By Peg Bos, Clovis Museum
Though small in stature, 4 feet 9 ¾ inches, 88 pounds, May Case was the most visible, informed woman in Clovis from 1919 to 1967. May was never without her square heeled shoes, straw hat, pencil and small note book as she walked the streets of Clovis.
The Museum ad adjacent to this article invites you to attend the “May in December” poster/drama of her fabulous life.
May reported the news, but also the personal activities of our community. She helped to create and maintain our strong image.
She was born in Comanche County, Texas on October 6, 1873. Her father, George Morris, had served as an artilleryman in the Union Army. In 1882 he moved his family to Indian Territory that is now Purcell, Oklahoma.
Young May would slip away from her family and visit the Indian camp. She became friends with the Chief and was allowed to attend their tribal ceremonies. She had a sincere love and respect for them. Her honesty and sincerity built a strong bond of trust with all who knew her.
May met Spurgeon Case, a printer, editor and co-owner of the Purcell Register newspaper. It was the only newspaper in the Oklahoma territory to endorse statehood and free schools. May recalled: “Purcell was a wild town in those days. Mr. Case wouldn’t wear a high silk hat without fear of having it shot off his head.” Spurgeon would work in the ship yards at age seventy-seven during World War II.
They were married in 1889 (the year of the Oklahoma Land Rush) when May was not quite sixteen. The newspaper headline read: “Publisher married white girl.” They would have four children, but she had informed her husband: “I just wouldn’t keep house for nobody.” Women did not work outside of their homes then, but spirited May began typesetting for the paper and interviewing historic individuals.
The renegade Apache Chief Geronimo informed May that “she asked too many questions for a papoose.” She interviewed Quanah Parker (the last great Comanche fighting Chief), the bandit Two Gun (Charley) Smith who became the US Marshall that fired the gun that opened the Oklahoma Territory to settlers, the infamous Daltons, Doolin’s and Belle Star.
It is believed that May was the first female US Deputy Marshall to participate in the Oklahoma Land rush.
The couple left Purcell and moved to the gold mining town Fairplay, CO and published The Flume for 10 years. May’s small size enabled her to become the first woman reporter to descend 1,200 feet inside a mine bucket for an interview.
During World War I, May visited a friend in Seattle and signed on as a cabin steward on a tramp steamer that was carrying gun powder to Alaska. The ship developed a leak (the gun powder would explode when wet). Tiny May was suspended by her heels into the hole to view the damaged area.
The Case’s arrived in Manteca, CA and the talented May was asked to open a newspaper in Riverbank. She left her family in Manteca and with six dollars in her purse founded the Riverbank newspaper. Her family joined her and she began reporting for two newspapers in Modesto, two in Stockton, two in San Francisco and a wire service.
Again, she was trusted by all and often “scooped” other papers. A Richmond train crew suppressed their train robbery until they arrived in Riverbank to give May the story.
The Case’s moved to Clovis in 1919 and founded The Clovis Independent. They sold the paper in 1939, but May would remain on the staff until her death on September 22, 1967.
In 1963, the Las Vegas Sun Newspaper published an article on May. They stated: “Roughly, she is almost as big as a bar of soap after a hard day’s wash on the farm….but she is all woman!”
May was nationally honored in 1964 as the oldest active (75 years) newspaper woman in the world. Her contemporaries described her as a “pint sized, hell-on-wheels reporter.” She is a part of our rich heritage.