Our next series will celebrate the life of Claude Hutcherson and a share with you details of his life as compiled by his wife, Wilda Hutcherson Redin. We plan to do another feature on Wilda.
Their contributions to women’s basketball, Wayland, and to individual members of the Flying Queens program are immeasurable! We hope you enjoy Claude’s story.
As legends go in Plainview, Hale County, and reaching out across Texas, America and even to the Soviet Union, none carry such weight as Claude Hutcherson! Probably best known for his longtime involvement with the Wayland Baptist University Flying Queens basketball program, Hutcherson was actually a man of many talents and interests who left an indelible mark on Plainview and the nation through his flying exploits. But before he became the man of renown for such interests, Claude Hutcherson’s early years were much like many young men of his era. Claude Elmer Hutcherson was the son of S.C. “Carl” and Pearl Harper Hutcherson, who married in Hall County, Texas, in 1900. Though born in Union County, Tenn., Carl’s family moved to Fort Worth soon afterward in a covered wagon, then to Wilbarger County, before settling in Hall County in 1888, then home to only 13 families. Pearl was born near Atlanta, Ga.
Carl and Pearl moved to Borden County in 1902 to become ranchers. A daughter, Ruby May, was born in 1905. Then Claude was born two years later in a half dugout. In 1922, the family traded two sections of land in Borden County for a section near Hart. ”They moved all of their belongings by wagon to the Plains, making the trip along with Wade and Ellen Cox (Carl’s sister) and their family as well as Carl’s hired hand, Mr. Lane, who also drove a wagon pulled by four mules,” wrote Claude’s daughter Marsha Hutcherson George in a family history piece for The Hart Beat in July 2000. Claude was born near Gail, Texas, in a half dugout in 1907 and moved with his family to the High Plains in 1916, settling in Castro County. As a young boy while living in Gail, Claude was left on the ranch to care for the cows while the rest of the family traveled to Fort Worth for his sister to have surgery. Every day milking chores began to wear on the nearly 10-year-old Claude and, eventually, he took some shortcuts. “Dad said he got tired of milking the cows so he started putting water on his cereal for breakfast,” his son Mike recalled.
In 1922, the Hutcherson family moved to Plainview, where Claude would live most of the remainder of his life except for a stint in Hart. He graduated from Plainview High School in 1924 and attended Wayland Baptist College, then a junior college.
While at Wayland, Claude brought his athletic talents to the table for the Jackrabbits, playing baseball. He graduated in 1925 and continued his education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1928 as part of the first graduating class for the university.
Through his various experiences, Claude knew many people around the area. One of those was J. Wright Mooar, a former street car conductor in Chicago who was famous for killing a white buffalo near Snyder, one of only seven known to exist at that time. Mooar had killed the rare beast while hunting buffalo near Snyder, which he often did to provide meat for the U.S. Army. He lived to be 89.
Mooar let Claude use the buffalo hide for a thesis he wrote at Texas Tech, entertaining fellow students with the tale of the rare kill. All was well until the return trip home to Borden County, when Claude drove through high water on the road and the hide got soaked. After that, it was noted to have a bad smell.
Hutcherson’s letterman’s jacket in liberal arts is the oldest in the Southwest Collection at Tech, according to a 2007 article in the Plainview Daily Herald, written by Matthew Grannan of the Tech University Libraries. The black leather jacket features a “skillfully embroidered rendering of Tech’s administration building, which was the primary symbol for the college in the 1920s,” wrote Grannan. The jacket was donated to the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Tech by Hutcherson’s son, Mike.
Hutcherson left Tech as the reigning champion welterweight boxer, and he continued his boxing career for several years after graduation “eventually gaining considerable fame in the area as a talented, hard-fisted boxer, capable of waging war effectively with much larger opponents,” according to local attorney Bob Bass in the May 1982 issue of the Hale County History Quarterly. Bass noted that Hutcherson impressed many after one bout in which he was matched against a larger, more experienced opponent as well as being handicapped by an injury to one wrist. “Claude” was boxer of the Dempsey style fighting, ducking and weaving so effectively, was a boxer of the Dempsey style of fighting, ducking and weaving so effectively, launching scoring blows with his good am, that he was awarded a unanimous decision,” wrote Bass.
A note in the Plainview newspaper in Nov. 1932 advertised a boxing match between Hutcherson and Jack Kirkland in Elks Club charity boxing held on Friday night. The article read that Hutcherson was recognized as “one of the most promising ring men in West Texas circles. He weighs 145 pounds, is clever, aggressive and can hit well with both hands.”.
Claude pursued amateur boxing in the area and professionally in Kansas City before returning to Plainview to become a rancher and farmer. Letterhead with his photo proclaimed him “The Texas Cyclone” and had him at 140 pounds. His career ended when he broke his hand in a match. He was a Golden Gloves referee, a boxing judge in the late 1950s, and a boxing promoter for years as well, always maintaining a love for the sport. He hired Jack Dempsey to come to Plainview in the early 1930s to help promote boxing.
In 1933, Claude had an act at the World’s Fair in Chicago as a strong man. According to son Mike, he would push on certain pressure points on individuals and they were unable to pick him up.
Hutcherson was the kind of man who found himself in the middle of unusual circumstances based on who he was and his desire to be of help to all. One such incident, while he was a young man working on the farm, became quite the news item around the region, though Claude was only a periphery player in the action.
According to reports in the Plainview News Tribune, in July 1941, a hired hand named Jess Long was arrested in El Reno, Okla., for the murder of his former employer, Hale County farmer W.B. Munger, who worked land just 16 miles south of Plainview. Munger was reported missing a few days after he was allegedly shot by Long during a dispute in October 1940. Investigators were unable to find Munger or his body, but they soon discovered blood in a milk house at Munger’s residence.
Investigators had searched diligently for signs of a grave or other clues to the whereabouts of Munger’s body. Another man had made a statement that he saw Munger’s body and helped Long load it into an automobile after he offered him a job.
In June 1941, law enforcement officials came upon a well they believed might have been the place where Munger’s body was stowed, located on a farm near Edmonson that Claude Hutcherson was helping work. But when it came time to lower a man into the well to investigate, the man was unable to complete the task due to the depth and size of the well and his own fear. Claude was nearby and, being of smaller stature and practically fearless, he offered to go down in the well for officials. Hutcherson found bones in the bottom of that well, and he made several trips down that day to recover evidence for law enforcement officers that would soon prove to be those of W.B. Munger.
Claude married Billie Margaret Elkins in 1932 and they lived on the home place of the family farm. They had a daughter, Marsha Claudette, in 1938, but divorced a year later. Marsha stayed with her father. In 1942, he married Wilda Marie Hewett, a Plainview native, in Clovis, N.M. The couple had a son, Michael Carl, in 1943. They had eight grandchildren, including Danny Dean George (who died in 1996), Barry Blaine George, Kerry Kim George (who died in 2003), Cynthia Claudette George Gerber, Ronda Michele Hutcherson, Michael Claude Hutcherson, Taylor Hutcherson, and Abbi Hutcherson; as well as several great-grandchildren.
Claude’s father, Carl, died in March 1964, and his mother died in December 1964. Claude died in 1977 in a fall while rebuilding a retirement home. Wilda recalled the incident in her own words. “In the fall of 1976 just before the Queens Classic, we received a call from Kingsland that our house was on fire! We flew down immediately and could see a huge plume of smoke rising where our house used to be. There was nothing left of a six bedroom, five bath house,” she remembered. Incidentally, inclement weather prevented the couple from returning home on time and Claude missed his very first Queens game during the Classic. The couple started a new home as soon as possible, a beautiful, two-story five bedroom, four bath home still on the Llano River of Lake LBJ, finishing in July of 1978. While moving the all-new furnishings was nearly complete, a few things remained. So Claude and Kerry George, their grandson, drove to the landfill to empty boxes from previous purchases. Claude backed the pickup close to the landfill and while going to the back of the truck to unload the boxes, he fell 28 ½ feet into the landfill, a newly completed portion with a rock bottom. The ambulance was able to drive down and load him, taking him to the Llano hospital before transferring to the Seton Hospital in Austin. He had broken ribs, a compound fracture of the right elbow, a broken collar bone and pelvis and other injuries. Claude remained in the hospital for 17 days and died on Aug. 7, 1977.
Bob Bass memorialized Hutcherson in his Hale County History Quarterly article. “Claude Hutcherson was an aggressive man, a man who tackled large problems, but a man who was always able to overcome the obstacles placed in front of him by his common-sense approach to life,” Bass wrote. “As always, his face was graced with a friendly smile and a good sense of humor.”