Lost & Hound
Published July 2021
By Margaret Skay Hartley | Illustrated by JJ Ritchey | 5 min read
Owasso residents enlisted the aid of anyone they could to help rescue Little Richard, including an acrobat/contortionist. Illustration by JJ Ritchey
It took six days, but with a bone-rattling blast of dynamite and a flurry of feathers, Little Richard, the bluetick coonhound from Owasso, finally was free. The hound escaped his rocky prison, a limestone cave six miles east of town, on April 29, 1959, and in the process, he put the town of Owasso on the map.
Little Richard’s blues began when he was doing what coonhounds like to do. While out hunting with one of his owners, Larry Wilson, the dog tracked a raccoon and gave chase. The masked critter gave his pursuer the slip by darting into a cave riddled with fissures. The coonhound fell from one level to another and became wedged in a v-shaped crevice—stuck upright and unreachable.
News of Little Richard’s predicament went viral—1950s style—with TV, newspapers, and radio stations reportedly getting wind of the dog’s dilemma when the Tulsa SPCA appealed to local construction companies for help and equipment. ABC, NBC, and CBS, the three major networks at the time, sent film crews. Local reporters showed up, and the Associated Press filed multiple stories that were picked up from Rhode Island to California. The four-legged Little Richard likely grabbed more headlines that week than his rock ‘n’ roll namesake. Military stationed in Korea read about Little Richard in Stars and Stripes, and Sports Illustrated told the coonhound’s tale. There were phone calls from a Hollywood movie producer and eventually a segment on a 1963 episode of the show GE True.
Droves of volunteers and members of the media—estimates range between five and ten thousand—descended upon the surprised little town of two thousand that week to help save the dog. Former resident Mike Fagan, who was twelve years old at the time, recalls local disbelief.
“They might as well have been Martians,” he says.
Another former Owasso resident, Pat Ward, who also was twelve during the canine ordeal, remembers Little Richard being the talk of the whole town.
“Owasso was pretty small, and there really wasn’t that much to talk about, but this just kind of snowballed.,” she says.
At the center of it all was Little Richard, who remained stuck for nearly a week.
Help came from multiple places including utility companies, the county commissioner, Bell Telephone, and the Owasso Fire Department, who hosed down the rock walls hoping to give Little Richard something to drink. Pneumatic drills and jackhammers were put to work. Maintenance crews from American Airlines rigged up lighting so rescue efforts could continue through the night. John Collins, a Tulsa veterinarian, faithfully stayed on the scene. Workers sprayed the whimpering hound with olive oil in hopes of dislodging him.
Rescuers brought in a dynamite expert. When it became clear that Little Richard would need some protection from the blast, a police car, an ambulance, and a flower delivery truck equipped with loudspeakers cruised the streets proclaiming the need for pillows, which were shoved down into the rocky crevice with long poles.
When the charge was detonated accompanied by a final jackhammer assist, the stubborn rock fell away, pillow feathers flew, and the dazed coonhound was set free. He was whisked away in an ambulance to a veterinary hospital in Tulsa. Three days later and ten pounds lighter, Little Richard came home to a hero’s welcome. Six hundred people lined Main Street to celebrate, the dogs of Owasso were treated to an ice cream party, and Little Richard was named an honorary member of the Owasso Chamber of Commerce. His saga elicited letters, phone calls, and even the donation of a large canine drinking trough by the Purina Company.
The Animal Friends of Pittsburgh echoed sentiments from around the country in a telegram stating, “It is this kind of act that characterizes America as the country with a heart, aiding those who cannot speak for themselves. We know God will bless you and all those who took part in this kind act.”
The drinking trough dedicated to Little Richard is located outside the Owasso Historical Museum.