Monday, June 15, 2009

Followup to the Combs murder, discussed below

The CST's history column follows up on the murder of attorney Combs.
Casper Tribune-Herald, 1934

Evidence piles up -- Throughout the week of June 15, excited headlines screamed of the presumed solution to the previous week's top story. "MRS. COMBS ARRESTED


"In a startling climax to investigation into the murder of S. S. Combs, his widow, Mrs. Hazel Combs, was placed under arrest. ... A warrant charging the first degree murder of the former (Casper) city attorney was served on the slight, steel-nerved woman. ...

"(Combs) had been shot five times at such close range that powder burns were left by some of the shots. ...

"Prisoner Visibly Shaken When Shown Weapon

"To the rear of the (Combs) cabin, about 50 feet distant, is the outhouse where an important discovery was made. Beneath fresh wood ashes ... was found the revolver with which, the officers said, the murder was committed. It contained six empty shells. ...



"Insurance Collection Is Held Motive

"... Mr. Combs was husband No. 4. ... He was an attorney who represented her in divorce proceedings against husband number 3. ... Harley Atwood, the second husband of Mrs. Combs, died ... from asphyxiation by gas, when a coffee pot boiled over on a gas stove in the room where he lay asleep on a couch

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Modern Transportation

Changes in transportation methods were brought home to me again this week.

On Tuesday of this past week I drove 140 miles to Rawlins Wyoming, worked all day, and returned home that evening. 140 miles isn't a long distance in modern terms. My route took me past Independence Rock, where I stopped at the rest station as I always do. Then, resuming travel, down the Oregon Trail a ways further, and then across some desert country to Ten Mile Hill, a huge topographic rise just outside of Rawlins. Then into Rawlins, whose Union Pacific station is depicted above.

I have no idea if this station is still there. A lot of Rawlin's older buildings are. Rawlins itself, still on the main line of the UP, has seen some very hard times in recent years, but it seems to be rebounding, it's recovery fueled, as it were by natural gas exploration, as well as some wind energy development.

When I wrapped up my work, I turned around and was home in the early evening. A typical day's work for a litigator in Wyoming. It was an enjoyable trip really. Armed with my company supplied Ipod, I finished the book on tape version of Alexander Hamilton for the third time, and listened to a selection of episodes of "The News From Lake Woebegone".

I was to return to Rawlins on Thursday. I didn't, as I came down with the flu. Before somebody asks, no I don't know if it was the "Swine Flu". Whatever it was, it was fast moving, and I am over it now. I crawled into work on Thursday, but a partner of mine very graciously volunteered to take my place, so he repeated by Tuesday travel on Thursday.

I was very grateful for this, as I had a motion hearing in Douglas Wyoming, fifty miles a way, on Friday. I went home on Thursday and slept most of the day. The next day, however, I was back on the road to Douglas.

The courthouse depicted above is no longer in use, and I don't even know where it was. Douglas has a nice new courthouse, built, I think, in the 1970s, or maybe 80s.

This trip too was pleasant and uneventful, except for loosing my motion (rats). On the way to Douglas, I listed to an Ipod interview of H. W. Brands, speaking about Franklin Roosevelt. On the way back, I finished up the last downloaded News From Lake Woebegone I had.

What's the point of this? Modern easy of travel.

Could I have done this a century ago? I doubt it. Even had I owned a car in 1909, there's no way that I could have traveled to Rawlins and back in a day. I wouldn't have tried. It would have been much more likely that, if I had to do that, I would have taken the train from Casper to North Platte NE, and then switched on to the UP line and rode to Rawlins on Monday. I'd have stayed over in Rawlins Tuesday evening. I wouldn't have been able to have a back to back event in Rawlins and Douglas, in all likelihood.

But what does that mean? In part, it probably means that a lawyer, in this context, a century ago, would have gone to Rawlins on a Monday, and came back on a Friday. On Wednesday, he probably wouldn't have had much to do. Perhaps, were it me, I would have gone down to Parco for amusement. If I had to go to Douglas for Friday, I would have had to catch a night train.

What about, say 1939. I could have driven then, road travel was much improved. Even so, it would have been a bit of a brutal trip.

I suspect this also shows that, while travel is easier, life is faster paced. Probably nobody would have tried to schedule back to back travel plans like this "back in the day". Now, I'll often travel up to 600 miles in a day. If something is no further than 300 miles away, I don't stay, usually. That certainly wasn't the case at one time.

History of Natrona County

I'm surprised to find that A. J. Mockler's History of Natrona County is on line.

Granted, it is one of the dullest books ever written. But what an amazing tribute to the internet in that what is truly a rare book is so easily available in this form.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dual Careered lawyer

Here's an interesting item from today's CST history column. I'm afraid that I'm interested in it for the wrong reasons.
"Three Wounds in Head and Two in Body of S. S. Combs"

Recently retired Casper City Attorney Sewell Stanley Combs, 50, was found shot to death in his car June 10 at his ranch near Granite Canyon.

"The bullets that literally riddled his body were fired by a 'cowardly murderer' who shot the unsuspecting victim in the back of the head and body," a sheriff said.

Combs' widow, Hazel, "(h)er face ... drawn by grief, her eyes tortured by unshed tears and sleeplessness ... seemed overnight to have aged many years. She was haunted by the knowledge that while she lay asleep in their ranch home between Alcova and Leo, ... her husband was brutally murdered in his car--not a quarter of a mile away! ...

"The position of the body and other details indicated ... that Combs had been ... unaware of the menace hovering over his life when the assailant, in the back seat, shot him through the head, then emptying the gun as the man's body slumped over. ...

"Credence was ... given today to the theory that he was slain by an assailant harboring a bitter, personal grudge. ... This theory was a source of mystification, ... it being heard on every side: 'We didn't know Stan Combs had an enemy in the world.' ... Rumor was rife today that the trail of the murderer had led to Casper.
What's interesting here to me, I'm afraid, is that this lawyer apparently had a ranch way out of town. The location mentioned here is a pretty good trip out of Casper now, but in 1934, it was a very good trip indeed.

Lawyers coming from ranch families was common in Natrona County as recently as 20 or so years ago. In other counties, it remains common. But combining the professions is not common any longer. I wonder if it was at that time, and if so, how common.