What Ever Happened?

Shots from A Box Car Were Fatal to A Hutchinson Man 

Wellington, Kas., June 2 - John P. Cates, depot master, and yard watchman here for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, was shot and killed early this morning in the division yards. The bullet came from the top of a boxcar. Cates was making his usual round shortly after midnight when he was surprised by a shot, which he returned. Six shots were exchanged and Cates received two wounds, one in the arm and the other grazing his heart. 

When a friend reached him and asked who did it, he said, "there were three or four of them," then became unconscious. He died about twenty minutes after reaching home. Two men were arrested near the yards and are in jail but are not believed to be implicated. The car from which the shooting was done came from the West last night. Clothes hangers thrown away near the car and wire for making them which was found today on top of the car lead the officers to believe some peddler did the shooting. 

The murdered man who came here from Guthrie two years ago leaves a widow and four children. (Kansas City Star, June 2, 1911, page 1).

One tendency of old newspapers was the tendency to often ignore followup stories about headlines they had created earlier.  


WELLINGTON, KS., Nov. 22---Last evening, Levi Meeker, his wife and 8-year-old daughter were found dead on the Southern Kansas railroad track by his son. It is supposed they were struck while crossing the track in a wagon by a passenger train.(reported in the Wisconsin State Journal ~ November 23, 1888). 

In my book, WHEN DEATH RODE THE RAILS: STRANGE DEATHS IN OKLAHOMA, 1900-1920, I explored cases like this. I had found some suspicious cases in northern Texas and theorized there might be more in surrounding states.

Exactly how did a steam locomotive - stealthy they were not - sneak up to kill this family? No one on the wagon (pulled by one or more horses, walking or at most trotting) was aware of the oncoming train? None could hold the team and run it across the tracks in time?   One source indicates express passenger trains on that line were to travel at between 25-35 and mail trains 15 mph.     Were they, like some in Oklahoma, killed and then placed there to cover the crime? Are there similar deaths along that particular line?



Oklahoma, with its vast vistas of sky and distant blue horizons, has long attracted those who love aviation.

In August 1909, in Belle Isle Park, a balloonist rose several hundred feet to parachute out to the awe-struck crowd below.

Pearl Carter, the nation's youngest female pilot, who was inspired by Wiley Post and was flying when she was 12.  A recent movie by the Chickasaw Nation and Media 13 chronicles the exciting story.


Photo from U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
(Public Domain)
On a sunny April morning in 1995, the worst terrorist act on US Soil occurred with the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  It would hold that uneasy crown until another sunny morning in September of 2001 in New York, Washington D.C. and a lonely field in Pennsylvania.    Since federal agencies were victims in OKC, the government agencies swept in and removed all the security tapes of this historic and deadly event.  These were crucial as evidence and as history.  These types of artifacts are safeguarded, preserved, and archived for legal studies and historic research.

Apparently not.   According to a story  about  a legal request for the tapes, it was made known that the tapes and other documents were deemed unimportant to even index and represented a burden for government employees to search.

This is unfortunate as it would lay to rest - finally and completely - if the videos were found, and could show clearly that McVeigh was alone.   At least three individuals testified in September of 1995 that they saw McVeigh with not just one person (the famed 'John Doe', but another man as well) ("Witnesses Say McVeigh Not Alone." Daily Oklahoman, Sept, 2, 1995, pg. 42).  

All of this - inevitably, clear as day, obviously - unites to make so strange the decision of the ATF to not test whether the truck bomb had the power to produce the devastation of the bombing as one of the most illogical decisions ever.  ("ATF Calls Off Plan to Test Truck Bomb" Daily Oklahoman, Sept, 11, 1995, pg. 11).  Let's see, we can show that  this bomb could do that much damage, but we won't need that evidence.   

Just like the strange decision to decide that the historic and valuable tapes and files of the investigation of the worst man-made disaster on US soil were not important enough to be cataloged or located.  After all, no body will ever want to access that stuff now will they?

The MSNBC program 'THE MCVEIGH TAPES' is another clear way  to not instigate a historical mystery.

This documentary purports to provide McVeighs own words and does allow some of his own words to be heard.  Instead it largely brings cherry picked snippets with talking heads filling in and explaining how McVeigh's growing anger was focused and his wrath was directed.

Yet, you never hear McVeigh actually saying saying any of those things the talking heads insist he said or meant or felt.  He is never shown ranting, never growing angry, or acting crazed (insert image image of an interview with Charles Manson for contrast).

So to create a lasting historical mystery do three simple things:

-Lose, destroy or minimize evidence
-Refuse to search for and preserve all evidence for future research and study
-Put words and inflections in the mouth of a historic figure.

Although, officially closed in 2006, with such slip-shod record keeping and unanswered questions, it will remain a riddle in search of an solution.


When the federal building in Oklahoma City exploded in April 1995, it was a shock that rippled at sonic speed across the psyche of the country.  How? Why? were the unanswerable questions on everyone's lips.

Something, however, was stirring in the country in the years before this horrible disaster.  The 'Unabomber' was on the news radar as well.

  • In August 1991, teens apparently for a lark used a pipe bomb to blow up a portable toilet at a construction site in the elite Nichols Hills area of OKC.
  • In December of 1991 an OKC man was arrested in a pipe bomb case.
  • In February 1991, six pipe bombs were found on two chemical tanks in Virginia close to one of the major naval bases of the east coast (Daily Oklahoma, Feb.5, 1991, pg. 45).  
  • On October 1992, three bombs went off in two north central Oklahoma communities within minutes of each other, according to a story by Daily Oklahoman reporter Michael McNutt.  Pipe bombs exploded in two Enid government offices and one in an elementary school in  nearby Stillwater (about 25 miles south of Perry, Oklahoma where McVeigh would be found after the bombing), and home of Oklahoma State University.   All exploded with minimal damage.   Another discarded bomb - a thermos type container filled with gun powder - was found in a field  8 miles SW of Waukomis, Oklahoma (Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 28, 1992, pg. 108-09).
  • In January of 1993, a pipe bomb was found in a movie theater in Dallas, Texas.
  • In August 1993, Edmond teens were arrested for making pipe bombs.
  • In February 1994, Adair High School in Tulsa, OK was temporarily closed following a pipe bomb incident.
  • In March 1995, a pipe bomb was reported in Broken Arrow.
  • In June 1994, pipe bombs were found in the OKC Jail!



A little girl in Wellington, Kansas in the early 1960's and her first visit to the historic Antlers Hotel:

I was waiting eagerly to be old enough to go to Kindergarten when the photographer came to town and set up shop on the 4th floor of the old turn-of-the century hotel on a corner downtown. It was an elegant old Victorian hotel named, I was told, for the huge rack of antlers over the registration desk. I was so excited as we walked down the sidewalk past the shops and the magic of so much going on. Cars glided by, trucks rattled to a stop at the blinking lights, and people hurried past us on their way to their own adventures.

Climbing the front steps and entering the lobby was awe inspiring. Everywhere was the shimmer of old, polished wood. There was an exotic feel to the place with the old Persian rugs, the leather furniture, the wood railing leading upstairs. There was an aroma of pipe tobacco, perfume and beeswax used to give the wood that sturdy shine.  Strange people milled all about, mostly men reading newspapers, but a few women carrying shoppng bags from the department stores downtown.

Whispered comments had mother giving me sparse definitions of new terms like "salesmen", "bachelors", and "travelers".

We climbed the thickly carpeted stairs until we reached the desired floor. I had never seen such a long hallway before. It seemed to stretch forever. On each side were doors with shiny brass numbers. Hurrying down the hall, we did not want to miss the appointment, mother knocked on one of the strange and mysterious doors.

A man, gently stooped with a kind smile, ushered us into the room. It was a bedroom, I realized, even as I noted the man had set up a big screen to hide the bed and all around were cameras, lights, and strange bits and pieces of photographic equipment. The adults talked  about the photos and other small talk - just what I could not say.

I was soon being placed on a leather covered stool, told to look here, smile now, and pose this way and that. My mother looked through the camera, smiled, and nodded at the man's comments. Then the adults talked the business of payments and mailing the photos and other details of no concern to me. 

I was too interested in the little stool that spun around and around....

Settled on the stool, now still, the man made last minute lighting adjustments and then took several pictures of me in my blue gingham dress with my still toddler blonde hair falling to my shoulders and we left shortly after that. I skipped down the hall with a lollipop and my mother clutching a receipt for the promised image.

The hotel closed, the schools brought in photographers, and things changed all over. Sometimes, though, I do remember that soft spring day in my pretty dress walking down a sun washed hallway heading to an adventure, and had I known it, a fading bit of Americana

-- Marilyn A. Hudson

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