By Peg Bos, Clovis Museum
We have written a melodrama about the 1924 Clovis historic bank robbery. Tomas Griffin (The Owl) and his moll Catherine Ryan arrived in Fresno on Jan. 29, 1924. “The Owl” had previously participated in one payroll and two bank robberies. He had served two terms in state prison. They were joined by Felix Sloper (The Lone Wolf).
“The Lone Wolf” was also a known criminal who had served a term in San Quentin. The museum melodrama on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016 will reenact their robbery, capture and eventual demise.
The First State Bank (401 Pollasky, now the Clovis Museum) was built in 1912 by Richard Norrish. He was born (1844-1939) in England. He arrived in Clovis in 1904 and founded the first bank in Clovis that year. It was located in a small frame building on the west side of the alley directly east of the Museum.
The bank was closed in 1925 due to financial losses. It became a Judicial/Municipal court until 1981. The Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society was formed that year and remains at that historical location. The building is owned by the City of Clovis.
Assistant Cashier Tom Howison was alone in the bank when “The Owl” and “The Lone Wolf” looted the vault of $31,800 at gunpoint. Tom’s family arrived in Clovis in 1903. He worked at the Fresno Flume and Irrigation yard during the summer months taking lumber off their big planer.
He graduated from Clovis High School in 1910 and became a bookkeeper at the bank ($30 month salary). He married Grace Estill (her mother was one of the 10 daughters of pioneer William T. and Jane Cole). Tom published “The Story of My life” that is available for purchase at the Museum.
Emory Reyburn (Vice President of the Bank) returned from lunch as the two robbers were leaving. They forced him against the vault at gunpoint as they left. Emory’s family (Joseph D. and Mary Reyburn) arrived in Clovis in 1881. His father was a successful wheat farmer who raised 15 children (two marriages). Emory and Robert Lee Brown were the first to graduate from Clovis High School in 1902.
Emory (1880-1962) served on the Clovis City Council, 1917-1919. The bank failed in 1925. Emory retired as a hearing officer for the state public utilities commission in 1955.
After the robbery, Clovis Elementary Principal D.E. Weage, (also Boy Scout Master) sent his troop members Nick Ubick, Fred Russell, Ralph Sharon, Frank Druey, James Turner and Art DeGraw to pick up the roof tacks the bank robbers had thrown on Clovis Ave on their get-away. The scouts walked from Fourth and Clovis to Shaw Ave (distance of one mile).
Nick Ubick’s (1911-2013) family arrived in Clovis in 1916. The family farmed on Maple between Bullard and Sierra. Nick attended Clovis High School but did not graduate. He quit school at age 16 to work at the Pinedale sawmill (25 cents per hour). He received an honorary diploma from Clovis High 50 years later in 1979.
He was a successful mason and rancher. He began collecting and restoring farm equipment, a portion of the Fresno Flume and Irrigation and local artifacts that were displayed at his Ashlan ranch. He preserved pictures, stories and became a Clovis historian.
Nick was a founding member of the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society. He and his family have made significant contributions to the museum. He was inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 1992.
Sheriff William “Big Bill” Jones, Deputies O.J. King, Harry Collins and Albert Blasingame were dispatched from the Sheriff’s office to the 1924 crime scene.
Albert Blasingame (1886-1939) was the son of Anderson Blasingmae who was one of the pioneer stockmen of the Academy area. Albert was involved in ranching prior to his joining the Sheriff’s office. He was elected constable of the third township in 1930 and served a four-year term.
The Clovis families that were involved in the 1924 First State Bank robbery left us a rich heritage.