By ROB W. ANDERSON
Local history buffs were in luck Tuesday, as author Gary D. Courtney was on hand at Northeastern State University to sign copies of his recent releases.
Courtney spoke to fans of the so-called “bank robber era” and early Oklahoma culture at the Riverhawk Shoppe bookstore in the University Center.
His recent releases include “Carl Janaway: Smartest Bandit of the Cookson Hills” and “The Historic Cookson Hills Dictionary: Old Time and Slang Words and Phrases.”
The one-time computer guidance consulting firm owner/operator from Cleveland, Okla., returned to Cherokee County recently after living for over two years without modern conveniences in a rustic, remote A-frame cabin on the Winding Stair Mountains near Talimena Drive in the Ouachita National Forest.
Courtney said he wasn’t interested in history as a student, but through collecting Civil War-related guns and items, he began to embrace the past. Janaway became a focal figure of his historical writings through obtaining personal possessions owned by the 1930s bank robber, including a dictionary given to Janaway by Al Capone while both were inmates at Alcatraz Prison.
“I had a rare opportunity to save all of [Janaway’s] personal effects. A lot of things went by the wayside. They were either stolen or destroyed after he passed away. My next-door neighbor bought his old trailer,” said Courtney. “I said, ‘Look, that stuff has got to be preserved. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There’s more value here than any amount of money. He’s gone, and it’s a story that needs to be told.’”
At one time, Courtney put together a museum-type display that was shown in the NSU library for a while. The items still remain in storage ready to be put on permanent display at an interested museum.
Laura Mims, a fan of the era of which Janaway was a part, said the book may reveal connections between Janaway and folks whose family history is deeply rooted in the Cookson Hills of Cherokee County.
“I definitely want a copy, because it’s going to be something to put on the shelf for history,” she said. “I think Janaway is one of the smartest guys who ever robbed anything,” she said. “I mean, he was able to outsmart anybody, and I’m shocked he survived through all of the stuff that he went through. I think it will be a good read. I don’t want to give away any of the details, because I guarantee you that once you start it, you’re not going to want to put it down.”
Cindy Starr was on hand to pick up a copy for her dad, whom she said knew Janaway.
“He said one time Carl told him he was writing a book about himself,” said Starr.
“He wanted my dad to kind of read it, but he was busy. He had to work and never made it over [to Janaway’s house]. [Janaway] lived off the old highway. If you’re coming from [State] Highway 10 back to Tahlequah, and if you look past those trailers and Cooter Brown’s, there’s a pile of rocks that looks like a house that fell in. That’s where he lived.”