Edited by Dan W. Peery1
In volumes seven and eight of The Chronicles of Oklahoma,2 a series of articles was published under the caption, "The First Two Years." In these continued articles the writer attempted to give in a chronological order the more important events which had taken place in the Territory of Oklahoma from the date of the original opening until the close of George W. Steele's administration as governor. The author recited the story of the great race for homes and gave at length many of the important events which occurred during the first year of Oklahoma Territorial history while Oklahoma had no legal local government. These articles also told of the passage of the Act of Congress May 2, 1890, known as the Organic Act which provided for territorial government.
This story of the first two years tells of the appointment, by the President, of George W. Steele, of Indiana, as governor and also of the election of the first territorial legislature. It gives the history of the one hundred and twenty turbulent days' session of the first lawmaking body which located the Normal School at Edmond, the University at Norman and the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Stillwater and voted to locate the capital at Oklahoma City. The story included an account of the opening of the Sac and Fox and of the Pottawatomie reservations and concluded with the resignation of Governor Steele, which became effective on October 18, 1892.
In a later number of The Chronicles,3 there is published a biographical sketch of the life of Governor George W. Steele, devoted more especially to his service as governor of Oklahoma
1Mr. Dan W. Peery was a member of the Lower House of the First Territorial Legislature of Oklahoma. He is also a veteran newspaper editor and former Secretary of the Oklahoma Historical Society. He lives at Carnegie, Oklahoma.
from the day of his arrival in Guthrie, May 22, 1890, until he resigned and returned to his former home at Marion, Indiana.4
The resignation of Governor Steele was a great surprise to the people of the new territory and caused a great flurry among the Republican leaders. The naming of a governor to succeed Steele was again the function of President Benjamin Harrison. Almost everyone in the Territory, regardless of party, wanted a resident of Oklahoma appointed, and the Republicans especially urged the President to remember the "Home Rule" plank in the platform and appoint an Oklahoma man as governor. The President had ignored that plank when he appointed the first governor.
At the time President Harrison named Steele to the office of Governor, he appointed three United States Judges who were all at that time spoken of as "carpet baggers." The fact that these judges had resided in the Territory for about eighteen months, even if they held commissions by appointment, seems to have mitigated this mild impeachment against any one of them seeking the office of governor. A number of prominent citizens who had not come to the Territory with commissions in their pockets were recommended to the President for the appointment. Among those who were often spoken of for governor in the papers and whose names had been presented to the President was that of a young lawyer, orator, and scholar, A. C. Scott. He had come down into the territory the day of the opening, and, although he had no official commission, he took an active part in the provisional town governmental organization and in the preparations for the territorial government. He impressed everyone by his absolute fairness and honesty of purpose and had the respect and confidence of the people. There were many here who knew Scott in Kansas when he had been called "the boy orator." It seemed at one time that his prospects were favorable, but the fact that he was a young man and, of course, had not been a soldier in the Civil War, almost precluded him from
4See Dora Ann Stewart, Growth and Development of Oklahoma Territory (Oklahoma City, 1933), pp. 59 ff.
receiving consideration at the hands of an administration dominated by ex-Union soldiers.
Governor Steele's resignation was sent to the President October 18, 1892, but no successor was named for several weeks.
Judge A. J. Seay resigned his place on the bench and was sworn in to the office of Governor of Oklahoma Territory February 1, 1893. It was no great surprise that Seay was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison. Seay had served in the Union Army for nearly four years and had been prominent in all party affairs after the close of the Civil War. Another reason was that he had been a long time personal and political friend of John W. Noble, of St. Louis, Missouri, the Secretary of the Interior under the Harrison Administration.
In the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society is an autobiographical sketch of Governor Seay, "written by himself and told at the request of the Oklahoma Courts." In order that it may be preserved for future historians we shall publish it, as follows:
I was born in Amherst county, Virginia, November 28th, 1832, and brought up in Osage county, Missouri, where my parents moved when I was three years of age. I helped my father hew a little farm out of the woods from which to get a living for a large family, of whom I was the oldest boy. We had a three months school about every other winter, taught by a man who boarded around among the scholars, and who could teach spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic to the 'rule of three,' and 'hickory' the big boys when necessary.
When I was twenty-one years of age I left home and went to work for myself on the Missouri Pacific railroad, then building, with pick and shovel—my first 'job.'
At this period in Missouri's history there were no railroads or telegraph lines. The wagon roads were makeshifts out through the forests, and most of the travel was done on horseback and by boat. The pioneers relied principally for their bread on corn, for their meat on wild game and hogs, and for their dessert on maple sirup from the sugar trees and on honey from wild bees; for their clothing on wool and flax (of their own raising) and their spinning wheels and looms.
Lumber and logs were rafted down the streams and livestock driven overland to market. Practically no grain could be marketed except that grown near navigable streams.
A cow and calf could be bought for five dollars, and a gallon of whiskey for seventeen cents—or a 'picayune' a quart. Everything was cheap but money.
Having learned all that was taught in the public schools I became a teacher and saved a little money. In 1885 I went to the Academy of Steelville, Missouri, but before the end of the term my father died, and I left school to take charge of the family and administer upon the little estate. This brought me into court and business relations with a lawyer, a friend of the family, who advised me to study law. This flattered me. I had a long talk with him in which he told me that Chitty's Blackstone was the first book to read; that there were four volumes in two books, and that they cost twelve dollars! I made up my mind to purchase these books as soon as I could save that much money from the pressing demands upon me. I kept busy, looked after the family and taught school. A country lawyer died, leaving a law library consisting of an old, musty, smoked copy of Chitty and the Missouri Statutes, which were kept on the mantel. I was employed as clerk at the administrator's sale and bought that library for one dollar (the only bid), and was ridiculed by the crowd for paying too much for it. I put in all my spare time reading Chitty, and in 1860 entered the law office of Pomeroy & Seay as janitor and student.
In April, 1861, the week before Fort Sumpter surrendered, I was admitted to practice 'in all the courts of the state of Missouri!' by Judge McBride, who was then the presiding judge. He was a typical, high-toned, slave-holding southern gentleman, popular as a judge, and had a strong political following. While the court was in session the news of Major Anderson's surrender reached us. To say there was great excitement and many hot intemperate speeches by bench and bar, in the courthouse, hotels and on the streets, with the judge and court officers leading in denunciation of Lincoln and the Republican party, is putting it mildly. Judge McBride espoused the cause of the South and inveighed against the 'black abolitionists' with all the fervor of his eloquence. I was with the minority who took their stand under the Stars and Stripes. Bloodshed was imminent, and was averted only by the conservatism of a group of the older and most influential people of the town. Soon thereafter Judge McBride entered "Pap" Price's army, and was made a brigadier-general, some of the lawyers being appointed on his staff. This ended his judicial career.
Led by Capt. W. F. Geiger, I went into the federal army as a private, joining Col. J. S. Phelps' regiment. I served four years, being promoted to colonel of my regiment. I was a member of a field court martial which held occasional sessions during the last two years of the war.
Upon my return home in August, 1865, I was appointed county attorney of Crawford county and entered upon the duties of the office at once. Later I was appointed circuit attorney and held that office until Gratz Brown was elected governor in 1870, when I resigned and engaged in the general practice.
Missouri's judiciary at that time was composed of justice courts, county courts (having probate jurisdiction), circuit courts (having general and appellate jurisdiction), and a supreme court of three judges. The duty of the circuit attorney was to attend the grand jury, draw indictments and prosecute criminals in all the counties presided over by the judge of his circuit.
It was a hard school, my teachers cross and unsympathetic, but as I studied hard to win my cases and was fairly treated by the judge, though some criminals escaped, I secured many convictions. I made a record in that office of which I have never been ashamed.
In 1870 there were a large number of former Republicans, led by Gratz Brown and Carl Schurz, calling themselves 'Liberal Republicans,' who characterized the regulars as 'Hateites.' When the convention met in August to nominate a state ticket, the regulars organized and nominated McClurg, and the "Liberals" bolted the convention, and nominated Gratz Brown for governor. I was a member of that convention, and made the speech of my life against the bolt, predicting that if two tickets were placed in the field the Democrats would make no nominations, support the "Liberals," capture the state next election, and that the party would not recover from the blow 'for a quarter of a century.' This prediction was more than verified.
The Liberals, assisted by the Democrats, were triumphant, and the party suffered a crushing defeat. In 1872 the assistants took charge of the field, relegated the liberals to the rear as hewers of wood and drawers of water, and buried the Republican party in Missouri. Roosevelt resurrected it in 1904, and Major William Warner, the 'Mysterious Stranger,' was sent to the senate.
In 1872 R. P. Bland (one of my law associates) was nominated for congress in the 5th congressional district, comprising sixteen counties in the Ozark Hills bordering on Arkansas. In 1874 we again opposed each other. He had spent four years of his young manhood among the silver mines in the Rocky and Sierra mountains and was imbued with the spirit of the pioneers and miners of the west, ready to combat anything that seemed to favor the north and east. Born in Kentucky, brought up in Missouri, located in Nevada, his environment did not attract him to the Union army, though it biased him along sectional lines and gave him a tender sympathy for the poor, which found heroic and fearless expression in his after political life. I had but one faint hope of carrying the district in 1872, and none whatever in 1874, but having consented to make the race at the solicitation of admiring friends, who had more hope of the situation than I had, I unhesitatingly accepted his challenge to meet him in joint debate. I believed that I could hold my own with him, and that it would aid me to climb in my profession.
We had forty joint discussions. He found nothing to commend in the conduct of the war or subsequent legislation by congress. He denounced the north and east as 'Skylocks' and oppressors, and held up the south and west as the 'oppressed.' He favored the unlimited issue of greenbacks and the repudiation of the contract to pay the bonds of the government in gold, demanding that they be paid in greenbacks, and declaring that 'if greenbacks were good enough for the plowholder they were good enough for the bond-holder.' Our district was agricultural and this climax filled the air with———of approval. His Phillipic against the 'money power' included the national banks.
Those arguments were hard to answer in a farming district that had been devastated by marauders from both sides during the war, and whose people had not recovered from their losses. I approved the act of Congress in issuing gold bearing bonds and asserted that at the time they were issued the nation was in the throes of a mighty rebellion which threatened the destruction of the Union and the bankruptcy of all; that the treasury was depleted and the enemy aggressive, winning battles and threatening the capital, while the soldiers of the Union, fighting for their country, were unpaid and but half clad and half fed; that in this dire extremity the government asked the people to loan it money to feed, clothe, pay and equip the army so that the war might be successfully prosecuted, and offered the gold bonds bearing six per cent interest; but the leaders having faith that Uncle Sam would
keep his promise, came forward with the money; and that this made it possible for us to prosecute the war to a successful close, and without this aid we would certainly have failed.
I declared that to pay these loans in greenbacks, or in any money inferior in value to gold, was repudiation which would destroy the credit of the government at home and abroad, put us on the road to anarchy, and finally engulf us all in monarchy; that people were misled to believe that the unlimited issue of greenbacks and the free and unlimited coinage of silver was greatly needed and a lawful "expansion of the currency," whereas it was a declaration by the government that its contracts would not be sacredly kept; that when sick and in need of a doctor it promised too much for his medicine, but not, having recovered, it would settle the bill at fifty cents on the dollar, if at all.
Saying nothing of our personal popularity, Mr. Bland's stand against the 'money power,' the 'crime of '73,' the civil rights bill, amendment to the constitution and the 'negro menace,' made him invincible with the people of Missouri. I could not break his ranks, so I lost.
I believed in '74 that Bland was a demagogue, asking the votes of a prejudiced and not a well informed constituency for his own political advancement, but am glad to say that I had misjudged and wronged him. He was a plain, blunt, strong man, frank and honest, battling for the right as he saw it. He was absolutely incorruptible, and his political creed, for the most, has become the battle cry of the Democratic party. He soon became a leader in the house. His denunciation of the 'salary grab' and the 'robber tariff,' his advocacy of the unlimited issue of greenbacks and his never-ending fight for 'free silver' endeared him to the yeomanry of the country.
During the extra session called by President Cleveland in August, 1893, to repeal the purchasing clause of the Sherman act, Mr. Blaine introduced a bill providing for the restoration of the coinage system prevailing before 1873, re-establishing free coinage, while Mr. Wilson introduced the administration bill. It was during the renowned debate on the Wilson bill (William L. Wilson) that Mr. Bland speaking for the Mississippi valley and the west, said it would 'crush the people to satisfy Wall street.' Then he said in thundering tones, 'It cannot be, it shall not be done. We have come to the parting of the ways.' Mr. Bland was better entitled to the presidential nomination in 1896 than any other man in his party, but was cheated out of it by the 'cross of gold and crown of thorns' speech of Mr. Bryan. He and his brother, Hon. C. C.
Bland, ex-judge of the St. Louis court of appeals, were always my warm personal friends.
In 1875 I was elected circuit judge for the ninth judicial district of Missouri for the term of six years, and at the expiration of the term was re-elected. I then declined a third term and resumed the practice. There was nothing out of the ordinary business of a country court in my circuit worthy of statewide public interest during my twelve years as a judge, except the great Southwestern railroad strike by the 'Knights of Labor' in the early spring of 1895 They organized by thousands in St. Louis and sent out detachments to nearby towns. A force of several hundred men was sent to Pacific, Mo., in Franklin, one of the counties of my circuit, at the junction of the Frisco and Missouri Pacific railway. The terror stricken city was soon in the control of a lawless mob which was stopping trains, 'killing' engines and destroying property. Hearing of the lawless and criminal acts of the mob, and that the lives of helpless citizens were endangered, I immediately left my home at Union, Mo., and went to the scene of the rioting. I ordered the sheriff by messenger (the telegraph wires had been cut) to summon 100 deputies, which he did. Soon the sheriff and State Adjutant General J. C. Jamison, arrived with an armed force and began to serve the warrants which I had issued for the arrest of the leaders. I also issued injunctions against the destruction of property. Within twenty-four hours the mob was dispersed, many of the rioters having taken to their heels. But the leaders who were arrested were taken to jail and afterward tried before me, and some of them convicted and sent to the penitentiary.
So far as I know I was the first judge in the United States to issue injunctions in such cases. The St. Louis courts followed the course I had taken and soon order was restored and the railroads resumed traffic without further interference. General Jamison made a flattering report of my action to Governor Marmaduke, saying that I voluntarily rendered the state most important and effective service in a judicial capacity, 'which so effectively contributed to the ending of the strike.' He also said to me in a letter, 'I know you were the first judicial officer in the whole state with backbone enough to come right into the midst of the striking and law-defying rioters, and issue processes for their arrest and stay with them till they were compelled to respect the law.'
Some of our people were Knights of Labor, and the majority of the voters of Franklin county were in sympathy with the strikers and did not endorse my course; so when I became
a candidate for the legislature in 1886 the Knights knifed me at the polls, electing a Democrat from a Republican county.
The act organizing Oklahoma Territory was passed by Congress in May 1890. It provided for three judges, and 'that the judicial power shall be vested in a supreme court, district courts, county courts, and justices of the peace.' President Harrison appointed E. B. Green of Illinois chief justice, and John G. Clark of Wisconsin and myself associate justices. We met in Guthrie about the 23rd of May, 1890, took the oath of office, appointed clerks, and divided the territory into three districts, as follows:
First district, Logan and Payne counties, assigned to Green.
Second district, Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, assigned to Clark.
Third district, Kingfisher, Canadian and Beaver counties, assigned to Seay.
The third district was known as the 'short-grass district,' and embraced all the unorganized territory west of the 98th meridian to the east border of the Panhandle of Texas, on the 100th meridian, was bounded by Kansas on the north and Greer county, Texas on the south. All this, except the Cherokee Outlet, was known as the Cheyenne and Arapaho country, and was occupied by the Indians of those tribes, some government troops, U. S. Indian agencies, cattlemen, and a few 'bad men of the border,' which latter gave the court some work, but it gave the officers a merry chase to capture them.
Beaver, one of the counties assigned to me, designated in the organic act as the public land strip, was known among the old-timers as 'No Man's Land,' and probably took that name from the interesting historical fact in which the institution of slavery played its part. It will be remembered that when Missouri was admitted into the Union as a slave state there was an agreement between the North and the South that thereafter none of the territory of the United States north of 30 degrees, 30 minutes, the parallel of latitude called Mason and Dixon's line, should ever be admitted into the Union as slave territory. This was the Missouri Compromise. In December, 1845, the Republic of Texas knocked for admission into the Union as a slave territory. It was discovered that Texas' northern boundary extended to about 37 degrees. The North objected that it violated the Missouri compromise, whereupon Texas ceded the strip north of 36 degrees, 30 minutes to the United States and was admitted under its slave constitu-
tion, leaving 'No Man's Land' without any political existence or organized government, abandoned to the coyote, the antelope, the buffalo, and red man and the 'wild and woolly westerner.'
In order to hold court at Beaver, I had to go by rail via Wichita to Englewood, Kansas, and take stage from there 50 miles, making a trip of 300 miles; or else, go overland up the North Canadian river to Camp Supply, thence up Beaver creek to Beaver city, a distance of 200 miles from Kingfisher. There were but few people, no courthouse, and but very little business. The people were poor, except a few cow men, but fairly intelligent and law-abiding. They greeted the court warmly and were evidently pleased to know that organized government had come to stay.
The territory, comprising the seven counties, was opened to settlement April 22, 1889, but the organic act was not passed until May 2, 1890. Thousands of homeseekers from all parts of the country staked their claims and established a provisional government which was obeyed by the orderly, well-disposed people, but could be enforced, if at all, only by overwhelming public sentiment or by the cool prowess of the man behind the gun. Peace and order prevailed among the homesteaders except an occasional shooting affray between rival claimants for the same quarter section.
But in the towns it was different. There was a rough, disorderly, gambling, drinking, bawdyhouse element which was aggressive and to some extent overawed the better element, who, though in the majority, were 'negatively good' and had no taste for the 'firing line.' Gambling houses and unlicensed saloons were running wide open day and night.
Their keepers denied the existence of any law requiring a license or regulating their business in any way. I had this element to contend with. They would get some of their friends on the grand jury and prevent indictments, or, failing in this, would bring improper influences to bear on the trial jury. It was hard to prevent this, for they knew their friends better than did the court and the officers. In this way they sometimes got a 'hung jury' or an acquittal. On more than one occasion during the first year of my services, I removed jurymen whose conduct showed crookedness. In one case a man was put on trial charged with keeping a gambling and bawdy house. Twelve men were selected from the regular panel to try the case. The evidence showed his guilt 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' but the jury reported they could not agree and asked for further instructions. The only question
was whether the defendant kept the house as charged. I withdrew the instructions and gave one covering that point. After three hours more they wanted supper.
The sheriff was directed to inform them that supper would be ready as soon as they found a verdict. On my return from supper I found them ready to report a verdict of guilty. Upon asking what had detained them so long in such a plain case, a red-nosed man of some prominence in the town was pointed out as the man who had 'hung' the jury for seven hours because the court's instructions were not the law. I told him I declared the law; that the jury found the facts; that if he knew the law better than the court he should serve his friend as a lawyer and not as a juror. He was discharged and the sheriff was instructed never to bring him into court again as a juror.
After three hours' deliberation I wanted to sound the jury, so I drew instructions covering every conceivable point. That night indignation meetings were held in the gambling houses and saloons, in which the discharged juror took a prominent part, denouncing the court and the judge, but that incident ended the jury trials of that character for that term of court. All of the other defendants charged with similar offenses pleaded guilty, and submitted such mitigating circumstances as they had 'to the mercy of the court.'
Our courts had plenty of work, and were not well paid, housed or fed. We were pioneers. We had to blaze the road and build the bridges. While our work was not perfect, it gave confidence, encouragement and support to the law-abiding people of the territory. Mine was known as a 'shotgun court' on account of my bluntness in rulings and decisions, and I would not resent the charge that it was 'double-barreled and breech-loading.' Having to shoot off-hand in the dark a shotgun was more likely to do execution, and less likely than a Winchester to do irreparable injury. I got small game, to be sure, but a good deal of it, though I did not always hit the mark.
In the beginning we were short on libraries and long on jurisdiction. An examination of the 9th an4 11th sections of the organic act will show that as district judges we had original and appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases arising under the laws of the United States. We also had original and appellate jurisdiction specially conferred in Indian cases, and in the 'Cherokee Strip.'
My work was made lighter by the able and efficient services of the Hon. Horace Speed, U. S. Attorney for Oklahoma
Territory. A fine lawyer, an indefatigable worker and an honest man, he was a terror to evil-doers.
I was appointed governor of the territory by President Harrison to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Gov. George W. Steele, our first executive. I left the supreme bench and took the oath of office as governor on the first day of February, 1892, and at once entered upon my new duties. With the assistance of Secretary Martin, who had been acting governor for several months, and who was quite familiar with the clerical details of the office, and whom I found honest, earnest and trustworthy in every way, I soon became familiar with the business of the office.
On the 16th day of April, 1902, the Cheyenne and Arapaho country was opened and settled practically at once. Mr. E. F. Weigel was sent by the secretary of the interior, Hon. John W. Noble, to select and locate county seats, and it, became my duty to appoint ten county officers in each of the six counties. I had taken no active part in politics during my services as a judge and did not know who among the politicians could be trusted to name the best men to fill these places.
I had no acquaintance with the applicants, and but slight acquaintance with the men who endorsed them. I appointed some good men, who have since been endorsed and promoted by their constituents; some were fairly good, and a few were not satisfactory. Upon them I exercised the power of 'recall.' They resigned.
The political parties were Republicans, Democrats and Populists. In August, 1892, Congress authorized the taking of a census, and got at it in this way: Three persons, one from each party, named by Congress, should go over the territory in a government mule ambulance with a driver and cook. Leslie Ross, Democrat; Samuel Crocker, Populist, and A. J. Seay, Republican, constituted the commission entrusted with the duty of estimating the population and re-districting the territory for representative purposes. We took the oath of office, laid in a commissary of rations and plenty of blankets for bedding, and the driver did the rest. After several weeks of 'field service,' we returned to Guthrie to make our report. I learned then, for the first time that our mission was a political one. The Democrat and Populist had 'fused!' The districts were gerrymandered in favor of their party friends. Two to one wins. I was whipped to a 'frazzle.'
In 1893 I went with my 'staff' to help Mr. Cleveland 'open' the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago. We were well
dressed. I wore a two-story silk hat the same as the president. General Wade of the U. S. Army, with his troopers from Reno, went along in full dress uniform as an escort. The vast sea of humanity, packed like sardines, wildly cheered us along the line of march. Oklahoma was never better advertised—not even at the Denver convention. We helped Mr. Cleveland open the show, lunched with him and had a heart to heart talk with his secretary of the interior, Hoke Smith, which resulted in my removal a few days afterward. I met my successor, Hon. William C. Renfrow, at the depot in Guthrie, and took him in a carriage drawn by white horses to the governor's 'Mansion,' formally turned it over to him in the presence of his attorney and a few other admiring friends, and then, by invitation, they accompanied me to the 'government acre,' where the federal building now stands, and where I died politically, after having delivered by own funeral oration.
I never cared much for the office and was relieved from the cares without regret. I will always enjoy the memory of the abrupt ending of this my last office, with its ludicrous surroundings.
I take pride and pleasure, however, in the fact that I was officially connected with Oklahoma from its birth 'till it had grown to be a bright, strong boy; and have ever since observed with interest its development into stalwart manhood. The political weather has been rough and stormy. Dark clouds still hover over our state, but the glorious sunshine of public virtue and intelligence will drive them away.
Governor Seay died at Longbeach, California, December 22, 1915. He had been living in California for more than a year before his death but always claimed Oklahoma as his home. His body was brought back and laid to rest in the city cemetery at Kingfisher.