From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Starkweather Remembered

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... A Small Detour from the Cheerful Ramble



The launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik satellites in late 1957 and the Starkweather murder spree of early 1958 are two of the first news events that I remember.

I remember feeling curious about the Sputniks and looking into the sky at night hoping to see them. My memories of the Starkweather murders are much more sinister.

Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate were a teenage couple from Lincoln, Nebraska, who killed eleven people in an evil spree of murder and robbery in January of 1958. I was 7 years old and a first grader then, living with my family on a ranch south of Johnstown in north-central Nebraska.

I remember my mother and father listening to the radio to hear the news about Starkweather and Fugate. I was worried that they might come to my house. I think I remember my father keeping a shotgun near at hand when he went to bed, but I don't know if that is true or if I was just hoping that he did.

I remember the obvious relief of my parents when Fugate and Starkweather were finally caught in Wyoming, and I too was thankful to know that they were no longer roaming around killing people.

Of course, I didn't realize all that was happening. Tonight, I read the story of Charles Starkweather in Court TV's Crime Library. This passage was particularly interesting to me, because it describes the news my parents were hearing on the radio. Nebraska was in a state of emergency after the murder of C. Laurer Ward, his wife Clara and their maid, Lillian Fencl (the eighth, ninth and tenth Starkweather killings).

Governor Anderson was notified immediately of the savage attack on his friend. Shortly afterwards, he called out the National Guard, "and they were soon cruising the streets with jeeps armed with mounted machine guns. Parents with guns drawn rushed to the schools and took their children home. The city was completely sealed off. A block by block search began. The FBI started an investigation. A thousand-dollar reward was offered by the mayor. Aircraft were sent up to help look for the Wards' black Packard." (Allen, William, Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.) Source


Because of Starkweather and Fugate, I became aware of the word "murder" (a word with an ugly sound and meaning,) and I learned about the electric chair. In my children's lives, I think the school shootings at Columbine and at Heath High School in nearby Paducah, Kentucky, were similar but infinitely more frightening events.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.