We never know where news tips will come from. A few days ago, I received an email from Raymond Bass of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, who is writing a book about Charles Eugene Dennis and Michael Lancaster, escapees from the prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1978.
While the Denison Herald was in the middle of that escapade when it took place, three Oklahoma state troopers were killed on May 26 that year. Both escapees were trapped in Caddo, Oklahoma, and killed after a killing spree through the south left 10 dead, including the three troopers and the two escapees themselves.
Bass has 157 pages written right now, but he is having difficulty locating an important person in the story. He hasn’t been able to find Loretta Spencer, the wife of Bobby Spencer, who was the first person murdered after Dennis and Lancaster escaped from prison.
The desperate men had made their way to Denison and Rodgers Sporting Goods store on what now is Highway 91, where they shot Bobby and kidnapped Loretta and held her prisoner northeast of Denison on the Red River. Both Bobby and his wife were employees of the store.
When the men dropped off to sleep, Loretta was able to work free of the ropes that held her and ran through the woods until she came to Highway 75, where she was picked up by a passing motorist. At the time, they were in close pursuit and she barely outran them.
Bass has been trying to locate Loretta, but assumes she has remarried and her last name has changed. He would like to speak with her if she is willing. He said she could give him many details that are important to his book. He even offered to change her name if she wanted. If anyone knows how to contact Loretta, I would be happy to pass the information along to Bass or he can be contacted at email@example.com.
The Denison Herald had covered the escape from day one, and at the time I was the paper’s city editor and the editor was off that day. We listened to a police scanner every day and we were publishing an afternoon newspaper at the time.
All of a sudden the scanner went wild when the two men were spotted headed toward Caddo. Needless to say our newspaper took a different turn and amid all the excitement we put together a new front page complete with pictures after our reporters and photographers headed toward Caddo from Denison. It was one of those days that a newspaper person remembers forever and it took a while for us to settle down.
Life around a daily newspaper sometime takes a different turn when a good feature or news story comes to mind. Another story that I remember well was a feature that I did when we learned that a relative of President George Washington was living in Denison.
Recently, I found several short articles that my friend Jim Sears sent me that he found on one of his internet searching days. Sometime he really finds some good ones printed by other newspapers around the country.
An item in the Austin, Texas Weekly Statesman in 1891 was one of those tidbits of information. With a dateline of Denison, Texas, on July 29 that year as a special to the Statesman the article said: “Mrs. D. Washington of this city, wife of the late Dr. Washington, died at the home of Mrs. G.L. Patrick this morning, aged 71 years.
“The deceased was the wife of a grand-nephew of the illustrious father of his country and perhaps the most direct descendant, as the home in this city contains George Washington’s sword and several letters and other articles belonging to Gen. Washington.”
A few years earlier in the Phillipsburg, Kansas Herald was a brief article in 1883 that read: “The New York Senate has rejected a motion to pay $15,000 to Mrs. Martha Washington, widow of Dr. Lawrence A. Washington, of Denison City, Tex. for the purchase of certain relics of George Washington.”
Then in Denison’s own Sunday Gazetteer on Nov. 24, 1907, was an article in part that read: “… Dr. Washington was the possessor of many relics of George Washington, among them a suit of clothes, a pair of large silver knee buckles and several autograph letters of George Washington written to his brother during the Revolutionary War, very interesting, but the Doctor would never consent to their being published. All of these relics were sent to the Centennial Exposition in 1876, and were never returned to him. Dr. Washington died in this city early in the eighties…”
Then there was another article on December 22, 1907, in the San Antonio, Texas Daily Express that read: “Mrs. George L. Patrick, a direct descendant of George Washington, is dead here. Mrs. Patrick possessed many relics of ‘The Father of His Country,’ including several autograph letters written by him to his brother during the Revolutionary War.”
But let me back up a little here. For years, I have been searching for these letters and other memorabilia that our Denison Washington possessed. And it looks like Jim uncovered the answer in an article from one of our own newspapers, The Denison Daily News on March 5, 1876, that was headlined “Denison’s Contribution to the Centennial.”
The article said: “Dr. A.W. Washington (that should be Lawrence A. Washington) of our city was busy Saturday evening boxing a number of articles which will be placed on exhibition at Philadelphia during the Centennial exposition.
“Dr. Washington has a number of articles which belonged to General Washington, which he will send by Express to his cousin in Galveston, Major Thornton Washington, who has been engaged several months gathering up souvenirs of the Washington family, and which will be placed on exhibition in the Washington Gallery, to be erected on Independence Square, Philadelphia.”
The items provided turned out to be the coat, vest and knee breeches of brown rep silk, a dress sword presented to General Washington by General Darks before the war of the revolution, about 1760, and a collection of 12 or 15 autograph letters from General Washington to his brother Samuel between 1772 and 1783. Some were dated at Mount Vernon and others on the field.
The secret that I had been searching for was found in the above Sunday Gazetteer on Nov. 24, 1907, and said: “All of these relics were sent to the Centennial Exposition in 1876 and were never returned to him (Dr. Washington). The good doctor died in Denison in the 1880s.”
This doesn’t explain where the items ended up after the exposition but it does get them out of Denison. I’m just happy that with Jim Sears’ help, my search for the items has ended.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.