June 13, 2010

Getting to Know Oklahoma


Where the Wind Comes Whippin' Down the Plain

June 4 was one of the hottest days on record in Oklahoma City and Norman. Despite that, for most of AIEP's meetings in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, the delegates were crossing their arms against the cold. One thing for sure, the air conditioning in the new Gaylord College is incredibly efficient.

The annual AIEP conference opened this year on June 3 with a short walk from the hotel to Bricktown Ballpark, where delegates enjoyed a barbeque supper in the Cool Zone, an air conditioned room in the stadium. As the evening's game between the Oklahoma Redhawks and the Memphis Redbirds began, delegates proceeded to box seats where they watched the Redhawks fall behind 9 to 0, then come from behind to win in the ninth inning 10-9.

On Friday, after the business meeting, Western historian and author David Dary presented a lecture on Wild West crime in Oklahoma and why Oklahoma's outlaw history was undifferent compared to that of neighboring states. Hanging Judge Parker, Belle Starr, and the Doolin gang were all mentioned, as well as Al Jennings, whose steady moral decline went from train robber to politician to evangelist to Hollywood personality.

After a visit to the Great Reading Room of the university library and the offices of World Literature Today, delegates enjoyed lunch at Pepe Delgado's, an authentic Mexican restaurant, then proceeded through the heat to the Fred Jones Jr Museum which holds the largest collection of Impressionist art ever given to a university.

Finally, delegates walked back to Gaylord Hall where Ben Fenwick, a former Reuters reporter and freelancer, told the story of his investigations of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Fenwick (along with the Dallas Morning News) was leaked inside information about what bomber Timothy McVeigh was telling his attorneys and published an article about it in Playboy. He has also written about various loose ends and fascinating odd coincidences that relate to the case. He is not a conspiracy theorist, by the way, and has also covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Saturday, delegates began with an informal talk from Officer Jeremy Sladkin of the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police. Oklahoma is a state filled with reservations of the various tribes who were settled here. Each has a limited sovereignty status and several of these tribes have their own police forces. Officer Sladkin explained the various difficulties of jurisdiction. The "trust lands" overlap state counties, some of which are willing to recognize tribal police and some which refuse to. Certain cases are settled in federal court. Others are adjudicated in tribal courts. It's a difficult maze of rules which these officers must navigate.

He said also that the most common type of criminal activity they must deal with is related to drugs, especially methamphetamine. The second most common is counterfeiting, then larceny. Most of the criminal activity is related to the many tribal casinos, which attract drug dealers, counterfeiters and purse snatchers. Sladkin is a K-9 officer and brought his dog, demonstrating its search methods and obedience.

After another business meeting, delegates continued to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in northwest Oklahoma City. This enormous and beautiful facility features art work by painters and sculptors such as Frederick Remington and other artists up to the present winners of the Prix West. Also in the museum are Native American artifacts, items from motion picture Westerns (John Wayne's and others' props and costumes). The museum also contains a life-sized replica of and entire frontier town with bank, school, stables, church, and the rest.

The final AIEP event was the farewell banquet in a private room at Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse, sponsored by the North American branch. Mickey Mantle was born in Oklahoma and a bronze statue of him is located in between the restaurant and the Bricktown ballpark.

Jim Madison Davis

Prof. Jim Madison Davis is the author of several crime novels and several nonfiction books, including the forthcoming Van Gogh Conspiracy. A President Worldwide of the International Association of Crime Writers, he teaches novel and filmscript writing in the Professional Writing Program of the Gaylord College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Website: www.ou.edu/content/gaylord/people/j__madison_davis.html


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