A Night To Remember
Fifty years ago, cub reporter Bill Cooke was one of the first people on the scene after country and-western star Johnny Horton was killed in a two-car accident in Milano. Cooke was the only person to get photos of the scene and after 50 years in the newspaper business, he says it’s still “the worst wreck I have ever seen.” Following is a re-print of his story from that evening. MILANO—The fast rolling career of Johnny Horton, 35, whose hit recording of “The Battle of New Orleans,” put him in the chips and a long white Cadillac, came to a sudden halt about 1:30 a.m. Saturday on a railroad overpass in Milano.
A grinding two-car collision that was heard for miles dropped the curtain on that career and left the entertainer’s four-door hardtop Cad a mass of battered wreckage from grill to trunk.
It happened mid-way across a 320-foot concrete railroad overpass in the center of Milano. The cars collided near head-on and wound up at either end of the bridge, about 300 feet apart. Wreckage and glass from both automobiles were scattered thick over the entire overpass.
DOA— Ambulances rushed Horton and his two companions and the driver of the Ford, a 19-year-old Texas A&M college student, to St. Edward’s hospital in Cameron. Horton was pronounced dead-on-arrival.
• Tilman Franks, 40, of Shreveport, Horton’s manager and also a bass-fiddle player: severe lacerations of the scalp and face, also observed for possible rib fractures and internal injuries.
• Jerald D. Tomlinson, 30, also of Shreveport, a guitar player: compound fractures of the left leg, above and below the knee; severe lacerations over the body.
• James Evans Davis, 19, of Brady, the A&M student who was driving alone in the Ford; fractured left ankle and multiple cuts and bruises.
COLLISION— Davis’ Ranchero, a blend of a pick-up truck and an automobile, was traveling west on US 79 toward Rockdale. Horton was driving his limousine east on the highway.
The Shreveport singer, a hillbillyish rock-and-roller, had played an engagement Friday night at the Skyline Club in Austin. He and his two associates were en route to Shreveport.
Highway patrolman Gilbert Smith, who investigated, said no charges were filed on the case this week, but charges were pending investigations.
The patrolman removed a partially empty bottle of liquor and two full glass bottles of beer from the Ford.
IRONY— A twist of irony accompanied the death of the young entertainer.
His wife, Mrs. Billie Jean Horton, is the former wife of the famed hillbilly singer Hank Williams. Her first husband also died at a young age, also in an automobile while en route from a performance. Williams, however, died of a heart attack.
Horton’s big hit was “The Battle of New Orleans.” He skyrocketed to fame soon after its recording and also starred throughout his brief career on the Louisiana Hayride at Shreveport.
A recent record album, “Johnny Horton Makes History,” described his hit songs as “Action Tales of Battles, Heroes and Epic Events.”
HITS— Other songs that he authored and recorded: “Johnny Freedom (Freedomland)”, Jim Bridger”, “Comanche (the Brave Horse)”, “Johnny Reb”, “Snow- Shoe Thompson”, “The Battle of Bull Run”, “The Sinking of the Reuben James”, “Sink The Bismark”, “O’Leary’s Cow”, “Young Abe Lincoln (make a Tall, Tall Man)”, “John Paul Jones.”
Other survivors, in addition to his wife, are their small daughters, Zanina and Melody; his stepdaughter, Jerry Lynn, the wife’s daughter by a former marriage; Horton’s mother, Mrs. John L. Horton of Rusk.
Horton lived in Hollywood, California, and Rusk, but had made his home in Shreveport in recent years. It was reported that he was to make plans for a movie soon.
A Johnny Horton 50th anniversary memorial concert has been set for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5 at the Milano High School cafetorium. Promoters are hoping to raise funds to construct a monument to Horton at the sight of the wreck.