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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 9, No. 4
December, 1931

Emily B. Smith

Page 412

The average Oklahoman would be surprised to know that there was a county known as Swanson in this state, yet the existence of Swanson County was one of the most ardent struggles of early statehood, and one which readily arouses the ire of "Old Timers" around Snyder, Mountain Park, Hobart and Indiahoma. According to executive proclamation Swanson County, the seventy-seventh county, was born August 13, 1910, having met the requirements of the State Constitution for the creation of a new county.1

Swanson County was the result of an earlier contention for the creation of Park County, and the townsite struggle between Snyder and Mountain Park growing out of the building of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad and the Enid-Vernon Road.2 The former movement, which was to form a county consisting of the southern portion of Kiowa County and the western portion of Comanche County, the latter a narrow strip of territory eight miles wide and twenty-four miles long, was given executive recognition December 10, 1908. On the latter date, Governor Charles N. Haskell proclaimed an election to be held January 30, 1909 to determine the people's desire for a new county.

The special election for the formation of Park County was duly held January 30, but failed to get the required sixty per centum necessary for the creation of a new county. In the Kiowa district there was 1,211 votes cast for Park County with 624 against the movement, while in the

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Comanche strip only 83 favored the question with 272 opposing it. This gave a total vote of 1,294 for the creation of a new county with 896 opposing it. According to these ballots the enterprising citizens of the territory believed that the election had lacked only twenty votes necessary to make the new county a reality.

Acting under this impression the citizens floated a petition during the year of 1909 and succeeded in obtaining the signatures of the required twenty-five per cent of the qualified electors. This petition, accompanied by the affidavits of W. P. Lotts, T. B. Davis, and Andres Haley, requested the Governor to call a special election for the creation of a new county to be named Swanson in honor of the Governor's dear friend Claud Swanson, at that time governor of Virginia. In accordance with this petition and numerous requests from visiting delegations of the territory where the proposed county was to be formed, Governor Haskell, March 30, 1910, called a special election to be held in the territory on May 2, 1910, to vote on the question of the creation of a new county.3

During the period prior to the special election for Swanson County the papers of the territory outlined five general reasons why a new county was desirable. Probably the strongest of these arguments was that the county seats of the two existing counties were so remote that little public money was ever spent in this area for bridges, public roads, and other improvements, while they were equally taxed with the northern portion of Kiowa County and the eastern part of Comanche, yet gained none of the benefits. A second argument was that the cost of running a county would be less as court expenses and milage would be decreased. Since salaries of county officers were based on population there would be no increase from this quarter. A third asset for a new county would be the increased value of farm lands, as a farm near a county seat town was more valuable than one in a remote portion of the county. Fourth, taxes would even be decreased in the Comanche district as the new county was to have a tax rate of five mills while the Comanche county had a six mill rate. The last plea for the new county was that home rule would be near, the of-

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ficers of the county directly interested and consequently the people would benefit. This phase of the argument furnished grounds for many oratorical dissertations and newspaper editorials.4

The proclamation calling for the special election for Swanson County further provided for the election of county officers to be held at the same time. A primary was to be held prior to the final election on May 2 under the supervision of the county election boards of Comanche and Kiowa Counties.5 The election was set for April 9.

By May 2 ballots describing the metes and bounds of the new county with spaces for an affirmative or a negative vote were ready, while second ballots with the candidates for the various county officers were printed, and the election boards of the different precincts were in place ready to hear the final voice of the people. General excitement reigned throughout the territory. The law, which provided that a new county must have an area of at least 400 square miles, a population of not less than 15,000 people and a valuation of not less than $2,500,000.00 had been complied with in the description of the new county, as recorded in the petition to the Executive of the state6. There only remained the problem of winning at the election. During the interval prior to the election politicians, business men, friends and enemies of the movement were busy promoting their respective views.

As a result of the election of May 2, between 1300 and 1400 votes were cast, the exact number never having been ascertained, with sixty per centum of the total number of votes cast in the entire area in favor of the creation of a new county. The Democratic ticket for county officers carried.7

Page 415

Following the election of May 2, and much to the disgust and the resentment of the adherents of the movement the votes cast in Snyder were contested. This phase of the fight called for more visits to the Executive, who by May 27th, after hearing both sides of the question said he thought "the best thing to do was to proclaim the county organized, then if all parties were not satisfied they could get into court and fight it out."8 The proclamation however was delayed for several weeks until certain tax questions could be settled between the railroads and the counties of Kiowa and Comanche.

After approximately two years of effort by those favoring the creation of a new county their efforts were rewarded August 13,1910 when Governor Haskell proclaimed the territory as described in the proclamation of March 30, 1910 as Swanson County, with all the rights and powers of a county of the state of Oklahoma and with a temporary county seat at Mountain Park.9

On the heels of the Executive recognition of the county the officers were sworn in by the United States Commissioner, W. M. Allison. They began their duties immediately, thus getting ahead of the injunction proceedings started by J. A. Fain, county attorney of Comanche County.

Following the launching of the new county government, Judge Cease, while on his way to Oklahoma City, August 18, was interviewed by a reporter at Lawton. In answer to the question of what he thought of the county situation he said, "Why there's nothing to it, understand you, the vote has been taken, the governor has proclaimed the county and the court is in session."10

In Comanche County, however, there was not so much finality to the question. There, it was felt, that the Governor was an accomplice in kidnapping the eight by twenty-four mile strip taken from the western side of the county. In this territory only eighty people desired the creation of the new county while 323 opposed it. In other words only a fraction over twenty per cent were for the creation of Swanson County. As a result of this agitation a suit

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was filed in the district court August 18 contesting the legal status of the new county.

While this external agitation was in process all within the new county of Swanson was not peaceful. The recognition and establishment of Mountain Park as the temporary county seat proved to be quite irksome to Snyder who deemed that she was rightfully qualified to be the county seat.

Meanwhile, an unexpected element entered into the Snyder Mountain Park controversy. A heavy downpour proved to the satisfaction of the county officials that the building facilities of Mountain Park were inadequate for proper protection of the county offices and county records. Pressure was brought on the county commissioners to such an extent that they, acting under the authority vested in them as county commissioners to regulate the affairs of the county, (and probably following the precedent established by Governor Haskell in changing the Capitol) declared Snyder the official county seat of Swanson County on Monday, September 4, 1910.

As the county officials did not consider that the Governor had the power to establish a county seat, and as he had only designated Mountain Park as the temporary center, and as their comforts were more probable in Synder, the other county officials acquiesced in the authority of the county commissioners in moving the county seat. Books and records were quietly transferred, and by the end of the week the various county officers were located in Snyder. The county commissioners, Bull, Armstrong and Wilcox, located in the Clark Concrete Building; Bristow, county clerk, also found office room in this building. Francisco, recorder of deeds, located in the rear of the Bank of Snyder Building. Myers, district clerk; Lewis, county court clerk; Cease, county judge; Hunter, county treasurer; and Rakestraw, county attorney, all found office space in the Farmers and Merchants Bank Building, while the superintendent of schools, Beasley, located in the Joe Morris Building, and Kunke, county surveyor, in the Bank of Synder Building. The sheriff did not move for several days after the other officers had made their change.

Page 417

Due to the slowness with which court procedure moves, Swanson County, as an officially recognized county through executive authority, proceeded to act in the full capacity of an established county despite the suit in court. Property was valued and assessed, schools were opened and conducted upon the usual basis, road improvements were begun, and the county court jurisdiction was in force. On September 23 the county was divided into nineteen voting precincts preparatory to the general election which was to be held in November. During the next few weeks the officers were busy promoting the welfare of the newly organized county. Then, to add to the organization, the teachers of the county met at Snyder, November 15, and created a county teachers' association.

According to a notice from the governor the county officers in Swanson County would remain in office until 1913. This however, did not affect the residents of the county in voting in the state election. Accordingly the nineteen precincts of Swanson County duly opened their poles for the November election. Five hundred twenty-five votes were cast in the county for Lee Cruce as governor and 323 for J. W. McNeal. James V. McClintic was elected representative to the state legislature from Swanson County.

These returns were recognized by the state election board thus giving Swanson County legislative recognition. Further acknowledgement of the existence of the county was given in the special session of the Legislature which met November 28, 1910, And in the general session of that body which met January 3, 1911, when the House accepted James V. McClintic as a member of the legislature with full powers of a member of the House. They not only recognized him but according to Dan W. Peery, secretary of the Oklahoma State Historical Society, and then a member of the House of Representatives, "McClintic was very active in legislation during the period, especially in fighting the cause of the new counties and in questons pretaining to the removal of the capitol."

Swanson County was next given legislative recognition by the Legislature which through Senate Bill 265, chapter

Page 418

78 reapportioned the twenty-fifth judicial district of the state. This district, according to the provisions of the bill, was to be composed of Harmon, Jackson, Swanson and Tillman Counties, with the governor of the state empowered to appoint a judge for the district."11

Suit was filed by the State of Oklahoma, ex rel. J. A. Fain, County Attorney of Comanche County, against the County Commissioners and other officers of Swanson County, in the nature of quo warranto to dissolve the so-called Swanson County and to oust the persons claiming to hold the various county offices.

The defendants filed a demurrer to the petition. It was contended by the county officials that the State of Oklahoma is estopped from denying the legal existance of Swanson County for the reason that through its executive and legislative departments it has recognized the county and construed the law in the defendants favor. The court overruled this demurrer and rendered judgment against the county officials and declaring the organization of the county to be void. This case was appealed to the Supreme Court and the judgment of the lower court was affirmed in an opinion filed June 27, 1911.12

Under Section 4, Article 17 of the Constitution of Oklahoma sixty per centum of the people living in a territory from which a county is to be created must favor the change. The Court held, "it would be necessary to have the approval of sixty per cent of the votes, cast in the part of the territory of Comanche County sought to be transferred to the new county as a part thereof." The court further held, "it was an attempt to transfer territory from an existing county to a new county and before it can be legally done there must be sixty per cent of the votes cast in such particular territory in favor of the transfer."15 In the strip to be taken from Comanche County the per cent was far below the requirement. By this judicial decision Swanson County had never existed and in contemplation of the law there had never been such a county.

Page 419

Law might erase Swanson County from its records by a judicial opinion but in practical life Swanson County still lived as an official organization which could not be banished either from business or from the minds of the people.

In the Comanche portion of Swanson County J. A. Fain became a political hero, as a personage who had fought for the rights of the people, while the remainder of Swanson County regarded him as a figure, who had thwarted the will of the American people.

On the evening following the decision of the court a hilarious celebration was held in Indiahoma signifying the joy of the people in being-re-incorporated into Comanche County. During the course of the celebration George B. Rust proposed that Fain be elected as attorney general of the State in the next general election. The proposal was met with enthusiasm and immediate plans were discussed for launching the campaign. While their elders discussed political timber, the younger set shot fireworks, yelled, sang, and played.

In contrast to this hilarity expressed in the Comanche District over the dissolution of Swanson County the people living in the Kiowa strip and in the Hunter township received the news with solemnity and regret. In the issue of the Snyder Signal Star, following the decision of the supreme court such headlines as "Drop a Tear on the Bier of the Defunct County," "The Supreme Court struck a blow which quieted the turbulent youngster and put it into the cold arms of death," "Time, money, effort, all for nothing as we are again part of Kiowa," were expressive of public opinion.16

The courts decision had hardly been given when J. B. S. Schwartz of Manitou headed a delegation from that place and Frederick to the State Capitol requesting that Hunter Township be incorporated into Tillman County as had been earlier agreed.17

Thus the elimination of Swanson County did not settle the county question immediately but rather set in motion a multitude of other issues which were intricately related to

Page 420

the larger question. Tillman, Kiowa and Comanche Counties became concerned in the problem while the state of Texas threatened to be drawn into the dispute through the Dorsey Printing Company of Dallas, which alleged that the court had no right to interfer with a county that had been recognized by the state and was transacting business. This new party in the controversy threatened to take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Dorsey Printing Company attempted to bring an injunction proceeding against Kiowa, and Comanche Counties to prevent the dissolution of Swanson County through the Federal District Court. This motion was denied October 13, 1911 by Judge Cotteral who held that the decision of the Supreme Court of the State was final and that Swanson County was dissolved, and that Kiowa and Comanche Counties were responsible for their portion of the indebtedness incurred by the de facto existence of Swanson County.

This action on the part of Judge Cotteral was very significant in that it made the judicial decision of June 27, 1911 final and unquestionable. It definitely assigned the liabilities of Swanson County, and acted as a means by which the existence of the county was automatically ended after four months of fighting against dissolution, following the decision of the Supreme Court.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma in June, Louis Terry was appointed receiver of Swanson County by Judge Tolbert of Hobart. In accordance with his instructions he went to Snyder to demand the surrender of the county records. But when he reached his destination he was met by the county officials who not only refused to give up the records but told him "to go back to H_ _obart and tell his superiors to go further." When this was reported, Sheriff Daniels was authorized to arrest the county officials of Swanson County on the charge of contempt of court and hold them in custody until they gave bail of not less than five hundred dollars.

Sheriff Daniels acting in his official capacity invaded Swanson County but he also returned to Hobart with the report that there couldn't be enough men mustered in

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Kiowa County to take the officials in custody; and that Swanson County officials said that a case was pending in the courts of the United States, namely, the Dorsey Printing Company v. Kiowa and Comanche Counties, and until Judge Cotteral gave his decision no sheriff, receiver, or judge could touch the records.

Sheriff Daniels felt that a strong army would be necessary to enforce the order of the court. Fain was interviewed, and a hurried trip was made to Oklahoma City. A request was made for state assistance, even to an army being called out as there was threatened anarchy in the territory. The request was refused but Adjuntant-general Frank M. Canton was sent to investigate. General Canton's investigation showed that there was no evidence of anarchy in the county but merely the determination on the part of the people not to give up the possibility of Swanson County having a few more years of life, and perhaps permanency.

All was depending on whether Judge Cotteral would grant the injunction requested by the Dorsey Printing Company.

After Judge Cotteral had refused to grant an injunction the official records of Swanson County were surrendered and the dissolution was completed with each division returning to its respective position in Kiowa and Comanche counties.

The question concerning the Hunter Township was decided November 25, 1911, by a special election which had been called by Governor Cruce. By this election there was an eighty-one per cent vote for the township to join Tillman County, and thus Hunter Township was duly incorporated as a part of Tillman.

A last effect growing out of the creation of Swanson County is the political training which it gave to various individuals who were instrumental in promoting the cause of the new county. An outstanding example is that of James V. McClintic, United States Representative for the seventh

Page 422

congressional district of Oklahoma. McClintic as representative in the legislature of Oklahoma for Swanson County received his first political training as a representative of a county which never existed before the law, yet which gave him a start from which he has climbed steadily in politics of Oklahoma and of the Nation.

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