|The following is a transcript of an oral history interview with Tom L. Scott, Gene Inman (Eugene Benton Inman) and Harold Thames, which took place at Willowbrook retirement community on Feb. 17, 2006, in Fort Smith. Editing and elisions are minimal but were made. For a completely verbatim experience of the interview, please contact Joe Wasson who videotaped it for the Society's archives. All photos below are courtesy of Tom L. Scott.
Gene Inman: They put in their winter quarters in the old Western Wheelbarrow works. Most of their entertainers and people who worked for them, when they got into quarters, they'd no longer need them so they'd be released by Parker & Watts. Parker died the season before they came in there. So, Ira Watts became the owner or supervisor. The owner lived in Miami, Oklahoma, and this was more or less his hobby. He owned a smelter in Miami. Scott's store furnished them all their groceries and a lot of their supplies. Once a month we'd send them a bill to Miami, Oklahoma, to the owner and he'd send us a check. A lot of the people that were in it I got acquainted with. The cook, Charlie Oliver and I and Nelson became very good friends.
Tom Scott: Nelson was my dad.
Gene Inman: His dad. In fact, I talked about, he was from up in Illinois. He wanted me to go up to Illinois with him when he left the circus and go into business. He'd be the baker and I could deliver, but I didn't go. I saw Charlie in later years. I was working for Hanna Grate Co. on North Ninth Street, and he was in the circus that came to Fort Smith. He was in a taxi cab and went out to Nelson's store, his dad, and visited with him and found out where I was and come in because I was in the store where I was and visited with me for a while. Then there was a Brownie. He was the cat man. In these elephant pictures he was the one who's taking care of the elephants. We called him the cat man because he was taking care of the lions, and elephants and tigers and leopards and all that. The elephant trainer was Johnny O'Connor. The two horse trainers were Hazel King, the lady. In the early teens, she was the wife of Bill Hoxie, the silent movie star. She also was one time all-around cowgirl in the United States. She was the lady horse trainer. Johnny Bauersox, he was the trainer. It's in this book. It's in the story I wrote that was in the Journal. Hazel King, we were up in Bartlesville and went to the 101 Ranch Museum and found the whole case of silver mounted spurs and bits and stuff that belonged to the movie star she was married with, Bill Hoxie. She had donated to this museum. I was in Greenville, Texas, during the war and one of their featured performers was Hazel King. I went down to see Hazel and didn't know where to look. I went to the cook tent and they pointed to this little tent. It was a little pup tent. It was pouring down rain. I said, "Hazel, This is Gene Inman from Fort Smith," and she come crawling out of that pup tent. That was where she was living. This was in 1943.
Ben Boulden: How many people were in the circus?
GI: Well, when they were on the road, I'd say 100 at least. They went on the road with the only circus street parade in 1937. They had the only circus street parade that a circus offered in that day. They wintered in Southtown.
BB: Do you know what year they started wintering in Southtown?
GI: I would say in '36, and the last of their stuff left there in '41.
BB: And they would stay there for about three months?
GI: They would go on the road and stay from about the first of March through the first of November.
BB: So, their touring period was from March to November?
GI: Something like that. Yeah, about four months.
BB: Before we go any further, your full name is?
GI: Eugene Inman but everybody calls me Gene.
BB: Your middle name?
TS: He's named for my great-grandfather. He's his grandfather and Harold's great-grandfather.
BB: Where were you born?
GI: Mountain Grove, Missouri.
BB: Date of birth?
GI: February 27, 1917.
BB: Your parents were?
GI: Ralph Inman and Sarah Inman. She was a Tankersley. Her maiden name was Tankersley.
BB: When did your family move to Southtown?
GI: We came here from Iowa in 1924. We went to Iowa in 1919 and it was was too cold for my father. He had arthritis and we came south. Well, my mother's family lived here.
TS: Your family went from here to Iowa then back?
GI: No, from Mountain Grove, Missouri, to Iowa. Four of us, my sister and I and my Dad and my mother both. All four of us were born in Mountain Grove, Missouri. My dad spent a few years in Iowa before he married my mother.
BB: How long did you live in Southtown?
GI: Well, we only lived there for about six weeks. Then, you know where Carnall School is on the prairie. We moved out there and lived about a half or a quarter from that.
BB: Near where Ben Geren is now?
GI: Well, Ben Geren would be to the east.At Carnall School, there's a little road that goes due south. I lived out there down that road about a half or quarter.
TS: That's Carnall School in 1927. (Shows photo). My mother's there. Gene's there. Harold's mother isn't but the sisters and brothers are.
BB: As for employment?
GI: Well, I worked for his (Tom Scott) grandpa four different times.
BB: At the grocery store?
GI: At the grocery store, I started the first time in September 1944 and the last time was in 1950. There were four different times in that period that I worked for him.
BB: In terms of after Southtown?
GI: Let's see. After I left there, I went to work for Hanna Grate Co. I travelled for them. Then I got sick, and after I got well, I went to work for Firestone until November 1, 1956, then I became a technician at the Air Guard. That's where I retired.
TS: Gene managed credit there at Firestone, and that's a whole different bunch of stories. He spent a lot of time on that.
BB: Mr. Thames, what's your full name?
HT: Just Harold Thames.
BB: No middle name?
HT: That is my middle name. Winford Harold.
BB: Where were you born?
HT: I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1929. We moved to Huntsville in north Arkansas, and we moved down here to South Fort Smith in 1937.
BB: And how long did you live there?
HT: We lived there and around South Fort Smith until 1958. We lived three different places in South Fort Smith, then moved over by Carnall School, where Carnall School is now right across the street. Then we moved into that rock house at (inaudible). We lived there until about 1950 when I went into the Navy. We lived there for about 14 years from when I was seven years old until I was about 21. I worked with them at the grocery store until about 1950.
GI: There's the grocery store in about 1927. (Shows photo). It stayed that way until... When did we tear that out Harold?
HT: It was in the Forties.
GI: It was about '48, I think.
HT: I guess because I know my Dad did it.
GI: That store was taken i 1927 and stayed that way until 1947 or 1948. Just like that. The Karo Syrup in the same place. The Calumet Baking Powder in the same place.
HT: The candy cane's in the same place.
GI: And the peanuts in the jar.
TS: The other two are employees. One of them is Everett Holman?
GI: Yeah, and I didn't know the lady.
BB: That segue ways nicely into your story.
BB: Let's get all your particulars if we can. Is it Thomas?
TS: It's Thomas Lewis [Scott]. That was my grandfather Tankersley. That was his name. I was born in Sparks Hospital on July 9, 1939.
BB: Did you grow up in South Fort Smith?
TS: We lived there until 1941. I don't remember any of that. Then, my father bought a store from my grandfather there at the end of Towson. Near Towson and Zero. In 1941, he bought that store and was in business there until 1976. We lived across the street from there until I was in high school, then he built a new house on South Jackson Street then sold it a couple of years later and built another one down on Cliff Drive and South 34th in 1956.
BB: So you grew up in South Fort Smith and parts nearby?
TS: Yeah, I went to Mill Creek grade school.
BB: Was your grandfather still in business there when you were growing up?
TS: In fact, when I graduated from high school, my grandfather had what you'd call a convenience store today that he owned over on Zero Street that he offered to sell me to go into business. I didn't want any part of it, but today Tackle Box sits on that piece of land.
BB: And you said you made your career in chemical engineering?
BB: And your parents were?
TS: Nelson and Mary Scott, my dad was a JP in Sebastian County for 14 years from 1980 to 1994.
BB: And your grandfather's name?
TS: Was Thomas Carl Scott.
BB: His wife was?
TS: Therese, in fact, her name was Nellie Therese Nelson. Her parents were Swedish immigrants to Moline, Iowa. My great-grandfather was Thomas Robert Scott.
(Identifies people in photo).
BB: And you worked in the grocery store?
GI: I sure did.
HT: Mr. Scott, his grandad hired me when I was nine years old.
BB: Oh, really? You didn't work the full day though did you?
HT: No, I worked after school and all day on Saturday and two hours the other five days. He gave me a dollar.
TS: A dollar a week.
HT: I emptied the trash, sacked potatoes.
TS: Did you ever work in the feedlot Harold?
HT: Oh, yeah.
GI: Chicken feeder, cattle feeder, hog feeder.
HT: I worked for him one Christmas and he gave me a dollar a week raise. Then the war come along and he (inaudible) gave me a lot of responsibilities. He gave me a drawer and I cleaned up the money. He even had me pay bills and write checks. He probably taught me more math than any school teacher. I worked there an awful lot. A lot of the time I worked for his parents, too.
BB: He had a store too?
TS: I need to clarify this. There was Scott's Store No. 1 and Scott's Store No. 2. Then there was the one on Zero that didn't have the name.
GI: You know where the post office is in South Fort Smith?
BB: On 32nd?
GI: Yes. Where that sits used to be our old scaffold that we used to butcher cattle and hogs.
BB: Oh, really? Yeah, I think Mr. Matlock said you had freshly slaughtered meat.
GI: We had beef and hogs. On Saturday, we'd slaughter a whole bunch of chickens.
(Tom Scott points out locations of different stores on a map).
HT: After I got out of high school, I worked at this one (points to photo of Scott's Store No. 2 at Zero and Towson).
BB: Your father was the unofficial mayor of South Fort Smith?
TS: That was my grandfather.
BB: What did his unofficial duties entail when he wasn't running the store?
GI: I'll tell you. When the Democrats were in office, the post office was at Elmer Dooley's store. When the Republicans were in power, it was at Scott's store. It was just a yo-yo for years.
BB: Except for FDR. (Laughter).
HT: When the Republicans were in you'd take the mailboxes and put them in the backroom.
BB: Where was Mr. Dooley's store?
GI: Let's see. What's at that corner now. You passed the casket factory. It would have been right across the street on the southside of the casket factory was the hotel. There was Dooley's store and the hotel sat right behind it.
BB: What was the hotel?
GI: It was the Chandler Hotel. He had a pegleg, Chandler.
BB: What was his first name?
GI: I can't remember.
BB: Did they call him 'Pegleg?'
GI: Not to his face.
BB: But they called him Pegleg Chandler.
BB: How many rooms in the hotel?
GI: I don't know. It was two story and people who worked at the smelter and the wheelbarrow factory lived there.
BB: Oh, I see, so it was more of a residence or apartments almost?
(Brief discussion of hotel's exact location and a handdrawn map and where the drinking establishments were in Southtown).
End of Part 1.
Scott's Store No. 2 was at the intersection of Towson (Texas Road then) and U.S. 271. Smith Cheverlet is now just asross the road on the left. This photo was taken after an auto crashed into and destroyed the roof around the store which my Thomas L. Scott bought in 1941.
Thomas Nelson Scott, his later wife Mary Altha Tankersley probably enjoying a Sunday outing in the grocery truck.
Built in 1914, the Best-Clymer Manufacturing Company's sorghum syrup plant operated in Southtown probably until the 1940s. The building was used as a warehouse for several decades afterward. Here it can be seen from the west looking east. According to the Times Record, it was the "world's largest sorghum mill."