Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 18, No. 2
EARLY DAYS IN KINGFISHER COUNTY1
BY ROBERT HAMILTON
"Old Oklahoma" was being opened for settlement in 1889, and floods of pioneers were pouring into the Territory and spreading
out over the prairies. I had watched the gallant fight of Captain David L. Payne and Captain W. L. Couch and others,2 for the right of settlers to enter and take up land. I was present at the old Barnard Hotel in Wellington, Kansas, the morning
Captain Payne, coming from the dining room into the office, was stricken with heart failure, fell into the arms of a friend
and died. The pioneer blood of my parents was stirred as I saw neighbors and friends preparing to go into this last frontier.
I longed to join them. I had it in my heart to go and secure land, and while putting it into cultivation, to plant churches
in the new land and become a "country parson."
I went with my pastor, J. E. Denham, and a man named Wilson, to Kingfisher, Oklahoma. We began a search for land. We drove
out each day looking for an unoccupied quarter section of prairie. We began to think our search was in vain, that we were
too late. The weather was very hot and the trails dusty. I decideed to go back to Kansas and give up the search. I told the
driver to get me into town in time to take the one train home. But I was not to go that evening. One of the horses showed
signs of being sick and grew worse as we proceeded, until he could scarcely travel. When we came in sight of town, we saw
the train pass the station.
That night we learned of a claim that could be filed on, ten miles west of Kingfisher. I proposed to file on it next day without
going to see it. I had the filing papers made out next morning, but when we reached the land office they had closed for the
noon hour. I later placed the filing. Then stayed another day to go see the land and spend a night on it. I went into a grocery
store to make some purchases and found, to my delight, that the store was owned by men I had worked for, some years before.
When they learned that I was coming to Oklahoma, they offered me a job in the store.
1The Organic Act passed by Congress opening for settlement the "Unassigned Lands" on April 22, 1889, provided that there should
be seven counties designated by numbers. At the first general election, the name Kingfisher was selected for County Number
5. This county was named for the county seat, Kingfisher, and the town for King Fisher, who, in an early day, operated a stage
station on the Chisholm Trail. Charles N. Gould, Oklahoma Place Names (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1933), 52, 57.
We drove out and camped near the land, but dark came on before we could locate the corner stones. The camp where we slept
that night was the very spot where we held our first meeting with the Cheyenne Indians, three years later. Near this camp
lived an Indian named Short Teeth, who later became a Christian and was a deacon in the Indian church.
After supper we made our beds on the ground. It was a bright moonlight night. I could not sleep. My mind was too full of plans.
In the morning we had no difficulty in locating the land. We found it to be a very good piece of land—part creek bottom and
part upland, a fine building place on one corner of the quarter section, overlooking the valley of Kingfisher creek.
We went home that day to break the news to the family that we had a claim and a job in the new land. They were pleased as
well as I.
We then began preparations for moving, and by the first day of August we were settled in our new home, ready to begin work
in the store. My first call to preach, after coming to Oklahoma, was during the first week in the store. On Saturday afternoon
a man came and inquired for me. He was directed to where I was busy waiting on customers and stated that he lived at a new
town, Omega, about twenty miles west of Kingfisher, and that a colony of Kentucky Baptists had located in that vicinity, secured
claims near each other and wished a Baptist preacher to begin work among them. I promised to visit them the following Sunday.
Early next morning I drove west until I came to Omega.3 A new store building, not yet occupied, afforded a meeting place. I preached the first sermon in the new town that day. After
noon we organized a Sunday School. I agreed to preach to them twice a month. The next time I came the store was occupied,
so we were obliged to hold the services around in the homes until in the fall, when we built a new church house.
I was also invited to preach at a home on Cooper Creek, about twelve miles north of Kingfisher, where we organized a church.
A little later I was invited to visit a colony of Baptists who had come from Nodaway County, Missouri, and had settled on
claims near Huntsville post office, about twelve miles southwest of Kingfisher. I preached to them, organized a church and
became their pastor.
We had six months in which to complete settlement on our claim. Until that time we lived in Kingfisher. I hired a neighbor
to plough twenty acres and sow it in wheat. When the six months were expired, I built a cabin, twelve by fourteen feet, with
two half windows and earth for floor. My wife and babies moved out to the claim and began pioneering, while I remained in
town, working in the store to make a living for us. When winter came on it became necessary to move the family into town.
We rented some rooms over the store and lived there until spring. In March they took up their residence again on the claim,
and with the help of a hired man about fifty acres more land was brought under cultivation and planted in kaffir corn, and
in the fall the whole seventy acres was sown in wheat.
I often preached in a little stockade school house, made by setting logs on end in the ground upright and close together.
The district was twelve miles from Watonga.4 A Sabbath school was organized, but languished for want of leaders and finally discontinued. Later a new and commodious school
house was built and dedicated with a dance. The Saturday night dance became an institution, being the only social gathering
in the neighborhood. Everyone attended—mothers would bring their children, and when they went to sleep would lay them on quilts
about the rostrum, while they danced until morning.
My farm was situated about half way between Huntsville and Omega. As I passed back and forth to my appointments, the trail
led through the camps of the Cheyenne Indians. I frequently stopped to visit with them, though few could talk or understand
English. One day a young man came out to meet me, who had been away to school. When he learned that I was a preacher he offered
to call the camp together, and would interpret to them what I might have to say. This he did many times when I came that way.
They seemed interested and I became interested in them.
An appeal to the Baptist Home Mission Society, at New York City, brought an offer for me to accept an appointment as their
missionary to the Cheyenne Indians.
I accepted an appointment and came out to live on the homestead which was ideally located in the midst of the Kingfisher band
of the Cheyennes.
Our first meeting was on a Sabbath, in a grove of cottonwood trees near Kingfisher Creek. It was a beautiful summer morning
when my wife and I drove to the camp. The interpreter and some women had already arrived. A fire had been kindled and preparations
were being made to cook dinner, for it was to be an all day meeting.
Soon the Indians began to arrive, some in wagons and on horseback, until more than a hundred were present. It was a picturesque
scene as the men disposed themselves about in groups, the women gathered about the cooking, while the children played. There
were many whom I saw for the first time, some I had met in the store. All were friendly and seemed happy to meet the white
man and his wife who had come to live with them and to teach them about the worship of the Great Spirit. Chief Bull-Bear was
present, a man of pleasing and commanding appearance. Lame Bull, an old medicine man, famous throughout the tribe, was with
us and greeted us cordially, but with dignity. With few exceptions the whole Kingfisher band was present.
When the time came for the service to begin, Living Bear5 announced that the white man was ready to talk and requested that they come together. Soon the whole company were seated
on the ground about the speaker. The interpreter talked to them in their language, telling them who we were and what our aim
was. He told them what he knew of the advantages of being a Christian, and of the change it had wrought in the Indians of
other tribes who followed the Jesus Road. He declared that the white race was great and prosperous because they were Christians
and had the blessings of the Great Spirit, and that my sole purpose in coming among them was to help them.
It had not occurred to me until now that my wife and I were the only ones present who could sing a Christian song or hymnn,
and that if there were any singing in the service, we would have to do it. We sang "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," after
which the interpreter prayed. I took for a text, Acts 17:30. "At the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth
all men everywhere to repent." I explained to them that the meaning of ignorance was lack of information; that we knew nothing
until we were taught; that God was very patient with us before we had an opportunity to know His will, but that when the time
came to reveal His thoughts to us we must not treat lightly His message. I told them that their old religion had kept alive
their instinct for worship, which had been like the dawn before the full light of day, and that all nations had followed much
the same light, but that "In the fullness of time God sent into the world his Son to be the light of the world, that all men
might believe in him." I declared that if they had not known Him, God would not hold it against them, but now that the light
had come, they must walk in it.
The sermon interpreted was listened to with rapt attention, the older men frequently giving assent. After the service we all
sat in a large circle on the ground while food was brought in kettles
and pans and placed in the center. After prayer the food was served by young men.
During the afternoon service I requested the Indians to talk, thinking the Chief or Medicine Man might have something, to
say. I was surprised that many of the men and women responded and seemed perfectly at ease.
Bull-Bear said that he was glad I had come among them, and was sure that the Jesus religion was good for the Indians, but
that it was all new to them and that unless the teacher could stay with them a long them it would be useless for them to try
to follow without a guide. I assured him that was my intention. I did remain with them nineteen years.
Lame-Bull walked across the circle, pressed my hand and beamed upon me, then offered a long prayer to the spirits of his medicine
for me and my work among his people.
The whole afternoon was spent in this kind of service. During all my stay among the Cheyennes I followed this plan—a sermon
in the morning and Indian talks in the afternoon.
It was nearly sundown when the meeting closed and we started home. The Indians broke camp and went their ways. As I drove
home that afternoon of our first meeting, I felt sure I had found my life's work—that it was not an experiment. From then
on many such meetings were held under the trees along the streams or in the homes of the Indians.6
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