Continuing our series of Texas crime fiction writers on their home state, we next have a piece from Noir At The Bar cohort Jesse Sublett. In his piece Jesse looks at how Texas legend, history and violence shapes our state’s art and culture.
Jesse will be at tonight’s Noir at the Bar – this Thursday, May 12th, at our new home at Threadgills downtown. Jesse is joined by Con Lehane, Jordan Harper, and Les Edgerton. Each author’s latest title will be available for sale at the event. Readings begin at 7 PM. Booze, books, and bars – what’s not to love?
–Guest Post by Jesse Sublett
When I was researching 1960s Austin Gangsters, I visited many Texas landmarks that had been devastated by greed and avarice over the past several centuries. Gun-toting thugs, pimps, petty thieves, and wisecracking roughnecks were not the ones who devastated these places. The culprits were corporations, land barons, bankers, and other would-be empire builders.
Take the upper Panhandle town of Mobeetie, for example. Texian settlers came through in the early 1800s and began killing off the nomadic Plains tribes. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it proved more efficient to kill off the buffalo herds on which the Plains Indians were so dependent for their lifestyle and culture. During that time, also known as the Buffalo Wars, the town of Mobeetie became a thriving city, an economic crossroads. After the bison herds had been slaughtered, the land barons moved into the Panhandle and West Texas and ran cattle for a couple of decades. After beef industry took a steep dive in the late 1800s, the landowners subdivided and town-promoted. After Spindletop, there were oil boom towns. They erupted across the state like festering blisters, places as crazy, cash-drenched, and vice-ridden as any Wild West movie you can imagine. Most of those boom towns are gone now.
“After Spindletop, there were oil boom towns. They erupted across the state like festering blisters, places as crazy, cash-drenched, and vice-ridden as any Wild West movie you can imagine.”
Today Mobeetie (which is more or less the same as New Mobeetie, just around the bend… long story…) is a stark, lonely little outpost of 200 or so people. Not much to look at and far less to do there. The population is unchanged since the Overton Gang came through in the spring of 1966 on a bank-burglary spree. Around one a.m. on the night of March 17, gunfire interrupted (the deputy shot out the tires of their getaway Cadillac parked on the road to the dump) the work of quintet of characters at the First State Bank and they scattered across the snow-dusted plains in all four directions. The ensuing fugitive manhunt for them encompassed thousands of square of miles of the shockingly empty landscape. Hundreds pitched in: deputies, rangers, G-men, and volunteers. They spread out on foot, in cars, on horseback, in airplanes, in helicopters, trailing bloodhounds. By the end of the week, all five were in jail.
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