course, they knew who Charlie was, you know. Knowing us, they would know. And that...
So why didn't people turn him in if they knew it was, it was, it was Pretty Boy Floyd, this, this outlaw?
Well, people, I think, who turned him in, I don't know what their motive might have been, but maybe they just didn't get as big a slice of the pie, you know. But this family where we took the groceries to, they had a boy my age, and he hasn't, hadn't been going to school, and that's how come us to know, because it was wintertime and it was cold. And this boy, I heard later by talking to people at the class reunion, this boy went on to be superintendent of schools in the state of Kansas.
Oh my goodness.
So I think it, it was a good thing, because he was a very smart boy.
Now, now what about some of those stories you, about when Charlie would come to your house, and the sheriff would, would come and try to get him?
Yes. Now, the story I just told you was 1929, and when I was nine years old. OK, in 1930, we moved to the Haskell area out in the country. But there was a big gasoline plant there, so it wasn't like moving on a farm where you plowed the ground and raised things. And on this place where we lived, we had a three-car garage, a three-car. It was a company house that we lived in, and was what they called a shotgun house, where you could stand in the front door and look out the back, except that we had built onto the back. Well, Charlie would come there. My dad was the deputy sheriff under Sheriff Cannon in Muskogee. And Sheriff Cannon knew that Charlie was related to us. And Dad told him, "You know I'll never turn him in," and he said, "I know, but, I know you won't. I won't ask you to, but, but I have the liberty of coming out anytime I get ready." And Dad said, "You certainly may. You may come out any time you get ready." And he did several times. One particular time, I was out on the front porch when Sheriff Cannon came in. All of us kids knew him, you know, just like a neighbor, because he was there so much even prior to Charlie coming in. And I was standing on the front porch and saw the tail lights of Charlie's car going down the road. And I think sometimes, really, Cannon knew, but just wanted to, you know, be doing his duty of seeing about things. One time, though, he did come, and Charlie was out in a tall cotton field. There were some black people who lived by us, very fine black people and very friendly with the family. And he hid in their tall cotton until they left. But Adam Richetti was with him that time, that particular time. Now, he promised my mother, Charlie promised my mother, he said, "Timpy, I will never fire a gun in your house. If they have to kill me or take me alive, I will never do it." But he would come to our house, say, for instance, one particular time I'll tell about. He had come from Morris, he had robbed the Morris Bank, well, I'm going back, since I found this out later, see. But he drove in, and when he drove by the house into the garage, my dad said, "Well there's Charles," because he was the only one who ever drove on around and pulled his car into the garage outside. And he and Adam Richetti were together. And they came in. My mother had one of the old, antique, what's now antique, dining room tables, a big, round oak table, huge one. With a big family, have to have a big table. But they all sit, Dad and Mother and Adam and Charlie were also sitting around the table having coffee. And, and he had some sacks, canvas sacks set on the table. So I go in, you know, and I open up one. Here, it's full of dimes. And I'm going like this you know [gestures], I'm stringing my fingers through the dimes, you know. And he said, "Dink, go out to the car. I've left you and Frankie," my next younger sister, "I've left you and Frankie some money in the car. You can have all the money you can find." So, of course, this was a ritual with us when he came. But he would take money and stow it all through the car, and we'd gather it up and that was all ours. And, course, what they wanted to do was get rid of us kids so they could all talk about what he'd been doing. But in Mike Wallis's book he has a picture of my dad with Charlie. I took that picture. Now that was just before Charlie went Ohio. And, in this particular, at this particular time, and the picture, when you see the actual picture, you can see the mark where the gun is under his clothes. But my dad, they'd had a looking at it, and my dad said, "Charlie, what's all these notches for? Is that for the people you've killed?" And he said, "No, no Jess. It's, those notches stand for every time I've robbed the Morris Bank." He hated the Morris Bank because they wouldn't make him a loan, in the very beginning, to buy Ruby a ring. And so he had it in for them, and he robbed them every chance he got. And they knew it, and I don't know why they didn't take precaution. But, that was...
How did you kids, how did you kids feel about this, this was that he was always getting away from the sheriff? Did it make you, was, was it, were you kind of proud? Did you feel like you were protecting him? Or...
No, you know, it was an everyday thing with us. We didn't even, I didn't even think that was anything to talk about, except that my parents did tell us kids, "Do not talk about it at school. Do not tell the children that Charlie's here." We think a neighbor up the street may have turned us in at one time, but why we didn't know, because he never bothered them. And, no, we really, personally, anyway, I had no particular feeling one way or another. I didn't think, "Well, now, Charlie, you shouldn't come here, you know. You're putting our family in danger." I don't know. Maybe I was too naive at the time. But I was still a rather serious person at that young age, more serious than a lot of kids are, you know, at that age.
Did you, did you hear stories about other folks who maybe weren't family who would hide him out? Did you hear those stories?
Oh, yes. Oh yes. And we often kept Jackie, or Dempsey is his real name, we often kept Jackie while Ruby would go with him. And sometimes—
Could you just say that again, and make it a little clearer about we kept Jackie while Ruby would go see Charles? Because some, some, yeah.
OK. When we lived there in the long house, sometimes Ruby would come, and she would be there with Jackie before Charlie ever got there. And then when, when Charlie got ready to leave, he'd take Ruby with him, and we kept Jackie there, see. And Jackie was accustomed to it. He'd just as soon stay at our house because a bunch of kids to play with, you know. But, just...
And so then, then Ruby and, and Charles would go off, and they'd be protected some place?
Yes, or, I remember one particular time, or I don't know where Dad, Dad had made the arrangements for them to stay somewhere, and these people were gone, but he had made the arrangements because Dad had to drive ahead of him and show him where to go. I recall that, but that's all I remember about that. I mean, I wasn't made aware of it, it isn't a matter of remembering, it's just I wasn't made aware of it. At one particular—
You know, we're just going to run out of film. You are like--
—and people are lined up with tin cups to get soup.
What, can you tell me a bit about how your own family got by during the Depression?
During the Depression?
Yeah. What, what was your mom doing, what was your dad doing?
OK. My dad was working for, I'll have to say the oil fields, because I don't recall that man's name now, but he worked an oil field related job. For one whole year he did not get paid a penny. But my mother was a good seamstress, and she sewed for a lady who lived across the street and up a little ways. Their name I believe was Naphy. I think they were Syrian people, because she made this real thin bread where they do it like this [gestures], you know. And I always wanted to be there when she made the bread. Well, her husband is the one who had the grocery store that I took the list to. And mother sewed in exchange for groceries. And I don't recall where she got fabric, but she made our clothes, she made our dresses and everything. She's a good seamstress. And while we lived in this little house there in Boynton, there was an elderly gentleman lived behind us, a feeble old man. I'll have to put feeble, I'm not sure his age. But he lived in a little smaller house behind us, and he had a milk cow, and he was unable to milk this cow. So mother, having been raised out on an acreage, she knew how to milk a cow. She milked the cow, she shared the milk with him, and the family got the rest of it. And every time she prepared a meal, she took food to him or sent me or sent my older brother down there with a plate of food for him. My mother was always the sharing kind. And then I had a cousin who lived out at the edge of town, and they had blackberries, and this cousin would make blackberry jelly and jams, and she kept up furnished in that, and plum, you know. So, OK, we had lots of biscuits and gravy and jellies and jams and didn't even know we were poor. [laughs]
So was the way a lot of people did, do you think, families pulling together?
[production discussion][wild audio]
Yes, yes. It was families, it was families, families pulling together.
So, I was just going to ask you, did, did people's families and people share and trade a lot? Is that how you saw people getting by?
That's exactly right. And during the winter time - talking about Depression, OK - we had shoes, but I recall I wore tennis shoes to school. Now, they were not the little loafers, they were the lace-up shoes. And in school, we had the big heaters, steam heaters, or whatever they were. And I, I would walk to school, which was about two blocks, and in the snow with my tennis shoes on. Then I'd take my shoes off, put them up on the heater, and mine weren't the only ones there, everybody dried their shoes. I walked back at lunch time, and this was repeated all the time. So a lot of people were in that position. But in 1930, when we were in the Haskell area and Charlie came there, he gave, you know, with they money that we'd get, I could buy shoes, and they were a dollar and a half a pair. And that was the nicest shoes you could buy, you know. And so he helped our family a lot, but we weren't the only family. There's numerous people that, you could go all over Oklahoma and they'd say, "Yeah, Charlie came by our house and he brought so-and-so, or he gave us money for groceries," and so
he really didn't spend all that money that he robbed. To him, I think it began to be a game in the beginning, and then it got more serious, you know.
** One particular story - when we lived in Haskell, would've been just before, not immediately, but a year or two before he went to Ohio where he was killed - he was lying on his bed and had his machine gun beside him and was asleep. And he was lying on top of the covers. And he had a bullet in his ankle, his ankle was kind of swollen. Mother'd been putting something on it, and she did call the doctor. Our doctor came out and saw after him. The details on that I don't recall, but he was lying on the bed, and I just wanted to touch that gun so bad, and I reached over, and just put, barely put my fingers on it, and he shot up like a target, I mean, a bullet. And he said, "Dink, don't ever do that when Uncle Charlie's asleep. You wait. When we go down to the farm," - my dad owned a farm down by McAlester - "When we go down to the farm, I'll let you shoot that gun, but we'll have to hold it for you." And I did. I got to shoot that machine gun. But those were just little stories, you know, between. But he was...
Why do you think, why do you think he became a bank robber?
Well, he wanted some money because Ruby was dating an Indian guy, and he wanted Ruby. He didn't want Ruby to marry this Indian guy, you know. He, he wanted her, to marry her himself.
Had he had a hard time making money working? Had he tried? Do you have any stories about that?
No, I really don't. And, and I'm sure I've heard them. I'm sure my dad, you know, has told them. In fact, I remember them talking about it, but I don't recall, even after, in my older age, because by then he was gone. It was old hat, and I didn't register a lot of this stuff. My mind was already preoccupied with other things.
Did he think, did you ever think of him as a kind of a Robin Hood? Did you ever think about him that way?
Not really, but he was, in a way. He, in sense, he was. I can tell you one thing, he loved his family and he loved Jackie, and that was the height of his glory was to get to come there. That, and baking apple pies. One story about the apple pie thing. When we lived in the long shotgun house, on the end where they built this room on, and, and they had a canvas cover around it like a covered back porch, they had, that was the kitchen. And Charlie was out there and making pies, you know, and everything, and he made a pie for my sister to take to the pie supper. Now I went to the pie supper, but he made the pie for her to take to the pie supper, an apple pie. And, and it, and another time Charlie was there, and he had just left. That was the time I saw the lights going down the street. And there's a guy that lives over here at Bixby, a cousin of mine, Tom and Jess, Tom is the lady we'd nicknamed, but he looked so much to me like Charlie when he was young, and he was there with his wife. And so was Jackie there, but Ruby wasn't there. She had left with Charlie. And he heard someone out in the kitchen, Cannon did, Sheriff Cannon, went back to the kitchen, and it was Jess Hargrave popping popcorn. And he just knew he had caught Charlie. But there are lots of little stories like that as they come to mind.
Did you - something that you mentioned and I know - read about in, in Mike Wallis's book, too, was that Ruby and Dempsey sometimes went to theaters and spoke about Pretty Boy Floyd. Did you ever see that?
Yes. Oh yes.
What was that like? What, what'd they do?
Well, she was advocating - well, they had been in Dallas, I believe it was, and Jackie had been baptized there, or whatever, and they, when they came to our home there in the Haskell area, she went over to Muskogee, in the theater, and gave this talk, you know, about how we should do this and that and everything, you know. And then Jackie had his little spiel and, you know, a kid like, I was, what, like thirteen or fourteen or something, I don't remember right off hand, young girl, that, you know, it was just more fun to see everything else going on than to pay attention to that. But my brother's wife - if she hasn't destroyed it, and I've promised it to Mike if I can get my hands on it - has a poster that was in that theater over there. Now, I remember Jackie being all dressed up in the little white suit and, you know, everything, and they were talking to the crowd about - but do you know how I got to Muskogee? Charlie took me.
So, do you, would they talk about crime and him being a bank robber? What kinds of things would they say?
Yes. Yes. "Don't do it." You know. I mean, she was saying it isn't good. And I understand, and Jackie can tell you for sure, I just heard this over the family grapevine, that Dempsey, or Jackie, gave similar talks after he lived in the Frisco area.
So do you think it was a burden on the family that they were trying to, were they trying to...?
No, I think she was making money. I'm just going to be real honest. I think she was making money. And she was making money, but I remember the ride over there, I think that was the fastest ride I have ever been, I guess I would now like if I got on a space shuttle, you know, took off, because I thought that was the...and he just dropped me off at the theater.
That's great. I just wanted, I wanted to know if you—
OK, now, in a short version, can you tell me about how, how your mom wanted you to get these groceries for the family? What happened?
Oh, yes. Well, of course, he was in the house, and he'd come in a sat down, I didn't tell you this before, but he'd come in and sat down, and Mother served him biscuits and jelly and coffee. And they just got to talking about this, and
Mother said, "Well,
** they, this family out there really needs some help, you know, their kids don't even have shoes to go to school." And he said, "Well, why don't, let's get some groceries," or Mother said that. They agreed together they were going to get groceries, so they... Mother said, "Well Ruth knows the way."
** She had small children, you see. "Ruth knows the way, she can go with you." Now Mother trusted me to go with Charlie, see, even though he was a wanted person. So she knew that he would see that I was safe. And so she gave me, wrote me out a grocery list. And I didn't fill it. I took it in and asked the grocer, "Momma said fill this," you know.
"We want these groceries." He filled the thing, took it out to the car—
OK, so you tell me that story.
OK. Well, we lived there in Boynton, 1929. There was a family that lived out the edge of town whose, who didn't have enough money to buy shoes for the kids to go to school, and they had a boy my age. Well, Charlie came to the house, and he and mother decided between them that they needed to take some groceries out there and some money for those people, because they lived on a farm, and in the winter time, you know, farming back in Depression times, you know, they had practically nothing. And they had three or four children, I know. So mother gave me a little grocery list. And we go to the little grocery store around the corner from our house, I believe the name was Naphy, I think it was Naphy's Grocery. And this man knew that we knew Charlie. And mother sent the list in by me. I, I took the list, and just Charlie and I left and went to the store. And I took the list in, he filled it, put it in a basket, and carried it out to the car, tipped his hat to Charlie [gestures], and Charlie did the same to him. Charlie had the car running the whole time. He never shut the car down. And I'm sure it wasn't because it wasn't working mechanically. But anyway, we got in the car, and I showed Charlie how to go out there. We went out to the house, and it was one of these farm houses has a long porch, and you have to walk up a few steps to get to it, to get up to the porch. So Charlie carried the groceries and just set them. It was, I remember - can just see him today setting that basket upon that porch - so it was man height, you know, even with his arms, the porch was. And then he folded a bill in my hand, and he said, "Now, Dink, give, when you knock on the door," he said, "give this to the man, and tell him to buy his kids some shoes," his children, however he said. And I did. And the man thanked me, and I told him that mother sent him the groceries. And, and he thanked me and took them in that house, but I didn't go in. I stood at the door. And I remember saying "Hi" to one of the kids, but then I went on back to the car, because it was cold and you didn't want to just stand around. And I just piled into the front seat with Charlie and here went, he takes me back home. And...
So tell me some, now can you, thinking about those Depression times, tell me again how, how, how your family made it, what, what your mom and your dad...
Yeah. And of course she sewed, and for groceries from this same little grocery store.
Can you start again and say, "My mom" instead of "She," because [laughs]
OK. My mother sewed, was a good seamstress, and she sewed for this Mrs. Naphy who, who was the wife of the store owner where we bought groceries. And she exchanged that for groceries. And of course when the Depression really hit hard, we were already built up in clothes, you know, because Dad had had a pretty decent job, and we had plenty of clothes and different hand-me-downs, you know, the smaller children, and when you have seven girls, and the oldest child is a boy, then all the girls can hand-me-down, you know. It isn't like having a boy and girl and a boy and a girl. So we made it fine on the clothing, and then I had a cousin who lived at the edge of town, and she and her family all had blackberries and plums and things like that. And they, they weren't hurting for money, they were cattle raisers and probably rustlers, too, if the truth were known. He later became an owner of the Fort Smith stockyards, so he's very interested in cattle, all mother's brothers were. And she would make this jelly [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] and once in a while, when they'd butcher a hog, a pig, whatever you want to call it, they would bring over meats like that. And, of course, that really made the gravy a lot better, you know. But I recall one particular time - and I don't remember whether Dad was driving me or, well, yes - Dad was driving me to, and we saw a lot of people, you know, a lot of people, and my Dad told me that, "Ruth, one of these days, this town is going to have a riot." They later did. But another time, too, a little story that I remember, was walking home from school with a teacher and seeing people with cups, tin cups. Because, you, I can take you down there now, and from school to my house you didn't have to, but, but it was more convenient to walk through a portion of the town. And that's where they fed the hungry. I don't know whether it was an organization or whether just people got together, but, because people did feed anybody that came along hungry. My mother fed every bum that knocked at the door, even in Boynton, and even more so in 1930 and '31, when we were living in the Haskell area, which is real close to Boynton, you know. It's real close. But bums would come to the door, and she, she would invite them in, you know. There wasn't any AIDS to be afraid of, then, you know, or anything else, you know. And she would invite them in the, I don't...
So was just, charity was kind of on a one person basis?
Yes. Yes. We didn't have, if had, we had the Red Cross, and I'm sure they probably did some good, I don't know the extent of that, but I do know that it was neighbor-to-neighbor, and people-to-people. We, we lived in the country, in the Haskell area, in the 1930s, and even though you're not on a farm per se, you know, where you plow the field and raise things, my mother and dad always had a garden. And they were managers, and I just thank the good Lord in heaven, because my mother taught me how to manage. I may not have a lot, but I'm living, and, and you can't take a penny of it with you when you go. And she's taught me those things and said you can be anything you want to be if you want to be it bad enough. So—