Jack Remembers: Forest Lee Smith took ‘town character’ to a new level

By Jack Hackley

Every town used to have a few characters. The town I’m from, Oak Grove, had more than its share. My favorite was Forest Lee Smith. He was a brilliant person who could sell himself better than anyone I have listened to. Had he decided to be a politician, he could have easily been governor.
However, he chose another route, and spent time in both San Quentin Prison in California, and the Colorado State Prison. In San Quentin, he knew Caryl Chessman, the “red light bandit” known world-wide who wrote three books while on death row. He was also good friends with Spade Cooley and Merle Haggard, both country music stars who served time.
When I got out of the Army, I leased a three-bay Sinclair station in Bates City with a restaurant that sold 3.2 beer. When Forest was back home, he hung out at my place. One day he said, “I’m running low on money, I need to find a job.” And he took off for Kansas City.
When he got back to the restaurant, we asked him if he had any luck. He had on a new white jacket that said “Rudy Fick Ford Service Manager.” Rudy Fick was a large Ford dealer in Kansas City.
Another time he got a job as manager of King Arthur’s Lounge, a nightclub at Armour and Troost in Kansas City. When the owner reneged on paying Forest a bonus for the increase in business, he decided to quit, but before he did, he went to work with a handgun and started shooting holes in the ceiling, and laughing as he watched everyone run out the door.
One time Forest was in the Saline County Jail when his girlfriend in Lexington got deathly sick. The sheriff refused to let Forest visit her in the hospital, so when he finally got out of jail, he went back to Marshall and stole the radio out of the sheriff’s car while it was parked in front of the courthouse.
Now, how embarrassing would that be for the sheriff to have his radio stolen out of his car, and have to go to the county commissioners for money to buy another one.

Jack can be reached at PO Box 40, Oak Grove, MO 64075, or Visit

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