Steve Owens

Interesting Local Characters, News Events

This article was originally published at I Remember JFK: A Boomer’s Pleasant Reminiscing Spot in 2007. I’m recycling it here because it’s appropriate for Miami History. –the webmaster

Growing up in small-town America Miami, Oklahoma in the 60’s was a rich experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was wonderful living in a community where everyone knew who you were, where you could go anywhere you wanted as long as you were home for supper, and where civic pride was tangibly real.

The city’s pride swelled to the breaking point in 1969, the year hometown boy Steve Owens won the Heisman Trophy.

Steve Owens Day celebration, December 8, 1969. Click to enlarge

Owens was a kid that, of course, everyone in town knew. I never met the man myself, but his brother (named Bill, I believe) lived on my street, and Steve’s nephew Tony, who was my age, was a familiar face in the neighborhood gang. And my schoolteacher mom was quite proud of the fact that Steve was one of her students.

I’ve always stated that Miami was Steve’s home town, but I stand corrected. He was actually born in Gore, Oklahoma, and moved to Miami at an early age. While he was a young kid, OU was in the process of compiling an incredible 47 game winning streak. Any football-inclined youngster in Oklahoma dreamed of playing for the Sooners, and Steve was no exception.

In high school, Steve shined for the Wardogs. He averaged 7.2 yards per rush and gained over 4,000 yards in his four years. He caught recruiters’ attention, and happily signed for his favorite school.

But the coaches weren’t sure what to do with him. Owens was a bit of a paradox. He was a track star who was quite speedy, but he looked slow on the field. The Sooners considered making him a tight end. But in the end, they played him at running back his freshman season.

He didn’t play much, and didn’t dazzle when he did. But the next year, he ran for 813 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also scored a TD in OU’s Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Steve Owens Day article, December 9, 1969. Click to Enlarge

In his junior year, he gained 1,536 yards and started getting attention from the press. That year, O.J. Simpson blew away everyone else for the Heisman, but he called Owens and predicted he would win it the next year.

Owens shined in 1969. His team had problems, though, and lost four games. But Steve began putting together a string of 100-yard games the previous year that continued into his senior season. Once, during a shellacking of Colorado, Owens wanted to let up on the hapless Buffaloes. He was reported to have said “Let’s just fall on the ball and forget this 100-yard stuff. It’s not that important.” Offensive guard Bill Effstrom’s response to him was “It might not be important to you, but it’s sure important to us.”

Owens ran hard and picked up 112 yards. He ended up with 17 straight 100 yard games, a record that still stands.

When Owens won the Heisman that year, a small town became ecstatic. Unfortunately, I had moved away by then, so I missed out on the fun. But I was pleased to drive down Steve Owens Boulevard during a visit there a few years ago.

Nowadays, Owens is CEO at a big insurance agency in Oklahoma City. Life turned out well for the gentleman, I’m happy to say. So here’s to a small town boy who made good, and gave perennial bragging rights to everyone from Miami, Oklahoma.

Steve Owens in a Detroit Lions uniform, 1970

The Year Without a Fair

News Events

1957 was a wetter-than-normal year. The abundance of moisture contributed to a virulent outbreak of a scourge which caused half of Ottawa county to be quarantined, and which also caused the cancellation of the 1957 county fair.

Anthrax outbreak in Welch, July 22, 1957

The first indicator of trouble was an outbreak in Welch.

No anthrax in Ottawa county, says county agent. July 25, 1957

Local farmers were justifiably concerned, but the county agent assured them that “all is well!” just like the ROTC officer in Animal House. However, cases soon started appearing in western Ottawa county, and on August 2, this story was across the front page:

Anthrax quarantine in effect, August 2, 1957. Click to enlarge.

Dairy farmers were also affected by the quarantine.

Milk trucks stopped during 1957 anthrax quarantine. August 4.

The quarantine area missed most of Miami itself, but it did get as close as the fairgrounds. Therefore, a decision was made to cancel the fair and horse races.

1957 Ottawa county fair canceled due to anthrax quarantine

As the article points out, this was the only non-war cancellation of the event since it began in 1916.

By mid September, the epidemic had played itself out. About 1,000 head of livestock were lost in Craig, Mayes, and Ottawa counties. Most quarantines were lifted by September 17, although some farms remained isolated for several more weeks until every trace of infection was gone.

Thus ended a year made sadly unforgettable by those who remember it. And when terrorists attempted to release anthrax spores in 2001, some terrible memories must have been rekindled.

Bonnie and Clyde Invade Miami

Interesting Local Characters, News Events

Miami was no stranger to armed holdups in the 30’s. The newspaper has lots of accounts of grocery stores and gas stations being robbed at gunpoint during that decade. But one notorious outlaw caused havoc in Miami and more in nearby Commerce on a Friday in 1934.

Cyde Barrow and Pretty Boy Floyd involved in Joplin killings, April 19, 1933

The article above gives an account of 1933 killings of police officers in Springfield and Joplin, and Clyde Barrow’s involvement. Joplin was just 30 miles up Route 66 from Miami.

Clyde Barrow’s car found near Miami, December 7, 1933

According to gang member W.D. Jones, Camp Welcome, south of the fairgrounds, was a frequent stopping place. In December, 1933, hunters discovered a bullet-ridden car close to the Neosho River northwest of town which was identified as Barrow’s. A manhunt turned up empty, he got wind of the search and just managed to escape.

Trap set for Clyde Barrow in NE Oklahoma, April 2, 1934

On April 1, 1934, Barrow and his gang shot and killed two Texas state troopers near Grapevine, and headed to Miami. The article above tells how local cops got a tip saying that they were headed up here, and had a trap set. Evidently, they were confident that Barrow didn’t read the newspaper.

April 5, 1934 front page of the Miami News-Record detailing manhunt for Clyde Barrow. Click to enlarge.

On April 5, Barrow showed up, and the trap was sprung. Barrow took off like a rocket in his V8-powered sedan, but got stuck in the mud in Commerce. A gun battle ensued, and constable Cal Campbell was killed. Percy Boyd, Commerce police chief, was taken hostage and later released unharmed.

This article in the Miami News-Record recalls how a Commerce family witnessed the shooting, and how a young son found bullet casings and silverware with “BP” engraved on them after the fact. Here’s another good source of information, and proof that tripod.com sites still survive.

Bonnie and Clyde killed, May 23, 1934. Click to enlarge.

On May 23, 1934, the law caught up with Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana. Thus ended the lives of two cold-blooded killers who had somehow become cult heroes.

In 1967, my brother took me to see Bonnie and Clyde at the Coleman. I was one of the coolest kids in class, one of a few who managed to see the adult-oriented film (thanks, Bill!). I am impressed that Miami had such a connection to the gun-toting duo, even though I was unaware of it at the time.

Miami district judge J.J. Smith provided details of Bonnie and Clyde’s Louisiana ambush for the 1967 film. Article dated May 12, 1968. Click to enlarge.

Many folks in Miami had personal remembrances of Bonnie and Clyde when the movie came out, but none more so than district judge and Miami resident J.J. Smith, who served as the defense attorney for Henry Methvin, the man tried and convicted for killing the Commerce constable. Incidentally, Methvin and W.D. Jones provided the inspiration for C.W. Moss in the movie.

So the next time you think about Bonnie and Clyde, remember that they had more than one brush with Miami and the nearby area.