Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 3
THE HOMESTEADER AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF WOODWARD COUNTY1
By Ralph E. Randels
The number of immigrants into Woodward County at the time of the opening in 1893 was small compared with the other counties
of the Cherokee Outlet.2 The choice quarter sections along the streams in the southern part of the county and along the railroad were taken, but the
northern part was occupied by ranchmen.
At the time of the opening there was only one method by which a homesteader could secure land. He made entry at the United
States land office, paying a fee of fourteen dollars. Six months was given to take up residence which was maintained for a
period of five years when final proof was made. In 1894 a bill was passed extending to settlers the right to commute in fourteen
months upon payment of the stipulated price of one dollar per acre.3 There was also an extension of two years' time after the necessary five years' occupation in which to make final proof.4 Later there was other legislation which extended the time for final payment on ceded Indian lands. " . . . The act of July
29, 1894 (Stat. 123) extended the time for one year on all entries existing at the time of the act. The acts of June 10, 1896
(29 Stat. 342) and June 7, 1897 (30 Stat 87) each extended the time for one year in which to make final payment. The extension
for making final payments involved a corresponding allowance of time for making final proof."5 Therefore, on all lands entered before July 29, 1894, ten years from the time of entry was allowed in which to submit proof
on a homestead.
Even though there was considerable ill-feeling between the cattlemen and the settlers, there was as element of common interest
between the two groups. The farmers joined the small ranchers in pro-
1This paper deals with the development of Woodward County in so far as it is related to agriculture, though ranching was the
principal industry for ten years after the opening of the Cherokee Outlet. The writer, Mr. Ralph E. Randels, is superintendent
of the Mooreland, Oklahoma, public schools. This article is based on a section of his Master of Arts thesis. at Oklahoma University,
Norman. The following archives were consulted: Assessors Records, 1894-1947; Proceedings of the Board of County Commissioners,
Woodward County, Woodward, Oklahoma, 1893-1897.
testing again the fencing in of large enclosures to be leased to nonresident capitalists.6 In 1895 they protested against the leasing of all the school land in the county by W. G. Waggoner.7 The farmers were not present when a meeting was called to discuss the matter with Waggoner and the cattlemen, but they had
registered their protest and were as much pleased as the cattlemen when he withdrew from the county.
Many of the first settlers became discouraged and left. Evidence of this is shown by the marked decrease in the population
between 1896 and 1898. Some were able to stay on their claims by going to the states to work in wheat harvests, and others
cut fence posts in the canyons and hauled them to market in the territory farther east and in Kansas.8 Soon experiments were made with different kinds of grain to see what was the best suited to this region. Seed wheat was transported
by the railroad free of charge in the fall of 1894.9 Those who took advantage of this and sowed had a good crop the following summer. However, wheat did not prove to be a good
money crop and was not grown in any great amount until eight or ten years later. Milo maize made an excellent growth and was
found to be well adapted.10 Almost immediately cattlemen began using it for winter feed. Experiments had been made, testing the quality of maize as a
feed for fattening cattle, and its was reported as good as corn or cottonseed meal. Steers fed on maize made a satisfactory
gain and the meat was more firm than those fattened on cottonseed meal.11 Maize and kaffir corn both proved to be good drouth resisting crops and by 1898-1899 there was a large acreage of these grains.
During the dry weather of the latter part of July or August these crops would remain green and at a "stand still" until the
fall rains came. The rains usually came early enough to allow the crops to mature before frost. Sometimes the grain was damaged,
but there was usually plenty of forage. There were no county reports made of the acreage planted during the fall and spring
of 1896-1897 and likewise no report of agricultural products sold in 1897-1898. Many believed the population had reached the
point most satisfactory to all. The rancher secured feed for his cattle at reasonable prices and the farmer had a local market
for all his surplus. The coming of more settlers would upset this balance of trade.12
In the fall of 1898 reports were published in the local papers of the successes of the homesteaders. Reports from the communities
of May, Laverne, and Moscow indicated there were better grain crops and more feed than had been grown since the opening.13 One man in the county had three hundred acres of kaffir that was estimated to yield 10,000 bushels.14 These reports encouraged the settlers to stay on their claims and farm instead of leaving for months at a time to work elsewhere.
The newspapers also boasted constantly of the most healthful region in Oklahoma and advised those seeking a location to come
to Woodward County where the best of land could be found. This publicity soon attracted many homeseekers.
In 1898 the legislative assembly passed a bill that was decidedly in the interest of the farmers. It provided that livestock,
brought into Oklahoma Territory after the first of November and kept until the following April for the express purpose of
being grain fed and prepared for market, would be tag exempt.15 This winter the farmers reaped a profitable harvest for there was an abundance of feed. They were quick to see their opportunity
and all prepared to increase their acreage the following year. Market prospects were good for all that could be raised from
The immigrant rush into Woodward County came in the next four years. During the quarter ending June 30, 1899, there were two
hundred fifty-five homestead entries, aggregating 40,800 acres, at the district land office in Woodward. About two hundred
of these were in Woodward County.16 Ninety-three entries were made during the month of June. During the quarter there were fifty-five final homestead entry proofs
and thirty-six cash entry proofs. The record from the land office department showed the following business transacted during
the fiscal year ending June 30, 1899:17
Homestead entries --------------------------------- 90,408 acres
Applications pending ----------------------------- 6,080 acres
Forest reserve ----------------------------------------- 3,000 acres
Total ----------------------------------------------------------- 99,488 acres
The status of lands at the close of the same period was:
Reserved --------------------------------------------------- 40,320 acres
Appropriated -------------------------------------------- 663,570 acres
Subject to entry ----------------------------------------1,420,110 acres
In terms of quarter sections these figures show that there were 4,148 quarter sections filed on and 8,875 quarters that remained.
Much of this unoccupied land was unfit for agricultural purposes and was still pasture lands in 1907.18
During 1900 there were one hundred sixty-two entries most of which were near the established communities in the south portion
of the county.19 A great many of the settlers who came in 1901 were those who had been unsuccessful in the drawing for lands in the Kiowa-Comanche
opening of August 6, 1901.20 There was less rainfall this year than in any year from the opening to statehood, and during the summer the crops were seriously
damaged, but this did not discourage the homeseekers. They settled the southwestern part of the county and then the higher
and less watered section in the northwest. The big wave of immigration came in 1901 and 1902. Several thousand quarter sections
were taken these two years.21 Many of them were in the part formerly considered totally unfit for farming. The number of filings in 1902 at the federal
land office had been running one hundred fifty to four hundred each month.22 The community of Yelton in the extreme northwest was settled during the summer of 1902, as was Charleston and Brale, later
known as Buffalo, in the northern part of the county.23 Enterprising business men in every community helped locate settlers and the county became dotted with country stores, and
accompanying post-offices. By the close of the year 1903, just ten years after the opening, there was not much more to be
said about the coming of settlers. Practically all the land had been taken and the travelers on the road were on their way
to the vacant lands in Beaver County.24
The census for 1900 showed the population to be 17,000 for the county, but in two years time it had doubled.25 With the coming of the settlers there was a considerable change in the amount and kind of livestock in the county. The chart
compiled from the governor's reports shows that they had brought quite a number of horses, mules, and swine. Cattle still
headed the list but a marked decline had set in.
By 1900 the homes of the earliest settlers were becoming improved and here and there over the county were fine examples
21Senate Executive Document, No. 36, 57 Cong. 2 Sess., V. 187; Personal interview, Edwin Word, Higgins, Texas, April 2, 1938; J. 0. Selman, Woodward,
Oklahoma, July 3, 1938.
of what labor and determination would accomplish in a new country. One farmer had three hundred twenty-two acres of alfalfa
which, during the growing season, grew on an average of one inch a day after the first cutting.26 Another settler who had homesteaded in 1894 owned three hundred sixty acres of land and one hundred forty head of cattle.
He had one hundred fifty acres under cultivation and his building site was surrounded by four hundred three-year-old walnut
trees, two hundred bearing peach trees, ninety apple trees, fifty mulberry trees, and a quantity of grapes and berries. He
had built a house valued at $1,800 and furnished it well. Among other furnishings he had a good piano and a well selected
The community around Gage was an excellent agricultural section. Wheat southwest of the town averaged thirty-eight bushels
per acre, and milo maize grown southeast of town averaged seventy bushels. Displayed in the real estate offices and at the
bank were fine bunches of broom corn brush three feet long, also large red onions weighing one and one-fourth pounds each.
Fruit trees and alfalfa were grown in great amounts as well as in other parts of the county.28
One money crop which soon gave way to broom corn was castor beans. These were raised for a few years in the southern part
of the county. At one time seven carloads were shipped from Woodward. They were usually sold for over one dollar per bushel.
A few farmers along streams became interested in irrigation, so much so that a geological survey was made in 1903 under the
supervision of Charles N. Gould. As a result of the survey, it was advised that it would not be practical nor profitable to
build dams for irrigation projects, however where possible individuals irrigated small fields from streams nearby. In the
extreme northwest there had been an irrigation system in operation since 1893.29 The water was taken out of the Cimarron River in "No Man's Land." Wheat produced forty bushels per acre with one flooding.
There were other projects along the Beaver River and on Indian and Persimmon Creeks.
Each year more sod was plowed up and put into cultivation and, since the best land had been taken first, the late comers sought
out the best locations in the few remaining pastures. Some idea of the transformation in the county is revealed in an account
of an investigation conducted by the United States government to determine whether the people desired statehood. On November
22, 1903 the committee arrived at Woodward and questioned persons at random about the conditions of the county. It was reported
that one buyer
had shipped as many as eighteen carloads of broom corn during one week and that during the season he had averaged from three
to seven cars weekly. Three-fourths of the county was in cultivation and at least 5,000 acres had been in broom corn the past
summer. Broom corn had become the chief money crop and the acreage was constantly increased. At Woodward the deposits had
reached $70,000 at the Gerlach Bank and $80,000 at the First National Bank.30
One member of the Committee, David P. Mennon, stated that the public lands in Oklahoma set aside by the Organic Act or in
the pending statehood bills were worth $7,000,000 at twenty dollars an acre. He said that this amount would be sufficient
for all purposes and advised that the land be sold for not less than twenty dollars an acre for it was worth twice that amount.
The settlers knew when they came that all the land lying west of Range Fourteen had been designated as free range territory.31 This did not keep many of them from locating on a quarter section within the boundaries of a well established ranch.32 The ranchmen complained that the settlers fenced in watering places thus making certain pastures worthless. The question
of local action regarding the free range condition first came up in January, 1894. The settlers from Shattuck, Judkins township,
sent the following petition to the board of county commissioners:33
We the undersigned residents of County N, Oklahoma Territory do respectfully protest against the establishment of free range
in County N, Oklahoma Territory. We are all bona fide settlers of the county and expect to have small herds of stock. But
if free range is once allowed in this part of the Territory we are afraid the large stock outfits, men who own thousands of
cattle will run them in and will not only eat up and tramp out our grass so that in the end we will have no pasture or hay
land, and furthermore a great many of us are unable to fence our land and the interests of the settlers and the stockmen are
so much at variance that we would much rather not have them for neighbors for various reasons.34
Similar petitions were sent in by the residents of Webster township, however no action was taken and the matter did not come
before the board of county commissioners again until their meeting of July 13, 1899. At this time the citizens of Webster
township presented a petition requesting the commissioners to call an election to vote on the herd law question. This petition
was laid aside for the reason that the county had not been divided into herd law districts. Four days later they presented
another petition asking that this division be made. It was granted and twenty-six districts were established. The vote was
taken August 19 in district twenty-six, one hundred seven votes being cast for restricting stock from running at large and
thirty-seven against. Other petitions were presented to the commissioners during the following spring, so May 15, 1900 was
set for the elections in all districts which had made petitions. The result was supposed to fix the status of the herd law
situation for five years. At the elections held in 1900 and 1901 four districts voted to establish a herd law, eighteen voted
against it and four did not make petitions for an election.35 The herd law question did not come up again for the number of settlers had increased so much that the ranchmen saw it was
useless to resist further and they either fenced their land or left the county.
By 1903 Woodward County was quite a different country from what it was ten years earlier. When the settlers came they were
poor and in most cases had brought all their possessions with them in the covered wagon. Some had brought a few farm implements,
dairy cows, and one or two extra work horses. Now the old sod house and shack was replaced by a better dwelling and a suitable
place had been provided for the livestock. Various kinds of farm machinery were in the barn yards and the water was pumped
by windmills. There was also a better quality of livestock in well fenced enclosures.
Buggies and carriages had replaced the "lumber wagon" as a means of travel.36 These new vehicles caused a demand for better roads so the old trails were abandoned and section lines were opened and used
for highways. There were seventy-two post-offices in the county in 1903 and thirteen more a year later.37 Church buildings had been erected and there was a school house within reach of every child. In 1901 there were one hundred
nineteen organized school districts with seventy-three schools taught and 2,107 pupils enrolled. The following year the number
had increased to one hundred eighty-two organized districts and one hundred thirteen open for instruction with an enrollment
of 3,748 pupils.38 In the years following, the
educational facilities developed in proportion to the other interests of the county. In 1903 there were thirteen county newspapers,
published at Curtis, Mooreland, Mutual, Oleta, Quinlan, Shattuck, Supply, and Woodward. Woodward published six. By 1907 the
towns of Buffalo, Fargo, Freedom, Gage, May, Persimmon, Speermore, Tangier, and Woodward brought the list of newspapers up
In 1903 the chief towns were Woodward, Gage, Curtis, Mooreland, Shattuck, Oleta, Supply, Richmond, Quinlan, and Persimmon.
May, Laverne, Buffalo, and Freedom developed later.
Woodward had had a steady growth since the opening and had never known "boom days." There was a population of 1,500 in 1903
and during the next two years it almost doubled. It remained the leading shipping point although every other town on the railroad
was an important trade center. On December 10, 1906, it assumed the title of city of the first class.40
The first landmark in Woodward County was Fort Supply. It was established as a supply base for other camps and forts in the
West in 1868 but the last troops were removed and it was abandoned as a military post in 1894. One and one-fourth million
dollars had been spent in building the fort. It contained 40,320 acres of land, nearly one hundred buildings with complete
water works, sewage system, and electric light and ice plants. The ice and electric plants were sold when the fort was abandoned.
The guard house was the only building constructed of brick, the others were of heavy lumber. The commander's house contained
twelve rooms, including a bath. There were nine double houses of sixteen rooms each, seven barracks with floor space of four
hundred fifty feet each and an entertainment hall thirty by eighty feet, with a twenty foot stage, dressing rooms, and four
front rooms used for an officer's library. All floors were of oak. The hospital building was forty-six by one hundred fifty
feet and had been reroofed in 1891. There were twenty-five cottages with six rooms each and fifty houses constructed of hewn
cedar posts all ceiled and floored with heavy lumber. It was hard to estimate the stable and storage room.41 The water supply came from springs two miles away, but the water pressure was good on the second story of every building.
The fort was said to have the prettiest location of any in the West. After it was abandoned many families moved into the cottages,
paid no rent and let their small herds of twenty-five or less range on the grass land of the reservation. Because of its delightful
location on the shady banks of the Beaver River, people from the East
came out during the summers for vacations, boarding with the families at the fort.42 All the reservation lands except 1,760 acres were sold in 1900 to W. E. Halsell.43 In August 1901 it was again sold. P. H. Fitzgerald, an Indianapolis speculator, purchased the land for the purpose of selling
it to a colony. Soon the little town of Fitzgerald was built about two or three miles west of the fort. In September, 1902
the present townsite of Supply was platted and the town of Fitzgerald was moved to Supply which is one-fourth mile south of
the Beaver River and one mile west of the fort. In 1903 the territorial legislature accepted the offer of the United States
Government and decided to use the fort as a territorial insane asylum.44
During the four years before statehood there were many real estate transfers. Those who did not want to stay on their claims
or who wanted money to invest in some other line of business sold their relinquishments. Others sold farms that were already
proved up. Quarter sections that had not been claimed three years after the opening sold at $3,500 or more. The abundant crops
and high prices had enabled many to add to their acreage and go into farming on a larger scale. This was not general over
the county but in some places it was quite noticeable.
S. T. Philips on Indian creek raised 4,200 bushels of wheat in 1906 besides a considerable amount of corn and broom corn.45 C. R. Mallory of Charleston in the northern part of the county was known as the "broom corn prince." In the spring of 1907
he delivered one hundred sixteen bales to Woodward. To haul this amount required fifteen wagons and drivers, forty-eight horses
and mules and made a wagon train one-third of a mile in length.46 Good broom corn frequently sold for seventy dollars per ton, and it was not at all uncommon for a farmer to sell his crop
at harvest time for more than he had paid for the land.47 Some found truck gardens to be very profitable where some sort of irrigation was provided. One farmer within three miles
of Woodward sold one hundred dollars' worth of vegetables, besides what was used on his farm, from a little plot of ground
eighty by one hundred feet.48
Farm machinery was shipped in carload lots to all the towns on the railroad. Each farm was being equipped with the best of
machinery, thus making it possible to raise more and better crops.
The farm homes were improved with good houses, barns, and fences. Transportation had been speeded up through the construction
of better roads, and communication by telephone was already established between the towns.
The four townships of Marum, O'Bryan, Webster, and Judkins that were established in 1893 for election and assessment purposes
remained unchanged until 1902. In 1902 the township of Union was added, and the town of Woodward was assessed separately.
The next year the county was divided into fifteen townships and later to twenty at which number it remained until statehood.49 The county had never lacked for funds. The thousands of cattle were assessed until the land was proved up and taxable.
At statehood in 1907 Woodward County with a population of 31,116 had personal property to the amount of $1,546,863, real estate
at $1,463,539, and a total evaluation of $3,010,402.50
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