I know of no task that could be assigned to me that would be more pleasing than that of talking to this gathering of early day Oklahoma settlers upon my subject tonight, "Early Days in Payne County."
Payne County is one of the picturesque and interesting spots of early day Oklahoma history. My father Patrick H. Guthrey located in Payne County April 22, 1889, on a homestead about three miles south of the town of Stillwater, his homestead chancing to be almost the exact geographical center of the county as then laid out. At that time I was a law student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and I took up my residence in Payne County in June, 1890. Father was a follower of David L. Payne, and shortly after locating upon his homestead he gathered a few of his neighbors about him and they laid off a town site embracing forty acres of his homestead and named it Payne Center in honor of the famous old Oklahoma boomer. Upon this town site, on a small block of ground near the center of the forty, they erected a wooden, one story, octagon shape building with a sawdust floor which they designated as the City Hall and in which the Mayor, the Justice of the Peace and the City Clerk had their homemade desks. I arrived upon the scene a full fledged lawyer, but I am perfectly willing to admit that I looked much more like I needed advice than one able to give it and I found it much easier to acquire an appetite than a law practice. Being a printer by trade as well as a lawyer by profession and realizing that father’s new town site venture needed a newspaper and that he and I both needed something as a means of livelihood we launched the publication of a weekly newspaper known as "The Oklahoma Hawk."
One of my interesting recollections, of early day conditions in Payne county is the manner in which the county seat was selected and the county was named. The town of Stillwater was established in the early summer of 1889 by a bunch of real live pioneers of this great west. Outstanding among them in my memory is Amon W. Swope, John R. Clark and Robert A. Lowery. Lowery was a lawyer,
Swope a merchant and Clark a real estate man. These men and many of their associates had come into Oklahoma from Winfield, Kansas, and I remember quite well that many of us commonly referred to them as the "Winfield bunch." When the campaign came on for the location of the county seat and the selection of a name for the county, they of course entered the town of Stillwater for the county seat and sought to call the county, Stillwater County. Father and his followers at Payne Center entered the name of Payne Center for the county seat and Payne as the name of the county. As I said in the opening of my remarks, father was a great admirer of old David L. Payne and he was a man that placed sentiment above dollars. I remember of him saying to me on more than one occasion that he would rather honor Payne by naming his home county for him than to own the homestead upon which the county seat of that county would be located, and he proved the truthfulness of that assertion when he took a leading part in calling a mass meeting of the Payne Center supporters for the purpose of appointing a committee of three to confer with a like committee to be appointed from the Stillwater supporters with no other idea in view than that of agreeing with the Stillwater men to give them the county seat if they would honor David L. Payne by naming the county for him. I had the honor of serving as a member of that compromise committee and my associates on the Payne Center Committee was a farmer by the name of Andrews and a blacksmith by the name of Wood. I regret that just at this time I am unable to call the initials of either of these men, although I knew and remember both men well. The Stillwater committee that met us in this conference was composed of Amon W. Swope, Robert A. Lowery and Frank J. Wikoff. Swope, Lowery, Wood and Andrews are all dead and Mr. Wikoff is at present a resident of Oklahoma City and connected with the Tradesmen’s National Bank. I regret that he is not here tonight to join me in recalling some of these early incidents in Payne County history. The compromise was effected. The county was named Payne, Stillwater became the county seat, and by a special business arrangement that was reduced to writing I moved my paper, the Oklahoma Hawk, from Payne Center to Stillwater and shortly thereafter became one of the mem-
bers of the Stillwater Commercial Club and an intimate and business associate with the men whose early day sacrifices are responsible for the building of that beautiful city.
Being a newspaper man I was naturally mixed in many of the public and private conferences for the welfare of the town and I recall very vividly of having been named as a member of the legislative committee to attend the session of the First Territorial Legislature in an effort to secure the location of the Territorial Penitentiary at Stillwater. We had three representatives in the legislature at that time. S. W. Clark, commonly known as Southwest Clark, and Ira N. Terrell were in the lower house, and George W. Gardenhire was our member in the Territorial Council which conforms to what we now know as the State senate. Early in the scramble for the location of the territorial institutions we were offered for Stillwater the Agricultural and Mechanical College if we would support some other town for the penitentiary. But our committee representing the Commercial Club of Stillwater and our representatives in the Legislature stoutly refused this offer and we continued our battle for the penitentiary. Finally Gardenhire took exception to our judgment and decided that the Agricultural and Mechanical College was the greater prize of the two and over the protest of Clark and Terrill in the lower house, and in the face of opposition from the Commercial Club of his home town, located what is now this wonderful school at Stillwater, and I am rather proud to recall that in his effort to do this he had the support of two of the men I have named heretofore in this talk, Robert A. Lowery and Frank J. Wikoff, and it is to these three men, Gardenhire, Lowery and Wikoff that Stillwater is primarily indebted for being the home of this school.
I often think of some of the ways we had of getting in and out of Stillwater. Our nearest railroad point was a station on the Sante Fe Railroad in the Cherokee Strip known as Wharton which is now Perry and there was a regular hack line run from Stillwater to Wharton daily. It was at a cow camp midway between Wharton and Stillwater that was used as the half way station and place to change horses by the stage driver that I first met and became acquainted with one of the later notorious early day characters of the
territory, Bill Doolin. Bill Doolin at that time was a ranch foreman and a rather respected citizen. The first time I met Bill in his chosen profession as an outlaw was on November 8th of the year Cleveland was elected president the second time. I was coming to my home in Stillwater from Kansas City and the train was hell up just as we pulled into the water tank at Wharton. Two men came through the passenger coach, one holding a sack for the passengers to drop their valuables into and one walking directly behind him with two ugly looking Colt revolvers to make sure that this command was obeyed. As I saw the pair coming down the aisle I searched my pockets and found, I was the posessor [sic] of $3.75 in silver and I held it in my hand until it came my time to contribute to the sack. By this time I had recognized the man holding the guns as Doolin and I said to him, "Bill this is all I have and I want to hold out enough to pay hack fare across to Stillwater." In a very stern voice he said to me, "drop her in," and I did. As the man passed on with the sack and Bill got even with me in the aisle he turned his head toward me long enough to say, "what’s the fare on that damn hack?" I told him One Dollar and Twenty-five Cents and he ran his hand in his pocket and, handed me that amount. In other words it was a personal contribution from Bill and he wasn’t holding out anything on his pal. Some years after that I met Bill again. I was on my way horseback from Stillwater to what was then the Pawnee agency, and the trip was being made about five or six days after the robbery of the bank at Clarksville, Arkansas, in which robbery several thousand dollars in silver was taken. As I rode along the trail about three miles east of what was then known as the town of Ingalls, I met Bill and three of his pals with their Winchesters strapped upon their saddles and each one of them had a pair of shot sacks filled with something swinging from the pommel of his saddle. They stopped me to inquire whether there were any deputy marshals at Ingalls as I came through. I told them that I hadn’t noticed any and they started to ride on when I said to Bill, "What have you boys in those shot sacks?" Bill used several adjectives in informing me that it was none of my business and I very promptly agreed with him that it wasn’t. Just as I started to ride on he turned in his saddle, looked back over
his shoulder at me and said, "Say, Bee, are you still running that one-horse newspaper over at Stillwater?" I told him "yes" and he asked what the subscription price was. I told him $1.00 per year and he reached down into one of the shot sacks, picked out a hand full of its contents and threw it over hand towards me. It fell at the feet of my horse and he sat and watched me as I got down and picked it up. After I got through gathering it up from the dust of the road I found I was the possessor of eleven silver dollars, and I told Bill that would pay him for eleven years and asked him where I should send the paper. He laughed and said he hadn’t thought of that, but finally told me to send it to Ingalls until I heard that he was dead and then to send it to hell. When I sold out my newspaper at Stillwater some years thereafter I called my successor’s attention to that particular subscription but just whether or not he changed the address when Bill cashed in, I am unable to say.
In those early days we had some interesting political fights and I remember quite well one of our county campaigns in which Johnson Wiles was elected county judge and a man by the name of Vaughn was elected sheriff. They were both Republicans and I was conducting the Democratic newspaper. During the campaign I had said a great many uncomplimentary things about both Wiles and Vaughn. Early upon their induction to office they decided to settle some of their political scores with the editor by having me arrested for criminal libel. Vaughn, the sheriff and plaintiff in the action, served the warrant. Wiles, the county judge, and also an aggrieved party, was the examining magistrate before whom I was tried, and without much ceremony I was placed under $1000.00 bond which in those days of no real estate titles was an appalling sum for a bondsman to qualify for. It was the intention of my prosecutors to compel the editorial work of the newspaper to be conducted from the county jail. Fortunately, however, I had been in the county long enough to secure the friendship of a stalwart old democrat and ranchman known and loved by all early day Payne county citizens as Bill Berry. Financially, Bill was the real "poobah" of that section of the territory and when he signed a bond the defendant was promptly released. Shortly after signing the bond Bill got on his mule
and started home. After he had gotten far enough from town that the boys felt safe to proceed again a second charge was made against the defendant and a second bond of $1000.00 required. We promptly rustled a buggy and team and hurried down the road after Bill and brought him back some nine miles, on the mule, to sign another bond. By this time Bill had made up his mind to two things; first that the newspaper was not to be edited from the county jail; and second, that he was going back to the ranch to look after the livestock, so he went down to the bank and made arrangements with Cliff Rock to sign whatever additional bond might be necessary between that time and morning to maintain my liberty and with this arrangement known to both the sheriff and county judge arrests temporarily ceased.
Some of you old settlers I know will remember Johnson Wiles. He had a bald head and his whiskers were so long that they hung some five or six inches below his waist band. It was not an uncommon thing to see him on the street with them either done up on hair pins on his chin or put inside his vest. In the next issue of my newspaper, following these arrests, I remembered Johnson’s judicial position, his bald head, and his flowing beard, in the following little rhyme. "I know an old man with power judicial, who hasn’t the sense to make an official. When God built his head He made it so thin, that his brains turned to hair and came out on his chin." The publication of the paper with these lines at the head of the editorial column was the cause for renewed hostilities, but I am quite sure that you will excuse me for not going further into these personal reminiscences.
I love Payne County because in my mind it has a very remarkable citizenship. It is one of the few counties in the state that is today practically controlled by the sane men who settled there in the early days. The old settlers have stuck, and in a very large majority of instances they have made good; and even where the fathers have passed on, the sons and daughters have stepped in to "carry on" their program. They are a class of people who never become very much excited over anything, and while they have not builded [sic] in my judgment commensurate with their wonderful advantages and opportunities, they have developed a community in which any citizen of this great state could feel proud to live
and which many of us feel a real pride in having had even an humble part in laying the early foundation. It is a real pleasure to me every time that I have an opportunity to return there to meet these splendid old citizens and talk over with them bits of early day history. Now my friends, this has been purely an off hand talk, not because I had no notice that I was to be upon the program, because I had that notice in ample time, but because of the fact that I have been so crowded for time that I have not even taken the opportunity of jotting down a few notes to talk from. Whether I have entertained you or not is for you to, say, but that you have honored me by your invitation to come here and by the splendid attention you have given me, I am very frank to confess, I thank you.