By Paulene Hodges
(The information contained in this story is from notes given the Beaver County Historical Society in 1969 by the widow of Ross Rizley. A more complete history of Mr. Rizley can be found in Volume I of the Beaver County History book, along with a history of the Rizley family.)
One of the most successful and important natives of Beaver County was Ross Rizley, but today many folks have forgotten his contributions, or the younger generation has never heard of him. Rizley’s life was an example of a man who rose from a humble pioneer life to high positions in both the State and Federal governments. His life was an affirmation of faith that characters traits, coupled with ambition, can enable a man to rise above his humble beginnings.
Rizley was the son of Robert Martin Rizley and Bell McCown Rizley, and born in 1892. He attended Elmwood country school. After attending the Summer Normal Schools in Beaver, he taught in the country schools of Beaver County, the first when he was just seventeen. As a youngster, Ross’s ambition was to be the best calf-roper and square-dance caller in the countryside. Seventy years later, he had lived the life of an attorney-at-law, politician, a high Federal government official, and a Federal District Judge. He had also attained the distinction of being a great-grandfather. Even though he had occupied many positions of power and influence, both in the Sate and Federal governments, he was known to his many grandchildren as "Daddy Ross."
In 1912 at the age of twenty, Ross read an advertisement in the Kansas City Star newspaper, advertising that any ambitious young man who wanted to attend the Kansas City School of Law, could work his way through the law school He responded to this advertisement, and the school secured work that enabled him to pay his way while attending this college. He sold his team of horses and used a portion of the proceeds to buy a ticket to Kansas City. There he became a clerk in the law offices of Lathrop, Morrow, Fox, and Moore, and was able to earn a sufficient amount to finance his schooling through the three year course.
Ross was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1914, and after his graduation in June of 1915, was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar. He returned to Beaver where he became associated with the late R. H. Loofbourrow, former District Judge and former member of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Ross began his political career in 1918 as County Attorney of Beaver County. He resigned after one year to enter the law practice in Guymon with H. E. G. Putnam. Ross continued to practice law in Guymon from 1920 to 1940. He also served as City Attorney and School Board Member in Guymon. In 1930 Ross was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate where he served four years. In 1938, he was nominated by the Republican Party as their candidate for Governor. He was not elected, but in 1940 he was elected to Congress from the 8th Congressional District and served for four terms. He served as a member of the Agriculture Committee, and as a member of the Rules Committee, one of the most important committees in Congress. In 1948 he was persuaded to become a candidate for the United State Senate and won the Republican nomination.
Ross served as a delegate of Oklahoma to the Republican National Conventions in 1928, 1936, 1944, 1948, and 1952. During his years in Washington, he served as Chief Legal Officer for the Post Office Department, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, Board Member of the Commodity Credit Corporation, and Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board.
In 1956, Ross was appointed United States District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma. As such he was noted for his patience and fairness. He occupied this position until his death in 1969. As a Republican Federal Judge in the State of Oklahoma, he had the honor of administering the oath of office to the first Republican Governor of Oklahoma, Henry Bellmon, in 1963.
In addition to his great public service, he remained at heart a family man. He and his wife Ruby Seal were parents of seven children, grandparents of twenty-seven grandchildren, as well as enjoying great-grandchildren throughout the years.
Mr. L. L. Beardsley was a prominent settler and historian in Beaver County in its beginnings. He operated the Beardsley Drug Store in the original town of Gate. And he was one of the major contributors of stories and references for Volume II of the Beaver County History book, as evidenced by his name listed in the reference section 24 times. One of the stories he agreed to write for the Editorial Board of the book is about a riot in 1890 in Beaver City. And although we have not come to riots at the state capitol yet this year, at least we are beset by disgruntled teachers, state employees, and students who can’t get the Legislature to do their job.
Maybe the Legislature needs to read Beardsley’s account of our riot as it might be a good lesson in how not to do one or how to avoid one.
In the 1890’s Beaver City was the county seat, long before statehood. It had territorial status, with Beaver City being the county seat of the entire Neutral Strip and the Seventh County, as it was known at that time in Oklahoma Territory. Therefore, the County was 34 ½ miles wide, 167 miles long, with an elevation at the northwest corner of 4,978 feet, and about 2,200 feet at the east county line, encompassing what we call the Panhandle today.
The first courts of Beaver County were shot up by ruffians who did not want law and order in the area. A few offenders had been tried in court at Denison, Texas, which was a long way to drive horses and was an expensive trip. The men who supposedly shot Brushy Bush, the self-appointed sheriff of Beer City were also tried at Paris, Texas, a long way from the site of the shooting where the original shooter was actually Pussy-cat Nell, followed by seventeen others who shot Brushy so that no one would know which bullet killed him. Anyway, taking the accused two men for trial in Texas was much too far, but there were no courts nearby that could avoid a confrontation before statehood. So the officers of the county were anxious to enforce the laws and hold court in the county without its being broken by a riot.
After trying to hold court, the county officers and the district judge appealed to the President of the United States for help and protections so they could hold court and dispose of some accumulated cases without another riot. The Government sent Cris Madsen, U. S. Marshal, who drove to Beaver City with U. S. Marshal Judge Buford. They got to town, and the people expressed surprised at seeing just one marshal. Cris told them they had just had one riot, and they could go ahead and hold a term of court. The judge and Cris got a room at the hotel and went to bed.
There was a saloon across the street. They soon heard some shooting. Cris got up and dressed, put on his gun and went to the saloon. As he went in the door, he saw a man coming toward him from the back of the building and shooting off his six-shooter into the roof. Cris met him, and then hit him beside the head with his six-shooter, knocking him down and taking his gun. Cris then walked up to the bar and told the bartender to hand over the keys and for everybody to get outside. Cris Madsen then locked up the saloon and helped patch up the man’s head before going back to bed.
Before statehood, the regular term of District Court in Beaver County was looked forward to as a big get together and holiday for many of the settlers. Those from the west end (Cimarron County today) would be two big days on the road and camp for meals and sleep. Some rode a horse and loaded their bed in the chuck wagon. They made camp nearby, so they had a place to eat and sleep while attending court. But, remember, this was before around the clock court on television, so it was worth the trouble to get to the court for the spectator entertainment!
I contend that President Donald Trump could profit from a lesson on the history of the Oklahoma Panhandle as it regards immigrants. If we hadn’t had immigrants, we would have had no population of modern man. True, there is evidence of pre-historic dwellings of the slab people, some dinosaur bones in what became later Cimarron County, and even some Folsom and Clovis spear points that are more recent, but as to modern mankind, the Plains Indians were too smart to try to live in an area with so little rainfall and water of any kind.
The Spanish explorers in the 1500’s obviously came through here looking for the Seven Cities of Cibola, but not finding them, moved on. True, evidence of their armor has been found in Beaver County and in various other places in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, but they, too, found water in what became New Mexico and South Texas. But first permanent dwellings were in the early 1800’s in the far west edge of what became known as No Man’s Land. They were made by families named Lujan, Baca, and Bernal, all from northeastern New Mexico Territory, who came to raise sheep to feed travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. They also brought horses, the culture of houses for shelter, and their Christian religion.
So when Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, he needs to read his history; if it hadn’t been for those early Spaniards, we would have been settled much later. And these folks obviously were respected since their descendants still live in the area, and even helped settle the southeastern corner of Colorado, where the county is named for one of the families: Baca.
The history of immigrants to what became Beaver County is highly interesting since they brought their various European cultures with them. And their descendants still are in Beaver County. In the next two or three issues of my column, I shall give the history of some of those families who were so important to our settlement. I, of course, have already written about several, as it is impossible to mention anyone whose family didn’t migrate, and that would include any full blood Native Americans of modern times, since all them have been "emigrated" by force to settle in Oklahoma, beginning with the Five Civilized Tribes and now with the thirty-nine tribes that have found homes here by force. And the U. S. Government didn’t choose to re-settle anyone by force to No Man’s Land, only to the civilized areas!
Beginning in the late 1800’s when the sparsely populated area in what became the Panhandle became known east of the 98th Meridian, especially in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, and the land in the western edge of Indian Territory was opened for settlement, folks took advantage of the Homestead Act and filed claims, especially near Beaver City.
And about the same time, groups of Christians who were being persecuted for their religious beliefs in Europe heard about the area where there were no restrictions as how they were practiced. This seemed an ideal place to which to immigrate. How grateful later settlers would be to those pioneers who settled and got things organized for more "modern" living.
In this day of controversy over Obamacare, Medicare, and all other tenants of medicine, we tend to forget that without early day pioneer doctors, there would have been NO medical care on the frontier, and certainly not in No Man’s Land in its early settlement. Doctors practiced out of their homes and traveled on horseback or with a buggy to their patients.
When one of those early doctors came to Beaver in the spring of 1906, Beaver City looked like an up and coming town with a future for medical practice. Dr. Lindsey Lowder Long was born on a farm in Neosho County, Kansas, and at an early age decided he wanted to be a doctor. He entered the University Medical College of Kansas City, Missouri, and received his M. D. degree from that school. In the spring of 1898 he moved to Alva, Oklahoma, to begin the practice of medicine.
In September 1899 he married Maude Beegle, in Alva, and in 1906 he decided to take some post-graduate work at the Chicago Polyclinic and then to change his location of practice. He took the train to Englewood, Kansas, and then a buggy for Beaver, which took twelve hours. At that time, the town of Beaver City had a population of about 250. After he decided to settle there, he hired a man to drive him to Liberal, where he took the train on to Chicago. He said at that time, he saw only one frame house between Beaver and Liberal, the rest being dugouts and soddies. He completed his course in Chicago, then returned to move his family from Alva to Beaver. His practice was varied and interesting, and he often related many amusing as well as tragic stories of those early pioneer days.
One of those stories was about a trip to the country to the Sallee place. They lived in a dugout, along with their five children. All except the father and one of the children had pneumonia. With the help of a nurse from Liberal, he moved all the sick from the dugout to a tent for fresh air and gave constant care, and all eventually recovered.
For many years, Dr. Long was the only doctor in that part of No Man’s Land. For a short time, he shared medical offices with Dr. Munsell. He served a full fifty years of medical practice, first practicing with a horse and buggy, but then abandoning them in 1909 in favor of a one cylinder auto that he named "Brush." The auto was late replaced with a Model-T Ford that was the first of several. In 1923 the Longs built a large brick house, a part of which became the medical offices for Dr. Long, a house that is an historical landmark in Beaver today.
The Longs became active in civic and social organizations in Beaver, with Dr. Long’s interest centered in the Masonic Lodge of Beaver, which he helped establish. He received the Scottish Rite degree in 1912, the Knight Commander of the Court of Honour in 1921, and the 33rd degree in 1927. He also served as mayor of Beaver for twelve years, and was a member of the school board for many years, as well as a director of the First National Bank.
At the outbreak of World War I, Dr. Long served as county superintendent of health for Beaver County, and so, automatically, was the physician member of the local draft board. That job brought many headaches, disagreements, and heart-rending decisions, and untold hours of toil with no pay. However, he felt it was his duty to his country, as well as to his community.
Dr. Long was a partner with John Lawson in the Ford Garage business and later bought Mr. Lawson’s share and operated the business for many years. He was also a partner with Harry Beegle in the drug store business for several years.
Dr. Long’s wife Maude Beegle Long had attended college at Greeley, Colorado, and taught school at a little one room school in the country near Alva for a year before marrying Dr. Long in 1899. Their first child, Lenore, was born in Alva in 1902. They then moved to Beaver where their second child, Lindsey L. was born.
Mrs. Long was active in the Presbyterian Church and taught Sunday School for many years. She was also active in many of the women’s clubs, including the Federated Arts Club, the Federated Women’s Club, and Bide-A-Wee. She was Past Matron of the Eastern Star Lodge and member of the P. E. O. She especially enjoyed entertaining with her relatives, a nephew and his wife Harry and Coreen Beegle, and her niece Fay Fickel and her husband Elmer.
Mrs. Long died in 1961, and Dr. Long followed her in death in 1964. Both are laid to rest in the Beaver Cemetery. Both were exemplary models of early pioneers in Beaver County.
A man who had a lasting influence on the history of Beaver County, as well as on the town of Liberal and Seward County, Kansas, was John E. George. That name is forgotten or never heard by today’s residences of the area.
It was in 1885 that he located in what is now Beaver County. He had been born in Comal County, Texas, in 1859. He had only the advantage of the rural schools in Comal and Hays Counties. His boyhood was spent in the cattle country, and in 1877, when he was seventeen, he trailed a herd of cattle belonging to J. L. Driskill & Son up the old Chisholm Train from below Corpus Christi to Dodge City, Kansas. At that time his home was in San Marcos.
He and nine other cowboys landed in Dodge City with 3,500 head of cattle. This accomplished, the young Texan decided to remain in Kansas, and he worked as a cowboy on the Driskill Ranch in Clark County for five and a half years. During the years he was working there, he managed to accumulate a small herd of cattle of his owned. He also worked for the Beverly Brothers and George Anderson until his own herd became of a size to require all of his time.
In 1878, when he was only eighteen, the Cheyennes made their last raid into Kansas, and he joined the soldiers who came to the aid of the settlers and helped drive the Indians out of that area. In 1885 he located in what is today Beaver County. The following January most of his herd froze to death in the big blizzard that caused the loss of thousands of cattle in the plains country. So in order to get a new start, he took a bunch of cattle on shares and cared for them near Nara Visa, New Mexico. He later returned to the Beaver River and developed his ranch there. At first he ran cattle from the Beaver River nearly to Liberal, but as the settlers began to come in, he started to acquire land of his own, eventually securing a 13,000 acre ranch in Beaver County, as well as one of 3,500 acres in Texas County.
In 1899 he came to Liberal, purchasing an interest in the dry good firm of Kilgore, Hayes & George, and finally buying out his partners and later selling the entire business. He then went into the grocery business with J. P. Odell and later acquired the entire business, which came to be known as the J. E. George Grocery Company. In the early days of Liberal, he purchased the business on the corner of Second Street and Kansas Avenue for $1,800. He built the first brick business in Liberal at that corner.
When the Liberal State Bank was organized July 13, 1900, he was elected its president, and when the institution was later changed to the First National Bank, he continued as its head. He also organized the Moscow State Bank and served as one of the directors and principal stockholders, serving both banks until his death. However, he also help reorganize and convert a state bank into the First National Bank at Dalhart, Texas; was one of the organizers of the State Bank of Tyrone; organize the First State Bank of Beaver, which was later liquidated and the depositors paid off. He was also a stockholder in the First National Bank at Guymon and in the First National Bank of Goodwell.
In 1896 he was elected a member of the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature from Beaver County. He helped pass both a free range and quarantine bill, serving on one of the important committees. He also served as the mayor of Liberal and as a councilman. Yes, he was an important figure to both Oklahoma Territory and Southwest Kansas. His "soddy" on the Beaver River and his feeding grounds were almost imminent domain. For all practical purposes, the Beaver River was the south side of his pasture, but he grazed the country to within a few miles of Liberal, and his periodical roundups occurred anywhere within a radius of fifty miles. He was one of the few cattlemen who never changed his brand, which as the "T Bar T." Of course, he did change his breed of cattle through the years. From the slab-sided mongrel stock he handled in his first ranch, he changed to Herefords. Until the Rock Island Railroad came to Liberal, he drove his cattle to Dodge City or Harper, Kansas, or to Tyrone to sell if the railroad wasn’t completed yet.
Mr. George also did much to develop his farming interests, chiefly to furnish rough feed, oil cake, and hay to sustain his stock through the winters instead of just letting them shift for themselves, as was once the custom in early days of ranching.
He was also a real factor in politics in Beaver County, and in 1896 was elected a member of the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature to represent the area that later became the Seventh County of Oklahoma Territory. The Democrats controlled the House, and Mr. George was chairman of one of the important committees. The platform and express object for which he was sent to the Legislature was to get through "a free range and quarantine bill." He did not introduce the bills to do these, but he helped pass both measures. The purpose of the latter was to quarantine Texas cattle from Oklahoma, especially from the Neutral Strip. He also voted to locate the Alva Norman School and gave his support to other appropriations for educational and other state institutions.
The Grocery business that he had founded in 1899 was later sold to his son-in-law T. J. Blakemore in 1920 and became the twenty-eight store chain of the Ideal Food Stores located in the Oklahoma Panhandle, the Texas Panhandle, and Southwest Kansas. These were essential to the history and well-being of Beaver County since large food stores were unknown in the area until the coming of the Ideal chain. Of course, small grocery stores existed in the very early days, but the Ideal chain prompted other grocers to expand, as well as bringing in items that smaller stores could not afford to stock. In 1960 the chain was merged with Allied Supermarkets, Inc., but the individual stores kept their names for years.
From my personal perspective—I can barely remember Mr. George in Liberal when I was in town with my parents, but I heard about him, his ranches, and his stores as a little girl. I knew my parents respected him. And then when I grew up, I shopped in those Ideal Food Stores in Forgan and Beaver, as well as in Liberal. And ironically, his daughter married T. J. Blakemore whose mother was a Hodges, a cousin to the Hodges in Forgan! So I always knew that Mr. George was an important man and loved to hear my father and mother talk about him and his accomplishments!
James R Quinn was one of the prominent and important early settlers of Beaver City, and served as the First County Commissioner when No Man’s Land became a territory. His family name appears on street signs in two county seat, and one of his sons owned an abstract company in Beaver for many years, and another younger son died a hero in World War II. But how soon we forget these pioneers’ contributions to making our area a livable and prosperous one. Stories of the Quinns appear in Volumes I and II of the Beaver County History books, as well as in a book compiled from the original manuscript by Mr. Quinn about the family coming to Beaver County, which was edited by Keith Drum, a relative, and published by the No Man’s Land Historical Society.
One of the important writings of Mr. Quinn is in Volume II, in which he describes what was happening in the area that would become Beaver County when he and his family came there in 1887 and in the following years. The story is told here in his own words,
"A freight train would usually consist of three sections with three wagons in each, drawn by four teams of horses and miles. There was a jerk line on the lead team, which was generally mules and smaller than the teams next to the wagons. This was held by the driver who rode the near horse next to the wagons. The first wagon was a very large one with a high box, loaded with several tons of freight. The trail wagon, which as much smaller, was loaded with camp equipment, such as food, feed for the teams, bedding and other things necessary for making a long trip of several days. The wagons were covered with heavy canvas, stretched over bows attached to the wagon bed, to protect the supplies from the weather.
There was also a stage coach that passed by each day on the Tascosa Trail from Dodge City, Kansas, to Beaver City, Oklahoma. It was an eight passenger coach, well painted and finished, looking very attractive. One passenger could ride in the seat with the driver. This coach was drawn by four spirited, well matched and well groomed horses. This was the fastest method of travel in those days on the plains. For about four months during the summer and fall of 1887, I worked on the H. A. Busing Ranch, about four miles north of our claim on the Cimarron River. At this ranch the stage coach changed horses and the passengers were served dinner. It was part of my duty to take care of the horses. About 10 o’clock each morning, I would run the horses in from the pasture, feed, curry, and harness them so all would be ready when the coach came in to make the change. I would then unharness, water, and feed the tired team. This was the daily routine. The rest of my time on the ranch was spent looking after stock and doing a little farming.
In the spring of 1888, the Rock Island Railroad was completed to Liberal, Kansas, bringing transportation much closer to the people of No Man’s Land. One time on returning from a trip to Liberal, it started raining and kept it up all day and part of the night. There was no trail of any kind. We lost our direction but finally crossed fresh wagon tracks in the wet sod and as the tracks showed to be a mile and a horse with a colt following, we knew that it was our own tracks and we were driving in a circle. We were really lost so we struck camp for the night, cold and hungry. Everything was too wet to make a fire so we ate cold food, rolled up in our tarpaulins with wet clothes and were soon asleep. The next morning the sun was shining but appeared in the west. We all knew we were west of home, so we headed toward the sun. It was nearly sun down when we came in sight of home. Mother and the children were glad to see us. Considering the number of hours we were driving home, we must have been west of where Hooker is now located.
On May 2, 1890, the Organic Act became a law, organizing Oklahoma Territory, and President Harrison appointed George W. Steele of Indiana as our first Territorial Governor. He in turn appointed the officers of the seven counties of the New Territory, which included the counties of Logan, Cleveland, Pay, Kingfisher, Canadian, and Beaver. Governor Steel then appointed me one of the first County Commissioners, which office I held until August 5, 1891. The salary I received was quite a boost to the family budget.
In 1901, the last of the Indian country was opened for settlement. Many who had registered did not draw claims so they drifted west to Woods and Beaver Counties in search of homesteads. In 1902-1903-1904 most of the good land of Beaver County was filed on. This was the end of free range for cattlemen and ranchers."
**The Tascosa Trail to which Mr. Quinn refers was in all likelihood the Jones & Plummer Trail that originated in Tascosa, but was a separate trail from the Tascosa Trail that ran through what was later called Texas County. Certainly the description Mr. Quinn made fits the Jones & Plummer Trail. Incidentally, when the Quinns moved into the town of Beaver in 1908, they purchased the oldest house in Beaver, formerly owned by Jim Lane, the first homeowner in Beaver, who had maintained a trading post in his home to serve the needs of the Jones & Plummer Trail in earlier times. It was a sod house made of Beaver River salt grass sod. Later, James Quinn added three more rooms, weather boarded the sod part, and stuccoed the entire house on the outside. The family of J. R. Quinn lived in it until his death in1926. It still stands as a benchmark to the past and the history of Beaver County.
Also, for millennial readers, the "dinner" referred to in Mr. Quinn’s writing would be served at noon, not as an evening meal, more commonly referred to as "supper". That was because rural people, whether ranchers or farmers, needed a heavier meal at noon to continue working outside at their chores or on their rangeland. And rural folks continue that language even today when times have changed as to when one needs another meal! And readers should also note that Beaver City in 1887 was not in Oklahoma Territory, which did not exist until 1890.
The old town site of Rothwell approximately ten miles west of Beaver is long forgotten. Few people not history buffs know it even existed, much less the important part it played in the history of Cimarron Territory! The section line of S19-T4-R-22 ran through the middle of the town. It stood about one mile north of where the old West Kokomo schoolhouse. Its stores served surrounding communities and towns, such as Gray, Boyd, and Balko. There were several buildings in the town; some cannot be identified. It is known that there was a hotel, a general store, two or three saloons, a church, livery stable, and a post office. Application for the Rothwell Post Office was filed in September 1887. James S. Hart served as postmaster until L. H. Savage took over in August 1897. Mail could be left at Rothwell to be put off the stage that ran from Tascosa, Texas, to Dodge City, Kansas.
There are still several indentations of dugouts and old ruts showing that there was a lot of traffic through this town. Rothwell seems to have become a "Ghost Town" of sorts about the year 1890. At least, this was the year the hotel was moved from the site. However, there were records in the County Superintendent’s office showing that Jennie Potter taught school there in 1890-91, and Maud Ashcraft taught in 1896-97.
The most significant reason we should know about Rothwell, however, is the part it played in the formation of Cimarron Territory and No Man’s Land’s attempt to be independent of the rest of Indian Territory. Beaver City had elected Owen G. Chase as a delegate to try to get recognition and admission of the newly created Cimarron Territory to the Union. Other men in the area who were involved in trying to get recognition were R. M. Overstreet, R. A. Allen, James Lane, Sr., W. P. Olive, George Scranage, A. Mundell, John Wells, J. C. Hodges, Elmer Tompkins, W. J. Kline, as well as a number of others. However, a formal petition was written and signed in 1887 by a number of prominent and ambitious men at Rothwell who were not able to secure the representation they desired in Washington, and they held another convention in Rothwell and elected John Dale to represent them there.
All was going well with these groups until they disagreed on where the Territorial County seat would be located, Beaver City or Rothwell, and who should be their delegates to Washington. For several years the town of Beaver City had been divided into two factions. Rev. R. M. Overstreet, a close personal and political friend of the governor of Kansas and a conservative Scot Presbyterian, had become the head of one faction, his followers being members of or associated with the various churches, and the general run of business men of the town. Dr. Chase was a non-practicing physician and a politician, real estate dealer, and promoter of town sites. He was the leader of the other faction, which consisted of some businessmen and residents to who hoped to realize gain from the success of their leader in his promotions. Both Chase and Overstreet were major contenders, with groups taking sides with one or the other. Finally, Chase was selected Chairman, with Overstreet, Secretary, and J. C. Hodge as the Treasurer. And the county seat was to be Beaver City. (This decision, of course, became the death knell for Rothwell, although nearly thirty years later the town of Floris was re-located to within a few miles of the Rothwell location in order to serve the new railroad line from Forgan to Hooker. )
Several months later delegates met to organize three representative districts, divided by the meridian lines, with the 100th Meridian to the 102st, as the First District, from the 101st Meridian to the 102nd as the Second District, and from the 102nd to the 103rd as the Third District. (Readers will note that these are the legal County lines in the Panhandle today.)
When I began researching material for the first Beaver County history book, some of the old timers who had known Chase and Overstreet were still bitter about the demise of the town of Rothwell! For a very detailed, descriptive, and entertaining account of these arguments, read Fred C. Tracy’s book Recollections of No Man’s Land, which is available at the Jones & Plummer Museum, or at the Beaver County Library.
With the second week of teacher walk-outs at our State Capitol, it is time for me to give a history lesson about my own early education experience growing up in Beaver County and the Panhandle. My schooling was most typical of the times, the first half of the Twentieth Century, and in my case, the 1930’s. My first schooling would have been called "home-schooling" today, as my parents, especially my father, taught me to read and write long before I became school age, which was six at that time. There were no kindergartens, even in the town schools, much less in the one-room schools located about every six miles within the farming areas of the County.
Where we lived when I was born and until age six, there were Irving School a mile and a half from our farm; Pleasant View about four miles away; Floris that was about seven miles away; Turpin six miles in the opposite direction from Floris; Locust Grove 89, about four miles away, as well as Greenough some thirteen miles away. One would think that my opportunity for schooling would be opportune; not so. There were no school buses, we had only one vehicle that my dad had to use to go to work on the W. P. A, and all these, in my parent’s opinion, were too far for an almost six year old to walk to the location. With the exception of Turpin and Greenough, these were all one-room schools financed and supported by the local area residents. Teachers were not required to have formal education other than probably an eighth grade level, but even that was negotiable. Women teachers were required to be single, live at their parents’ homes, or with another single woman. They could not live alone and be considered fit for teaching children! Of course, these rules did not necessarily apply to men teachers, but it was strongly emphasized that they should rent a room from the parents of the school children if they did not live with their parents. In some cases, men were allowed to live together if they were both teachers, but this was highly discouraged.
The one-room schools were exactly that: almost always wood built with side windows and a front door, no back door in case of fire or other disaster. There would be a wooden stand or bench with a bucket of water and a dipper for the children to get drinks of water, usually located by the door for children to use as they entered the building. There was also a wash basin beside the water bucket so that the students could wash their hands if they had to…notice, not "needed to" but "had to" if they had mud or sticky materials on their hands…Never mind any germs. And there were hooks on the wall for coats, and a stand for lunch sacks and pails.
As far as rest rooms were concerned, there weren’t any…only outside toilets, usually one designated for the boys, one for the girls, but not always that way at every school. Furthermore, some even had two-hole seats in some toilets. And like those at homes, the toilet paper was usually an old catalog or some such publication donated by the parents. These toilets were most often several feet away from the school building so that in cold weather, it was no fun to get to them!
And, of course, there were no lunch rooms…students brought their own sack lunches or in a metal lunch pail. The food consisted of whatever the family could afford and get prepared. And in my days, it was in the Dust Bowl, and many families had little to eat at any time, much less to send in lunches. I was fortunate in that even after we lost our farm to foreclosure and moved to Floris, my mother kept chickens so she would fry up a piece for my lunch, or if Dad’s $3.00 a day salary allowed, she would walk the two blocks to the general store and buy what she called "lunch meat" that was baloney meat. Or she would make bread and butter sandwiches. Sometimes she would be able to make some cookies, boil an egg, or have another treat. But I was more fortunate than some of the others in my school who had little to eat. If the kids lived within close distance to the schoolhouse, they sometimes walked home, although some didn’t have very much there to eat either.
There would be desks of varying heights, usually with one seat, but nearly always a few with double or even triple seat width. These were usually saved for older students. Grade levels varied from first through eighth grade, with the eighth grade boys seated in the very back, then the eighth grade girls, and so on until the first graders were right in front of the teacher. The number of pupils varied from two or three to fifteen or sixteen. And, of course, each student was able to listen in on the lessons for other grades, sometimes to the detriment of studying his or her own work or doing the assigned written work. Although for a student such as I who could already read and write, that was a benefit to be able to listen in on what the upper grades were learning.
As described above, the teacher often had little education beyond the eighth grade, although a few had high school levels…not necessarily a diploma, but at least a few grade levels. My own first grade teacher was about nineteen and lived three miles from the school with her parents. I liked her and thought she was so nice, except when she paddled me for refusing to learn how to write manuscript penmanship. My father had already taught me cursive, and I was pretty good with it, so I wadded up my paper and threw it and the pencil at the teacher, upon announcing that I did not need manuscript writing! I remember that the paddling didn’t really hurt, but I was mortified when the older boys laughed and pointed their fingers at me!
Of course, our much-used textbooks were the McGuffy Reader and a red spelling book. When I informed Miss Margarite that I could already read and didn’t want that ugly McGuffy book but a harder one, and that I had already read Pollyanna, quite a long book, so I should be able to read a different book in school. She told me not to lie to her, and sent a note home to my parents about my behavior. My father made himself late for work the next day to walk me across the school yard with the dirt blowing in our faces, where he had a conference with Miss Margarite. She promptly moved me to the third grade reading class!
We also had spelling bees and ciphering matches. I loved the first and hated the second as arithmetic was not my favorite subject. I had learned math by playing cards with my parents long before school anyway, especially pitch, and by playing dominoes.
Our playground equipment was a merry-go-round and a teeter-totter…no slide or anything else, so we became good at playing games when the dirt wasn’t blowing so bad that we couldn’t see across the school yard. That was actually a blessing for us, I think, as we had to learn how to estimate what the other students would do.
I only attended that one-room school for one year, and then we moved to Turpin where the schools was grades 1-12, in a two-story building, with a real rest room and several toilet stalls! And in the center of the building, there was a big basketball court! We even had a lunch room with soup and sandwiches every day. And there were school buses for the students who did not live in town. Actually, my family didn’t live in town, but we were directly across Highway 64 so that I could walk to school every day if the dirt wasn’t blowing too bad. And we only had two grades per room, not one through eight. I still liked to listen to the upper grade when I could!
Furthermore, both the teachers that I had during my second and third grades there had had a year or so of college instruction on how to teach. Both of them, of course, had to be single ladies: one lived with her father and sister, who was also a teacher there; and the third grade teacher supposedly lived with her parents on a farm nearby. When I moved to Forgan for fourth grade, she had moved also to teach fifth grade at Forgan. It was many, many years later that she told me that she had been married when she lived both places, but that they kept it a secret and didn’t live together until the law changed. She had changed schools as some of the neighbors had become suspicious about her and her husband’s steady dating so often! And since he was a Dust Bowl farmer, they needed her salary to keep the farm…thus keeping their marriage a secret for several years.
As the years progressed, the schools improved, standards increased, and teachers were allowed to live normal lives. However, primitive as those early schools were, I learned a great deal and even became a teacher myself some twenty years later! And, like my third grade teacher, I did so to help buy cows for our ranch…but I didn’t have to keep it a secret! Ironically, that first one-room school building I had attended in Floris became a music building at the Forgan Schools during my first year as a teacher there. My classroom window even looked out upon it! And even more ironic, fifty years later I became the head of the reading and language arts program for a 76,000 student school district in Denver and in charge of teaching hand-writing. One day the phone rang and a wobbly little old lady voice said, "Are you that Pauline Arnett I had in first grade, that one I gave a spanking to because she wouldn’t learn to write manuscript?" Yes, it was Miss Margarite who then lived in a senior center in my huge school district! And she had seen my name and new appointment in the local newspaper! She still remembered me!
Much of the material in the following article is taken from an article by Willis and Merlee Lansden for publication in Volume II Beaver County History.
In this day of our love for high tech, it is easy to forget the very important part the newspaper played in our early settlement of No Man’s Land. When the very first ranchers, then homesteaders, came to our area, there weren’t even any telephones, and certainly no other means of getting news unless it was by telegraph at a railroad station…and in our Beaver County, no railroads came until 1912, and that one only from Gate to the new town of Forgan…not to Beaver for another 14 years, nor to Ivanhoe, Gray, Dombey, Floris, or Clearlake!
Beaver County was actually more fortunate than most early settled counties and areas in that there were several early day papers. The Herald-Democrat is the oldest business in Beaver County. It has run continuously since 1887, although it has changed names and ownership several times, but it still remains a permanent institution of the County. The Territorial Advocate was established in the summer of 1887, probably in July or August. Men named Estes and Eldridge were its founders and publishers.
These publishers put out three or four issues, after which they sold out to George Payne in September of that same year. Payne died in 1887, and that year the paper was sold to J. C. Hodge who was the manager of a publishing company. He changed the name to the Beaver Advocate. Hodge continued the former policies of the paper, however, and sold it in 1895 to Lily and Dolly Wright. The Wright sisters started their first number off under the caption Beaver Herald, Number 1, Volume 1. They later resumed the volume number of the Beaver Advocate.
It was not unusual at all in those days for women to be the publishers of newspapers. After all, they had more time to do so than some of the men who were performing manual labor and running businesses that women were not yet "capable" or allowed to run.
January 30,1896, marked the first issue of the Beaver Herald under the ownership of W. I. Drummond and I. S. Drummond. The paper announced its policy as Republican but not "radical" enough to scratch all the Democrats and Populists off the subscription list!
On February 17, 1898, Noah Daves took charge of the Beaver Herald, buying it from Drummond who had run it for two years. Daves was at that time also County Superintendent of Schools. On December 29 of that same year, the paper was sold to F. S. Drummond, then County Clerk of Beaver County. Daves announced that he had sold the paper because he was not a practical printer.
Noah Daves resumed charge of the Beaver Herald on April 12, 1899, purchasing it back from F. S. Drummond, who retired because the newspaper was taking all his time, and he was bound to attend to his official duties as County Clerk. Daves added Miss Maude O. Thomas to his staff as Associate Editor on August 9, 1900. In February 1902 Miss Thomas took over the paper after having worked on it for two years. That was a blessing in many ways in that it brought stability since she ran the paper until 1923.
At the same time of the establishment of the Beaver Herald, a new paper was established by W. B. Newman, on June 7, 1906. Several years later L. B. Tooker consolidated the Beaver County Democrat with a number of the other papers in the county and called his paper The Democrat. In 1920 this paper as purchased from L. B. Tooker by A. W. Cox and A. L. Kimball. At the time the papers consolidated into the Democrat, including the Beaver County Democrat, The Forgan Enterprise, the LaKemp Mirror, the Ivanhoe News the Beaver County Republican, and the Farmer’s News (Knowles). The Gate Valley Star became a part of the Democrat conglomerate in 1907.
In 1923 A. L. Kimball purchased the Beaver Herald from Maude O. Thomas to form The Herald-Democrat. Kimball was the editor and publisher. The Forgan Eagle was then consolidated with the Herald-Democrat in 1927. In 1928 the Herald-Democrat again changed hands when it was purchased by H. H. Hubbart who owned and published the paper until 1944 when Willis and Merlee Lansden bought the paper. They completely modernized the plant with new and better equipment. They also, in 1966, moved the paper from West Second Street to its present location on Douglas Avenue. And today their son and grandson and granddaughter-in-law are the owners and publishers of the paper.
In the meantime, L. L. Beardsley, W. L. Beardsley, A. J. Stephen, E. I. Haworth, and Bernadine Nylund were busy publishing the Gate Valley Star, later called the Gate City News. The paper was a vital part of Gate City as it was growing rapidly after its move from two other locations to that of the new railroad coming west. By 1912 there were at least 25 businesses, lodge halls, churches, and baseball and basketball teams.
The two towns of Ivanhoe had not one but two newspapers, also, the Ivanhoe News and the South Ivanhoe Sentinel. Both papers flourished until the new railroad coming west missed both towns and located across the line in Texas.
At the same time the Beardsleys were publishing papers in Gate City, they were helping establish the new town on the new Wichita and Northwestern Railroad building into Beaver County, that of Forgan. As a result, on the sixth day of June in 1912 the first Forgan Enterprise was published. Its first edition was a four-column six-page paper. Business was so good that Mr. Tooker, the owner of the plant, had to enlarge in order to take care of the growing business demand. On September 3 of that year the Beaver County Democrat was consolidated with the Forgan Enterprise and with the combined circulation, the Forgan paper was soon recognized as one of the strongest in the County. Several years later, when Mr. Tooker published the Beaver Democrat, Chancy Rice succeeded him as publisher in Forgan.
Later, the Forgan Eagle was established by Mr. A. L. Kimball who sold it to Edith Sloan after he purchased the Democrat in 1925. Mrs. Derthick served as a local editor until the paper was later absorbed by the Democrat. A short time later Percy Torrey published the Forgan Advocate, selling it to W. RayBrashear, who eventually sold it the Herald-Democrat. However, Mr. Hubbart, and later the Lansdens, continued to publish the Forgan Advocate through the 1940’s. I, the author of this Voices article, can attest to that since when I was almost fourteen, Mr. Lansden hired me to write the "social" news of Forgan for the paper. That was my first experience and venture into becoming a professional writer! It was not until nearly fifty years later that I found out that he had invented that job for me after my family had lost the farm in the Dust Bowl and were having a very hard time financially! Mr. Lansden paid me 25 cents per column inch, and it is amazing how much social news a small town can generate at that rate of pay!
In this day of high technology, it is easy to forget how important newspapers were to rural areas. Few people, if any, in my childhood had radios, few in the Dust Bowl could afford a newspaper, so we shared with our neighbors, and how else would we have known about the new Conservation Movement that grew out of the terrible dirt blowing around us, or about a man in Germany named Hitler, or about the Asian countries overrunning their neighbors? Or about a famous prize-fighter named Joe Louis? I walked across the field everyday when I was a little girl to get the neighbor’s copy of The Wichita Beacon. Even before I was in the first grade, I was attempting to read it. And when my parents went to Beaver on farm business, my dad would buy a copy of The Herald Democrat if he had enough money in his pocket. My parents instilled the value of newspapers in me, and I have never lost it.
One of the many things Beaver County residents should be proud of is how many books that have been written either by or about Beaver County residents and their history. I was always amazed as I traveled in my educational consulting work at how ignorant folks east of the 100th Meridian were about the Panhandle and No Man’s Land. And even in this day and age of high tech and television, that ignorance continues, but there is no excuse for it as there have been both print and film to enlighten these folk.
The first book about Beaver County was published in 1969 by the Oklahoma Extension Homemaker’s Council who formed a Historical Society in the process. It is the first of three volumes that includes family histories, local government history, business histories, stories of schools and churches from the 1880’s until 1969. The later two histories, one in 1970 by the same group, and one in 1993 by the Beaver County Historical Society continue these family and organization histories. They are invaluable as a source of information. They also reflect the hours and hours of work by Beaver County citizens in order to research and record their past. It was difficult to get a printer for the first volume, and only because I, the editor, had published the Forgan Yearbooks would Taylor Publishing Company even talk to us about a book that other publishers thought no one would buy. A thousand copies later, it was no problem to get the company to publish Volume II. By the time that the 1993 edition was ready to print, it was not a problem to find a publisher, as area and local histories had become the "in" thing to do for local historical societies!
Although there had been books published with sections or reference about No Man’s Land and the Panhandle, especially those by a Liberal newspaperman named Harry E. Chrisman, no specific book about the area had been written…or so everyone thought. In fact, a manuscript was written about his early days by the first sheriff of No Man’s Land, Jim Herron, who by that time was a wanted man and living in Arizona and state of Washington to escape a trial at Meade, Kansas. His manuscript remained with his granddaughter in Washington until, quite by accident, in 1965 Chrisman, who had moved to Denver, met her and obtained her copy, then in 1972 published the story of Herron’s early days in No Man’s Land and Beaver City entitled Fifty Years on the Owl Hoot Trail. (Owl Hoot Trail was a slang word for "outlaw", of course.) Chrisman researched the story told by Herron for accuracy before getting it to his publisher.
Another of the first books written about Beaver County was that written by Fred C. Tracy and entitled Recollections of No Man’s Land. His unpublished manuscript sat on dusty shelves at two area museums until the mid-nineties when the No Man’s Land Historical Society published it. Fred gave a detailed account of the settlement of the Panhandle, and of the history of Beaver County when it encompassed the entire Panhandle. Because he was involved in politics, businesses, and establishment of the first state government, the book is full of accurate history. It is also full of amusing stories of prominent citizens, especially local businessmen up and down Douglas Avenue.
Two other books have been published by Arcadia Publishers with picture history of Beaver County and Texas County early days. These are both edited by local authors: the Beaver County history by Harold Kachel, Joe Lansden, and Pauline Hodges; the Texas County history by Harold Kachel, Kathel Bales, and Pauline Hodges. These came off the presses during the past ten years but the pictures are, for the most part, from the history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Current residents will recognize their relatives in some of the pictures…and maybe even their "outlaws"!!!
J. D. Bilbro, who grew up in Forgan, and who became one of the top cotton researchers in the country wrote a memoir of his early life, entitled The Dust Bowl Kid, even though he spent his professional life in or near Lubbock, Texas, in U. S. Department of Agriculture stations or at the University there, he never forgot those early Dust Bowl days!
Another author who wrote about her early life in Beaver is Ila Potter Burguardt, who, as many others did had a hard time financially during the Depression and Dust Bowl days but survived those hard times to become an International Representative for Mary Kay Cosmetics, traveled all over the world, and lives in San Antonio today as one of their most successful financial officers. Her book Those Were the Days would be a good reminder to those young people who are struggling that hard work and determination often pays good dividends!
Another former Forgan man Samuel Hall wrote a fiction account of the real-life struggle of his mother in his book Daughter of the Cimarron. Even though it uses fictional names, a reader who lived near Greenough and west of Forgan in the first half of the last century will recognize some of those farmer neighbors of Sam’s family. In real life, Sam’s father died at an early age, leaving Mrs. Hall with three boys to raise alone. Sam uses her real life experiences in his fictional character to survive the hard times.
And then there is the wonderful story written by Carrie and Will Anshutz of their early days on the Cimarron north of Forgan. Carrie Schmoker was a pioneer, teacher, and rancher’s wife. She married "Doc" Anshutz who was an adventurer, cowboy, and cattleman. Their stories of hard times in their book are better than any movie, especially when Carrie writes about the wall of water coming down the Cimarron and her jumping, with a child in her arms, on top of the chicken house to survive drowning as she was carried along by the water. The title of their book is Cimarron Chronicles and published by Ohnick Enterprises in Meade, Kansas.
Another valuable history of early day ranching in Beaver County is found in the book by George Healy, Frank Belle Healy, and Frank Dale Healy II who father and sons drove cattle from their ranch on Padre Island, Texas, through Beaver County and on to Dodge City to sell. They eventually established one of the very first ranches in Beaver County, and George Healy later became a prominent resident and businessman in Beaver. Frank Belle Healy became the head of the Land Office in Tyrone, unheard of for a woman in those days. The book that recounts their story is The Called It Cimarron published by DDH Press in Tucson, Arizona.
And, of course, one of the most prolific writers from Beaver County was Sanora Babb who was a screenwriter in Hollywood, but who wrote a number of books about her home area of Forgan, and even earlier childhood near Two Buttes, Colorado. Her fiction book at used the real town of Forgan in the 1920’s when the population was close to 2,000 is entitled The Lost Traveler. Many incidents in the book are from her real life, such as the fact that the real Sanora who was the valedictorian of her class was not allowed to be recognized as such at graduation since her real father was the town gambler! Her book about her grandfather and parents homesteading in Baca County, Colorado, is entitled An Owl On Every Post and is based on the family’s real life experience, although Sanora used fictional names. But the book that made her famous in just the last six years is Those Whose Names Are Unknown, based on the farming of her grandfather during the Dust Bowl in Cimarron County, and Sanora’s real life work in the migrant camps of California. She even loaned the notes from the migrant camps to John Steinbeck who used them for the migrant scenes in his book Grapes of Wrath, with her permission, of course. The event that made her book famous, of course, is that Ken Burns used it in the making of his film The Dust Bowl that was released in 2012.
All of these books are carried by the Jones & Plummer Trail Museum, or the Museum can obtain them for purchase. They also carry recent books by a current Forgan author, Charles Lemieux, Jr., which are up-to-date and more recent activities! He would be most happy to provide a signed copies for sale!
So it is quite evident that the No Man’s Land folk may be colorful but they are neither ignorant nor illiterate. And the books they have provided through the years are both informational and entertaining. Go by the Jones & Plummer Trail and see for yourself!
Since our President is so taken with declaring illegal voting, polling places, and voters, he needs to investigate voting in our Beaver County history to set things straight. We have had it correct and above question or Federal investigation every way since May 2, 1890. True, we did have some dissension during the time of Cimarron Territory about elected delegates, but with the coming of Oklahoma Territory, that was all settled! We could send the President our good example for his use!
The copy of the following document by Territorial Governor George W. Steele should set the President straight on how proper voting is done: (*Note: Remember, Beaver County was all of the Panhandle at that time, and its official name was "The Seventh County".)
Governor Steele issued this proclamation:
In accordance with the provisions of Section II of the Act of Congress to provide a temporary government for the Territory of Oklahoma, etc, approved May 2, 1890, I announce the following precincts and voting places for the coming election August 15, 1890, and hereby appoint the election officers for the various precincts in the several counties as follows:
Seventh County Beaver County Precinct No 1 Voting place, Gate City; Judges, J. W. Tunnecliff, Fred S. Grasham, and William Clark. Clerks: Fred Tracy and J. M. Grasham.
Precinct No. 2 Voting place, Garland; Judges, Elihu Moore, Nathan J. Rhodes, Dave Mackey. Clerks, W. H. Millium and Fred Taintor.
Precinct No. 3 Voting place. Alpine; Judges, Charles Tannehill, T. L. Braidwood, W. J. Maple. Clerks, Frank J. Healy and George F. Walker.
Precinct No. 4 Voting Place, Benton; Judges, Walter Perkins, James Waller, John Stewart. Clerks, William Green and Lyman Savage.
Precinct No. 5 Voting Place, Blue Grass; Judges, W. B. Stanley, John Farrah, J. T. Wells. Clerks, H. French and John Van Gieson.
Precinct No. 6 Voting place, Logan; Judges, Henry Drum, W. Bohn, G. Stoddars. Clerks, Elmer Harlan and George Redemer.
Precinct 7 Voting Place, Beaver. Judges, John R. Thomas, S. B. Weir, David Miller. Clerks, Robert Dickson and O. K. Rogers.
Precinct 8 Voting place, Davis; Judges, Charles Davis, N. N. McGowan, David Kile. Clerks, Robert Rizley and O. C. Owebs.
Precinct No. 9 Voting Place, Kokomo; Judges, W. M. Wiseman, W. M. Jones, I. J. Wilson. Clerks, Abe Riley and John McCullom.
*The document goes on to name the Precincts and Voting places for the rest of the Seventh County, all the way to Kenton and Optima, a total of 17, in all. These places are listed as follows, although the personnel at the voting places have been omitted: Paladora, Grand Valley, Buffalo, Hardesty, Optima, ZH Ranch (between Kenton and the Kansas line), Welch (near Metcalf), 101 Ranch (again near Kenton). Some of the prominent names among the personnel running the voting places that will be familiar to those in today’s Beaver County are M. L. Kramer, Richard Quinn, G. W. Hubbard.
Also, some of those listed in what is the Seventh County’s personnel for voting places that folks will recognize are the following: Fred Tracy, Dave Mackey, Fred Taintor, T. L. Braidwood, W. J. Maple, Frank J. Healy, Lyman Savage, William Green, J. T. Wells, Henry Drum, George Reimer, S. B. Weir, John R. Thomas, N. G. McGowan, David Kile, and Robert Rizley. Some of these men or their relatives or descendants went on to run for territory, state, and county offices themselves: Fred Tracy, Robert Rizley, Henry Drum, S. B. Weir, David Kile, T. L. Braidwood.
Certainly, having the entire Seventh County from Gate to Kenton to supervise and keep honest and accurate was a heavy job for the personnel folks who supervised. Notice that of just the voting places listed for the first nine precincts, none of these towns or villages or schools used has existed for decades! Only Gate and Beaver are considered towns today…not that every voting place had to be a recognized town, of course, but in some cases these voting places are no longer even recognized as "neighborhoods", much less towns.
We should also consider that women did not have the right to vote during that time, and that it was no easy task for even the men to get to a voting place. Their travel would have been on foot, horseback or buggy or, perhaps, wagon. Nor did they have drivers’ licenses for identification, although probably the officials supervising the voting places knew the voters personally and were possibly their neighbors down the road.
So my chagrin towards those who are too lazy to go vote is understandable, when they have the much easier opportunity today with transportation, even if they no longer drive themselves, and when voter identification is provided if they aren’t too lazy to go register to vote! When I hear folks say, "Oh, well, my vote doesn’t matter," it is tempting to just lash out with a fist to put that person straight…when we are one of the few countries in the entire world who have the right to vote for all its citizens!
By Paulene Hodges
By Pauline Hodges
As I have traveled around the state during the past few years in my work with the afterward of the Dust Bowl film, I have been struck by the many, many trophies in the front halls of secondary schools, all of them, of course, for athletic achievements. Not that I am unaware of how hard those are to achieve, having had sons and grandchildren play all kinds of sports, as well as having done so myself many years ago! What is lacking are those achievements for music, art, public speaking, debate, FFA, National Honor Society, and the 4-H, all of which represent lifelong skills and learning for the rest of our students’ lives. Where is the picture of the graduate who was president of three major universities and served as head of the Western Interstate Commission for Education, or the men who died in Japan, Germany, or were war prisoners in both countries, or the woman who was the science coordinator of the school district in Alaska and worked with NASA and the National Science Foundation, or the graduate who became one of the top cotton researchers in this country, or the one who became nationally known for his work with mobile speech and hearing programs on Indian Reservations. I could go on and on about our area’s successful graduates who could be inspirations to current students.
And even more troubling is the lack of plaques or pictures of our war heroes and of the graduates who have served with honor in our military, or given their lives for our country. Nor do I see acknowledgement in our museums,with the exception of the Jones & Plummer Trail Museum. I was most appalled during the three times I came back to my home high school to teach during the last twenty-five years, that my students didn’t know the names of those heroes, nor did they know about WW II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, much less about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan! And some of their relatives had participated in them, and some of the veterans lived down the street or in the community.
Well, I have to admit that some students had heard of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but knew few details or if we had any connections to those who fought in those wars. But when I had one of my classes read John Hersey’s classic history Hiroshima, one of my students complained because she said, "It’s so boring and nothing happened." Needless to say, I disabused her of that idea, but I am concerned that while the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Governor fight about testing, testing, testing, and grading schools, we in our local schools need to be concerned about curricula beyond a textbook and a test. And it is not just in the local area, it is statewide and nationwide. For instance, in the last school district where I was an administrator in Denver, the Board of Education voted to remove all negative information from the American history classes, such as the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Alamo, Custer’s Last Stand, the Women’s Rights Movement for Suffrage, and many others. Fortunately, the hundreds of parents in that huge district of over 100,000 students protested, but my point is that we as patrons, board of education members, alumna members,and concerned citizens should be helping decide what is taught, who is honored, and where our priorities are. Those of us who are alumni in the area schools should be working with school personnel to help recognize these heroes, to write their stories, provide money for plaques, find information, tell their stories to classes.
Even though I may have retired five times and am an old lady, I have seen in my fifty-three years in the education business what damage we can do, not out of malice but out of neglect. It would be great to walk into school buildings and find pictures and plaques of our heroes, our honored students, those who made a difference in our community, state, and nation. Yes, that would take work and effort on the part of the whole community, but it would also be paying a debt of gratitude to those who have done so much.
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 nowadays…of course, most of what I see does not depict religion or celebration of Christ’s 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 families’ celebrations at the time…there weren’t 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 couldn’t afford to buy one, and certainly there were none to cut…not 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 wasn’t 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 weren’t playing with them. If we were outside, we played Tag, or Hide-and-Seek…or 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, pies… or anything other than a regular meal of some cured ham, potatoes, a can of green beans, and my mother’s 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 hadn’t really gotten "back on their feet" from hard times and didn’t 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.
Well, I have to admit that some students had heard of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but knew few details or if we had any connections to those who fought in those wars. But when I had one of my classes read John Hersey’s classic history Hiroshima, one of my students complained because she said, "It’s so boring and nothing happened." Needless to say, I disabused her of that idea, but I am concerned that while the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Governor fight about testing, testing, testing, and grading schools, we in our local schools need to be concerned about curricula beyond a textbook and a test. And it is not just in the local area, it is statewide and nationwide. For instance, in the last school district where I was an administrator in Denver, the Board of Education voted to remove all negative information from the American history classes, such as the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Alamo, Custer’s Last Stand, the Women’s Rights Movement for Suffrage, and many others. Fortunately, the hundreds of parents in that huge district of over 100,000 students protested, but my point is that we as patrons, board of education members, alumna members, Voicesand concerned citizens should be helping decide what is taught, who is honored, and where our priorities are. Those of us who are alumni in the area schools should be working with school personnel to help recognize these heroes, to write their stories, provide money for plaques, find information, tell their stories to classes.
Even though I may have retired five times and am an old lady, I have seen in my fifty-three years in the education business what damage we can do, not out of malice but out of neglect. It would be great to walk into school buildings and find pictures and plaques of our heroes, our honored students, those who made a difference in our community, state, and nation. Yes, that would take work and effort on the part of the whole community, but it would also be paying a debt of gratitude to those who have done so much.
t is ironic that the Oklahoma Legislature today cannot find it important enough to fund public schools or to pay teachers’ 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 1880’s 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 1800’s and first half of the 1900’s, 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 Superintendent’s Office was finally eliminated in the 1970’s 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 Man’s 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 weren’t "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 isn’t 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 didn’t 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 1890’s 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!
Today’s 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 Keepin’ It Together. Virginia wrote this book while she was being filmed to be in Ken Burns’ 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 doesn’t 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 Frantz’s 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 Man’s 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 Man’s 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 Man’s 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 Man’s Land until it became part of Oklahoma Territory in 1890. The No Man’s 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 Man’s 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 Man’s 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 Man’s 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 1990’s 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 Man’s 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 Man’s 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 year’s reader, didn’t read it or have forgotten the information, I’ll 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 1930’s and 1940’s, 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. Hulse’s 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 1980’s 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 Calhoon’s saddle collection and doctors’ 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 don’t actually drink from them!). And, unlike the original dunce chair idea, today’s fourth graders try their best to get sent there for an hour or so!!! Students bring their lunches in a pail…and 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 Steinbeck’s work in the Dust Bowl film. Furthermore, the editor, who had handled publication of Sanora Babb’s 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 Sanora’s 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. Babb’s 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 Steinbeck’s since he was already a published author. Many years later when Babb’s 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 Steinbeck’s 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 Babb’s 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 1920’s. 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 gambler’s 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!