Dan W. Peery
From an historical viewpoint the opening of Oklahoma on April 22, 1889 was the most important and momentous event in the history of our state. It was the first opportunity that an American citizen had ever had to homestead or to acquire title in what is now one of the richest and most prosperous states in the American Union. It was the beginning of civil government, law and order under the constitution and the establishment of homes for many thousands of people at that time and for future generations.
April 22nd has been made a holiday by the laws of Oklahoma and it should be observed even as Texas does San Jacinto Day. The writer has always been proud that it was his opportunity to have taken part in the race for homes on that eventful day. In telling the story of the opening many people have tried to leave the impression that the 89ers were real pioneers and had suffered many privations and hardships in the settlement of the country. Of course they missed many conveniences and the luxuries they had been accustomed to in their old homes, yet those of us who came into the country at the opening were not real pioneers, nor did we experience many of the hardships of our ancestors who came West of the Alleghenies to make homes in the Mississippi Valley country way back from 1820 to 1840. The privations experienced by the 89ers are not to be compared with the dangers and hardships of those who followed the covered wagons to California and Oregon in the year from 1848 to 1866. These people were the real pioneers while the Oklahoma 89ers were a sort of a make-believe, boy scout pioneers.
The Santa Fe Railroad ran right through the heart of the country to be opened to settlement and one could ride into Oklahoma City or Guthrie on cushion seats and get a daily paper from Wichita or Dallas the same day it was published.
While quite a large per cent of the people who located in the towns came into the country on the trains, the most of those who were after homesteads, had wagons and camping outfits along the border. With many of us it was a real picnic occasion and a more beautiful time for the opening could not have been chosen. All nature smiled a welcome to the
prospective home seekers. The landscape was as enchanting as the vale of Cashmere. It was a poet’s dream.
It was an early spring and the trees were in full leaf and the fresh luxuriant grass carpeted the prairies as far as the eye could see, while all the hillsides and valleys were covered with wild flowers of every shade and color.
Then again, it was spring time of life for a large majority of the men and women who participated in this great realistic drama. It is true that there were some men whose hair was gray in that waiting throng camped along the border, and some who had no intention of locating in the new country and only came along for the pleasure of the trip, or else to locate a claim and sell out; but most of them were young men who were there to get a home in the new country and to help build a great state. Theirs was a worthy and noble ambition; but there were tragedies and many disappointments. Many got discouraged and quit, but others stayed and they and their children are here and have seen their hopes and ambitions realized.
It was a long struggle to open that part of Indian Territory not included in any Indian Reservation known as Oklahoma to settlement. Many writers had pointed out that there was a body of land in almost the exact center of the Territory that they claimed was a part of the public land of the LT. S. and therefore subject to homestead entry. Capt. David L. Payne organized Boomers in about 1880, and from that time until his death in 1884, he led one colony after another into the country, only to be arrested and taken out by the military authorities, once or twice by Negro soldiers. After Payne’s death, W. L. Couch was chosen leader or captain of the Boomers and helped keep up the agitation until the country was opened by act of Congress. While all these expeditions helped to arouse interest in the new country, yet conservative raen realized that it would require an act of Congress to lawfully open this tract to homestead entry. Most of the members of Congress from nearby states were for passing such a law but there was much opposition from the big cattle Interests and from some of the leaders of the Indians in the five civilized tribes, and also from some of those eastern philanthropists who had made it their special mission to protect Indian rights.
The fight to open the country to settlement in the 50th Congress had been led by Chas. H. Mansur, representative in Congress from the 10th Missouri District, the district from which the writer came, also Representative Wm. M. Springer from Illinois and Gen. James B. Weaver who represented an Iowa constituency and several other western Congressmen. The bill that they introduced, known as the Springer Bill, had been shoved aside or killed in the committee and those of us who were waiting had almost abandoned hope when the news came that our friends in Congress had attached a proviso to the Indian appropriation bill, as a rider, providing for the opening of the promised land to settlement. Some members of the house and some of the senators were thus compelled to vote for it against their wishes or else kill the appropriation bill.
Unfortunately the rider measure contained no provision for territorial government and thus the new country was opened to settlement in almost political chaos. This bill passed and became a law March 2, 1889.
The new law provided: "That the lands acquired by the United States under said agreement shall be a part of the public domain, to be disposed of as herein provided, and sections sixteen and thirty-six of each township are hereby reserved for the use and benefit of the public schools, to be established within the limits of said land under such conditions and regulations as may be hereafter enacted by Congress." The act further provides that the land shall be disposed of to actual settlers under homestead laws only. One clause in the bill authorized the President to create two land districts and locate the land office where homestead entries were to be made. President Harrison located one of these land offices at Guthrie and the other at Kingfisher.
President Harrison issued his proclamation on March 23, 1889. The proclamation said after reciting the law described the boundaries of the land declared that the said lands: "Will at and after the hour of twelve o’clock noon on the 22d day of April next, and not before, be open to settlement under the terms and subject to all the conditions, limitations and restrictions contained in the act of Congress approved March 2, 1889." The President’s proclamation also contained this warning, to-wit: "Warning is hereby ex-
pressly given that no person entering upon and occupying said lands before said hour of twelve o’clock, noon, of the 22d day of April, A. D., 1889, hereinbefore fixed, will ever be permitted to enter any of said lands or acquire any rights thereto, and that the officers of the United States will be required to strictly enforce the provisions of the act of Congress to the above effect."
Despite the law and notwithstanding the warning of the President in his proclamation, there were many people who were not disposed to play the game fair. As the time approached for the big race, it was noticed that the people were disappearing from the camps along the line and on the morning of the opening, there was quite a thinning out of the ranks and it was suspected that these people who had left us had slipped into the forbidden land the night before "by the light of the moon" and would be ready to occupy some good bottom land quarter section at the hour of noon and before those who obeyed the rules could get there from the line. Those people who slipped in, in advance, were called "Moonshiners" those days and the word "Sooner" was not applied to them for five or six months afterwards. You may imagine the disappointment of a man who had run his horse ten or twelve miles and into some beautiful valley and there finding a man on every quarter and sometimes two or three to the quarter. We knew that they were "Moonshiners" but they would all claim that they started from the line at high noon and had just beat us to it, as it were. Some of these moonshiners were just holding down the land until some of their friends could get there from the line. Rather than get into a contest many of us rode on and located our homestead on the upland prairie.
The writer made the race from the line of the Pottawatomie Indian reservation, about fifteen miles east of Oklahoma City. Most people in referring to this line abbreviated the name and called it the "Pott line." A prospective homesteader rode up to a Moonshiner and said to him: "Where did you come from that you got here before me?" He answered, "We came from the ‘Pot line’ and he called two other Moonshiners who were holding down claims and they declared that they had come from the "Pot line" and started at noon. The prospective homesteader rode on for
other fields and the Moonshiners explained to some of their friends afterwards that they had told that fellow the truth. They had hanged a cooking pot on a line at their camp in the woods and called it the "Pot line" and they had started from that line at twelve o’clock. They could stand off some of the homesteaders with that kind of a subterfuge or evasion but the United States land office was yet to be reckoned with.
When you made homestead entry, or filed on your land at the land office, everyone had to take oath that he dial not enter and occupy any of the lands described in the President’s proclamation of March 23d before twelve o’clock, noon, of April 22, 1889. Many of these Moonshiners sold out their possessions without ever going to the land office. Taking this oath was what got many of them into the Federal Court on the charge of perjury. Some of these Moonshiners were fully organized in advance and had selected some rich valley to invade and locate their claims. Some of them knew where the corner stones were and the numbers of the land they expected to file on at the land office. They had come to the country together and had organized a conspiracy to each swear for the other that they had not invaded the land in advance of the opening but left the line at noon. Nearly all of these Moonshiners were contested before the United States land office by parties who had failed to get a claim or else had staked the same claim that the Moonshiner was holding. This made business for the land office lawyers and there were many specialists in that line, most of whom had gotten their training in Kansas. The evidence of one case often involved that of other cases. There were several cause Celebre that attracted widespread attention on account of some of the questions involved. There was the Couch-Adams et al., involving the land where the court house is now located, also the Howe case and others that I might mention.
The land office contest against Captain Caha and his brother and about twelve others, involved some of the best agricultural land in the new country. These people were not of the old boomer crowd but they came down to the South Canadian from Omaha, Nebraska and were formerly from the Czecho-Slovakia country. They were of the business type of
men and Captain Caha was the leader of the party. They seemed to have gotten a good early start and located on some of the finest land in the new country along Mustang creek southwest of Oklahoma City. They were contested before the Register and Receiver of the land office, and all lost their claims, although they had sworn that they left the line at the South Canadian exactly at twelve o’clock. They were prosecuted in the United States court for committing the crime of perjury. I think all of them received a short sentence in the federal jail except Captain Caha. Cris Madsen has the explanation of why the shrewd Captain did not go to jail. These cases were pending for a year or two as they were appealed from the land office to the Commissioner of the general land office at Washington. While these cases were pending on appeal, Ezra Banks, one of the contestants, wrote the story in rhyme that had quite a circulation nearly forty years ago. Here is the way he tells it:
April the twenty-second,
The great and noted day,
When through the land of promise,
Our horses ran away.
And mules one lovely pair;
They beat the mounted squadron,
Of course they did it fair.
Of every race and tribe;
There, on the South Canadian,
We started side by side.
With plunder, grub and tools,
They filed their crew for Mustang
Led by a pair of mules.
This was the average load;
And very rough the road.
If they obeyed the rules—
They only touched in places,
This famous pair of mules.
Fifteen in their stocking feet;
A person just to look at them,
Would think them easy beat.
And dug a dozen holes
Before race horses got in sight
This fast pair of mules.
The saddle was their home;
With horses well selected,
Bred and trained to run.
They dropped their heads like fools;
They got in sight of Mustang
And saw the Captain’s mules.
Has ever been produced;
For nothing on the race track
Has ever been turned loose.
In old Kentucky schools
Can anything like equal
This dashing pair of mules.
Inventors learn to fly;
May boast of Nellie Bly.
With Vanderbilts or Goulds,
But none can make the record
Of Captain Cahas’ mules.
As will likely be the case,
And Congress makes -the blunder
To have another race.
And still obey the rules,
But organize a company
And buy the Captain’s mules.
Most of these Bohemians remained in the country and made good citizens and they were joined by many more. They are prosperous farmers and business men and no people, according to their number, have contributed more to developing the resources of our state.
I had much sympathy for some of the old boomers who had struggled for years to open the country for settlement. Many of them had their farms selected and some had made a little improvement. These men had worked for years and had undergone many hardships and they thought their rights were entitled to some consideration, but the law and the President’s proclamation gave them no preference over the man who had arrived the day before. They were the victims of bad advice from leaders, most of whom were in the country before the hour of opening on one pretext or another and tried to take advantage of their presence by staking the best land they could find close to the towns. Captain Couch, the head of the boomers, with several of his friends and relatives, was ostensibly, it was said, in the employ of the Santa Fe Railroad and was within a few hundred yards of the land he wanted at the hour of noon. Their claim was that they had a legal right in the country and should not be denied the right to file on government land.
Gen. James B. Weaver, of Iowa, who was a national character and who had rendered valuable service in Congress in passing the bill, came down to the opening. He was well and favorably known and had he stopped at the border in obedience to the law and the proclamation of the President and have taken chances with other men, even if he did not secure land or lots, would have been the most popular citizen in Oklahoma.
General Weaver was a Brigadier General in the Civil War and was a member of Congress for fourteen years, and in 1880 was the candidate for President of the Greenback party. He had much influence and a large following. It was said that the General made a speech at Purcell only a few days before the opening in which he advised every one to obey the proclamation and not cross the border until Noon, April 22d. This advice was only for others, while he crossed the line and came on to Oklahoma City and there joined and identified himself with a townsite gang that had been organized in Kansas and came down in advance of the opening and were surveying a townsite. They tried to hold a homestead adjoining the town for the General, but of course he never got title. If Weaver had political ambitions, he killed himself with the lawful citizens.
As I stated before, it was unfortunate that the country was opened for settlement without any provisions made for local civil government. It is true the United States law extended over the entire Indian Territory country and while a United States court had been established at Muskogee, yet its jurisdiction was largely criminal and only extended to crimes which constituted felony, such as murder, grand larceny and those acts that were in violation of the laws of the United States. There were no officials in the country who really had legal and lawful authority except a few deputy marshals and of course their authority only extended to violation of the laws of the United States.
Having no territorial form of government, there were no counties and no county officers; there were no provisions for public schools and the only schools we had for the first
eighteen months were subscription schools; there were no provisions for public roads and the people followed the old trails until some fellow saw fit to build a fence across the trail and then we had to "detour"; there were no provisions for making deeds nor transferring real estate except by relinquishing your claim at the land office and letting the other fellow file; there were no provisions for organizing corporations for the purpose of transacting business of any kind; there were no provisions for descent and distribution of estates. There were no marriage nor divorce laws, and there were no taxations of any kind; there were no court houses and no jails.
Neither was there any law nor constitutional authority for the organization of municipal government for the towns that came into being at the opening. People who were camping on their homesteads and were busy making the crude improvements that were required, and breaking the sod could get along for some time without civil law, but the great number of people who were trying to establish themselves in the new towns had to have police regulations and some recognized authority. It was imperatively necessary to organize for some form of town government, for police regulations and for sanitation in those camps that were soon to become towns and cities.
Not only were there no municipal governments provided by law, but there were no working plans whereby the townsites could be platted and lots conveyed to the settlers, or the cccupants. It is true that the law opening the country, provided for the establishment of townsites on the public lands not to exceed 320 acres under certain sections of the Revised Statutes. These sections provided that townsites could be entered by the judge of the county court, but there was no such officer. It would have been much better if the Secretary of the Interior had have had surveys made of these proposed townsites, for no one had legal authority to enter these lands and survey the townsites in advance of the opening. To do .so meant to violate the law. The law and the proclamation applied to the townsite entryman as well as the homesteader. Even if a man left the lines after twelve o’clock, noon, April 22d, there was no legal and lawful way provided to hold a
lot except the recognized, but unwritten law of "Squatter Right."
Notwithstanding the law and the proclamation of the President there was an organization perfected at Topeka, Kansas, known as the Seminole Town Company, that had for its purpose the seizing of the land at the Oklahoma stations on the Santa Fe and establishing a townsite. In order to carry out their plans and to be sure the Company could possess all the more valuable lots, it was necessary for them to be in possession before the people could get there from the line. This organization was made up of some shrewd townsite promoters who had had experience in locating county seats and in selling town lots in Kansas. And for "Ways that are dark and tricks that are vain," Bret Harte’s heathen Chinee had nothing on a Kansas townsite man. However, this company had several men with them who had been identified with the long fight to open the country to settlement and their names were well known to the people waiting on the border. Among the original directors of the Seminole Townsite and Improvement Company were the names of J. C. Wilson and L. H. Crandall of Topeka, J. A. Hudson, Capt. W. L. Couch and Hon. Sidney Clarke of Lawrence.
It afterward developed in the evidence given in a case before the United States land office that the Seminole Company had a plat made of their proposed townsite and their surveyor, one Chas. Chamberlain of Great Bend, Kansas, was at the Santa Fe depot at the hour of noon and at once started to survey the town. He run his streets at right angles to the west line of the railroad right-of-way, and made no attempt to locate the section corners.
The writer made his homestead location, or rather staked a claim, southeast of the city near "Crutch O" Creek but did not get any of the rich valley land, for that had been appropriated by the "Moonshiners" and he did not care to get into any litigation as long as he could get an upland prairie claim without a contest. Everyone in our party spent the afternoon of the 22d, and most of the next day, finding cornerstones, running section lines and getting the number of the land to see where we were located. On the second morning after the opening I came on into the new townsite to get my rriail, as did many others of our party. We were all anxious
to hear from home and then we wanted to hear and see what ivas happening in the new town. I was also expecting to meet Judge W. W. Witten and some other friends with whom I had come from Trenton, Missouri, some time before. They had stopped at Purcell to wait for the opening but had agreed to meet me at Oklahoma station after the big race. The post office was located near the railroad at the east end of Main street. My first recollection of the postal service was that the postmaster was standing upon a box outside the little stockade that served as a postoffice and was surrounded with a crowd of people like a street fakir. The postmaster was calling the names of those for whom he had letters. If your name happened to be Jones or Johnson or any name beginning with the letter "J" you would tell the postmaster to call out the letters commencing with the letter "J" and when your name was called you got your letter. Before the postmaster would get through calling the letters perhaps half of them would be delivered to people in the crowd. I waited perhaps an hour before I got him to call out the names beginning with the letter "P" but I was rewarded with a good letter from home.
I soon found my Missouri friends. They had staked lots on third street between Broadway and Robinson. They had their tents up and full camp outfit. I made my headquarters with them for some time. We were camped near some Chillicothe, Missouri, folks, including Judge Gill, Ben Craycroft and others.
People were camped everywhere and everybody was trying to secure lots and the question of how many lots one person could hold was a subject of debate in every camp. Most of the people were strangers to each other. They had no organizations and could not act together in establishing a business street but they soon discovered that there was an outfit that was organized and that was the Seminole Townsite Company.
As stated before, their civil engineer, Chas. Chamberlain, and his crew started to running the lines of Main street just at noon, but instead of finding the corners established by the government survey of 1873, he run his streets at a right angle with the track of the Santa Fe railroad and as the railroad track varied a little to the east of north, Main street does not run due east and west but bears to the north. Just
as fast as the corners of the blocks were established the representatives of this Seminole Company staked the lots, and by this means they took possession of the heart of the business section, nothwithstanding the fact that not one of them was a qualified entryman, but they had all forfeited their right to acquire title by reason of their violation of the law by entering upon the land before the hour of noon. It is fair to say here that they afterward claimed as a defense that they were "legal sooners" and were not on the land mentioned in the President’s proclamation, but were on the right-of-way of the railroad, a contention that was not upheld. When the people arrived that had come from the line, many on horseback, but a great majority on the train that arrived about two o’clock, they found all the lots taken on the south side of the Seminole survey but they followed the survey and many got lots on the hill farther north.
But the Seminole gang were not to have everything their own way, there was another Kansas crowd that figured on a townsite at that station. There were a number of men at Colony, Kansas, who had decided to plat a townsite at the Oklahoma station and organized a town just as soon as the country was legally opened to settlement, some of these parties were at Purcell and some of them up the river at the nearest point to the proposed townsite and they rushed into the country at the hour of noon. They had selected one of their number, Peter G. Burnes, so the record states, to survey the townsite. Burnes and his crew arrived on the ground about two o’clock and at once started his survey by locating the township line, on the south side of section thirty-three, along what is now Reno street for his base. He was several days making the survey and as he came north he came in conflict with the Seminole survey. This survey made by the Colony crowd was known as the Citizens’ survey. After much wrangling, a committee of fourteen was appointed to adjust the two surveys. This committee made a report recommending that the Citizens survey should be adopted up to and including Grand Avenue and that the Seminole survey should be adopted on Main street and on north. This compromise left the citizens survey just as Burnes had made and Seminole as their surveyor had made. This is the reason that Main street does not run parallel with Grand Avenue and
why there is a jog in all the north and south streets on Grand Avenue.
BUILDING A CITY
In the meantime while all the controversy over lots and surveys was being settled there was a great activity in a business way. Lumber was being unloaded from the cars and hauled directly to the lots where it was to be used and small box houses were being built along the business street. It seemed that the Seminoles had many of their shacks all cut and ready to put together before the opening. Perhaps the most pretentious buildings that were under construction the first week were the six two story frame buildings on Grand Avenue, where the Colcord building is now located, which were being constructed by Henry Overholser. These buildings were not located on the Seminole survey, as I understand, but upon the Burnes citizen’s survey as adjusted by the committee of fourteen.
There was big demand for lumber and hardware and there were many cars of lumber on the track billed to parties who were expecting to start lumber yards as soon as the country opened. Among the early lumbermen were Colonel Ketchum, W. J. Galt, Ben Craycroft, Hughes Bros., DeBolt Bros., Davidson & Case and no doubt many more.
As soon as they could get a big tent up on their lots, or else a box business house, merchants in every line commenced to sell their wares. The hardware sign of W. J. Pettee was put up the first day and he sold many of the nails that held together the first houses built in Oklahoma City.
John Brogan and his son, James, were among the first grocerymen, but there were other grocery stores, many of them doing business in tents. Every line of business and trade was represented and often the slogan was painted on the building: "We have come to stay."
There was no reckoning how many professional men hung out their shingles the first week of Oklahoma’s history. As a person walked around the city, doctors’ signs were to be seen in every block. It was not necessary for a man to have an M. D. degree from a medical school, for a horse doctor from Kansas could practice on human animals here in Oklahoma and when you employed a doctor you had to take your own
chance. Notwithstanding the big supply of doctors some men took patent medicine for what ailed them. Perhaps Oklahoma City did not have as many as Guthrie, for it was not a land office town, but there must have been more than a hundred lawyers in Oklahoma City in a week after the opening. Most of these fellows claimed to be expert land office lawyers and could win your claim for you if you were contested, and if you wanted to file a contest against some other person, they would furnish the evidence and win the claim for you for a little additional consideration.
However, I will say right here that there were good lawyers and skilled physicians who were a credit to their professions who located here when the country was opened for settlement. Some of these men are with us yet and not only have they been honored in their professional work, but they have contributed largely to the high standing of morals and good citizenship for which our state is justly proud.
But there was another class of professional men who invaded the new town in great profusion, a class that is not an asset to civilization, but a class that has always figured in the history of all new countries, I mean the professional gamblers. There was no law that would prohibit these gentry from plying their vocation and they had flocked to Oklahoma from all over the United States. The gambling business seemed to center in the block west of the depot, and several big tents were used for their gambling devices and there were also some frame buildings where this business was conducted. I remember on one building a sign over the door that read: "Bank." One might have thought that this was the place to do banking business but when you went in at the door you soon discovered that it was a gambling house and the sign had reference to a faro bank. There was every known device to entice a fool to part with his money.
There were faro banks, roulette tables, keno, draw poker, senate poker, stud poker and the old army game, chuck-a-luck. When night came things began to pick up around these gambling houses but there was not as much fighting and disorder as one might suppose. There were no saloons the first year as it was contrary to the United States law to bring whisky to the Indian Territory and this law was better enforced than the present prohibition law is enforced.
There was no end to real estate agents. They were everywhere and on about every other tent and building was the sign, "Claims for sale." Many of the lawyers were also in the real estate business and could locate you a claim or a town lot. There were many stories told about the real estate men and their methods but most of them were in legitimate business and were trying to sell the claims of fellows who had no use for farms and were wanting to get a few dollars to leave the country. The current story on the real estate agent follows with a Salvation Army woman’s prayer: "Oh Lord, thou knowest the wickedness of this city, here are liars, thieves, gamblers, prostitutes and real estate agents. Oh Lord have mercy on their souls and teach them the better way."
In the afternoon of April 26th there was circulated a "Call for Mass Convention" for the purpose of electing a temporary mayor and city recorder to hold their offices until such time that city officers should be elected by ballot, which election should not be more than five days after the election of the said temporary mayor and recorder; the time fixed for the mass convention was April 27th at 6:30 p. m. and the place Main and Broadway. The call was signed by fifteen or twenty names including Ledru Guthrie, Gen. J. B. Weaver, O. H. Violet, Sidney Clarke, D. A. Harvey (afterward a delegate to Congress), W. P. Shaw and others who had been identified with the Seminole organization.
Well, this call started something. It was Aristotle, or some other old timer, who discovered that man is a political animal. I believe there were more politicians and orators to the square acre in Oklahoma City at that time than ever assembled on a half section of land before. When the meeting convened there were perhaps a thousand people there, and before the crowd realized that the meeting was ready for business, Ledru Guthrie was made chairman, and O. H. Violet, secretary. The chairman stated the object of the meeting and before he had finished his remarks you could hear the cry, Mr. Chairman. There were perhaps one hundred men who wanted to be recognized; some of them, no doubt, had something to say worthy of consideration but most of them just
wanted to let the people know that they had arrived. The writer was just a bystander and made no effort to get the ear of the chairman, but some of his friends tried to make speeches but were abruptly told to "sit down, you are out of order." The chairman recognized one of the Seminole bunch who had his resolutions prepared and they were read to the meeting. The chairman and secretary certified that they were adopted unanimously but there was no chance for anyone to register an objection. Anyway, they provided that the convention should elect a temporary mayor and recorder and that an election should be held on May 1, 1889 at which time the mayor, recorder, police judge, city attorney, treasurer and six councilmen should be elected. A vote was taken for the temporary mayor and recorder and the chairman announced that W. L. Couch had been elected mayor and W. P. Shaw recorder.
The temporary mayor issued his proclamation for a city election May 1, 1889, designating two voting places all north of Reno for south of that street was a separate municipality.
Three days was a very short time to make a campaign but in that time many people, who were legal settlers, had begun to understand that they were playing into the hands of the Boomer, Sooner, Seminole outfit. Much opposition had developed and an attempt to organize to defeat the plans of the Seminole was made. A big mass meeting was held the night before the election and several of the many orators who were to figure in the future history of the city made speeches. They tried to center on candidates to defeat the Seminoles, but it was most too late to perfect an organization. Then the name of Captain Couch was known by many, who did not know him personally, as one of the Boomers who had helped open the country. There could be no question of the result of the election; the Seminoles conducted the election and elected their entire ticket.
It was announced William L. Couch had been elected mayor; John A. Blackburn, city recorder; Ledru Guthrie, city attorney; Frank Minton, city treasurer and O. H. Violet, police judge. The city council elected were Sidney
Clarke, E. G. Hudson, J. E. Jones, John Wallace, W. C. Wells and C. T. Scott.
It had been the plan to elect A. C. Scott for judge but it was decided at the last hour to elect Violet, although Scott was on the Seminole ticket. A. C. Scott was an honorable man and an educated, cultured gentleman, but far better fitted to have been the president of a female seminary than to have held the office of police judge under the Seminole administration. Judge Violet, commonly called "Posey" was the man for the job. He was not bothered with a conscience and he had the nerve to put everything across that the Seminoles wanted. His ear was deaf to the appeals of attorneys and his heart was flint to those who asked mercy in his court.
The city government began to function at once. The council met and passed a revenue measure providing for an occupation tax. Then they built a jail. The next act was an ordinance providing that every person holding lots in the city north of Reno street should secure a certificate from the Seminole Town Company and this ordinance made certificates conclusive evidence of the compliance with the law of settlement. Shortly afterward another ordinance was passed: Ordinance No. 14—making it a misdemeanor for anyone to question by claim the validity of title of a certificate holder or attempt to occupy such lots. There did not seem to be any uniform price for these certificates and they cost the lot owners anywhere from four to twenty dollars per lot. This Seminole Company claimed that they were duly organized and incorporated company, and that it was their townsite and they had the right to issue these certificates and charge the lot holders for them.
Of course, the town government upheld the company in this contention. Many lot holders got these certificates but some refused to contribute to the company and were promptly evicted by the city officers. If objections were made, the lot holder was brought at once before Judge Violet and either paid a fine or was thrown into the bastile. Then again, there were many lots without improvements or without an occupant, for which the certificate had been issued to some moonshiner who had no legal right to hold and could never acquire title under the law. Sometimes some adventurous fellow would jump these lots only to find himself in jail in a few hours. I
remember on one occasion of a little old man being ejected forcibly by the mayor from one of these lots anal it was necessary to call a physician to dress his wounds. I was standing near when General Weaver came to where the crowd had gathered; I heard General Weaver tell the crowd that this fellow had gotten what he deserved, that he was a d—— lot jumper.
Judge J. L. Brown wrote a long story mote than twenty years ago about the Seminole-Kickapoo fight in which he gave a long list of atrocities committed by the Seminole Town government and of the high handed flagrant abuse of power by Judge O. H. Violet. He also severely condemned Captain Stiles of the United States Army, who was acting Provost Marshal, for using his Company of United States soldiers to uphold the Seminole-Sooner outfit. To read Judge Brown’s story, the conditions were only to be compared with the Spanish Inquisition. But some allowance must be made for any story written by Judge Brown. I believe Judge Brown was an honest man and sincere in everything he said and did, but he was a man by nature highly prejudiced, bitter and uncompromising without the least sense of humor. He was an intellectual man, a good lawyer, always aggressive but was not a companionable man and he had few personal friends. However, he was a thorn in the side of that Seminole crowd who always referred to him as "Lot Jumping Jim."
The administration made not the slightest effort to placate the public but rather gloated over its authority and power. The people had no one to whom they could appeal for relief. Captain Stiles with his Company of soldiers was with the city government. The Captain had been named as provost marshal to maintain order and keep the peace but he assumed that it was his duty to uphold the Seminole Town Company in all its plans. The people became indignant and mass meetings were called to protest against the acts of Judge Violet and Mayor Couch. These meetings were largely attended and many fiery speeches were made but the meetings were shadowed by police and United States soldiers to hear what was said and to prevent any action against the town government.
There were three newspapers published in the city the first year. The Gazette published by Frank McMasters, and
the Times by H. W. Sawyer were both against the Seminole crowd but the Journal seemed to uphold the administration. Here are some items from the Gazette of May 27th. "Class in Geography; Who made Oklahoma? General Weaver did, but God helped a little." "Mr. Chamberlain, the Seminole surveyor, says the Seminole Town Company came here to run Oklahoma and that they are going to do it." In an editorial a few days later, in the Gazette, McMasters used this language commenting upon the city council: "At no time have they given heed, at no time have they paid any attention to the requests of the people. Existing by sufferance only, they ignore popular demand apparently to provoke conflict. Lacking every fitting qualification for legislators, they have arrogated to themselves the province of court. The spectacle has never before been witnessed of a set of men so wholly oblivious to argument and so deaf to reason. The only reasoning process they follow is the upbuilding of self interest."
The Oklahoma City Times was always more outspoken in its denunciation of the city government than was the Gazette. In fact it was charged by the Times that McMasters modified his views as the result of some public patronage. The Seminole crowd, in odium, referred to the opposition as a bunch of Kickapoos. They accepted the name and were ever afterward known as "Kickapoos." They perfected an organization and named a committee of fifteen prominent citizens to manage the campaign to secure their rights. Dr. A. J. Beal, late of Cynthiana, Kentucky, was named Chairman, or Grand Sachem. Other members of the committee were Frank McMasters, J. L. Brown, W. W. Witten, L. H. North, W. R. Glascow, G. W. Adams, J. B. Otto, T. H. Weise, H. B. Mitchell, W. C. Davis, S. Armstrong, Jack Love and W. B. Barger.
It was a militant committee and they were as zealous of their rights as American citizens as were the gentlemen who signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776; and for oratory they knew all the patriotic speeches the fathers of the Republic ever printed in the school books, and knew just how to make practical application to the existing conditions by striking out King George and inserting Seminole Town Company.
The writer remembers distinctly all the members of this committee, with the exception of two or three, and while most of them were public speakers, yet, my favorite orator was M. R. Glascow. Colonel Glascow looked the part; he was about six feet three inches high and would weigh, perhaps, two hundred pounds. His arms were long and his gestures were a part of his speech. His voice was loud and sonorous and his presence commanding. He was minus an eye. To hear him hurl his philippics against the Seminoles would have made old Demosthenes envious. He recited whole sections from the Declaration of Independence and he diagrammed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, analyzed them, dissected them, held these fundamental laws up before the people to show them how they had been deprived of their rights as American citizens by Captain Stiles, Mayor Couch and Judge Violet. He eloquently concurred in the views of Patrick Henry in preferring death to life without liberty and as a grand finale he would repeat in solemn tones the motto of Virginia: "Sic semper tyrannis." He would take his seat and wipe the perspiration from his face amidst the great applause of his audience. You may have attended many national conventions and have heard many of America’s greatest orators but for a genuine thrill—Oh, well,—you should have heard Glascow coming down the home stretch. After having had some time to consider the matter, I doubt if Colonel Glascow could have reached the height of eloquence he did, where the eighteenth amendment was strictly enforced.
Judge G. W. Adams, better known as "Public Domain" Adams, was always on the program at a Kickapoo meeting. Adams was a lawyer and was well acquainted with the laws pertaining to the public lands. He had had much experience in representing clients before the United States Land Offices before coming to Oklahoma. He was a methodical sort of person who delighted in expounding the law in a deliberate and logical way. He always begun his public addresses with these words: "I have always contended that every man has an equal right on the public domain." It was from this remark so often repeated that he acquired the sobriquet of "Public Domain" Adams.
There is no use to speak of Jack Love for his life is a part of the real history of Oklahoma. He was no orator but
he never espoused a cause that he did not think was right and he never quit a fight as long as the fighting was good.
Frank McMasters was not a fluent speaker for he was caustic in his language, but often so subtle that his audience was slow to catch his meaning. He did his fighting with a vitriolic Pen through the medium of leis paper, the Gazette, and did not often speak at the meetings.
H. B. Mitchell was a young lawyer from Carroll County, Missouri. He was an honorable man, educated and intelligent and of an almost perfect physique; a good friend, but sensitive, and would fight at the drop of a hat. He was a hard hitter and a good talker but lacking in diplomacy.
Another young man in that committee of fifteen who conducted the fight against the Seminole outfit for the first year of Oklahoma history was W. W. Witten, late of Trenton, Missouri, (Witten died at Okmulgee, in 1927). Judge Witten was a schoolmate of General Crowder and both were graduates of old "Grand River College," Edinburg, Missouri. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in Virginia, his native state. He was in the newspaper business in Trenton, Missouri before the opening. The writer and Wirt Witten were boyhood friends and attended the same school at Edinburg. He and I, in company with Dave and Frank Wynne, left Missouri for Oklahoma in the early spring of 1889. Many years ago Judge Witten was an editorial writer on the "Oklahoman," while Sam Small was in charge of the paper, and was the editor for some time when Sam took his vacation and never came back.
Judge Witten was always intensely in earnest, and was through life. He was licked often, but he never compromised with those whom he considered to be wrong. He did not speak often at these meetings but he and Judge Brown of whom I have before spoken, were always on the committee to draw resolutions and draft "Charters." Of Doctor Real, the Grand Sachem of the Kickapoo organization, I will have something to say later. It is enough to say now that he was a typical southern gentleman upon whose escutcheon there was neither blot nor blemish.
Some of the other members of the organization were business men who took no part in the public meetings but were loyal to the standard of the Kickapoo tribe. However,
there were other men who were not on the committee who often spoke at these public meetings. Among them I remember Capt. A. B. Hammer and Judge Woods. Hammer was an ex-union soldier and was a lawyer by profession. He was a most courteous gentleman and a man who was always held in the highest esteem. Woods was also a lawyer and a gentleman.
I must not forget our old Methodist friend, W. P. Shaw. He nearly always attended the meetings of the Kickapoos and made a speech whenever he could get the ear of the Chairman. I have mentioned him heretofore as having been name temporary recorder at the mass meeting, held on the 27th of April. The tenure of his office was only three or four days and the emoluments nil. Some thought he was elected at that meeting for the reason that he stood in with the Seminole gang, but it was my opinion that he was elected for the same reason that Saul was made King of Israel; because he stood head and shoulders above the crowd, and then he had a loud voice.
I met Brother Shaw when I first arrived in town. There had been a dispute between Shaw and a Mr. Robertson of Chillicothe, Missouri, who was in the same camp with my party, over the possession of two lots on Third Street just west of where the Pioneer Telephone building now stands and where the First M. E. Church, South, was built. Shaw claimed he was only holding lots as a site for a, Methodist church and he made a flag cut of a bed sheet and unfurled it on the lots, and then he had painted a sign that read: "Dedicated to the Lord." Quite a number of us, who had been reared by Methodist parents, helped to build a "Tabernacle" in which the Methodists held Sunday school and service for three or four months. Some time in the fall of the year, Bishop Hendrix and a representative of the board of church extension arrived on the ground for the purpose of securing a location for a church. They liked this site and Brother Shaw sold his lots to the church for four hundred dollars. Mr. Robertson was angry when he learned that Shaw had charged the church for the lots. He said to Shaw: "You are a danged old scoundrel, I staked those lots before you did but I agreed for you to have there to build a church and you put up that sign ‘Dedicated to the Lord’ and now you have sold them and got
the money from the church; you are a d—— swindler." Shaw answered: "Hold on, hold on, Brother Robertson, there is a great deal of difference between Dedicated to the Lord and Donated to the Lord." This answer gave Robertson something to think about.
As a diversion from the regular order and to keep life from being monotonous, it was the habit of many people and more especially the Kickapoos to get together in large numbers in the month of May ’89 and "Enter upon and occupy" the quarter section just west of the town known as the Couch claim, where the courthouse now stands, and stake off town lots. A meeting would be held at the west end of Main street at the red barn where speeches would be made. We would always find our friends, Colonel Glascow, Judge Woods, Public Domain Adams and Brother Shaw at these meeings, and the people were convinced that they had a lawful right to take over this quarter section as a townsite. As a matter of fact many people run on this quarter section on April 22d with the intention of making a townsite, while only four or five claimed it as a homestead. At the close of these meetings the people present would make a grand rush, every fellow with his name on a stake to grab town lots in west Oklahoma City. I do not know how often this tract was invaded and staked off into a townsite, but I distinctly remember that the people were driven off by the soldiers every time they attempted to occupy this claim. There were perhaps four hundred people on the land the last raid and it took a company of infantry and a troop of cavalry to persuade the people to abandon the enterprise. I did not care very much if the crowd was ejected from the land; I never was able to get a lot on Main street. Among the homestead contestants were Capt. W. L. Couch and J. C. Adams, the man who killed Couch, and also Doctor Higgins who finally won the claim.
The committee of fifteen soon began to function. They drew up a charter to be voted on by the whole people of the city. This document called "The Charter" was intended to
serve as a sort of constitution to limit the power and the authority being exercised by the Seminole Town government. In the first place it divorced the town government from the Seminole Town Company and provided that its functions should be only to maintain peace and order. The question of holding lots and determining titles should remain In-Statu-Quo until a territorial government could be legally organized and a lawful tribunal provided to pass upon titles to the lots in the city. The charter when adopted would curb the power of Judge Violet and provided for many other reforms. Some of the other towns in the territory, including Guthrie, were adopting such charters so as to give the town government a semblance of authority and help to allay the discontent among the people. They called a meeting to explain the charter to the people and after much discussion it was decided to hold an election to vote upon the adoption or rejection of the charter. The election day was fixed for July 16, 1889.
The Seminole authorities at once issued an edict that no such election would be permitted and to attempt to hold an election without the authority of the town government would be sedition. The Kickapoo party did not regard this threat seriously but continued to hold meetings in defiance of the town authorities and prepare for the election on the adoption of the charter.
The day came for the election, the polls were opened and voting commenced. Now the writer claims to be a patriotic citizen and never misses an opportunity to cast his vote when there is an election being held, but this was one time when he did not vote. I was just approaching the voting place when I saw that it was surrounded by representatives of the Seminole Town government who seemed to be acting under instructions of Mayor Couch. I saw one Mr. Countryman, a henchman of the Seminole Town Company, go in at a window where they were voting and grab the ballot box and get out with it. The election was all over in a few moments.
This highhanded procedure did not settle the question but only incensed the people. Judge Violet was still on the bench and the jail was crowded with those who had violated the ordinance or had incurred the ill will of the court.
A new lawyer came to town and he soon had a case before Judge "Posey." He was told if he would pay into the
court twelve dollars he might have a jury to try the case against his client. Feeling that the cards were stacked against him in this court, the lawyer filed a motion for a change of venue. The court promptly told him there was no other court having similar jurisdiction and therefore there could be no change of venue granted. The lawyer then fled a motion for appeal. The court told him there was no appeal from his court and his opinions were final. The attorney was non-plussed and at the end of the string. He said to the court: "Your Honor; I must bow in humble submission, I have been practicing law for twenty years but this is the first time I have ever represented a client before the supreme court of the universe."
But Judge Violet’s decisions were not supreme in all cases. Sometimes he would get beyond his depth in depriving men of their rights. Sometimes lawyers would drive across the country to Muskogee and go before the United States Court and get injunctions and restraining orders and writ of habeas corpus that were served by deputy United States marshal, George Thornton on His Honor, Judge "Posey." One ordinance passed by the town council provided for an occupation tax on all lawyers. Of course the lawyers objected to the payment of such a tax and they soon had an injunction served on the town government which was from the United States Court. However, there were not many people who could afford to go to Wichita, Kansas, or Muskogee; or to send an attorney every time they got into court.
Sometime in the month of May, 1889, there was held a convention at Guthrie composed of delegates and citizens, not only from Guthrie but from several of the towns in the north part of the territory. This Guthrie convention favored the establishment of a provisional government. They proposed to divide the territory into four counties as follows: Weaver County, Guthrie as county seat; Couch County, Oklahoma City as county seat; Springer County, Cooper as county seat and Perkins County, with Sells as county seat. They also proposed that the convention should appoint a County Judge and, three commissioners for each county. It also provided for a provisional executive committee, a sort of territorial
government, and the people were to elect a delegate to Congress. The defecto government as they called it, was to continue until superseded by the action of Congress. Perhaps the large majority of the people of the territory did not take kindly to this plan for a provisional government over the entire territory and protests were heard all over the south and west. The mayors of several of the provisional town governments called a convention to meet at the town of Frisco (about fifteen miles west of Oklahoma City, and on the north side of the Canadian River,) On July 15, 1889. It is rather interesting to read the names of the towns whose mayors signed the call for this convention at Frisco, as some of these towns are not now on the map. W. M. Duncan, acting mayor of Lisbon; G. DuBois, of Frisco; J. T. Godfrey, of Reno City; W. L. Couch, of Oklahoma City; Thomas B. Wagoner, of Norman; Dr. C. S. Rogers, of El Reno; L. L. Stone, of Noble; Virgil M. Hobbs, of Kingfisher and W. A. Beaty, of Alfred.
Both Seminoles and Kickapoos were on the Oklahoma City delegation. Just think of it! Colonel Glarcow and Judge Violet, Ham. W. Sawyer, and Captain Couch, Sidney Clarke and lot jumping Jim Brown all on the same delegation. South Oklahoma City also had a delegation and among the delegates from south of Reno appears the names of W. T. Bodine, J. S. Lennox, D. B. Madden, L. P. Ross; R. Q. Blakeney, Dr. C. B. Bradford, John H. Beatty, Mayor T. J. Fagan and others. There was a large delegation from the town of Lisbon, including names that are well known in the state, among them J. B. Admire, John O. Miles, J. W. McLoud, Chester Howe and C. M. Cade. Among the names of delegates from Reno City are E. F. Mitchell and Jack Stillwell; Lexington sent as delegates Judge Amos Green, who was temporary chairman, and Percy Smith. Among the list of delegates from Oklahoma City appear the names of many men who were afterward well known in the annals of the city and of the territory, among them: Hon. Sidney Clarke, W. L. Couch, D. A. Harvey, J. E. Love, W. W. Witten, Major W. A. Monroe, C. W. Price, Dr. A. J. Beals, H. B. Mitchell, Ham W. Sawyer, Will H. Eby, J. L. Brow, Sidney Denham, G. W. Adams, C. P. Walker, W. H. Harper, L. J. Countryman, A. Jacob s, R. W. McAdams, Judge O. H. Violet and Col. W. R. Glascow.
Major John D. Miles, the United States Indian Agent at Darlington, was made permanent chairman and A. C. Scott, secretary. Perhaps there were two hundred delegates present. A great majority of the convention was opposed to the plan of a provisional or Defacto form of government as it would not be long until Congress would provide a regular territorial government, at least they did not approve of the Guthrie plan.
A committee was appointed to draft resolutions with Hon. Sidney Clarke as chairman. Mr. Clarke presented a splendid set of resolutions, or rather a memorial to Congress, outlining in detail the needs of the people for congressional legislation and asking Congress to establish, without delay, a territorial form of government, the same as that of other territories which was adopted.
The Frisco convention was a noted event in the history of the territory. People from different parts of the territory got acquainted with each other and friendships and political alliances were formed at that time that were far reaching in the future political history of the territory. I always regretted that it was not possible for me to attend the Frisco convention.
The town government was keeping the people in subjection by having at their service the soldiers under Captain Stiles. They attended all meetings and patrolled the streets. The Kickapoos were appealing to higher authority at Washington for redress of their grievences.
The Seminale government decided that if the people must have a charter they would give them one. They therefor a appointed a committee to draft a charter. They claimed it was an eminently fair committee of representative citizens, but it was certain there were no Kickapoos on the committee. The Seminole charter was prepared and published, but instead of giving the people relief it only confirmed the acts of the Seminole government and tried to give validity to the public service franchise that the Seminole Town Company had granted to their friends.
The Mayor and Town Council called an election to vote on the charter they had drafted and named August 29th as
election day. Of course the Kickapoos were against it and denounced the proposed charter in the paper and at public meetings. The election was held and when the votes were counted, there were 190 for the charter and 516 against it.
In a telegram sent by Captain Forbush to the Department of Missouri, he said: "Vote on charter election very light. The election was one of the most orderly I ever saw. No troops were in town, though they were held in readiness at camp for use if necessary to quell disturbances whenever the Mayor should call for them.
The vote showed about the relative strength of the two parties at that time and it is safe to say that most of the 190 who voted for this charter were sooners and could not legally hold or obtain title to any land in Oklahoma. While the war department was blindly upholding this Seminole gang, it is fair to say that neither the Department of Interior nor the Department of Justice ever sustained their acts, but soon had special agents in the country investigating the many cases of perjury committed by those who had violated the law in entering the country and had sworn falsely before the United States land office. As conclusive evidence that the Interior Department was not upholding the Seminole-Sooner administration, we only have to read some of the reports sent to Washington by the special inspector of public lands Major J. A. Pickle. His field was the entire territory and his business was to investigate violations of the land laws. In a letter to the Department, written in May, 1889, Major Pickle said: "The people feel that Marshall Jones, a resident of Kansas and not a bona fide settler and his deputies and other influential parties in the A. T. & S. R. Ry. Company and other speculators unfairly gained entrance to the forbidden territory and fraudulently gained advantage over the honest settler, and thus secured the most valuable property, while those who obeyed the law are beaten by the law breakers."
The department of justice never at any time upheld or sustained the contention that a man could be in the country on lawful business and could take advantage of his situation to occupy the land before a man could possibly arrive if he obeyed the proclamation and came from the line. In other words, the department held that there was no such thing as
a "legal Sooner," however the War Department with the bayonet was standing squarely behind this Sooner government.
September, 1889, was a month filled with several political incidents and perhaps some real history. The election of the Seminole Charter was held on August 29th and it was decisively defeated. The Kickapoo organization thought now was their opportunity to vote on their charter. It was agreed that if an election could be held and a vote taken on a Seminole charter, certainly no objection could be made and there could be no interference in an election on the proposed Kickapoo charter. But there were other things that had precedence at that time.
It was announced that Oklahoma City would have the honor of entertaining some distinguished guests. A party made up of members of Congress who had been friends of Oklahoma; and had been active in passing the bill opening the country, were making a tour of the territory and would visit Oklahoma City September 17th, 1889. There were some six or seven members of Congress in the party including Hon. William M. Springer, of Illinois, the author of the Springer Bill opening the country; Hon. Chas. H. Mansur, of Missouri; "Private" John Allen, of Mississippi; Perkins and Peters of Kansas and Baker of New York.
Preparations were made for a great reception for the distinguished guests. Agricultural products had been gathered in from all over the country to show these visitors what the country would produce. Everything was prepared to give them a great welcome. The meeting was held at the Boon and McKennan Building, at the corner of California and Broadway. A banquet was served and the visitors all made speeches predicting great things for the future of Oklahoma, and promising the people that they should have a territorial government at the earliest possible moment after Congress convened in December. Some of the visitors even suggested that it would be but a short time until Oklahoma would be admitted to the Union of States. It was a great social event, too; but for this feature of the reception I will have to refer the reader to Bunkies "First Eight Months." Colonel Glas-
cow superintended the barbecueing of the meat for this important event but the Seminole Town Government was in charge of the reception. Everybody attended as the Congressmen wanted to meet all the people.
Several members of the Kickapoo committee had friends among the congressional delegates and were given a hearing by the members. The Kickapoo committee did not fail to give the visitors all the details of the administration of the Seminole Town Company and then explain the charter they were trying to adopt. While their story fell upon sympathetic ears, yet the Congressmen were powerless to help until Congress would meet in December. The Kickapoo committee presented four requests to the members of Congress. First, they would have a territorial government; second, to expedite trials and determination of land cases and to give the Register and Receiver of the Land Office the power of courts in making their findings; third, to permit homestead entrymen to commute their homestead entries so it would be possible for a claim holder to pay $1.25 per acre and acquire title at the end of two years actual residence rather than residing on the land five years; fourth, to establish titles to lots and to issue patents thereto. There is no doubt that the committee gave heed to the requests of the Kickapoo committee for the Congress that met in the following December enacted laws covering the subject matter of these requests.
If there was a truce between the warring factions while the city was entertaining its guests, it was a very brief one. On the night before the arrival of the Congressmen, the Kickapoos had held a big meeting at which time it was decided to hold an election to vote on the charter on Saturday, September 21st. As a result of this meeting, Mayor Couch issued a proclamation prohibiting such election. The proclamation read in part as follows:
"Mayor’s Office, Oklahoma City, Indian Territory. September 19, 1889. To the People of Oklahoma City:
"Whereas, it has come to my knowledge that certain persons calling themselves "The Committee of Fifteen" under the direction and control of one G. W. Adams and one J. L. Brown are engaged in lawless and seditious effort to overthrow
the authority of the city government, thereby threatening the peace and stability of this community, depreciating values, destroying business and rendering the rights of persons and property insecure; and, whereas, the persons calling themselves "The Committee of Fifteen" have, without authority, assumed to call a pretended election to be held in this city Saturday, September 21, 1889, for the purpose of carrying out their seditious plans and purposes, now, therefore:
I, W. L. Couch, Mayor of Oklahoma City, Indian Territory, by virtue of the obligation resting upon me to protect the city from disorder, do hereby request and warn all law abiding citizen’s to refrain from participating in the lawless proceedings aforesaid, and to abstain from giving said proceedings countenance and support.—I further declare it to be my purpose to suppress said lawlessness by all the power at my command, and I call upon all law abiding citizens to aid me in so doing."
W. L. Couch, Mayor.
This proclamation only added fuel to the flames and resulted in a number of personal encounters between the representatives of the city government and the citizens who favored the charter. The Times of September 20, 1889, gives an account of Abe Couch, backed by his brother, the Mayor, having an altercation with J. E. Love, better known as Jack Love, in a theater the night before. The paper states that Abe assaulted Love but from the story in the Times, we are led to believe that the administration came off second best. In discussing the fight the Times said: "In connection with this, we wonder how long the people will submit to the rule of this dirty, cowardly, ruffian gang that is a disgrace to Oklahoma City; how long are the people going to allow these thieves and thugs to terrorize the town." The Times also made other, comments that were not complimentary to the city government. The Mayor resented the soft impeachment and he and the editor had a personal encounter the first time they met.
For the second time the Kickapoo committee attempted to hold an election to vote on a city charter on Saturday, September 21, 1889. There had been a big meeting of the people on the street the night before and many speeches were
made. It was the sentiment of the people that they should go on with the election despite the opposition of the city government for everyone knew that the Seminole gang were hopelessly in the minority.
When the morning came for the election a large crowd had gathered at the polling place on Broadway. The election officers had just announced that they were ready for the election to commence when a company of soldiers under the command of Captain Stiles arrived on the scene and ordered the people to disperse. Some of them were a little slow about starting and Captain Stiles ordered his soldiers to charge upon them. Then ensued the most disgraceful incident that ever happened in the history of Oklahoma. A company of United States soldiers with fixed bayonets charged upon an unarmed body of American citizens, peaceably assembled for the purpose of holding an election. No one was killed in the charge but several people were badly hurt, some were prodded with the bayonets and some were clubbed with muskets. The Editor of the Oklahoma City Times, Hamlin W. Sawyer, climbed upon a pile of lumber and he states he was advising the people to disperse when he was stabbed in the leg with a bayonet and was painfully wounded and was also arrested and thrown in jail. The crowd started south but did not move fast enough and several people were clubbed with muskets. The Times, next day, gave the names of several parties that had been wounded by the soldiers, among them Doctor Beal had received some severe bruises and J. F. Rudebaugh, who said he was on private property and would not move, was struck with a gun in the hands of a soldier and was painfully wounded. The soldiers also, according to the Times, beat one N. Z. Hurd with a musket and broke his arm. The people tried to vote at another place but Judge Woods and A. B. Hammer made speeches advising them to disperse and give up the election.
A warrant was sworn out before United States Commissioner Summers, charging the leaders of the charter election crowd with sedition against the government and the authorities of the city. They arrested Judge J. L. Brown, R. M. Glascow, Mart Bixler, H. W. Sawyer, J. B. George and two or three more but there was no prosecution.
Because Deputy United States Marshal, George Thorn-
ton, refused to be a party to all this unlawful procedure, Captain Stiles appealed to the United States Marshal at Muskogee to have him removed but Thornton was not removed. George Thornton was a conscientious man and a true and faithful officer who never hesitated to do his duty under all circumstances. He knew Judge Violet was imprisoning men in open violation of their rights as citizens and it often became his duty to serve writs of habeas corpus and restraining orders that had been issued out of the United States Court at Wichita and Muskogee. To some extent he restrained this Seminole gang, for they did not dare question his authority and it was for this reason they wanted him removed. I have known many peace officers, marshals and deputy marshals, but in my judgment Thornton was one of the best officers I ever knew. He was quiet and unassuming but absolutely fearless in the discharge of his duty. He was killed in an attempt to arrest a Creek Indian outlaw, known as Captain Willie, in the spring of 1891.
It may seem contradictory, but I afterward came to believe that even Captain Stiles of the 10th Infantry may have thought he was obeying orders and doing the right thing in upholding this Seminole government and refusing to permit the people to hold an election; however, I think he misinterpreted these orders. Nearly two years after this event happened, the writer and Mr. Fred Neal accompanied Captain Stiles and his young son George on a trip to the Sac and Fox Agency and was in camp with him for a week or more. On more than one occasion the Captain expressed himself as believing that he had rendered great service to the cause of law and order by upholding the provisional government and refusing to permit an election to be held on the charter. Captain Stiles was strictly a military man and cared nothing for public opinion. He enlisted in the army from New England at the beginning of the Civil War as a private but was soon promoted and made Captain. He had been in the service all his life and his highest conception of duty was to obey orders. Personally he was considerate to the private soldiers under him and he was also a companionable man—and a good cook.
There were no more attempts to hold an election on the
charter. However, two members of the Seminole Council had resigned and two Kickapoos were elected to fill their places. One of the new councilmen was J. E. Love. Early in the month of November, 1889, Mayor W. L. Couch presented his resignation as mayor to the council. The council called an election for November 25th to fill the vacancy. The reason Couch resigned was that he was one of the homestead claimants to the quarter section west of the city and under the provisions of the law it was necessary for a homesteader to establish actual residence upon his land within six months from the date of actual entry upon the land.
Not only did Captain Couch go to his homestead, or rather to the homestead he was contesting, but many others who had voted or tried to vote in the town election had to establish residences upon their claims or else abandon them. The writer of these lines built a house on his homestead in the summer of 1889 and a little later bought his farming equipment. My farming outfit consisted of a sod plow and a yoke of oxen, Choctaw bulls, known as "Ball and Brandy," and an old freight wagon that had been used by the Confederate Indian troops. It was an old-fashioned linch-pin wagon and if we had it now it would be in the Historical Society Museum and would have some such label as this: "Commissary wagon used by General Stand Watie of the Confederate Army." Unfortunately for me, my oxen had been trained in Choctaw and it was necessary for me to learn the Indian words for "Gee and Haw" in order to drive them. However, I often had to speak to them in plain English and use the whip to make them understand my meaning. Old ox drivers claim it is necessary to use certain epithets that ought never be used by a Sunday school boy to make an ox understand. I never was a good ox driver. I am sorry to state that this old wagon was lost and Ball and Brandy went down in the treacherous quicksand of the South Canadian River. This was a most unfortunate incident for not only did the cattle lose their lives but the old Indian linch-pin wagon that Professor Thoburn might have had as a Choctaw historic relic to place in the state Historical Museum, was lost forever.
Quite a good deal of sod was broken the first spring and some fall crops were planted but the country opened too late for much general farming. However, there was a lot of wild hay put up in July and August. The houses built on the claims the first year were mostly one room box houses, 12x14, while some built dugouts and sod houses.
There was a very large per cent of single men holding down claims and also a few women who had no husbands. Most of the women homesteaders were young, good looking, independent and ambitious. Most all of them, sooner or later, married their bachelor neighbors and quite often their claims joined and when final proof was made they were the owners of a three hundred and twenty acre farm.
One of the writer’s near neighbors on a claim was R. H. Mansur, who was the first recorder elected for Oklahoma County. He was a cousin of Hon. Charles Mansur, the member of Congress who contributed to the opening of the country to settlement. Mr. Mansur, like his distinguished relative, was an ardent democrat and was active in organizing a democratic club among the homesteaders on Crutcho Creek. Democrat clubs were being organized in many places over the territory in the fall of ’89 and spring of 1890. We were looking forward to the organization of a territorial government and were interested in perfecting an organization of the democratic party in the territory. Although we had established our homes on our claims, yet we kept in close touch with events taking place in town.
As soon as it was announced that Couch had resigned, and that an election would be held to fill the office, the Kickapoo organization named Doctor Beal as their candidate for Mayor. The Seminoles had no man whom, they could hope to elect, so they prevailed upon Mr. Henry Overholser to permit his name to be used as a candidate against Doctor Beal. Mr. Overholser had been busy building a town and had not been identified with either faction. He was a large property holder even at that time and a progressive citizen and had made no fight on the Seminoles and it was thought he was the one man who could defeat Doctor Beal for mayor. The election was held on November 25, 1889, without interference from any source.
"here were seven hundred and thirty-two votes cast and Doctor Deal had a majority of fourteen votes and was declared mayor. The election of Doctor Beal practically ended the Seminole-Kickapoo war and his administration of the mayor’s office did much to bring about peace, harmony and good feeling among the people.
His first official act was to appoint Chas. Colcord city marshal. This appointment met the approval of the public. Mr. Colcord is now the president of the Oklahoma Historical Society and I want to say now, after forty years, that if the democratic party will nominate this same Chas. Colcord for Governor of the state of Oklahoma he would be elected by the biggest majority ever given in this state and his administration would be free from political factions and along economic and business lines. The young man, Chas. Colcord, made a good city marshal and the mature man, Hon. Chas. F. Colcord, would make a good Governor.
Colcord at once appointed George Thornton as chief deputy and as Thornton held a commission under Marshal Needles as Deputy United States Marshal his authority was never questioned. Never once was it necessary to call the United States Army to preserve order. Dr. Beal believed it was not the function of the town government to settle the right of title to city lots and he would have nothing to do with this except to protect those who were in possession, under claim of title, until the government could finally decide contested lot cases.
CAPTAIN W. L. COUCH
Capt. W. L. Couch established residence upon his muchly contested homestead. There were about five homestead contestants and also an application for townsite entry. It was not a pleasant thing for a man to attempt to develop a farm with contestants all around him, and it is certain that there was not much farming done on that claim. We must concede for Captain Couch, the man who for years had led the vanguard of the Boomers and who had given much of his life to the opening of Oklahoma to settlement, that it was a strange decree of fate that he could not hold peaceably a quarter section of land. Couch did not attempt to deny he was in the country at the hour of opening, but he claimed
he was on lawful business and he did not enter upon this particular quarter section until afternoon of April 22, 1889. In other words, he claimed to be a "legal sooner."
The contestants on that quarter did not get along harmoniously pending the settlement of title. Among other contestants was one J. C. Adams, who was a sooner and a very erratic sort of a man. I think he was crazy. He had threatened the life of Captain Couch and Couch was prepared for him. On the 14th of April, 1890, Adams saw Couch on the claim and opened fire with a Winchester rifle, Couch returning the fire with his revolver, firing several times. They were perhaps two hundred yards apart. Couch was shot through the knee with a rifle ball. From this wound, he died on April 21st. It was claimed he died of blood poison, caused by the wound. His funeral was held at the Methodist Church, on Third Street, on April 22d, 1890, just one year after the opening. Hon. Sidney Clarke delivered the funeral oration standing in front of the church. There was a large crowd present and genuine expressions of sorrow were heard on every hand. The late Seminole-Kickapoa trouble was forgotten in the presence of death and many of his political enemies were among those who mourned the death of this adventurous spirit. The address over the dead body of Captain Couch, delivered by his friend, Hon. Sidney Clarke, was historic, eloquent and pathetic. In all that large crowd I heard no one speak an unkind word of the dead.
The writer knew Captain Couch but did not consider him an able man. He was an enthusiast and an ideal "Boomer," but entirely too temperamental to be mayor of a city. It cannot be questioned, however, that Captain Couch had rendered invaluable service in the great work of opening Oklahoma to settlement, not only as the leader of the Boomers, who kept the question constantly before the people by invading the country but, also, by his work as a lobbyist in Washington. History would have given him a brighter page had he obeyed the law and the proclamation and waited at the border until twelve o’clock, noon, and not have tried to take advantage of others. Couch was the victim of bad advice.
MEETING OF CONGRESS
When the fifty-first Congress met in December, 1889,
President Harrison in his message called attention to the necessity for the speedy enactment of a law giving to the people of Oklahoma a territorial form of government. He also recommended that authority be given to the President to appoint townsite commissions, these commissions to have power to issue patents to lot claimants and to hear and determine all contests of ownership. Congress was also flooded with resolutions and memorials setting forth the demands of the people for relief from the uncertain, if not intolerable conditions under which they had been living. Bills were introduced in both Houses of Congress having for their object civil government in Oklahoma and while there was some difference of opinion as to the details, yet it was certain that Oklahoma must soon have a regularly organized and lawful government.
In the meantime, political parties were organizing all over the territory. There was political pie in sight. If we had a territorial government there would be public offices to fill, and although the entire population of the territory by the census taken in June 1890 was only 60,417, yet there could be found plenty of men to fill all the territorial offices and also the county offices. I think several thousand of the population came into the territory with the idea they would be needed to fill these offices and were just waiting to volunteer their services.
There could be no question that the republican party would be the first at the pie counter. It was certain that all the territorial offices would be appointed by President Harrison, and it was equally certain that no democrat would be appointed. It was also known that, following precedent, the Governor would appoint all county officers and that they would hold these offices until an election could be held under the provisions of territorial laws yet to be enacted.
The republicans thought they were "Settin Pretty" and that all public offices from Governor down would be filled by Oklahoma republicans. Wasn’t Harrison elected on a "Home Rule Platform?" The republican platform of 1888 read;—"We are in favor of selecting for the appointive offices of the
territories residents of said territories." Didn’t this plank of the platform apply to the territory of Oklahoma?
The republicans called a territorial convention to be held in Oklahoma City on January 17, 1890, for the purpose of perfecting an organization of the party. The writer did not attend this convention and cannot speak personally but it was claimed there were nearly 150 delegates present and the division of territorial offices was discussed and recommendation for some of the places that were to be filled by the President were practically agreed upon by the delegates present. There was one thing upon which all delegates were unanimous and that was all offices, both executive and judicial, should be filled by the appointment of actual residents of the territory. John I. Dille, who was the Register of the United States land office at Guthrie, was mentioned for governor and had many supporters. Horace Speed was also mentioned as suitable material to be the first governor of Oklahoma. Milt. W. Reynolds of Edmond was almost the unanimous choice of the republican leaders for the office of Secretary of State. Reynolds was a graphic writer who wrote under the nom-de-plume of "Kicking Bird." His theme was of the West and he had long been identified with the movement to open Oklahoma to the white man. He was one boomer that was not a sooner. He should have been appointed.
The convention perfected a territorial organization by naming Judge John M. Canon, of Frisco, chairman and A. C. Scott, of Oklahoma City, secretary. Other names of the committee were F. J. Wikoff, of Stillwater; Sam Murphy, Oklahoma City; A. H. Classen, Edmond; D. W. Marquart, Norman; I. Cutnight, Frisco; Thomas Jensen, El Reno; E. E. Wilson, Reno City; B. I. Eaton, Hennessey; D. B. Garrett, Lincoln; and C. B. Freeman, Guthrie.
The democratic party leaders were not less active than were the republicans. They were marshalling their clans (not Klans) in all parts of the territory. Democratic clubs had been organized in every county and in almost every neighborhood. We knew there would not be a single democrat appointed to a territorial office, but we also knew there would be a legislature to elect in a short time and that it
would not be a year until county offices and a delegate to Congress would be chosen by the vote of the people. Oklahoma was "South of 36" and from its very latitude and from its longitude it was thought that this territory was destined to become a great democratic commonwealth. Anyhow, the democratic politicians were just as willing to hold office as were the republicans.
A territorial convention for the purpose of organizing the followers of Jefferson and Jackson were called to meet at Oklahoma City on March 11, 1890. The basis of representation was two delegates for every organized club and additional delegates for large clubs. There were more than 200 delegates present and a more enthusiastic crowd would be hard to find. R. R. Mansur and the writer were delegates from the Crutch-O democratic club. Judge Amos Green of Lexington was made temporary chairman and a committee on credentials was named. It seemed there were, from some towns, two or three different delegations, each claiming to represent the democratic party of their town. Some traces of the old Seminole-Kickapoo fight showed up in the Oklahoma City delegation, but the hottest fought contest came from the conflicting claims of two delegations from Guthrie. Hon. Pat Nagle, from Kingfisher, was chairman of the credentials committee, and the writer was a member of the committee. This committee heard the evidence of contesting delegations for about two days and nights and finally decided to give all contestants seats in the convention.
An eloquent speech delivered by Hon. J. G. McCoy, in which he argued that everybody claiming to be a democrat should be seated, had much to do in promoting harmony. This was not the first time that Joseph McCoy had gotten before the public. He had taken an active part in the Frisco convention in the summer of 1889. McCoy was a character, a real frontiersman, a pioneer of the west. He was the first mayor of Abiline, Kansas, and the character in Emerson Hough’s "North of 36" known as Joseph McCoin. I became acquainted with McCoy at that time and was much interested in his stories of the founding of Abiline when he was mayor and "Wild Bill" Hickox was city marshal. McCoy made friends in the convention and these friends helped to nomin-
ate him for the long term as delegate to Congress in the following October. But this is ahead of the story.
The names of the first democrat central committee will, perhaps, be of some interest to some of the old-timers for I note that several of these men are yet with us. J. Ed. Jones, of Oklahoma City was chairman. Jones’ election was rather a victory for the Seminole branch of the party for he was one of the town councilmen under the provisional government. However, Jones was an educated gentleman who had been quite well known in Missouri politics before coming to Oklahoma. T. F. Berry, of Norman, was secretary. Other members of the committee were John L. Mitch, of Edmond; P. Bernard, of Downs; Chas. Van Eaton, Dover (now of Ft. Cobb); J. D. Chalmers, El Reno; J. J. Kirwin, Britton; J. C. Johnson, Noble; George E. Clayton, Seward, (member of the 2d Territorial Legislature); W. Ezra Banks, Mustang, (The author of "Captain Caha’s Mules"); Percy B. Smith, Lexington; J. W. Crider, Hennessey, (now of El Reno); C. M. Burke, Central City; Squire A. J. Day, Choctaw City, (father of Eugene Day); Allen Caruthers (now a New York attorney); and L. Ketchin, Guthrie; D. B. Madden, South Oklahoma City, (now at. Walters); E. J. Simpson, Reno City; Pat Nagle, and Virgil M. Hobbs, Kingfisher; J. M. Kuykendall, Orlando; Col. Hugar Wilkerson, Oklahoma City; A. J. Shaw, Union City and T. C. Sutton, Frisco.