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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 10, No. 1
March, 1932

Grant Foreman

Page 18

Clarence W. Turner, the eldest son of John E. Turner and Julia (Ayers) Turner, was born June 18, 1857, in Cleveland, Ohio, and died April 21, 1931. With his parents he removed to Fort Smith in September 1867 where he attended a neighborhood school until 1870. His father, John E. Turner, removed to Indian Territory in 1869 and established a mercantile business in Okmulgee where he remained until 1877 when he came to Muskogee and in connection with James Parkinson opened a general store. In the autumn of 1882 W. S. Harsha was admitted to partnership in the business under the firm name of J. E. Turner & Company, and in 1898 Mr. Turner sold his interest to the firm of Harsha & Spaulding. Mr. Turner died December 10, 1898.

In 1870, Clarence W. Turner removed from Fort Smith to Okmulgee where he was employed in his father's store until 1875. Then in connection with William Harvison he purchased the store and in 1879 became the sole proprietor by purchasing his partner's interest. Until 1881 he conducted the establishment and then sold out to James Parkinson after which he gave his attention to the cattle business. September 15, 1882, Mr. Turner arrived in Muskogee and purchased the store of J. S. Atkinson who had established the first hardware store in the territory. For six months he continued alone in the business after which he admitted to partnership P. J. Byrne, the first mayor of Muskogee. This relationship was maintained until 1887 when Mr. Turner purchased his partner's interest and afterward carried on the business under the firm name of the Turner Hardware Company. In 1887 and again in 1899 the store was destroyed by fire. The fire of February 23, 1899, swept by the fury of a fierce winter gale, destroyed the north half of the business part of Muskogee, but with faith in himself and the future city of Muskogee, Turner promptly rebuilt the store.

For years the Turner Hardware Company continu-

Clarence W. Turner

Page 19

ed to be the first of its kind in the Indian Territory and during the first two years of its existence after the fire of 1899, the records of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad Company showed that this company had paid freight on more than three hundred carloads of goods, while its wholesale and retail trade exceeded in volume that of any other house between Kansas City and the Red River.

For many years Clarence W. Turner exercised a profound influence on the history of Indian Territory and the growing city of Muskogee. By the extension of credits to white and red people in a large area tributary to his establishment he extended succor to thousands of people who had no other means of financing themselves.

Mr. Turner was public spirited and employed his influence and wealth for the good of the community and country in which he lived through a large number of agencies, though his benefactions were bestowed in an unostentatious way. He helped Miss Alice Robertson finance her venture which she called the Minerva Home, a school for girls that developed into Henry Kendall College, and he and Chief Pleasant Porter furnished to this struggling young school the beautiful campus on which it was built, and which on its removal became a choice residence section of the city of Muskogee. His contributions made it possible for the Presbyterian Church to build an adequate edifice in Muskogee many years ago. He provided the means with which many of the youth of Muskogee were educated and some of his young friends were enabled to go to other climes for restoration of their health. At least sixteen young men and women received their education through the bounty of Mr. Turner and it was seldom that there were not a number of orphan children living in his home. And out of the immense store rooms of his company he frequently assisted young people into matrimony by furnishing their homes on the chance of being reimbursed in the distant future.

Mr. Turner's home was for many years a center of hospitality and entertainment. His business relations brought him into intimate touch with financiers and large

Page 20

mercantile establishments in St. Louis and New York and he belonged to a number of prominent St. Louis clubs.

Soon after the first United States Court of Indian Territory was located in Muskogee, while it was temporarily housed in a frame building, Mr. Turner and Mr. Byrne built a brick court house in which the business of the Federal Government was transacted for many years. This building was later torn down to make room for the Railway Exchange Building in Muskogee.

Mr. Turner was not only the foremost merchant of this region but his enterprises included cattle raising on a large scale and many undertakings for the benefit of the city of Muskogee and surrounding country. It was only with the changed conditions of modern times and passing of the methods of the early days of this country that Mr. Turner's influence yielded to the trend of new surroundings.

While living in Okmulgee, Mr. Turner was married in 1878 to Miss Nannie Murray, a Cherokee of Fort Gibson, by whom was born one child, William D. Shortly after the birth of this child the young wife was stricken ill and died. In 1884 he was again married to Miss Tookah Butler of North Fork Town, whose Creek and Cherokee blood was predominated by that of her white parentage. Born of this union were three children, Tookah, now Mrs. Charles Bagg, Clarence, and Marion, now Mrs. C. M. Daniels of Bethelehem, Pennsylvania. After a lingering illness Mr. Turner died; he was mourned by a vast circle of friends, white, red and black, who had learned to appreciate him for his high example of citizenship and public spirit in the days when he was a power financially and industrially in this region.

Some years ago, knowing of the vast experience and opportunities for observation of this pioneer country that Mr. Turner had enjoyed I asked him to write down some of his recollections of the country and people and methods of business in this country. The following was written by him in compliance with my request. Its great value as a series of sketches of this country is obvious. I have attached a few footnotes for further elucidation of the matter contained in the article.

G. F.

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