By Meta C. Sager1
When I came to Indian Territory there was no Grady County, or a thought of there ever being any such county, or of any other county on this side of the Canadian River, except the territorial counties as they then stood. The Indian Territory had not then become politically conscious. The Indians had treaties with the United States which said this land should be their land, and they believed it, even though greedy hunters had come in from the states and mercilessly slain their buffaloes leaving the carcasses to decay on the plains, the cattle kings had leased and fenced up thousands of acres of the "free range," squatters and nesters were entrenched about over the land, and white men had married many of the Indian maidens. Yet these intelligent, prosperous Indians were self-governing.
Here is what I found when I came to Indian Territory. There were broad, grassy plains as far as the eye could see, with herds of cattle roaming at will, fearing nothing but the barbedwire fences they found here and there and the branding iron of the round-up or the sting of the cowboy's lariat. At long distances there were a few real houses, but most of the homes were poor habitations. The little settlement at Silver City on the old Chisholm Trail was the best in what is now Grady County. About a mile and a half from where Tuttle is now, and a hundred yards or so from Silver City and a little to the northwest, was the old Tuttle-Smith ranch house, built long years before by W. G. Williams (Caddo Bill Williams), then sold to C. L. Campbell and later to J. H. Tuttle, which became the headquarters of the noted old ranch. It was near the Canadian River and only a stone's throw from Silver City cemetery, where sleeps the dust of the real pioneers of Grady County and which is even today
1Mrs. Meta Chestnutt Sager received the Licentiate of Instruction diploma from old Peabody College in 1888. See Alumni Directory—Peabody College, 1875-1909 (Nashville), 98. She came to Silver City and laid the foundation of a pioneer school there, September 8, 1889.
the most sacred spot in Grady County. One part of that ranch house was built of logs.
Another noted pioneer house in Grady County, situated under a hill along Boggy Creek and near the ford of the Chisholm Trail across the Canadian River and not a long way from Silver City, was "Happy Hollow," the ranch home of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Bond who were known to all the country around as "Uncle Jimmie and Mammy Bond." Happy Hollow was one of the earliest settlements in what is now Grady County. It was to that home, there "under the shade of the trees," that neighbors and travelers, both friends and strangers, found their way to spend the night or to seek aid when in need of food, tools, horses and cows, feed or money; and none went away empty handed. It was there that the cowboys of the range when sick or wounded found refuge in the house and under the great trees with "Mammy Bond" to nurse them back to health, without money and without price. If there is a place in Grady County which should have a marker, it is there where once stood "Happy Hollow," the home of J. H. and Adlaide Bond. Houses when I came to Indian Territory had no conveniences at all, but were just mere shells and dugouts. It rained in those days, too.
"Oh, the doors had no hinges
At night we had coal-oil lamps, sometimes mighty smoky ones too, and wood from the "timber" furnished fuel. We got only a "spit bath," that is those who were too long to get into a washtub. Men got theirs at long distances in the "crick" (creek). Houses were never locked in pioneer days, and the latch-string always hung on the outside.
Joe Lindsay had a typical cross-roads store at Silver City, the best to be found here in those days. His stock carried everything from "Carter's Little Liver Pills" and castor oil, up through
foods in tin cans, "dry salt," navy beans, sugar, coffee, lard (no "compound" for a pioneer), and calico and blue "jeans." This store had the post office, too, and we had mail once and twice a week, brought up from Purcell by stage, or "hack."
The term "highway" was not in the vocabulary of the pioneer. It was just path, trail, or road. And roads were only cowtrails across the prairie with deep ruts and sometimes stalled road-wagons. When automobiles arrived, we had to take along a spade and an ax to, dig down high centers and cut brush to put under the wheels. The old Model T automobile was popular then. When a trail became too rutty for use, we just moved over and made another one along by the side of the old one. Sometimes we drove across the prairie and cut the wire fence, or pulled up the fence posts and stood on the wire while the vehicle was driven over. There were many gates to open, too, made of barbed wire stretched tight. Their being hard to open accounted for so much wire cutting and fence-post pulling. Often the roads led through gulches that made one wonder whether when he got across he would be right-side-up.
Horseback, wagons, hacks, and a buggy now and then, constituted the means of transportation. When one rode horseback, as all women as well as men did in that wayoff long ago, women rode on side-saddles and wore long riding habits, but falls were very uncommon. Horese were not trotters, but were gaited: pace, single-foot, or fox-trot. Riding in pioneer days was a graceful and beautiful art.
We did not have new clothes every time the moon changed. Women mended the clothes, darned the socks, sewed buttons on and did many other useful things to help make a habitation a home. Most foods had to be freighted in, except what was raised in the gardens, and the "home-grown" beef and pork. Even bacon and salt-pork were sold at the cross-roads store. Our fare was not always to a "king's taste." Social customs were very different in those days. Among the amusements that I found, the old fashioned square dance was the most popular. The butt of a six-shooter might sometimes peep out of its holster, or a carbine
might be strapped to a saddle, outside, but "rucusses" did not stir up among ladies. Pioneers were not divided into castes, but all who attended parties behaved or were told to leave in a language they understood. It was not uncommon to go forty or fifty miles to a "house-warming."
A Sunday School was organized on the fifth Sunday of August, 1889, by Mrs. W. J. Erwin, which grew into a church and did not fail to meet every Sunday for thirty years and long after she had gone to her reward. Members of that church moved to Minco, then others of that church to Chickasha, Tuttle, and other places, setting up the Altar of the Lord as they went. These churches still live and grow but have forgotten their origin—Silver City on the Old Chisholm Trail.
A little schoolhouse was built by a few cowmen and some of the "nesters" down near Silver City cemetery. It was a frame building 24 by 36 feet, with a log rolled up to the door for a step. Rough cottonwood lumber was nailed up for seats and desks. Three twelve-inch boards four feet long were nailed together for a blackboard and painted black. Pieces of chalk were chipped from a large lump and served as crayons with which to "cipher." The school opened September 8, 1889, with seven pupils but grew to thirty-seven that school year. The school was thoroughly graded and consisted of eight grades—the first "graded school" in Grady County.2 The school, with all of Silver City, moved to the Rock Island railroad the next year and, on July 4, 1890, formally founded Minco, celebrating the event with a dance by the Indians from the reservation west of the town, a barbecue, with plenty of black coffee made in a big washpot. Pickles, bread, and "homemade cake" were added by the good pioneer women of the time. People came from the Kansas line to Red River, and there was plenty of "grub," and to spare. The pioneers brought food to a picnic in washtubs and clothes baskets. The school continued to grow, and its doors were kept open by its founder for
2Further information in regard to this pioneer school may be found in the catalogue entitled El Meta Bond College, Silver City, Indian Territory, 1889, Minco, Okahoma, 1914, Twenty-Fifth Session, Boarding School for Girls, Day School for Boys.
thirty consecutive years. Four cowmen, a bank cashier, a clerk in a store, the proprietor of a pool-hall, and a cowboy contributed four hundred dollars and built another house 24 by 36 feet in Minco to house the school. That was a creditable little house with good lighting and patent school desks. It was the custom in those days to open every new house with a big dance. But because the house was to be used for church purposes, as well as for a school, the teacher and Mrs. W. J. Erwin, in whose home she lived, pleaded that the dance might not take place. The guests had all been invited, and it was then only a few hours before they should begin to arrive, but finally the committee capitulated and handed over the key and the building to the teacher as a gift. That was the first building to open in Grady County without a "house-warming." The house was dedicated the following morning with a Sunday School service and the Lord's Supper and was christened "Sunny South."
When the school closed its thirty years,3 twenty-five hundred students, Indians and white, had been on its rolls. It introduced the Manual Arts, Domestic Science, and elementary features of the Fine Arts. It had a band and an orchestra. It had elementary courses in the sciences and in agriculture, and gardening and tree-planting was its long score. It had its own paper, a monthly, The College Student, which was the first school paper in Grady County.4 It surpassed the town paper in circulation.5
3The thirtieth annual commencement program of El Meta Bond College carried the following inscription: "Founded at Silver City, Indian Territory, September 8th, 1889, closed—Minco, Okla., May 28, 1920."
5This article is an adaptation of an address given before the Old Pioneers' Club at Chickasha, September 12, 1938.