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AND WHAT HAS COME OF IT
By John Fortson
Published, 1936, Under Auspices Pottawatomie County Historical Society
This book contains mistakes, as do all histories. All people see things differently and it is almost impossible to arrive at a story that will please everyone. But the Pottawatomie County Historical Society and myself believe that this history of Pottawatomie County has enough research behind it to be considered authentic and as complete as the space allows.
For the completion of this work much credit is due especially: Mrs. J. W. Drake, Miss Flecia Guilliams, George E. McKinnis, E. L. Estes, Mrs. Kate Snider, Norman W. Paine, Mrs. Jesse Pelphrey, Mrs. W. F. Durham and Clarence Robison.
When the increasing number of white citizens, in the new state of Kansas and the Indian tribes located there began bickering at the close of the Civil war they didn't realize they were beginning the history of Pottawatomie County. But that grumbling led to the transfer of a number of tribes to Indian Territory, and to the beginning of what became known as the Pott country.
Most of the tribes owning Indian Territory had favored the Confederacy and so were agreeable to any terms the victorious United States could offer. Result was the government paid the Seminoles 15 cents an acre for the part of this county between the Canadians, and gave the Creeks 30 cents an acre for the area north of the North Canadian.
For the Sac and Fox tribe the government set aside a reservation, including' the portion of this county east of Kickapoo street in Shawnee and north of the river and established an agency in what is now Lincoln county. The Kickapoo reservation, which was not opened for white settlement until 1895, included the area west of Kickapoo street and north of the river.
In Kansas the Pottawatomie tribe had become divided into the Prairie band and the Citizen band. The Prairie held land in common and lived under tribal rules, while the Citizen intermarried with the whites and divided land. In 1867 the tribe contracted to sell a part of its Kansas land to the Santa Fe railway. The Prairie band was to get its share in individual allotments, and a part of what was due the Citizen band was to be used to buy Pott country. 1
Shortly after 1870 the Pottawatomies began moving into the new home they had bought, only to find a band of Absentee Shawnees living in and claiming the land. The Shawnees contended they had made a treaty with the government for the Pott country area. The agreement was never ratified by congress. This difference caused a great deal of strife and still is a bone of contention between the two tribes. Ultimately the Pottawatomies agreed to let the Shawnees live undisturbed in their homes, and the Shawnees were given allotments along with the Pottawatomies when the country was opened.
Even before the Pottawatomies arrived the spearhead of white civilization had forced itself into the country. A Mr. McDonald became Pottawatomie County's first businessman when he opened a trading post at an Indian settlement on Little River. Later he moved north to trade at what became Shawneetown.
Colorful Texas trail drivers figured in Pottawatomie history for a few years in the '70s when they used the West Shawnee cattle trail that crossed this county from south to north. At the spot now occupied by the Santa Fe shops the cattle trail crossed an east-west trail from Muskogee to the Chisholm Trail. It was here that Louis C. Tyner, a half breed Cherokee, opened his trading post in 1870. 2
The year 1871 found the Indians all abuzz with the excitement of building the first permanent institution. Joseph Newsom, a Quaker missionary, came with his family to the present site of the Indian sanatorium and directed Indian helpers in building the crude cabin that was the first mission house. Newsom opened a school in 1872 that was later taken over by the government. Then in 1876 the settlement became firmly entrenched with establishment of a post office, called Shawneetown, a quarter of a mile west of the mission, and the arrival of the firm of Blossom and Clay to take over the trading post.
Meantime the south end of Pott country had not been without its activity. Jacob Johnson, the English husband of a Pottawatomie woman, brought his family down the West Shawnee cattle trail in 1872, threw up a log house on the present site of the Wanette cemetery, and called the place Pleasant Prairie. In the rear of the store Johnson arranged chairs and desks acquired some McGuffy readers and opened a school which he operated until 1883 when he moved to the North Canadian. The first post office in Pottawatomie County, Clardyville, was established here in 1874 with Mrs. Isabell A. Clardy postmistress. 3 That same year the settlement built a non-denominational church.
A few months later Pottawatomie leaders entertained a visitor, one Isidore Robot, who wanted to establish a Catholic mission in southeastern Pott country. The tribe voted to donate a section of land and to help with construction work. In 1876 the Benedictine order established Sacred Heart mission and opened a day school for Indian children. Then in 1879 the priests opened a boarding school for boys, following with a school for girls in 1880.
The Catholic fathers continued their work among the Pottawatomie, Seminole and white children until 1901 when a fire destroyed practically every building at the mission, causing a loss of $75,000. An effort was made to build on the ashes a first rate college for boys. But soon it became apparent that such a school should be more accessible. And so the boys' school was moved to Shawnee and the girls' school continued at Sacred Heart. Old timers who have seen most of the years of Sacred Heart and who are actively carrying forward the work, though more secluded, are Father Leo, Brother John Larasy, Father Jerome and Father Williams, the parish priest.
Mission work at Shawneetown continued and in 1885, Dr. Charles W. Kirk, who was then head of the Friends' group, built a meeting house and started the Shawneetown monthly meetings with both Indians and whites attending. Soon after 1904 interest in the mission work began to drop, until in 1924 the work was abandoned.
1. Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. 1, p. 380.
2. “Growth of Shawnee,” by Exie Campbell. University of Oklahoma.
3. Paper by Ben Clardy. 1929.
When we remember that as early as 1865 the Pottawatomie had broken with their kinsmen in Kansas and assumed the responsibilities of citizenship, it is easy to understand why the tribe offered little opposition to the proposition of opening the country for white settlement. The Shawnees, however, were divided. A progressive branch looked favorably on the idea of having their children educated and their country developed. Another branch refused to accept allotments, and gave a great deal of trouble to progressive chiefs and officers in charge. But when the opening day drew near they realized the fight was lost and peacefully submitted.
In the treaty of June 25, 1890, the government agreed to pay the 1,400 Pottawatomies $160,000 for improvements they had made on the land, and to return the $119,790.75 the tribe had paid for the land. 1 The 650 Absentee Shawnees were to receive $65,000.
Sunrise September 22, 1891, found thousands of restless pioneers lining the borders of Pott country, checking wagons and teams to make sure nothing would slip when high noon came with opportunity. Among the crowd were gamblers, promoters, and adventurers. But for the most part the “runners” were men and women set on shaping something out of this raw country.
Center of interest that day was the townsite of Tecumseh, designated county seat by the government. Many runners directed their horses to that spot only to find that the townsite opening had been delayed a day. Troops surrounded the townsite to keep order while surveyors completed their work. At the last moment the court house square had been changed to its present site from the block just south.
At high noon the next day soldiers again fired their rifles and another mad rush was on, this time for ground floor space in the capital of this new empire. A Dr. Roundtree jumped from his horse to stake the present site of Morgan’s pharmacy and the horse behind trampled him to death. Others were injured, many scrapped over which one of the half dozen or so claimants staked the lot first. But on the whole it was apparently a well regulated affair. By the next day excitement had settled to activity. Tents dotted the townsite and men were nailing together buildings they had brought in sections. J. H. Hibbard and Tom Smith had brought ready-cut lumber for a bake shop. This second day found Smith's oven running full blast. “We had to board up the windows to keep the hungry mob out,” Smith relates. “They'd yell 'Take it out! It's done enough! We'll eat it!'“
Among the 10,000 or so who milled around Tecumseh that day was Charles J. Benson, who remembers claim jumping as the most popular sport. One could never be sure what would happen once he set foot off his claim. Benson recalls one incident involving himself and a woman who had built a log cabin opposite the square near his tent. She asked Benson to watch her property while she made a trip. About noon Benson noticed the door ajar and thought to go over and see about things. He opened the door and came face to face with a man twice his size and of ill repute. Benson opened his mouth and the big man promptly closed it with a left that laid him quiet in the corner. It was not until some days later that a townsite commission was organized and claims filed and recognized.
The story is told of one slick promoter who drove a stake in the alley south of the old Opera House. Now anyone knows you can't build a house in an alley. But the suckers didn't know it until they'd bought the claim and been informed of their mistake by a neighboring claim holder who was in on the conspiracy. After the sucker had left the slicker would come back, set up his tent, and wait for the next chump.
Meantime, others more interested in good farm land had been busy locating promising quarter sections. “Land locators who kept a daily record of land filed on at the Oklahoma City land office, and who had field notes made by the surveyors, helped pioneers find the land they wanted,” remembers J. A. Stevenson, who homesteaded southwest of Tecumseh. “Tree markings made by the surveyors had been covered with new growth, but a little hacking cut the new wood away and revealed the original marks. Additional land notes gave the distance of section corners from prominent trees and rocks, and described the type of land in each quarter.”
These men who opened Pott country were for the most part of moderate means. They built cheap cabins with dirt floors, helped each other clear the land, and looked forward to what they would make of the land. As told by D. C. Fowler, a homesteader near Tecumseh, the new soil proved very fertile. Most farmers prospered as soon as they got enough land in cultivation for a full crop. They were plagued only by horse and cattle thieves. Until organization of the first Anti-Horse Thief association at a school house south of Earlsboro, it was nothing unusual for a farmer to wake up in the morning to find his team stolen.
The first Sunday found many of these pioneers worshipping in small groups. As they prospered they built crude churches, then got passing ministers to preach until they could afford regular pastors. People on the townsites banded together, soon built an inter-denominational church, then gradually branched out into denominations as their purses could afford new buildings.
Schools, too, were “soon under way. Charles J. Benson, appointed first county superintendent, had the tough job of organizing educational facilities with no roads, no teachers, no books, and no funds. It was near old Burnett that he first persuaded folk to pitch together in building a log school house.
First officials 2 of Pottawatomie County, then County “B”, were all Republican, appointed by the territorial governor. They received their certificates of appointment October 27, 1891, from County Judge W. R. Asher. 3 This group served from October 29, 1891, to the first Monday in January, 1893, when they were succeeded by the first elected officers. The offices were located in buildings about the square until regular quarters could be arranged. Soon a drafty frame house, set on log supports, was erected in the square facing Washington Street. The jail was built near the southeast corner, and the court building faced Broadway. Every sensational trial sent the crowds overflowing into the street and witnesses had to be called from the yard. This set of buildings served until 1897 when the brick court house and jail were built.
December 22, 1891, county commissioners Henry G. Beard, Samuel Clay and A. M. Clardy met to set their government in order. Business transacted included appointment of Thomas R. Cook justice of peace for the county, division of the county into townships, and declaring the town of Tecumseh incorporated. The townships at that time were numbered. It was not until 1896 that the names were substituted.
Tecumseh citizens had voted 90 to 22 for incorporation. townsite commission named by Judge Asher included Daniel George H. Long, secretary, and George A. Outcelt, member.
The Tecumseh Hay, chairman,
November, 1892, citizens of County B went to the polls to name their first elected officers 4 and to vote 841 to 207 to call their county Pottawatomie.
1. Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. I, p. 437.
2.-4. See Chapter 7 for names.
3. Data prepared by Clarence Robison, Jr.
TALE OF TWO CITIES
Rivaling the tallest of Kentucky feud stories, and coloring almost every development in the county since the opening, is the tale of two cities and how they fought and bled for their lives.
This county seat war began before there was a county seat, lasted for almost a half century, even continued for some months after stubborn Tecumseh had gone down swinging, and still rankles in the breast of many an embittered old timer.
Ambitious William Griffenatein, German husband of a Pottawatomie woman, fathered Wichita. Kansas, for a sizable fortune, came to Pott country to take up his wife's allotment, and founded the Griffenstein ranch. Sensing there would be a metropolis somewhere in this country, Griffenstein had his land released for townsite development, marked off the lots, designated a “capitol hill” in the center of town, called the place Burnett, and built air castles of another Wichita. The first step was to get the couuty seat. To this end Griffenstein started politicking, and apparently was making good progress. But somewhere there was a slip.
County seats had to be located in the geographical township nearest the center of the county. Griffenstein had located his Burnett near the center of Pott country and thought he had the court house in the bag. Opponents who didn't like the Burnett location joined with Cleveland county men who were seeking more territory. Result was, the west tier of townships in Pott country was added to Cleveland County, thus leaving Burnett too near the boundary line.
Just how this was accomplished no one seems to know. A version related by George Stone is that Griffenstein had succeeded in getting tentative approval from Washington. Word leaked to Captain S. J. Scott, who operated a trading post at Shawneetown. Captain Scott grabbed his hat and dashed off for Washington to get the seat of government located nearer Shawneetown. Others believe this remaking of the map was due more to a group of men than to the individual efforts or Captain Scott.
Neither do we have definite information as to why Tecumseh was the spot picked out in the central township. But the most logical story is that government engineers picked the location solely for geographical advantages.
At any rate, Tecumseh got the decision, thus ending one county seat scrap and starting another.
The Shawnee-Tecumseh war got off with a bang in 1894 with the battle of the Choctaw. For three years Tecumseh had prospered as the capital city of a rapidly developing area. North of the Canadian a group of ambitious homesteaders headed by Martin Bentley, Henry Beard and Charles Farrall, formed a townsite and started angling for the railroad, which Tecumseh thought surely would have to come through the county seat.
In 1890 the Choctaw Coal and Railway Company, later recognized as the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf, made a survey which ran three and a half miles north of Tecumseh, between S'hawneetown and the Canadian river. With the county seat located three miles from the railroad, Choctaw officials later went to Tecumseh asking every other lot in town to change their route to include the county seat, according to S. P. Larsh. A town meeting turned down the proposal, pointing out that the demand could not be met because it would be impossible to get every man in town to split up his holdings in that manner.
In 1894 the Choctaw ran another line, this time north of the Canadian, five or six miles north of Tecumseh. When the map was filed December 1 in the office of the secretary of the interior Tecumseh became furious. Tecumseh delegates hot-footed it to Washington where they got a favorable ear from Hoke Smith, Secretary of Interior. Smith rejected the Shawnee route because it would make profit for townsite promoters and the railroad and would hurt Tecumseh. The Choctaw claimed the Shawnee route would save $200,000, be four miles shorter and eliminate a bothersome grade. To settle the squabble Smith asked the Santa Fe head engineer to survey both routes and submit figures on the comparative cost. This survey did show the Tecumseh route to be more expensive. Then Tecumseh asked for the original route just south of the river. Smith agreed to reconsider if Tecumseh could get the right-of-way within two weeks. Tecumseh failed and the Choctaw, with the case still pretty much in a fog, began construction on the 25 mile unit in dispute.
March 19, 1895, Tecumseh filed a bill of complaint asking a temporary injunction, which was granted the following day. Hearing was set for April 23 before District Judge Henry W. Scott. May 1, Judge Scott dissolved the injunction and the case was appealed.
Meanwhile the Choctaw continued work on the Shawnee route and completed the line into Shawnee July 4. It was not until September 7 that the Supreme Court upheld the railroad's action.
The case hinged on the right of the Secretary of Interior to approve the railroad's route. The court ruled that this right of approval, given the secretary in the Choctaw charter, was only to insure the proper execution of charter provisions, and did not empower the secretary to settle disputes arising outside the charter requirements. 1
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During the two years when the railroad route was undecided, rumors were current every few days that the road was coming one way or the other.
One night a rider would blow into Tecumseh with news that Shawnee had lost. No matter the time of night, half the citizens would pop out of bed and run to the nearest blacksmith shop to shoot anvils. (Process of placing powder on an anvil, inverting another anvil on top, and sticking a match to it.) The noise was so loud it would wake up Shawnee citizens who would curse their luck and try to go back to sleep. Then a few days later the story would be repeated with Shawnee shooting anvils and Tecumseh cursing.
When the court decision was made, Oscar G. Lee, formerly of Shawnee and Oklahoma City, ran to his horse and wagon in an Oklahoma City yard and rode post haste to Shawnee that night. He arrived at 3:30 in the morning and proceeded to wake up everybody in town. John Beard, accompanied by a group of young men, ransacked Lee's warehouse for several sticks of dynamite, and set off one tremendous blast in the excavation for a building, which blasted out the window in a saloon across the street.
Next morning at 8 o'clock, perhaps to appease the saloon keeper's wrath, Beard gave a huge champagne party for the whole town.
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While Shawnee gathered at a huge 4th of July picnic to greet the first train over the Choctaw, Tecumseh citizens rallied at their picnic and began talk of building a railroad to Dale, with the idea of selling it later to the Hutchinson, Oklahoma and Gulf, which proposed to build from Guthrie through Tecumseh and Sacred Heart into Texas. Later Oklahoma City capitalists planned a Tecumseh and Shawnee railway, talked about a capital stock of $150,000, then faded away. Files of the County Democrat record that in September men began talk of a Tecumseh railroad to connect with the Choctaw east of Shawnee. Action followed talk with the subscription of $30,000 to buy equipment and build the road. Actual work on the Tecumseh owned railway began January 1896, with farmers donating ties and labor. E. C. Nichols was president of the Tecumseh Railway Co. Other officers were John W. Lewis and Sam Clay with S. P. Larsh treasurer and auditor.
At about this time Rev. D. G. Gunn, an Episcopal minister, president of a road called the St. Louis, Oklahoma and Texas Air Line railway announced plans to build from Sapulpa through Tecumseh to Lexington. Editor A. T. Foster of the Democrat even spoke in glowing terms of shops and head office that were to be located at Tecumseh, in addition maybe to an Episcopal college.
A survey was run from Lexington to Sapulpa. In fact, it was on this survey, and with the idea of selling later to the Air Line, that Tecumseh started construction. However extension of the Frisco through Holdenville and the Santa Fe through to Indian Territory halted all such dreams and left Tecumseh with its stub line to the junction east of Shawnee. This was later sold to the Rock Island, successor to the Choctaw, when the branch line was built to Asher.
The tiny engine and a few small cars operating on the Tecumseh road became the object of much derision at the hands of Shawnee enthusiasts.
The Shawnee Chief in 1897 relates the story of a visitor who came to town with a great desire to see this “Lillian Russell” about which he had heard so much. The visitor was taken to the station. Some black object rolled up in front of the station to which the visitor paid no heed. When the party suggested they go back downtown, the visitor insisted he wanted to wait around for “Lilly.” When told the black object was Lilly herself, he snorted “That! Why, I thought that was some Dago with a peanut roaster.”
Again on September 22, 1899, “Lilly” came in for some jibes. Big city papers laughed when “Lillian Russell, fast mail train, collided with a buggy on one of its four daily trips. The buggy lost a wheel but the engine was laid up in the shops for a whole day.”
It perhaps was in retaliation for such that several Choctaw bridges were burned or bombed in the year or so after the line was built through Shawnee. At any rate the bridges were destroyed, and Shawneeites didn't figure long about who did it.
In spite of the jokes, the Lillian Russell made money for her backers. In spite of the fact that Henry Woods, superintendent of the Choctaw, demanded a third of the revenue for the right to operate on Choctaw lines from the Tecumseh Junction into Shawnee. Passenger business was good, roads being what they were. One year the road shipped 11,000 bales of cotton out of Tecumseh.
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In the July 11, 1895, issue of Shawnee papers, Cash M. Cade and Amos Ewing, townsite managers for the railroad, published a notice offering choice lots free to all Tecumseh citizens who would move over. W. S. Search moved his bank. A hardware and a drug store moved, But with few exceptions, Tecumseh citizens lambasted the proposal and pinned their faith on getting their own railroad, and on the belief that Shawnee could never amount to anything without the county seat.
With the arrival of the shops in 1896 Shawnee became an industrial town confident after the railroad victory, Shawnee's politicians started after the territorial legislature to have the seat of government moved. May 18, 1895 some zealot had slipped over in the dead of night, blown up the north steps of the court house, and almost precipitated a county seat war.
In the January 23, 1897, issue of the County Democrat, Editor Foster fumed: “Some of the papers (Capital and Quill) on the sand hill north of the river are having a severe attack of county seat colic, induced by too frequent use of liquor. Our people are not of a kind that yields without a fight, as our neighbors have found out and of which fact they will become more thoroughly convinced if they force a county seat war.”
Back and forth the rival editors sniped at each other. Every month or so they would call out, “Let's forgive and forget.” The very next week would find them at it again. Great fun they were having.
April 10, 1897, Tecumseh won this skirmish when contracts were signed for construction of a court house and jail, with Tecumseh furnishing money for the jail.
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Construction of permanent buildings in Tecumseh quieted the trouble for a number of years. Tecumseh held its own. Shawnee prospered and grew and began to dream dreams of being the state capital. Shawnee leaders thought it would be a good idea to have the county seat before asking for the statehouse. And so they petitioned for a vote. In the skirmish of 1909, 8,024 people wanted the government moved to Shawnee and 5,027 wanted it to remain in Tecumseh. The case was appealed and the higher courts decided bribery had figured in the election. Shawnee had offered use of the city park as a court house site.
Again in 1911 the people went to the polls to settle the argument, this time giving Tecumseh the majority.
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Peace reigned until 1925 when politicians began thinking such a prosperous county as Pottawatomie should have a more modern court house. Shawnee fought the move bitterly, because a new court house in Tecumseh would forever end their chances of getting it moved.
Then, October, 1930, 6,700 signatures asked Governor Holloway for a county seat ballot. A. special election was held December 18, when 12,800 voters, a record number, marched to the polls. Shawnee won the necessary two-thirds majority by a 90 vote margin. A recount cut this to 11. Tecumseh charged a $35,000 slush fund, liquor at the polls, voting of college boys, etc. The Supreme Court this time favored Shawnee.
For several years county officers transacted business in downtown Shawnee buildings. Then came the New Deal with money to lend and the present court house was built. July 6, 1935, 40 years almost to the day after Shawnee won the railroad fight; Governor Marland dedicated the new building.
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A peculiar by-product of the county seat feud was the move in 1931 for creation of Petroleum County, to be composed of the south half, the oil producing area, of Pottawatomie, and parts of Seminole, Pontotoc and McClain counties.
The move was started by Clyde Pitman and other Tecumseh supporters who wanted to make Shawnee's victory as empty as possible by taking away the most valuable section of the county.
Boundary of the proposed county was to be six miles south of Tecumseh, the law requiring it be ten miles from the county seat. Asher was slated to be the county seat, and it was planned that the greater part of Tecumseh would move down to make Asher a thumping good town. M. M. Henderson, publisher of the Tecumseh County Democrat, launched the Petroleum County Times from an Asher branch office. Meetings were held and petitions were circulated. The leaders are still confident they could have put the move over had it not been for court decisions at the time unfavorable to the creation of new counties. This, and the fact that interest had begun to wane, convinced them the battle was futile.
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And so the war ends. Although there still is a feeling between the two towns, the youngsters who didn’t live through the bitter early day fights hold no grudge. Perhaps twenty years from now today's children will meet and chuckle over the whole thing. That is, unless something else bobs up requiring a scrap.
1. Oklahoma Reports. Vol. 3, p. 404.
WESTERN JUSTICE; SID SMITH'S JOKE
Jule Leard was anxious to be located on his new place a mile northwest of Maud. In a few weeks spring would be thawing the ground and that would mean work. That January day, 1898, he had gone from his home four miles southeast of Maud to take some furniture to the new farm. He planned to stay overnight and sort of fix things up a bit.
Jule thought nothing of leaving his wife and children alone, because the country was quiet and they had stayed by themselves before. Besides, in case something should happen, their good Seminole Indian neighbor and landlord, Tam McGeisey, lived nearby. With him was his son, Lincoln, who would also be ready to stand guard.
Back home Mrs. Leard busied herself with the washing. After dinner she sent the two oldest children to play in the yard while she cleaned the dishes. Just then Lincoln McGeisey and another Seminole, Palmer Samson, who had served a term for horse stealing, walked up to the house and asked for some water. When Mrs. Leard brought the water she found them admiring a saddle hanging back of the house. They asked to borrow it. When she refused the Indians became angry, forced her outside the house, tore the baby from her arms and flung it on the porch. There it lay crying while the two men broke a gun stock over the woman's head and ravished her.
After the Indians had gone, seven-year-old Frank, the oldest, picked up his baby brother and led his four-year-old sister inside the house. He built a fire and made a pallet in front of the stove where the three cried themselves to sleep.
Next morning Frank bundled up the baby and trudged the four miles to the Maud post office where he told what had happened. Excited neighbors rushed to the house where they found Mrs. Leard's body still in the yard, partially devoured by hogs during the night. Anger mounted to flaming fury. They didn't know who had committed the outrage, but they'd find out and they'd make them pay. Above the babble of curses could be heard the voice of Tom McGeisey saying “Killing too good for man who did this”
Quickly a posse formed, tracked down the two men, carried them across the territorial line into Pottawatomie county, strapped them to a stake a quarter of a mile southwest of Maud and at 2 a. m., Saturday, January 8, 1898, burned them to a crisp.
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Everybody in the country knew about Sid Smith and his infernal practical jokes. That is, everybody knew except “Old Man” VanMeter. A few days after the burning, Sid, a Pottawatomie Indian, was talking to VanMeter. He told VanMeter he had just come from the territorial line and that all the Indians were going on the warpath to avenge the burning of their tribesmen. Gullible VanMeter swallowed the story whole and started galloping down the road to spread the news. Conditions were perfect for such a rumor to catch like prairie fire. Within two hours the entire area around Maud and old Remus was evacuated. Every quarter hour brought a new story, the most persistent of which was that the yelling braves would ride up Little River, cross over to Salt creek, and close in to clean out the area occupied by those who did the burning. Frightened families fled as far as Purcell and Lexington.
By four o'clock that afternoon the rumor had reached Tecumseh. A reliable deputy sheriff was sent riding southeast to determine the size of the emergency. Word came back asking for all available help in Tecumseh and Shawnee. Soon the streets were filled with men carrying everything from Winchesters to pitchforks and 'baseball bats. Families began to flock into Tecumseh, and soon had jammed every room of the newly-built court house. Residents of Avoca barricaded their houses and kept an all-night vigil.
As armed groups rode toward Maud post office the Indians living in Pottawatomie County thought the whites were coming after them. Many an Indian family spent that night in the Seminole nation.
The Choctaw railway agent at Earlsboro wired to Shawnee for militia to fight the “Indians coming over the hill now.” He added that he would be gone from there in ten minutes.
Volunteers piled into a coal tender and started for Earlsboro. They found the station locked and the town dark broke into the depot and stayed until another train could take them back to Shawnee.
That hectic night every braying mule and hooting owl in the county was the possible start of a frantic “The Indians are eight miles from town” “They're coming in Brown's front yard”…”They're topping the hill.”
To add to the confusion a small tornado crossed the southern end of the county, wrecking a number of houses. However, by midnight terrified groups received assurance that the whole thing was a hoax.
If Sid Smith had not been smart enough to leave the country that night he might have paid for this little joke. The story is told that incensed farmers cut themselves a length of new rope and went looking for Jokester Smith.
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A more serious aftermath of the affair was the federal prosecution of the burning of McGeisey and Samson. United States marshals made camp at old Remus and arrested 85 suspects. Here again mob violence threatened to re-enter the story. Only the insistence of cooler heads kept the mob from “getting” the marshals.
In a compromise with Horace Speed, United States attorney, ten of the 85 went to trial to take the “rap” for the whole group. The ten appeared before United States Commissioner A. T. Foster who found evidence on the murder charge insufficient. The ten were re-arrested and taken to Muskogee for trial on charges of kidnapping the Indians and taking them across the territorial line.
Principal defendants were Mont Ballard, who received a ten year sentence, and Nels Jones, a United States marshal, who got a 20 year sentence for failing to interfere with the mob. Several others received short sentences.
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At the peak of the oil boom in 1929 fate again played tricks on Frank Leard. He was killed with his wife and grown daughter when their car smashed into the rear of a truck loaded with pipe.
(This chapter is based on the files of the County Democrat, and data given by Mrs. P. H. Cooper, Tom Day, W. E. Day, and others.)
BADMEN WERE GENTLEMEN
“'No other county in what is now Oklahoma, not even Oklahoma or Comanche county, went through as lurid an epoch as did Pottawatomie county,” wrote Alvin Rucker in the Daily Oklahoman. “Captain Stiles and his soldiers dominated the situation in Oklahoma County during the opening period. Land in the Comanche country was distributed by lottery, conducted in an orderly manner. Railroads had been built and the mantle of law and order had been cut to fit, to some degree. But Pottawatomie County started fiat-footed and had to work out its own destiny.
“Settlers in Pottawatomie County were confronted with problems from which the settlers of Oklahoma territory, opened in 1889, were free. Oklahoma territory was devoid of inhabitants at the opening, and particularly of an Indian population possessing livestock. While tribes in Pottawatomie County were already settled on farms, and to the east the Creeks and Seminoles possessed cattle and horses and some revenue from farming and leasing land to the whites.
“Oklahoma territory settlers found trains and telegraph lines crossing the country, while the Pottawatomie area was un-traversed by either. Pottawatomie County was nearly always torn with internal dissension and always at cross purpose with territorial authorities.”
Top these statements with the fact that this county bordered Indian territory on two sides, and you have the reason why the county “became a rendezvous immediately after the opening for many outlaws operating at the time, and produced such law violators as Bob and Bill Christian, George Thorne (alias Red Buck), and George “Hookie” Miller.”
This scarlet chapter is due principally to the “line” saloon towns that sprang up along the territorial boundary, to the outlaws operating in both territories that found these places convenient hangouts, and to the cattle and horse stealing done by these outlaws.
Early day criminal dockets are long lists of trials for horse stealing. Until the Anti-Horse Thief association began functioning effectively at the turn of the century, farmers found it difficult to keep enough livestock to farm.
Two definite trails were used by the outlaws to move their stolen horses out of the county, relates John Hatfield, veteran peace officer. Both entered the county almost due west of Tecumseh. One branched off to the north, passing through the vicinity of old Shawneetown and leaving the county near Keokuk Falls. The other branched south, leaving the county at a point between Maud and old Violet Springs.
“On these trails,” Hatfield says, “stations were established every 25 miles or so. A man would pick up a horse, say, at Violet Springs. He would ride that night to the station located west of Tecumseh, then return to Violet Springs with another horse before his neighbors could become suspicious. The stolen horse would be taken on west by other riders, who in turn would ride back with horses stolen in the west.” Thus through this convenient “shipping” method, the thieves were able to market their wares at spots far distant from the scene of the theft.
At one time there were 62 saloons and two licensed distilleries in Pottawatomie County. To be sure, each town had its quota of liquor merchants. But the saloons that wrote history were at Keokuk Falls, Violet Springs, Young's crossing, and the Corner.
Shortly after the opening a cattleman named Perry started Violet Springs, near the spot where the Asher-Konawa highway now crosses the county line. Soon came A. J. “Andy” Morrison, whose saloon became a gathering place for outlaws, especially the Christian gang. Morrison was murdered while asleep in the back room of his saloon.
It was here that Sheriff W. B. “Billy” Trousdale captured the outlaw George Thorne, one of the Christian gang. Trousdale is also credited with the corralling of two other prominent outlaws, Bob and Bill Christian. The brothers killed Deputy Bill Turner when he came to arrest them. Hoping to get clemency, they surrendered a few days later at Sheriff Trousdale's home in Tecumseh. County Judge J. D. F. Jennings was angry with the Christian boys because they had killed a friend of his son, Al. Besides, son Al had received a life sentence for train robbery and the judge was mad about that too. Sentenced to life, the notorious Christians were lodged in the Oklahoma City jail on their way to prison. Through a woman accomplice they escaped, shot their way into Indian Territory, and have not been heard from since.
Violet Spring's, center of the Christian boys' activity, at one time had a grocery store, dry goods store, blacksmith shop and other trappings of a settlement. Everything except the saloons was moved to Konawa when that town started in 1904 and in 1907 prohibition closed the saloons and ended Violet Springs' wild story.
Across the treacherous South Canadian in the early days were five established crossings--Johnsonville below Wanette; Cook below Asher; Graveyard, a few miles east of Cook and seldom used; Young's, due south of Sacred Heart; and the Corner crossing, in the very southeast tip of the county.
At the crossing named for George Young, Pottawatomie Indian who owned the land adjoining the river on the north, once stood seven saloons.
The story is told of a Mrs. Shevron who came with her three sons and daughter from Indian Territory to trade at the Young's crossing store. The river began to rise and she started back against strong advice. The torrent caught her in the middle of the river and swept the team and wagon away. She called frantically to the storekeeper for rope. He replied “the only rope I have is new rope and I can't cut that.” All but two of the boys were drowned.
Next day enraged citizens dumped that merchants goods in the flood. A few days later the merchant himself disappeared, perhaps in the same quicksands to which he had doomed the woman and two children.
Old timers often tell another incident that occurred below the present site of Asher. In a log cabin a mile from their nearest neighbor lived the Mounts brothers, pensioned Civil war veterans. The story got around that the brothers had enormous wealth hidden in their cabin. One winter day in 1896 a band of thieves decided to investigate, killed the two men and ransacked the place looking for gold. No one knows whether their crime netted anything.
In 1894 J. W. Ellison bought the principal saloon at Young's crossing, and set his son, “Bud,” to tending bar. Although there were several killings and robberies around Young's, Bud often let cash in the saloon drawer run up to $5,000 with little fear.
Young's crossing had a tinge of roughness to be expected in a “line” settlement, but the place was just a mischievous boy beside the infamous Corner, a few miles to the east.
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Parcels of land known as fractions, less than a quarter section, created by the meandering South Canadian, were passed up by the first homesteaders looking for all the land they could get. In 1893 Bill Conner acquired such a river bottom fraction. In this jungle of cottonwood trees and plum thickets, bounded on the east by the county line and on the south by the river, he erected a saloon building 40 feet from the territorial line. Later Joe Allen, a cattleman, and Jesse West, Violet Springs’ merchant, acquired part of the fraction and built a rival saloon. The two were later joined by a cattleman named Angus A. Bobbitt.
The lucrative whisky trade among the Indians and outlaws that hung out in the bottomland made a feud almost inevitable. Conner was smart enough to sell out after West and Allen had destroyed his fixtures and stock and leave the others to scrap it out. West and Allen continued their tactics against Dave Hybarger, Conner's successor. Hybarger finally sold out to J. M. “Uncle Jim” McCarty, owner of a third saloon whose partner had backed out. McCarty was determined to stick it out and save his investment, even though he knew it meant war.
McCarty brought from Texas two quick-fingered bodyguards, George D. “Rookie” Miller, and Frank Starr, no relative of the Oklahoma Starrs.
The West and Allen crowd continued fighting for the liquor monopoly. They tried every way possible to trap McCarty into violating the Sunday, Indian or minor laws. Although most all saloon keepers violated these regulations, West and Allen wanted but to get proof on McCarty so they could call the officers to close him up.
One day Ed Hendricks, a henchman of the West-Allen mob, walked into the McCarty saloon and asked Miller for a drink. Hookie, suspecting something, reached under the bar as for a whisky bottle, but instead got his revolver. Hendricks fired and missed. Miller came up firing and killed Hendricks. He was arraigned and acquitted.
Much of the business of the Corner and other line saloons was the “jug” trade from Indian Territory. However, this trade was sometimes not so profitable. Often Indians would swap saddles or horses for liquor. Then the next day another Indian would show up, claim the article and threaten to call the federals and have them arrested for selling to Indians, if he didn't get the article.
High water in 1904 washed the Corner away. The place was rebuilt, but it was never the same afterwards, since statehood in 1907 ended all liquor trade. But the history of the Corner did not run its course until in 1909 when Bobbitt was assassinated as an outgrowth of the Corner feud, and Jesse West, Joe Allen, B. B. Burwell and James B. Miller were taken from jail in Ada and hanged for the Bobbitt slaying, April 19, 1909.
Bobbitt had been named United States marshal. West and Allen became Texas ranchers after they closed their Corner saloon. February 27, 1909, Bobbitt was killed while driving home with a load of cotton seed meal. Tracks were traced to the home of Oscar Peeler where Miller and Burwell of Texas had been staying. Peeler had been paid by West to establish a residence there with the murder in view. After the arrest, Miller telegraphed West for bond money. West and Allen hopped on the train and were arrested in Oklahoma City. They begged to be held in jail there, realizing what the angry Ada mob might do. Nonetheless, they were taken to Ada and placed in jail. When Peeler confessed his part in the slaying, the mob stormed the jail, took the keys from the jailer and hauled West, Allen, Miller and Burwell to the old Frisco railway barn where they were hanged. Peeler was spared because of his confession
And so trouble ended for West and Allen barely 15 miles from the cottonwood patch across the South Canadian where it all started. Other colorful figures of the Corner met similar ends. Hookie Miller was killed while an officer at Three Sands. Frank Starr was killed in McCurtain County after he had shot another officer in an argument over who had killed a fugitive bank robber.
Also in the bloody history of the Corner are unknown gun victims, many of them killed without reason. The only accidents involved 20 chickens and a John Coleman, who was killed by a bullet meant for another. Bill Conner used to pour his whisky stock over wild blackberries to get the flavor. One day a flock of chickens found the pile of used berries, ate them, and fell over drunk and dying.
Another bitter feud over the profitable line saloon business had its setting in Keokuk Falls and resulted in some of the most sensational trials of territorial days. Unlike the other three infamous spots, Keokuk Falls made a noble effort to become a town. And would exist today if the Fort Smith and Western railway had not missed the place. In fact, most of the town's citizens were law abiding . Its notoriety grew out of the sensational Beaty-Stutsman feud and the fact that many outlaws had hideouts along the territorial line.
When Pott country was opened in 1891, D. N. Beaty was proving up a farm in Oklahoma County. He had gained a little experience operating a saloon at Choctaw, and thought to try his hand at operating a “line” business in Pottawatomie County. Beaty started his Keokuk Falls saloon before there was anything else in the neighborhood. By the next year when the town was platted the population totaled 25, all men. Among the friends who frequented Beaty's saloon was Dr. N. Stutsman. When Beaty's business flourished Stutsman tried to buy in. Beaty refused to sell. The two men fell out and Stutsman backed another friend in opening a rival saloon.
The two factions gathered at the two saloons and began brewing trouble. It first popped up when the two crowds squared off behind trees and spent the day sniping at each other. The little war was halted only by the arrival of Sheriff Tim Gill who had been called by a courier sent by Beaty. Gill arrested 12 men, piled them into a wagon with one dead man and an injured man, and hauled them into Tecumseh. Gill was aided in his single-handed venture by Stutsman and Beaty who advised their men it would be wise to go along and settle the thing legally.
This affair blew over and all was quiet until Stutsman and Al Cook, bartender for Beaty, fell out over something. Stutsman ordered Cook out of town. As Cook was leaving he bumped into Stutsman and a county deputy named Brewer. Stutsman's gun was empty. He grabbed Brewer's and the two enemies started shooting. Stutsman was shot through the stomach but recovered. Cook was cleared of any blame for the shooting. The day before Stutsman was to face trial, Sheriff Gill rode to Keokuk after 29 witnesses against Stutsman. Driving at night, he was ambushed on the road by five Stutsman men, one of them his own Deputy Brewer. The first volley fired into Gill's wagon frightened the team which bolted into the clump of bushes, saving Gill's life. Stutsman's trial was then delayed, and before it could be held, the two factions engaged in an all-night battle. An Indian named Whisky Bill was killed and Beaty decided he'd had enough. He sold the business to Aaron Harring, a hotel keeper, packed up his things and walked out.
Like West and Allen, Doctor Stutsman didn't give up his fight just because his hated rival had quit. The battle continued between Stutsman and Haning, until the night of July 1, 1897, when someone entered Haning's saloon and shot him in the head. Between daybreak and sunrise the murderer went back to the saloon, found Haning still alive, and drove a rusty nail into the head wound to be sure of his death.
Stutsman was tried in Oklahoma City for the murder, convicted the first time and acquitted on retrial.
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Finis was written to the lurid chapter when Oklahoma was admitted to the union as a dry state. Chief force behind this victory was the Women's Christian Temperance Union. The first Pottawatomie County unit was organized in 1896 in Tecumseh, with Miss Winnie Mitchel as president. The following year a unit was started in Shawnee, and in 1889 a county-wide organization to fight liquor was set up.
One of the early prohibition speakers in Tecumseh was greeted with a shower of rotten eggs and bad fruit. An issue of the Shawnee Herald in 1906 stated that Shawnee's daily consumption amounted to 700 gallons of beer and 25 gallons of whisky. But regardless of this strong hold of Mr. Barleycorn's, the ladies worked tirelessly. Meetings were held. Speaking contests were sponsored. The women could not vote, but they could influence the men. And in 1907 their influence whipped the liquor peddlers.
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Wild as those early days were, petty crimes were almost unknown. Again quoting Deputy John Hatfield, “The early day outlaws were gentlemen. Many's the time I've had them come into my house during my absence, cook a meal, and leave everything just as they found it.”
The hard-shooting outlaws would steal your horses, steal your cattle, and shoot you if you got in a fight with them. But they'd never kill you for your change and gold teeth, as do the bold, bad louses of these modern times.
Houses were never locked. A man away from home would go to sleep under the stars with no fear of being robbed.
Those boisterous badmen cursed and robbed and killed, but they had honor. The same rough-hewn two-gun code of ethics that men used when they took the law into their own hands to kill murderers and lynch cattle thieves.
(This chapter is based on material obtained from Rucker's stories in the Daily Oklahoman, from John Hatfield, Jim Gill, W. A. Trousdale, A. P. Grove and others.)
Among the miscellaneous supplies brought into this county in homesteaders' wagons must have been divining rods, because almost from the first men have been poking around at the ground, trying to locate buried wealth.
As early as October, 1903, the county had its first recorded oil excitement. Into Shawnee walked representatives of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Company who announced they had come to drill four oil and gas test wells. Their geologists were certain they'd find plenty of natural gas at 2,200 or 2,800 feet. The city council even went so far as to vote a gas franchise to the company, effective on completion of the wells.
Several tests were drilled. One, a mile and a half northeast of Shawnee, got salt water at 1,000 feet. Another was sunk northwest of Tecumseh and another between Shawnee and Tecumseh. Then one April day in 1904 excited citizens thought they really had something in a test being drilled at McLoud. For a time rumors flew thick and fast that oil had been discovered at 400 feet.
As late as 1907 Shawnee citizens had faith and showed it by raising funds to continue the test drilling. But oil prosperity was not to be theirs until 15 years later. In the meantime, Dr. B. F. Nisbett, who homesteaded near Trousdale then moved to Tecumseh in 1909, was studying and thinking about oil. He had become an amateur geologist after he noticed blue rings on the water. Doctor Nisbett was convinced oil could be found in this vicinity, and he succeeded in convincing A. T. Wildman, a professional geologist.
At the same time a group of Maud men began toying with the idea of digging oil wells. In 1912 a group was formed, Including C. B. Billington, J. J. Cuff, Omer McCowan, Bob Ogee, Oscar Wood, Arthur Tribbey, J. E. Lawyer, S. L. Bristow, S. A. Doyle and M. D. Holt. Each of the men contributed $10 which was used to defray expenses of getting the leases signed up. Farmers were glad enough to give their leases away to get a test drilled, and soon the group had a block completed. Billington received the leases in trust, contacted Doctor Nisbett and Wildman, then got together with a group of Oklahoma City capitalists to organize the Maud Oil and Gas company with a capital stock of $30,000. Charles Sochor was president of the company Frank Miscovsky vice-president, and Joe Straka, treasurer. 1
In 1914 the No.1 Nisbett, in 1875 southwest of Maud, spudded in. The fall of 1915 brought a show of gas in the well, and early in 1916, after many trials and tribulations, the NO.1 Nisbett got oil at 2,982 feet and thus became Pottawatomie County’s first producing well.
An offset was started, but new factors came into the picture to delay it, and to postpone development of the Maud area until ten years later.
The war demanded men and thus dampened new enterprise. And the farmers who had given their leases away suddenly found them to be valuable. The state legislature passed a bill which permitted landowners, as well as oil companies, to cancel leases. The farmers got their leases back and thus further delayed development.
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While the war was stopping the county's first oil play, a group of obstinate farmers around Brown, west of Tecumseh, were doing their dead level best to stop the war.
Organized as the Working Class Union, and affiliated with similar groups in Seminole, Lincoln and other counties, these farmers couldn't see any sense in going to war. And so they started doping out plans to stop the whole affair. 2
The 50 active members held their meetings in dugouts, abandoned farm houses, in the woods and other convenient places. For a time they were armed with shotguns and pistols, but did nothing save carry them. If forced into training camps they planned to revolt, grab the guns and take the country. They'd fight at home before they'd fight Germany.
But meeting with them was D. O. Barton, a neighbor who had talked to the federal government about this thing, and who helped the officers check the uprising. This little revolt was nipped in the bud, just as it was in other counties. Five men were convicted of conspiracy charges, and the war went on.
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Oil re-entered the picture in the gloomy post-war depression days. Lean years saw farm land go untended, houses left vacant and slumping in value. Benson amusement park lost all semblance of its brilliant heyday and fell into decay. The national railway strike in 1922 split Shawnee and all but paralyzed activities.
Into this picture one day in 1923 walked a Muskogee oil operator named Joe Cromwell. He had some ear trouble on a sandy country road near what is now Cromwell, Seminole county. The oil man looked at the country, liked it, and decided to try for oil.
The well came in a producer and opened the Cromwell field. This nearby activity was reflected in happier times in Shawnee. But it was not until 1926 that oil really brought prosperity to the county.
March 1, 1926, Morgan and Flynn opened the Earlsboro field with the first well on the Joe Ingram farm. The well produced 200 barrels a day from the Earlsboro sand at 3,557 feet. This signaled feverish activity to develop the new pool and was reflected in better times for the county. By 1930 the Earlsboro pool had 4,170 producing acres, which up to that time had produced 72,855,218 barrels of oil. 3
Meantime oil men had been dickering around in the vicinity of the small Maud producer completed in 1916. The Darby and Independent companies completed the first well in the St. Louis pool July 20, 1926, for an initial production of 125 barrels. This well in 15-7-4 should be called the second St. Louis discovery well since the early Maud well was in the same area.
The story of Cromwell and Earlsboro was repeated with perspiring crews working day and night to be first into the pay level. This development later spread to the Pearson pool west of St. Louis, the North Maud field to the north, and in 1929 to Asher.
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