He was a man tall of stature, thick around the middle, and of sturdy build. Always to be seen with a big black cigar in his mouth. He had a low growly voice and grumbled when he talked. To some he was a hard worker a friend and good man, to others a nuisance and a no good outlaw. Although the man is long gone, his memory lives on. Blackie Nelson.
His real name was Sam Nelson. Everyone knew him as Blackie though. Nelson tried his hand at various professions throughout his life. He was a railroader for the Mo Pac., a billiard hall operator for a time, and was also in partnership with Sonny Johnson for many years. They would go all over buying cattle, sometimes as far as Arkansas. He was a farmer and owned several tracts of land including ‘Wildcat Farm’ up in Warren Township. Living in the time of prohibition, Blackie occasionally took to bootlegging, as did a number of folks.
Bob Alexander senior recalled an experience he had with Blackie Nelson. It was in 1938 Alexander and friend went to visit Blackie in the upstairs back room of 204 W Main. It was well known that you could get a little hooch from Blackie. The police and or the citizens must have kept a close eye on Nelson. You see, just as Alexander and his companion walked out the back door and down the stairs to the alley, the police were coming up the front stairs. Blackie was taken to the jail where he served his time. The pay must have been worth the penalty because as soon as Blackie got out, he was at it again.
If good fences make good neighbors a better mended fence may have encouraged amiability between Blackie Nelson and Bud Alexander. Tom Alexander related when he was a very small boy riding out to feed cattle with his grandpa Bud, they noticed a cloud of dust coming down the road. Bud was not a man to use course language but he couldn’t help but mutter something of contempt under his breath. Here come a big black car through the pasture and out steps Nelson with a cigar clenched in his mouth. Nelson cursed a blue streak to Bud about keeping his cows in his own pasture. As small as Bud was compared to Nelson, he walked right up to Blackie and made it clear that with his grandson present he would not tolerate such language. Blackie got back in his car and drove off.
This fence issue may have led to this next episode. Dude Krause and Bud Alexander were very good friends. Dude worked on the railroad with Blackie Nelson. Krause and Nelson had just pulled into the Missouri Pacific depot which once stood near the Saddle Rock Café. At some point Bud had come up in their conversation and Nelson lit in to cussing Bud. Krause didn’t take kindly to it and stepped down from the engine and invited Nelson to come down for a likin’. Blackie didn’t budge. Even though he was the bigger he wasn’t that interested in defending his words.
In the late 1940s Blackie operated the pool hall at 204 W Main. As you walked in the first thing you saw was a stove about the middle of the floor. The old timers that chewed tobacco would sit around it and spit on it. There were a good number of domino, billiard, and snooker tables for recreation and a bar for unwinding. According to the stories passed down through the years, there were times when the boys at the bar were feeling their beer. They might get rowdy and start a fight. As tall and as big around as Blackie was, it was nothing for him to place one huge hand on the bar and jump over it and into the middle of a fight before anyone knew what happened.
In Blackie’s later years he seemed to mellow out a bit and was slower to get riled up. But if you were going to play cards with him, you better watch closely. He had part of a finger missing from one hand. When he’d push his chips to the middle of the table he could easily pull a couple back with the partial finger. If a player mentioned, “Hey Blackie, ya missed a couple chips there.” He’d grumble back in a low tone, “Oh…yeah…uh mmm, sorry ‘bout that.”
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Alexander Jr. have recently immortalized the name and the story of Blackie Nelson. They have owned and operated Alexander ArtWorks for three years. Located in the very building where Blackie Nelson once lived, sold booze, and busted up fights in the pool hall. This past winter and early spring the Alexander’s have spent a considerable amount of time and elbow grease renovating the art gallery they have newly christened The Blackie Nelson. It seemed only fitting they join the other prominent Nelson galleries in the land. The Strecker-Nelson in Manhattan, the Nelson-Atkins in K.C., and now our very own Blackie Nelson of Council Grove.
Specializing in custom stained glass and metal working there is no job too large or small for their talent. You name it and they can do it, if they can’t do it you don’t need it. So stop in and see the Blackie Nelson at 204 W Main in Council Grove. You may browse the local artwork and take a gander at the snooker balls from the old pool hall, and get a peek at a shoe that was possibly used as a cudgel in one of the bar fights. *The author of this takes no responsibility for the last statement being factual or accurate in any way.