And Satan Came Also

by Albert McRill


A greater threat to a peaceful, civilized community than the outlaw bands that terrorized, plundered, and killed was Oklahoma City’s arrogant underworld, with its gamblers, prostitutes, and hordes of toughs, who swarmed about the unregulated saloons and dives, flourishing and ruling almost at their pleasure. Because of a tie-up of politics and business with the underworld, the task of crushing this threat was to be a never-ending crusade in Oklahoma City. Influential businessmen and newspapers not only defended but actually fought for a wide-open town, while big-time gamblers, haughty madams, and arrogant saloon-keepers told politicians and public officials what to do and when to do it.

Frank McMaster, erudite editor of the Gazette, who had seen the devil at his best on Biler Avenue in Chicago and on Coon Row in godless Leadville, spoke with authority when he gave this picture of Bunco Alley in 1889:

Grand Avenue, between Broadway and Front Street, has been the camping ground of the tough element ever since April 22. In summer they spread out, but now congregate on chilly nights like a covey of quails in a snowstorm until the block of ground between Broadway and Front Street and Grand Avenue and California has become a bedlam of thieves, pimps, prostitutes, and pickpockets.

A pioneer Oklahoma City lawyer, Col. D. W. MacMartin, who represented the underworld when Hell’s Half Acre was in its prime, published a book in 1921, entitled Thirty Years of Hell, in which he painted this lurid picture of early-day Oklahoma City: [1]

Leaving the northern boundary of this coveted land, I landed a few hours after 12 o’clock upon the townsite of what is now Oklahoma City on this memorable day, and I mingled with the picturesque rush of settlers looking for land, a new home, and a rise in the world.This opening drew great shoals of people, so diverse that there was no rank or file.

The spectacular array included the Kansas Jayhawker, [2] the Arkansaw Reuben Glue, [3] shaking with the buck-ague, [4] the Missouri puke, [5] the Texas Ranger, the Illinois sucker, [6] et al. There were nesters, [7] horse thieves, train robbers, high-jackers, bank-raiders, yeggmen, [8] ragamuffins, and vagabonds, mule-skinners from Texas and Hi-Skinners from Bingville, [9] spellbinders from Kansas and Highbinders [10] from Missouri.

Joints where the besom of destruction was dispensed sprang up as if by invisible wand of some magic Circe, [11] together with gambling hells of mushroom growth. Honk-a-tonks and hurdy-gurdies of salacious flavor opened their flaunting doors wherein racy females with meretricious visages and libidinous ensembles dawdled about and initiated the novitiate in vice and separated him from diamonds and dollars, provided he had any.

No exception was made here as between the indiscriminate driftwood of western civilization. In fact, the wide-open element was in the saddle, and prepared to furnish dynamic thrills and throbs of any brand of frontier excitement the exacting visitor might demand. It was the effervescent moment, where everybody floated on the top that was foul, and where everything was free and easy. It was the home of mad excess with the lack of restraint. In fine, the tenderloin [12] was a real ‘Hell’s Half Acre,’ the ‘bad lands’ of the townsite.

Every important city has had its “Hell’s Half Acre.” Living up to its reputation for always doing things in a bigger way, Oklahoma City’s Hell’s Half Acre covered a whole city block. Shacks of Bunco Alley, [13] extending from Broadway and Grand to Front Street, were all disreputable dives and hangouts for tin-horn gamblers, harlots, and other outlaws. “Kid” Bannister was cock of the walk. “Big Anne” and Jean Lamonte, with lesser demi-mondes, also operated here until West Second Street was made the “official” red-light district. [14]

Around the corner was Front Street, extending down to “Alabaster Row” at California Avenue, the southern boundary of Hell’s Half Acre, a motley jumble of negro dives in plaster-board shacks, the rendezvous of notorious negro toughs.

As Alabaster Row tapered off into Broadway, the whites again took over, completing a block of dives on the west side of Broadway up to Bunco Alley, and thus defining the boundaries of Hell’s Half Acre.

But the vilest part of all the noxious regions was “Hop Boulevard,” the alley bisecting Hell’s Half Acre from Broadway to Front Street, just back of the Cottonwood de Bastile, where the notorious Southern Club was later built. Here was the home of the city’s worst resort, the “Red Onion,” presided over by Madam Daisy Clayton.

For years this infamous joint was on the City Council’s agenda for extermination. Once when irate citizens reappeared before the tenderhearted aldermen after a promise to pull up the “Red Onion” within 24 hours, a sheepish-looking alderman told his colleagues he had personally given Madam Clayton “a little more time” to dispose of her furniture, “so she could square up with a reputable businessman who had extended credit on the furniture.” [15]

Oklahoma City was also renowned for its “Battle Row”—Broadway extending north from Grand Avenue to Main Street. The picturesque west side really gave the street its name. Here were six buildings, five of which were saloons, with gambling dens either upstairs or in the basements. The orphan building was the rickety city hall, which was taken away from two saloon-keepers in a heated contest.

There were four saloons on the east side of the street, and directly across from the city hall was the plush-trimmed Vendome, [16] the swankiest bawdy-house in town. The quarters were luxurious, with handsome Brussels carpets and other attractive fittings. “A very high-toned joint of its class, with prices on the beebe scale,” [17] was the Daily Oklahoman’s terse description of the place.

The “spark-plug” of the Vendome was sportive, [18] known in police and sporting circles as “Sportive Lizzie.” [19] It was she who shot at a gambler one night and sent a houseful of customers tumbling down two flights of stairs. The next day the Oklahoman had this item:

Lizzie Long, the scarlet woman who shot at the gambler in the Vendome Saturday night was taken to El Reno on a forgery charge. She had filched some of her gentlemen friends out of several hundred dollars, and she can’t meet her friends at the Broadway shooting-gallery.

Wherever Lizzie may go, however, there will be something doing. Unlike Mary MacLane, the ennui-afflicted maid of Butte, the frolicsome Lizzie does not look upon this existence as an ‘empty damned nothingness.’ If things get monotonous Lizzie possesses sufficient ingenuity to do things and will create some excitement even if it be necessary to put dynamite on the stove. Liz is a humdinger.

All along Battle Row denizens of the saloons and gambling dens lived up to the traditional reputation of the wild west, with everybody aspiring to be a “bad man.” Often a hundred horses tethered on either side of the street pawed and snorted to the whistling of bullets, the cracking of heads, and the blatant carousing of a weltering, fighting mass of cowboys, liquor-soaked tramps, tin-horn gamblers, and excited city men, as all came tumbling out of a dozen saloons, shouting and smashing beer bottles over each other’s heads and engaging in a hilarious free-for-all celebration.

But wilder than Hell’s Half Acre, and a crime- center of the first magnitude, was “Big Anne” and her empire on West Second Street, a conglomerate red-light district, extending west from Hudson to the city limits, and fittingly called “Harlots’ Lane.” [20]

Shacks and cottages, with an occasional two-story frame, lined either side of the street, presenting as riotous and promiscuous a panorama of human derelicts as did old Basin Street of New Orleans in the days when Madam Lulu White entertained at Mahogany Hall.

Here in a rambling, weather-beaten shack, grotesquely patterned after the craft of the Deluge, was a turbulent mixture of bawds and toughs, of all shades, sizes, and shapes.

At the entrance of this play-boys’ retreat, just off Hudson, Etta Woods [21] and her popular “Creole girls” welcomed all who ventured down the primrose path. A little farther west was Nina Truelove’s wild harem. [22] Climaxing a drunken brawl at her place one night, two policemen, dodging beer bottles and stove-pokers “flying thick as hail,” dashed out the back door and into the arms of the chief of police.

“Je-jest lookin’ fer ye, Chief,” stammered one of the officers.

“Yeh? Well, I’se jest lookin’ fer ye, too,” roared the chief.

“And now,” he stormed, yanking off their badges, “ye’re both lookin’ fer new jobs. D’ye see?”

And the chief sauntered into Nina’s seraglio, possibly to see whether the show was worth all it cost the policemen.

Most exclusive of the notorious spots along the Lane was “The Arlington,”taking its name from Josie Arlington’s famous house in Storyville of New Orleans. This reserved palace of sin was presided over by Madam McDonald.

“I keep only one girl,” she unblushingly explained to the police. “My house is especially conducted to accommodate married ladies, who want to meet their gentlemen friends when their husbands are away from home, and for young men and women who may be out for a stroll in the evening and desire a secluded place where they will not be recognized.”

But one night a young couple was recognized, and this is the story printed the next day:

There is trouble brewing at a fashionable home on the north side. Last night the daughter of this house was brought home in a merry and rollicking mood, superinduced by her frequent libation from the wine cup. She was out a late hour with one of the boys, who was a shade more so, and they were unable to do the tight-rope act necessary in passing over a particularly narrow crossing, and a policeman found them wallowing in the mud. Willie, who happens to be a budding Blackstonian disciple, was conducted to police headquarters and made bond under a fictitious name, while the “sweet young thing” was taken home and is nursing a smart headache this morning and scudding before the storm of parental wrath.

Directly across the street from The Arlington was “Noah’s Ark,” the wildest of the wild dens on Second Street. Here in a rambling, weather-beaten shack, grotesquely patterned after the craft of the Deluge, was a turbulent mixture of bawds and toughs, of all shades, sizes, and shapes.

“Big Liz,” [23] a portly dark-skin, was in immediate command. Her first lieutenant was “Dude” Walker, [24] a white barnacle who came near sinking the ship when the police one afternoon carted Liz’s trunk to the station, opened it, and “Dude” popped out like a jack-in-the-box. “Big Liz” and “Dude” promised to leave town, but were back at the “Ark” when the lights went on that night. [25]

At the entrance of this play-boys’ retreat, just off Hudson, Etta Woods and her popular “Creole girls” welcomed all who ventured down the primrose path.

Towering above all the dens of iniquity was “Big Anne” and her bagnio near the end of the Lane—a combination dance hall, unlicensed bar, and bawdy-house.

“Big Anne,” whose true name was Mrs. Anne Wynn, was the brains of the half-world. And she was the most influential force in the city’s underworld, issuing orders to county and city authorities, laughing at enforcement officers, wrecking city administrations right and left, and snapping her fingers at the courts.

An attractive, militant blonde, of commanding size and presence, strong-willed, shrewd, a product of Colorado mining districts at their worst, she was a power in the vice and political domains of Oklahoma City almost from the time she pitched her tent on Front Street the day of the Opening.

Anne was born in Illinois in 1863, one of a family of 18. At 17 she and a girl companion traveled in a stagecoach to Leadville, Colorado, with a motley group—a lawyer, a merchant, a preacher, a gambler, and three girls from the half-world. Leadville was then at its peak of lawlessness, with violence and crime so common that the newspapers styled the period the “Reign of the Footpads.” [26]

In this environment, Anne lived and learned for seven years, operating a fashionable bagnio [27] on Main Street. A year before the Oklahoma Opening, a saloon-keeper husband cast her off, giving her a substantial sum of money. She came to Oklahoma City the day of the Run, bringing with her a new husband, a skinny, little man by the name of Wynn.

Schooled under a reign of lawlessness, where public officials did the bidding of the underworld, she well understood the mutual alliance of vice, politics, and crooked business.

As it was in Leadville and Denver City, she reasoned, so would it be in Oklahoma City. So well did she know the “pattern,” that she became in a short time so inextricably tied up with the city’s political world, that a period of almost 20 years of Oklahoma City’s politics may be appropriately styled the “Reign of Big Anne.”

The influence of “Big Anne” was not confined to the city’s underworld. She had important contacts in business and social circles of the city, as was strikingly shown whenever she ran afoul of the law. Big-shot civic leaders and politicians were ready at the drop of the hat to rush to court and make her bond.

In the business world she was extremely popular. When on the streets or in public places, she showed poise and dignity. There was no trace of the coarse, brazen, hard-boiled attitude she exemplified in her bawdy-house role. She dressed elegantly and in fashion. When she entered one of the city’s stores, her gracious manners, plus her fat wallet, completely covered up her many sins. Floor-walkers, clerks, proprietors—all bowed and scraped as before royalty. Assets mounting into thousands of dollars gave her a standing in financial circles that few legitimate businessmen had. And this popularity among substantial people had political significance outside the kingdom of vice.

Hell’s Half Acre, with its Bunco Alley, Alabaster Row, and the “Red Onion,” retreated before commercial progress, as did rioting Battle Row, the Southern Club, the legalized saloon, and “Big Anne” and her mighty empire. But Satan remained, still challenging the forces of decency to come forth and give battle.

Bootleg joints, honkytonks, beer taverns, gambling halls, nightclubs, teen-age banditry, outlawry in all its forms in Oklahoma City today, testify to the unabated prowess of the gargantuan monster who came early and has stayed late, continuing to play the leading role in an intriguing drama, interspersed with low comedy and high tragedy.

1. MacMartin, whose initials were actually D. F. (Daniel Frederick), was an itinerant lawyer from Canada and wrote a genre-shaping autobiography of a globe-trotting addict in search of a fix. In addition to the original text, for a thorough description of MacMartin and his book see Zieger 2008, p. 51–60.

2. Now a generic nickname for any Kansan, the Jayhawkers were irregular soldiers in support of the free-state cause during the “Bleeding Kansas” era. A contemporary slang dictionary said, “The jayhawker was a guerilla by nature, a thief by practice, and often a murderer and pillager.”

3.Reuben Glue was originally a comedic characterization of a New England hick, but later became a more generic term and later shortened to “rube” as a description of any naive small-towner out of his element.

4. Buck-ague: a hunter’s incapacitating nervous excitement at the sight of big game in his vicinity.

5. While puke was used as a term to describe a disgusting person in the early 1800s, its origin in reference to Missourians is still as mysterious as the Indiana Hoosier. It was likely bestowed by rival Illinoisans but became so common that almanacs from the late 1800s list The Puke State as an acceptable nickname for Missouri.

6. As with “puke,” this was likely a term applied by neighboring states. Though officially a mystery, the generally accepted meaning of sucker is that Missourians used it to describe southern Illinoisans who migrated up and down the Mississippi river—just like the native fish named the sucker—to work in the lead mines of Galena.

7. A derogatory term for a farmer who settles in a cattle raising region. See also Rodgers, The Farmer and the Cowman.

8. A 1904 edition of the American Dialect Society’s Dialect Notes attempts to catalog the term and defines a “yegg” as a criminal beggar. However, they place the origin of the term with Swedish tramp and safecracker John Yegg and it is the safecracking rather than the begging that came to define the term later. See also the 1947 Looney Tunes short “Easter Yeggs.”

9. The hyphen in this term makes it of uncertain origin, however, it may be in reference to Hi-Skinner, a country rube character in the comic opera Little Dollie Dimples. Bingville was a generic early 1900s term for a small town, like the contemporary Podunk.

10. Highbinder originally referred to a member of a notorious early 1800s criminal gang in New York City, but evolved over the century to mean any rough urban character, and finally a corrupt politician. The latter is likely MacMartin’s intended meaning in reference to Missouri.

11. A minor Greek goddess known for enchantment who transformed those who drank from her cup into swine.

12. This term originated in New York where the entertainment district—and the large amounts of pay-offs to police paid by illegitimate houses—was dubbed the tenderloin district because it was the “juiciest” part of the city in terms of graft.

13. Bunco was a monte-type card swindle and the term came to mean swindle in general.

14. Prostitution was not legal in Oklahoma Territory, and thus in Oklahoma City, but following urban patterns in place around the country at the time, it was tolerated by city government.

15. McRill states in his introductory remarks that “this book is not a Chamber of Commerce brochure.” Most readers would take that at face value as the enticement that it is. However, McRill salts his text with jabs at the Chamber and all “reputable businessmen” like any good Populist. In the Populist cosmology, the businessman who sold out morality for profit was much closer to damnation than the common hustler or streetwalker.

16. The name Vendome was commonly used in the era to suggest opulence (much like “Ritz” is used today), the two most famous examples being the original Place Vendome in Paris and the Vendome Hotel in Boston.

17. The Oklahoman writer may be referring to a term variously spelled “beebee” or “bibi” and borrowed from Hindi via the British for a dignified lady. However, in late 1880s America it had come into slang use as a term for a prostitute.

18. Though the name is common and prostitutes were infamous for “rolling” male companions, this may be the same prostitute named Lizzie Long mentioned in an 1890 St. Louis paper as having been a notorious pilferer of unwary men unlucky enough to be in her company.

19. The term “sporting” appears frequently in McRill’s text and, though it is out of use today as meaning any thing other than fair play, in the 19th century it had a variety of meanings mainly in reference to men and women who enjoyed uninhibited forms of entertainment. Sporting men were often gamblers, while sporting women were often prostitutes. As often happens with indirect language, however, the degree of euphemism was mutable and a “sporting gal” in the 1890s may not have necessarily been a prostitute, but may have been what the 1920s would have called a flapper and today we might term a party girl.

20. Brothels were not included in city directories of the time, however the 1900 Federal Census records Annie Wynn and nine other prostitutes at 422 West 2nd. Next door at 406 was a four-girl brothel. McRill’s description of Second Street notwithstanding, other residents in that block include two doctors, an optician, and a Presbyterian minister.

21. Woods was variously recorded as “colored,” “mulatto,” or “Indian” in census and directory information. She was born in Tennessee in the mid-1870s and remained at 409 West 2nd well into the 1920s before moving to 511 South Broadway. In the 1910s she moved into narcotics trafficking until going away on a federal rap in 1934.

22. In 1900, Truelove worked in a five-girl house at 413 West 2nd. By 1905 she had moved on to Ardmore where she beat a murder rap for the killing of cabbie Will King.

23. “Big Liz” was the alias of Mary Belle Everhardt (she also used the alias Evans) who, the Oklahoman reported, “tipped the beam at 370 pounds.”

24. Several news accounts also record Big Liz’s white male accomplice as Charles D. Fowler.

25. This story was recounted in the Daily Oklahoman under the headline “MAN IN A TRUNK” from 29 March 1905 featuring Big Liz and Charles D. Fowler in the trunk. Whether it was the same story McRill retells with different facts or a recycled sensationalist piece is unclear.

26. Footpad was a British term for a highwayman or robber.

27. Yet another term for a brothel, this one derived from the Latin word for bath.

© 1955 Albert McRill. Revised edition © Larry Johnson and Full Circle Press. Published in This Land, Vol. 4 Issue 22. Nov. 15, 2013.