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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 8, No. 3
September, 1930
THE LATTER DAYS OF DR. EMMET STARR

Micah Pearce Smith

Page 339

It was probably during the winter of 1926-27 that I first met Dr. Emmet Starr. I had dropped into a second-hand book store at 717 Pine Street, St. Louis, Mo. This store is known as THE BOOK WORLD and is owned by a Jew who goes by the name of Keane, though his parents seem to have been named Cohen—at least he has a brother, a St. Louis attorney, who spells it in the conventional Jewish fashion. While talking to the proprietor and his more elderly clerk that evening I made a remark to the effect that I was interested in Oklahoma Indian history. Mr. Keane observed that Dr. Starr also had similar leanings, whereupon I mentioned the fact that I had heard a great deal of Dr. Starr and knew he was the greatest and most authentic writer on the subject of Cherokee history. "That is Dr. Starr over there," replied Mr. Keane. Astonished I looked in the direction of the clerk. "Yes, I am Doctor Starr," he said.

From that night on I made frequent visits to the Book World and Dr. Starr and myself became fast friends. These visits continued until his death some months ago.

Doctor Starr told me that he had come to St. Louis some years before I met him because he felt that he could make a better living here. He said he never expected to return to Oklahoma to live, and he never did.

This gifted Cherokee was a man of less than medium height and probably a little too heavy for his height. His shoulders were strikingly square. His head gave the impression of massiveness; his black eyes gave suggestion of some defect of vision, as well as the invariable spectacles; his dark


In the March number of the "Chronicles" there was published an obituary of that Cherokee historian, Dr. Emmett Starr, who departed this life January 30, 1930. The obituary contained much interesting data relating to the life and works of this student of history and historian of his people. He was inclined to be eccentric but was a most lovable character and had many friends who appreciated his high ideals and his wonderful knowledge of history.

While he was away from his native Oklahoma when he passed away, yet, his countless friends read with interest and sympathy the story of the latter days of Dr. Emmett Starr, written by a Mr. Micah Pearce Smith, of East St. Louis, Illinois.

D. W. P.

Page 340

hair, sprinkled with gray, was growing thin. He was clean shaven. His characteristic posture in conversation was to stand with shoulders thrown back, his arms crossed over his breast, and head inclined forward. He rarely wore a coat in the store and seldom a tie. A light shirt with attached collar and a dark pair of trousers—these with an old black derby hat about completed his attire.

In conversation he was at times troubled with a hesitancy of speech that was phychological rather than physical. He had but few intimate friends in St. Louis, but many were the scholarly gentlemen who made the Book World one of their haunts and found frequent opportunity of talking with the Doctor on one or more of his hobbies in which he was well versed, among them being genealogy, the history of printing; the history of violin making; rare editions of books; and the history of Bible printing. He also liked to talk politics, especially as concerned Oklahoma. He was a Democrat, but did not, I think, vote for Al Smith. He greatly admired "Bob" Williams, former governor of Oklahoma. He could tell stories concerning territorial and early statehood days in Oklahoma for hours at a time, and nothing seemed to please him more than to have an interested listener to these stories. Incidentally, ex-Governor Williams paid Dr. Starr a visit not so many months before his death when the former happened to be passing through St. Louis.

Doctor Starr did not often dine with friends. However; a few months before his death he came over to my home in East St. Louis, one Sunday forenoon, took lunch with us, and returned to his apartment in St. Louis late in the afternoon. He spent a part of the afternoon in telling us about the Rogers family, of whom Will is the most conspicious member, whom the Doctor had known back in his home town, Claremore, Okla. He spoke of the wit and humor of Will Rogers' mother and said that at church affairs where women assembled Mrs. Rogers was always the center of a group that was constantly in an uproar of laughter. He thought that Will Rogers had inherited most of his talent as a humorist from his mother.

Complying to an invitation often extended by the Doctor I visited his apartment at 3236 Olive St. (in the rear), St. Louis, a few months before his death. It was on a Sunday afternoon. His apartment of two rooms was on the second

Page 341

floor and could be reached by ascending a wooden stairway and going down a narrow porch. He responded to my pull at his doorbell and ushered me into his sitting and work room, a room some ten by twelve, having a neat rug on the floor, a neat desk of dark finish near the rear, level-topped, at which he was accustomed to do his writing. There was nothing—not even a pen on the desk. As I remembered there was not a picture on the neatly papered wails. Two or three chairs and a gas burner to one side completed the furnishing of the room. To the rear of the first was another room of about the same size as the first. In this, arranged on rough wooden shelves, his books extended in tiers to the ceiling. There must have been about a thousand of these books and they nearly filled the room, except for space for a, table in one corner. The books touched on his various hobbies and included not a little Americana. Many were rare and some were printed in the Sixteenth Century. Especially interesting were those that afforded striking examples of artistic printing of various periods.

At the time of his death he was engaged in preparing manuscript for the publisher—when I talked to him on the subject last he had made no definite arrangements with a publisher—for two books. One he termed a "Bibliography of Bibliographies;" the other was to be a history of the evolution of the Bible—that is of the origin and assembling of the material contained in Holy Writ.

He was not altogether happy in his position in the book store. For months he had been planning to go into business for himself. He had already had business cards struck, advertising his proposed second-hand book business. It was to be different from the usual second-hand business in several particulars.

One Saturday I told him that I should call at his rooms again the next day (Sunday), if nothing prevented. Something did prevent, so on the following Wednesday or Thursday (if memory serves) I went to the Book World to explain my failure to appear and to arrange for calling on him the next Sunday. As I stood outside looking over the sidewalk display of bargains before entering the store, Mr. Keane came out and told me that Dr. Starr's landlady had phoned him a day or two before that he had died of heart failure. They found

Page 342

him seated at his desk one morning, his head dropped forward, and the gas burning full force. The fact that his light had burned all night had aroused the curiosity of some of his neighbors. They secured an officer and entered his room. Apparently he had been dead nearly twenty-four hours.

After a time communication was established with his half-brother at Claremore, Okla. The body was sent to the Ziegenhein Bros. undertaking establishment, 3623 Cherokee, St. Louis, and later sent to Oklahoma for burial.

Believing his collection of books to be unusually interesting and possibly valuable I wrote to several important book collectors in Eastern cities and in Chicago. I feared that the collection would fall into the hands of some local buyer at a nominal figure. I also wrote his half-brother at Claremore and went to see his nephew, a Mr. Starr, who makes his home at the Alcazar Hotel, St. Louis, located not many blocks from the Dr. Starr apartment. Mr. Keane informed me that Dr. Starr had intended to leave the collection to Washington University, largely on account, perhaps, of the high respect he held for the bibliographical knowledge of the woman who is librarian for that institution. But apparently he had made no such arrangement. Indeed, so far as I have heard, this was probably only the second heart stroke he had suffered, one having come some weeks or months before, and he had neglected to make final arrangement for the disposal of the collection.

At any rate, this woman was appointed by the public executor to look over the list. The last news I had of the matter was to the effect that she was then engaged in the task, but had not yet completed her examination. I cannot say what was finally done in the matter.

This is written by Micah Pearce Smith, 619 North Seventy-six. East St. Louis, Illinois, July 5, 1930 and will be presented to the State Historical Society of Oklahoma.

MICAH PEARCE SMITH.

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