It was an honor yesterday to be asked to speak to a History Class at California State University, Fresno…
Professor Rice contacted me last week and set up the event. It would have been nice to be there in person, but with such short notice and the long distance a speaker phone speech was the best I could manage. It worked out fine.
The professor explained that each semester his class is given a book to read and review. When they are finished he tries to get the author to speak to the class. In this case the book was THE KING OF STING and I was the author. Professor Rice explained that several well known authors had spoken to his classes over the years including Walter Cronkite.
So yes I was honored to follow Cronkite.
I asked him how he picked my book. The Henry Madden Library on campus has over one million books, and it turns out the King of Sting was one of them. He said the cover caught his eye. The professor explained he had once worked in Wichita, Kansas as a reporter for the Wichita Eagle from 1970-73. He followed the career of then Attorney General Vern Miller, my boss when I was an agent in 1974. So when he saw the back of the book, he noticed the articles from the Kansas City Star. The subject matter attracted his interest, he read the book, enjoyed it and thus it became the class project. Kinda cool.
I asked him if his class had many women, as I felt they wouldn’t have been as excited as the young men. He told me it was over half women and they loved the book. So we set up a speech and question/answer period on the King of Sting yesterday afternoon. I did it from my office at Stanford’s.
Lots of good questions:
"Did your relationship with your father cause much of this to happen?" My abreviated answer: "Yes, of course, but its no excuse to my actions. My Dad and I had our moments but we love each other. It was harder on my younger brothers. Today, most of the past is forgiven."
Did movies and books push you in the direction of becoming an OUTLAW? "Of course. I dreamed of a life similar to John Dillinger, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. And boy, did that come true. Of course, I explained that this was not a great choice in life. Today my chances of survival would be even worse. Laws have changed and getting an outlaw like me convicted for my actions in Arizona in the 70’s would be a lot easier today. The Feds don’t need any real evidence anymore, just someone saying…..THATS HIM!
End of game.
I didn’t get deep into all the why it happened, just that people like me and my partner Don Woodbeck effectively played a modern day version of a role in part of what built America….the gunslinger or outlaw. The ingredients of which were, romance, a sense of adventure and guts – that’s all.
There was a time when our adventures would have been front-page news daily instead of once in while. Those days are gone. Today it’s about guys in the NFL and Reality TV. They laughed. Again, I stressed what I did was wrong. I was lucky to survive and many of my friends, including Woodbeck were shot and killed. Others got long prison sentences, and it took a great toll on my friends and family over the years.
For me it ended with a seven-year prison sentence, that in a way saved my life. I did a pretty rare thing, I quit.
Most outlaws never do. So if that’s a win, I got one.
We had a ton of fun. They had some more great questions, like "What’s your favorite movie and why?" I said, "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid," of course….Then I said you do know who Robert Redford and Paul Newman are? Silence.
It was fun, it was an honor. I hope to do more of these over the years.