Hidden History: The Kid, The Pimp, and the Osage City lawman – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: The Kid, The Pimp, and the Osage City lawman

By Wendi Bevitt

Osage County had a crime problem. It was the summer of 1883, and hardly a town in the county was untouched by some sort of criminal activity. The economic and population boom brought by the railroads and the coal mines had also brought a surge of individuals looking to make a profit via unsavory means.

Burglars, also known as “sneak thieves”, frequently broke into residences, and horse thieves were plentiful. Citizens were encouraged to protect themselves, which led to the formation of vigilance committees or posses to protect towns and retrieve stolen goods.

Town streets at night were hazardous for pedestrians. The dark was cover for those who wanted to disappear into its shadow. People of questionable character would gather on both sides of the sidewalk, singing, whistling and swearing at passersby. Street walkers and prostitutes were common. Respectable women, in particular, were afraid to walk on the streets at night for fear of being harassed.

Frequent lawbreakers became infamous in the county papers. Johnson, “The Pimp”, and his one woman employee wandered from town to town searching for clients, frequenting the streets and local establishments to the point of annoyance. He and others of the same profession would also take up residences at vacated properties for seclusion.

When Pimp Johnson set up a tent along Salt Creek as his headquarters, a public outcry went out to push them into the creek, promising the support of the community for the people following through with disposing of the couple.

Another character known as “The Kid” was a gentleman gambler that dressed in the highest style, from his matching clothes to his fine gloves. The Kid, like Pimp Johnson, would patronize the saloons and other establishments that allowed gambling. The Kid’s amiable nature gave him a certain leeway with the authorities, and when he and his friends were locked up, they would sing, dance and cause such a commotion that houses neighboring the jail would be kept awake until the wee hours of the night.

While most of the county’s towns were affected by this crime wave and used their best attempts at law enforcement, Osage City’s law officer stood out as an example of the quintessential lawman of the time. Marshal Jack Williams worked hard to control the undesirable element within the Osage City limits.

Marshal Williams assumed the office of Osage City marshal in 1880. He was fair, just, and a strict enforcer of the law. Williams wasn’t frightened by angry mobs or other men of money and influence that tried to affect his pursuit of enforcing the law and keeping the peace.

The grandest example of this was a time he was transporting a man suspected of being a horse thief to Justice of the Peace A.M. Hale. The pair was intercepted by a group of more than 50 concerned citizens intent on extracting their own form of justice. Williams not only held the angry mob at bay, but also extracted a confession from the prisoner, and delivered him safely to the jail.

The marshal worked to encourage repeat offenders to stay out of trouble and avoid hard labor on the rock pile. In the case of The Kid, this seems to have worked for at least a short time.

Marshal Williams wasn’t just concerned with keeping the streets clean from crime during his tenure in office, he was also a top civil servant, pitching in to clear the streets of snow drifts when the need arose.

During the summer, Pimp Johnson had moved on and things had quieted down, only to suffer a resurgence of crime by the start of fall. This led the city of Carbondale to proclaim, “Why can’t our city get rid of its following of pimps, prostitutes, vagrants, deadbeats, men ‘without visible means of support’, better known as gamblers, and all others of that class of birds of prey, who live by robbing their neighbors in a gentlemanly manner. Send the prostitutes back where they belong. We don’t want Osage City’s or Burlingame’s dirt here.”

Citizens, tired of the blight that these individuals brought to their communities, also turned on the city officers, with news outlets blaming them for not taking care of the problem. The Osage City Free Press took particular offense to this fact because they had taken up a campaign to “discharge the warts on the face of morality” in their weekly reporting on the matter.

Eventually the reign of crime had been stifled. Marshal Williams moved to Wabaunsee County and attempted to settle into a quiet life of farming. That period only lasted a few short years, and the thrill of law enforcement called him back to Osage City. His match was met when he encountered a blacksmith with a fiery temper, apparently a repeat offender of disrupting the peace in Williams’ town. When Williams arrived to arrest the temperamental blacksmith, this time he was mortally shot. The blacksmith was arrested and tried for his crime, and the town’s beloved marshal now rests in Osage City Cemetery.

Illustration by Wayne White.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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