HISTORY OF CHIEF JIM'S BAR AND RESTAURANT
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
as told by Joe Mason
My story begins when I am 5 years old, back in 1945, when my Mom, two brothers and I moved from California to be near the rest of our family. Granny Zora came to live with us a couple of years later. Dadm whom Mom had separated from followed us too, but depite his efforts Mom refused to go back with him and he went back to California. Dad was a pretty famous piano player back then and had played for Earl Caroll's Vanieites in New York City. Mom had met him there when her younger sister went to New York and danced in the Earl Caroll shows. But that was the good ol' days.
When we got to Oklahoma, my Mom worked for Chief Jim's bar and restaurant. Chief Jim and Mom's older sister owned the place.
My Aunt Alice, Mom's sister, met Chief Jim awhile back before we got there. Jim looked like an ordinary white man when she met him - short hair and all - like a regular large size businessman. She became his 10th wife. Mom said that Chief Jim was as old as Granny - that would be about 20 years older. Birth records from the Census prove this to be true. They were born the same year - 1880.
One night they had some friends over to their house which was on a few acres outside of Oklahoma City. They were talking and drinking, partying hearty with this other couple. They started to talk about what a good cook Alice was and how great her chicken was. As the evening progressed, they decided that they should open a restaurant and Alice could sell her chicken. Before the evening was over, they started ripping out the walls of the house to start their restaurant.
That was the beginning of what was to come.
The business just kept growing, eventually they had a cover charge, a bouncer, an orchestra, and everything. There was a good reason why their business grew so phenomenally.
Nearby on the same property, they built the nightclub from scratch. They started out with one large room, and added on as they needed. One of the rooms was so tall, it looked like gymnasium. This place was really big. Eventually, there were two rooms adjacent to each other that size. There were two separate dance floors with hardwood floors, the larger one had a raised platform for a full size orchestra.
They decided to decorate in an Indian theme and call it Chief Jims. Jim also decided to grow his hair long again and dress like an Indian. Eventually, his hair was long enough reach his waist, even braided. He wore buckskin leather suits at times on special occasions, he wore a feathered headdress - some of which had so many feathers like Chiefs do that hang down your back to the ground. We even got to play dress-up with those on occasion.
As an aside, the story was that Chief Jim was related by direct blood to the Indian leaders who sold the property in Mississippi to the United States Government. There were so many Boykins in the area, that if your name was Boykin and you got into trouble and went before the judge, his name was probably Boykin too and you didn't have to worry about doing any jail time.
At the door was a podium, you were met at the door by the guy who took your money for the door charge. Some of these people came in with booze bottles in their pockets, but Chief Jim's couldn't even serve 3.2 beer. We served the soda and ice that they poured their booze into.
Around the edge of the rooms were booths with benches. Each booth had a shuttered window, on which an Indian artist named Silvermoon hand-painted the whole history of the Indian tribal life from one panel to the next. He showed the buffalo hunts, the skinning of the buffalo, warring against the white man, tribal dances, etc. There were 40 of 50 of these windows and each one had its own scene painted on it.
On either side of the booths were totem poles, also painted colorfully, each one unique.
The whole place was designed by Alice's daughter Elaine who studied art design at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. Elaine eventually got married and moved to Carson City, Nevada, and later to Lake Tahoe.
They had stuff animals on shelves about 8 feet high that ran all along the wall. They looked like they were alive in action - armadillos, porcupines, beaver, possums, etc.. High above the main dance floor opposite from the orchestra platform - above 25 or 30 feet up was a platform that had large stuffed animals. There was a stuffed cougar in the middle with two bob-cats on either side of it. Their claws and fangs were showing, looking like they were ready to strike whatever was in front of them.
It was well known that Chief Jim was a bootlegger - like the godfather of the area. We were told that he was the biggest bootlegger in Oklahoma. Trucks full of booze came from as far as Canada. If Chief Jim didn't like someone, all he had to do was put out the word, and the guy would either disappear or be found dead. The cops never stopped the trucks. One can only guess why they didn't. But he was more than that. He had to have been a Shaman as well.
After Mom started working for him, she got a really severely in the kitchen while cooking. It was bad enough so that it would have blistered pretty badly. She started to holler in pain. Chief Jim came running and started joking around about it. Mom thought he was joking too, but he said he could heal it, and started talking some unknown Indian language in a quiet tone over her hand. He did some hocus pocus movements over her hand Mom thinking the whole thing was joke, kept working after the incident. The next morning, she woke up and their wasn't a mark on her hand. Chief Jim had actually healed her hand.
Along the way they bought a huge ranch property, near Atoka, Oklahoma. This property had a few horses, and at times they had a few employees to run the place. They raised some peanuts, but wasn't a big time farm. They used it mostly for a vacation place, and it had a river running through it with crystal clear waters. It had a saw mill on it as well. They made their own cut wood from it, and sold a bit to neighbors as well. It wasn't a money maker property though.
When we arrived in Oklahoma City in 1944, Chief Jim's was by now in full operation. We wound up renting a house about a block away where I and my brothers attend grammar school. Then the time came, when they decided my Mom should open up a bar near the restaurant. Mom had already started a little business in our house which she called the Do-Drop-In where she sold hand-made candies and other little things for the school kids. The plan was and what was implemented to start the Wigwam Bar and restaurant.
One of the rules of a dry state was that you could not sell 3.2 beer within 6 blocks of a school, and it so happened that Chief Jims was only two blocks from the school. We called it a honky tonk, a small place that was 6 blocks away from the school.
When they found the building, which was corrugated metal, it had to be moved, so we had to move it down the road to the new property. The house was bigger than the street was and they put it on a truck and dragged it down the street. It was a dirt road and the whole road was blocked while they dragged this building. The whole neighborhood turned out to watch the building go by.
The property was at 2400 W Grand and was a wedge-shaped piece of property that faced two streets, but the back end was the railroad tracks. The other side of the tracks was a swamp where we actually learned to swim. There was a forested area near there, and we made paths through the swamp to places we like to play. Mom somehow got a earthmover in and we had a ice rink and slide in the winter, and during the summer, the neighborhood kids would come over and we had lean-to play houses. We used to craw-dad fish with chunks of bacon fat and swim in the river which was fraught with water-moccasin snakes. We learned to swim there too. It was a grand old time there.
Later on, we actually got a little job to earn some pocket change. The Oklahoma Oklahoman would run out by our neighborhood and pick up a bunch of us kids and take us down to the paper distribution place, then drive us with a stack of papers to stand on a corner and sell them.
At one time, she bought us a horse, but it wasn't a great horse. He was ornery and he stepped on our feet to trip us up. He didn't last too long. We also had pet pig in the back which we slopped him with food and lots of beer. The pig would stumble around and we'd stand around and laugh at the drunken pig.
They converted this ugly corrugated building into the honky tonk bar. It had a long bar and had real ice-boxes at the end of the counter. We had ice delivery by an ice truck. They had to carry the ice chunks in with huge tongs. Us kids even chopped ice to help out sometimes.
The place was popular and Mom did really well, so she started adding rooms to the place. At first they had men and women's outhouses, but after a year we built an inside bathroom - that was a real treat. Eventually, when Mom was done adding on, it had 19 rooms and we actually lived there. We used to play in the beer storage room too sometimes because it was cool there.
She had a series of different boyfriends around that time. One of them was a millionaire guy, but she didn't like him enough to marry him. One of the other guys was a bouncer-type guy.
The most famous visitor to the place was a cowboy type guy with a handlebar mustache. He claimed to be one of the Dalton brothers. Mom thought he was about the right age to be the real guy. My Granny Zora, had been an eye witness to one of the robberies by the Dalton brothers when she lived in Oklahoma.
Granny actually was 8 years old when her parents became Sooner and got a covered wagon and brought the family from Missouri to Oklahoma. Once they got there, they lived in a cave for a year before they had a house built to live in.
The Times of Trouble
Chief Jim used to brag about burning people out of the flats that he didn't like. This was Mulligan's flats then.
One of our bouncers at Chief Jims was an Indian who was 7 feet tall. He was a champion boxer and he could cold-cock a guy with one punch. Only once did anyone get past a bouncer. The place was full of sailors and lots of people. This particular guy was about 6 feet, and somehow he managed to knock down anyone who got in his way. They called in the biggest bouncers and this guy took one poke at them, and laid them out flat. He took a punch at the 7 foot Indian bouncer who did a double back flip as he hit the floor. Then the guy dusted off his hands and walked out of the place, just as calm as you please.
My older brother Johnny was 11 years older than me. He learned how to fight with a switch-blade knife when he was about 16. He was one of the bouncers at Chief Jims even though he was young. He had lots of fights with that knife. He never got a mark on himself. He told us a story of one time when he was sorry he had tried to help someone. He had heard screaming in the back parking lot. He opened the door, and in the dark a guy was beating up on a woman and hitting her in the face. So he jumped in to rescue the woman. He landed on the guy and was struggling to subdue the guy when he got hit with a beer bottle on the back of his head. To his surprise, it was the same woman - coming back to rescue her poor husband. He said that was the last time he would ever try to come between a man and woman in a fight.
At the bar they had little bottles of booze like they serve on airplanes - little souvenirs - even though it was illegal. Oklahoma was a dry state. The story was that a guy came in with a big overcoat on. As he was about to leave, Chief Jim came out to see the guy - walking with a cane nonchalantly. Chief Jim asked him who he was and the guy didn't want to say, so Chief Jim took his cane and whacked the guy around the body a few times, breaking all the bottles of booze the guy had stolen from the bar. He had about 50 of them under his coat.
Mom made a mistake and introduced a woman to Chief Jim whose name was also Alice. He decided he liked the new Alice better than the old Alice and they ended up getting a divorce. As it turned out, Mom's sister Alice got the bar/restaurant and Chief Jim got the farm. He was no way happy about that, because the farm didn't bring in any income and the bar did.
Chief Jim was so angry about this decision he threatened to burn them out of the flats just like he had done with other people. But in the meantime, he got accused, convicted and put in jail for a year and a day for killing a G.I. about 10 years earlier, who had come to the door when the bar was closed early in the day. The G.I. was probably already drunk when he got there. Jim reached inside the building to get his rifle when the situation got confrontational and the guys wouldn't leave. Chief Jim threatened him and said, "You take one step closer and you're going to get it." The G.I. had a knife in his head and took one more step and Chief Jim shot him right in the head. He had to do the time in jail for a charge of manslaughter.
While he was in jail about a year, Chief Jim's bar and restaurant burned to the ground. The restaurant name had been changed by Alice to 'The Golden Dawn' and the decor was changed and had golden lights playing around inside which made it seem really magical.
Alice lived in a tiny room behind the orchestra platform. There were windows on two sides of the room and it had its own outside door.
I witnessed the fire myself when I was about 10 years old. It was sometime around Christmas time - cold and dark in the late night hours. The roof caved in and the firemen were still shooting water on the blackened rubble. They started looking for a body because they knew Alice was living at the bar. The whole neighborhood was there by that time, including kids. I was awestruck, jaw dropped, eyes bugging out. My mom was up on the foundation talking to the fireman and all of a sudden she started screaming and pointing near the middle of the building. The rumour went around the crowd that they had spotted the body right in the middle of the dance floor.
One must ask oneself, that if a fire started, and you had 8 windows and a door to go out, why would you run through a building of that size and stand in the center of the dancefloor when the roof came crashing in.
Mom speculated that even if Chief Jim was in jail, he could easily have asked someone burn the place down while he was incarcerated so they wouldn't connect him with the fire. She still thought that Chief Jim would not have considered that Alice was actually in the fire and would die there. She thought it would torment him the rest of his life to know that she was killed there, not just the building burned down.
I remember seeing the newspapers at the time because I was selling them - the headlines were about Jim Boykin being accused of killing the G.I. and about his conviction. The incident had actually had happened 10 years previously, but a good DA investigator was able to get the evidence together and get the conviction even 10 years later. What had happened 10 years earlier, after he killed the soldier, charges were brought against him for manslaughter, but then the judge got killed, the courthouse burned down and the records were lost, some of the witnesses either disappeared or died, and others involved disappeared and the case was forgotten about as it couldn't progress. New evidence brought the case back to light.
After the year and a day passed, Chief Jim finally got out of jail. We didn't associate with him then. I don't know what he did for a living, but it seemed he did odd jobs around town.
Almost exactly a year later, again at Christmastime, the Mom's Wigwam bar burned down. Mom got burned trying to save us kids, not realizing we had gotten up early to go to school. When she woke up, she heard the sound of crackling and opened the door and flames burst in from the hallway right in her face. She was so worried about us kids, she rushed right through the flames and 20 feet down the hall to where we kids had slept, but we weren't there. For some reason, she ran back through the fire to her own bedroom and crawled out the window. Again one must ask why people do strange things like this when you can easily go out a door. The whole place also burned completely to the ground.
It was a bad hairday for me too. I was in grammar school the day of the fire. They took the class on a fieldtrip down into Oklahoma City to a manufacturing place. The bus returned to the school and parked next to the gate of the school and as soon as I stepped off the bus, a little girl came up to the bus screaming and yelling, "You're whole house burned down and your mother is dead." When she said it, I looked down the street and saw the firetrucks, but not the structure of the house. Instead of running towards the house, I ran in the opposite direction to my older brother's house. He was married and had a family already. He lived in an apartment about a mile away. I was in full panic when I got there and my brother wasn't there, but his wife Juanita was there with her babies. I started crying about Mom being dead, and she assured that Mom was in the hospital but would be okay.
Finally, we went back to look at the house, and the fire department eventually discovered that kerosene had been placed in various parts of the place and set it on fire and was considered arson. Strangely enough, nobody ever got charged in either fire.
Mom, my other brother Johnny and I moved into Mr. Coffee's house, an older gentleman - one of Mom's boyfriends. He was about 80 years old, but Mom needed a convenient place to live and we went on welfare too because we now had no income, as well as no place to live.
A year or so later, before we left Oklahoma, I was playing on the property where the bar burned down. There were other kids who lived in the neighborhood and my friend and I went into the abandoned place. An old man came running out of the house where he lived and yelled at us to get the heck out of there. It wasn't until later, I realized that the old man was Chief Jim.
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