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You're Reading Stone Mountain To Dallas - The Untold Story Of Roy E Davis



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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

The mid-thirties in the Midwest looked like a glimpse of hell through a dirty window. A sea of thick, black dust covered the air and sky, sometimes making it difficult to see even two or three feet ahead. The ground was alive with dancing swirls of dust, making it feel like beds of snakes slithering past. One storm in particular was so severe that it became nicknamed Black Sunday.[242] As it ripped through the Midwest, it displaced over 300 million tons of topsoil.[243] As the storms blew into an area, it engulfed everything in its path, consuming houses and livestock as if it were alive and hungry for flesh. People caught outside during the storms were forced to grope blindly to find their doorsteps, and those lucky enough to be inside their automobiles braked to a full and complete stop. No light could penetrate the black muck as it flowed through the Midwest.

Between the storms, there was very little to do besides listening to the news. Even the news was depressing. Mussolini had just invaded Ethiopia the year before, and Germany had formed an alliance with Rome. Civil war had broken out in Spain, and both Hitler and Mussolini started fueling the Nationalist rebels with military power. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in response to the growing turmoil in Europe and Asia. All signs pointed to another global war, and analysts were predicting that the Second World War would make the first war seem like a day at the park.

Hot Springs, Arkansas was an ideal place to hide in the mid 1930s not only from the criminal past Roy was fleeing, but also from the scorching and barren torture that had become of the Midwest. Just fifteen years prior, Hot Springs began to explode as a tourist attraction for the rich and famous and the very wealthy infamous. Less than five years prior, New York mobster Owney Madden, one of the founders of the New York Mob, decided to retire to Hot Springs. His retirement brought other infamous characters such as Frank Costello, Charles Lucky Luciano, and Al Capone to see his resort spas and crime syndicate.[244]

Hot Springs sat on top of the Hot Springs Reservation, which had recently been renamed by Congress to the Hot Springs National Park. The naturally heated spring water was believed for hundreds of years to cure any number of ailments, from arthritis to polio. Over time, many bathhouses started to spring up, and by the mid-thirties, there were eight magnificent bathhouses in the heart of the city.[245]

The town itself was nearly burned to the ground in 1913. A fire started in the cabin of an African American family, and within a few hours consumed 55 city blocks. Six million dollars worth of damage left 2,500 people homeless, with refugees camping on the racing tracks and state fair grounds.[246] But under Maddens reign, the city was exploding. Now there were magnificent luxury hotels, some of which contained almost six hundred rooms, almost 200 restaurants, and a wide variety of nightclubs and gambling casinos. Madden owned a large stake of interest in the Southern Club, where he was well known to operate as an overlord of the entire illicit gambling activities of the entire city. Al Capone owned a residence in the luxurious Arlington Hotel until his conviction for tax evasion.

The government of Hot Springs was corrupt, and a blind eye was turned towards the organized crime of the resort town. Mayor Leo P. McLaughlin and Judge Vern Ledgerwood ran their own syndicate to manage gambling and prostitution while controlling the law enforcement.[247] Together, they organized a system of license fees for the mafia underworld, and used this system of income to further the development of the city making it a beautiful oasis in Western Arkansas. It was beautiful enough to attract Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor the same year Roy fled Jeffersonville on the lam.

The city itself was beautiful. On a hillside, surrounded by a carpet of leaves from full, thick green trees stood the Arlington, as if it were watching over the line of smaller buildings at the foot of the hill. Its two domed staircase towers provided a view over the top of the entire city, from the Bath House Row of Central Avenue to the numerous inlets of the Ouachita River. Its east and west wings gave visitors a full, panoramic view of the mountainside, and easy access to the path leading to the National Park. Down the Central Avenue strip, tourists could visit the restaurants and shops by day, or watch city come to life at night. It reminded Roy of what Jeffersonville or Fort Worth could have looked like had an organized syndicate run them. Though he was in hiding, Hot Springs felt like home. Roy settled in at the Arlington and decided to lay low for a while.

Even though it seemed like a lawless town, Hot Springs was a very religious one. Immediately before F. F. Bosworth spread his Pentecostal Assemblies of God through Texas, the Assemblies organization was created as the result of a council held in Hot Springs. In April of 1914, three hundred Pentecostal preachers and laymen were invited from twenty states and several foreign lands to hold an assembly. And that assembly came to be known as the Assembly of God.[248] Though Bosworth was no longer with them, spreading his own homegrown flavor of Pentecostalism with his brother throughout the nation, many in Hot Springs still organized themselves under the Assemblies. Roy found a small Pentecostal church and started attending. Slowly but surely, he began to gain favor with the townspeople.

Where you from, Mister? said one of the members as he exited the church. Roy stopped and turned around to see a young, blond-headed man wearing a brown suit and a black tie. I noticed you here the past few Sundays, so I figured you must not be a tourist.

No, Roy said as he smiled. Not a tourist. I just came here from Oklahoma Roy lied, but only partially. He had been through Oklahoma several times holding revival meetings.

Oh, I heard its been awful through there! The man exclaimed. This caught the attention of an attractive young lady behind him, and she leaned closer to listen.

You people sure are blessed here, Roy said. This country is afflicted; the sins of the nation have brought famine and pestilence. The very heart of the country is bleeding, and our poor church lost everything.

Your church? the man asked. Are you a minister?

Lon Davis is the name, Roy said extending his hand. Good to meet you.

Glad youre here, Lon! the man said. Dave is my name, and were always happy to have new church abiding faces in the city. Arent we, Katy? He turned around to the lady behind him, and she blushed.

Maam, I believe this is the most beautiful dress in the city! Roy leaned forward and extended his hand. She blushed more as he leaned down and kissed the top of her hand.

Have you found a place to stay? Dave asked, watching as Roy rose back up and straightened his tie.

No, Roy lied. Not yet. The dust storms claimed most of my possessions, and I was headed back East. But Im afraid my money is quickly running out.

Well, wed be glad to help you out, wouldnt we Katy? Dave looked at Katy, and she nodded. Since Ma passed, weve had plenty of spare room.

Im sorry to hear that, Roy said, looking sympathetic to Katy. I lost my wife and boy last year, and I know how hard that is.

She is missed, Katy said. But Mas been gone for a while. Would you like to come over for dinner?

The three headed to a large six-bedroom house just outside of town.

 

 

During the course of the next several weeks, Roy and Katy became closely acquainted.[249] She had been part of the Pentecostal Revival, but had never seen anyone explain the current events by using ancient prophecies from the Bible like Roy did. Services in the churches of the Hot Springs were mostly show, the cities elite making an appearance simply to call themselves religious. She knew that many people were involved in gambling, strip clubs, or even more evil pursuits but somehow they felt that sitting in a pew once a week made everything all right.

When Roy compared the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah to the evil that went on at night behind closed doors, she could already feel the heat from the fire and brimstone that would soon beat down on the city. Though the surrounding counties were plagued with drought and severe dust storms, Hot Springs was an oasis waiting to dry up. And she knew it was like he said, theyve lifted themselves up so high that the city must fall.

Convinced that Roy was the man who could bring revival to Hot Springs, Katy offered to help Roy get started. She started by donating money towards the purchase of a small tent and some chairs and gave Roy the keys to an automobile. Then, she began calling area churches to join in an upcoming revival with. But that had only limited success, as she found that most of the churches were not interested. So she decided to reach out to the local business owners to see if they would be willing to sponsor a tent revival. A few were interested, so she took the names and numbers down on a piece of paper and handed it to Roy. He took the keys to the Chevrolet, headed out the door, and drove into town.

South on Central Avenue sat a long row of stores. Tourists could window shop while walking to get into the Ohio Cigar Store. It was once the Ohio Club Casino, but during prohibition turned into a speakeasy under the new name. About 10 foot of the front was walled off to contain the cigar store, with two doors that led into the bar and upstairs into the casino. It was not uncommon to see famous (and infamous) people stepping out of their automobiles and entering, and the entire town knew the casino, like the others in town, was operating illegally.

Roy stepped out of the vehicle and started walking inside. He pulled the piece of paper out of his coat pocket to glance at it, and then tucked it back inside. Katy had given him a legitimate address, but he had other business to take care of. He stepped into the cigar store and briefly paused to look around. He always hated the smell of smoke, but the sweet smell of the unsmoked cigars tickled his nose. He walked through the doors and up into the casino.

Roy Davis! a voice said as Roy made it up the stairs. He looked around at the large, elegant room with white vaulted ceilings and busy, expensive wallpaper.

Earl, how are you? Roy smiled, reaching out his right hand and shaking with his left hand on top of Earls.

Doing well, Earl said. You look like youve been eating well. Earl grinned as he patted Roy on the stomach. Immediately, Roy sucked in his gut and smiled. You in town long? They walked over to sit down at one of the tables.

Im planning to be here awhile, Earl. Roy said. Ive been planning to hold some meetings here in a few weeks.

A man, two tables away from them in the corner, picked up his glass of whiskey and took a sip, watching the two men. He raised an eyebrow when Roy mentioned the meetings.

Didnt you give that up? Earl asked. I thought after that thing in Georgia youd turned into a businessman.

The Gospel is a business, Roy said. Its big business if you do it right. Roy looked around at all the men at the tables, some staring at cards, others reaching into their pockets for money, and others throwing dice.

You see all of this? Roy waved his hand around the room and Earl followed his trail. These men are here for a multitude of reasons. Some want to make fast money, some plan to spend it fast. Some are here for pleasure, others to make enough money to buy pleasure. And each of them giving money to the house even the winners.

Yes, Earl said. And your point being

My point, Roy said, is that the house is making a killing, but to make it, they have to give a portion back. If they kept it all, theyd have no players.

The house seems to be doing pretty well, Earl said.

What if I told you that we could build a new house, one that people will freely give to support, and the house keeps all?

So youre here to set up a casino! Earl laughed loudly. The man watching them took another sip of his glass, swirled around the liquor and stared at it.

Im here to set up a tent Roy said, smiling, and I need your help!

Id ask you how you knew Id be here, Earl said, but then I think I already know that answer. And knowing that Im a man who plays the tables, what could you possibly want with me in a tent revival? Earl laughed again.

Come, my friend, Roy said. Ill show you how to clean house.

For the next week, Roy and Earl worked sunup to sundown. Katy, unaware of Earls involvement, assumed that Roy had been funded by some local businesses she had contacted, and became all the more excited to call more. As she phoned practically every legitimate business in town, Roy and Earl headed to a local printing company and printed three large boxes of advertisements. See Lon Davis, The Singing Evangelist. Miracles every night! the page read in large print. While Earl hung them on telephone poles at street corners, Roy rode around purchasing supplies and looking for a place to hold a meeting. Before long, Roy had a tent, all the chairs, tables for hot dogs and sweet tea, and enough advertisements posted that he knew seats would fill.

By the time the revival was about to start, Roy had attracted a large number of supporters. As he approached the tent on the outskirts of town, Katy in the passenger seat of the automobile next to him, they looked around at the rows of cars lined up next to the row of trees at the foothills of the mountain. Several horses and buggies were also parked, hitched to nearby trees and bushes. Children were running and playing around the tables where food was being prepared, and several women were scurrying around to set up the dishes they brought for the occasion.

After getting acquainted, greeting as many of the people gathered as possible and making sure they were well fed, Roy made his way into the tent. Picking up an old guitar, he started singing Steal Away and Pray with Jesus, and before long others outside the tent started coming in and filling the seats. As they joined in the singing, the sound carried across the open field. Before long, the seats in the tent were filled and people were standing around the walls. A man in a wheelchair rolled his way in, pushing his wheels down the middle of the chairs to the front and parked beside the first chair on the front row. He began gently clapping his hands, and the entire room joined in.

Lon closed the singing and started preaching a sermon on Spiritual Healing. According to him, the city was in need of healing. Though it was flourishing, Roy said that it was growing from a growth that did not please God. And this had caused a sickness to the city, a sickness that brought a disease to the city. It was time for healing. And the city could find healing if the people turned back to God.

During the course of the sermon, the focus turned from the city to the people. Using passages from the Bible that described the healing of ancient Israel, Roy reminded them that God was the healer of their diseases and afflictions. Looking around the crowd at those afflicted, he pointed directly at them and instructed them to claim their healing.

You there, brother, he said. I saw your limp when you walked in here. God said he would heal it! From the back of the tent, a voice shouted Amen!

You, sister, he said as he pointed to an elder lady. Your hands youve been rubbing tonight. Do you think God would touch them, stop them from hurting? She raised one of them in the air and tears ran down her cheeks.

Roy went around the room, pointing out each and every ailment he noticed before and during the sermon, and made sure everyone in the tent was aware of each of them. Then he pointed to the man in the wheelchair.

Do you think God can make you walk again? Roy asked. How would you like to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again?[250] A feeble hand raised, and Roy gave a very emotional reminder of the lame that came to Jesus for healing.

God can heal you if you believe. Rise up and claim your healing!

Suddenly, the feeble hand went down, grabbed the arm of the wheelchair, and both elbows bent. He shook as he rose to his feet, and the man beside him grabbed his chair as it started rolling backwards. People began to gasp as he stood up, and some tried to reach out and catch him as he stumbled. Two men rushed to help him as he straightened his back, trying to convince him to sit back down but he refused. Finally, he straightened and took an uncertain step forward. Roy paused his charismatic speaking to cheer him on. Another step, and Roy took a step towards him and held out his arms. He walked to the front, slowly but surely, and put his arms around Roy. Roy started clapping slowly, and before long, the entire tent was clapping, screaming, and shouting.

I have not stood to my feet since the fire! he shouted. Others began testifying that they watched him wheeled into the tent, and could tell how crippled he had been. One lady screamed out, telling the world that she felt the Spirit that touched his body. Others, many of which were called out by Roy for their afflictions, began standing to their feet. One of them shouted, God healed me! Before long, women were crying, men were shouting, children were staring around the room with wide eyes of fear, and Roy was praying with both hands raised to the air.

After the prayer, Roy picked up two buckets and asked who would be willing to support the revival ministry. Reaching into his coat pocket, the man in the wheelchair pulled out a handful of money and raised it into the air. Roy brought the buckets forward, and handed one to each side of the tent. He picked up his guitar and started singing again, To Be Like Jesus. As he strummed and sang, the people passed the buckets from seat to seat. People eagerly placed the money theyd brought with them into the buckets, and they were very heavy by the time they reached the back of the tent. Two men in the back brought them up to Roy, who was still smiling and singing.

As they walked forward, two men in black suits walked through the back of the door to the tent. Though he continued singing, his smile faded when he noticed their entrance. Each stood by the exit with their arms folded and grim looks on their faces, and seemed very interested in the buckets of money. They watched as Roy started another song and forced another smile.

 

It's dripping with blood, yes, it's dripping with blood,

This Holy Ghost Gospel keeps dripping with blood,

The blood of disciples who died for the Truth,

This Holy Ghost Gospel is dripping with blood.

When the song had finished, Roy asked all to bow their heads for prayer. Keeping one eye open on the two men in the back, Roy closed the service with a heart-warming speech towards the spiritual healing that had come into the tent that night. He noticed that the two men continued to stare at him, even during the prayer. But as he was closing the speech, they both turned around and walked out. Roy closed and welcomed the crowd back tomorrow evening for another exciting service.

After the meeting had ended, the crowd began to clear the tent. Roy quickly grabbed Katy and rushed to his car, both hands carrying a bucket full of money. Starting the engine, they began racing back towards Katys house.

Where are we going in such a hurry, Lon? she asked, holding one hand on the dashboard to steady herself.

Back home, Roy said. I have much prayer and study tonight have to be prepared for tomorrow night! He looked at her and tried to smile, but she could see that he was clearly worried.

The meeting was very good! she said, ignoring the signs on his face. Have you seen things like this before?

Katy, Roy replied, There is no limit to the abundance of mercy that God has shown us in the revivals. And this one has only just begun!

Before he could finish, the car hit a bump in the road and both of them bounced in their seats. Katy put both hands on the dashboard.

Do you think we should slow down? she asked nervously. She turned to look out the side window at the trees whizzing by in the moonlight.

Im sorry, Katy, Roy said. I guess I just got excited about the meeting. He slowed the car a bit, but not by much.

When they arrived at Katys house, Roy got out of the running car and walked around to open the passenger door. Reaching up to take her hand and help her out, Roy positioned himself to let her step into his arms and then stepped back.

Wont you come inside? Katy asked, a little confused by his sudden movement. Roy started walking back around to the drivers side.

I like to fast and pray in the tent during the revivals, Roy said. I wanted to make sure you were safely home. Thank you very much for your kindness, but I have to be about the Lords work. Katy started to say something, but then bit her lip and walked into the house. Before she made it in the door, Roy was already down her driveway and turning left onto the dirt road.

Within the hour, Roy had parked the automobile outside the Arlington leaving it running and walked through the sheltered entrance past two bellhops into the lobby. He made his way to the elevator, carrying the buckets of money hed covered with his suit coat, and waited for the scissor gates to open. Before they did, two men in black suits approached him from both sides of the lobby. He recognized them as the same men from the tent.

Mr. Davis, one of them said. My boss wants to have a word with you. Roy started to turn and leave, but the other man cut him off and lifted his coat to expose the handle of a revolver.

Im sorry, boys, Roy said, but you must have me confused with someone else.

No, Mr. Davis, the man said. Lets take a walk outside.

Let me drop these off to my room, Roy said, tilting his head down to point at the buckets.

I think these will be part of our conversation, the man said. With that, the three started out of the side of the lobby towards the east wing.

When they got outside, and had walked a distance towards the trees behind the east wing, they approached three other men. As they got closer, Roy recognized Earl.

Earl, Roy exclaimed, What is going on here? Earl remained silent. When they were within a few feet of the others, one of the men shoved Earl to the ground. Roy felt a forceful hand on the middle of his back and he found himself taking a nosedive towards the ground. His buckets dumped as he went down.

Have you ever healed a dead man, preacher? asked a voice stepping out of the shadows. Your friend here can rise out of a wheelchair. Maybe tomorrow nights show can be his resurrection.

Look, I Roy began, but was cut off.

This business you have appears to be profitable, the man said as he reached down and picked up some of the money that fell from one of the buckets. But I dont remember you coming to me for a permit[251]

Were just having some preaching and singing, Roy said. Before he finished, a foot caught him on the side of the jaw and knocked him over.

This money youre taking from these people belongs to this town, the man said. This is my town. He turned to Earl.

You, he said, pointing to Earl. You should have started a career in acting. He pulled his revolver out and pointed it at Earl.

Dont Earl started to plead.

Stand to your feet! the man snapped. Earl stood up. Roy started to stand, but was met with another foot across the jaw that sent him reeling backwards.

In an instant, the man lowered the revolver, pointed at Earls right thigh, and pulled the trigger. The blast from the gun could be heard echoing through the side of the mountain, and Earl dropped to the ground screaming in pain.

I said stand to your feet! the man snapped, shooting into the ground next to Earl. You can rise out of a wheelchair after several years, surely you can stand with a little pain in your leg.

Listen, I think we can work together! Roy exclaimed, trying to help Earl but unable to get past the two men holding him back. Earl struggled to his feet.

Boys, the man said. It seems that this preacher came to town and set up a scam. He turned and looked at Roy. But his partner here wanted in on more of the action. Roy looked at Earl, confused.

So his partner here tried to rat on him, the man continued. He was gonna sell him out. The man turned and looked back at Earl.

The preacher decided to put a bullet in his head to shut him up.

When he had spoken, and while Roy was still looking at Earl, another shot rang out. Roy watched as a hole in Earls forehead suddenly appeared, and blood sprayed across his face.

Its a good thing you were here to witness this tragic event, the man said as Roy cried out. Who knows the next loyal citizen that would have met his death in the preachers meeting!

With that, the man turned and walked back into the shadows. Two of the men followed him, leaving Roy with the two he had come out of the Arlington with. One of them grabbed him by the collar and forced him to his feet.

They marched him all the way back to the east wing and walked towards the side door. When they reached the door, the men tucked their guns under their coats, still pointing them at Roy.

Get inside, they said, motioning the barrels of the revolvers towards the lobby. In one sweeping motion, Roy stepped through the door, grabbed the handle, shoved it towards them, and pulled his own revolver from under his suit coat. Before they could fire, Roy pulled the trigger and sprayed glass all over their faces. As they staggered back, trying to shield their eyes, Roy raced toward the front of the lobby and towards the entrance. Several men in suits, hearing the blast and seeing the commotion, started quickly towards him. But before they could act, Roy was out the front door and racing for the automobile. Finding it still running, he leaped quickly inside and raced the engine out of town.[252]