July 31, 2002
Outlaw politics this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.
While all too often ethics and common sense seem to be missing from Oklahoma politics, it still is surprising to hear of the political campaign of Al Jennings. Envisioning Al Jennings as a politician was a long stretch even for the outlaw jaded citizens of the state. Al Jennings, born in Virginia, moved to Oklahoma in 1889 and set up a law practice with his three brothers. The Jennings family practiced law in El Reno and Oklahoma City before eventually settling in Woodward. It was there in Woodward where a dispute over a legal case led to the murder of two of the Jennings brothers. Al, vowing revenge, turned from a life of law to the life of an outlaw.
Revenging the death of his brothers appeared to have quickly been forgotten as Al concentrated instead on train robberies. The brothers Jennings called themselves "train robbers," but most citizens considered the attempts comical at best. With one failed attempt after another mounting behind them, after four months of robberies all the Jennings gang had to show for their efforts was three hundred dollars, a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of bananas. Comical or not Al Jennings was on the wrong side of the law and following his capture in 1897 Jennings was sentenced to life in prison. Political connections pulled strings for Jennings, and he was released upon the public in 1902 after serving only five years.
Vowing to live by the law Jennings reopened his law practice in Oklahoma City reportedly doing quite well for himself. In 1914, allegedly disgusted with the low quality of democratic candidates for governor, Jennings closed up shop and threw his hat in the ring. Initially, politicians and editors took Jenningís campaign as a joke, but his serious intentions soon became apparent. Rather than glossing over his past criminal career as most expected him to do, Jennings talked openly and earnestly about his life and lessons that he had learned. Jennings even managed to use his outlaw days as reasons why he should be elected. Stated Jennings at one point, "It takes the same sort of nerve to be an honest governor as it does to rob a train or bank." Jennings went on to run a close, but disappointing, third in the democratic primary losing out to Judge Williams. It was in this week of 1914 that Al, outlaw, Jennings officially announced his candidacy for governor of Oklahoma.
Shaking up Oklahomaís political world outlaw style, this week on the Almanac.
I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.