By WILLIAM H. OSBURN
In the last issue of Chronicles of Oklahoma, there was published without introduction the first installment of a reminiscent paper, reciting the incidents of several of the incursions of Payne’s Oklahoma "Boomers" into the Oklahoma, country, in 1881-3, by Mr. William H. Osburn, of Kokomo, Indiana. For several years, Mr. Osburn was secretary of Payne’s Oklahoma Colony. His description of that organization and its operations in the effort to effect a settlement on the unassigned lands which were located near the center of the Indian Territorylands which, because not included within the limits of any Indian reservation, were claimed by Captain Payne and his followers to be a part of the Public Domain of the United States and, as such, subject to homestead entrythrows much new light upon that interesting phase of the history of Oklahoma. Three years ago, after a lapse of more than forty years, Mr. Osburn and his family revisited the scenes of these interesting incidents. It was his first visit to Oklahoma since the time of the first land opening, in 1889. For many years, he has been a prosperous stock breeder at his present address. However, as life’s evening has been drawing near, for him, the memories of "boomer" days have been welling up in his mind and, as a result, he has made the Oklahoma Historical Society his debtor by contributing the interesting paper of which the following is the second instalment. The third and concluding portion of the narrative will appear in the next issue of CHRONICLES OF OKLAHOMA.
J. B. T.
THE SECOND TRIP
Having tended a crop since coming home from Oklahoma and it being mostly a failure I naturally had the Oklahoma fever very bad and, as my former partner came along eager to go, I commenced arrangements to be with
Payne as soon as he might be ready. Early in September, we drove to Wichita to learn the arrangements first hard. We found Captain Payne very much disappointed, not having been able to get a sufficient following for another invasion from Kansas, Missouri or Arkansas. However he was filled with enthusiasm and sure to make a go of it a little later. We were to prepare to go as soon as we could and he would send us word as soon as he could complete his plans. My partner, Mr. Stade, had arranged for his family for the campaign by sending them to his wife’s parents and, as Mrs. Osburn’s father had already sent for her to come home whenever I wanted to make a trip, we had but little in our way. I sowed 20 acres of wheat and was ready. In a few days Payne wrote us that a large colony was arranging for the drive from Texas and he thought he would be ready to start by November 15th and he would count on us being there. By return mail we assured him he could count on us. Soon all was ready for the start. Mrs. Osburn and Edna departed for Kokomo, Indiana, and Stade and I left for Oklahoma, via Wichita, Kansas. Here we expected to go with the others to Texas. However we were disappointed at finding no other’s but we were not dismayed. On the 26th of September we crossed the Arkansas River at Wichita for the Territory line at Caldwell, Kansas. A frost came that night that nipped all tender foliage such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes and beans. Three days later we arrived in Caldwell and within a few days we were loaded with freight to be delivered at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, within 100 miles of our point in Texas. Frost overtook us again, when we crossed the Salt Fork, and it was noticeable each of the two following days at the crossing of the South Canadian and Red Rivers, October 14th to 16th respectively. We also had a real "norther," lasting two days.
In our journey across the Indian Territory, we laid over two days on the Canadian, to rest our teams and see what we could of the country. Then, after crossing the South Canadian and reaching the summit of the divide, we could hear the hounds baying, off to our left and, as we traveled down the slope toward the Washita River, they came nearer and Stade said, "Osburn we may get to see the chase for I
believe they are on this side of the river." When we were within two miles of the ford over the Washita, the baying was very distinct. We were on the lookout and to our delight out from a ravine not more than one-half mile ahead of us popped a great big cinnamon bear, making for a grove near us. As soon as we got his bearing we stopped our teams and ran to head him off. Just then, the pack of dogs, which consisted of three trailers, or foxhounds, four greyhounds and two mastiffs came in sight, five horsemen following. By this time, the greyhounds caught sight of the bear and soon out distanced all of them. The bear paid no attention to us, though within a stone’s throw as he passed by, keeping straight ahead until he reached one of the largest trees some thirty inches in diameter, backed up against it as much as to say, "Come on now." The leading greyhound came, full speed to drag him down but Bruin swiped him, to one side, heels over head, and was ready for the next and served him likewise and so on until the greyhounds and foxhounds were disposed of. By this time the horsemen were there with the fighters (mastiffs). The men held these dogs about ten feet away until they were frantic and let them all go at one time thinking they could get a hold and, as all the other dogs were anxious to help, they would manage him. But to the surprise of all, Mr. Bear sent them away instantly, one minus an eye, another with a broken leg in the opposite direction, heels over head. But the pack was game and again attacked their prey, only to be sent rolling away, one by one. Then, they stood back out of reach of his claws, as not one of them would again undertake to take hold. Finally he was shot. Six of us carried him to our wagon on the Trail, loaded him in and proceeded to camp where we dressed him. They gave us a very generous portion, so we had meat for many days and lard (or oil as they called it) to cook with for a month or more: It was surely the finest of all for cooking purposes. This incident and the prairie dog towns, and cities, which we passed on the Trail, made the trip of great interest to me. I might say in this connection that some of those cities covered thousands of acres crowded with inhabitants, prairie dogs, owls and snakes. The dogs were very pretty, nearly the color of a fox squirrel and about one-half larger.
The owls were about the size of our screech owl. Both of these we saw by the thousands.
The next day (November 15), we pulled into the Boomer camp, near Denison, Texas. Captain Payne had not arrived as yet but came in on the third day. Here we first met John R. Payne, who was introduced as cousin of Captain D. L. Payne, who was from Gainesville, Texas. Mr. Payne had with him a very fine bird dog (a setter, which has already been mentioned). Here I also met a very genteel doctor, from Missouri (to whom allusion has already been made). The third day after the Captain’s arrival, tents, blankets and camp equipment in general having been procured, we moved up Red River to the Trail crossing and awaited the arrival of other Boomers for three days. Then we forded the river, which was a full half-mile wide and up to our wagon beds much of the way, and camped within four miles of the crossing.
Captain Payne and the Missouri doctor were anxious about some mail which they had expected to be sent to Denison, Texas. Consequently, we remained here for some days awaiting its arrival. Here, November 28, 1881, Payne delivered to me the Colony books and informed me I had been elected as Colony secretary at a meeting of the organization, held in Wichita, Kansas, in October, but this was the first time he could make the delivery as the records had been packed in a box just opened. Needless to say, that I spent much time in getting acquainted with them while we were in camp and good help was at hand.
As time passed and the expected mail failed to arrive, Captain Payne became very much concerned about the Boomers who might be on the Canadian awating our arrival, and asked for volunteers to go ahead to meet them and hold them until he, with his Texas Colony, could get there. I expected half the crowd would want to go, but to my astonishment there was not a volunteer. Next morning I said to Payne that I would go and I was repaid for the hardships to follow, to see the load roll from his countenance. All lent a hand to fix me for the trip and I started about 2:30 P. M. November 30th for the North Canadian with my big Jack dog, that had come to us on our way down and had proved to be a faithful watch dog. Nothing of
especial interest occurred on the trip until the third day. After traveling all day on the trail which followed the divide continuously, without any stream crossing or watering place, I came to a stagnated pool of shallow water, where the ponies could drink and I dipped some for drinking and cooking. It being about four o’clock, camp was made near by, on the open prairie. The weather was ideal. Not a cloud was to be seen and, after picketing the ponies out, I went to rest with a feeling of security, as my dog was constantly on his job. However about 1:00 o’clock in the morning I was awakened by the growling of the dog and snorting of the ponies. Then I heard the rumbling of a stampeded herd of cattle which I soon realized was headed my way. One of the ponies had broken loose and fled. The other I tied safely to the wagon and turned my attention to the oncoming of the herd, now in sight. The dog was just outside the tent watching intently. I thought it time for him to be doing something but I could not get him to move at all with all my persuasion. He sat stone still until the herd was within thirty feet of us. Then he bounded out with all his force and a big "bow wow," fierce as a lion, which caused a division of the herd, one part going one side and the other on the other side, to my utter surprise and relief. When they had passed I thought of my pony that had run away. I had another surprise when I saw it standing by its mate, both perfectly contented.
The next day brought us to the south side of the big or South Canadian, by 2 P. M. There was a large camp awaiting the fall of the river so they could ford. Among them were four Government wagons, six mules to each wagon and a small detachment of sixty soldiers on their way to intercept the Boomers, in Oklahoma. The rest of the camp was made up principally of freighters. Soon after my arrival, the thunder began to roll in the northwest and, as the soldiers had already been there for three days, the officer in charge did not care to risk another rise in the river by morning. He therefore sent a detail of four to stake out a crossing. Then four of us volunteered to help, so that, within an hour, we had staked out a route nearly in the shape of an S over which to drive.
The first and second wagons to start across, about fifty
to seventy feet apart, were Government supply wagons. Then I was ordered in. Then others until all took turn, when about three-fourths the way across the wagon just in front if mine began to sink and was stuck, within two minutes, fast in the quicksand. The two lead teams were unhitched and breast straps of the wheel team, the traces were cut and teams driven out leaving the wagon stuck fast. I ventured to pull below and passed without trouble as did all the rest. As soon as the Government wagons were all over, they unloaded one and returned to unload the stalled wagon with which they worked until dark transferring the most of the load. Next morning just the tip of one bow was to be seen. The old freighters said that many wagons had gone down in the same way at that crossing.
The next morning I drove for the North Fork and before night found three wagons and five men, all from Missouri. We found a secluded place to camp, a little north and east of the present site of Oklahoma City and went to hunting corner stones and spotting claims. On the fifth day after my arrival on the North Fork, Captain Payne and his Texas crowd arrived and went into camp at Payne’s Spring, now within the city limits of Oklahoma City. The Missouri men went with him and my old partner, Stade, going with me to our camp. Then, everybody was out looking for locations, first for himself then for his friends and also for a general good time.
But like all other invasions, this one was of short duration. About the middle of the afternon, on the third day, the soldiers came and gathered us all into camp. As Stade and I had nothing there, we made our escape that night to our own camp. Next morning we went out on the hill above our camp to see them on their way to Fort Reno. As soon as they were well out of sight we drove down on the valley toward the Sac and Fox Agency. We located some claims and went into camp on the Deep Fork, about four miles above the Agency. There we learned that some Boomers had gone over into the Canadian Valley to meet Payne, only the day before, and if they did not find him they were coming back to the Deep Fork to look it over. Early the next morning, we arranged camp as best we could to leave it for a day or two that we might go back and find them.
Putting feed in one end of a sack for the ponies and for ourselves in the other we started up the Deep Fork pony trail, it being shorter than the wagon road, for an Indian Village about twenty miles distant. However, shortly after starting it commenced raining and getting foggy. Stade said he had better go back to camp as it might rain and flood it before morning. So I took the sack of grub and an extra blanket and went on. The fog became so dense at times I could scarcely see my way but expected to ride into the Ponka Village early in the evening.
Just before sundown the sky cleared and, to my astonishment, I realized I had kept the North Fork instead of crossing it and following the main stream. Having studied the U. S. Survey I knew my location at once. It is surprising how accurate those early surveys were. We could always know our location from them. I knew I was north of the village I had expected to arrive at about ten or twelve miles and must cross this stream and go south. I found the banks very steep and without any crossing to be seen. Just at dusk I saw a light to my left and made for it, clinging to the bank close as I could. I saw by making a turn to the west it allowed me to go in the direction of the light. Presently I found it was on the opposite side of the stream. When I was near as I could get, I called and, finally, an answer came, bidding me to come over for the night, which sounded good to me. I was informed that I would have to follow up the stream for another mile and a half before I could get down the bank and then I had to follow up the creek bed for another half mile to get out. I then inquired of the location of the Ponka Village on the Deep Fork and was informed that it was most due south and a little west. So on we went, came to the inlet, down into the channel, where we found water almost belly deep and where we both quenched our thirst and then pulled for the outlet which we found near the place described.
By this time the sky was clear. The North Star and the pointers bright as I had ever seen them which gave me my bearing, so I could not think of going back to my friend down the creek, but rode as straight south as I could. Within a mile I came to the blackjack timber and a little farther, I found myself sheltered from the wind. Soon I
came across a tree that had blown over and had formed an arch. Underneath it was rotted and dry. I soon had a fire, fed my pony and hung my bedding to dry. Then I ate supper. By and by the bedding was dry, the pony had come near the fire and lain down to rest and I rolled up and went to sleep. It clouded and snowed a little during the night but the sun was up to greet me on awaking the next morning. I and the pony ate breakfast and was soon on the way to the Indian village.
A mile or so into the heart of the timber, a fine flock of turkeys came running to us as if we were curiosities. I suppose my pony and I were the first trespassers that had been that way in a great while. So close did they come that I killed one the first shot with my revolver.
By 10:30 I was in the village and as I had been there two different times prior to this I was cordially received. The pony was taken and fed and I was given an invitation to stay for dinner. I was learning what I could about the Boomers when I saw a nice young maiden carrying a nicely cleaned puppy and slip it into the pot for dinner. My appetite was gone right there and then. I got up in a hurry and started for my pony. I was informed that the pup was being made ready and I must help eat him. But I said it would take some time for the pup to be tender and that it was a long way to camp and I just could not stay, so they brought out the hominy and potatoes and we ate. I left rejoicing that I had accomplished my escape so nicely. Many Indian families raised pups for the same purpose as we raise pigs, especially those of the Kickapoo tribe and they were considered a great delicacy.
I arrived at camp early, found my partner asleep and was pulling him out of the tent by the foot when he jerked loose, grabbed his gun to find me behind a tree, laughing at him.
The next day, we drove into the Sac and Fox Agency and stayed over Sunday. Early in the morning, the Sabbath School began to arrive. Presently a game of ball was in full blast but, the moment the bell rang every fellow dropped his game and went to Sabbath School. When preaching services and benediction were over, the ball game was resumed to finish the game.
We now were practically out of money and rations for both man and beast and, learning there were some well-to-do Indians in the Creek Nation that hired work done, we headed for that part of the Territory, arriving on the banks of the Arkansas River at the crossing of the road from the Sac and Fox Agency to Vinita, Cherokee Nation. Dinner over, Stade proposed that I take him across the river and return to camp while he investigated the work problem. We went on the ponies to find we had to follow up stream about one-half mile and down on a sand bar to a point opposite our camp on the south and the going out from the ford on the north side. Here we crossed, with the water near midside of our ponies. I returned and he went his way. Just as I came out of the water I saw smoke in our camp and fearing all was not well I crossed the lagoon right there. First one pony then the other was under and going was hard in the bad sand. When I arrived in camp, the wagon was in full blaze. I hastened to save the Colony books first. Having rescued them with little damage I pulled our bedding out with but little loss. Our overcoats were badly burned but I saved the harness. It was nearly night when Stade returned and we remained there that night. He had been successful in getting work. With a stable to camp in while making 3,000 rails we fared very well while the job lasted. We got our money ($9.00), hunted up our ponies and started for Vinita.
Within an hour, we learned there was a good chance for work with the surveyors who were then at work laying out the line of an extension of the Frisco Railroad west from Vinita to Tulsa. So we started on the hunt westward following the trail, as best we could and came to a little village where we wanted to stay until the next day. We pleaded and did every thing we could to get permission to stay all night but to no avail. They would not talk a word and apparently, could not understand anything we said, until we put into practice the advice given us by an old frontier farmer, when we were camped on the Territory line as Boomers. He saw we were tenderfeet. When the Indians came to our camp to eat with us he came and told us that the longer we fed them the more danger we were in of being robbed and bothered, that when they came
around the second time just take a limb to them and run them clear away. Stade thought it would never do but I ventured to ask him if he would mind to give us a lesson and to my joy he said he would be glad to do so as they were getting too familiar around there. He was afraid they might do him harm unless they had a lesson so, that evening, when they came in a massone, two, three until eleven were there, ready to eat with us but here came our, teacher. As soon as he came in sight two of them got up and left. When he got within twenty feet of us he picked up a great brush and made for the bunch calling them by such names as we seldom see in print. He used his brush vigorously until they were well gone. He returned, saying "That’s the way to manage an Indian." So we unsaddled our ponies, threw our blankets into the yard, went to the lot, turned out a pony, put ours in, fed them and went into the house with our saddles, bridles and other belongings. We threw these into a corner, and sat by the fire until time to eat. We passed our can of apple butter of which everyone partook and they went immediately and brought out their venison and hominy and passed it to us.
The room was probably 20 feet square with a large fireplace in one side and all the other walls were filled with guns, stuffed eagles, owls and other birds the chief had captured. Scores of skins, bear, tiger, panther and others, smaller but very interesting, were about. There were also bows and arrows, knives, beads, moccasins, belts and many other things. With all our praise not a word could we get although we were confident they understood all we said and could talk good English. At a late hour we made our bed and they all went to rest. Next morning we tried to get directions to the surveying party but no one seemed to understand. We went after our ponies and came back to the house to try again. If necessary one was to go off mad and the other to stay and try alone and it seemed there was no choice but to try this plan. Stade said "If you want to fool away any more time all right I don’t." He mounted his pony and away he went. Although I was well through, I started in again, but to no avail. Just as I was ready to mount my pony I remembered what craving the most of them had for tobacco and
as a last resort fixed my mouth for a chew, and had my hand in my pocket as to get a plug when the old chief said "Gimme a chew." I informed him I had none but he could talk now and tell me where the surveyors were. He did so. I joined Stade and we were on our way and arrived at the surveyors’ camp at noon. We found them near the end of their work for the present but they took us on to help finish, just three days. After that we all went to where they were cutting out a right-of-way and grading. There Stade got a job but I had to pull on to Vinita.
I arrived here late Saturday evening. I looked around and finally got permission to occupy an old stable with some fodder and straw in the loft for $1.00 until Monday. It rained most of the time and I spent as lonely a Sunday as I ever remember. Monday morning I started out for a job and about noon I was told there was a contract for ties Lobe let that afternoon. I presented my application and was told I might have it if I would give my team as security for the fulfillment of the work. I put in the afternoon investigating and signed up, ready to go to work the next day. I secured an order for provisions for myself and ponies.
There were about 200 of us and after the serenade by the owls which lasted well into the night we rested fairly well. We were camped between two cliffs, in what was known as Owl Horse Shoe where the mountain was in that shape and was infested by hoot owls. At sundown every evening, the owls would comence their "who-who," from either side in chorus, from seemingly scores of voices. I really enjoyed the music but it annoyed many of the company as it came every night.
My men came in on time and we went to the top of the mountain where I was to find timber for the 300 ties and commence work. After noon I started hauling ties and tipping them over the cliff from where they landed near the road bed.
One night, someone reported having discovered an eagle’s nest in a cove near the top of the mountain, where there was just one entrance to it except by flight. The curiosity of quite a number of us was aroused, so we made a date to visit the spot. One of the men who had found
it proposed to go with us to show the way. Six of us were soon on the way and arriving at the entrance expected our leader to go ahead but he declared his mission completed. It finally showed up that every man there had more sense and used better judgment than I by refusing to risk their lives on that narrow ledge just to see an eagle’s nest. I said I had come to see it and I proposed to go in. The pass consisted of a ledge of about fifteen feet, no more than 15 inches wide, with overhanging rocks on one side and an undercut on the other where the tallest tree tops were far below. When about half way and at the worst place I feared my shoulder would catch the rock and throw me off my balance. I faced the cliff and slid in then I realized what a foolish thing I had done but throwing the thought off my mind I interested myself in examining the real eagle’s nest. It consisted of brush and sticks from half an inch to one and a half inches in diameter and from six to twenty-six inches long. Scattered over it were skulls, bones and feathers in profusion. The room was circular occupying a space about twelve feet across the entrance and ten feet deep. Having satisfied my curiosity, I mustered all the courage I could, flung fear away and edged my way back. When in safety I simply wilted. I laid down for a little while and was ready to go never to return. When we came to relate our experience we found that the parties who claimed to have discovered it had done so only by hearsay and had been shown the entrance. Now, if any of the readers want to visit the eagle’s nest, they can find it out near the Frisco Railroad line, west and south of Vinita about twelve miles.
At the time Mrs. Osburn and Edna had started for Indiana, our understanding was for me to go with Payne and build a cabin on our claim to hold it and then to come, to Indiana, make a visit among our relatives and attend the golden wedding of my parents which was to occur April 27th. As it was well along in February, just ten days more and I would have my tie contract completed, I was planning to leave for Wichita, Kansas as soon as I could. The weather and all seemed to favor me and my work was done, February 27th, 1882. I did well financially with my tie contract. I got my ponies released, drew my
money, paid my hands and had enough left to take me home.
March 1st, I started for Indiana, via Vinita, Cherokee Nation, Coffeyville, Mulvane, Kansas, Wichita, Kansas, where I met Captain Payne and other Boomer boys. I stayed two or three days and then went on to our home at Burrton, Kansas. I visited a few days and left for Indiana. Here I certainly enjoyed myself hugely and, if you will bear with me a little, I will tell you something of it: It was all connected with the Oklahoma Boom, inasmuch as I sold Payne Oklahoma Colony Certificates wherever I could. At the golden wedding of my parents the children, four boys and four girls were present and all except my younger brother and my youngest sister with our families were there. My oldest brother, a graduate of Asbury College, (now DePauw University) made the reunion speech. My brother-in-law the Rev. L. G. Adkinson member of the Northeastern Indiana Conference and at that time President of the Moores Hill College, at Moores Hill, Indiana, made the prayer and Father the reception talk. Among other good things he said was that he had one special thing to be thankful for in that all the children had been converted early in life and joined the Church. All had married partners belonging to the Church and that none of them to his knowledge had ever uttered an oath or made use of tobacco or whisky in any shape or form. We had a family group taken of which but three are now living, a sister-in-law, a brother and your humble servant. The group is now hanging on the wall before me and I will be glad to show it to anyone who may visit me. We parted each for their several homes and so ends the second trip to Oklahoma.
(Concluded in March Number)