"How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Capt. Renault: "I'm shocked...shocked to find that gambling is going
on in there."
Croupier: "Your winnings sir."
Capt. Renault: [sotto voce] "Oh, thank you very much."
Anyone who has seen the classic 1942 film "Casablanca" remembers
that exchange between Casablanca bar owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey
Bogart) and Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains), head of the local
gendarmes. If you don't remember that "I'm shocked" scene surely
you recall the dancing governor in "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"
who was similarly shocked to discover that a house of ill repute
existed, indeed flourished, in his state.
forgotten is an "I'm shocked...shocked..." editorial published on
page one of the long-defunct Wichita Falls Daily Tribune
on the morning of June 27, 1915. It's hard to believe the newspaper
editor who wrote it had been as naive about his city as he professed
to be, but maybe he was.
To set the stage, Wichita
Falls, founded only 33 years earlier, was then enjoying a boom
thanks to major oil and gas discoveries in the area. And the party
was just getting started. Within two years the town would be going
crazy with oil wells sprouting between there and the Red River like
so many weeds after a week-long rain.
Falls was crowded with men come to make an honest living in
the oil patch and men--and women--intent on making a less-than-honest
living. But the editor of the Wichita Falls newspaper professed
to be aware only of the first class of workers, not the second.
That lasted until the night of June 26.
"We thought we knew Wichita
Falls, until last night," he wrote. "Born and raised almost
in sight of the city we have watched her marvelous growth. We have
seen her advance from a village to a town of a few hundred people,
then to a blossoming city of a few thousand. Now, with 18,000 souls
she is classed as one of the most progressive and wide-awake cities
of the state."
Ah, but that was only a mistaken impression. Following a walkabout
downtown with three city officials, the newspaperman had come to
the shocking realization that he was wrong. Wichita
Falls was not progressive. It was not "wide-awake." How could
the city be "wide-awake," the editor lamented, and not have been
aware that it had a red-light district. Shocked...shocked.
His heart wrenched, he wrote, when he and his official escort discovered
the dark underworld that appeared to be flourishing under their
proverbial noses. "From...dives to the bon ton palaces, hundreds
of men and young men, many from the best families of North Texas,
visited from place to place, joined in the dances, the drinking,
the cursing, in such manner that would have been a shame to a city
of Nero's time," the publisher wrote.
"Oh, no!" his editorial practically moaned, "not our fair city."
But yes, Wichita
Falls had houses of prostitution, not to mention bars and places
where young men brazenly danced with young women.
The author of the editorial said he did not buy the age-old argument
that prostitution protected respectable women from sexual predators.
"We do not believe the chastity of the women of our city depends
on the city's and county's continuation in partnership with the
proprietors of these resorts; nor do we believe that the young women
of our city will be debauched if the unfortunate women of the red
light district are removed from slavery, and the hell-pit which
engulfs our young men be forever closed."
Falls' civic leaders needed to be thinking about tomorrow, he
"We owe something to the coming generation," he wrote. "We owe better
environments to the little boys of our city. We owe something to
those who are moving here to make their homes with us. What shall
Essentially, what Wichita
Falls did, not to mention the other oil boom towns in the area,
was nothing. In time, open prostitution did finally fade, but Wichita
County did not get all law-abiding until after World
War One and the pace of petroleum production slowed down for
On through the early 1930s, whenever a new field developed, others
with rose-tinted glasses would continue to be shocked...shocked
to discover that vice followed money.
"Texas Tales" December
14, 2017 column