April 24, 2017 by libroshombre
It might have been learning about Richard “Waterfront” Brown during Osher Lifelong Learning’s Fairbanks history class that got me thinking about tough customers. “Waterfront” – which is a great nickname – was the big burly fellow you hired to cruise up and down the river landings to ensure that folks owing you money didn’t lave Dawson, and later Fairbanks, without settling up.
On the other hand, receiving a Mr. T In Your Pocket (“It’s My Real Voice, Fool!”) in my stocking must figure into any musings about tough customers. The former bouncer (over 200 fights), bodyguard (“he protected, among others, sixteen prostitutes, nine welfare recipients, five preachers, eight bankers, ten school teachers, and four store owners,” according to his autobiography), wrestler (Hulk Hogan’s tag-team partner), and actor (most famously as Bosco Barracas on “The ‘A’ Team.”) legally changed his name to Mr. T so everyone he met has to call him “Mr.” He also portrayed Santa Claus at the Reagan White House, and anyone who covers the entire world in one evening in deepest winter has to be rough and tumble.
On the earthly plane, Sam Houston’s youngest boy, Temple, was also someone you didn’t want to cross. Born in 1860, he was a phenomenally successful lawyer and orator, beginning his practice as Brazoria county attorney at age twenty-one, but only after earlier working a cattle drive, on a Mississippi riverboat, and a three-year stint as a U.S. Senate page. Houston was strikingly handsome and famous for his flamboyant costumes and his long, flowing locks, sporting a honker of a mullet in his photos from the period.
More to the point, Temple Houston was incredibly fast, accurate, and willing with his infamous pearl-handled Colt revolvers. He certainly utilized them one night in a Woodward, Oklahoma bar, killing attorney Ed Jennings, crippling Ed’s brother John, and earning a lifelong enemy of their little brother, Al, yet another Jennings lawyer. To Al’s amazement, Houston was acquitted, so he left town and joined an outlaw band, robbing trains, stores, and a post office. Jennings was captured and sentenced to life in prison where he met William Porter, AKA O. Henry. His brother John won a reduction and acquittal of his sentence, and Teddy Roosevelt pardoned him in 1904.
That year Temple Houston suffered a stroke at age 44, and died the following year before Al could extract his revenge. So, he went to Hollywood and recreated one of his nefarious escapades in the 1908 film classic, “The Bank Robbery.” Jennings later wrote and starred with his brother in the enjoyable movie, “The Lady of the Dugout,” which showed them robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. It’s available as part of the public library’s “Treasures 5: the West” DVD collection
His memoirs, “Beating Back,” helped fuel a third-place finish for Oklahoma governor, and his second book, “Through the Shadows With O. Henry,” was published in 1921. The latter can be downloaded for free online, and is a mildly amusing read, describing how he and the author met in jail and how they met again while on the lam in Central America.
You don’t have to be a guy to be tough. Consider Lady Betty, whose surname’s unknown. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable described her as “a native of Kerry, an early widow, and a woman of ‘dark disposition’.” Her son left her “in grinding poverty” for America, and years later a stranger visited who “taunted her with stories of great wealth. She killed him in the night only to discover that he was her son.” Sentenced to die for the murder, “she escaped hanging as no executioner could be found. She promptly volunteered for the job and was granted clemency and a career which she followed, it seems, with gusto.”
I can’t dwell upon thoughts of tough customers without a few lady librarians coming to mind. Not only have I personally witnessed them breaking up fights, bouncing drunks, and standing up to loud-mouthed bullies, I’ve also seen them fearlessly protect the liberties and rights of American readers. “Don’t mess with the librarians,” as Rachel Maddow advised. “The librarians will put you in order.”