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BESSIE

Located six miles north of Cordell in Washita County, Bessie is one-half mile west of U.S. Highway 183. The town's name commemorates the "Bess Line," the popular name of the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern Railroad (later acquired by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, or Frisco), which built tracks through the county in 1902. Prior to the town's establishment the area lay within the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation. When the April 19, 1892, run opened the land to non-Indian settlement, a town named Shelly emerged several miles from present Bessie. Nearby, another small community named Boggy had a post office in 1895. In 1899 Boggy's post office designation changed to Stout, and as the railroad was constructed, many businessmen from Shelly migrated to Stout. The post office name changed to Bessie on May 22, 1903, after it moved one mile south. Because the new site had a plentiful supply of good water, the railroad constructed a roundhouse at that point, causing the town to relocate.

Although the townsite opened in 1903, Bessie did not organize a school district until November 23, 1904. Originally consisting of less than a square mile, by 1951, through annexation, the Bessie school district covered forty-one square miles. According to the records of Carl Jones, Washita County school superintendent, Cordell and Clinton annexed the high school in the early 1950s, and the grade school closed a few years later.

Bessie's weekly newspaper, the Washita Breeze, in 1905 published an extensive article promoting the town. The paper boasted that Bessie was progressive, with a railroad roundhouse, three hotels, four passenger trains daily, three churches, two hardware stores, a cotton gin, two blacksmith shops, three general merchandise stores, a feed mill, drugstore, two doctors, three eating establishments, and two banks. The Frisco's six-engine roundhouse and division point served as an early economic stimulant. In 1917 a railroad workers' strike closed the Frisco's facilities. The town's 1920 population was 363, climbed to 415 in 1930, before declining to 284 by 1940.

Agriculture became the principle resource of the community. A strong cooperative grain elevator system developed, offering an active market for farm products. In 1970 the population stood at 210. Most of the residents were of German descent. Jazz trombonist Elmer "Moe" Schneider was born in Bessie. In October 2003 the town celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. The 2000 population was 190.

SEE ALSO: CHEYENNE-ARAPAHO OPENING, SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carl Jones, Development of Washita County School Districts, 1892-1951, and Financing, 1940-1951 (N.p.: Carl Jones, 1952). Washita (Bessie, Oklahoma) Breeze, 3 February 1905. "Washita County Museum Report," Cordell (Oklahoma) Weekly Beacon, 19 February 2003.

Wayne Boothe

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