A Texan whose surname suggests a firearm moves to an Oklahoma boom town named for a circus and opens a café where he promises to prepare any thing any way.
That’s how things turned out for James Washington Pistole. A late bloomer, his route to matrimony, fatherhood — and to Ringling, Oklahoma — was a meandering one. But once he found his way there, he settled for life.
Born in 1859 on a farm in Leon County, Texas, James lost his father at age six. While his siblings looked indoors for a livelihood, James followed his father’s path into the fields. At 21, he left home with a first cousin to work as a farmhand in Milam on the Texas-Louisiana border.
Within a year, he apparently saw the wisdom of his siblings’ choices. James abandoned the cultivation of food for commerce, and for the next 15 years, he worked in central Texas in the grocery business. In 1882, fire threatened his inventory when mice set matches ablaze in his Belton storehouse, causing $13 in damages. And again, in 1896, fire damaged his office in Temple.
The grocer’s next step was a natural one: He made a friend of fire by moving into a commercial kitchen. By 1907, James had left Texas for good. He was living in Saskawa, Oklahoma where, at 49, he married Mollie Morris, a widow with two children, and found the work that would sustain him and his family for the rest of his life.
James started cooking at a hotel owned by William Lafayette “Fate” Buckholts. At 63, Buckholts was a Mississippi Choctaw and Confederate Army veteran with a hand in multiple enterprises — including the Swan Hotel and a drugstore — in the town of Duncan, a trading center just west of the Chisholm Trail.
Steady employment allowed James and Mollie to start adding Pistoles to their family. The aptly named Charles Valentine arrived February 14, 1910; another son followed two years later. Between the birth of a daughter in 1916 and a third son in 1919, James left the Swan and moved to Ringling, about 40 miles south of Duncan.
In 1913, famed circus proprietor John Ringling partnered with legendary oilman Jake Hamon to build a railroad to serve farmers and ranchers in southern Oklahoma. When Ringling purchased land at the Ringling Railroad’s western terminus in 1914, the town of Ringling was born. James Pistole was in the right place to launch his own enterprise.
Folks in Ringling needed bread, and James knew how to bake it. With six children at home, he called it Dad’s Bread, and he prepared it in Dad’s Bakery, flipping the notion that only Mom’s food was inviting. He oddly noted that his bread was “sanitary,” suggesting his competitors may not have washed their hands before kneading.
When he opened his restaurant, he paired alliteration with hominess, dubbing it the Cozy Cafe. At first, he offered to “prepare any thing any way” in his eagerness to please. Later, he not only suggested what customers should order, but also what they should do while waiting for their orders.
As someone who fed Ringling’s denizens, James became an important figure, as evidenced by the local newspaper’s interest. We know that, between 1923 and 1925, his boys went to Ardmore for an aviation meet and to have their eyes checked by an optometrist. They had the usual childhood maladies: two caught the measles; another saw the doctor when he choked on a piece of candy. And, the maker of Dad’s Bread took his 9-year-old daughter to a children’s birthday party in 1925.
In August 1923, news arrived that his sister, Mattie, was in a Fort Worth sanitarium with an unspecified illness. James went back to Texas for the first time in 28 years to see her. The boy who had lost his father so young had put a lot of time and distance between himself and his loved ones in Texas.
James Washington Pistole also waited until he was 50 to start his own family. Once he settled down, he not only embraced his role as husband, step-father, and father, he became the Dad who baked bread for Ringling, Oklahoma.
James died in 1940 at age 80. He’s buried in the Ringling Memorial Cemetery.
Addendum: James’s sister, Mattie, a late bloomer like her brother, was a Texas schoolteacher who married the mayor of San Angelo. To read more about the Pistole family, please click The Mayor’s Wife.