Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 4
December, 1927

Page 363

This editorial is being written in behalf of men who have been prominent in the affairs of Indian Territory and Oklahoma. To this end we are asking those who may have the necessary data concerning characters who have been prominent in territorial affairs and state affairs to give us the data so we may have the record in Chronicles of Oklahoma. We should be willing to do this much to perpetuate the memory of those who have been active in the development of this great state. We are especially interested in getting the data for biographical sketches of members of the Constitutional Convention. Several of these men have died, others are getting old, and will soon have crossed over the great divide, after which it will be even more difficult to get the facts in the case.

If you are in possession of these facts as they pertain to any one of these men, will you not see to it that this office is furnished now, with suitable material so that a creditable memoir may appear as a part of the history of our country?

It is also, desired by this office, that you furnish us with biographical data concerning the members of the, Legislature of the Territory of Oklahoma, both the dead and the living, and the members of the State Legslature. We are appealing to you, if you have any such information, to furnish it now.

J. Y. B.


Editorial Introduction

Payne’s Oklahoma Colony had as its offical journalistic exponent or organ a newspaper, the Oklahoma Chief or, as it was more commonly called, the Oklahoma War Chief. The first number of this publication was issued at Caldwell, Kansas, January 12th, 1883. This unique periodical underwent many vicissitudes. Its publication office was changed from place to place along the Indian Territory border, in southern Kansas, not less than half a dozen times and its changes

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in editorial and business management were almost as numerous. It was issued more or less regularly, with occasional temporary suspensions, until August 12, 1886, when it was permanently discontinued.

Rock Falls, on the Chicaskia River, in the northwestern part of Kay County, was the site of the last effort at settlement in Oklahoma under the personal leadership of Captain David L. Payne. As in the case of all previous efforts in the same line, it was broken up by troops of the Regular Army, its leaders being taken as military prisoners to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Later, they were formally indicted for conspiracy against the United States by intruding on Indian lands. Although Payne and his lieutenants were anxious to be tried under this indictment, it was quashed by the Federal district judge, Charles G. Foster, who held that the title to the Oklahoma lands was vested in the United States and that, consequently, settlement thereon by American citizens was not a criminal offense. This was Payne’s first and only victory before the courts.

Although Payne’s Oklahoma Colony had previously taken at least one other printing plant into the, Indian Territory, it was captured and confiscated by the military before a single issue of the paper could be published. The following account of the paper published at the Rock Falls settlement, therefore, is an authentic, first-hand narrative of the only issue of the Oklahoma War Chief that was actually printed in Oklahoma. The writer, Mr. Grant Harris, long identified with Oklahoma journalism, is the senior member of the firm of Harris & Foster, publishers of the Wagoner Tribune.

J. B. T.

One Sunday morning in May, 1884, I and two other printers, William Cunningham and W. A. Stacey (or Harry Felton, as he was known at that time) left Caldwell, Kansas, on ponies we had rented at the livery stable and started for Rock Falls, four miles south of Hunnewell, Kansas, on the Chicaskia River, where Captain Payne and his boomers were camped. For several weeks the papers had been filled with the news of their activities and curiosity to see what was going on for ourselves was the motive that prompted us, though we knew Captain Payne had been trying to hire a

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printer for some time and we were looking for, work as we had quit our jobs on the Caldwell Standard the night before.

When we reached Rock Falls we found a city of tents. There were probably 1500 people on the ground with a number of stores and eating houses, but no saloons. Some of the stores were in tents and others had wooden sides with canvas stretched over for a roof. The only frame building in the town was the printing office, and it head never been used, but the complete outfit was there. Tacked on the door of the building was a paper reading substantially as follows:


Any person or persons printing or publishing, or attempting to print or publish a newspaper on the Cherokee Strip will be deemed guilty of trespass and will be subject to a fine of from one dollar to one thousand dollars and imprisonment in a United States jail for from one to five years.

Henry M. Teller, Secretary of the Interior.

That document explained why Captain Payne had been unable to get printers to go to work, and it also explained our hesitancy in asking for a job, although we wanted one badly. After talking to a number of Payne’s followers we had decided to go back to Caldwell when Captain Payne came up. Someone had told him there were some printers on the ground and he got up from a sick bed to see us, He said he wanted to hire a printer and would pay him $25 a week and board (big wages in those days) and said we could decide among ourselves which one should go to work. After talking it over alone we decided that none wanted the job in view of the document posted on the door of the building, but Stacey said: "Let’s tell him that if he will give all of us twenty-five dollars a week and board we will go to work."

No sooner was the proposition made than Captain pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and counted out twenty-five dollars for each of us, with the remark: "You’re all hired and we ought to get out a paper this week."

Then, as our horses would have to be returned to Caldwell and all of our personal possessions were there, someone would have to go after them and we decided to "jeff" (any printer can tell you what that means) to see who would

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go. I was elected to stay and Cunningham and Stacey returned to Caldwell that afternoon and got back to Rock Falls Monday evening. In the meantime I had "laid the cases" as the type was in the packages in which they were shipped from the factory and Monday morning set the first type for the first paper that was ever printed on the Cherokee Strip, "The Oklahoma Chief."

A paper by this name had been printed at different times at Wichita, South Haven, Gueda Springs, and possibly other points in Kansas in the interest of the boomer movement, but this was the first paper ever printed in the Cherokee Strip. Captain Cooper was the editor, though Captain Payne dictated what should go into the paper and did a considerable part of the writing. Copies of this paper are on file in the Historical Society.

To go on with my story. One week sufficed to satisfy Stacey and Cunningham and they pulled out for Kansas, before, as they said, the soldiers came and threw them into jail. Payne then agreed to pay me the twenty-five dollars a week and give me all I could make out of the paper if I would stay, and with the help of Claude Bowerman, a son of Doctor Bowerman of Wellington, Kansas, I did the mechanical work on the paper until the colony was taken out the following August (I believe).

Life in the camp was rather, dull, as a rule, but occasionally wild rumors would be set afloat and some of the boomers would get pretty nervous. For instance, one night shortly after dark, considerable disturbance was heard on the south side of the river near the ford and Indian voices could be distinguished. The report got out that a large band of Indians were there and would attack the camp. The leaders took enough stock in the tale to post a strong guard and order everyone to have their arms ready. In the morning three or four bucks, a half dozen squaws and a number of youngsters of various, ages were found camped there on their way to Kansas.

Shortly after I got acquainted with Payne he asked me if I would not help him with his books and from then on I acted as a sort of secretary, but he was so unbusiness-like that his "books" were considerable of a joke. The membership fee for joining the colony was ten dollars and there was

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a three dollar fee for surveying, but Captain never turned down an applicant simply because he did not have the thirteen dollars. He would take what he had. That night he would try to remember who had paid him during the day and I would set down the amounts as he gave them, but there was generally more money than he could account for and frequently he could not remember names, so the books were of very little practical use.

Captain Payne was a likeable man and generous to a fault. A friend could get anything he had and he forgot all about the transaction right away and would never ask for the return of anything borrowed unless the party voluntarily offered to pay. But, on the other hand, he was just as free to ask a friend for aid and forgot it almost as quickly. All the time we were there about all anyone did was to loaf about and talk about the chances of being able to hold the "claims" they had staked. A few men plowed a few furrows, but no serious attempt to cultivate the land was made. They expected to be driven out and Payne hoped to be arrested and tried on the trespass charge, as he was confident he could prove the land did not belong to the Cherokees, but was government land and subject to preemption. His contention was that the government had merely set aside the fifty-nine mile strip as an outlet for the Cherokees to the buffalo country, but with no intention of ceding it to them. And although he was arrested a number of times on that charge he was invariably turned loose without a trial.

The printing office was just about such an outfit as could be found in any country town at that time, consisting of a Washington hand press, three cases of long primer type, one of nonpareil and a half dozen fonts of display type, the whole probably worth about four hundred dollars. The first issue was two pages of home print and two pages "patent," and consisted of ten quires (250 papers). But within a few days after the first paper was circulated orders began to come in until the capacity of that old hand press was taxed to the limit. The last paper we got out we put on the press Wednesday noon and ran it continuously until Friday night, during which time I printed all the patent on hand, all the paper I could get at Hunnewell and Caldwell and several hundred copies on brown wrapping paper I bought of a Hunne-

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well grocer, and when we took the forms off the press there were orders on the hook for more than 1,000 papers—and every paper sold at ten cents a copy—and I got the ten cents, in addition to my twenty-five dollars a week and board, but I have hated the looks of a Washington hand press from that day to this and still have "corns" on my hands from pulling it, and, what’s more, I have never run one since.

There have been so many wild tales told about the actual arrest when we were finally taken out that I hesitate to tell it as I saw it. The camp was located on the north bank of the Chikaskia River. The afternoon before we were arrested a company of negro soldiers came up to the south bank of the river and went into camp. They sent us no word and made no move to interfere with us that evening, but we all realized that the end had come and that night a council of the leading men of the colony was held in Captain Payne’s tent. Some of the hot-heads advised resisting the soldiers, but the more level-headed, among them Captain Payne, overrode them and decided that the better thing to do was to surrender when it was demanded. A number of wagons left camp that night headed for Kansas, but the large majority stayed to see the game through.

The next forenoon the soldiers surrounded the camp and a detail was sent to the printing office to make the arrest. Payne was in his tent, a quarter of a mile away. After placing me and the editor under arrest they went on to Payne’s tent. He met them at the door with a "45"—in each hand and said: "No damned nigger can arrest me. I will surrender to a white man, but if any of you niggers want to die just make a move in this direction " The captain’s reputation as a dead shot was too widely known to disregard his threat and the negro sergeant in charge of the squad called a parley, with the result that word was sent to Lieutenant Day, in charge of the expedition, and he came personally and made the arrest. Seven of us, Captain Payne, Captain Cooper, the editor, the two Couch boys and the vice-president and surveyor of the colony, whose names I forget, were placed in irons, while the rest of the colony was lined up along the trail and headed for Kansas with soldiers on each side of the trail clear to the state line. When the head of the column

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reached Hunnewell, four miles away, the last of the boomers were just leaving the camp.

The printing office was loaded into a government wagon and no one seems to know what became of it, but years afterward a negro janitor, for the Kansas City Star, told me he had been a soldier and for a time was located at Fort Reno and that he was with them when Captain Payne was arrested. I asked him if he knew what was done with the printing outfit and he said that it was thrown into the Cimarron River on their way back to the fort. After those negro soldiers got through loading it into that wagon it was not fit for much else and I think that is probably what became of it.

A little before sundown that evening a negro soldier released me and took me to Lieutenant Day. I was but eighteen years old and looked even younger and they evidently did not care to be bothered with me. The lieutenant asked me why I went to work in view of the notice on the door, which had never been disturbed and was there when the building was burned by the soldiers. I said: "Lieutenant, I had been working in Caldwell for seven dollars a week and boarded myself. When Captain Payne offered me twenty-five dollars and board the difference in salary looked bigger than the proclamation and I went to work."

He laughed and asked me how long it would take me to get to Kansas if he would give me my pony, and I said about fifteen minutes. "Beat that time a little, if you can," he remarked, and I did.

Here is a part of the story I have always hesitated to tell and had intended to leave out of this yarn, but upon second thought will tell it and you can do as you please with it.

Early in the life of the colony an attempt had been made to dig a well near the print shop, but after getting down about thirty-five feet without a sign of water the work was stopped, the well covered up and forgotten. When the soldiers put in an appearance that afternoon and we realized that we would be arrested, there was a considerable sum of money on hand, how much I do not know. We knew that this would be confiscated by the soldiers and naturally we wanted to save it. Only the officers of the company, the men arrested, and myself knew about it. That night we de-

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cided to put it in a leather grip and drop, it down the well, and this was done. When I was released I went to Wichita and went to work on the Eagle, and there I stayed until the six men were released at Fort Smith, some six or seven weeks later. I had never breathed a word to anyone about where the money was put, or that I knew anything about it. The first thing they did when turned loose was to come back to Wichita, hunt me up and ask what I had done with the money. I told them that so far as I knew it was still in the old well. I have always suspected they did not more than half believe me for they insisted on me going with them to the old camp to get it. We went to Hunnewell by train and from there drove to the site of the well. The old windlass was still standing and we put a rope on it and they lowered me into the well. The grip was where we left it and I fastened the rope to it and they pulled it up, and then pulled me to the surface. I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had failed to find the money.

We went back to Wichita and Payne, Cooper and one of the Couch boys took charge of the money. I do not know what became of it. A short time later I received word to come to Wellington and help straighten out the books. We worked on them that night until quite late and in the morning went to breakfast late. There were five or six of us at the table in the old Hotel de Barnard. Captain Payne was sitting at the head of the table with Captain Cooper next to him. While we waited for our breakfasts to come, Payne’s head dropped forward as though he was asleep. After his breakfast had been set in front of him Captain Cooper placed his hand on Payne’s shoulder and said: "Wake up, Cap, and eat your breakfast before it gets cold," giving him a shake. Captain Payne’s head dropped to one side, eyes staring. He was dead.


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