CISCO, Texas (KTAB) – Santa Claus, a jolly ole fellow, but instead of bringing Christmas cheer, brought terror to a small Texas town on December 23, 1929. Cisco native, Carlene Spicer knows the story well.
“I think it was kind of a cruelty that he would take that figure, who represents joy and peace and love and happiness, and use him to rob a bank and ultimately have several people killed,” Spicer said.
Marshall Ratliff dressed up as the famous character to disguise himself that day. Former curator of the Hilton Community Center, John Waggoner, said little kids were following Ratliff down the street towards the bank.
Santa and his three elves, instead of giving, took the town and turned it upside down.
“They went into the bank and, well you know, everything broke loose then because he came in with a pistol and said ‘give me your money’ and then people began running for the doors,” Waggoner said.
Ratliff took two girls hostage while trying to escape and the town quickly jumped in.
“My grandmother used to tell the story. Back in those days the cars had running boards and there was just this whole line of cars coming down the street heading south and he said there were people hanging out of the cars with their guns and he couldn’t imagine what was going on and they were yelling ‘they robbed the bank we’re going to go catch the robbers,” Spicer said.
But Ratliff’s get away sleigh would soon run out of gas and the rest is history.
“I remember my grandmother’s comment was that ‘well I looked at Lois my mother and said, she was 13, and said ‘well if they want to take the town they can just come back and get us because all the men and all the guns are gone’,” Spicer said.
The current curator of the Hilton Community Center, Dixon Seider said this story is like Bonnie and Clyde, glamorous and romantic.
“It was gangsters and thugs and there’s just something about that that people like to get into and investigate that information,” Seider said.
While the real Santa lives in the North Pole, the Cisco Santa lives in the history that shaped this little town.
Ratliff Served his time in Huntsville, and was moved two years later to Eastland County. Shortly after he tried to escape, injuring the jailer who later died. The next day an angry mob stormed the jail dragging Ratliff through the street, stringing him up on a utility pole in front of a crowd of 1500 people. This was the last public lynching in the state of Texas.