Pratt's Jack McCawley has had experiences that reflect life in a bygone era.
Pratt’s Jack McCawley has had an unusual life, full of many rich and colorful experiences. He also has a good memory that brings those stories to life.
I first met Jack about six years ago, following the Greensburg tornado. Jack is a family friend of the Tedford family of the Fowler/Minneola area and helped me to get my friend, Jim Tedford, back to Greensburg from Minneola after the disaster had landed Jim there.
Jack McCawley is a talker, and I am more of a listener, so we made a pretty good pair on a recent Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening.
Jack grew up in Pratt but spent many of his boyhood summers at the Brownlee Ranch, which is located 6 ½ miles southeast of Fowler. Jack began spending summers at the Brownlee Ranch because of Mary Brownlee, his 4th Grade Teacher at North School here in Pratt. Mary knew that Jack’s home life wasn’t so good and she invited Jack to spend summers at the ranch, as she said he could help her mother, who had a “bum leg.” Jack’s father abandoned the family in the 1930s when he drove to California from Pratt in a Model T to look for work, taking Jack’s 12 year old brother along. Jack never saw his father or brother again.
Jack moved in with the Brownlees during his junior year at Pratt High after his home situation worsened. He graduated from Fowler. Jack said he never felt more of God’s love than when he lived with the Brownlees. “There was never a stranger that showed up at that ranch. If you showed up at noon, you were there for dinner,” he said.
Jack told me that shortly after he moved to Fowler he was dropped off at the swimming pool and soon found himself surrounded by the Gumpenberger gang, who had him backed up against the fence at the pool and were going to work him over. He said Kenneth Routon came out of the pool about that time and walked over, pointing his finger at the gang and said, “You leave him alone. He’s my friend.” The boys all scattered. Jack said he had never met Kenneth before that but that they became instant friends. Incidentally, Kenneth became pastor at the Pratt Friends Church in the late 1970s.
Jack shared many stories from his life on the high plains of western Kansas. He talked about finding a spur buried in a “blown out hillside” while riding his horse on the Brownlee Ranch. This hill was known for yielding artifacts like arrowheads and bullet casings. He took the spur to Mr. Beeson at the Beeson Museum in Dodge City, who told him it likely belonged to the Spanish Conquistadors. Jack said a brother on leave from the military during World War II took that spur and sold it to someone at a rodeo southwest of Pratt for $25. Jack said he also once found a dinosaur bone in a north pasture on the ranch, donating it to the Dalton Gang museum in Meade. He didn’t know if it was still there.
When he was young, Jack had been in the civil air patrol in Pratt. He decided that if he was going to fly a plane he needed to know how to parachute out of it. So, one day when he was 14 years old, Eugene Tedford (Jim’s father) flew him in a 1938 Taylorcraft airplane from a grass landing strip in the Minneola/Fowler area to Harold Kennedy’s airport in the Wilroads Garden area east of Dodge City to pick up a parachute. Jack said they took the door off the plane before they left in preparation for doing a jump; apparently, this was so the parachute wouldn’t get hung up on the door. Jack said when they arrived Harold told them that he wouldn’t give them the parachute unless he had permission from Jack’s mother in Pratt. Jack knew his mother never would grant this, and, subsequently, he never parachuted.
Many local residents likely know Jack McCawley, who has lived here for most of his life. Among his many interests, he has most recently been involved with the B-29 All Veterans Museum Project.
Jack McCawley has led an interesting life. In fact, Tuesday night’s Tribune featured a few more stories about him and his wife. Once you get to know Jack, you will soon realize that he is guided by a higher sense of purpose and, like the Brownlees who he lived with so many years ago, he doesn’t know a stranger.