From tall tales to totally true and everything in between, San Marcos is full of interesting, quirky and downright thrilling stories. Bank robberies, brave citizens, old rivalries and more than our share of mischief – we’ve rounded up a couple of local legends to share with you.
The Newton Gang
It’s said the most successful bank and train robbers in Texas were the infamous Newton Gang. While the outlaws often carried pistols and shotguns, they apparently never killed anyone during their robberies and heists. In the early hours of January 5, 1924, the Newton Gang used nitro to blow off the “Old State Bank” vault’s door. They overestimated the amount needed though and the vault door launched 20 feet through the building and woke up the neighborhood. The gang emerged with $24,000 and they simply walked out of town. Today the “Old State Bank” is now The Vault, a popular nightlife spot.
Baby Face Nelson?
In the early 1930’s a San Antonio man named Hyman Lebman became notorious for converting Colt handguns from single shot to automatic, which drew Baby Face Nelson and a few other gangsters to the area. Around this time the First National Bank of San Marcos was robbed, but nobody knew by who. The bank president one day went to the movies and before the film began saw a news reel about the dangers of none other than Baby Face Nelson. The bank president “allegedly” leapt from his seat and shouted, “that’s him!” While Nelson was confirmed to being in the area, law enforcement could never pin the crime on him.
Burial Site Bravery
In 1897 A.B. Rogers opened a furniture and coffin store in what’s now known as the Rogers Building. Five years after opening the store he acquired an embalmer’s license and renamed his business the Undertakers and Furniture Store. During the 1930’s the mortuary used a horse drawn cart and employed 2 men who could drive it – an African American father and son duo. The pair were faced with a difficult job when the area’s leader of the Ku Klux Klan passed away and the body needed transporting. The son, 12-year-old Chris, bravely took on the job. Chris wore the robes of the KKK, hiding his skin color, and delivered the body to the cemetery after a harrowing cross county trip to Wimberley, where thousands were attending the gravesite service. At the end of Chris’ life, he requested that his courageous story continued being told and we are honored to do just that.
Jack the Dog
Downtown explorers may have spotted a small white headstone in the sidewalk in front of Fire Station Studio. The Texas State University-owned audio production facility was once our local fire station. The fire station had a trusty station dog named Jack, who, on December 27, 1922, was accidentally killed when a water hose snapped and hit him. (The poor dog had apparently been run over three times and was accidentally shot once, but he “weathered his misfortunes and held to his self-imposed duties.”) The fire fighters made a memorial for the heroic canine, which remains there today.
Cannabis in the Carpet
The building that is now Sean Patrick’s was not always a well looked after building. After a fire burned down the top level of the popular 1970’s disco, Too Bitter, and originally 3-story building, it fell into disrepair and was left to nature. The former disco however went a little too much into nature when pot plants allegedly sprouted around the building from the, um, grass remnants left behind, a shocking surprise for the potential new owner.
East Side of the Square
H.C. Kyle Jr. was a prominent Republican and well-known attorney with an office, well, on the east side of the square. Legend has it, Kyle and President Lyndon B. Johnston, former San Marcos resident and Texas State University student, competed against each other for the editor position for the university’s paper. LBJ won the position and there were some hurt feelings. When Kyle opened his practice, the business was on Austin Street, but the street was later renamed LBJ Drive to honor the president. That didn’t sit well with Kyle… He refused to acknowledge LBJ Drive as his office address and instead every address listing, from the phone book to his business cards, referred to the address as the East Side of the Square.
“I thought it was very ridiculous to change the street name for the Father of Texas to what they did change it to [Lyndon B. Johnson Street]. Why didn’t they take Guadalupe over there and change it?” – Henry C. Kyle Jr.
The Flapper Bandit
In 1926 Becky Bradley Rogers, or the Flapper Bandit, was a student at the University of Texas studying for her master’s degree in history. Unable to pay her tuition and debt, she took to bank robbing. Or, at least she tried… She started with a trip to the Farmer’s State Bank in Round Rock. She set fire to a building across the street from the bank, hoping it would draw the patrons and employees outside of the bank, but no such luck. Her first attempt foiled, she then drove to Buda where she held up the bank’s staff at gun point and took about a thousand dollars. She then got her car stuck in the mud and hitched a ride back to Austin. Her car was recognized from the robbery and she was arrested when she came to pick up her stranded car. She was taken to San Marcos for booking and was the only woman to be held at the Calaboose. The Flapper Bandit charmed the all-male jury with her “melting brown eyes” and she was let go.