Archive Monthly Archives: July 2020

Sessums’ History Snippets: The Texas Rangers

I had the basic mystery story set in my mind for The Case of The Texas Ranger even before I decided it would feature an old Texas Ranger. Sometimes inspiration takes us by surprise!

Most of us from the Lone Star state grew up revering the prestige of the great Texas Rangers.  My husband worked with some of them during his time as an arson and fraud investigator early in his career.  I got the idea for Templeton Gorham partly from watching the Netflix movie The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.)  The movie chronicles the tracking down of Bonnie and Clyde in the late thirties.

After watching the movie, I was interested to know more about Frank Hamer, the ranger credited with their killing, so I found a book called Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man who Killed Bonnie and Clyde.  The book was a fascinating study of the man from his youth to his death.  What was most interesting to me was the fact that Hamer was known for his protection of blacks against lynching. The book is full of tales of his efforts to stand between violent mobs and prisoners in his custody.  Later, he also fought continuously against the KKK and their rackets to control cities and counties.

In the early 1900s, Hamer befriended a young son of an ex-slave and sharecropper.  Mance Lipscomb went on later in life to become a renowned blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, but he often talked about his early life following him around Navasota, Texas.  He spoke highly of Hamer saying, “He wad’n no piece a man, he was a whole man.”   The character Alonzo was inspired by Mance Lipscomb.

Be sure to preorder the upcoming The Case of the Texas Ranger and head over to my Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page to enter the GIVEAWAY!

Sessums History Snippet: The New London Explosion:

The upcoming JD Pierson mystery, The Case of the Texas Ranger starts with a tragedy in East Texas when a school building explodes in the small town of New London, about 25 miles west of Tyler, Texas.

The story of the New London School explosion is true, though the characters I’ve created in reference to the terrible tragedy are all fictional.  The school district of New London was one of the wealthiest, even though the Depression was raging.  The oil boom in that part of Texas boosted local revenue, and in 1932, the school was built at a cost of $1 million or about $18 million today.

Despite urgings from the architects, the school district decided to install gas heaters in the building instead of a boiler.  Then, in 1937, the district terminated its natural gas contract and decided to tap directly into Parade Gas Company’s residue gas lines.  This wasn’t unusual in the area, and because the gas was considered to be a byproduct that was simply flared off by the company, they simply overlooked the practice. 

On that fateful day, a Thursday, students in grades first through fourth had left the school early.  Reports differ, but there were approximately 500 students at the school when an instructor turned on an electric sander, thereby sparking the explosion.  Witnesses reported that the walls bulged and the roof lifted up before falling back down.

Help poured into East Texas from all around, and Tyler’s own Mother Francis Hospital did indeed open their doors early to treat the injured children and adults.  Of the 500 or so persons in the building, only about 130 walked away without serious injury.  Estimates of the dead go as high as 319.

The story of the New London catastrophe was reported all over the world, and one of those reporters was a very young Walter Cronkite.  This was one of his first assignments, and he later is quoted as saying, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”

The cause of the catastrophe was found to be a leak in the connection to the gas pipeline that allowed the fuel to build up throughout the building without notice since it was odorless and colorless.  Later, and in part because of this tragedy, an additive was put in natural gas so that leaks could be discovered quicker. If you’re ever in East Texas, there is a little museum dedicated to the tragedy.  I’m told that until not long ago, one of the children who survived the event served as a docent and gave her own first-person accounts of the experience.  You can also see their website which includes some haunting personal accountings from the time.

Photo from the New London Museum site.

Be sure to preorder the upcoming The Case of the Texas Ranger and head over to my Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page to enter the GIVEAWAY!

Get your first look at The Case of the Texas Ranger!

Howdy! The Case of the Texas Ranger is still getting its final round of edits, but here is an “unedited” teaser for you. Enjoy then be sure to preorder your copy do you get it as soon as it releases in a few weeks.

The house was mostly dark, though there was a light in a small building off to the left of the main house.  J.D. turned to me, “You’ll find Temp’s man, Alonzo, living in that little house there.  He can help us get Temp up to bed.”

“Judas Priest, J.D.,” he growled as he got out of the car on his own, “I’m not on death’s door,” yet as he tried to make his way up the stairs to the front door of his home he stumbled and Dad had to lend him his shoulder.

I rushed towards the smaller house to find the person called Alonzo, but before I could get there I saw a dark man hurrying into his overshirt as he leaped off the little porch towards us, “The ranger done got hisself drunk again?”

I shook my head as I fell into step with him, “No he’s gotten himself shot.”

“Well, that done woulda been my next guess.”

“Does he get shot often?”

“Often ‘nough, Miss…”

“Oh, my name is Pierson.  I presume you’re Mr. Alonzo?”

“Yes’m.  Just Alonzo.”

“And I’m Jenny.”

“Nice to meet you, Miss Jenny.”

I tipped my head in greeting and he offered me a crooked smile.  I noticed he walked stiffly as if he had at some point suffered a back injury.  Still, when he got to his employer, he tucked his arm under Gorham’s and took his weight, grunting as he helped him into the house.

My dad dropped back, letting the two of them go ahead and up the stairs.  We stood side-by-side, our faced tipped up to watch.  They disappeared into a room at the head of the stairs, while we continued to stare at the open door where they’d gone.

I winked one eye closed when I heard a series of growled expletives, then smiled when I felt Dolly come to stand beside me, her body leaning into my leg.

“Jenny, why are you and Dolly here?” Dad asked, suddenly sounding concerned.

“You checked out of your hotel,” I noted.

He grunted and nodded, then turned and went towards an anteroom to the left of the staircase, “I wanted to see Temp… I needed to see him.  And when he invited me to stay here. Seemed the thing to do.”

After a few seconds I followed after him, not much surprised when I saw him pouring himself a drink.  He swallowed it down quickly while I glared at him down my nose.

“I’m drinking again.”

It was a stupid thing to say, as if it were some revelation that surprised him more than me.  I wrinkled my nose, sniffed, then took a seat, back ramrod stiff, “I can see that.”

Dolly moved to the center of the room, her dark eyes studying Dad intently for several moments before flicking in my direction to stare me down.  I had the impression she was concerned, torn between the two of us.  As if she sensed our dual unrest and wanted to make it better, but couldn’t.  I leaned down and rubbed my fingers together, coaxing her back to my side.  She peered over at him again, then lifted her fluffy backside off the floor and trotted to me. 

I scooped her up into my lap, both of us glancing over when we heard the clink of glass and saw Dad pouring himself another. “You know, when I came here I thought maybe I’d kill him myself.”

You can preorder The Case of the Texas Ranger today! Just click HERE!

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial