From Patty Hearst
"Salado: Frontier College Town"
Turnbo writes about history but he has also witnessed a fair amount it.
As an employee of the Federal Prison System, he was a public information officer
during the Watergate era. He also turned the key that let heiress-turned-bank
robber Patty Hearst out of prison in 1979.
But that wasn't the kind of
history that most fascinated Turnbo. He was more interested in the untold multitudes
who, throughout history, toiled in relative obscurity to build the country without
benefit of a press agent or a criminal record.
That's the kind of history
that Turnbo presents in his book "Salado: Frontier College Town." The book is
being released tonight ) at a meeting of the Salado Historical Society.
"There's a tremendous interest these days in 'bad guys.'" Turnbo said last week
in Salado. "Well, I'd
spent most of my life with them and knew many of them well.
of history allowed me to learn about some 'good guys' who contributed so much
to our society."
65, grew up in Wichita
Falls but knew nothing of his ancestry. He had no idea that his ancestors
had helped settle Bell County when it was part of the Wild West, or that Turnbo
Mountain near Youngsport was named for an ancestor, Andrew Jackson Turnbo.|
He discovered that fact while he was in Washington, D.C., taking some time off
from the "bad guys" to nose around the National Archives. That discovery led to
his book "The Texas Turnbos."
idea for the newest book came soon after he and his wife Beverly moved to Salado
in 2003. He visited College Hill in Salado and saw the Salado College ruins and
the statue of Col. Elijah S.C. Robertson, son of empessario Sterling Clack Robertson
and the man who in 1859 donated the 100 acres that became Salado College and the
Village of Salado.|
Turnbo mentioned to Cile Ambrose, a direct descendant of the Robertsons who lives
in the house that Col. Robertson built, how intrigued he was by the idea of a
college way out there on the Texas frontier. "Cile told me that no one had ever
written a book about it and said maybe I should. I thought, 'Maybe I will,'" Turnbo
And so he did.
Over the course of the four years it took
Turnbo to research and write the book, its focus expanded to include a concurrent
history of Salado and its college, since the two more or less evolved at the same
"It didn't take long to discover that the little village of Salado
was a gold mine of people and events," he said. "So, with help from a lot of other
people, I dug in and those rich discoveries became this book."
College, like the Village, was always a little contrary to ordinary. At a time
when most colleges had a church affiliation, Salado College's articles of association
forbade it from becoming sectarian nor would "the peculiar doctrines of any religious
denominations be taught therein."
The college was the first to operate
without church or state funds and it admitted women at a time when most educated
young females were sent off to finishing school. The state's first female governor,
Miriam A. Ferguson, was educated at Salado College. Because of its fiercely independent
nature, the college always had financial difficulties.
was always one day away from bankruptcy," Turnbo said.
former press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson and an esteemed author in her own
right, wrote in her introduction to the book, "I thought I knew everything about
Salado, the village where I was born, visit often, write about frequently and
have loved for 85 years of life. But Charles Turnbo's delightful and thorough
book gave me my come-uppance." The book brings Turnbo a long way from the people
and places he dealt with when he worked for the prison system. It's a long way
from Col. Elijah S.C. Robertson to Patty Hearst.
the granddaughter of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped by a group
of domestic terrorists known as the Symbionese Liberation Army in February of
In April of that year she was photographed wielding a fully automatic
M1 carbine assault rifle during a bank robbery. She was arrested in September
of 1975 and the next year was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to seven
years in prison. She had served just 22 months when President Carter commuted
the sentence in February of 1979.
"I watched that whole debacle unfold,"
Turnbo said. "It really was a media circus."
The media descended on Pleasanton
in unprecedented droves when information that President Carter was going to commute
her sentence was leaked to the press. Reporters, TV crews and photographers from
all over the world camped out in the prison parking lot, sleeping in their cars
and vans, waiting for the moment when Turnbo would turn the key that would unlock
"There was talk that the Symbionese Liberation Army was
going to assassinate her when she got out because the President had commuted her
sentence," Turnbo said. "It was a very touchy situation for us."
left all that far behind when he and Beverly retired from government service.
They settled first in Colorado but the harsh Colorado winters and the wildfires
of summer inclined them to look elsewhere. With his avid interest in Texas and
Bell County history, Salado seemed the likeliest choice. The move has paid the
kind of personal dividends he was looking for.
Dealing with the Patty
Hearsts and Squeaky Frommes of Watergate conspirators brought with it a fair amount
of stress. "Spending three decades in prison work required another pastime," Turnbo
said. "History became my passion. It allowed me to step back in time to see how
others long-gone had lived their lives."
Fortunately for people interested
in Bell County history, Turnbo has shared those results.
The book is
available online from Turnbobooks.com.