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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 3
September, 1926
SOME OF THE PIONEERS OF POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY

MRS. J. W. DRAKE, TECUMSEH.

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The recent organization of a local historical society in Pottawatomie County had for its purpose the collecting and filing of records of the early history of the county, the preservation of its traditions, the marking of its historical spots, the gathering of its Indian lore; all of which it is believed will tend to the encouragement of loyalty in the young.

The story of the settlement of this state is truly a fascinating one, to every loyal Oklahoman, for every one worthy of the name must admire the courage—which often amounted to heroism of those who first came to this country, and such a one is first of all interested in his own country and state. This movement has revived popular interest in those early days, and in those noble men and women who came here at the opening of the country, and united their efforts to make of this county one of the most progressive of the state. It is wholesome to review, occasionally, some of the trials and burdens that were borne by those who gave the best years of their manhood and womanhood to the making of the country, who had a vision that reached across the years, and planned for the things that we now enjoy. It should convince us that only by continued vigilance and loyal devotion can we continue the work they have begun.

Many of those who played a prominent part in affairs at the opening of the county for settlement have gone to other communities to live, and to work—many have gone to their final rest—but a few still live in Tecumseh, the county seat, who are real pioneers. They are among those who came here when the town was opened and have helped to lay a foundation of stability, and integrity, who have been the very bone and sinew of the community through the years that have passed. Their continued interest, and work has given that feeling of permanence that makes others feel it is worth-while to put forth continued effort for further up-building. Some of these older families have loyal sons and daughters to carry

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on the work they have started. All of these families have been worthy examples to the community, and the standards of citizenship they maintained will continue to be an inspiration to the country. Their ideals, their courage, and honesty will continue to live, after they have passed on.

Pottawatomie County (much of Lincoln County, and small portions of Cleveland and Oklahoma counties also); was formed from the Indian reservations belonging to the Sac and Fox, the Pottawatomie and Shawnee Indian tribes, and was opened for settlement, September 22, 1891, with the same excitement that characterized the opening of other portions of the Indian Territory for homestead entry by white men. Tecumseh was designed for the county seat and laid out accordingly.

Being situated in the heart of a rich agricultural section of the country, lots were considered very desirable, and there was lively competition—to put it mildly—over their staking. Like all other new towns, this one was thronged with undesirable people, seeking excitement and adventure, those that make the danger in such a settlement. Many of them were utterly unprincipled and desperate. But they—human flotsam that they were,—soon drifted away, just as they had come, and the real, earnest pioneers set themselves to the task of building homes. As we look back over the years, and recall the crude, raw conditions that existed then, it is hard to understand how men and women left the comforts, and pleasures of established positions, and congenial surroundings, in the older states to endure the hardships, and vicissitudes of those early days. We must truly call them empire builders, for they brought into their task an unfaltering determination to succeed, to build permanent homes, and to give the best of their manhood, and their womanhood to the upbuilding of the community. But the spirit of hope, which has ever guided the destinies of man, and an unfathomable courage, a unity of purpose, and steadfastness of faith, were strong enough to have led them through deeper wildernesses, and greater privations than even this country offered then. Many of them came from families whose names are prominent in the history of the nation, and they brought into the making of this city, and the state those sterling qualities and that deep sense of responsibility, that had gone into the making of our national commonwealth. As an example of this is the fact that two of the men who have

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played a conspicuous part in the affairs of the county, and especially in the town of Tecumseh—John W. Lewis and John A. Clark,—came from the same families that produced the noted explorers who blazed the way across the continent, and opened the famous Oregon trail—William Clark, and Merriwether Lewis.

John W. Lewis—a nephew, once removed of Merriwether Lewis—was the son of Robert A. Lewis, and Elizabeth (McKelvey); Lewis, was born in St. Louis County, Missouri, January 28, 1854. His education was gained at the district schools, of that county. In 1882 he located in West Plaines, Mo., where he lived until he came to Oklahoma. Mr. Lewis came to Tecumseh on the day of the opening, but failed to secure a claim. Later he bought the rights of a homestead, six miles from the city, where he lived with his family for eighteen months, going back and forth each day to his business in Tecumseh. One year after the opening of the town, he opened the Bank of Tecumseh, which he managed unaided, except for the help of his wife, for more than three years—which fact illustrates the indomitable courage and force of the man’s character, for the country was ful of rough and unscrupulous men, and fourteen saloons flourished in the town. This bank was later nationalized, and became the First National Bank of Tecumseh. Mr. Lewis was largely instrumental in securing a railroad for the town, and materially helped with the building of the courthouse, which was no small feat, in those days of "tight money."

Besides the material help that Mr. Lewis gave to the town, he stood always for the highest moral, and religious principles. He was at the head of every charitable, and benevolent movement; he was untiring in his efforts for the betterment of his fellow man, and of the community. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church, a Mason, having received the Royal Arch, and Knight Templar degrees. Mr. Lewis passed away in 1918, and unfortunately his only son, Austin, followed him, after a few weeks, but his wife, Mrs. Ida M. Lewis, still takes an active interest in the affairs of the county and state.

Mrs. Ida Mae (Poppleton); Lewis was born at Delaware, Ohio. Her step-father, John H. Brown, and her mother moved to Missouri when she was a child, and there she grew to wo-

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manhood. At Ohio Weslyan College, Delaware, was laid the foundation of her education, which was completed at the Young Ladies’ Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri. In 1877 she was married to John W. Lewis. Only one child was born to this union. It would be impossible to estimate the value of the work that Mrs. Lewis has done in this community. She is a valued member of the Presbyterian Church, has been its treasurer since the reorganization here, in 1902. She has been actively identified with the work of the Eastern Star, since she became a member in 1899, when she was elected to office of Associate Matron. Since then she has held the highest offices in the gift of her chapter, and of the State, and has held an office in the General Grand Chapter. Her preferment in the order has come as "honor justly gained." In 1905 she was appointed, by the Most Worthy Grand Matron of the General Grand Chapter, as official hostess, for the month of September, at the Masonic, and Eastern Star headquarters at the Lewis and Clark Exposition, held at Portland, Oregon. This honor was conferred upon her, in recognition of Mr. Lewis’ relation to Merriwether Lewis, and her own splendid qualifications.

To John A. Clark belongs the distinction of filing the first claim in Pottawatomie county (which was county B. at that time);. Being a veteran of the Civil War, and taking advantage of the special privilege offered to the honorably discharged soldiers, his filing was made in Oklahoma City, ten seconds after noon on the day of the opening. Mr. Clark has vivid memories of the pushing crowded line that waited at the land office, as men from almost every state in the Union stood tense and determined, waiting their turn to file. As his homestead was a very desirable location, situated at the corner of the townsite, and had many natural advantages, such as a living spring of pure water, fine timber, and a rich fertile soil, his rights were bitterly contested. Upon it he proceeded to build an unusually good log house, and at its completion he moved his family from Vincennes, Indiana, and they lived on the homestead for many years, while Mr. Clark maintained a law office in Oklahoma City for a few months, and later in Tecumseh, until his retirement. This home was one of the social features of the community, its charming hospitality the pride of the town, and still stands, although

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Mr. and Mrs. Clark have removed to a beautiful modern home in town.

Mr. Clark—whose family dates back to the tenth century in England—is a direct descendant of General Johnathan Clark, and Mary Bird (Rogers); Clark. They were the parents of George Rogers Clark, who was a noted general during the Revolution (he was never married, hence left no descendant); and William Edwin Clark the explorer, who was governor of Upper Louisiana, and of Jonas Clark, who was John A. Clark’s grandfather. John A. Clark was born in Blount County, Tennessee, Nov. 17, 1845. He was a student in the University of Indiana, but took his degree in law, in the University of Michigan. He helped to organize the first state bar association of Oklahoma, is a member of the Presbyterian Church, and is a Mason. He was married January 11, 1881, to Miss Ninna M. Coan, at Vincennes, Indiana. Mrs. Ninna (Coan); Clark, was born October 20, 1858, at Vincennes, the daughter of John Coan, and Margaret Badollot Coan, being of French and English ancestry. A great grandfather; William McClure was in the Revolutionary army, while another great grandfather, John Badollet, was a member of the convention that framed the constitution of Indiana.

She was educated in the public schools of Vincennes, and at a private school, Maple Grove Academy, a religious institution, at Vincennes. Mrs. Clark has ever stood for the highest type of womanhood, was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and has been a teacher in the Sabbath school of that denomination for thirty-two years. She has been prominent in all the uplift movements of her community, an active member of the Red Cross, a charter member of the Order of Eastern Star, a member of the first federated woman’s club in Pottawatomie County, (and among the first in the state to federate);. Two children were born to this union; St. Clair Clark, an engineer of Oklahoma City, and the late Mrs. Max L. Cunningham of Oklahoma City.

Another family, the worth of whose work in the county, and in the state, it is impossible to estimate, is that of Rev. William Meyer, who preached the first sermon that was heard in Tecumseh. He was sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions to the opening of the town, with instructions to organize a church. On the Sunday following the opening, he secured

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permission from the military commander of the town (Captain Stiles); to hold a religious service. Notices were written and posted on the tents, and a little crowd gathered under the shade of some trees, and raised their voices together in songs of praise, and thanksgiving. Mr. Meyer then preached to them. He held services from time to time, and after a few weeks he organized a church with twelve members, using a large restaurant tent, belonging to Mrs. Chisolm for a meeting place. Mr. Meyer bought a claim near Tecumseh, on which he still resides, although he has spent many of the intervening years as pastor at large, and as a missionary to Indians. He has helped with the organization of Presbyterian churches at Shawnee, Wewoka, Wetumka, Okemah, Okmulgee, Sapulpa, and Prague. Through all these years, Mr. Meyer, and his family, have stood for all the principles that govern the Presbyterian Church, uprightness, honor, justice, besides religious zeal, and consecration. Can one say what part they have had in the making of the history of the state?

Rev. William Meyer was born at an Indian mission in Kansas, (the Iowa, Sac and Fox Indian Mission, situated near Highland in the northeast corner of the state); March 7, 1849. His parents later moved to Missouri, where he grew to manhood on a farm. He graduated from Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio, in 1875, and from Union Theological Seminary, New York City, in 1878. After graduating, he was sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions to Phoenix, Arizona, where he organized the First Presbyterian church in that city. Returning to Missouri, in 1881, he served churches in that state for ten years, after which he came to Indian Territory, and waited at Norman, for the opening of Pottawatomie County.

Mr. Meyer was married to Miss Lillie J. Flynn, July 1, 1880. Mrs. Lillie (Flynn); Meyer, was born in New York City, of Irish and Dutch Hollander descent. She was educated in the schools of that city, where she was a teacher, at the time of her marriage—a far cry from a homestead claim in the Indian country. Mr. and Mrs. Meyer have three sons living in Oklahoma City, Frank J., George, and Arthur. Another son, Robert, lives at Tecumseh. A daughter, Miss Clara Meyer, teaches in Central highschool in Oklahoma City; an-

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other daughter, Mrs. Florence Gooding, lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Another worthy couple who came at the opening of the country, and still are among the best loved citizens, is Doctor Ben L. Applewhite, and Mrs. Applewhite. Although Doctor and Mrs. Applewhite made the run at the time of opening of the county, they did not secure a filing, at that time. Mrs. Applewhite said they really came for fun, and had it—which illustrates the character of their comradeship, which is still ideal after many years of wedded life. They still do things together "just for fun," and their greatest reason for discord is the fact that Mrs. Applewhite wants to make a trip in an air-plane, and the doctor will not consent to go with her. Doctor Applewhite did stake a lot in Tecumseh, on the day of the run, which he sold an hour or two later for ten dollars. He bought another man’s claim on a homestead two miles from town, on which they lived several years while he kept his office in town. Many, many nights Mrs. Applewhite stayed alone with her children, while her husband answered the call of his patients—but fear never lived in her heart.

Doctor Benjaman L. A.pplewhite was born July 27, 1841, in Holmes County, Mississippi. His parents were Doctor Eldridge Applewhite, and Eliza (Lee); Applewhite. His early education was in private schools, and he had begun the study of medicine when the war between the states began. On April 27, 1861, he enlisted in the 12th Mississippi Infantry, which afterwards became a part of the army of Northern Virginia. He took part in the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Frederickburg, Charlotteville, and at Fair Oaks where the commanding officer, Gen. James E. Johnston was wounded. He was later wounded, in the seven days battle before Richmond, and spent several months in prison, and in a hospital. After the war, he resumed the study of medicine, at the Ohio Medical College, at Cincinnati, and later at the medical department of the University of Louisville, Ky., from which school he was graduated in 1880. He was practicing medicine in Dexter, Texas, when he met and married Olive Rice. They moved to McAlester, Indian Territory, in 1884, where Doctor Applewhite was employed by the mining company, as physician.

Doctor Applewhite was one of the charter members of

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the State Medical Association, which was organized in 1893, and has been an active member since, serving two terms as president of the county association. Mrs. Olive (Rice); Applewhite, was born near Springfield, Missouri, in 1857. She was educated for a teacher, being a graduate of Morrisville Institute. She was teaching in Dexter, Texas, at the time of her marriage. Doctor and Mrs. Applewhite have reared three children. Doctor Gardener H. Applewhite, of Shawnee, Oklahoma, Mrs. Margaret Chaney, a professor in the Teachers’ College at Ada, Oklahoma, and Mrs. E. J. Corn, of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Webster defines a pioneer as "one who goes before to prepare the way for others to follow" and pioneering in this country meant a great deal more than the building of houses, and the breaking of virgin farm land. It meant the hewing out of the riff-raff of humanity that always follows the settlement of a new town, those characters that will make for a better civilization, the forming of a social unit that will uphold the moral and religious standards of a community. In a large sense the establishment of a domestic and social life of a community falls to the work of the women of that community. Each of the charming and gracious women mentioned in this article has been an example to her associates. Delicately reared—each of them came from homes noted for culture and refinement—in the very center of the highest civilization of their states—each took up the burden of home-making, working with the crudest material, which she skillfully blended into wholesome and attractive surroundings. Each did her part, sacrificing, and enduring hardship, making it possible for her husband to establish his profession, or business, helping, too, in a material way.

The wife of a missionary had innumerable duties to attend to while her husband went about establishing churches. There is a story that is told of Mrs. Meyer that is amusing now, but was pathetic, at that time: There came runners through the country—a few years after the opening—that the Indians were uprising, preparing to massacre the white settlers. Mrs. Meyer (it is told); sat through the night, with her children about her, windows covered, to hide the light of her candle, reading the Book of Job. The citizens of Tecumseh gathered together, on that same night, the women and chil-

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dren in the courthouse, while the men patrolled the streets, dreading an attack.

Mrs. Lewis, a frail little body made frequent trips on the mail hack to Oklahoma City, with a small traveling bag, which she permitted no one to carry,—though often it was very heavy—for it contained the money for her husband’s bank.

Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Applewhite also had trials to endure, tests of courage and fortitude. All have added greatly to the refinement and culture of the community, by their lovely characters, and untiring service. Each has been an inspiration to many another woman to "do her bit."

Their work—their experiences, their sacrifices, and successes—would fill many volumes with interesting material, if it could be written as they lived.

MRS. FORENCE DRAKE.

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