Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 1
March, 1926
GLEANINGS FROM THE BY-WAYS OF OKLAHOMA FOLK LORE.

MABLE CALDWELL, STILLWATER, OKLA.

Page 45

My subject was chosen because it more nearly fits my material than any other subject could. My experiences in gathering tales do not make a full harvest; In fact, they are nothing more than a few sheaves of grain which were gathered from a small portion of our state.

The small inland village of Whitmire, located in the northeastern part of Adair County, is the nucleus of a section which contains more elements which link primitive Oklahoma, Indians and early settlers, with modern Oklahoma, than does any other section of our state.

Several years ago it was my pleasure to spend a week in this locality. Adair County had meant nothing to me but the knowledge that it was the home of Zeke Proctor, the only person with whom the United States government ever made an individual treaty. As I rode along on that spring morning I tried to visualize just how Chief Proctor could have done all the things attributed to him. Our journey led over hill and dale in ever changing scene. Worlds of hidden charm and romance lay in the murmuring streams with their beds of green moss, the Judas trees, black and red haw branches, and the quantities of dogwood in bloom, which filled the air with a sweet aroma. Numerous copses of hazel, interspersed with cedars of various shapes, were seen in all directions over the Ozark foothills or nestling beneath the tall bluffs which overlooked Clear Creek. Quite unconsciously, I found myself wishing I might live in this environment forever; for, all too soon, my journey ended and I found myself in the home of a cattleman where I was to spend several days and nights.

My first real thrill came when I went with the daughter of the house, that afternoon, to watch the feeding of several hundred cattle. I was told that it was the last time before they were to be sent to market. The men who rode about among the cattle joked and sang. Among those was Bob, a typical Texas cowboy, whose clear tenor rose and fell in rich cadences. I have never heard the song since, which so im-

Page 46

pressed me and I have hunted for it in many places. Bob, shy and aloof, seemed to feel sorrow that the cattle were leaving, and the melancholy notes appeared to have been inspired by the fact. The nearest I can describe his song was that it contained a continuous refrain about "Bossie who never would be rounded-up" again. I could not keep from thinking of that old song, "Darling Nellie Gray" with its mournful lament. When the cowboys discovered a watchful stranger they immediately stopped singing and started whistling. Only once while I was there did I hear a song which I have since found. This was a song which Lomax gives in "Cow Boy Songs," entitled "Bucking Broncho," and which seemed to be a favorite with Bob; I know not why, for it was the lament of a maiden

"My love is a rider, wild bronchos he breaks,
Though he’s promised to quit it, just for my sake,
He ties up one foot, the saddle puts on,
With a swing and a jump he is mounted and gone.
The first time I met him, ’twas early one spring,
Riding a broncho, a high-headed thing.
He tipped me a wink as he gaily did go;
For he wished me to look at his bucking broncho.
The next time I saw him ’twas late in the fall,
Swinging the girls at Tomlinson’s hall.
He laughed and he talked as we danced to and fro,
Promised never to ride on another broncho.
He made me some presents, among them a ring;
The return that I made him was a far better thing.
’Twas a young maiden’s heart, I’d have you all know;
He’s won it by riding his bucking broncho.
My love has a gun, and that gun he can use,
But he’s quit his gun fighting as well as his booze.
And he’s sold him his saddle, his spurs, and his rope,
And there’s no more cow punching, and that’s what I hope.
My love has a gun that has gone to the bad,
Which makes poor old Jimmy feel pretty damn sad;
For the gun it shoots high and the gun it shoots low,
And it wobbles about like a bucking broncho.
Now all young maidens, where’er you reside,
Beware of the cowboy who swings the raw-hide.
He’ll court you and pet you and leave you and go,
In the spring up the trail on his bucking broncho.

Page 47

That night the young folks, practically all of whom were of Indian blood, gathered at Mr. Blank’s home for a party I was interested in seeing what kind of entertainment would be featured and had not long to wait. The crowd, or as many who could, gathered about the crown organ in the corner A full-blood Indian seated himself at it, and after a systematic series of touching keys and pulling out stops he produced a melodious combination of chord sounds from the instrument. What a wealth of melody poured out from the throats of that mixed crowd. I realized the truth of the statement that music belongs to the Indian’s sphere.

First, came "The Bird in the Gilded Cage," the lament of one who had come to see the value in being a young man’s slave now that she was an old man’s darling. I had expected mirth and failed to find it. One dusky big brown eyed child of six who went to sleep was taken by his mother and placed in the spring-wagon outside of the yard fence in order that the others might not laugh at him.

Scarcely before the last notes had died away, another song was started, a song which told of a crying babe in an Eastern Pullman car and of a father who was patiently trying to coax the child to sleep. The song told how some traveling men became angry because their sleep had been disturbed and remonstrated with the father in no gentle words; to all of which the father mournfully explained that the child’s mother was in "The Baggage Coach Ahead."

Jessie James was not neglected. Some fifteen or twenty stanzas were sung in which Jessie James was the hero; his escapades furnished warnings to those who would heed them.

There were many others which I do not recall. It all seemed strange, the significance of which I did not completely understand. Intervening years of study have caused me to realize that I had a rare opportunity, rare because it marked my hearing of primitive ballads, most of which were of the "moister in music" type.

At eleven o’clock, the singing was brought to a close when the hostess served taffy candy and apples. In the quietness of the conversation, I succeeded in getting a bright eyed boy of twelve to talk to me about his own language. He told me that "godu" meant bread. Not thinking I said, "I wonder why it is named that way." His reply was almost

Page 48

instantaneous: "The white man named the white man’s great spirit after our bread because it gives him life."

The party broke up about midnight and it seemed to me that the crowd, positively, could not be the same. The hills resounded with cat calls, shrieks, whistles and frequent staccato reports from revolvers. I imagined if they were shooting at targets, those targets must have been the stars.

When I was shown to my room I noticed that the sole decoration on the wall was a large framed crayon picture of an Indian in rude civilian clothes. Underneath the picture a gun and a long knife were fastened. I questioned my hostess who told me that the picture was one of her father, Ezekiel Proctor—the self same person about whom I had heard so many stories of his extreme cruelty. The knife and gun likewise belonged to him.

"My father," said Mrs. Plank, "has been greatly misrepresented by those who did not know him. As a father, he was always tender with his family of whom he was exceptionally proud. It is true that he was cruel to his enemies or to those who tried to thwart him; but these actions were caused from adherence to his personal code of honor, a code which made it an unforgiven sin to give in to anything or to anyone to the detriment of self. "Someone," she continued, "has said that he appeared beside himself at times. This is not true. My father was crafty, ever planning for the future. The story which I treasure most of those told to me about my father is of his outwitting the United States Marshals. He had a little wiry pony that could climb or cross any kind of obstacle. For this pony he constructed at an underground forge some special horseshoes which he fitted on the pony himself. The shoes were turned backward. When his pursuers were tracking him, they were actually going in the opposite direction from that which he was traveling."

Suffice it to be said there was very little sleep for me that night. My mind was filled with the romance of the situation; and as the moonlight shone upon that crayon picture, the Indian, Zeke Proctor, lived before me as I lay in my bed.

During the remaining days of my stay I heard many stories in which Zeke Proctor was a prominent, or the central figure.

Page 49

A lone pine tree on the highest hill in the country is supposed to be near the only place where anyone ever saw Zeke Proctor’s "Keeper," a hairy creature part man and part beast who was supposed to warn him of impending danger.

One day I remarked about the presence of the many "Jack in the Pulpit" which grew there and was informed that the Great Spirit had caused them to grow there in order to show Zeke Proctor the best way to travel through the underbrush.

Two years ago at Stillwater a summer school student told me that her grandfather had told her of a hermit medicine man who had brought the "Jack in the Pulpit" from the South and had transplanted it to show the Indians a way back to their southern homes in Georgia in case they chose to go.

I went home to continue my work in high school conscious only of one fact that I had had a good time. I had been in a new world which had meant nothing but romance.

I should like nothing better now than to take my notebook and spend weeks in collecting the material which is in every part of Oklahoma, a great field rich in lore of every kind; for now I realize the educational value of it all. I expressed this wish to a friend of mine who unfortunately does not appreciate Mother Nature as she should; (otherwise she is a well educated person) and she replied: "Those crude things, why, they are nothing more than our jazz of today." I have found a hesitancy on the part of some people to tell early day stories about which they are familiar. They seem to think that they, themselves, will be underrated from a cultural standpoint.

I like to teach that there is no connection between this loss of folk-lore and the modern craze among some of our jazz addicts which praises "Red Hot Henry Brown" and his various superheated relations. I deem it one of my greatest privileges to teach my students that we must not let the first stories of our earliest people pass into oblivion; that we have one of the richest heritages on earth, the record of which is a combination composed of ballads and legends in which the heart beats of Indian warrior, man and maid, the roving cow man, the sturdy pioneer—all beat in steady succession to the music of life itself. The result of it all is the finished symphony—the symphony of Oklahoma itself.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site