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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 3, No. 2
June, 1925

Paul Nesbit

Page 158

In commemoration of the thirty-sixth anniversary of the opening of Oklahoma to settlement, the Daily Oklahoman published a special edition. It was probably the best contribution to the history of that event that has been compiled by any newspaper since that time. And yet it would be natural that in such a compilation errors would creep into it. Not in a spirit of criticism, but to "keep the record straight," I will call attention to a few of these errors. No doubt there are others that I am not capable of correcting.

In the story of the location of the territorial and state capitals there are several errors that should not go unchallenged. One relates to the fight during the first territorial legislature. A bill locating the capital at Oklahoma City had been introduced and passed. Excitement was running high in Guthrie, and the halls of the legislature were surrounded by angry citizens. Hon. D. W. Peery, member of the house from Oklahoma county was a member of the committee on enrolled and engrossed bills. As a member of that committee it was his duty to see that bills passed by the house were properly and correctly engrossed and enrolled for signature of the speaker.

The Oklahoma special edition says, regarding the capital bill: "There have been sundry versions of the scenes enacted when the 1890 assembly was trying to locate the capital and the most popular story that has clung in public memory is that it was Peery who dropped the bill in the cesspool as the most effective method of killing it."

This may have been "the most popular story" but popular stories are not history. Dan W. Peery was an ardent supporter of the bill for locating the capital in Oklahoma City; to have destroyed the bill would have defeated one of the principal purpose of his election. Mr. Peery has detailed the story of the events of that day when feeling ran high. His story will be found in the "Chronicles of Oklahoma," Vol. 2, No. 3, (September, 1924) .

I will only state here that after having the capital bill correctly enrolled, Mr. Peery carried it to the speaker of the house and had him sign it. He then carried it to the council

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chamber with the intention of handing it to a member of the committee of that body, and have him secure the president’s signature. When he arrived in the council chamber, that body had adjourned. He handed the bill to R. J. Nesbitt of Cleveland county, who was a member of the joint committee on enrolled and engrossed bills.

After delivering the bill to the council member, Mr. Peery went out to the street and there encountered a crowd of angry citizens. They had captured Speaker Daniels, and as Peery arrived on the scene, the speaker shouted, " Peery has the bill." The angered crowd dropped Daniels and took after Peery, who made his escape. The story of his escape and the events that followed make an interesting chapter to early Oklahoma history. Peery did not have the bill in his possession. The bill never was "dropped in a cesspool." It was regularly passed by both houses, after which it was presented to the governor who vetoed it.

Another error in this story of capital location is the following: "Governor C. H. Haskell was always an advocate of Oklahoma City for the permanent location of the capital, but if certain citizens of Guthrie had not rubbed his fur the wrong way in a business and social way, he might not have precipitated the transfer when he did," and another paragraph: "Governor Haskell entered the fight openly on the side of Oklahoma City."

I cannot find anything that places Governor Haskell on record as having ever advocated Oklahoma City as the home of the permanent capital. I was one of his official family all of the time the capital fight was being waged, and I do not remember that he ever indicated that Oklahoma City was the proper place for it. He did recognize the fact that if the question was submitted to a vote, the chances were all in favor of Oklahoma City winning. The statement that, he entered activily and openly into the fight for Oklahoma City is an error. The statement that the attitude of some of the citizens of Guthrie—not Guthrie as a whole—precipitated the fight that decided the question, is true.

As far back as during the constitutional convention Haskell stated that it was his opinion, that congress had no right to bind the convention, or through the convention, the proposed state, by fixing the capital at Guthrie. He stated

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in his terse way almost the exact language of the court that decided that a sovereign state had a right to locate its capital.

Governor Haskell was too close to the public; sensed popular sentiment too well not to know that when the capital question was submitted Oklahoma City would be chosen. With that conclusion he brought about the submission of it. He had in his own mind planned to move the capital to Oklahoma City as soon as the results were known. Boldly, audaciously it might be said, he did this. Even Oklahoma City, that had coveted the capital since 1889, held its breath—even gasped. It got what it had wanted, and got it so precipitously that it was stunned about as badly as Guthrie was at its loss.

Another error that should not go by unnoticed is the following: "For Supply was first called Camp Supply. It was established in November, 1868 by General Custer in his campaign against the Indians."

General Custer was colonel of the Seventh Cavalry. He was under the command of General Sully who commanded the district in which Camp Supply was located. When a winter campaign was decided upon, it was a part of the plan to establish a supply depot in the Indian country as a base. Under General Sully’s direction the site was chosen at the confluence of two streams, Beaver and Wolf Creeks. It was named Camp Supply. Custer was busily engaged in organization of his command and had nothing to do with locating Camp Supply.

Another that was well intended but misplaced is the following: "The one man who had most to do with opening of Oklahoma was General John N. Noble, of St. Louis, who was Harrison’s secretary of the interior. His right hand bower was the attorney general in the cabinet, William Henry Harrison Miller, of Indianapolis. Through the men named from the departments of the interior and justice, Oklahoma was brought into existence, although no territorial form of government was possible for about a year."

These men played the same great part in the opening of old Oklahoma that a county sheriff holding office today had in the framing of the constitution. They appointed men to office and performed purely ministerial and legal duties.

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The following is not a correction; not even criticism. Like the evolutionist’s answer to the fundamentalist, it is merely an attempt to shed light where neither have any.

There was a pretty story in the special edition relative to the University yell, that rollicking, rhymthmic assault on sensatory nerves that inspires ambitious youth to deeds of daring: "Hi Rickety Whoop ti do, Boomer, Sooner, Okla U."

The story is to the effect that this yell was the inspiration of C. Ross Hume, and was based on Oklahoma history. It is explained that the word "hi" commemorates the hour of the opening—high noon. The second word, "rickety" is descriptive of the vehicles in the run. "Whoop ti do" refers to the character of the men. So we see, how fittingly and tritely C. Ross Hume chose his words for the famous yell.

The best of the story was not told. Hume’s words bear more of the flavor of history than one would think from reading that story.

Many, many years ago, as the Indian tales begin, before the author of the famous yell was born, a lone cowpuncher was jogging along the prairie that skirts the South Canadian River; along the bend just south of where the state university now stands. He was looking to see if any cattle had bogged down in the shifting quicksands of that treacherous river. Not finding any trouble in that line, he turned the head of his cow pony northward. He wished to look at a bunch of cattle feeding where Norman now stands.

Stunted blackjacks fringed the prairie, and scars of red earth showed where gathering waters collected and washed their ways down to the river. He jogged along until, coming to a level stretch of prairie, he saw a pair of coyotes that had not gotten in from the night’s scouting. He drew his sixshooter, and elevating it with regard for trajectory and distance, pulled the trigger. The bullet dropped within a few feet of the coyotes; being intent on watching the horse and rider, they jumped high in the air as the bullet struck, and "streaked" away to the timbered sand dunes. The cowpuncher rolled in his saddle and laughed. Out on those lone prairies men had to have some amusement; and that was his fun.

He started jogging along, again. He had not gone far

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when a jack rabbit jumped up a few rods in front of him. It hopped, skipped a half dozen steps lightly over the ground, and then sprang some ten feet or more, and skipped lightly again.

The cowpuncher yelled. He drove the long rowels into the pony’s flanks; and the race began. "Yip, yip, yeee-e-e-ip, yippity yip! You son-of-a-gun ! you ’ol’ chain lightnin’ !" He leaned forward in the saddle his sunburned face radiant with keen joy.

The jack rabbit wasn’t skipping any now. His long ears were laid down on his back. He had drawn himself together; he seemed to be all legs; he bounded over the grassy prairie like a meteor shoots through the sky. The race didn’t last long. Somehow, a jackrabbit never prolongs a race of that kind. He hasn’t the same keen sense of fun that a cowpuncher has; but one who never has chased a jack rabbit never can appreciate the stimulating effect it produces on the cowpuncher, and the rabbit.

The race had taken this compuncher pretty well out on the prairie and he was nearing where the University now Stands. He was exhuberant and exultant. He had had two good laughs and one thrill. He gave vent to his joy by singing an old folk song, and did it with a resounding effect that caused Mother Meadow Lark to get off of her nest and peep out to see what was disturbing the elements; caused the cattle over on the other side of the rise to lift their heads from the ground and scan the horizon with a half frightened look.

Lustily he sang:

When I was young I was a reckless lad,
Lots o’ fun with the gals I had;
I took one out each day fur a ride
An’ I always had one by my side.
I’d hug ’em an’ kiss ’em jest fur fun,
An’ I’ve proposed to more’ than one;
An’ if there’s a gal here got a kiss fur me,
She’ll find me as young as I used to be.

The song and the words brought to his mind the days back in Old Tennessee; brought back to mind his old father who was a famous fiddler. How many times he had seen

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that father draw the tantalizing bow across vibrant strings, as pattering feet kept time to the swing and rhythm of the very song he was singing. He could hear the tall old mountaineer who called the sets; loud enough to be heard at adjoining farms; "Salute yo’ pahdners! Right an’ left! Ladies in th’ center, four han’s roun’ ! Balance all!"

As he rode across the stretch, which is now the University campus, he burst forth again; in the refrain of that old folk song

Hi rickety whoop ti do,
How I love to sing to you;
Oh, I could sing an’ dance with glee
If I wuz young as I us’t to be.

Yes, the university yell is based on history—history of folk lore; of days that are fast passing away; the days when our fathers and mothers lived in primitive simplicity; with a freedom and liberty that was a glory all its own; that law ridden communities of today will never know; of days when throbbing music set feet a dancing in cabin homes; when hands clasped hands of a neighborhood; when hearts beat with other hearts; when the poorest child in the community was the object of every woman’s solicitude; when birth was a community joy, and death a neighborhood grief.

However, our days have their compensations.

Another of those historical myths that came from somewhere, but like the unanswered interrogatory. "Who struck Billy Patterson," remains among those mysteries that was conceived by accident, and born in such obscurity that it left no record upon the annals of time; that long-drawn cry of many a hullabaloo; that has rent the midnight air—"O-o-o-o-h Joe! He-a-e-re’s your mule!"

It was mentioned by several raconteurs of the days of ’89. I have read in one history an attempt to locate its origin at Guthrie that first night; that a boomer had the misfortune to lose his mule, and his companion finding it, set the circumambient void resounding and reverberating with the cry that he had found the mule.

I remember when I was a small boy, I think in the year 1882; it may have been 1883, I attended a soldier’s reunion. The country where I was reared was settled by soldiers of

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the Civil war. That reunion was a "whopper" to me. Born and reared on the prairies where our neighbors were few and far between, I learned that this old world had more people in it than I ever dreamed could be. There were long streets of tents; and such a boisterous, rollicking set of men I never had seen; in fact, probably never will see the like again. One of the outstanding remembrances of the occasion was of that lost mule. Used to looking for lost stock and searching for brands, it was delightfully funny to me to hear all through the night, that long-drawn wail, "O-o-o-o-h Joe

He-e-e-r-e’s your mule!" I remember laying awake the the greater part of the night and laughing every time the weird wail broke upon the nocturnal silence.

My father did not attend the reunion. He said he saw enough in the nearly five years he had served during the war. He wanted us boys to see what was left of it, so he stayed home and cared for the ranch. When I returned, I told him everything I could remember, especially about the mule that had been lost and found.

"Hasn’t Joe got that old mule yet?" he asked.

I was surprised. I asked if he had heard about it .

"Yes," he replied, "I used to think that the war was partly over that old mule. Any time we got around the teamsters of the wagon trains, we would be entertained all hours of the night by the fellows who had found that mule."

Then he became reminiscent. It was a great treat, for it was seldom that he did.

I remember once," he said, "when we were in front of Atlanta. Hood had been put in command of the confederates, and decided to fight outside of the trenches. He started around our army, and some of us were hurried away to get up to Old Pap Thomas at Nashville. I was then a staff officer, and was detailed to take charge of a wagon train. It was about the most strenuous job I ever got hold of. The Johnnys were pushing us, and for two or three days my train never was out of sight of then. In fact, I looked for them to come over any time and take charge; relieve me of further responsibility.

"One night we were camped on one side of a small river. The Johnnys were on the other. Our pickets were lined up

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on one side, and their’s [sic] on the other. I thought, after the hard marching and nerve racking struggles of that day we would have peace and quiet; unless the Johnys decided to come over and get us; or we were ordered to go over and get them.

"Then a Johnny found that old mule and broke the solitude of the night. From across the river we heard the old familiar wail, ‘O-o-o-o-oh Joe! He-e-e-ere’s your mule.’ Then a leather-lunged Yank bawled an echoing answer. I tried to locate him. I wanted to arrest him; to ram a blanket into his big mouth; but he was the most elusive and numerous man I ever heard. I never did see him. I ran the legs off of details trying to get hold of him, but when they got to one end of the camp he was at the other. After a while it got to be funny, and I called off the men. We were out before daylight the next morning and on our way; the last I ever heard of those Johnnys was that lown-drawn wail faintly echoing in the distance, ‘O-o-o-o-h Joe! He-e-e-ere’s your mule’!"

There you are. All the enthusiasm for my discovery of a good joke oozed away while my father was telling this tale. In later years I was shocked to learn from an old, old soldier of the Mexican war that the identical mule that Joe lost was a part of General Zachary Taylor’s equipment; that he, too had heard the night’s silence broken by the intelligence that the mule had been found.

But it remained for a reporter on the Daily Oklahoman to dig up from the sources of original history that it was in Egypt the mule was lost; that when Joseph sent his brethren home laden with food and presents, one of his jackasses followed the herd of his brothers. Having just had some experience with the cup that accidentally got in Benjamin’s sack, they were leary of carrying off any more than the inventory checked out by Joseph’s shipping clerks. When it was noticed that the ass was following the procession one of the boys called out "Oh, Joe, here’s your mule."

Since that time, it is solemnly asserverated by this resurrector of history, that mule has been missing; generations, and ages of generations, have found him quietly grazing in numerously scattered precincts; have announced the fact in stentorian tones; during the silence of the night when men

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were most inclined to be careless about lost mules. Future generations might hear the joyful intelligence, were it not that the automobile has run over the mule; and soon such an announcement would raise the question, "Dear me, what is a mule?"

—Paul Nesbit.

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