A Creek Indian was sitting on the end of a log at the edge of Polecat Creek, fishing, when his attention was attracted by the antics of a squirrel a little way up stream. Apparently playing by itself, it would pick up a stick and drop it to pick up another. Finally he found one that seemed to suit, and waded out in the shallow water. He paddled around as if playing, gradually getting into deeper water until he had submerged all but his eyes and mouth, when he released the stick and darted for the shore and into the woods. The Indian was puzzled by the performance, but observing the stick floating down stream, when it came near him he reached out and secured it. The stick was covered with fleas that hopped all over the hand that rescued them from the water. Thus the Indian learned from the squirrel one way to get rid of fleas.
This is only one of the secrets of early lore included in the great mass of material recently acquired by the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma. If one would know something of the experiences of the pioneer who laid the foundation for Oklahoma's civilization, he will find it there. The early settler of this state, in pursuit of a home and independence, paid a price that few people of today would consider. He suffered hardships and privations, and relied solely on his own resources and fortitude, with no expectation even of help in the form of present day relief. In this depository of historical material one may read the recollections of a venerable lady who came from the state of Texas into Western Oklahoma in what was then Greer County, Texas:
"We lived in a tent about six months, then moved in a little log house with a dirt floor; and we lived here about six years. I am the mother of eleven children. After moving out of the tent to our log house I took the tent and made my husband some clothes. I had no machine, so I sewed with my fingers and was glad to get something to sew. The first year we were here we burned buffalo bones and horns and gathered buffalo bones and cow bones and
hauled them to Quanah, Texas, to buy bread with. We gathered mesquite grubs and I planted the first cotton in Greer County. We lived on the old Chisholm Trail and I cooked many pans of bread for the cowboys and was glad to have them come."
She wished now she had kept a diary of her experiences which she said would have made a volume big and interesting, but she modestly feels that what she has written will not interest us. And then, carried away by a flood of memories, she begins again and tells about the days before we had bridges, when she and her husband were crossing the Canadian River in a two-seated hack and were nearly drowned in the middle of the stream.
"The tug of one of the horses slipped off. My husband jumped out and unhitched the other, put one child on in front of him on the horse, one behind him, and carried them to land, then came back after me and the other two babies. By that time our things were floating down the river and I was trembling like a leaf in the breeze. Well, I managed to stay on the horse, but I don't know how I did so. When we were safe on land some men went in the river. They could see the seat of the hack, tied a rope to the tongue and with horses pulled it out."
In no other state in the Union does such a wealth of pioneer experience survive in the memories of living people as in Oklahoma. Within fifty years past, during the two decades before the turn of the century, hundreds of thousands of land-hungry people surged into the numerous Indian reservations opened to settlement from time to time in what was to be Oklahoma. Of the pioneers of those days there are living many thousands whose declining years are enriched with memories of rare experiences, of hardships and privations, of simple joys and poignant sorrows, and meager compensations that filled their lives when they were laying the foundations of a great state.
Sensing the possibility and importance of preserving the recollections of these people while there was yet time, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma sponsored a W P A project for that purpose. A hundred field workers were sent over the state to interview pioneers and record their recollections of early days. In the beginning of the work 20,000 questionnaires were mailed out. While the percentage of responses was not impressive, it resulted in an extraordinary amount of valuable and
interesting material. Those who replied most sympathetically indicated a sense of gratitude for the inquiry. They seemed eager to avail themselves of the novel facilities offered to record and preserve their memories of other days—days of hardship and pioneering, of vastly different surroundings, which they treasured these many years to contrast with the present state of comparative affluence in which they now live. With some exceptions the best stories did not come from educated people. Even old persons who could not spell correctly who had long since forgotten the rules of grammar if they had ever learned any, which most had not, wrote with trembling old hands the most thrilling stories of life's grim realities, perhaps the first time they had ever set them down.
These stories were typed in duplicate after some of them had been slightly edited to make them coherent and readable, but not so much as to edit the atmosphere and background out of them. One copy of this work was deposited with the University of Oklahoma, and the other with the Oklahoma Historical Society. The latter has bound its copy of the material in 120 volumes of nearly 600 pages each. Here more than 10,000 manuscripts, covering almost every conceivable phase of pioneer life, are available to the student of the American scene, the hopeful writer of the great American novel.
Pioneering in western Oklahoma is recalled by the following extracts: A company of emigrants came from Texas to Cordell, Washita County, in 1891; they came in covered wagons and were on the road fifteen days. An old woman who, as a girl, was a member of this party related:
"I walked most of the way and helped drive a herd of cattle. Had to live in our wagons until my brother and I could dig a dugout and get it covered. We covered the dugout with cottonwood lumber. It warped and my land! how it did leak! we did not have any money and lots of times sold prairie chickens and quails. The first year when a cold spell came we could not get to town for several days and had to live on clabber cheese and butter. Some times we sure did go hungry.
"We went to school in an old sod house, covered with straw, dirt and branches of cottonwood poles. The mice and centipedes were so bad lots of times they would fall from the ceiling in our laps and scare us. Our teacher had a Sixth or Seventh Grade educa-
tion Big prairie fires would break out and we would have to get on a horse and drive the stock into a corral to keep them from burning to death. When we would go to herd the cattle we would carry a stick with us as rattlesnakes were so bad we would kill four or five every morning. The first year we used water collected in buffalo wallows The next year we dug a well, but the water was so hard we could hardly use it. After working in the field all day I would go after the cows and coyotes would howl all around me and nearly scare me to death.
"In 1891 we worked oxen; all the harness we had was a wooden yoke and hitched them to a plow. We never used lines—just talked to the oxen. My father was dead and I had to work like a man; I would hitch the oxen to a wagon and drive to a store for supplies, and sometimes it come up a blizzard and I would almost freeze to death, the oxen were so slow.
"I walked five miles to church on Sunday so we could give the oxen a rest on that day. We would gather in the crowd and all walk together to church, take our dinner, stay all day and for church that night and then walk home again.
"In 1891, 1892 and 1893, years of droughts, we lived on corn bread, butter, eggs and milk. Lots of times our bread was made out of Kaffir corn; we would rub it out on the wash board, pour it out on a wagon sheet and let the wind blow the chaff out, then grind it through a coffee mill, then make bread out of it. Mother would parch Kaffir corn and make coffee out of it.
"I have been to many Indian dances; they would beat old drums, just a whang, whang all night long and give the war whoop. The Indians were our friends; the white man didn't treat them right; they would steal their wood and posts; several times my mother had traded one quilt for a load of wood. We did not steal from the Indians, but we loved them and always liked to be around them."
Another tells us: "My mother died when I was thirteen years old, as I was the oldest girl I had to do the housework. An Indian woman neighbor helped me make dresses for myself and younger sisters. My father, who was a carpenter, taught me to make pants for my brother. He would take his rule and measure the cloth and show me how to cut them and they would fit well. We children had to work hard but we had good times. A number of us would get together and go plum or grape hunting, and in the fall we would gather walnuts, persimmons and pecans. We used to go to camp meetings and stay three or four days. After my mother got sick daddy would fix overjets in the wagon for mother's bed and she would go that way to camp meetings. She always taken me along to care for baby sister. The neghbors were more frindly in those days
than today. When one had something he couldn't do alone the neighbors would gather at his place and help him. If a woman put in a quilt all the neighbors would gather and help her. I have seen a string of Indians on horseback nearly a mile long passing our house. I have lived by Indians and white men married to Indians and I have never had better neighbors."
"For months before September 16, 1893, little else was talked of in our home in northern Missouri but the 'race' and we children could hardly wait until the next spring to come so we could move to our claim. Daddy was lucky enough to 'stake'. We ran imaginary races over and over before we finally came to our claim in March, 1894, and I don't suppose any of us have ever experienced a greater thrill than the sensation we felt when we first caught sight of our claim. And I do not believe even if it should be our lot some time to live in a mansion we would enjoy it as much as that ten by twelve shanty that was our home. But to a father with five motherless children the situation must have presented staggering problems. I wonder how we got along as well as we did.
"We finally built us a house which was the first good house in the community. As we had plenty of room our home was used as a Sunday School for awhile. During that summer daddy made a trip to Hunnewell, Kansas, and came home with a new hat each for Lucy and me. A new hat then was not an incident, it was an event, but with Sunday School in our own home how were we to let all the neighbors know about our new hats? But we planned a way. The next Sunday before Sunday School we went up stairs to dress and stayed until most of the crowd had gathered. We then put on our hats, slipped out a side door, went around to the front door and came in. Some of the older ones got a good laugh out of it, but we were satisfied. We got to show our new hats."
"After her husband had left and could not be found it gave her a widow's claim to her land. It was in this little log hut alone with seven children that she braved the hardships of pioneer life. Her closest railroad and and trading point at this time was El Reno, a distance of some sixty miles. On these trips to secure provisions she left her oldest child, a girl of thirteen years of age, to care for the home and smaller children. While she and her next oldest son, a boy, would start on the journey after food and other needs for the family. Often caught by storm or flood, crossing the South Canadian River near Bridgeport without a bridge, spending the night at a farm house, and many times she camped on the lone prairie in making these trips, but her mind was always on her little children she had left at home, always wondering how they were faring at home. Many times their scanty supply of provisions would grow alarmingly small during severe snow-storms and
blizzards. Often times her oldest son, a lad of ten years, would ride horseback to some prairie home and borrow a little flour or meal from a kind neighbor."
"We dug a dugout ,and put a flat top on it, covered it with poles, then made a morter out of mud and chinked the cracks, then covered it with sod. Made one window and door in one end. The window was just a square hole with a board shutter. Made a fireplace in the other end, and on this I done my cooking in an old fashioned Dutch oven. We had no table or chairs, ate off a large box and set on smaller ones, and slept on the dirt floor without any springs. We made a tick nine feet long and filled it with straw, so this was a bed for the whole family. We used water out of Elk Creek, and hauled our wood twenty-five miles over on Sandstone Creek. When we couldn't get wood we burned corn. We raised lots of corn but done well if we got twenty-five cents per bushel for it. Our living consisted of sour dough corn bread and home made sorghum, and we ground the corn for our bread in a coffee mill, and it usually took me most of the morning to get enough ground for dinner. We bought our horses just before we came to the Territory and gave fifty dollars each, and after we got here we had to sell two of them to get money to live on, and got fifty dollars for the two.
"All the soap that I had to wash with for a long time was sand out of Elk Creek. We would dip the bucket deep to get sand and let it settle to the bottom of the bucket. I would rub this on clothes for soap, and when I would rence them, the sand would settle in the bottom of the tub; it was suprising how the sand would cut the dirt. Lots of the time I only owned one dress, and when I would go anyplace would borrow a dress from a neighbor. We kept a light at night for about three years, burned a coal oil lamp when we could get the oil. But it was so far we had to go to Mangum for most of our supplies. We burned a brush light out in front of the dugout most of the time. Our post office was Bush but we could buy a very few things there....Our oldest boy which was nine years old took seriously ill. We sent for Doctor Davis, a old Pioneer Dr. that was living in a dugout down on Elk Creek. He came and said that it was appindecitis. But it was too late to operate. The child died and we took some of the lumber that was for our house and made him a coffin and covered it with black calico, and buried him in the Aeral Grave yard.
"The first school the little girls went to was a mile and a half from us in a flat top dugout known as Celon's dugout. The children had to go bare footed and their feet would get so cold they would sit down and rap their dresses around their feet until they would get them warmed up and then would go on. My, when I look back on them days it makes me shutter. I don't see how I
ever did go through the hardships and endure the many things I have endured. Fifteen years later I married Mr. Clark Havenhill, who was also a pioneer and had come here a earlier day than I and had endured the many hardships that only a pioneer knows. He passed away four years ago and is buried in the Fair Lawn Cemetery."
"We organized a Sunday School and church in the blacksmith shop in Arcadia. The Baptist preacher from Edmond came about once a month to preach a sermon; he used the anvil for a pulpit to lay his Bible on. There was no schools near for about twelve years after we came here. Our styles were quite different from those of today. It required ten yards of material to make a dress. We never thought of going out without three or four petticoats starched so stiff they rattled. The sleeves were mutton leg, and tight basque waist. Our schooling was in a sod house and in dugouts. We had to sit on benches, and we did not have any certain place to sit; no desk to right on; just a slate and pencil and laid our slates on our knees to right."
"When we emigrated to this country one of our wagons was equipped with an overjet or extension out over the wheels, and the bed was made crosswise on top of this, on which the children slept. I do not remember ever going hungry. We always raised Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. We dried corn and dried and canned peaches.
"We used to trade chickens, eggs, butter and other stuff to the Indians for the clothes they got from the government. The Indians did not want the kind of clothing issued to them, but they would take it and later trade it off for something to eat."
"In two years we built a log house by standing the logs on end like posts, and dobbing this up with mud. This one room house was much better than the dugout, as we had more room and it was lighter. I papered the walls with newspapers and many times I have heard centepedes crawling behind the paper. It did not fit close to the logs and if I would look close I could see the centepede crawling, then I could sometimes kill it with the stove hook. One ran across my lip and part of my face one time while I was lying down. It did not poison me anymore than a misquito would have done."
"When a family moved out of a sod house or dugout the live stock profited by the change. Sod shelters and dugouts frequently housed the livestock of many Oklahomans. Shacks frequently were made of frame covered with tar paper. Often times the walls of
the houses were papered a little each week after the family finished reading the weekly newspaper received through the mail.
"The furniture was of the crudest—homemade chairs, tables, and cupboards. Often boxes served. Frequently a barn was made by setting a row of forked posts in the ground and rails were laid in the forks to make a ridge pole. From the ridge pole rails sloped to the ground, covered with prairie hay.
"No nurses were to be had in those days. When an accident or sickness visited a family the neighbors came in to 'sit up' with the sick. Many times people lay ill for weeks and the neighbors took turns 'sitting up'. Many homely remedies were used, ginger tea for chills, and doses of sulphur for blood tonic. Poke root covered with whisky for rheumatism, bread and milk poultice for boils. There were various snake bite remedies; one was to tear a live chicken apart and place part of it on the wound. Peddlers came through the country selling spectacles which people accepted without knowing whether they were good for them.
"Dancing was the prime amusement in the country. If a family erected a new house, regardless of how small it was, and even if it had only a dirt floor a dance was held. If on a dirt floor they would have to stop occasionally to sprinkle it to keep down the dust. The fiddler played such tunes as 'Arkansas Traveler', 'Golden Slippers', 'Leather Breeches' and 'Fishers Hornpipe'. People for miles around attended these dances, coming in wagons, buggies, horseback, and some young folks thought nothing of walking three miles to them. In some communities where dancing was frowned upon, play parties were held, where the young people went through movements similar to dancing but without dance music. In place of that they sang 'Skip to my Lou', and 'Miller Boy'.
"The greatest amusement for all young folks of the community was singing school. We would gather at different houses and sing of a night. About twice a month the neighbors would hold 'literaries', spelling bees and box socials."
"I was here during the trouble between the 'herd law' people and the 'free grass'. The only fruit that we knew anything about was wild plums. We would go over on the Washita River and the north fork of Red River to get them."
"Our dugout was dug five feet in the ground and then we built it up five feet above the ground. We had a bedstead but we did not have room for it. We put scantling up for a brace to the roof. Then we nailed another two by four to the top of the door and made our bed five feet from the floor. We had to get on a chair
to get into bed. We had springs up on the boards, a straw tick and then a feather bed on top of that.
"There was lots of room to put things away under the bed, trunks, boxes and things like that. When it was rainy the fleas would come in from the prairie dog holes and I have stood on a chair many a time to undress and then jump into bed to keep from getting so many fleas on me. When we would have a hard rain as we sometimes did, the water would run into the dugout and we would have to bale it out."
"This afternoon I noticed a cloud rising in the Northwest. As it drew nearer it formed an angry shaped cloud, but even before I had my windows down a cloud of dust was circling about our little shack. Charlie was making an effort to get my chickens under cover. I now could hear the scattering drive of big rain-drops on our little tent roof, it had changed into a beating rain, whipped and lashed by the wind that shook our little shack like a paper sack, then I heard one thump on the roof over my head, then, after a moment pause in the rain the thumps were repeated, my husband said 'hail, oh, our wheat crop,' it now sounded like a thousand machine guns going off at once. It was hail, and it meant that we were being 'hailed out'. These blocks of ice were about the size of hen eggs. At last, our tent being a little old began to give way to these large hail stones. Charlie quickly grabbed a mattress from the bed, placed it on top of the table and we got under this shelter. I can still remember how I sat under this table with my two babies in my arms. The noise was so loud that I had no remembrance when the window-panes on the north and west side of the house were broken, not until the wind and water flowing in through the broken sashes that I awakened to what happened. Charlie kept saying, this is ruining my wheat and thrashing down my half-ripened oats. The storm ended almost as quick as it had begun, my husband walked to the door and opened it and stood staring out, such a look came over his face. I knew, even before I got slowly up and followed him to the door, that our crop was gone, that we had lost everything. We stood in the little doorway staring out at what, only that morning, had been a golden crop, rich and beautiful, and now at one stroke, it was all wiped out. As far as our eyes could see, nothing but shredded ruin. Every acre of our crop was gone, my blind planning of the little new two room house, my foolish little hopes and dreams, all, beaten down into the mud. That afternoon I had the job of burning twelve dead chickens which had been battered to death by the hail."
"If anyone thinks the story about borrowing meat to cook with beans, and then returning the meat to its owner is just a joke, he is wrong. That was actually done. We borrowed a meat rind
from a neighbor named Goodnight who lived more than a half mile from us. After greasing our bread pans with it, we returned it; and we were always glad to return the favor when circumstances were reversed.
"At times when we were out of both flour and meal, we would grind corn in the coffee mill, and make bread out of the course meal that it made. In fact, we wore out two coffee mills grinding corn. A neighbor, 'Old Daddy Patterson', punched holes in a tin can, nailed it to a board, and grated boiled corn on it. Game was plentiful. We could have squirrel, prairie chicken, quail, and wild turkey when we chose. I have seen as many as fifty turkeys in one drove. At first there were deer but these soon disappeared."
"We had a sod house twelve by fourteen feet. Except for the cookstove our furniture was homemade. We had blocks and nail kegs for chairs, homemade table. A bed was made in the corner by sticking two poles in the dirt wall held up at the other end by a short post; a bed tick of prairie hay and feather bed brought by us from the east. The cupboard was an open box in the corner by the stove.
"My husband worked for a neighbor and then borrowed his team and sod plow until we was able to buy one. At first we broke small patches of sod. Not very long after the railroad station platform and the prairie around were covered with bright new machinery. Farm papers advised readers not to borrow money to buy machinery which would be worn out before it was paid for. In spite of this many of them were induced to buy machinery and mortgage their homesteads which were lost as a result."
"I was very lonely, for Mr. Wimberley made trips to Texas to buy cattle and was often gone for thirty days at a time. One time when Mr. Wimberley was gone a sever snow storm came. We had by this time built a one room shack and I was thankful that I was not in a dugout. The snow drifted across fences until one could scarcely tell where a fence should be. The wind swept across the prairie with relentless fury.
"A large drove of cattle stampeded and beaded for my house. They got on the south side where they were protected to some extent from the cold wind. But there were so many of them pushing and shoving that they threatened to wreck the house.
"I was panicky. There I was a long way from my nearest neighbor. My children were small and I was afraid to brave the blizzard for it had now become quite dark and then too there was the danger of being trampled to death by the cattle. On the other hand I saw that the house would soon be wrecked. I happened to notice a pan of boiling water on the stove. I raised a window and
began throwing this water on the cattle. They soon realized that things were getting too hot for them and left.
"However, my troubles were not over. The storm lasted until I finally found myself out of food. I had no idea when Mr. Wimberly would be able to return. I knew something must be done. So I wrapped up best as I could and struck out for my nearest neighbors house. I told my neighbors my story and soon the men folks were carrying groceries over to my house. They gave me flour, meal, milk, butter and dressed a young turkey. With these provisions I got along all right until the storm was over."
"Our fuel we secured from the Indians in Kiowa Co. by trading them a little grub or tobacco. A favorite fuel was cow chips, that being my daily chore when I returned from school—gathering them in. Speaking of cow chips, I've seen my grandma—and she was very clean in her house—reach over and pick up a handful of cow chips, throw them in the stove—put her hands back in the dough without washing them—and they sure were good biscuits too."
"Storms of various kinds added to the discomforts of pioneer life, electric storms which filled the air with sheets of lightning. Those caught in these storms never forgot the electrified air which caused balls of fire to jump off the horns of the steers or roll along the prairie. These storms were frequently accompanied by hail which beat down on the cowboys, who were many times obliged to crawl under the wagons or take their saddles from their horses to shelter their heads from injury. During the early days it was not at all uncommon during a blizzard for the family to bring the calf, pigs, chickens and other farm animals into the dugout or house to keep them from freezing."
"We lived near a creek and there were the greatest number of long legged birds of the crane family which seemed to be attracted by us, as I suppose we were as uncommon sight to them as they were to us. Anyway, they came so close and in such numbers that mother was constantly cautioning us children that with their long neck and beak, they might peck out our eyes. There was also a great eagle that watched us all the time and of this mother cautioned us to take care as it might attack us and such was its size that a child would have little chance to protect itself.
"My first school I remember quite well. It was taught by a very old lady who was home-steading ('Holding down a claim'). Her house was a very small sod one room with some kind of a tiny kitchen, lean-to; there were fifteen children in the community and Ann Divin, I do not remember whether Miss or Mrs., agreed to teach us at her home. There were no seats and some of our
parents cut down a big cotton-wood tree and sawed off blocks at the proper height and we used those to sit upon. I walked two miles with other children to her house. She was crippled and walked with a crutch. I do not think our parents paid her much for her teaching and I have in later years thought perhaps she was glad to have our company, as I was sure she was not a professional teacher from the fact that some words we could not pronounce in our lessons, she would say, 'Just skip it', and did not seem to mind.
"Later father was anxious that we should have a school so he put in much time and money for those days, as it was scarce and donated land on which a school house was built. We had a very good school. There was only one house in sight at that time, for everybody lived in dugouts.
"We had a very fine garden that year and meat was no object as there were Prairie chicken and Quail in droves everywhere. The crops of the settlers grew wonderfully well, but the range cattle destroyed field after field and their owners did not take any pains to keep them off, as the big cow-men who had used the Cheyenne and Arapaho country for grazing as they liked for so many years, were anxious that the settlers should become discourged and leave the country, which not a few did.
"In our community as well as many others, for this was a fine farming district, the men formed themselves into groups and stood guard over their crops day and night, each man taking his turn. This was hard, as they had few tools and plowing and planting was mostly done by walking and by hand. Then to sit tap nights and guard the cattle away added to their difficuties.
"It was six miles from our place to the post office and when father was away mother would go out and catch a horse, saddle it and ride the twelve miles, leaving us children alone and we were afraid. They went to Vernon, Texas, twice each year, where the six months supply of groceries and drygoods were purchased."
"Considerable bad feeling was aroused in the neighborhood over the exact location of this little school of learning. Five or six men. had worked one-half day on a small log house when another citizen asked them to move it one-half mile farther west. They agreed to accommodate their neighbor and started working agin in the new location. Another neighbor then requested them to move it one-half farther west as it would be close to his place. They moved to accommodate him. This process was continued until they had moved four times and were two miles from the original location. For this little school, each man furnished so many hewed logs of given length. Various settlers donated money for the necessary lumber and hardware. The children furnished their
own books and what a motley array of books for the cultivation of knowledge. The parents brought the old texts from their former homes and Mrs. Newman recalls often in a class would be three or four different kinds of readers or arithmetics. This little school was the only school Mrs. Newman ever attended."
The wife of an employe of the Indian school at Darlington:
"Another thing people had to fight against in them times that people don't know nothing about today was prairie fires. The grass was as high as a man's head when he was in a wagon in the spring seat with the sideboards on. When a fire would break out the first thing people would do was to back fire. Two men would take a rope and oil the ends of it and set the grass afire. Or they would kill a yearling, tie its feet together, and drag it down the trail over the grass and others would follow with wet sacks and anything they could fight fire with. When I look back on them days of low prices and many hardships I think of them as good old days when everybody loved one another."
"I have seen dust rise until it would look like a rain cloud but would be nothing but the dust from wild horses running. I have looked in the sand hills and saw something white. It would look like hundreds of geese but would be the white spots on the throats of antelopes."
"Bridges was Straw, Churches was in dug outs and under arbers...the weddings was where the fun come in; go 30 miles for the girl 40 for the preacher in a wagon then about 100 People gather to get a big dinner in a 2 room dugout but oh how happy we was!...I have seen 3 years that wasent a nuff rain to settle the dust it was in '92, '93, '94; and how we lived is a mystery but we lived just the same; 40 miles from a sack of flour and gathering Bones to get that...our school was 3 months a year in a dugout I went 4 miles I just had 9 months of schooling."
"Wickey my best friend, her huband was Black Wolf. They lived near Cache in 1907 and 08. The drums beat for days until it rained. I believe it was 1906, '07, '08, '09 and 1910 the drums never did stop beating at nights or days. The Indians always believe in drum beats. They would beat drums in making medicine for some one that was sick, which was taken outside of the house
and placed in a teepee. I have had some sick Indians tell me that the beat of the drums would ease the pain and was good music to them."
"The room was plastered with a mixture of clay and ashes, while the roof was made by placing a forked post in each end of this room which furnished a support for the ridge pole. The rafters were made of poles and sheeting of brush over this. This was then covered with sods thinner than those used to cover the side walls, and laid with the grass side down; the cracks were filled with fine clay. From time to time this dirt filling had to be renewed as the rains carried it away. In the spring great growths of sunflowers and grass appeared on the roof."
"I was a young fellow then on the Chisholm Trail in the early 80's but my dream came true. Long I saved my slender pay of $25 a month and 'rustling' to get my first real outfit. When I went to work as line-rider on the trail I was given my first outfit by my boss. It consisted of a Mexican saddle with a large horn, a bridle, quirt, pair of spurs, leggings, slicker, bedding and believe-it- or- not a Stetson hat with a brim as stiff as a board. I was given a Winchester 44 and a good rope—this was charged against my salary $150. Years later, when I became boss over the cowboys, my outfit and cost of it ran something like this:
A good saddle............................................................$ 50.00
"This was just an average outfit. A stamped leather saddle with angora saddle-pockets cost about one hundred dollars. A silver-plated six-shooter with pearl handle cost fifty dollars. A fancy pair of boots cost twenty-five dollars, silver-plated spurs—ten dollars and a rawhide lariat, ten dollars.
"A camp outfit consisted of a tent, tables made of flat rocks, Duch oven, skillet, coffee-pot, axe, lantern and grub. Grub was plain bacon, Arbuckle coffee, and currants. These currants were always sandy—maybe that is the reason they were healthy. Bread was made of sour dough. This was made of flour and water batter, let it sour, and then tone it up with Arm and Hammer soda. This was good with'larrup' (molasses). This is the way the Dutch oven baked. It was a large iron skillet about eight inches high—supported by four inch legs. This was covered by a heavy lid. This oven was set over coals, the lid, heated well. Bread or meat placed inside were well-baked. The beef was cut into small pieces and flour pounded into it with some salt and pepper for seasoning. This was dropped into hot melted tallow in the Dutch oven—when brown a batter of brown flour and water made a fine gravy. Add some black coffee and canned tomatoes—and you had a meal. Sometimes we had a variety of food but as a rule the meals ran as follows about three times a day: sour-dough biscuits, sowbelly, gravy, and black coffee. For variance we had fried brains, stewed or raw canned tomatoes, larrup, roast ribs, son-of-a-gun (kidney stew), boiled brisket and stewed dried apples.
"The chief objective of my boss Col. D. R. Fant in bidding low and getting the government contract (1885-90) to furnish beef to the Arapahos and Cheyennes was to get the 'free range' of the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservations. He could bring thousands of his cattle bought cheap in Texas up to the Cheyenne and Arapaho land, let them fatten there, using what we needed to supply our contract at the Darlington and Anadarko agencies and send the rest, nicely fattened, on to Hunnewell for market. Taking those herds from Texas to our free 'Indian range' was my job. I was foreman or boss. I will give you our general plan or set up.
"These herds usually ran from 2500 to 3000 cattle. I had about 12 men under me, each his respective duty to help keep the cattle on the trail and avoid any possible stampede. That was always our greatest fear—next to that were 'strays'. If there were too many of them old Col. Fant would say 'Get the H——out of here, Bill—don't come back until you find those. Circle J's or S's'—whatever the road brand happened to be. We had two pointers who were to guide the head of the herd, six side-line riders who were to keep the cattle in as proper formation as possible, two tailers who were to get the tail-end strays, one horse wrangler to take care of the remuda or bunch of 100 horses (the cowboys used a fresh horse each day—sometimes if going was rough, more than that). The cook brought up the rear with the chuckwagon and some one in training usually drove the calf-wagon.You can almost draw a plan of our method of handling those herds.
"We made slow progress sometimes only five miles a day, and again ten, letting the cattle graze. Nights were the problem. We
always stopped for the night. Two men were put on guard at a time—with instructions to watch for the least sign of a stampede. If any occured we were all to be called and start circling the herd at once—circle them down. We usually chose a level place for the night—the cattle tired—dropped down for their rest. One guard was to ride one way, around the cattle, the other the opposite. We always rode 50 or more feet from them and always sang a song. This prevented any sudden noise from bothering them and also let them what was coming. Some of our songs were 'Bonnie Black Bess', 'The Gal I left Behind Me', 'The Dying Cowboy, and 'Oh, Bury Me Out on the Lone Prairie'. The guards were on duty only two hours. They told time by the Dipper or the North Star."
Another old cow man told us: "Like most boys of those days, I began working with cattle just as soon as I was large enough to ride a horse, for the cow business, as it was called then, was just about the only way people thought of making a living in that country. In 1890 I came to Indian Territory with a trail herd for my first time.
"To a person who has never seen a herd of eleven hundred eighty steers as wild as that many antelope forced to cross a river the width of Red, and with water deep enough to swim them all the way and in many places ten to fifteen feet deep, it is impossible to visualize the experience.
"They had all been recently branded with the road brand, which was a long mark made with a branding-iron along the side called a stripe. This was placed on all trail herd cattle in order to distinguish them from the range cattle, of which there were thousands along the way.
"Our outfit, consisting of the regular trail hands who were to make the trip through, the trail boss who was in charge, the cook and chuck wagon that hauled the grub and bedding, and a number of other cow hands who came to help us cross the river, for cow men always assisted one another when needed.
"We began shoving the cattle down to the water in small bunches early in the morning. A man would ride at the head of the bunch and try to take the leader into the water. They would hit it fifty or a hundred in a bunch but would refuse to cross and we were lucky if we got ten or fifteen to cross to the opposite bank. They would turn down the river and the cow boy riding at the point was in a mighty dangerous place, for it his horse should ever turn over on his side, those steers would pile over him, for they were frightened and stubbornly determined to return to their old range. We continued to labor in this way with the frantic beasts all that day and succeeded in getting them to cross a few at a time
until all were on the Territory side of the river and it was night. But we had not drown a single animal.
"Both men and horses were exhausted from work and swimming in mud and water. The cattle were also tired and hungry and one would think that they would have lain down to rest, but that is not the nature of cattle. It takes a full, contented steer to lie down and chew his cud and listen to a cowboy sing to him on night guard.
"When we got them under herd and where they should have bedded down for the night they continued to run in every direction; they would not graze and as badly exhausted as we were, every man had to stay on guard all night long and those steers would only get quiet for a few minutes to break into a stampede again.
"Next morning early, we strung them out on the trail with hope that they would quiet down, but here we were again disappointed, for they would not line out as they should, but would take fright at a deer that would spring up or a flock of prairie chicken or quail would fly out of the grass which was waist high in many places and along the creek bottoms, reeds and grass as tall as a man on horseback.
"Droves of range cattle along the way also added to our misery and of my many trail experiences that was the hardest I ever made. For there was not a night on the whole trip when the outfit could lie down and sleep and take their guards by two or four hour turns as was the regular rule with a trail herd."
"Freighting and bone hauling was the only occupation at that time if one was not a cow man or cowboy working for some of the big outfits, such as Dan Wagner, and Burnett and the Day Land and Cattle Company.
"In the spring of 1881 I made my first long freighting trip from Gainesville, Cook County, Texas, to where is now. Clarendon in Donley County, more than 300 miles. My partner and I had a team of five yoke of oxen. We were loaded with shelled corn going out, and coming back picked up a load of buffalo bones, so paid for the trip both ways. We had three wagons trailing one behind the other. It took nearly the whole summer to make the trip, and there were other great trains of haulers doing the same,—hauling loads of provisions and other articles to the ranchers and settlements to the west, and returning with loads of bones and buffalo hides for the buyers who shipped them to the eastern market. A well dressed buffalo hide could be bought for a dollar or two. A hide dressed by the Tonkawa Indians was pliable and soft on the inside, while the hair was unharmed. They often painted pictures of persons, birds and animals on the inside with Indian paints and dyes of red, yellow and indigo.
"I hauled supplies to the ranches and line camps of the cow men over in the Territory, and in march of 1885, I helped two other men haul barbed wire on spools from Wichita Falls, Texas, to the Cheyenne and Arapahoe country to build a cattle drift fence for the J. D. cow outfit. They each had twelve oxen and I had ten. Each of us had three wagons coupled one behind the other.
"The drift fence would guide the cattle to some creek or river where they could get water and would be sheltered from the wind and cold. It was the duty of the cowboy line rider to ride along and break the ice in these places so the stock could get water. Otherwise they were likely to fall on the ice, and freeze to death.
"It required two months for us to make the round trip with those heavy wagons and oxen. We did not pick up any bones on the way back as there were not so many in this district as were to be found farther west.
"In the summer of 1889 with four other men I secured the contract to string the barbed wire of the drift fence for the Burnett and Wagner outfit. The fence started seven miles south of the ranch of Emmett Cox, the son-in-law of Quannah Parker, and went west 72 miles to the north fork of Red River."
"I was working on a ranch during the severe winter of '85 and '86 when cattle died by the thousands. Tong the fence lines in some places the carcasses lay so numerous and thick that one could walk on them for a distance and never set foot on the ground. Many cattle froze their feet off that winter. By spring we would find them hobbling around on the stub-like ends of their legs, the hoofs entirely gone. These of course were shot. There was a wonderful growth of cedar timber throughout the rough country north of Fort Supply and extending east nearly to Alva. In some localities the cedar forests were dense and many trees were two feet in diameter. The freighters to Fort Supply used to cut mammoth loads of these cedars and haul them back to Kansas. They also hauled great loads of bones of cattle from the Strip country back to Kansas markets on their return from Fort Supply for a year or more following the hard winter of the middle 80's when so many cattle froze to death.
"A few years after the opening I went to the land office at Alva to file. I stood in line for hours in a drenching rain with mud and water well up to my boot tops waiting for my turn to get into the land office."
"I have seen droves of cattle pass our place constantly weeks at a time. One herd would not get out of sight in the north until another appeared from the south. They passed that way day after day, weeks at a time."
"The cattle men were ordered out of old Oklahoma by President Cleveland in 1885. I came to know how Oklahoma settlers helped themselves to free wire in the Cherokee Strip. Wire to them was a necessity as they had to fence in their claims. So wire fences and even ranch houses disappeared from the Cherokee Strip. They knew that the leases of the Cherokee Live Stock Association were about to run out. They just took wire by the wagon load. Miles of fencing disappeared during the last few months of the Cherokee leases; this usually was done at night. Under the contract between the live stock association and the Indians all improvements were to go to the Indians when the leases expired. The cattle men used line riders to guard the fences, but when they had passed and night came many a queer contraption on wheels wound up miles of fencing; wire was a thing that could not be identified."
An old settler who established a claim near Lawton says of his neighbors: "The early day cattlemen, ranchmen and stock raisers had roundups, brought their cowboys, families and friends and stayed at the camp. Then there were many wonderful feats and feasts held during the roundups, singing, roping and riding together with a big dance in the evening to finish the day."
"When they were getting ready to open this country to settlement President Cleveland ordered the cattle moved out of Oklahoma. So there was a big final roundup near Ponca City called the Lone Tree Roundup. Hundreds of hands were there to cut the cattle belonging to their individual ranches. I was not one of those employed, but I went there anyway just to see it. I sat on my horse on a little hill and as far as I could see there were cattle. Representatives were there from six or seven states. Herds were driven there from as far as Wyoming and Montana. The railroads were jammed with cattle as one big herd after another waited to be shipped to market. Of course the market was glutted for a while and the ranchers lost a lot of money."
Farther east in the Indian Territory, where there was more timber, stories originated from which the following extracts were made: "Father built a log barn and didn't use a nail. He cut and hewed his logs and at night made wooden pegs of hickory. These pegs were carefully whittled at night and rolled in wet flannel cloths and laid in hot ashes to season till morning. He didn't lay a log until everything was in readiness. Then the neighbors came in for the day and the barn was built. The clapboards were put on the roof with pegs also.
" 'Haste letters' were carried in relays. One day a man brought one to our house from Texas. It was to be delivered north
of Guthrie. Father carried it to Guthrie and another man took it to its destination.
"When a neighbor was in need of help he went into the yard and shot a gun three times in rapid succession. Another neighbor would answer with three shots. The first would shoot twice and the second would answer with two shots, then a third shot from each. Soon the neighbors gathered at the home of the one in trouble. If one were out of meat or food and let it be known his neighbors helped him out. Father and mother used to make coffins out of walnut. Whenever he found a straight walnut tree he cut it, had it sawed into lumber and kept it in the loft of his house ready for use when there was a death in the neighborhood. He never charged for these services."
Recollections of a Confederate soldier: "In 1873 and '74 we located at Tahlequah, coming from Texas. After traveling for many days driving two oxen to a tar pole wagon. The axles of this wagon were of wood greased with pine tar.
"My wife made lye soap and washed with a battling board. It was my task to pound the dirt from the white clothes with this. I made our shoes; the leather I had tanned with oak bark. The bark was put into boiling water and boiled until it made a thick ooze. This was poured over the hide, causing the hair to slip. Then the hair was carefully scraped off and the hide was pulled back and forth across a wooden pole until it was dry. Then it was ready to be cut into shoes. I had a last I made of a piece of wood. If I wanted the shoes black I dyed the leather with copperas and sweet milk. The uppers were sewed by hand with a large needle and strips of buckskin. Holes were punched with an awl to put the needle through. Eyelets were made with an awl and the shoes were laced with buckskin. The soles were tacked on with wooden pegs which were also homemade. Our horse collars were made of corn shucks plaited together and covered with rawhide. I also made wooden collars for my horses."
About recreations: "Sometimes we would storm a family for a dance. By that I mean we would just go to a house without warning the family living there. Then we would go right in and have a dance. Very few people ever objected because we never stormed anyone but our friends. I remember once when we stormed an old fellow named Russell close to Enterprise. We took out all the furniture and danced till midnight.
"A 'spinning' was something nice, too. If some women in our settlement got behind with her work through sickness or bad luck we pitched in and helped her. Five or six of the neighboring women would take their spinning wheels and go to her house. Some of the women would get dinner while the others worked."
An Old-timer in the Choctaw Nation: "His parents had a loom house and two old aunties (Negroes) made cloth for the whole plantation. They also made the dyes for them out of barks and herbs and berries. Red oak bark made almost black dye. Bois d'arc bark made yellow and with copperas it made what we call khaki now. Dried walnut hulls made jet black; green hulls made a reddish brown. Poke berries made red, and they would combine the barks and berries to make different colors. When my father went over to Paris, Texas, once a year, to buy our clothes each child's feet were carefully measured for his or her shoes before father went. We never knew what it was to have a pair of shoes fitted and they were always got a little large. When he was a boy he did not have shoes until cold weather. Then they were homemade shoes. His father made his lasts, tanned the hides, made the shoes, sewed with tanned strings of squirrel skin or cow hide, pegged the soles with wooden pegs."
In the Chickasaw Nation: I have seen as many as fifteen head of deer in one bunch. Often times when we would hole up our sweet potatoes for the winter the wild deer would dig them out. I have seen many a deer with his head stuck in a sweet potato hill. One time my uncle caught a half-grown buck by the hind feet with his head stuck in one of the potato hills and he liked to have kicked all my uncle's clothes off of him.
"I once saw the Ringling Brothers' Circus come down the old Chisholm Trail in wagons. They lost one of their big elephants close to our house. He laid down in the tall grass and they went off and left him. He stayed around there four or five days until they came back hunting him."
In the Choctaw Nation a pioneer describes a fish fry: "A party of young braves swam out in the lake quite a distance, taking with them long wooden stakes. With a wooden mallet they drove them down in the mud in the bottom of the lake until the top just came to the surface of the water. Then they swam back and then returned to the stakes with handfuls of fresh snakeroot. This they pounded on top of these posts until the juice ran out into the water. The fish became drunk on the snakeroot and floated to the top of the water. They were then scooped up by the hundreds, for there were great quantities of fish in all the streams and lakes then. The Indians had brought many skillets and dutch ovens along and the fish were cleaned and cooked as the white people cooked them and everybody had a good time."
"There is yet to be seen in the Choctaw country on Ten Mile Prairie on the old Crowder holdings a strip of timber which has the peculiar appearance of having all the limbs on the trees bend-
ing down to the earth. This was caused by the great swarms of pigeons which roosted on these trees when they were young. It is a known fact to my people and the Indians of that region that in 1878 and 1879 the pigeons came in such great numbers they darkened the earth from the sun and by roosting in this area broke many limbs off the trees and bent the young branches so much that they remain drooped to this time."
An emigrant who came along to the Chickasaw Nation in 1894 and settled in the timber country relates: "Our school building was what we called a split log school house. Even the seats and desks were made of split logs. Kids in these days would rather do without an education than to go to that kind of a school. Our books were Bluebacked Speller, slate and pencil. We sat two in a seat and it took all the chips and slab rocks in the country to keep our desks leveled up. Even the teacher's desk was made of four stakes driven between the logs into the ground and a board fastened across the top."
A half breed Choctaw woman related: "Our dishes were mostly of tin or wood. More wood than any—with gourds for dippers and receptacle for storing things. We stored all sugar, coffee, beans and anything dried in gourds. Also soap. Buckets were of wood.
"The bucket we milked in was hollowed out of a log and we called it a 'Pigen'. This was different from the buckets made of staves. We had a plenty of buckets and tubs made of ash or cedar with staves. They were held together with buckskin thongs at first, before we learned to have iron bands made at the blacksmith's. We did lots of weaving of baskets, too. All cotton was picked into baskets. Fruit, nuts, vegetables, everything was gathered in baskets.
"Cotton was picked into baskets and the seed was pulled out with our fingers; later we put wooden pegs in a board and pulled the cotton through the pegs and the seed would not come through. Every child had to seed so much cotton before they were allowed to go to bed; then it was carded and spun into thread, or quilted between layers of cloth for quilts or robes. Wheat was cut by hand and the heads put on a large wagon sheet or Tar-Polian (tarpaulin) it was called, and the oxen or cattle was driven over it to mash out the grain. This was taken to a mill that ground for a part of the, wheat.
"We parched a good deal of corn too, and were very happy if we got holt of popcorn. I have helped care for and render the fat from bears that weighed 800 or 1000 pounds.
"The girls and women did most of the work except the hunting; the bucks always did that but we had to clean the game and cure the meat. I knew how to cure and tan most any hide and skin of birds. We made all our own clothes and shoes. I could card and spin but never learned much about weaving except carpets.
"We thought a floor without a skin or carpet of some kind of covering was a disgrace. You may think that a tent or teppee was cold, but we always had the floor of it covered with some kind of skins and we always had plenty of dressed skins for robes or blankets. I remember the first stove I ever saw; I thought the people would surely freeze for they could not see the fire. I thought the seeing of the fire was necessary to keeping warm. Every one shared in the hunt and in the cleaning and curing of the meat. All went nutting together. All picked berries for all; this was in the woods.
"We jumped the rope, played dare base, town ball, and had a merry-go-round, a sapling with a hole bored in it placed on a stump and fastened with a peg. We had the very most fun playing horse. We would bend down a sapling and get on it and ride up and down. Some time we would try and ride one that would take two or three to pull down and would we get thrown when the tree sprang upright if we were not heavy enough to hold it down. There were always plenty of grape vine swings.
"I know a lot of things to find and eat in the woods that white people do not know. Every Sunday morning we spent the morning in the woods gathering eggs.
"I haven't a doubt but that we have eaten snake eggs, for we gathered all that were found that looked fresh. The wild pigeons were very plentiful and they would have roosts where hundreds of them would come at night and there we always found lots of eggs, and if we needed meat we would get us a torch and go to a roost and with a stick kill a bag full in a stroke or two. Wild duck and goose eggs were considered fine. A pigeon pie or stew is about the nicest dish one can have."
Before the Civil War roads in the Choctaw Nation were marked by notches on trees. Through roads were marked with four notches; roads leading into other roads were marked by three notches; roads, leading to settlements were marked with two notches and roads leading to good fishing, hunting or camping places were marked by stones or by blazes on trees. By this system of marking trees, a traveler through the Choctaw Nation, if he understood the meaning of these marks could easily find his way.
A full-blood Choctaw woman relates: "We had little flour to eat as it was hard to get flour, sugar and coffee without money, which we did not have except when we dug snake root and sold it.
Mother would make meal out of corn by beating it in a mortar block. From this we made hominy and other things, and many times that was all my mother had to eat. My husband used to do his trading at Detroit, Texas. Twice a year he would go there or Paris and sell the snake root we had dug and buy flour and coffee and some sugar.
"Nearly all the full-blooded Indians in our community were poor. They had cattle and hogs but there was no market for them and the only way they could get money and groceries was by selling snake root. They had plenty of meat but no bread.
"My mother did not own a spinning wheel. She would borrow one from our neighbor and spin cotton and wool into thread, which she would knit into socks and mittens. Mother would pull the seed out of cotton by hand until she got enough to spin and make socks and mittens which were heavy and warm."