Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University
of Texas Press:
"As a whole, the interviews create
a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also
of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues
such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue.
This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets
to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often
inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is
the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor,
and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go
mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing
likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
- William Kerns, Lubbock Avalanche Journal
REMEMBERING OLE 186
by Johnny Hughes
When Johnny Chan first
went to Las Vegas, he discovered poker and jumped off big winner.
Then he ran into E.W. "Ole 186" Chapman, a Texas road
gambler that moved his chips as fast as any man you have ever
seen. E.W. busted Johnny and he busted many a good poker player.
E.W. made his living playing poker but he had more leaks than
the levees in New Orleans. I met E.W. when I was twenty and he
was forty in 1960. We often discussed poker strategy. E.W. never
helped get a game started in the afternoon. He would plunge into
the game after a few hours and become the most frequent raiser
and re-raiser. He waited until the losers were trapped in the
Gambler's Fallacy of believing they "were due" and
were playing double up and catch up. At the start of the game,
everyone plays real tight and E.W. didn't want any part of that.
All the games in Texas were no limit, even the small games.
The dealer anted a dollar and the blind was two dollars in Texas
Hold 'em. That's like twenty dollars in today's money. Often
there was a straddle. The standard raise was twenty dollars,
ten times the blind. I asked E.W. one time why he raised so often.
He said he raised because the other players didn't want him to.
"If they had wanted it raised, they would have raised it
themselves," He said. E.W. was very hard to play against.
He told me you have to play flush draws like they are already
made. He just kept firing at it. He was ready to move in regardless
of the board card. We were always engaged in that argument about
whether it is better to play tight or loose but E.W. didn't really
have but one gear. He had no choice. E.W. said, "I really
have too much gamble in me to leather ass the proposition. I
like to draw."
Back then, we played with paper currency. E.W. was a nut about
money, especially twenty dollar bills. He'd play with his whole
stack in neat twenties all facing up. He taught me to repair
the corners and smooth out all the bills. He was constantly doing
this to all the money in the game. All of us were pretty slick
with paper money, counting our bets incredibly fast. The word
would spread around West Texas when E.W. was striking, on a run.
We played a lot of heads-up challenge matches. When E.W. was
striking, he would go visit gamblers in their homes in the mornings
and break them.
E.W. could play a rush better than anyone but he could also simulate
a rush. He'd semi-bluff really high and hit some miracle hands.
He was the hero of countless bad beat stories. It was common
to try to win all the money on the table. E.W. tried to bust
players like it was a tournament. He took pills, uppers and downers
at the same time, and could get really wild. He was always well
mannered and gentlemanly except the time he shot Morgan in the
E.W.'s real road game was deuce-five, Kansas City lowball draw.
E.W. didn't mind going broke on any given day because it was
easy to get a stake horse and a fresh start. He'd put all the
money he had on the table. The dealer anted ten dollars and everyone
else anted five. We played seven-five higher than we played poker.
When E.W. drew one card, he would act like he looked but he would
move in without looking. He'd always show his bluffs. In no time
he had the table steaming. E.W. and I would stake each other
and loan to each other. Several people were willing to stake
a broke just to fill up the game. It was a friendly thing to
One time when I was flat broke, I went by a big low ball game
to eat the home-made stew which was the day's specialty. Big
poker and dice games had a single menu item each day. They used
food as a draw and called all the players for steak, catfish,
chili, and barbecue. E.W. was big winner and had everyone gambling.
A pal staked me and a few hours later I was $1800 winner. That's
like $18000 in today's money. I wanted to take $35 off the table
to pay my rent and get pick up my laundry. At first they wouldn't
let me, but finally they let me run the three blocks to my pad
and pay the overdue rent and get the laundry. I came back and
E.W. and I were in Ruidoso one time in a big low ball game and
we suspected there would be some wolfing going on. One guy had
some bandages on his hands and E.W. reached out and felt of the
bandages. He was a little fellow, quite and well mannered but
he was fearless. We both made good winnings.
I would stake E.W. but I usually wanted to cut out when I went
home. A couple of times I stayed in with him and he went on this
pilling run. E.W. took uppers and downers, chain smoked menthol
cigarettes, and sometimes didn't sleep for days. E.W. was such
a character that the other poker players told stories about him
often. A favorite was the time the bought a large quantity of
black mollies, a long black pill of speed, and engraved his initials
on the sides of the pills in gold leaf. When E.W. was on a pilling
run, he would go all around town playing heads-up or getting
in games until he got broke or robbed.
Twice when I had him staked, he ran off on one of these runs.
I would hear about him and occasionally catch him on the phone
but I couldn't catch up with him to cut out. Finally, I caught
him and he had the whole front room of his apartment covered
in the junk he had won. He had one old bookmaker's clothes and
lawn mower and implements, rake and hoe. He had won one of my
college pal's overcoat and Tech ring. There was this enormous
mirror. He would ask me if I wanted the item and then set a price
on it, more than it was worth, and give me the cash. I was silent
during this but I ended up with all the money.
Another time when I had him staked, he ran off and I finally
found him in the middle of the night at his apartment playing
heads up against the Mule. They were both pilling. They both
had high piles of currency in front of them, mostly ones and
twenties. I told E.W. I wanted to cut out but the Mule strongly
objected. Then they began to straddle it. It was four, eight,
sixteen, until they had put all of the Mule's money in the pot
before the cards were dealt. I ran on out of there before the
deal. I can smell a hot score brewing better than any man that
ever walked in shoe leather. Later, I heard the Mule won the
pot. Probably, he put the hat on E.W.
We played at a woman named Dolly's six days and nights a week.
On Tuesdays, she closed and the game moved to Morgan's whore
house. Bill Smith and E.W. raised each other back and forth.
It came as natural as fighting chickens. I have noticed that
some of the great aggressive players like Stu Ungar and Jack
"Treetop" Straus are suckers for the sports bets. E.W.
was like that. He was addicted to the action. One night Bill
Smith put on this ridiculous women's hat of Dolly's. Then he
went on a rush, raising every pot. One of the players was a little
bit slow and he paid Bill ten bucks for the hat. He won a pot
and E.W. paid him ten bucks for the hat.
At the outlaw whisper joints you didn't ask a man his last name,
how he made his living, where he lived, or where he was going.
E.W. got robbed a lot on his nocturnal gambling rounds. He would
go over to the black area and be the only white guy in an after
hours joint playing low ball. I've done that but I would not
recommend it. If someone asked anyone where they lived, the answer
was always, "Next door to E.W."
"Where's that?" they'd ask.
"Well, E.W. doesn't want anyone to know where he lives.
" was the answer.
When I first started playing at Morgan's whore house, there had
been a fight and his wife, Bell, shot another fellow once and
Morgan twice by accident. Morgan was huge, about three hundred
pounds. Sometimes the young working girls would be there when
we played. They traveled to several cities on a circuit called
"the wheel." One night Morgan was drinking and E.W.
was pilling and they were beginning to argue. I hit the road
out of there. Later, E.W. pulled his pistol and fired across
the table at Morgan. His first shot blew the air conditioner
out of the window. His second went into the wall. His third shot
hit Morgan in the foot. Then E.W. ran and Morgan gave chase.
E.W. left his car and ran down the street and Morgan fired a
couple of shots his way. The next week we were all back to playing
as if nothing happened.
One Christmas, several of the gamblers were going to El Paso
for the horse races. Buddy the Beat and I took the bus there
and stayed on the main drag in Juarez in a cheap hotel. E.W.
advised me to bet the favorites to show and that worked until
the last race. We met E.W. back in Juarez and he was incredibly
wild. He had a big bankroll. He would buy things from the street
vendors and then trade it and some money for other things, a
sombrero, a huge plastic bull. When we'd go in a bar, he would
buy drinks for the largest woman and give her the crap he had
bought. Finally, a cop arrested E.W. and I. I wasn't sure what
for. Maybe being drunk like everyone else. They hustled us into
the back of a car and drove us a long way from the bridge. By
this time, we really didn't have much money left on us. E. W.
said to let him do all the talking. When he was pilling, he talked
really slow and as if he were in an echo chamber.
We had this trial in this little
court room with a Judge in a tie who looked to be all of fourteen.
E.W. explained that we didn't have any relatives that would send
us money. In the Juarez jail, prisoners had to arrange for their
own food. Finally, the Judge ordered us to empty our pockets
on this little table. He came over and took what he wanted: a
few dollars, my silver dollar money clip, and my comb. Then the
cops took my cigarettes and change and they let us go.
I road back from Juarez with E.W. My friend Buddy the Beat had
hitch hiked all over the United States riding with whatever stranger
pulled over in the dark of night but he wouldn't ride with E.W.
It was a three hundred and thirty mile drive home and it took
us twelve hours in E. W.'s old Chevy. He kept calling his dear
friend Morgan and telling him to hold the game together because
we were nearly there. He said to tell them he would play anyone
there heads-up for his case dough.
You ask how did "Ole 186" get his road name? Road names
were common. Two by Two would be called Little Joe the hard way.
The bookmakers gave each customer a code number. E.W. asked for
the same number with all the bookies. The bookies had pagers.
You would call and give your number and they would call you back
on a pay phone or a safe phone.
The Shop was this wonderful outlaw hangout in Lubbock, Texas
for thirty-five years. Road gambers came from all over to play
there. There was a no-limit Hold 'em game in the afternoons and
sometimes all night. E.W. would call and you would hear him on
one of the bookmaker's pagers. He'd always say, "It's ole
186." This would start people telling E.W. stories. Some
of the bigger bookmakers worked front office--back office. They
could hear the incoming pager calls as could the front office
phone man. They would know who was betting but would not return
the call unless it was a big special player like a Judge or something.
Once while Toots was being arrested, a Judge did call and the
cops told him they were in the middle of a raid. The Judge said
he didn't care and told them to tell Toots he would take $500
on the Cowboys.
The Shop and outlaw gambling
in general had more rules than the Post Office. You didn't use
any real names over the phone. E.W. was a real loner. He didn't
hang out with the other gamblers. The Shop had this schedule.
It would open up in the early mornings for coffee and old stories,
the best part. Several of the big bookmakers went there every
day. They were competitors not partners. In the mornings, there
was a very cheap domino game. They would play for $1 or $5 and
yell and get very emotional and angry. They would slam the dominoes
down with great force and insult each other freely. I might not
have told you but $1 then was like $10 now.
The same guys who yelled at dominoes
showed no emotion at poker. If someone trash talked or celebrated
as they do today, one of the old guys would have shot them and
all anybody would have said would have been, "Seat open."
E.W. would skip the old stories and the early part of the game
to walk around the Mall. He'd read the Thrifty Nickel, the free
shopping guide. He seemed to have no concept of time, never having
to show up any place at a specific time. He was an outside man,
someone who made their whole living from poker. The inside men
ran poker games, dice games, loaned money, and were bookies.
They didn't go broke, no romance to it. We outside men exchanged
information when we met away from the poker game. E.W. and I
would talk about how the other guys played, who had a temper,
when there was heat from the law, what road gamblers were in
town, and who had been on a winning or losing streak. The house
man or lady would not tell you how everyone was doing as a matter
of professionalism. You were not supposed to wake up the suckers
giving poker lessons at the table. You just did not discuss how
to play a hand. The one thing that did teach people about the
math of poker was laying insurance. When there was a draw about
to happen, the players would show both hands and the various
bookmakers would quote a price or the odds on the draw. They
did this in Las Vegas also.
As money management, E.W. would often take the insurance bets
when he had his case money on the table. You could bet on the
insurance bets even if you weren't in the pot. When he was striking
and pilling, E.W. would bet on every hand he had a chance to.
Because we had staked each other and loaned each other, we became
friends. E.W. was broke more times than the Ten Commandments
but he always ironed it out. He would go to Big Fred, who ran
the game, for loans at 5% interest or juice per week if his pockets
were dry. Once E.W. soaked his small portable T.V. to me. I loaned
him $200 on it. When an outside man borrowed money, there usually
wasn't a specific deadline for repayment. You'd always say truthfully,
"I'll pay you when I win." I didn't hear from E.W.
for awhile and I gave the TV to this young couple who were getting
married. We'd win all kinds of things: rings, watches, clothes,
car titles, rubber checks, and guns. E.W. got back on his feet
and he wanted the TV back. He was really insistent that I had
broken a rule moving a soaked TV. I had to go get it back Indian
E.W. and I rarely discussed anything
but poker and poker players. He did tell me he had been 4-F during
World War Two. He said he drove a bus and the soldiers harassed
him. He was a little guy about 140 pounds. He always wore slacks,
a nice shirt, and a hat with a full brim. Never trust a man in
a narrow-brimmed hat. He's sit up at the table with his coffee,
menthol cigarettes, and a big stack of money. One night he went
broke and Bill Smith said, "Turn your hat around E.W."
If you were going to sit at the poker table broke, you had to
turn your hat around backwards where the dealer would know not
to deal to you.
Someone might say, "I saw
E.W. downtown and his hat was on backwards." That meant
he was broke. E.W. would sometimes slip speed into his coffee
while we played. You would never see him doing this but his speech
would change and he'd get pretty crazy. If someone else did something
weird, they might say, "I musta got a holt of E.W.'s coffee."
Once night when we were playing higher than a hawks's nest and
E.W. was that high also, he was dealt a blank card. We played
with diamond back Bee's. He freaked out. He just sat there staring
at the blank card. He called the first bet and then stopped the
action to ask for another card. He thought it was some sort of
trick. He jumped up and ran out of there like his horse was tied
in a red ant bed.
When I first met E.W. we played
in the back of a car lot at Wilbanks' place. Wilbanks was the
primary producer and he would stake two or more players. In the
Fall in West Texas there is a ton of money around. The farmer's
have the cotton harvest and the college students come back which
perks up all business. However, the big factor for the poker
economy was the football betting. The bookies were knee deep
in money in the Fall.
By summer, guys like me and E.W. might be scratching a broke
man's ass. We'd play in poker games where Wilbanks had three
of us staked and we'd still try to break each other.
Shortly after I met E.W. he was at a late night game with the
tough crowd of other honky-tonk pill heads when he got robbed,
again. I avoided those places. The robber ran in with a bowling
pin in one hand and a pistol in the other. He hit E.W. in the
head and shot out the light. Neither were called for. Pill heads
make terrible hijackers. This same guy came over to my little
poker game. We just quit rather than deal with him. He told one
of the college boys, "Ole Bennie won't let me sleep."
Later, the same guy robbed a poker game and was killed for it.
The Shop was the safest place
I ever went in America. In the whole thirty-five years I went
there, I never saw a robbery or an arrest, which makes you wonder.
The Shop had been an auto repair shop. It set on an acre of land
surrounded by a chain link fence topped by three strands of barbed
wire AKA the Devil's rope. There were two big bay doors that
were left open in the warm weather. Darral, Fred's brother, worked
the phones and loaned a little money but mostly he was the lookout.
There were a couple of shotguns hidden which I was told about
after fifteen years. The poker was in a room in the back.
Once this one bad Detective came
walking up and everyone ran. It was hot, hot summer and I dove
into some tall careless weeds. Housemove followed me. There were
millions of bugs. Later we found out that Big Fred had this mysterious
friendship with the big Detectives. They'd come around every
once in a while to whisper in corners. The went hunting together
and the Detectives came around Christmas for a drink. Fred ended
up buried just a few feet from one of these Detectives. A pal
said, "He probably is gonna want Fred to give him a little
The only time they closed the
game early was because this bad outlaw sat down to play. I never
knew who he was. He kept asking about drugs which were not allowed
at the Shop.
He commented on several of his traveling companions. Finally,
Darral came in and said the game is over. I asked if it was the
law. We all cashed in very fast and did the old heel and toe.
Later that night, I was "riding around and counting the
cars." This meant you would go by various gambling joints
to see how many and who was there. You tried to learn the cars
of the other players, especially the all day suckers.
I was surprised to see that several
of the old timers were at the Shop. I went in the poker game
and took a seat. There were two shotguns and two rifles leaning
against the wall behind the players. A couple of them had pistols
showing in their belts. As was the iron-clad custom, I didn't
ask any questions. We were playing pretty high and I tipped over
a nice little score. The next day, I read in the newspaper that
one of the top ten most wanted criminals had passed through town.
I wasn't sure that was him. A long time later, I asked Fred about
it. I said, "Were y'all afraid of that guy?"
He replied, "We're not afraid
of anybody." I could tell the discussion was over.
E.W. loved the actual paper money
itself more than what it might buy. He would sit there riffling
though and counting and playing with his money all through the
game. I once asked him what he really wanted in life. This seemed
to puzzle him and he thought of it awhile. He said, "I'd
like to have one room of my house filled all the way up with
twenty dollars bills. From the floor to the ceiling, with twenty
dollar bills." . E.W. taught me to always respect the house
man. If it wasn't for the house, we could not play. E.W. always
brought these weird presents for Fred and Darral from those trinket
shops on Fremont Street. Who wouldn't want a clock made out of
For more Johnny Hughes stories,
go to: Johnny Moss, Hard Luck Harry & the Owl or Titanic Thompson and Son