|Wingate in 1905
Left to right: Dr. Barnes, Jim Flynt, and Carl Guin
courtesy Winnie Hatley. See Forum
in a Pecan Shell
aren't too many towns in Texas named after lawyers, but Wingate is
one. In this case it was W. J. Wingate, who practiced law in nearby
Settlement was in the early 1890s. The town built a school in 1891
and opened a post office the following year. The "Progressive Era"
was good to Wingate and the town got their first bank in 1917. The
town had twenty businesses in the 1920s as well as a new high school.
The population reached 250 in 1940 and by 1990 it remained at 216.
It has since declined to 132 - the estimate on the state map since
|A closed Exxon
Station in Wingate
Gibson, February 2007
This is the abandoned school at Wingate TX in northern Runnels County.
There isn't much left in Wingate; but a huge cotton gin is still in
operation. The white fringe on the edges of the roads is from the
gin. - Stephen
Taylor, December 30, 2005
Mess with Wingate, either
Bank Robberies in Wingate
|"They didn't have
much, but they kept what they had."
Being a brief history (somewhat short on detail) of various burglaries,
robberies and unauthorized safe relocation of Wingate's primary financial
institution. Paraphrased from an undated (typewritten and photocopied)
article from the San Angelo Standard Times
Our thanks to Albert D & Joyce E Wetsel and his aunt Winnie Hatley,
for sharing this story in answer to a 2005
e-mail from Oregon in the Wingate, Texas forum. - Ed.
as the old saying goes, crime doesn't pay; it pays even less in Wingate.
The San Angelo Standard Times, (the possible source of the article)
began by paraphrased a famous Winston Churchill quotation by writing:
"never before have so many tried so hard for so little."
Wingate's first robbery occurred in 1929 - presumably late in the
year. Bank employee Duncan Hensley looked up from his desk to see
an overall-clad man violate the employees-only-behind-this-point sign.
Overalls were not out-of-the-ordinary in Runnels
County, but the pistol was. According to the report, the man (apparently
keeping with bank robbery protocol) shouted "Stick 'em up!" (Or words
to that effect.) Teller Leila Harter screamed, which may have caused
the gunman to fire his gun. The bullet hit the frame of the teller's
cage and a small lead fragment went into Ms. Harter's forearm. The
would-be robber fled, but Duncan Hensley had a gun of his own and
shot the man in the leg. He was soon taken into custody and no other
details are available.
| Robbery Two
This one was a little more dramatic. Two men from Eastland
County made their attempt on December 22, 1932. Eastland
County (Cisco) was the scene of
Texas' infamous "Santa Claus Bank Robbery" just five years before
(almost to the day). It is not known if the robbers were inspired
by the ill-fated robbery or if they thought their plan (not wearing
a Santa disguise) was superior. We'll never know. They didn't live
long enough to sell their story to the tabloids.
The two were in their early 20s and had arrived by "a Ford coach"
they had liberated from a dealership in Graham.
Their names were Archie Horton and Hershell McMinn. Hershell's friends
(if he had any) called him "Pee Wee." Proud of their new ride, they
drove it up and down Wingate's main drag. They were too busy "casing"
the bank to notice the crowd of men around the barber shop. (Which
just happened to be next door to the bank,) As the original article
put it: "Their arrival did not go unnoticed."
The two geniuses didn't see a problem since their escape route was
an alley next to the bank . This may not seem like a sound plan, but
the alley was on the side of the bank opposite the barber shop. Before
you could say Merry Christmas, Archie had a gun in Leila Harter's
face. Turnover wasn't an issue in 1932 and both Leila Harter and Duncan
Hensley were still bank employees. On this day, however, Duncan was
spending his lunch hour working on his car. Leaving Leila to be locked
in the vault at gunpoint.
The brave men at E.E. Whittfield's barber shop knew something was
up. Not wanting to lose their place in line, they sent young Billy
Kirkland next door. Billy returned breathless to say there was indeed
a robbery in progress and the men exited the shop to grab whatever
weapons they could.
When the shooting started, Archie was seriously outgunned and as "wheelman,"
Pee Wee didn't wait around. Archie was hit and Pere Wee managed to
make it two blocks before sliding into a rain-soaked ditch. Pee Wee
then took a Chevy from a passing motorist (Ed Stearns) and made it
to the Winters Highway where he promptly slid into ditch #2.
Running into one of Runnels
County's many cotton fields, Pee Wee's (already wafer-thin) luck
ran out. The townsmen had their target and even Duncan Henley got
in a few shots. Archie had been carried to Morris' garage where he
soon died. An ambulance carried Pee Wee to the hospital in Ballanger
along with Archie's still-warm corpse. Pee Wee died the next day of
acute lead poisoning.
In those days, The Texas State Banker's Association offered a $10,000
reward for bank robbers. They laughed at the outdated "dead or alive"
cliché. Alive, bank robbers weren't worth a roll of pennies,
dead, they brought in ten grand. Overzealous vigilantes later caused
the offer to be taken off the table. The article states that it has
"never been shown that the townsmen of Wingate shot the bank robbers
for monetary gain," The reward money was, however distributed among
Wingate, and especially the bank, enjoyed a 20 year break. Liela Harter
may have retired and delighted showing her forearm scar to her grandchildren.
WWII came and
went, but then came what Wingaters called "The Roaring Fifties."
1951, would-be robbers attempted to rob the bank by using an acetylene
torch on the vault. It was hard going and when they found a pistol
and $75 cash, they called it a night - leaving behind their valuable
The next attempt came in May of 1954 when robbers made off with some
safety deposit boxes, a pistol and $3 worth of postage stamps. The
boxes (some 6-12 of them) were found outside the city limits of Sweetwater
with their paper contents "intact."
The article describes the events of April 14, 1956 as "A Comedy of
Errors" (as if the previous events had all been precision heists).
These thieves knew that the vault contained a relatively small safe
measuring two feet square.
The plan was to transport the safe to where they could open it at
their leisure - without interruption. They came prepared, pulling
a 15 foot trailer behind their vehicle, and although the safe was
relatively compact, it had the disadvantage of weighing 3800 pounds.
Archimedes is remembered for saying "Give me a lever long enough,
and a place to put it - and I will move the earth." If he had been
in Wingate, Texas, he may have said "Give me some 4 x4s and a skid
and I can get a 3,800 pound safe as far as the sidewalk." That's were
the authorities found it later that morning. Right next to the trailer
with the flat tire. The perps were apprehended at a roadblock a short
Another robbery the article dubbed "The Penny Ante Robbery" netted
the crooks 1100 one-cent pieces left in a teller's drawer on July
1959. The thieves, not satisfied with that haul, returned on the 9th
of July and took nothing but also broke into the post office and Dunn's
grocery where they scuffed the floor and damaged windows and screens.
The last crime involving firearms took place on October 25, 1960 when
Mrs. Ray Dunn (of Dunn's Grocery) surprised three men around the stores
"cracked safe." It is not known if the safe was cracked prior to their
arrival, but Mrs. Dunn didn't care. She shot into the group and wounded
one man who was taken into custody. The other two were found a short
time later and all three were said to be under the influence of drugs.
Things were winding down and a bank burglary on Sept 20, 1963 netted
"less than $10."
Wingate's last crime occurred in January of 1968 when the Vietnam
War was at it's peak. Would-be robbers attempted to drill through
the back wall (concrete) into the vault. The article abruptly ends
with the words: "They left in a hurry."
November 18, 2016
More Texas Bank Robberies
Small Town Sagas
(See Wingate 1905 photo above)
At one time, Wingate was called the birthplace of Runnels
government. From there came Judge Rampy, Don Atkins, and Frankie
Berryman. Both Carl Guin and Jim Flynt lived there before moving
Jim Flynt was sheriff of Runnels
County from 1908 - 1914 and 1920 -1925. - Albert D & Joyce
E Wetsel, November 05, 2016
Wingate Bank Robbery 1920s
Dear TE, My mother was born in Wingate, Texas in 1923. Although
she passed away several years ago, she often talked of a bank robbery
she and her parents witnessed one stormy day when she was a child
in Wingate. In viewing the Wingate website, I see that a bank was
established there in the late 1800's, early 1900's. My mother's
maiden name was Cotton and I would estimate that this robbery occurred
in the mid to late 20's or perhaps as late as the early 30's.
According to my mother, the townspeople of Wingate acted quickly
and shot and killed, at least one of the young gunmen and possibly
two. Their bodies were held for authorities in a factory or warehouse
near my mother's home. Being a history buff, of sorts, I'm curious
if Wingate's archives have such an occurrence on record and what
the details of the incident were. - David R. Ryder, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eagle Point, Oregon, November 03, 2006
See Wingate Bank Robberies
Wingate, Texas School c. 1951
My father, Robert N. Cooke, graduated from UT in 1950 as an engineer.
Winters was home and, for some reason, he returned to Winters while
looking for a job. The family wound up on my grandfather's farm
near Wingate and my dad's first job was principal and Superintendent
of the Wingate School. This was in the 1950 / 1952 time frame. I
was only five years old but can still remember field trips to Church
Peak Mountain to look for rocks with my dad's science class. I would
be very interested to learn where the school records now reside.
- Rhea Cooke, San Angelo, Texas
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