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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

"I'm Shocked...Shocked..."

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Rick: "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.

Long 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.

Wichita 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. He continued:

"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."

Wichita Falls' civic leaders needed to be thinking about tomorrow, he urged.

"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 we do?"

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 a while.

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.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December 14, 2017 column

Mike Cox's "Texas Tales"

  • William H. Frizzell's First and Last Speech 12-7-17
  • Ever Heard of Dalworth? 11-30-17
  • "Get Along Little Turkeys..." 11-16-17
  • The Bullet that Killed John Wesley Hardin 11-10-17
  • Duels 11-2-17

    See more »

  • See Wichita Falls

    Related Topics:
    Columns | Texas History | Texas Towns

    Mike Cox's "Texas Tales"

  • William H. Frizzell's First and Last Speech 12-7-17
  • Ever Heard of Dalworth? 11-30-17
  • "Get Along Little Turkeys..." 11-16-17
  • The Bullet that Killed John Wesley Hardin 11-10-17
  • Duels 11-2-17

    See more »


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