By Paulene Hodges
As I see the multitude of ads on TV or in the newspaper to sell Christmas gifts by the millions, I am aware of how long I have lived and how differently we celebrate that religious holiday nowadaysÖof course, most of what I see does not depict religion or celebration of Christís birth unless it is done by a church. The general population does not seem aware of why we celebrate, and, of course, the merchants do not know that it is NOT just a season to make the most money for the year.
Of course, when I was a child in Beaver County, the climate disaster of the Dust Bowl, as well as the Depression, determined much of our attitude toward holidays. Furthermore, unless people drove fifteen or twenty miles, or even more, they did not have other than print media to tell them how to celebrate or what to buy. If they went to church, then they learned "the reason for the season" but certainly not from the public view.
My family was more or less typical of all familiesí celebrations at the timeÖthere werenít any except at church or at a community school house program through the week. For example, I remember when I was little, about five years old, attending the Irving Schoolhouse that was two and a half miles from our house where there was a Christmas tree, singing by the children who attended that school, and sacks of candy with an orange inside as the gifts each of the children received. I was not yet in school, but everyone nearby attended this event. We never had a Christmas tree at our house as we couldnít afford to buy one, and certainly there were none to cutÖnot even other trees in most places because of the drought and dirt blowing. I never felt deprived, however, as only one other neighbor near us had a Christmas tree. These folks would invite us over to look at it, for which we were grateful. Then when I was six and we had lost the farm, when we had moved to Floris across the road from the one-room schoolhouse, the school again had the community Christmas tree with the same music. However, in 1935 times were so bad that no candy was handed out that year. But the population of the entire little village and all the neighbors on farms around attended the "celebration."
And, we children did not get nor expect gifts from our families. I had heard of Santa Claus, but I thought he just came to the school event. Some families who sewed tried to make gifts for Christmas, and some of our neighbors made fudge candy as gifts. I envied these as we were having such a hard time that my mother did not have money to buy cloth to sew gifts nor for extra sugar or cocoa and other ingredients to make fudge or cookies.
The next year when we moved to Turpin to a consolidated school, the programs for the holiday were more elaborate simply because there were more kids to participate, and Turpin actually had a little rhythm band to play the music. Once in awhile the two or three merchants, along with one or two merchants from Liberal, would provide candy for the kids in the audience. But that was the extent of the festivities. By that time my Uncle Arthur Arnett had moved to Liberal after his disastrous attempt to farm in Baca County, Colorado, at the beginning of the Dust Bowl. He had lost his farm, even as we had. However, he had gotten a job with a car dealer in Liberal, he had no children to spend money for, and so he bought me a small doll and some doll dishes to use for the doll. I was so thrilled to get a present. The second year we lived there, he bought me a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and since I loved books but had never had a new book of my own, I was in reading Heaven!
He also bought me a Shirley Temple doll, even though I was fast getting out of the "doll" stage of growing up. But I treasured all those gifts until I passed them on to other neighbor kids as I became an adult. (Well, not the book, just the dolls.)
Nor did we ever have a Christmas dinner at our house nor attend one anywhere else. We had some relatives living down the road, but no money for extra food, much less for a feast. We often visited the relatives and, if anyone had some spare change, the adults drank coffee they had made, and there might be a cookie left over to eat. What the adults did was visit with each other, sharing tales of old and better times, talking about the absent kinfolk, and we kids played outside if the dust wasnít too bad, or inside if it was. We had the usual kid games but no toys to play with. Once in awhile some kid would show up with a sling shot, or with paper dolls, or there would be checkers or cards if the adults werenít playing with them. If we were outside, we played Tag, or Hide-and-SeekÖor if anyone was lucky enough to have some marbles, we, mostly the boys, played marbles. Needless to say, these marbles were prized possessions. Once in a while someone would have a set of Jacks, if we were lucky. Even the girls could play with them!
It was not until 1940 when the Dust Bowl had been somewhat controlled, the Depression had ended, and people began to raise crops again, that any Christmas celebrations at homes were resumed. When I was ten years old, my dad brought home a little Christmas tree that sat upon the little library table, and which I decorated with a few handmade pieces I had made of paper, and a short secondhand piece of silver garland. And they were able to buy me a present that year, also, which was a little set of china dishes for the two dolls I still had from the Turpin days. I kept those dishes until my middle age years, I treasured them so. We even had a Christmas dinner at our house for just the three of us, but we certainly could not afford a turkey, dressing, cranberries, fancy salads, piesÖ or anything other than a regular meal of some cured ham, potatoes, a can of green beans, and my motherís Angel Food cake. She was so happy to have enough chickens to produce enough eggs for Angle Food! We thought we were feasting!
In later years, when I was a teacher at Forgan Schools, we were able to have elaborate school musical Christmas programs, and the Lions Club and others handed out the sacks of candy again, I was grateful for what a difference from those tough, early years we were able to make. And then the churches were often able to afford to have community dinners that included everyone who wanted to attend. Those were wonderful for the ones who hadnít really gotten "back on their feet" from hard times and didnít eat very well on any day, or for those who did not have family with whom to share a feast.
So as I look at all the elaborate decorations, see all the expensive gifts advertised, and even attend some of the fancy programs myself, I wonder if we still have all the real meaning of Christmas of sharing and helping others that these folks in hard times had.
t is ironic that the Oklahoma Legislature today cannot find it important enough to fund public schools or to pay teachersí salaries commensurate with that of surrounding states so that we can keep certified and qualified teachers to serve our children. Today we have over 1500 uncertified teachers working in our schools! It is ironic since one of the very first and most important tasks and commitments our early pioneers had in settling this country was to provide free, public education for their children. Every since the 1880ís in Beaver County, schools have been considered important, and its citizens sacrificed to provide the buildings and teachers for such.
That commitment is evident in that through the years we had recognition by the Territory or State of Oklahoma of over 200 country schools in operation during the last part of the 1800ís and first half of the 1900ís, all in Beaver County. That was in addition to the fact that every town had its own school. In Volume II, Beaver County History, published in 1971, there are stories of 102 of these country schools. In addition to this commitment, after World War I, there began a movement to provide training for teachers, to provide guidance for a standard curriculum, and to continue to elect a County Superintendent to supervise and be administrator for the quality of all these schools. Of course, as the rural population decreased, transportation improved, and a demand for more grades to be taught, school districts were consolidated and annexed to surrounding towns. The role of the County Superintendent changed, also, to that of serving as a coordinating agency for both elementary and high school districts. Also, a State Department of Education was created, and schools were provided State services if the districts were not large enough to hire specialists for special education or physically handicapped students. The County Superintendentís Office was finally eliminated in the 1970ís as school administrators were required to have special training in administration and were able to take over the duties formerly done by the County office.
The first schools in Beaver County were in sod schoolhouses, one-room plank buildings, or in the homes of the area settlers. Before there was any government of any form in No Manís Land, there was a school built by the settlers. It was built in 1887 in the town of Beaver, a sod building. The first teacher was Mary Hunter who taught that first term 1887-1888. She was paid for her services by volunteer subscription (meaning that the parents of the children taught collectively paid for her services). In 1890 the first Territorial Government authorized the Board of County Commissioners to appoint a County Superintendent. He (of course, since women werenít "capable" in those days) was to organize schools districts and perform the duties of his office. His salary was fixed at five dollars per day, so that for the first six days of work he drew a total of thirty dollars. This man was L. B. Whitten. Later that year, R. G. Dunlop succeeded Whitten, and he organized the Elmwood District. In 1891 school was taught by Miss May Overstreet in Beaver City in what was the Will Thomas residence, and a Mrs. Blanchard taught the upper grades in a building across the street (later called Douglas Avenue).
Of course, older folks such as I can remember well those one-room schools where we began our education. Well, that isnít exactly true since my parents actually taught me to read and write before I was five, as well as teaching me some simple arithmetic and basic history. I was not an exception, of course, as many folks did so as they valued education, not being able to have much themselves. My first school was a one-room school at Floris, Oklahoma, where we moved to after we had lost our farm to foreclosure in the Dust Bowl. Luckily for me, we rented the Baptist Parsonage across the street from the school since the Church could no longer afford a pastor in 1935. Many days my mother walked me to school, however, since the dirt was blowing so bad on the unpaved streets and school yard, we could not see the building across the street.
My first teacher was Miss Margarite Dunlap who was in her early twenties, with only a few weeks of formal training to be a teacher, but she managed to teach grades one through eight quite efficiently. Of course, since it was in the middle of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, women were not allowed to be married and teach since the husband was supposed to be head of the household and make the living. It was permissible, of course, for the man to be married. Miss Dunlap used the Laidlaw reading book, and expected all first graders to learn manuscript printing, with second graders moving up to cursive writing. My problem was that my parents had taught me cursive, not manuscript, and being the independent Miss Sassy, I wadded up my paper and threw it and the pencil at Miss Dunlap, announcing that I did not need manuscript, that it was just for little kids. She paddled me for doing that; it didnít hurt, but I was mortified as the 8th grade boys laughed about it excessively! I also got into trouble "lying" to her when I said I had read the book Pollyanna.
But that school was typical of those early schools in Beaver County, as well as in most other rural areas. However, Beaver City managed to get a Normal Institute in the early 1890ís where they could train teachers in intensive meetings for two weeks in July. The students could then get a certificate to verify that they had had teacher training. Some of these first teachers in that Institute were May Overstreet, B. E. Blanchard, and County Superintendent R. G. Dunlop. A picture in Volume II Beaver County History of the students there in 1912 shows five rows of both men and women preparing to be teachers!
Todayís Oklahoma Legislature needs a lesson in the history of schools in their state, and the early-day value placed on educating our children to be good citizens and business people!
A great book that is a source of both information and entertainment is that written by Virginia Frantz, formerly of the Bethany/Balko communities and entitled Keepiní It Together. Virginia wrote this book while she was being filmed to be in Ken Burnsí film about the Dust Bowl, as well as taking a class that I taught in Guymon for the Word Weavers organization about writing memoirs. It is one of the most accurate accounts of the day-to-day life on a farm in Beaver County in the worst of the Dirty Thirties, and it is so readable that middle school students in grades 5-8 can understand and appreciate what a "terrible, awful, no-good time" that was. But it is also a good read for adults, especially those who lived through these times themselves, or those whose parents did and who then told their children about it.
Although Virginia writes it as fiction, it is the true story of how her father had to go to Colorado to get work in the worst part of the Dust Bowl times in order to pay the mortgage on their farm west of Balko, as well as to buy groceries for the family and feed for the livestock. That left her mother and two daughters to take over the chores, get the girls to school with no car or school bus available, as well as the girls participating in an after school program. There were also the tasks of getting to the general store, as well as getting to church on Sundays.
Those who did live through these times will appreciate the neighbors pitching in for transportation and other help when needed. That is what these homesteaders had to do to survive the worst of times, as well as it just being the way folks did in those days. One of the best scenes is at the end of the book when the girls go to the end-of-school picnic and the mother stays home as she is pregnant and doesnít feel like walking to the picnic grounds, while carrying the picnic basket. She warns the girls not to get into the swimming hole, as the other kids will do. But kindly neighbors volunteer to sit on the bank with the girls while they dip their feet in the water. However, the father shows up just at that moment as he as returned from his work in the adjoining state!
Many folks in Beaver County will remember Virginia Kerns Frantz, the author,whose real parents were Bill and Virgie (Cherry) Kerns, prominent farmers near Highway 3 and Balko and Bethany. Virginia was a graduate of Bethany High School, and a few years after becoming a single parent of seven children, she persuaded the President of Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Marvin McKee, to let her become a "dorm mother/supervisor", along with her kids, so she could continue her degree and become a teacher. She did so, living in the barracks housing that was put in place at PAMC after World War II, and then she obtained a job teaching in Guymon where she continued until her retirement. She also became active in civic organizations in the Guymon Community, as well as in her church. Her children, Jeanene Seaton, Cheryl Oquin, Nayoma Cooper, Patsy Barton, Rocky Frantz, Kara Sue Lawrence, and Clay Frantz, grew up to carry on the responsibility of being good and productive citizens no matter where they live today. One of these, of course, Clay, still lives in Beaver County east of Hardesty.
Virginia Frantzís book is sold at the Jones & Plummer Trail Museum, as well as by Mrs. Frantz herself, out of her home in Guymon.
Beaver County is so fortunate to have a high quality, well run Museum for its use. In addition, the County is also closely connected to No Manís Land Museum in Goodwell that serves the entire Panhandle with quality exhibits and access to anyone in the Panhandle area. In addition, the Historical Society in charge of the NML Museum provides monthly programs for the public. Beaver County residents were part of the founding group to create this Museum, just as it was for the Jones & Plummer Trail Museum in Beaver. In addition, to these two, there are three others in the Panhandle available to area residents: the Museum at Gate, the one in Boise City, and the one in Kenton. In addition, Perryton and Liberal have quality museums available to those in the adjoining states. These Museums are all of importance to our residents today as they are records of our ancestors who came as trail drivers, early day ranchers and squatters, and as homesteaders.
We in No Manís Land have one of the most interesting histories of any in the United States. And I am appalled sometimes when I meet complete ignorance about that history!!! I invite you to just learn of the history of the two of these Museums, then go spend time in them to view our colorful past.
The first real Museum to exist officially in the Panhandle is the No Manís Land Museum that was organized in 1932 when the faculty of Oklahoma Panhandle Agricultural and Mechanical College in Goodwell first organized the Panhandle Museum Club with Clifton Lynch as the president. Along with the help of students and friends of the college, this Club created exhibits that focused on natural history artifacts. The original name was simply the Panhandle Museum. The present name is derived from one that was one applied to the area that is now the Panhandle of Oklahoma. When Texas came into the Union as a State instead of a Republic, this strip became known as Neutral Strip of No Manís Land until it became part of Oklahoma Territory in 1890. The No Manís Land Historical Society was organized October 3, 1934, to preserve and perpetuate the history of the Panhandle of Oklahoma. It was an outgrowth of four separate groups: The Panhandle Museum Club, a student organization at Panhandle State College; the Texas County Old Settlers Association; Cimarron County Old Timers Association; and the Pioneers of No Manís Land of Beaver County. Board Members of the Society are from each of the three counties making up the Panhandle. Some of the early Beaver County Pioneer Board members were T. C. Braidwood, Fred Tracy, Elmer L. Fickel, Billy Quinn, and Mrs. R. H. Loofburrow.
The Museum was originally housed on the third floor of Sewell-Loofburrow on the College campus where the office of the faculty member most responsible for its creation, Nolan McWhirter, was located. It was housed there until it was moved to the second floor of Hughes-Strong Hall. The Museum continued to be on campus for sixteen more years until funds were raised in 1950 to build a brick building located just east of the College campus at 207 West Sewell. The No Manís Land Historical Society sponsored a major renovation of its heating and air-conditioning systems in 1995 and installed a multi-layered security system. Then most recently in 2012 the Historical Society voted to build a new wing on the southeast side of the Museum to house larger artifacts. This has been a major asset for the unique collections.
From its beginning until about twenty years ago, the Museum was run by university faculty appointed by the University. The Museum was later run in partnership with the Oklahoma Historical Society and Oklahoma Panhandle State University, with the President of the College ( later renamed University) automatically serving as a Museum Member. The new President has declined that honor, but Board Members are working to have a University administrator again serve on the Board. At the present time operation is by the No Manís Land Historical Society. Two of its most prominent curators have been curator Harold Kachel, along with his wife Joan, from Beaver when he was a faculty member at the University, then in the late 1990ís until 2003 operated by the curator Ken Turner. All three of these curators and leaders brought innovations and expansions to the Museum, as well as adding new exhibits and artifacts from donors near and far. The present Curator is Sue Weissinger who served as assistant to the former Curator. Current Board members representing Beaver County Historical Society are Harold Kachel, Chris Berry, and Don Jenkins.
No Manís Land Museum strives to present a comprehensive study of the Oklahoma Panhandle and its borderlands from prehistoric to present day human inhabitants. Many unique items include a large collection of Plains Indian arrowheads, a catlinite peace pipe presented to a Hooker resident by Blackfoot Chief Two Guns Whitecalf, and the first printing press to cross the Mississippi. Also featured is a two-headed calf that was a prominent exhibit on the 1932 opening day of the original Museum. Among the most famous of the exhibits are the William E. Baker Archaeological Collections; the mummy of the Basket Maker Indian; and a most recent dinosaur skeleton uncovered near Balko twelve years ago. Also featured is an extensive photo exhibit of Dust Bowl days.
I have listed No Manís Museum as the first in the Panhandle, and, officially that is true, although pioneers unofficially kept their treasures until the younger generation had sense enough to preserve them! So I expect there were many collections before an official one existed. A year ago I wrote an article about the museum in Beaver City that existed long before the current Museum here was built. In case you, this yearís reader, didnít read it or have forgotten the information, Iíll recall some of it for you. A prominent Beaver County resident, Lee Hulse, who was the County Superintendent, lived in the original sod house in Beaver in the 1930ís and 1940ís, which was the Jim Lane Trading Post on the Jones & Plummer Trail. He began to collect the early day artifacts he discovered when he visited schools and families in the County. When he retired and moved, the Sharp family lived there and continued adding artifacts to Mr. Hulseís collection. Mrs. Sharp and her daughter kept the building open to the public as a Museum. It was maintained and kept open during their lifetimes when the father of the family was also involved with the cattle auction in town. The building itself still stands behind a feed store on the Old Main Street.
The present Jones & Plummer Trail Museum was a project of the Beaver County Historical Society in 1981, years after the Sharps were no longer living in the original building. Two volumes of history about the area had been published, an international Cowchip Throwing Contest had become world known, and it was time to house the artifacts from that fascinating time in a more spacious and climate-suited building. The Beaver County Historical Society that had been so instrumental in the publications of the early histories, as well as in helping organizing the cowchip contest, took it upon themselves to get the new building established. With help from Beaver County, the club members, and generous donations by Beaver County residents, the building was set on Beaver County Fairgrounds land in 1981. Those officers and Board of Directors members were Felice Calhoon, president; Willie Harvey, vice-president; O. G.Henderson, secretary; Rheva Bridgewater, treasurer; Fannie Judy, Berenice Jackson, Ralph Rector, and Pauline Cross, Board members.
An addition was added to the north side of the original building in the late 1980ís to house replicas of an early bank, general store, law office, barbershop, kitchen, living room, and bedroom, as well as room for displays of glass cases, saddles, and a buggy. In addition, to this area is the Healy Room where the donations of very early day ranch family Healy are displayed. Then in 2012-13 Felice Calhoon donated an additional wing to the east side to house her late husband Dr. Ed Calhoonís saddle collection and doctorsí equipment. A meeting room there is also a great help to the Historical Society.
In 1990 the Little Red Schoolhouse from the Barby Ranch was moved onto the property just east of the Museum building, where, after extensive cleaning by three older women members of the Historical Society, Della Poorbaugh, Ozella Hendricks, and Pauline Hodges, using garden hoses, push brooms, and dust rags it became a schoolhouse again. They even re-caulked the chimney that was falling apart! Since then it has been used to provide one-day experiences for County fourth grade students to find out what it would be like to go to such a school each year! The school today even has a dunce chair, and a bucket and dipper (even though the students donít actually drink from them!). And, unlike the original dunce chair idea, todayís fourth graders try their best to get sent there for an hour or so!!! Students bring their lunches in a pailÖand no frozen food, or plastic, is allowed! Through the years, volunteer former teachers have provided the instruction and conducted the spelling bees and ciphering matches, along with help from volunteers from the Historical Society. Students are then taken to the Museum to view the proto-type rooms and artifacts, along with volunteers to explain it all.
These two Museums, along with the others at Gate, Boise City, and Kenton are worth the time and effort to visit. And they are great educational tours for school groups. And, most importantly, they help us remember and preserve our past and the great pioneers who settled here.
Having recently spent a hour on the phone with a editor in a nationally known publishing house, explaining that John Steinbeck did not set his famous book Grapes of Wrath in the Oklahoma part of the Dust Bowl, and in my talking with folks in Central Oklahoma, I am once again struck with how little people really know about this book and author; in fact, the beginning of the book is set in far eastern Oklahoma near the Arkansas line. I am even shocked to find that folks in some parts of Oklahoma do not even know where the Dust Bowl took place. I have even had people ask me why Ken Burns did not use Steinbeckís work in the Dust Bowl film. Furthermore, the editor, who had handled publication of Sanora Babbís books, did not realize the difference in climate and soils between the Panhandle and Eastern Oklahoma or what difference that made between the two books. I was surprised since the editor is a big fan of Sanoraís work. (So, of course, being the old and former school teacher that I am, I gave her a lecture!)
Sanora Babb may not have been recognized for her writing skills during her youth at Forgan, or even when she was a screen writer in Hollywood, or as a new author who continued to write and set her novels in the Panhandle area, in Baca County, Colorado, and even in Forgan. She continued her writing until her death at 97, and her most recent fame came when Ken Burns used her book Whose Names Are Unknown in the film about the Dust Bowl which aired about five years ago. Burns gave her credit for the content he used, as well as publicized the book itself. I find that writers and publishers to this day confuse her work with that of John Steinbeck and his book Grapes of Wrath which is set in the Depression and in the migrant camps of California. Babbís book that was written at the same time was about her grandfather trying to farm in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, as well as in the migrant camps in California where she worked for the Federal Government trying to help the workers there. Some of her migrants, like those of Steinbeck, were from the Dust Bowl, but not all of them.
When both authors submitted their books at almost the same time to Random House, Bennett Cerf, the head publisher did not think two books on this topic in 1939 would be sellers, given the hard times financially as well as physically for people. He chose Steinbeckís since he was already a published author. Many years later when Babbís book was published, Cerf apologized to her and said he had made a mistake not to run both at the same time.
Of course, I am not surprised that Cerf did not understand these works since people, even in Oklahoma today, do not understand that Steinbeckís book was not about farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl! His farmers, the Joads, were feeling the effects of the Depression and drop in farm product prices due to the Depression and Stock Market Crisis. Yes, their bank had foreclosed, but their situation was that they had had a small farm on the eastern edge of Oklahoma, near Checotah, and the characters and setting of Babbís book was the Panhandle where the Dust Bowl was occurring and in California. The ironic thing is that Babb loaned her migrant camp notes to Steinbeck to use in his part of Grapes of Wrath that is set there, with her permission and that of the publisher, of course.
Sanora Babb grew up in several places from Red Rock, Oklahoma, to Two Butte, Colorado, to Forgan, Oklahoma, Garden City, Kansas, and to the University of Kansas before moving to California to become a screen writer. Her parents owned a bakery in Forgan, and her father was a professional gambler, as a number of other area men were in the 1920ís. When she graduated with a 4.0 Grade Point Average and was the valedictorian of her class, some of the Forgan "society ladies" persuaded the Superintendent that it would be "scandalous" to have a gamblerís daughter give a public speech for the school! Sanora got even with them, because thirty years later when her novel The Lost Traveler was published, it was set in Forgan, although by a fictitious name, but obviously including these same ladies by other names!
Another interesting fact about Babb is that twenty years after her work in the migrant camps, Senator Joseph McCarthy who was adamant that everyone in Hollywood was a Communist, branded her as a Communist as she had worked in the camps, when she was a young college student she had attended an English teachers meeting held in the Soviet Union to help Russians improve their schooling, and then, she had committed a "real" crime by marrying an Asian-American man who worked in the film business in California, and there was a state law forbidding such a crime. Never mind that the man was James Wong Howe, the cinematographer for the film Gone With the Wind and 130 other films in Hollywood. Babb and her husband hid out in Mexico until McCarthy and his tirade went away!
I am sure McCarthy is turning over in his grave at the thought that this terrible woman received many, many honors and had books published. Justice will out!!! Sanora lived to be 97, and was recognized for her good writing and good works, in spite of the Forgan ladies or McCarthy!