Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 20, No. 3
THE GOVERNORS OF OKLAHOMA TERRITORY
BY JOHN BARTLETT MESERVE
An amendment inserted in the Appropriation Act of Congress of March 2, 1889 released a portion of the Oklahoma country to
settlement and President Benjamin Harrison on March 23, by proclamation fixed the date of actual opening as April 22, 1889.
No provision being inserted for local government a condition approaching chaos ensued. The laws of the United States as they
applied to unorganized territory were the sole statutory regulations to protect the early settlers. These laws, vague and
inadequate, were reinforced by self-imposed regulations which were enforced by an overwhelming public sentiment or by the
cool prowess of gunmen. This situation was relieved by the passage of the Organic Act of May 2, 1890, by Congress, which featured
the formation of the Territory of Oklahoma and on May 22, 1890, Major George W. Steele assumed the task of organizing the
new territory as its first governor.1
GEORGE WASHINGTON STEELE
May 22, 1890 — October 18, 1891.
The first territorial governor, a son of Asbury and Marie Louise Steele, was born in Fayette County, Indiana on December 13,
1839 and was educated in the local public schools later completing his academic studies at the Ohio Wesleyan University. He
read law and was admitted to the bar and practiced law at Hartfort City, Indiana until the outbreak of the Civil War when
he was mustered into the 12th Indiana Regiment in the Union Army as a volunteer on May 2, 1861, and later transferred to the
101st Indiana Regiment and served until the conclusion of the war. After being with Sherman in his "March to the Sea" he was
mustered out as a Lieutenant Colonel in July, 1865 and later commissioned and served as a Major in the 14th Regiment of United
States Infantry in the regular army in the West from February 23, 1866 to February, 1876. At the conclusion of this service
he returned to Indiana and established himself in business at Marion from which locality as a republican he was elected to
Congress where he served from March 4, 1883 to March 3, 1889.
Reports of disordered political conditions probably influenced the designation of a seasoned army officer to compose the situation
in the Oklahoma country and President Benjamin Harrison appointed Major Steele as the initial governor of the Territory of
Oklahoma and on May 22, 1890 the oath of office was administered to the new executive at Guthrie where rather elaborate inauguration
were held. The task committed to Governor Steele was difficult and unusual as he supplemented the orderly processes of government
for the disorderly situation which confronted him. His extended experience in military affairs fitted him most capably for
the service. The First Territorial Legislature provoked further trouble for the governor by employing the major portion of
its time in efforts to remove the capital from Guthrie. Bills to effect such removal, first to Oklahoma City and then to Kingfisher
were promptly vetoed by the governor. He urged and supported the University as established at Norman and the Normal School
at Edmond and the A. and M. College at Stillwater and the inauguration of a public school system.
Governor Steele resigned as governor effective on October 18, 1891 and returned to Marion, Indiana and again was returned
to Congress serving from March 4, 1895 to March 3, 1903. He was a member of the Board of Managers of the National Military
Home at Marion from April 21, 1890 to December 10, 1904 and functioned as governor of that institution from December 11, 1904
to May 31, 1915 when he resigned.
Major Steele married Marietta E. Swayzee in 1866. Death closed his engaging life at Marion, Grant County, Indiana on July
12, 1922. He rests in the Odd Fellows Cemetery near that city.
The first governor of Oklahoma was a major character and enjoyed a highly distinguished career. His brief tenure of seventeen
months as Governor of the Territory of Oklahoma was just another incident in his engaging life. He was a most capable executive
and his unafraid service to the territory must not be minimized.2
ABRAHAM JEFFERSON SEAY
February 1, 1892 — May 7, 1893.
The second territorial governor, a son of Cam and Lucy J. Seay, was born at Amherst Court House, Amherst County, Virginia
on November 28, 1832. He came from an English ancestry which landed at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1642. When he was three years
of age, his parents removed to Osage County, Missouri where his father engaged in farming. In the winter of 1853-4, young
Seay engaged in construction work of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and from his earnings promoted his efforts to educate himself.
He attended the public schools in the country and in the spring of 1855 enrolled as a student at Steelville Academy. His ambition
to complete his education at this academy was postponed by the death of his father leaving to him the task of assisting his
mother to care for the family of eleven children. He alternated his efforts between teaching a country school and working
on the farm. Young Seay read law at intervals and in August, 1860 removed to Cherryville, Crawford
County, Missouri where he entered a law office and in April, 1861 was admitted to the bar. At the very outbreak of the Civil
War, Abraham J. Seay enlisted in voluntary military service in the Union Army. In the latter part of 1861, he assisted in
enlisting a company which became a part of the 32nd Missouri Infantry commanded by Col. John C. Phelps. From a private, Seay
was promoted successively to captain, major, lieutenant colonel and was mustered out of service at the conclusion of the war
as colonel of his regiment. His service was outstanding. He fought at Elkhorn Tavern, Vicksburg, Jackson, Chattanooga, Lookout
Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Atlanta, Savannah, Bentonville, Columbia and at Raleigh, North Carolina at the time of the surrender
of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Upon his return from the war, he was appointed county attorney of Crawford County and later was
advanced to circuit attorney but retired in 1870 and entered the general practice. In 1875, Colonel Seay was elected circuit
judge of the 9th Missouri District and at the expiration of his six-year term, was reelected. He declined a third term preferring
to resume his private practice. Soon after his retirement from the bench, however, he entered the banking business and became
president of a newly organized bank at Union, Missouri which position he retained until his death. He invested heavily in
the First National Bank of Rolla, Missouri and later became president of that institution and held such position until his
At the time of the appointment of Major Steele as the first governor of Oklahoma Territory, President Harrison appointed Judge
Abraham J. Seay as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the territory. This position he capably filled and occupied
at the time of his appointment to the governorship of the territory. Some delay was occasioned by the President in naming
a successor to Governor Steele who had resigned effective October 18, 1891. It was not until February 1, 1892 that Judge Seay
resigned from the judiciary and was sworn in as governor at Guthrie. Not much of lingering importance occurred during the
brief administration of Governor Seay save the opening of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indian country on April 19, 1892 which
served to enlarge the available territorial domain. His tenure as governor was terminated by the appointment of William C.
Renfrow by President Cleveland, and who qualified on May 7, 1893.3
Governor Seay made his home at Kingfisher and on November 23, 1899 he organized the Central State Bank of Kingfisher. This
institution was subsequently changed to the First National Bank. On October 26, 1904 this bank was taken over by the Kingfisher
National Bank, Governor Seay remaining as president. The governor was a member of the Episcopal Church and of the masonic
and an active member of the G. A. R. He was a public spirited citizen and in 1908 constructed and presented to the Kingfisher
College an industrial home. Some few years prior to his death, the old governor, by an accident, suffered a fractured hip
bone. This injury assumed a serious phase requiring him to the use of a wheel chair for the remainder of his days. In 1909,
he purchased a home at Long Beach, California to which he removed and where he passed away on December 12, 1915. His remains
were returned to Oklahoma for burial and interred in the cemetery at Kingfisher, where his grave is suitably marked. Touching
masonic services were held at the Masonic Temple at Guthrie which were attended by Gov. Robert L. Williams and his official
Governor Abraham J. Seay was distinctively a self-made man and a high measure of success rewarded his business ventures. He
is reputed to have left an estate of between four and five hundred thousand dollars in value at the time of his death. The
governor never married but was survived by numerous brothers and sisters and their descendants.
WILLIAM CARY RENFROW
May 7, 1893 — May 24, 1897.
The third territorial governor was born at Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina on March 15, 1845. He attended the
public schools which he left at the age of 17 years to enter the Confederate army in the Civil War, and on February 25, 1862,
enlisted in Company C of the 50th Regiment of North Carolina Infantry at Smithfield and was mustered into service at Camp
Mangum on April 21, 1862, as a 2nd sergeant but subsequently was promoted to 1st sergeant. Robert Darius Lunsford was captain
of Company C and Marshall D. Craton was the colonel of the 50th regiment at the time of his enlistment. The last muster rolls
of his company available show that for July and August, 1864 young Renfrow was being present.
After his return from the war, William C. Renfrow removed from North Carolina to the vicinity of Russellville, Pope County,
Arkansas where in 1865 he married Jennie B. York of Judsonia, Arkansas on October 17, 1875. He functioned as a deputy county
official at Russellville in the 1880s. Upon the opening of Oklahoma for settlement in 1889, he located at Norman where he
was engaged in the banking business in association with T. M. Richardson of Oklahoma City. President Cleveland appointed William
C. Renfrow as governor of Oklahoma Territory and on May 7, 1893 the oath of office was administered to him at Guthrie. He
was a democrat, being the only governor from that party during the territorial days. The outstanding event of his administration
was the opening of the Cherokee Outlet on September 16, 1893. It was during his tenure that the Oklahoma Historical Society
and on February 21, 1895, Governor Renfrow approved an act constituting that society as trustee for Oklahoma Territory. He
was succeeded by Cassius M. Barnes who entered office on May 24, 1897.
After his retirement from office, Governor Renfrow lived in Kansas City, Missouri for a few years, but later becoming engaged
in the lead and zinc business in northeastern Oklahoma removed to Miami, Oklahoma where he operated his mining business under
the Renfrow Mining and Royalty Company and became an extensive owner of lead and zinc properties. Some two years prior to
his death he embarked in the oil and gas business in the Mexia field in Texas where he spent a considerable portion of his
time. His business ventures were highly successful.
Governor Renfrow passed away while sitting in the lobby of the Massey Hotel at Bentonville, Arkansas on January 31, 1922,
while enroute from Miami to Russellville on account of the illness of his brother. His body rests in the cemetery at Russellville,
Arkansas by the side of his wife who died some years before.5
The governor was a worthwhile character. His administration of public affairs as well as his extensive business engagements
were marked by the highest integrity.
CASSIUS MCDONALD BARNES
May 24, 1897 — April 15, 1901.
The fourth territorial governor, a son of Henry Hogan and Semantha (Boyd) Barnes, was born in Livingston County, New York
on August 25, 1845. In his early life his parents removed to Michigan where his public school training was supplemented by
his attendance as a student at the Wesleyan Seminary at Albion, Michigan. Early in life he took up telegraphy making his initial
effort at Leavenworth, Kansas at the age of fifteen years. The young lad became a volunteer Union soldier in the Civil War
when but sixteen, serving in the Military Telegraph and Engineering Corps. His service extended through the duration of the
war during a portion of which time he served as secretary to Gen. Nathaniel Lyons. After the conclusion of the war he removed
to Little Rock, Arkansas and in 1876 again removed to Ft. Smith where he accepted a position as Chief Deputy United States
Marshal in the court then presided over by Judge Isaac C. Parker. This position he held until 1886. During the years of his
residence in Arkansas, Mr. Barnes enjoyed an immediate political contact with the Clayton family the influence of which was
quite dominant in political circles in the Southwest. It was probably through the influence of Hon. Powell Clayton that he
was appointed Receiver of the United States Land Office at Guthrie, in 1890, which occasioned his removal to the new territory.
This position, he held for four years. During these years, he read law and was admitted to practice in 1893. He served as
a member of the 3rd Legislature of
Oklahoma Territory in 1895 and was speaker of the house during its session. He was a member of the 4th Legislature in 1897.
President McKinley appointed him as governor of Oklahoma Territory and on May 24, 1897 Cassius M. Barnes formally took the
oath of office. The four years of his tenure evidenced little of enduring interest save as the determined governor defeated
extravagant gestures of the 6th Legislature to create numerous additional territorial institutions. The suggestion has been
offered that this legislative effort was undertaken in view of a rapidly growing potentiality of the formation of the State
of Oklahoma which would include the Indian Territory. The governor promptly vetoed this legislation. Governor Barnes retired
from office on April 15, 1901 when William M. Jenkins took the oath of office as his successor. The governor continued his
residence at Guthrie where he was president of the Logan County Bank. He was elected to and served as mayor of Guthrie in
1903-5 and again in 1907-9.6
Cassius M. Barnes married Elizabeth Mary Bartlett of North Adams, Massachusetts, at Little Rock, Arkansas on June 4, 1868.
She was a daughter of Liberty Bartlett and Charlotte Pennyman, his wife, and was born on June 9, 1845 and passed away at Guthrie
on May 27, 1908. He married Rebecca Borney, a widow, in Chicago, in 1910 and established his residence at Leavenworth, Kansas
where his wife was engaged as an instructress in a girl's seminary and where he again became a postal telegraph operator.
Some years later his health began to fail causing his removal to New Mexico where he passed away at Albuquerque on February
18, 1925. His body was returned to Guthrie and interred in the Summit View Cemetery near that city.
Governor Barnes was a member of the Episcopal Church having served as senior warden of the Guthrie church for many years.
He was an active affiliate of both the Scottish and York rites of the masonic fraternity. He belonged to the Elks society.7
6Cassius B. Barnes, a son of Governor Barnes, was appointed to the Naval Academy in 1891; graduated in 1895; served as Ensign
in Admiral Sampson's blockading fleet of the Cuban coast in 1898. He was retired in 1912 with the rank of commander but in
1917 was called back into active duty as instructor at the Navy Academy during World War I. He is now (1942) living in retirement
in Manhasset, Long Island.
Henry C. Barnes, a son of Governor Barnes, was captain of company "I," First Territorial Voluntary Infantry, 1898-9; reentered
the military service 1890 as 1st Lt. in the 34th Vol. Inf.; was in service in the Philippine Insurrection in 1895-1901; promoted
to captain and decorated with a silver star for gallantry in action; later was transferred to the coast artillery corps where
he was raised to the grade of Colonel of Artillery. Now living in retirement at Hollywood, California.
Henry C. Barnes Jr., a son of Henry C. Barnes, was born in his grandfather's home in Guthrie. Appointed to the U. S. Military
Academy from Oklahoma; served as a 1st Lt. of Infantry in the American Expeditionary forces in World War I. Was cited twice
for gallantry in action. Is now (1942) a Lt. Col. serving with the 3rd army corps.
WILLIAM MILLER JENKINS
April 16, 1901 — November 30, 1901.
The fifth territorial governor, a son of Henry J. and Lydia (Miller) Jenkins, was born at Alliance, Stark County, Ohio on
April 25, 1856. He was educated in the public schools, later attending Mt. Union College at Alliance. Young Jenkins taught
school in Stark County in 1876-8 and on December 21, 1878 married Delphina White of Doublin, Indiana. She was born on July
7, 1855 and passed away on August 18, 1932. He removed to Shelby County, Iowa in 1880 where he was admitted to the bar in
1883. In 1884 he established his residence at Arkansas City, Kansas where he engaged in the practice of law and where he functioned
as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1888. When the Cherokee Outlet was opened to settlement on September
16, 1893, William M. Jenkins made the race and secured a homestead in Kay County. President McKinley appointed him as Secretary
of the territory in June, 1897 which position he capably filled for four years. The president elevated him to the governorship
and on April 15, 1901, William M. Jenkins took the oath of office. An important event in his brief administration was the
opening of the Comanche-Kiowa-Apache and the Wichita-Caddo Indian reservations to settlement in August, 1901.
Whispered slander challenged the fidelity of Governor Jenkins in a renewal of certain contracts for the care of the insane.
These whisperings developed into a furious opposition to the governor immediately after the death of President McKinley on
September 14, 1901 and his immediate removal was demanded by an ambitious clique. President Roosevelt not affording the governor
an opportunity for explanation and defense, summarily removed him from office and appointed Thompson B. Ferguson who qualified
on November 30, 1901. Those were the days when Teddy was carving his big stick. The brief tenure was a personal tragedy. William
M. Jenkins was a man of high character and no taint of official corruption ever actually attended him either before or during
his term as governor of Oklahoma Territory. Gov. Thompson B. Ferguson who succeeded him reported to the Secretary of the Interior
that William M. Jenkins had "suffered a great injustice." He was a Christian character being an ardent member and elder of
the Presbyterian church of which church his wife who passed away in August, 1932, was a minister. He was a 32nd degree mason.
Subsequent to his retirement, Governor Jenkins spent a few years in California but upon his return to Oklahoma, settled at
Sapulpa and in 1920 was elected Court Clerk of Creek County. He passed away at Sapulpa on October 19, 1941 and is buried in
the South Heights Cemetery near that city.8
THOMPSON BENTON FERGUSON
November 30, 1901 — January 5, 1906.
The sixth territorial governor was born near Des Moines, Iowa on March 17, 1857. When but a year old, his parents removed
to Emporia, Kansas where his mother passed away in 1860. His father enlisted in the Union army in the Civil War at its inception
and the young lad was reared by an older sister. The public schools were the source of his education and by teaching school
he financed his course through the Kansas State Normal School at Emporia. As a young man, he became an earnest Bible student
and studied for the ministry, and was ordained and after a short career as a Methodist minister, removed to Chautauqua County,
Kansas where he taught school for nine years and where he married Elva Shartel at Sedan, Kansas on June 9, 1885.
In 1889, he joined in the run into Oklahoma, staking a claim near Oklahoma City which he later sold and returned to Sedan,
Kansas. He again altered his career and in 1890 purchased the Sedan Republican which he edited for two years. It was during
these years that he published his book, "The Jayhawkers, " being a story of the early history of Kansas.
Ferguson, in October, 1892, following the opening of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country for settlement, removed to Watonga,
Oklahoma Territory, where he established the Watonga Republican which he continued to publish until his death. To the editing
of this paper, he gave the best of his brave courageous life and was recognized as an outstanding newspaperman in the territory.
He became one of the recognized leaders in the Republican Party and in 1897 was appointed postmaster of Watonga and significant
of his leadership was his appointment to the governorship of Oklahoma Territory by President Theodore Roosevelt. He assumed
the office on November 30, 1901 with no formalities save that of taking the official oath.
The specter of potential statehood was already manifesting itself and engaging the activities of the various political elements.
His executive functions were devoted to giving the territory an honest, sober and economical administration. Aside from this
sterling service, the regime of Governor Ferguson offered no outstanding features, but it will abide in the annals of history
as a most successful tenure. His term of office occasioned less criticism than any of the preceding administrations in the
territory. The governor had experienced the hardships and deprivations of the early formative days of the territory and knew
the problems which had confronted and still confronted the pioneer folk whose political affairs he was undertaking to guide.
He possessed the qualities essential for an executive and with patient but firm resolve gave to the territory a splendid administration
and will linger as an out-
standing governor of the old territory. He was succeeded by Captain Frank Frantz who took the oath of office on January 5,
Upon his retirement, he resumed his residence at Watonga and in 1907 made an unsuccessful race for Congress against his Democratic
opponent. Governor Ferguson passed away in a hospital at Oklahoma City on February 14, 1921. A final official tribute was
paid in his memory in services, presided over by Gov. J. B. A. Robertson, conducted in the chamber of the House of Representatives
at Oklahoma City, after which his remains were returned to Watonga and interred in the cemetery near that city.9
January 5, 1906 — November 16, 1907.
The seventh and last territorial governor, a son of Henry J. and Maria (Gish) Frantz, was born at Roanoke, Woodford County,
Illinois on May 7, 1872. He was educated at the public schools and about two years at Eureka College. At the opening of the
Cherokee Outlet in 1893 he came west and settled at Medford, Grant County, Oklahoma Territory where he briefly engaged in
the lumber and hardware business with his brothers. He later lived in California for a short period but had removed to and
was engaged in mining operations at Prescott, Arizona when the Spanish-American War broke in the spring of 1898. On May 1,
1898 he enlisted in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry famed as the "Rough Riders" and led by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.
Mr. Frantz entered the war as a 1st Lieutenant, his service being concluded with the rank of Captain to which he was promoted
on July 1, 1898 in recognition of his service of gallantry rendered at San Juan Hill, Cuba. In the storming of the Spanish
fortifications in that battle the commanding officer of his company was killed. Lieutenant Frantz immediately took over the
command and led the company to a successful conclusion of the charge. For this heroic service he was referred to by President
Roosevelt in his memoirs but it was not until 1935 that Congress belatedly acknowledged his service by awarding him a silver
star and a citation for his bravery. The circumstance evolved into an abiding friendship between Captain Frantz and Col. Theodore
Roosevelt, the Lieut. Col. of the regiment, who later became president.
Upon the conclusion of his military service, Captain Frantz returned to Oklahoma and settled at Enid where he was named postmaster
by President Roosevelt in 1901 and two years later was appointed Indian Agent of the Osage Agency at Pawhuska. The Rough Rider
President again evidenced his regard for the captain by elevating him to the governorship of Oklahoma Territory. Governor
Frank Frantz assumed the office on January 5, 1906 being the youngest governor to serve in the old territory.
His administration was one of routine. Approaching statehood engaged the public interest and scant attention was evidenced
toward the fading territorial regime. A state constitution was submitted by the constitutional convention, approved by President
Roosevelt on November 16, 1907 on which date the state government was inaugurated, and the regime of Governor Frantz came
to an end. The governor had been a candidate of the Republican Party for the governorship of the new state but suffered defeat,
Charles N. Haskell, the Democratic candidate, being elected.
Shortly after his retirement from office, Governor Frantz removed to Denver, Colorado, where he remained for a few years,
but returned to Oklahoma, established his home at Tulsa and in 1915 became head of the Land Department of the Cosden Oil Company.
He later engaged in the oil royalty business and in 1940 was elected a director of the Investors Royalty Company. In the fall
of 1932, he made a final but unsuccessful political gesture in a race for Congress from the 1st district.
Governor Frantz was a member of the Presbyterian Church and of the masonic orders. He married Matilda Evans at Enid, Oklahoma
on April 9, 1900, who (1942) survives him. Ill health overtook him and after a lingering illness the governor passed away
at his home in Tulsa, on March 9, 1941, very much beloved by all.10
Thus from the dusty pages of history of the old Oklahoma Territory is assembled briefly the life stories of its chief executives.
Being presidential appointees, they reflected the prevailing political sentiment of the entire country rather than that of
the territory. None of them was reappointed which would emphasize the situation that a shift of administration in Washington
presaged a political change in Oklahoma. Obviously their response was to suggestions from the Nation's capital but this preserved
for them an aloofness from the maelstrom of local politics. The territorial governors were men of integrity, administered
affairs economically and maintained an adamant posture against extravagant efforts of the Legislature. Due to this policy
no financial obligations lingered over from one administration to another except on account of conditions occasioned for the
creation of the new state. No election was held in 1906 for a territorial legislature and no legislature convened after March
10, 1905 and hence no taxes were collected for territorial or state purposes for the year 1907. The indebtedness which lingered
over by reason of this situation was later assumed and paid by the state.
It truthfully may be said that discerning judgment was exhibited by our presidents in their selection of the chief executives
of Oklahoma Territory.11
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