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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 8, No. 4
December, 1930
SOME REMNANTS OF FRONTIER JOURNALISM

M. A. Ranck

Page 378

A RECORD OF PIONEER LIFE AND SPIRIT

On the outer edge of the last frontier of the Southwest less than forty years ago there was founded a small commonwealth which had the unique experience of being obliterated politically little more than a decade after its ambitious citizens were talking of setting up an independent republic. The spirit of its earliest citizens, their viewpoints, their role as boosters for the West, the ways in which they handled their local problems and enterprises are most interestingly recorded in a few surviving copies of their first newspaper.

At the time that Oklahoma became a state a reorganization of counties left one entirely from the map. This was Day County, comprising what is now the southern part of Ellis County and the northern half of old Roger Mills County.

Until April nineteenth of 1892 this was within the Indians' country; first the hunting ground of the early Plains Tribes, then a part of possessions of the Five Civilized Tribes until 1867, and then the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country, and for a time the range of the ranchmen's herds and horses. With the opening to settlement there began a more or less duel development; the gradual decline of the big cattle ranches and the settlement of homesteads and at the same time the increase of small cattle ranches, many in connection with the holding of "filed claims".

The northwest corner of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country was first designated as "E" County. Soon afterward it was named Day County and the location for a county seat was called Ioland. Here the first court house was built and county government was organized by the usual governor's appointees, chief among them, one Kirtley, county clerk. The ordinary political beginnings of a simple frontier settlement, it seems, but not so in the local annals of the time.

One day there gathered at Ioland about fifty aroused and determined citizens. A temporary mass organization was formed, the chairman appointed two men a committee to investigate the records of the county officers and gave them one hour in which to report. One hour was brief for such a duty, even on the frontier, so the committee limited the investiga-

Page 379

tion to a footing of the warrant book and reported. The county officers were then called before the assembled people and soon the sound of their wagons was heard in the distance as they drove toward the county line. The case for the settlement of the debt incurred by this misappropriation of funds was concluded in 1898.

The first elected county officers organized the county into commissioners' districts and provided for school districts. These proceedings were afterward reported in the county newspaper.

About the first of October, in 1893, there appeared on the south bank of the Canadian River a man, by name Smith, and his son, Harry, with an old Washington printing press. A safe crossing was considered doubtful so the two rode horse-back to Ioland, visited about several days, collected some news and returned across the river. Here in a thicket of brush they printed the first copy of the "Day County Tribune," the "official organ of Day County" and its first newspaper.

The second issue was dated at Ioland, October nineteenth, 1893. Issue seven of November twenty-third was dated at Grand. The first subscriber, the Probate Judge, Robert Alcorn, was recorded in the second issue. The third issue recorded eleven additional subscribers, chiefly county officials.

F. M. Smith, the paper's founder, was its editor and publisher for over a year. He was assisted by his son, termed associate editor. Nothing is known of these two men, whence they came or where they afterward followed the fortunes of the journalist, if they did. This small sheet for whose existence they were at first responsible and which recorded so much of the enterprising, boosting spirit of the citizens of the county kept much the same character through the six years of its life although it passed through the hands of at least ten other editors, owners and publishers, including several members of Judge Alcorn's family and a woman, Lizzie Mead.

The subscription price was always a dollar a year. Special rates and inducements were offered to subscribers who might wish to send a copy east to friends, for, in the words of the editor, ". . . by these means we advertise our county."

How much of interest to homesteaders was found in the two pages of the patent inside, including a young people's column, sections for women and the home, some national

Page 380

news, and advertisements one can guess. The outside pages included the local and personal news, commissioner's proceedings, the registration of ranch brands, and all other official county notices. Much space was usually given to articles featuring the great advantages of life in this developing frontier and boosting of local projects. These two outer pages were always enthusiastically alive with the spirit of the people in their frontier experiment. Many of the foremost settlers had come directly from the states east and north, some came from Texas, and a few had been in or near the region as cattlemen. Many were people of education and position in the homes they had left. Others were noteworthy for their patriotic enthusiasm as expressed by means of the newspaper.

The Tribune was scheduled to appear every Thursday, but sometimes was late. The mechanics of the enterprise once drew from the editor the confession:

"Invention and machinery may be a detriment to the working people but the printer of a country paper would not object to a little steam to run his paper through the press instead of grinding it through by hand. It is a good deal like turning a grind stone."

The second issue of the paper, dated October nineteenth, began items of local correspondence from the east side of the county;

"Turkey Creek Rumblings.—Everyone is busy. Turkey Creek is on a boom . . . As I promised to give a description of Turkey Creek this week, here goes. —She is a great big stream with broad and fertile valleys covered with luxuriant grasses, heavily timbered and dotted over with happy homes."

Several articles on agriculture described the varieties of soil, locations on which corn would do best, the advantages of raising broom-corn, the history of alfalfa and how to grow it, and such comments;

"Clover will grow here . . . Every homesteader in the county should have an orchard."

A lengthy article described the geography and resources of the county and ended—

"With all these advantages and a good supply of stock water, it is really the cow man's paradise.

"The county finances are in good shape, in very much better condition than any other county in the C and A coun-

Page 381

try. We have a straight-forward, honest, and efficient set of county officials who have taken hold of county affairs, and who are determined to put the county where it properly belongs, in the front rank. To those who wish to make themselves pleasant homes or those who have small lots of stock that are crowded for grass can certainly and profitably make a beneficial change by coming to this county.

"Crops of all kinds were excellent this year, the best fields of corn making an average of forty bushels per acre, oats about the same, wheat heavy and of good quality, sorghum extry good. Melons, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, and goober peas do as well as could be desired . . .

"Ioland is the county seat and is situated one half mile north of the Canadian River on a pretty table land commanding a beautiful view of the surrounding country. It has a store, hotel, court house, and several residences, also a tri-weekly mail route via Grand Postoffice to Higgins, Texas, and a weekly route to Carmargo, 'D' County."

An editorial further emphasized,—"RESOURCES."

"Our county is rich in resources, there being abundance of grass only waiting to be converted into beef for market, timber waiting to furnish shelter and warmth for multitudes, and land only awaiting the hand of the husbandman to fill his granaries and till. Deer, turkey, bear, and prairie chickens can be found to supply his larder."

Just after the issuance of the second copy of the Tribune the county seat was moved from Ioland to Grand by a process typical of frontier action. After some delay over a petition some citizens and officials became impatient. So, two of them, the judge and the clerk, loaded the county records and other properties into a wagon and drove away to Grand.

The newspaper moved also, apparently about the same time and records the story of the county seat removal or theft as it is still described by some old-time residents.

"On Monday, the thirteenth (November, 1893) the county officials together with all county effects were moved from Ioland to Grand near the center of the county where a large tent was awaiting occupancy in a fine grove of timber, and was soon converted into a court house. On Tuesday and Wednesday the townsite was surveyed and platted and Saturday at ten o'clock several selected their lots and are mak-

Page 382

ing preparations to build at once. Sealed bids will be received up to the twenty-fifth for a court house which will be built immediately."

This same issue of the Tribune became eloquent over the advantages of the new county seat site.

"Grand is destined to be a city within a few years. It is located in the center of the population and near the center of the county. Its water supply cannot be overestimated. There are several springs located about forty-five feet above the town which runs a stream two feet wide by four inches, pure and soft. Anyone can see that Grand has natural water works which excell any in Oklahoma. There is no getting out of order, no limit to the supply of water. It is always running. It doesn't cost the city fifty or a hundred thousand dollars per year either . . . .

"In two short months a quiet farm will be transformed into a thriving city of over one hundred inhabitants, but unlike most cities we will continue to grow . . . ."

This new location had been known as Robinson Springs for some time past and its natural advantages had been evident to cattlemen, some of whom had wintered there. Just when the name, Grand, was acquired is not certain. The only settler near the springs was Adam Walck who had homesteaded there.

The same issue also published an article urging the opening of a county road from Grand to Cheyenne.

"If said road should be opened the benefits to Day County and the traveling public will soon pay the expense of opening. We would then have a direct road with Greer County on the south and Texas immigration would reach us . . . ."

And this same issue, remarkable for the outburst of enthusiastic advertising of county and newly founded town contained other articles as;

"ATTENTION!" "To cattlemen . . . . It is not yet too late to come to Day County and look out a location where there is fine winter grass, shelter from the storms and stock water." . . .

"Come to Day County for happy homes! For good water, free water, and pure water, come to Grand . . . ."

"Wanted, a lot of high average citizens to settle in the

Page 383

town of Grand, and to locate in Day County who are energetic, thorough-going people, and in favor of schools, law, order, morality, progress, and all other ennobling attributes...."

And the self assurance and confidence in the destiny of the new commonwealth reached the stage of protest against lack of recognition abroad;

"Citizens of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Country Demand Recogition.

"Wanted: to let Oklahoma proper know that the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Country will in the course of human events when it becomes necessary, demand some little recognition of the Public patronage that falls on our side of the line .... We think the time has come that we be recognized as a part of Oklahoma and not a mere dependency."

And the same little sheet, twenty by thirteen inches, which found room on its two pages for so much expression of the people's belief in the frontier venture also found space for personal and other news. It was recorded that there was talk of starting a bank. The "Day County Townsite Company" met "for business of special importance."

"Adam Walck moved into his new residence. It has three rooms and a pantry, is comfortable, convenient, and will be supplied with water from the springs."

And the telling comment; "The sound of saw and hammer are heard in the land."

The issue of December seventh, less than a month after the moving of the county seat, reported;

"Work has commenced on the court house."

"The saw mill has moved in and will be ready for work by Monday."

"H. E. Downing, treasurer, has a store building 14x26 feet under construction."

"John Price subscribed for the Tribune and had it sent to a friend and his mother in Ohio."

"We extend our thanks to Mr. H. E. Downing and Shannon McCray (County Attorney) for the valuable assistance rendered the Tribune in the way of editorials."

The Commissioners' Proceedings of July 3, 1893, were reported in full.

A lengthy article urged again the advantages of a bank.

Page 384

A brief comment gives some light on progress in settlement;

"People seem to have just realized that there is such a county as Day in Oklahoma judging from the unusual rush of immigration to Day County. Should this continue it would be but a short time until every quarter section would be taken."

And the long boosting editorials end poetically;

"Come! Come! where the earth glows with the colors of civilization; the banks of the rippling streams are enameled with the richest grasses; the birds of spring find their delight in the woodlands; while brilliant flowers decorate the hills and valleys, and the God of fortune opens his bountiful treasury to the poor and downtrodden."

The last issue before the year's end, December 21, reported the completion of the County Attorney's residence, urged again the founding of a bank, and announced that a term of district court was to be demanded. The front page was almost covered by an article beginning:

GRAND

"On the banks of the Canadian River
In the center of a beautiful valley
There has sprung up a lovely city—
The pride of this fair county . . . .

"She will in the near future rival any city in Oklahoma for her greatness. She is peopled by a high class of moral citizens easily distinguished from the common run of mortality by their intelligence, push, and enterprise, a characteristic of every true westerner.

"It is their intention to make Grand the manufacturing center of Oklahoma, and a seat of learning rivaled by none . . . ."

The next issue of the Tribune did not appear until January fourth, of 1894, perhaps due to the holiday season. No reason was given. There were very special messages to the home seekers:

"Day County, Queen of western Oklahoma, offers a safe haven and extends a cordial invitation to the poor and homeless."

"O, you downtrodden horney-handed sons of toil! Rise

Page 385

up! Take Mary and the children, go out to western Oklahoma, Day County, get you a home at $1.50 per acre and five years to pay it in; throw off the shackles of being a tenant before it is too late."

The chief article of this issue recalls something of the self-sufficient and self-determining spirit of some other frontiers, the free State of Franklin in the eastern mountains, the so-called Free State of Ochiltree.

REBELLION IN OKLAHOMA

"The time is now ripe for the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country to rebel and demand recognition; to throw off the yoke which tyrants and demagogues have been forcing upon us. We have been imposed on and done great injustice by old Oklahoma, and now demand a recognition of our rights which they have got to respect or something will 'drap.' Since the opening of our country old Oklahoma has considered and treated us as a mere dependency to furnish employment and to be ruled by egotistic non-entities from their own ranks. As a free and independent people we are simply following the first impulse of all enlightened nations when they are being forced into the narrow confines of monarchy by rebelling, and as a result we will establish a proud Republic here in the C and A Country that will be fawned and courted by old Oklahoma ere many years have elapsed.

"It is a well known fact that we possess talent inferior to none in old Oklahoma. Two Districts have been formed, and we are going to ask and demand as a courtesy due us the appointment of a man from our country to the office of District Judge . . . ."

The spring brought added interest in agriculture and the Tribune furnished articles by a graduate of the Kansas Agriculture College on alfalfa. In these April issues were also printed instructions for the Round-up of the Woodward District, which still included a large territory and indicated that the cattleman's reign was not yet a story of the past.

"The round-up will commence on May 5, at Dead Man's Creek on the Washita River, with the foremen of the various ranches as superintendents, and will start up the river to its head, thence up the North Canadian River to the ranch of Hunt and Pryor, then outfits will divide, going up Wolf Creek

Page 386

to the state line, the other up Beaver Creek to Beaver City; thence north to Cimmarron River to Perry's ranch; thence down the river, to the mouth of George Creek."

The county seat removal was the chief subject of controversy in Day County until the territorial legislature legalized the change early in the year of 1895. Meanwhile the Tribune from time to time carried the local story and printed a summary of the story May 24, 1894.

"The question as to the location of our county seat has for the past four months caused much anxiety among a number of citizens and the county officers. From the fact that the Tribune has been neutral in the matter, our family disturbance has not reached far from home; but now that it is seemingly settled we shall expose the facts for others to observe and profit by.

"The reservation set aside in Day County for a county seat and named Ioland, truly, is not a desirable place for a small town, yet it was entered upon and used for a county seat for nearly two years. On the thirteenth of last November, however, the Board of County Commissioners ordered the county officers to vacate Ioland and take the county records to Grand where the officers and records now are.

"Some people in the east side of the county thought it was wrong and raised a kick as soon as they heard of the move; another would join in, and so on, until they became excited. C. P. Allen and Thos. L. Black, et al, as citizens and tax payers of Day County petitioned the district court praying for an order to be issued restraining the county commissioners and all other county officers from transacting the county business or discharging the duties of their offices, or keeping of said offices at the so-called county seat of Grand or any other place in Day County, except the true, legal county seat of Ioland, etc.

"Judge McAtee heard the petition at Arapahoe, 'G' County where he issued a temporary restraining order and summoned the Day County officers to appear at Ioland on the seventh of May for a hearing, but owing to the high water the court was delayed at Cheyenne, which prevented the court's convening in Day County on the seventh and defendants were resummoned to appear for a hearing May tenth, between the seventh and tenth defendants met the court at

Page 387

Cheyenne and argued the case which resulted in a decision of the court that the law favors the defendants; that the Secretary of the Interior did not obey the law locating Ioland so far from the center of the county and that Ioland was no more than Grand is now—a temporary county seat, etc."

The chief local disturbance thus settled the Tribune turned its attention in the next issue's comments and news to the frankness and optimism characteristic of those days;

"Day County is surely filled up with the best class of citizens in the world, as there is not enough meanness done in the county to get a court. People in the east would not believe that wild and wooley Day County hasn't cases to court but once a year, while they are two years behind in court in some eastern counties."

"We have heard it rumored recently that the county commissioners at their next meeting will let the contract for a jail. If this is actually the intention of the commissioners the Tribune will coil up and get "pison." We venture to say there are not two tax payers in the county that would be willing to set the county back $800 or $1000 for a jail—something that wouldn't be needed but about once a year .... We feel confident that upon consideration of jail expenses the commissioners will not undo in a minute what they have been eighteen months building up—a par basis."

"Day County needs one hundred more families to settle up its fertile valleys and pasture lands."

"Everybody has plenty of garden for their own use and then some."

"Are wild currants ripe?—If you had seen that mob of women in the woods this week you'd think so."

"The Canadian River is booming. A 'header' came down four feet high."

"We were disappointed in getting our paper this week, which throws this issue late."

A reprint of the call for a Homestead Convention is followed by the comment:

"Now just see if the Republicans don't want to adopt resolutions for Dennis Flynn at the Homestead Convention at Watonga, July 18th."

This same issue of May 30, 1894, reported:

Page 388

"This section of the country is beginning to realize a balance on the credit side of Loss and Gain."

And it summarized the history of the county thus far:

"The organization of Day County marked its first epoch, during which plunder, theft, and finally bankruptcy occurred. The important events of the second epoch were the dethroning of King Kirtley and ejecting of his Lords, replenishing the treasury and a county seat fray. Epoch third begins with an era of good feeling."

—M. A. RANCK.

Berkeley, California.

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