While looking through my grandma’s old scrapbook from the 1920s (before she was married to my grandfather, J.V. Gallegos), I found what looked like some sort of airline ticket. Who flew on planes in the 1920s beside Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart? I was curious to say the least.
Catching a Flight in 1929
After sending the ticket to the PBS Genealogy Roadshow and going through several interviews and discussions with genealogy and history experts from the show for over several months, they concluded that yes, it was indeed a Texas Air Transport (T.A.T.) airline ticket from 1929. They surmised that grandma did take that flight on July 31, 1929. During the filming of the show, they revealed from what they could tell from their research, it seemed grandma flew to Dallas, TX to possibly get someone out of jail. The show was filmed in Albuquerque, NM, but unfortunately the recorded segment with my grandma’s story was left on the cutting room floor when the show aired in 2016.
That left me with a great story and more questions about my grandma, Mary Letcher. She was single, 22, from Tucumcari, NM working for the railroad at the time and had taken one of the first passenger flights available in the country from T.A.T. out of (most likely) Amarillo to Dallas, Texas in 1929 (Image: T.A.T. Routes pdf article). Also note, T.A.T. has their own awesome history, being the early start of American Airlines.)
So, what was the story behind her taking that flight in 1929? The hints the Genealogy Roadshow experts left me, “to get someone out of jail” and “keep looking in old newspapers”, helped me follow a few more clues.
If there was anyone my grandma knew in those days who could’ve possibly been in jail, it would probably would’ve been her brother-in-law, Jack North (Image: Jack and Pat 1926). My grandma’s sister, Patsy Letcher (or Paz as she was known) married Jack North in 1926.
When I asked my mom about mysterious “Uncle Jack”, she simply said, “Well, Aunt Pat just couldn’t pick men.” With that, I decided to look closer into Jack’s story.
After some searching in old newspapers, I came across an El Paso Herald story dated December, 12, 1929 about a dare devil painting wrangler of flagpoles and smoke stacks, Jack North the “Steeplejack” and his two-year old son. The story featured photos of the father son duo and the story about little Jack Jr. accompanying his dad, “over 65,000 miles to 15 different states and entering Mexico at three different ports.” According the the story, little Jack Jr.’s mom had passed away eight months prior and left Dad, with little Jack by his side, to barnstorm the country for work during the depression. (Image: “Steeplejack’s Two-Year Old Son…” pdf article)
Denies Being Dead
About two weeks later, on December 27, 1929, the El Paso Herald printed a follow up to their profile of the Steeplejack and his young son, “Denies Being Dead.” Little Jack’s mom, Mrs. Jack North (Pat Letcher), from Tucumcari, New Mexico, wrote a letter stating that she was the mother of the young boy and Jack’s wife from the article and was very much alive. She wrote, “I am living in the home of my parents since he [Jack] left me five months ago, leaving behind a younger child…”
Five months prior to the December 1929 article would have been right around the time of Mary’s flight, July 31, 1929. Also, from a birth record in my grandmother’s files, just a few days before, July 29, 1929, her sister Pat, Mrs. Jack North, had given birth to a second son, William Joseph North.
It seems likely Jack left Tucumcari with his two-year old Jack, Jr. just after the birth of his second son, Bill. Perhaps he went to Dallas and that could explain why Mary took the flight to track him and her little nephew Jack down.
Other records indicate Jack North spent time, more specifically “did time”, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth vicinity. He was in the Dallas jail in April 1930 from a census report, but I have yet to find the reason he was in jail at this particular time.
Newspapers and arrest records show that Jack was arrested in the summer 1930 along with three others Irving, Texas citizens for chicken thievery and sentenced to a year in the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville. The Huntsville Convict Record also indicates Jack had tattoos, “E.G.”, on each of his outer forearms as well as some scars on his face and perhaps on shoulders. (Images: Chicken Theft Article and Huntsville Convict Record). It also seems he may have been “cross referenced” in the convict record with another Kansas record (indicated under his name), which I am still researching.
Some Spilled Coffee and The Murder of Jack North
Jack got an early release on January 30, 1931 from Huntsville (Image: Huntsville Conduct Register). Not long after his release, he was working at the White City night club in Fort Worth, Texas.
Then, on March 19, 1931, there was an argument and some coffee spilled. According to the Dallas Morning News, a woman companion, who apparently had plans of marrying of Jack, explained the fatal shot that killed Jack was a result of an argument Jack had with a man by the name of Bert Jones, who was also working at the night club. Jones stated he fired in self-defense after being attacked by Jack with a knife. Jones apparently had a small cut as a result of the argument and the knife was found in a stove at the night club. Jack’s woman companion said it all started over her greeting to Bert and then the coffee spilled (Image: Woman Tells of Fatal Affray).
An Unmarked Grave and a Verdict of Insanity
In March of 1931, Jack was buried in an unmarked grave in Ft. Worth (Image: Jack’s Death Certificate).
It seems an undramatic ending to a man who appears to have lived a pretty dramatic life. There is a family document that has the cemetery and his final resting burial spot noted, even though he doesn’t have a headstone or marker of any kind (Image: Jack’s Burial Spot).
Bert Jones was indicted for Jack’s murder and in 1932 a Texas court returned a verdict of insanity. Oddly enough, from an examination of x-ray photos, a bullet that had been lodged in Jones’ head for 28 years and a mother’s plea helped the court make their decision (Image: Found Insane).
Grandma, as far as I know, never said a word about her 1929 flight, the kidnapping of her nephew, or the demise of Jack North. I don’t even know if my grandfather knew about this. She just happened to hold on to that flight ticket and put it in her scrapbook.
I never knew about Jack’s history or even how he met Pat in rural New Mexico coming from Des Moines, Iowa. Some family members had heard the possibilities of Jack changing his name to escape from the law from another state perhaps. That could still be another mystery to solve.
Sometime after Mary’s flight to Dallas, little Jack, Jr. or “Jackie” as my mom knew him, was back with his mom in Tucumcari, as we have some photos of both young boys in the 1930s. Jackie, apparently sickly a good portion of his life, passed away around age 13 from some sort of illness. At this time, I am not sure where little Jack, Jr. was buried.
Pat and my grandma remained in contact with each other all their lives, as I recall ongoing letters exchanged between the sisters as I was growing up. They were close it seems when they were young growing up in New Mexico and remained so, even though they lived miles apart when they got older (Image: Paz and Mary Letcher in 1926). On occasion, Pat’s son, Bill (baby William) would visit my mom and grandma also.
Happily, I have had the chance to connect with Bill’s youngest daughter and also her brother. A nice ending to just one of our very fascinating and amazing family stories we have been able to piece together and share, stories that our grandmothers also shared.
In addition, after finding out Jack was a “steeplejack”, this photo tucked away in my grandma’s scrapbook of Paz climbing a pole in Santa Fe, N.M. made a lot more sense (Image: Paz’s Santa Fe Climb).