Raymond Lawrence Wham
Submitted by Sue and Tom Wham
Raymond Lawrence Wham (Franklin Lafayette, John W McNinch, Joseph W, William, Benjamin) was born on a farm near Sterling, Oklahoma on 25 Sept 1910 to Franklin Lafayette Wham ( B 1863 D 1945) and Mary Abigail Sperry ( B 1874 D1960). His parents were poor, hard working farmers fighting the harsh climatic conditions and the infertile soil of Oklahoma.
Franklin and Mary moved from Marion County, Illinois to Oklahoma in 1902 with members of the Sperry, Beasley, and Hammond families. Franklin rented farm land near Sterling, Oklahoma in Brown Township. Sometime prior to 1916, Franklin gave up farming and went to work for the Frisco Railroad Line as a Baggage Master in Snyder, Oklahoma.
Raymond remembered little of his early life until sometime around 1916 when a tornado buried him and his two sisters, Mary and Ruth, in a collapsed storm cellar. They were rescued without serious physical damage, but Raymond was plagued with dreams of his experience for the rest of his life. The tornado destroyed all of the Wham families belongings.
The Wham's, the Sperry's, and the Beasley's left Oklahoma and moved to Idaho where they homesteaded land near Bone, Idaho. Raymond remembered fondly his summers on the Wham homestead. The children ran free while the older members of the family did the hard work to accomplish the necessary improvements to satisfy the Homestead Act. During the Winter, they returned to the rented house in Idaho Falls and attended school.
Franklin worked on the Oregon Short Line of the Union Pacific Railroad and spent most of his time in Idaho Falls. Franklin was a stern, hardworking man who suffered from acute asthma. His personality and age did not allow a close bonding between Franklin and his son. Raymond admitted that he looked to Grandfather Marion Sperry and his two older brothers, Paul and Thomas, for the necessary masculine image a young boy must have. After the death of Thomas to influenza on 10 Nov 1918, Franklin purchased a house on 16th Street in Idaho Falls. Raymond was fascinated that it had real electric lights.
It was here that Raymond began his association with the Chandler brothers. Raymond, the Chandler brothers, and others had a cave which was the center point of their activities. From here, they sent out raiding parties to the local melon and strawberry patches and generally made a nuisance of themselves to the community in "Tom Sawyer" fashion.
On one occasion, they found a container full of dynamite caps in an abandon house. Not knowing what they were and the danger that they would eventually present, the boys began beating on them with an ax. Nothing happened, so Raymond attempted to light them with a match. The explosion sent small brass fragments into the Tom Sawyer "want to be's". No one was seriously hurt, but the event was enough to get the parents involved. After this experience and others, Muriel ( his oldest sister) referred to Raymond as "The meanest white boy in the USA".
When Raymond was not playing hooky or roaming the countryside, he was at the local library where he experienced boyhood adventures from books. His addiction to reading benefited him significantly in later life. His ability to write and speak the vocabulary of words that he acquired in the reading process, established a firm foundation for his success in life.
The crowning blow to Raymond's peaceful existence came when Franklin went to the local truant officer, Mrs Celson, and explained that he could no longer control his son. The option Franklin wanted was to put him in reform school. When Mary Wham got word of Franklin's efforts, 16th Street was not a pleasant place to be. The female lioness came to the protection of her cub and Franklin felt the sting of her claws. Franklin's option was rejected.
Every thing settled down for a while, than the War Bonnet Roundup came to town. This was a ceremonial gathering of Native American Indian tribes expressing their culture in full war regalia and dancing to the beat of war drums. Raymond and the Chandler brothers found this an excellent excuse to cut school. Mrs Celson found them in the tallest tree watching the events.
Raymond was sent to Horse Island to live with his Aunt Jessie and to provide a separation between father and son. Raymond found the move a time of great revelation. Jessie was an excellent teacher and began Raymond on a serious academic pilgrimage. In exchange, he worked on her farm and developed a useful work ethic. This period of time with Jessie was very beneficial to Raymond. He often said that he learned more in that short period of time than in the rest of his schooling.
Raymond returned to Idaho Falls and soon fell back into his old ways. This time, he was sent to live with his Uncle Joe Beasley in Bone, Idaho. After a year with the Beasley's, he returned to his parents in Idaho Falls.
On 13 May 1925, Raymond enlisted in the Navy. He lied about his age and his family supported his prevarication to get him out of the house. When he left for Salt Lake City to begin his testing, Raymond was a boy of 14 years with a seventh grade education, standing six foot tall and weighting 120 pounds. After his testing, he was put back on a train and sent to San Diego, California to the Naval Training Station. When he arrived at the San Diego Train Station, he was to shy to ask how the street car system or the telephone worked, so he walked 5 miles to his destination. His career in the Navy was during peacetime and somewhat uneventful. He was assigned to the USS Aroostook, an aircraft tender which followed the USS Langley around to retrieve aircraft when they made unsuccessful landings on the aircraft carrier deck.
Raymond discovered that his pay of $54 per month could be increased significantly by loaning out money to his shipmates. The weekly rate of return was $7 for $5 borrowed.
Raymond was discharged from the Navy on 24 Sept 1929 at the beginning of the Great Depression. He went back to Idaho Falls and worked at a service station and sold "bathtub gin" on the side until the owner went bankrupt.
I heard my Father, Raymond Wham, say many times, after he started to work for the California Prison System, that it was by the grace of God that he ended up on the outside of the prison walls rather than inside them.
On 15 May 1931, Raymond married Sarah Ann Morrison. Raymond was first introduced to Sarah at a swimming party at the local park when she came with one of the Chandler brothers. As she remembers, "Applejack" was flowing freely. They were married just across the border in Montana. It took two weeks for Sarah to build up enough courage to tell her parents. The marriage lasted sixty eight years and two children.
In later years, when Raymond was about to retire from a long career with the California Prison System, he discovered the marriage license was never recorded. The Justice of the Peace had a drinking problem and frequently forgot who he married. This fact was brought to light when the problem was being discussed with a clerk in the current JP's office. They were remarried in California.
After a period of time passed, the young couple was forgiven by James and Rae Morrison for not involving the family in their marriage plans. It was the middle of the depression and Raymond was without a job. James generously offered him work around the farm. His lack of farming experience became evident when Raymond was given the task of hooking horses to a wagon. Rock and Rowdy were a matched pair of mauly-faced work horses. They were the "pride and joy" of James Morrison. Each horse was trained to a particular side of the wagon or implement. Raymond attempted to get Rock and Rowdy in their reverse positions. The horses knew which side they should be on, but to Raymond's dismay they would not stay in his chosen incorrect position. When James observed what was happening, I am sure, he regretted his job offer to Raymond and wondered about the future of his oldest daughter.
Raymond's oldest brother, Paul Wham, went to California and secured a good job with the State. This was the beginning of the Wham exodus from Idaho to California. It took Raymond two attempts in an old Model T Ford, which belonged to his Father, before arriving in the "Promise Land". Sarah remained with her family until Raymond found employment. In the summer of 1932, Raymond found a job parking cars in Sacramento. Sarah joined him and found work as a domestic.
Franklin and Paul jointly purchased a fruit farm near Orangevale, California. Franklin and Mary Wham sold out in Idaho and moved directly to the farm where they were joined by Raymond and Sarah. The produce from the farm was taken to Sacramento and sold to grocery outlets and bakeries. This function usually fell to Sarah. She remembers trying to get out of the old pickup while very pregnant with her first child, Kathryn. Raymond worked under the WPA when work was available.
Raymond's sister Ruth Secor gave birth to Kenneth in Aug 1933. Mary Wham moved from Orangevale to Sacramento to take care of the new baby while Ruth worked. On 15 July 1934, Kathryn Larae Wham was born to Raymond and Sarah Wham. Thomas James Wham was born on 10 April 1936. This same year, Raymond began work for the California State Prison System at Folsom as a guard. A short time after the birth of Thomas, Sarah lost twin boys. In 1939 housing became available at Represa, California which was a small community of prison workers just outside the walls of Folsom Prison. Raymond, Sarah, Kathryn, and Thomas along with Franklin went to live in the new housing at Represa. The Orangevale property was rented out.
In 1939, Raymond became very interested in rifle shooting competition. He spent a great amount of time on the prison rifle range and at home in the middle of the living room practicing his dry fire procedures. He became one of the best marksman in Northern California and went to the National Match Course Competition at Camp Perry, Ohio.
His skill with a rifle did not go unnoticed by his superiors. He was soon placed in a gun tower. Here his reputation grew geometrically within the inmate " rumor mill". He was soon able to shoot your eye out at 600 yards. One of the duties of the officers in the gun towers was to keep the inmates behind the white lines, so they could be observed by all the guards. It was well understood by the prisoner population that this was a rule to be obeyed. It seems that there was an old man that was in for life that was continually testing the system. Raymond got tired of yelling at him, so he took the lead bullet out of several cartridges and replaced them with rolled up paper. The next time the old "lifer" stepped across the white line, three shots rapidly echoed between the gray, granite walls and the old man scurried across the white line never to return.
Raymond was promoted to Sergeant and put in charge of the armory. When World War ll started, he was put in charge of the rifle range and the training of military personnel that utilized the state facility. When he was promoted to Lieutenant, he became the prison Training Officer.
During this period of time, he acquired his high school diploma and an Associate Degree from Sacramento State College. His expertise as a Training Officer got him transferred to San Quentin Prison to set up a new training program in 1950. While at San Quentin, he passed the written and oral examinations for Captain and Associate Warden which was unusual and identified him on the "fast track" to promotion. Raymond was promoted to Captain and was made the Chief Camp Supervisor. This function put him in charge of multiple inmate camps though out the state which were involved in fire suppression and reforestation programs. This job took him back to Folsom.
In 1954, his next assignment took him to San Luis Obispo, California in the capacity of a "front man" to set up a new prison. After the prison was up and running, he was promoted to Associate Warden and transferred back to San Quentin Prison. After being there a short period of time, the Black community within the prison staged a three day riot which hit the newspaper headlines hard. Politics being what it is, corrective action was required and the Warden was fired along with some of the Associate Wardens. Raymond returned to the California Mens Colony at San Luis Obispo as an Associate Warden where he remained until his retirement in 1966. While there, he was sent to Montana on a temporary basis to advise their authorities on rioting they were experiencing within their prison system.
After retirement, Raymond and Sarah went back to Idaho to care for James and Rae Morrison until their death. They purchased property in Hammett,Idaho and remained there with frequent trips to California to check on their San Luis Obispo property.
In 1992 after selling their property in Idaho and California, they moved to Arkansas to be closer to their son, Thomas James Wham. They built a large house of Arkansas stone on Bull Shoals Lake next to their son's ranch. Thomas hauled three large truck loads of shop tools and hardware from Idaho to Arkansas and built a 48 x 40 foot barn to house Raymond's equipment.
Shortly after moving into their new house and shop, Raymond went into the hospital for by-pass surgery on his heart. His recovery was successful and he spent the next seven years organizing and working in his shop. Raymond's eye sight degenerated rapidly toward the end and he lost the ability to work in his shop. He began to tell the story of an old Indian who could no longer hunt and contribute to the tribe's welfare. He stopped eating. Raymond died 2 June 1999 at his home with his family. His ashes are scattered on a landscaped island in the middle of a stock pond on his son's farm at Price Place, Arkansas.