In a previous post, I gave a summary and appreciation of the life of Lillian Henson Scott Short Cline, known in our card catalog and in Vance Randolph’s 4-volume book collection, Ozark Folksongs as Lillian Short. She’s probably best known for singing a song she called “Robin Hood,” which is a version of “Hal An Tow,” or the Cornish May Song. Curiously, it’s the only time this song has been collected from oral tradition anywhere except Britain prior to the folk revival. In most traditional versions, including Lillian Short’s, the song begins with the words “Robin Hood and Little John.” I’ve done quite a bit of research on this song, and you can read all my posts about it at this link.
In researching Lillian’s life, I found she had an interesting connection to Robin Hood, which is what this post is about. As in the last post about Lillian, I’ll intersperse the story with some of her songs, and include a section of song notes at the end. Let’s begin with her rendition of the classic ballad “Lord Thomas and Fair Elinor” in the player below.
That ballad, of course, is about a difficult courtship and marriage, and Lillian’s connection to Robin Hood is through her own marriage. Specifically, it’s through her first marriage, which was to George Leonard Short, known to most people by his second name “Leonard” or his nickname, “Shock.” As I was researching the singer of the Robin Hood song, I was surprised to find that her husband was a bandit with a reputation as a folk hero, much like Robin Hood.
Leonard Short came from a prominent family in Galena, Missouri. His younger brother, Dewey Jackson Short, went on to be a 12-term U.S. Congressman. According to Ozark historian Larry Wood, Leonard was a businessman in Galena, operating a feed and produce store and a title and abstract company. In the 1920s he had a reputation as a bootlegger or illegal distiller, but the charge was never proven.
In this era, Leonard was close friends with the future folklorist Vance Randolph, who lived in the Short family home for over a year. In a folder of notes Vance Randolph kept on Leonard (Box 11 of AFC’s Vance Randolph Collection), he included the following handwritten observation:
Uncle Jack Short was quite a fellow. He had three sons. One of them was a colonel in the Air Force, one was a congressman, and one was a bankrobber. They were all good men. But I always liked the bankrobber best. I think Uncle Jack did, too.
In 1926, Leonard Short married Lillian Henson Scott, who as we’ve seen was a fine singer of old traditional songs. As I discovered from this preservation document from the Missouri State Parks, which includes a directory of the local Masonic Lodge, Lillian’s father, Rufe Scott, and Leonard’s father, Jackson G. Short, had long known each other as officers of Galena Lodge No. 515; in 1947 they were the only two people who had been members for 50 years. Their families must have been well acquainted.
As far as we know, everyone survived Lillian and Leonard’s wedding, but let’s hear Lillian sing “The Fatal Wedding Night.”
In the early 1930s, Leonard Short moved into a new line of work, promoting wrestling and boxing matches in Springfield. Soon thereafter he began to be accused of crimes. First, there was the August 1933 hold-up at the Bank of Galena, right on the main square of his hometown. The crime was dramatic, and suggested that the gang was well acquainted with the bank’s operations: several masked bandits arrived at the home of bank manager Troy Stone the night before the robbery, kept him and his wife at gunpoint, then hustled him to the bank in the morning at the right time for the bank’s time lock to open. After stealing the contents of the vault, the bandits locked Troy inside and fled. (A booklet promoting Stone County in 1927 shows that Leonard Short’s sister, Bess Allman, worked as a secretary at the bank at that time. I haven’t been able to determine if she still worked there in 1935.) According to Larry Wood, Short was arrested for taking part in the robbery but released on bail. Ultimately, the case was dropped for lack of evidence.
In October 1933 Short was implicated in the robbery of a bakery employee carrying the business’s receipts in Springfield, the town where he often promoted fights. According to Larry Wood, he was eventually convicted of the bakery job and sentenced to ten years in prison, but was again released on bail while he appealed.
Shock Short was next identified as a conspirator in the robbery of the Billings, Missouri bank–see the sixth column of this newspaper page, toward the bottom. Investigations into these and other crimes led to him being identified by authorities as a member of the notorious “Irish O’Malley” gang, and also as the leader of his own overlapping criminal enterprise: “Six Daring Bandits, Inc.” The United Press article “U.S. Crushes Two Midwest Bandits” features many details of both gangs, their alleged crimes, and how each gangster was caught. Let’s hear Lillian sing a true crime ballad, the classic “Naomi Wise.”
As the United Press article details, the two gangs and their accessories, a total of about 15 men, were identified by federal authorities as having stolen between 2 and 3 million dollars in bank robberies, holdups, jewelry and payroll heists, kidnappings, and extortion. Their most daring exploit was the simultaneous robbery of two national banks in Okemah, Oklahoma on December 23, 1934, a heist in which Leonard Short had a major role.
In the early months of 1935, Federal authorities made breaking up the two gangs a priority, and most of the members were caught. Leonard Short, already convicted of the Springfield robbery but free on bail and awaiting appeal, was apprehended on June 10 in Galena. According to Vance Randolph’s handwritten notes on a conversation with Lillian, she tried to help Leonard evade capture, but to no avail:
When they came to take Leonard, government men had machine guns. Lillian said ‘He’s at home,’ and looked to the right–where they owned another house. This was to give Leonard (at the old Short house across the street) time to get out the back way. The government men were ‘shaking like leaves,’ but Leonard was asleep, unarmed. He surrendered, yawning. No attempt to escape.
Leonard was brought to Oklahoma to stand trial on Federal charges for robbing a national bank. Lillian attended the trial in Muskogee. According to handwritten notes by Vance Randolph in his folder on Leonard Short, she knew Leonard was guilty: “Leonard told Lillian all about the robberies,” Randolph wrote, “but always after they had happened. He never told her anything until the job was done.”
One of the clippings in Vance Randolph’s Leonard Short folder reports that at the trial Lillian sat “in stern silence.” But we can hear her voice now, singing “The Boogy Boogy Boo” and “The Butcher’s Boy,” in the player below.
Leonard and his co-conspirators were convicted of the Oklahoma robberies in November 1935, and remained in the Muskogee jail awaiting sentencing. While awaiting trial, Leonard had heard that his appeal in the Springfield bakery robbery had been denied. Although he was also planning to appeal the Oklahoma case, he was a convicted felon with a ten-year sentence to serve, no matter the outcome of the appeal. No longer eligible for bail, he would be sent from the Muskogee jail to the Missouri State Penitentiary. This may have influenced him in making his next move: helping to plan and execute a jailbreak.
On December 3, 1935, five members of the O’Malley Gang, including Leonard, broke out of the jail in Muskogee. According to newspapers, including the Brownsville Herald, the wife of one of the gang members, Dapper Dan Heady, smuggled a pistol into the jail, helping with the escape. Dubbed “Pretty Betty Heady” by the press, she was arrested for her role in the escape.
The gangsters fled to the Kiamichi mountains, leading to one of the greatest manhunts in Oklahoma history. According to the International News Service, it involved a full company of Oklahoma National Guard, scores of federal agents and posse members, and bloodhounds from the state penitentiary. The governor even brought in airplanes from Tulsa to provide aerial reconnaissance–quite a scarce resource in 1935!
The jailbreak and ensuing manhunt were to be Shock Short’s last adventures; he was brought back from the mountains dead. However, it remains unclear exactly how he died. Some newspaper stories, like the one from the Brownsville Herald at this link, reported that Short died of “exposure, pneumonia, and burns,” which seems (literally) like overkill. The story told by police varied. Some newspaper clippings preserved in Vance Randolph’s Leonard Short folder include reports from police that they found Short alive, but mostly naked, badly burned, and delirious, having apparently rolled into his campfire while asleep so that his clothes caught fire. Those reports further claimed that Short made another attempt to escape, running a short distance up a hill before suddenly dropping dead. But many newspapers (including the Brownsville Herald story which I linked to earlier) reported that he was dead when police found him, having accidentally burned down a shack he was using for shelter; as the clipping below succinctly states, “Short Found Dead.” Likewise, in Randolph’s folder on Short, there are some clippings reporting that Short was found dead, while others say that he was found alive.
This variable explanation of Short’s death sounded fishy to many at the time, especially since other newspapers reported that he was shot near the heart and given medical attention before dying–which seems a bit specific to be just a speculation or a mistake. The confusion persisted until after he was buried; a note in Vance Randolph’s files features the opinion of Bess Allman, Leonard’s sister, who spoke with the undertaker:
Leonard was not badly burned. He was double-crossed + shot at. His heart was bad for years + this was too much for it. Leonard was literally ‘scared to death.’
Other notes in Randolph’s handwriting indicate that he personally spoke with Leonard’s doctor, who favored death by exposure as an explanation (but confirmed that Leonard had a heart condition).
Whatever the circumstances of Leonard’s death, the jailbreak was a disaster. Several law enforcement officers were killed and more were injured. One bandit died in the initial escape, and Leonard Short and Dan Heady died in the hills. The rest were recaptured within days, and Betty Heady was charged with murder. In recognition of this metaphorical train wreck, let’s hear Lillian sing “The Wreck of the Old 97.”
By now you may be thinking, “Leonard Short may have been a criminal, but that doesn’t make him Robin Hood!” And of course, you’d be right. It would be a stretch to connect him to his wife’s Robin Hood song just because he was the leader of the “Six Daring Bandits.” But intriguingly, in and around Galena, Leonard Short does appear to have attracted a legendary reputation. Junior Warren, in the “Sam I Am” blog, reports on these legends, which he heard from his grandmother. The Stone County Skillet, a website and Facebook for Ozark history run by Tara Wolf, also reports on Shock Short legends. Finally, newspaper clippings in Vance Randolph’s Leonard Short folder also mention his generosity.
One widespread legend, recounted by both Warren and Wolf, is that Short had a network of tunnels under Galena, which allowed him to get from place to place unseen, to escape from authorities, and to hide his loot. A preservation document from the Missouri State Parks suggests that the title and abstract company once run by Leonard and later by Lillian was next door to the bank, which might explain the appeal of the tunnel legend; the first serious crime Leonard was accused of was robbing that bank; a tunnel to a nearby place of business would be credible, and would certainly facilitate a robbery.
According to a Facebook post from Wolf, another logical destination for a tunnel was the house of Bess Allman, Leonard’s sister. Wolf points out that Bess’s house was very near the bank. Bess was also Lillian’s good friend and singing partner, and was present when Vance Randolph recorded Lillian singing the Robin Hood song. In fact, since all we know of the recording’s location is that it was in Galena, the recording might well have occurred in the house Wolf mentions as a possible tunnel destination.
Wolf’s post also suggests that the tunnel legend was widespread and that the site of Allman’s house became the subject of “legend trips” by local explorers:
One of [Short’s] sisters, known as Bess ( Mary Elizabeth Short- Allman) lived in Galena during this time near the Bank and Courthouse. Again, I have read that there were supposed to be tunnels running under Galena but I was personally told from a good friend in Galena that when this house was torn down he specifically looked for any such tunnels and could not find any under this house.
Warren gives the most detailed account of the tunnel legends, but also reasonably points out that not ALL of them can be true:
Stories credit Shock and his gang with digging numerous tunnels in and around Galena to easily escape law enforcement and to hide the money. […] If Shock Short and his gang had dug all the tunnels that legends credit them with digging, they would have never had any time to rob banks.
Warren specifically mentions four tunnel tales. One tells of a tunnel which connected the center of Galena to a boat ramp on the bank of the James river, which would give gang members a quick way to escape. Another speaks of a tunnel which went directly to Shock’s house, so he could come and go without being seen. A third describes a tunnel that emerged inside the Galena bank, obviously a useful thing for a bank robber to have.
A fourth legend recounted by Warren describes a tunnel that started in the center of town and emerged in a church. This is interesting from a folklore perspective, since a tunnel that goes specifically to a church doesn’t have any obvious utility to a bank robber, but it might connect these legends to a long tradition of church escape tunnel legends in Europe and Underground Railroad legends in America.
As fascinating as the tunnel stories are, other legends about Leonard “Shock” Short are more relevant to Lillian’s song. Specifically, several commentators claim that Short developed a reputation for helping neighbors, especially children. According to a clipping from the December 10, 1935 Springfield Leader & Press in Vance Randolph’s Leonard Short folder, over 1000 mourners attended Leonard’s funeral:
They reminisced about “Shock” in whispers, standing bareheaded around his home. Little was said of his lawbreaking. ‘He had a lot of money but he gave it all away. I remember how he used to take a whole gang of kids to the picture show.’ They pointed to an old woman with a bouquet of flowers. ‘She walked seven miles to bring him that. He did her a good turn.
Other “good turns” mentioned in Vance Randolph’s clippings include dropping off groceries for poor neighbors, helping out with mortgage payments, and buying children sweets and ice cream. In honor of Leonard’s soft spot for children, let’s hear Lillian’s rendition of the old sentimental song “Babes in the Woods.”
Junior Warren is the most explicit about Leonard’s Robin Hood reputation, mentioning Short in connection with Robin Hood several times:
As a child I loved the stories that Grandma DeLong told me about Shock Short, who was considered a “Robin Hood” folk hero. […]
According to Warren, Leonard’s reputation was based on helping poor neighbors by giving them some of his stolen money:
The local legends always credit Shock Short with being willing to share some of the money with his fellow Stone County citizens. The tales suggested that he would give neighbors money to help clothe their kids and even keep banks from foreclosing on homes and making even more people homeless.
Warren also thinks Short’s reputation was also helped along by the unpopularity of banks among local residents in the 1930s:
The Great Depression helped to make Shock Short a controversial folk hero. Local stories point out his Robin Hood compassion and his Jesse James bravado. […] Public sentiment was against the banks. Banks were the villains…. Banks foreclosed on homes and farms – people were homeless.
Wealthy Americans would call the bank robbers “hoods, “”henchmen,” and “gangsters.” Homeless, penniless Americans would view the bank robbers as “Robin Hood….”
Of course, none of this means that Lillian Short singing the Robin Hood song had anything to do with her late husband. But consider that she was recording the song for Vance Randolph, who considered Leonard Short a close friend. Consider that the other person present at the session was Bess Short Allman, Leonard’s sister. If Leonard really was known as a local Robin Hood, in that context it seems likely that her “Robin Hood” song at least resonated with the story which everyone in the room knew, the story that connected them all: the story of Lillian’s late husband, George Leonard Short.
In honor of Leonard, let’s hear “Robin Hood” one more time!
Lillian Short’s recording of “Lord Thomas and Fair Elinor” (Child 73, Roud 4) has the catalog number AFS 05294 B. A different version of this ballad appeared on our LP AFS L7, which had notes by Bertrand Bronson, available here as a pdf. Bronson notes that, among the classic British ballads, this one is second only to “Barbara Allen” in popularity, and that “like ‘Barbara Allen,’ it has the sentimental appeal of a story of unhappy love, with the added thrill of wholesale slaughter.” On the Library of Congress website, you can find another version by George Vinton Graham, and two more from Mrs. O.C. Davis and Frank and Myra Pipkin. You can also find many versions from our archive online at the Association for Cultural Equity.
Lillian Short’s recording of “The Fatal Wedding Night” (Roud 3273) has the catalog number AFS 05337 A01. This parlor song became very popular in American oral tradition, especially in the Ozarks. It was written by W.H. Windom and Gussie Lord Davis, and published in 1893 as “The Fatal Wedding.” The sheet music, which you can find at this link, described it as a “Descriptive Waltz Song.” You can find another version from our archive online here, sing by Helen Pischner. Windom, the lyricist, was also a popular singer and pianist. Davis, the composer, was the first African American songwriter to achieve major success in Tin Pan Alley, New York’s commercial music district. You can read a brief biography of Davis at this link. Denied formal admission at the Nelson Musical College in Cincinnati because of his race, Davis agreed to perform janitorial duties at the college for partial wages in return for private lessons. Eventually his songs were published by some of the leading music companies in New York. In his essay about Lead Belly’s “Good Night Irene” for the National Recording Registry, Kip Lornell points out that “Good Night Irene” was probably based on another of Gussie Lord Davis’s hits from the 1880s.
Lillian Short’s recording of “Naomi Wise” (Roud 447) has the catalog number AFS 05281 B01. It was released in the 1950s on the Archive’s 12th LP Record, Anglo American Songs and Ballads (AFS L12). Though the recording is out of print, you can read the lyrics and the liner notes by Duncan Emrich in the pdf at this link. They give many details about the song, which is based on a real murder case from North Carolina in 1808, in which Naomi Wise was murdered by Jonathan Edwards. The ballad is often called by Naomi’s nickname, “Omie Wise,” and under that title you can find many versions from our archive online at the Association for Cultural Equity.
Lillian Short’s version of “The Boogy Boogy Boo” (Roud 558) has the catalog number AFS 05262 B01. The song tells the story of a courting couple who go to bed together when one or both of them (depending on the version) are frightened by a ghost or spirit, referred to in Lillian’s version as “The Boogy Boogy Boo.” Many versions of this old ballad are called “The Foggy Foggy Dew” instead, but Lillian’s title may be closer to the song’s roots. The ballad seems to be derived from a seventeenth-century broadside called “The Fright’ned York-shire Damosel, or, Fears Dispers’d by Pleasure,” which you can see at this link. In this earliest known version, the frightening being is referred to as a “spright,” and is called “The Bogulmaroo.” In most versions of the song, the couple spend the night together. In many versions they get married, and in some they have a child. Most versions of the ballad leave many things unstated, including whether the ghost is real and whether the protagonists really believe in it. Some people have interpreted the ghost as a trick played by the man on the woman to get her into his bed, but in most versions this is not at all clear. On the Library of Congress website, you can hear a version sung by an unknown Montana singer about 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the tape reel at this link. Over at the Association for Cultural Equity, you can find three versions recorded by Alan Lomax in Britain–some of which contain language and sentiments you may find objectionable. On Lillian Short’s recording, she makes a mistake near the end of the song, laughs, and doesn’t finish or return to the song. She and Vance Randolph might have decided to move on because he had already collected the song from her in writing in 1938. He prints that earlier version in the book Ozark Folksongs. Even the earlier version doesn’t tell a complete story, but it suggests that the woman left or died after giving birth to their son. It begins with the man describing himself as a bachelor who lives with his son, and ends with him saying:
When I look into my son’s eyes
I dream of the pretty maid
[There seems to be a pair of lines missing here]
How I wooed her in the summer time
And part of the winter too
Tumble into bed, pretty maid I said
And I’ll hide you from the Boogy Boogy Boo
Lillian Short’s recording of “The Butcher Boy” (Roud 409) has the catalog number AFS 05262 B02. This is a widespread ballad derived from several different British broadside types. It tells the tragic story of a young woman who is abandoned by her lover. It was historically most popular in America, where the location is often specified as Jersey City. At the Library of Congress website, you can hear a version sung by Pearl Nye of Ohio, as well as a 1925 commercial version by Kelly Harrell. At the Association for Cultural Equity, find several versions collected by Alan Lomax and his associates in Kentucky.
Lillian Short’s recording of “Wreck of the Old 97” (Roud ) has the catalog number AFS 05327 A02. The song is based on an event that occurred in 1903, and due to the interests of the first head of what is now the AFC archive, we have cylinder recordings from 1925 made by some of the people who composed it. You can find one of the recordings, and notes about the song, at this link. Over at ACE, you can find Texas Gladden and Hobart Smith’s recording of the song. We also have a fun version by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason as part of their Homegrown concert, which we also talked about in their Homegrown interview. You can find both videos in the blog at this link. Finally, you can read our colleague Bryan Cornell’s blog about Old 97 and hear Vernon Dalhart’s early commercial recording at this link.
Lillian Short’s recording of “Babes in the Woods” (Roud 288) has the catalog number AFS 05326 B02. You can find more versions from our archive online at the Library of Congress. The song is ultimately derived from a broadside published in London in 1595 by publisher Thomas Millington with the title “The Norfolk gent his will and Testament and howe he Commytted the keepinge of his Children to his owne brother whoe delte moste wickedly with them and howe God plagued him for it.” It’s a long poem that tells a complicated story of how two children are abandoned in the woods and die, and the punishment that comes to their uncle for doing so. The story became extremely popular, and was the subject of operas, plays, pantomimes, and puppet shows. In his 1853 memoir, musician William Gardiner of Leicester, England, recounts hearing an “itinerant vendor of toys” performing a street cry to sell little wax dolls representing the children from the story. He claims to have expanded the street cry into a short song with the help of his friend Thomas Combe. It is this short version, published around 1798, that seems to be the root of Lillian Short’s song. It was often printed as a traditional song without Gardiner’s or Combe’s name attached. On the Library of Congress website, you can hear several other field recordings of the song, and see some 1848 sheet music as well.
Lillian Short’s recording of “Robin Hood” (Roud 1520) has the catalog number AFS 05263 B02. I’ve written about the history of the song in three blog posts at this link. Its early history is discussed in this post and its comments. To summarize, the words and tune of the song were first documented in 1802, and Lillian Short’s fragment is quite close to the beginning of the song as published then. A few of the words are known to go back as far as 1748 as a Mayday song, when Dr. William Borlase commented that the phrase “Haile an Taw, and Golly Rumbelaw” was used to raise a maypole in Newlyn.
Thank for this story and the related episodes in your other blogs. If this doesn’t bring forth a screenwriter and feature film, I’ll be surprised! And we can guess what will make great soundtrack music (with copyright-free compositions).