Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 3, No. 1
JAMES DWIGHT LANKFORD*
James Dwight Lankford, son of Nathan Alexander Lankford, and his wife, Harriet Earle Whitten, daughter of John Earle, and
his wife, Rebecca Wood, was born in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, on the second day of October, 1861, and died at San Diego,
California, November 6, 1923. His father, Nation Alexander Lankford, was the son of John Lankford and his wife, Myra Carruth,
daughter of Alexander Carruth and his wife Sarah Logan. His paternal grandfather, John Lankford, was the son of Nathan Lankford
and his wife, Marian Caldwell. The Logans and Carruths were Scotch and Scotch-Irish and the Earles and Lankfords, English.
Through the Carruths the Lankfords are related to the Pinkneys of South Carolina. His Lankford, Earle and Carruth ancestors
were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. His great-grandfather, John Earle, was a member of the Committee of Safety of Tyron
County, North Carolina, and on October 25, 1775, signed the Declaration of Allegiance to both the Provincial and the Continental
Congress, and was a captain in the Colonial militia that constructed what was known as Earle’s Fort.
John and Mary Earle, the ancestors of John Earle, his maternal grandfather, immigrated from the western part of England in
1649, settling in Westmoreland County, Virginia, in 1652. In 1846 Nathan Alexander Lankford removed from Rutherford, North
Carolina, to Pontotoc County, Mississippi. With his eldest son, W. H. Lankford, he enlisted from that county in the Confederate
Army, the former serving during the war and the latter, being only sixteen years old at the time of his enlistment, serving
during the last year of the war.
The subject of this sketch, being born during the first year of the Civil War, had little opportunity to acquire an education
compared to that afforded the elder children. As a result of the devastation of the war and the reconstruction government,
which existed in Mississippi for more than a decade after its termination, every industry was prostrated
and practically all property, including live stock, except land, was gone.
In 1830, when nineteen years of age, leaving Mississippi he went to Milam County, Texas, where he attended the common schools
for a short time. In 1881 he clerked in a store in Cameron, Texas. In 1882, going to Lehigh, Indian Territory, he took employment
in the general store of J. J. Phillips, later becoming manager. In 1883, resigning that position, he removed to Atoka where
he and an elder brother, Dr. J. S. Lankford, now of San Antonio, Texas, engaged in the drug business. His drug business expanding
rapidly soon became the largest one in that part of the Territory. Embarking in additional lines as the Territory developed
he engaged with the late S. B. Scratch, of Atoka, in the lumber, coal and ice business, and later in the banking business,
becoming president of the Atoka National Bank, in January, 1902, and continuing in that capacity until February 1911.
On March 7, 1886, he was married to, Miss Emmerretta Sullivan, who, with a son and daughter survive him. He was a member of
the Presbyterian Church serving in the capacity of both deacon and elder, and also a 32d degree Mason and a Knight Templar.
On the incorporation of the Town of Atoka, he was elected its first mayor, his first term as such begining in 1903 and continuing
until 1904. He declining to become a candidate for re-election. He neither desired nor sought public office, but, being a
citizen of such sterling qualities as to command support beyond the ranks of his own party, in 1907 he was besought by his
party to again accept the nomination for mayor, and, being elected, served for another term, promoting the growth and standing
of his party in the new country and rendering his municipality an honest and efficient administration of government. He loved
his party, municipality, county, state, and nation and the memories and traditions of the South. His was a life of service
and ideals, though unostentatious and retiring.
On the organization of the Democratic Party in the Indian Territory in 1892 he became a member of the Central Committee, continuing
in that position until the erection of the state government, after which he continued in the same capacity until 1914, rendering
wise counsel and efficient and
faithful service in the promotion of its principles and its organization.
In 1911, without seeking the place, he was appointed by Governor Cruce as State Bank Commissioner for a term of four years
and, in 1915, was re-appointed, without being an applicant therefor, for another four years when I succeeded as governor.
In January, 1919, two or three days before my term as governor expired, at his importunity, I accepted his resignation and
designated his first assistant as acting bank commissioner. He stated that his health neither permitted nor did he desire
to continue in the office after the termination of my term as governor.
When he came to the office of bank commissioner the guaranty fund was heavily burdened, owing approximately a million dollars.
During his service of nearly eight years the state banking system was rehabilitated, not only in public confidence but also
in finances. When he left office practically all of its indebtedness had been liquidated, a slight balance in warrants being
outstanding but with more than enough cash in the treasury available to take same up when presented.
In July 1920, on account of the condition of his health, he removed to San Diego, California, where he resided until his death,
but never becoming a citizen of that state, retaining his citizenship in Oklahoma. In September, 1922, whilst revisiting Oklahoma
for a short period he stated that he intended to retain his citizenship in Oklahoma as long as he lived, on account of the
ties of friendship which he had formed during his long residence here, his chief regret in having to live in California on
account of his health being occasioned by his separation from his friends.
No finer character or better citizen ever lived. He belonged to the school of men who put principle above every other consideration.
His every action with his fellow man was controlled by the highest ideal of right. In his relationship with them he was considerate,
kind, charitable, but firm. In every relation of life whether official or private he was just. Knowing the frailties of the
human race he wisely and justly made allowances therefor. Whilst successfully handling business transactions, large and small,
he never forgot the poor and unfortunate whether white, black or red. Each
day and every hour he lived the practical, righteous life, regardless of sinister influences and temptations that might cast
their shadows over the human pathway. A noble son, faithful husband, indulgent father, dependable friend, examplary [sic] citizen and honest public servant is gone.
That he may live in the history of the state, not only in deeds and character, but also in physical likeness by means of art,
his friends have caused this portrait to be painted and presented to the Historical Society of the State.
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