A Shooting in Pleasant Valley

Like a pesky mosquito, the stage lights buzzed annoyingly before the crowd of more than 400 people in the Slaton High School Auditorium on the night of March 30, 1961.

On the stage, an authoritative man stood and addressed the attentive crowd.

“Man’s creative and productive genius can only thrive in a climate of freedom,” C.L. Kay, a representative of Lubbock Christian College, said. Because it was not his first time addressing a large crowd, he spoke with an air of confidence and addressed the dangers of communism and socialism to the community.

The five-week seminar was sponsored by the Slaton Lion’s Club and consisted of topics dealing with the looming threat and unsettling fear of communism and its connection to socialism.

A 1961 article in The Slatonite reported that Kay’s seminar was educational and well known as he had made many other appearances in other communities and would introduce a wealth of knowledge to the Slaton public.

“Mr. Kay reveals facts and information of many of the primary problems of today’s society,” The Slatonite reported, “including the continual perpetration of communism into the American way of life.”

However, 15 miles away from the festivities, a normally hushed farming community remained abnormally silent after the previous week’s bullet-infused events.

It was on a Monday afternoon, March 20, 1961, when J.O. Roberts knocked on the door of his farmhand’s, Chester Tatum, dwelling and a series of events began that left Tatum lifeless on the concrete floor of his grimy accommodations.

All was well in Pleasant Valley, the farming community south of Slaton.

The area, made up of sparse farms and mile after mile of cotton fields, was not an official town and had no law enforcement or post office.

The people who knew of Pleasant Valley were those who lived in Pleasant Valley.

Many Slaton citizens had not heard of the unofficial town. However, on the front page of the March 27, 1961 issue of The Slatonite, many in the community were shocked to see a dead body, covered by a white sheet, on the front page of their hometown newspaper.

The events began early that Monday when Tatum made a quick trip to the nearby city of Post and ended up in a hospital room.

“I can’t imagine what’s come over Will,” Tatum said when police picked him up from roaming the streets of Post. Police officials in Post took Tatum to the local hospital.

Tatum, believed to be of sound mind, was released from the hospital and was taken back to his dwellings in Pleasant Valley.

“I can’t imagine what’s come over Will,” Tatum continued repeating in the cop car as he was taken to the farm.

Tatum lived a solitary life and was known as a quiet and gentle man. He had worked on the farm for many years and the few people who lived in Pleasant Valley were familiar with Tatum and his tranquil persona. “Tatum’s wife had died 25 years ago,” The Slatonite reported. “He lived alone behind the Roberts’ home.”

“He had always been a good employee,” The Slatonite reported. “He was respected and well thought of by the Roberts family.”

When not working, Tatum spent most of his days and nights alone in the three-room structure Mr. Roberts built for him out of concrete cinder blocks. During the winter months, Tatum kept warm beneath a bundle of used blankets the Roberts family provided. In the hot summers and warm springs, a window above his homemade twin bed cooled the space.

On that disastrous Monday afternoon in March, J.O. Roberts, aware of Tatum’s stressful afternoon in Post, took a plate of food to his living quarters as he had done many times before.

“Go away,” Tatum said when Roberts knocked on the door.

Confused by Tatum’s insubordination, Roberts opened the door and was met with the bullet of a .38 Caliber hand gun to his abdomen. He fell to the floor and, for a brief moment, the afternoon remained serene, up until Roberts’ wife ran out of their farm home to find her husband on the ground holding his stomach as blood quickly spread through the front of his buttoned up shirt outside of Tatum’s concrete home.

The Slatonite reported that his wife, accompanied with a neighbor, took the farmer to the West Texas Hospital in Lubbock, where he was immediately admitted and remained in critical condition for a substantial amount of time.

Tatum sat alone and barricaded in his cinder block quarters.

When cops arrived at Tatum’s living quarters, Slaton Police Chief Eugene Martin tried talking to him through the open window. Tatum was uncooperative and responded with a shot gun blast from the window.

The bullet missed Martin, but gun powder exploded across his face.

One of the officers who accompanied Martin in his pursuit threw a tear gas bomb into the habitat and gunshots continued from both sides. Another tear gas bomb was thrown into the structure. The explosive gunshots ceased.

When the cops entered, Tatum’s lonesome body lied lifeless on the floor from a gunshot wound.

The next week, as the citizens of Slaton solemnly remembered the horrendous incidents that took place out in the fields they all now knew as Pleasant Valley, the rumors dissipated and the chatter was once again pleasing. They listened to Kay’s speech and his message of the communist and socialist threats that he believed plagued the world.

“America’s greatness,” Kay said before the conscientious crowd, “is the result of a moral society, constitutional government, and the free enterprise system known as capitalism.”

The program, entitled “The Freedom Seminar,” hypnotized the Slaton crowd as he continued warning the people of the all too real and all too powerful communistic threats to the livelihood of the pleasant lives Slatonites were accustomed to.

“There is a need to remain alert,” Kay gravely said.

The people indisputably listened even though McCarthyism was already almost a decade past.

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About slatontx

The ramblings of one of the few remaining small town newspaper reporters left in the world!
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