Here's the opening of the first chapter, just to give you a taste. There's a larger sample at Amazon if you click on the link.
or The Goldilocks Zone,
in which Mary Frances Introduces Herself
My name is Mary Frances Earp. I was borned in 1862 near a little fart of a place called Ravanna in Mercer County in northern Missouri, right near the Ioway, line, in the second year of the Great War of the Rebellion, but I was raised in Clio, that is Wayne County Ioway, the next county north. I was the first daughter of Reverend Martin Van Buren Wright and his wife Hannah, so my maiden name was Wright. I died in Stroud, Oklahoma, in 1961 at the age a ninety-eight. If I’d a lived another six months, I’d a been ninety-nine and bound to make my centenary but both escaped my grasp. That don’t make me no nevermind. I was aiming for a greater glory.
It’s hard not to feel a little vanity in having lived so long, but it may have just been cantankerousness on my part. I don’t know why I couldn’t die at three score and ten like ordinary decent people and stop blocking the sunlight from the young plants wanting their hour in the sun. The good die early and the bad die late, they say.
“We spend our years as a tale that is told,” says the Psalmist. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their length labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” My length of days wasn’t labor and sorrow. In my sixties I hit a plateau and leveled off, and the rest of it was just coasting along and eating the gravy. Well, it’s possible that I’m one of the lingering bad ones, but if I have lingered it may be it’s cause I have a tale to tell.
Reader, I’ve got to say this to you plain. You may not like my story, you may not like the way I talk, but if you don’t cotton to it all you got to do is close this book and git. I’m crotchety and crabby, as you might expect from someone of my years, I’m gabby too, and my command of good grammar is here again gone again. In my posthumous years, I’ve learned some grammar, but I don’t always abide by it. It’s all according to the way I feel, and the old ways of talking is more comfy to me like an old shoe is for walking. I write this for them as wants to hear my story. If you don’t like the way I talk, if you don’t like my grammar, then go ahead and close the book. That way you’ll git shut of me.
When I was quite small, maybe eight, us kids was outside playing when my brother Matt just a year ahead a me happened to knock up against me. Keeping my balance with a quick side shuffle and putting my arms akimbo, I said to him indignantly, “Matt, you mite near pushed me over!” Gentle reader, this is who I am—or rather who I ain’t. I ain’t someone to be pushed over.
For you readers that choose to stay the course, first, don’t be impatient with me. I lived ninety-eight years on earth, I have continued in another parallel world nearly sixty more, and I’ve got a few things to say here at the outset. My memory works fine when it works. It’s just headstrong like an unbroken colt and spotty like sunshine on a cloudy day back in Ioway with the prairie wind ablowin. I know my married name is Earp, and that Earp’s my legal name, the one they wrote on my gravestone. Well, I loved Will Earp and bore him a dozen kids, but in a way I cain’t explain Mary Earp is not the real me, not the inmost me, not the me that I am when I’m most myself. That’s a fact I felt now and then during the forty years a my married life, and now it’s a settled conviction. This is what paradise is, if I understand a thing, it’s being Mary Frances Wright, eight years old again, and a transparent eyeball.
The normal human eye sees a field about 135 degrees to the front and sides. A transparent eyeball sees the full circle of 360 degrees in every direction like a kid’s marble tossed upwards, a little ball of colored glass spinning through space. Of course I’m dazzled, frazzled, and dizzy, and my vision is dotty and clotty as buttermilk, but so what. Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face. That’s what we were told, but we weren’t told what the words mean. See what face to face?, I ask you. The glory of God? You might as well try looking direct at the sun. I see a lot more than I ever thought I could, but when it comes to the sun, I still need that smoked glass.
When I was a child, I used to think I would live forever. Most young folks believe that—it’s the coursing of the life energy in them. Then I lost that baby in Guthrie, on the trail from Nebraska to Oklahoma, and when that sweet creature, the child of my bowels, perished like a summer midge I knew I wasn’t immortal. Now I believe I have already lived forever, I’ve just forgotten most a the parts that happened before I was born.
My sister Gerry Robideaux and I have just finished the big project of editing and publishing Mama’s autobiography, which she wrote in the last years of her life. (She died in 2009.) She called it “A Tale That Is Told” and we added the subtitle.It’s available first as an ebook, which you may download for free: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/740367 But an ebook, as you know, doesn’t give you anything to hold in your hands, pass around, or keep on the shelf. So we’ve also made it available in print form on Amazon, setting the price as low as possible. It's short (thank the Good Lord!), running to about one hundred pages, including ten of photos.
The tale that Opal Earp Pounds tells is that of a farm girl, born in 1920 near Stroud, Oklahoma, of grandparents who had homesteaded. After finishing high school,…
Contents removed. Available in the 2nd edition of The Lonesome Death of Billy Grayson, at Amazon.
Contents removed. Available in the 2nd edition of The Lonesome Death of Billie Grayson, from Amazon.
Back Row L to R: Walter Hallbeck, Kyla Baker, Magie (Maggie?) Mead, Hersie Burns, Rose Levisay, Ralph Hallbeck, Pryor Millican, Bert Hall, Joel Sandlin, Teacher
2nd Row: Wilbur Hallbeck, Will Hawe, Gertie Burns, Maud Baker
Eva Millican, Evie Gauker, Ben Brown, George Millican, Ernest Gauker
3rd row: Minnie Gentry, ___ Mead, Naomi Baker, Carl Baker, John
Hawe, Cecil Hall, Alice Wallis, Ruby Fawcett (Fouchet? Fauchet?), Earl Mathews
4th Row: Aland (?) Mathews, Ray Hall, Bill Gentry, Willie James,
Arthur Levisay, Val Hall, Arthur Wallis, Edd Wallis
Clarence Hallbeck, Carl Garvison, Willie Fawcett (Fouchet? Fauchet?)
Click to enlarge the photo. If anyone can identify or clarify missing or misspelled names, please contact the site manager Wayne.
Three-Year-Old Travels Alone from NY to OK
New York Times, 7 March 1900
Assistant General Passenger Agent Palmer of the Wabash today received a telegram from Stroud, Oklahoma, announcing that Helen M. Francis, three years and eight months old, had arrived safely at that point after having traveled from New York city without escort other than the trainmen to whose care she had been committed. Officers of the road say that little Miss Francis is the youngest child that has ever traveled alone by rail on a journey of such great length.
The child was placed aboard a West Shore train in New York last Saturday, tagged for Stroud. Conductors on every division were notified, and where change of cars was necessary passenger agents took charge of her. The girl’s mother died recently, and her father desired to send her to her grandmother.
The Chandler News noticed the story 9 March 1900.
The original clipping was provided by Jan Vassar.
As law and order arrived, the West became less hospitable to outlaws, forcing them like Huck Finn to head for the territories--Indian and later Oklahoma Territory. Just as in a drought the streams dry up and the fish collect in pools, so Oklahoma was the last pool for the outlaw.
As of this writing (7 May 2017), the publisher has failed (moral bankruptcy) and the book is out-of-print. It is now available in a second, enlarged edition from Amazon.com.
As of this writing (7 May 2017), the publisher has failed (moral bankruptcy) and the book is out-of-print. It is now available in a second, enlarged edition from Amazon.com.
This book wrestles with the angel of “true crime” and refuses to surrender. Though it is about crime and it is as true as as the evidence allows, it does not seek the thrills and chills of the conventional genre but the more ordinary passions of everyday life. By “everyday” I mean the lives of the poor, for it is the poor who define us all, and yet they leave no monuments. Their graves are marked by fieldstones or by sand rock, the latter soon washed illegible by wind and rain and then later chopped into bits by the brush hogs that nowadays mow the rural cemeteries. Newspapers, which sometimes provide partial trial transcripts, may offer a few words from the killer, but none from the killed.
In The First Man, the autobiographical novel that Albert Camus left incomplete at his death in 1960, the protagonist contemplates the mystery of the his father, who had died in WWI when his son was two. It was “a mystery he had wanted to penetrate. But after all there was only the mystery of poverty that creates beings without names and without a past, that sends them into the vast throng of the nameless dead who made the world while they themselves were lost for ever.” Like most of the people in the stories that follow, the family was illiterate, or if they could write their names they had no functional literacy. They left no documents.
The principal actors in my stories are not always illiterate, though usually they are, but always they are poor (with the exception of the doctor who sucks their life’s blood). The killed are ordinary people: a postmaster, a choir girl, the chief of a small tribe, a farm mother and her daughter, a baby girl belonging to a single mother. Their killers too are average: a resentful cotton farmer, a confused mother, an itinerant roughneck, a black farm hand, an Indian mad at his father-in-law, and a country doctor who enriches himself by foreclosing on the farms of his dead patients. In the case of the mother who killed her child, the story made the headlines for two weeks before getting moved to the society pages. With the choir girl killed by the roughneck, the story ran longer because the first jury deadlocked and the case had to be retried. The rest made only the social column, usually under a rubric like “Local Happenings.”
The interest of the stories, if they claim any, is social. Crime, we all know, bares a society’s underbelly, but more than that. As with drops of blood on a Scandinavian snowbank, it is the blankness of the background that makes the red dramatic. But a society is never a blank. It is a compost of dead beings without names and without a past, the vast throng who made the world while they themselves were lost forever. Their names litter the cemeteries of rural America.
Why Lincoln County? No very good reason at all. It is a county that at most represents an average iniquity in Oklahoma, a state known first for outlaws before there was bubbling oil and Bud Wilkinson football (undefeated in 56 games, or was it 47?). Only the accidental reason that Lincoln is the county where I was born and reared, and my ancestors before me who came from Missouri (an earlier “home of outlaws”) to make the land run of 1891, opening the Sac and Fox country. It is the place of childhood memories, and from half a century and half a hemisphere away, I revisit it bringing blood to the ghosts. Blood allows the ghosts to speak, however brokenly, and to have their stories told. I know these people, I think, and they know me.
Because my primary source material for the stories is old newspapers, the facts of each case are fragmentary, so that the writer and the reader have to draw on imagination to fill the gaps between the fragments of information. Of course, that is generally true of murders that go to trial: if there were no doubt, there would be no need for a jury to decide. And sometimes the gaps become so wide that there is no case to try, as though murders were seeds tossed and winnowed in the wind.
My father, born to a Lincoln County farm family in 1918, used to tell me that when he was a boy everyone worked too hard to have time to think about the past. I suspect that he is right. The truly poor speak little of the past--they are too concerned with surviving in the present. Hence Camus’s character Cormery is unable to find his roots through his family. “What I must do,” he thinks, “is tear this impoverished family from the destiny of the poor, which is to disappear from history without trace.” Though I am not writing of my own family, in a modest way something similar motivates the pages that follow.
Pioneer Days of E. B. Lillibridge
as Told to H. E. Lillibridge
I was born on a farm in Ohio December 6, 1865. Desiring to move westward the family migrated to Kansas where farming conditions were better. However, renting a farm usually meant a lot of hard work with a scant living. We heard of a chance to own a home--not buying one--for we had no money. The government was opening up a wilderness country for settlement. This was Oklahoma where we had a chance to make a home.
In September 1891 we left Kansas to make the run for new homes in the Iowa-Sac and Fox opening. The party consisted of my brother William and myself. We camped in our wagons six miles east of Guthrie where we waited for the date of the opening.
On September 11, 1891, we camped in our wagons six miles east of Guthrie where we waited for the date of the opening. There were a great number in this race. among some of these were W. P. Goble, John Miller, W. B. Lillibridge, Frank Burris, George Greathouse, Dave Skeels, Newt Barnes and many others. Crossing Deep For from the south there was a scramble in crossing. Deep Fork was a crooked winding stream with many sharp bends. The water was fairly clear at that time. The banks were steeper and the stream deeper because the land was no plowed up and sand was not washed in from cultivated fields as it is today. Some places the stream was shallow and some places very deep holes of water were found. Crossing with wagons and stock was quite a job as there were no roads or bridges.
Some people were in wagons, buggies, horseback, muleback, oxen and many on foot. Climbing a steep hill a woman afoot jumped on behind the saddle of a horse-back rider and continued the race at a faster pace.
I arrived on the NE quarter Section 26-E, 15N-R.3E and staked my homestead at 5:00 p.m. September 22, 1891. Then I pitched camp and shot a wild turkey which was prepared for supper.
The next day was spent locating corners, then I went to Guthrie and filed on my homestead.
Spring came and time to start growing food. This season I had 10 acres broke out with a team of 10 oxen.
The evening of the Chandler cyclone I was working on my cave and I saw the black cyclone cloud in the direction of Deep Fork and going toward Chandler. As I was six miles northwest of Chandler I did not know of the horrible thing that happened.
That night Mr. McCaw came riding up the road calling to everyone within the sound of his voice, "Chandler is blowed away."
I drove into Chandler finding a terrible sight. Many men, women and children, killed or injured. Others were walking around in the street, some were searching for friends. Mrs. Barker set up a stand on the sidewalk serving hot coffee.
A horse and buggy at a hitching post in front of the old wooden court house was blowed away and the next morning was found on the east side of Chandler. The Filtsch hardware store had purchased several new wagons which were lined up in front of the store. They had sold one which they had taken an old wagon as a trade in. The old wagon would hardly stay together. The iron rims were loose on the fellas and the spokes were loose in the wheels. This old wagon set between to new wagons. The old wagon was not disturbed by the storm. The two new wagons on each side did not fare so well. The spokes were twisted out of some of the new wheels--literally splintered.
An iron bolt 8 inches long was driven through a white oak tree by the wind. Blades of grass were driven by the wind into trees like nails.
The Nash residence was blown into the air and landed in a lumber yard. Emma Nash was in the house at the time but was not injured.
At one time there was a village or settlement of Indians in the northwest part of my homestead. Wooden racks were found with dried meat.
There were some wild animals found: Wildcats, deer, wolves, wild turkey and occasional lions.
Hundreds of copperhead and rattle snakes lived in a rocky canyon on the Andrews homestead in the northeast corner section 25-E, 15N-R, 3E. Many hogs, horses and cattle were bitten by these snakes.
One day was set aside as snake day. People came from far and near organized a snake hunt in this rocky place. One hundred dead copperhead snakes were counted at the end of the day.
My best land raised a bale of cotton to the acre. The land was fertile and plowed deep. Many hours were spent in the fields. We worked not only daylight to dark but I have plowed many times also by the light of the bright full moon.
Freight was hauled from Shawnee and Guthrie to Chandler. It was about a four day trip to Guthrie and return, camping out on the way. We made the trip in all kinds of weather, never waiting for fair weather. We made our own roads or trails, taking off through the blackjacks where ever we could get through the best. I made my coffee in a gallon syrup can kept for that purpose. The old train run near what is now Carney then westward near Dudley and winding towards Guthrie.
My wife Maggie worked in the cotton fields as well as helped with the chores and it was not long until we had a good home and a nice farm. It was due to her hard work and loving help that we were able to have such a happy home. Two boys were born in this home, Joseph and Eddie.
Gale Hobart was one of the pioneer preachers of the Oak Grove community, highly respected by all who knew him. He asked no financial help and was self supporting by his own farm near Ida postoffice, Section 19-T, 15N-R, 4E. The community was better because of him.
The Choctaw railroad built a railroad from Chandler through Guthrie to Kingfisher. I got a job working on the road bed. It was a good job, working shorter hours than on the farm. I got $2.50 per day with my team of horses for 10 hour day. No coffee breaks or rest periods. The railroad afforded a lot of work of a lot of settlers.
When the road was finished a little steam engine and baggage car and wooden passenger coach was put into service, making the round trip in one day, going to Guthrie 8:00 a.m. and returning about 5:00 p.m. The terminal was first at Guthrie then later the road was extended to Kingfisher. The road was so rough, coal was often scattered along the roadbed, which was sometimes gathered by the farmers for fuel. The fireman would sometimes throw coal at the cattle to get them off the tracks. The little engine often caused fires in the fields along the right of way, doing a lot of damage. Community stores were built up to serve the public along the route.
A general merchandise store, post office and blacksmith shop was built and run by John Shoop on the southeast corner of my homestead. This was called Lowe, Okla.
Coffee was wholesaled by the coffee barrel and then sold to the customer by the pound in roasted coffee beans. Everybody had his own coffee grinder and enough was ground for one meal at a time.
Every family made their own butter with a churn and moulded the butter into one-pound wooden moulds. These one pound cakes of butter usually weighed 18 ounces or more.
After living in the log house a few years I built the present house, which still stands. I hauled the lumber from Guthrie, which was cyprus timber.
A combination school and church was built out of logs in the southeast corner of Sec. 32-T, 15N, 32. This was named Oak Grove. Both whites and colored used this school house, all students walking to and from school. Some of the students were grown up or adults. There was a large attendance, except during cotton picking season when almost all worked in the fields.
In 1900 a new school house was built in the present location, the southwest corner of Section 24-T, 15N-R, 3E. This was equipped with new coal oil lights.
M. Hallock had a water well machine and drilled most of the water wells in the Oak Grove community.
I was a member of the Anti-Horse Thief Association Lodge No. 52. The number was branded on the horses’ front hoofs. The association was very active and all members were diligent in this work.
I have lived on my homestead continuously for 67 years and still live here.
As far as I know I am the last remaining homesteader who made this run of this Iowa Indian settlement, who still lives on the original homestead.
[From The Lonesome Death of Billy Grayson]
During the period from 1890 to 1910, eastern Kentucky was famous for feuds. The eastern papers had followed the Hatfield-McCoy feud, exaggerating it into a notoriety and fame that remains to our day. Someone needs to write a chapter on the great migration from central and eastern Kentucky into Oklahoma during this same period, for people came in a surge, and a good number of them stopped in Lincoln County.
The Kentuckian Samuel Wilson, in the second volume of his 1928 History of Kentucky, provides an overview, although he doesn’t mention Oklahoma until the end:
In 1850, Missouri had 69,694 native Kentuckians living there. Indiana showed 68,651. Illinois had embraced 49,588 Kentuckians. Ohio gained 13,829 of our people and 12,609 had moved south to Tennessee. Iowa received fewer; 8,994 and Arkansas showed 7,428 Kentucky born people. Texas already had 5,478 Kentuckians and far-off California 4,690. This gives us an indication of the direction of the major migrations in 1850 – Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. . . .
By 1860, the largest migration was to Missouri; they had picked up nearly 30,000 more of our people. Texas had picked up from 5,478 to 14,545. Arkansas was slowly gaining Kentuckians in their midst and Kansas showed 6,556 native born Kentuckians. . . . California, in 1860, showed only 7,029 Kentuckians; Iowa had 13,204. . . .
By 1880 many Kentuckians were on the move. Texas and Kansas gained the most people; about 26,000 are shown on the census and approximately the same amount to Texas. 15,000 had gone to Ohio and to Tennessee (each). Indiana, Illinois and Missouri had past their peaks of Kentuckians. Other areas gaining population from Kentucky included the Indian Territory and Oklahoma. . . .
After 1900, within ten years, migration to Oklahoma grew stronger – the 1910 census shows 50,000 native-born Kentuckians there.
Apart from Wilson’s work, there are period newspapers which report on the immigration. A useful source is the Lincoln County Oklahoma History, which prints an essay by Don Sporleder on the history of Davenport based on the news reports. Sporleder relates that in January of 1903 the Kentucky, Oklahoma, Indian Territory Company was incorporated in Lexington KY with the ambition of developing a town in Oklahoma or Indian Territory to be divided into one-acre lots for old and retired ministers. Advance scouts into the promised land were favorably impressed by the crossing of the Frisco and Santa Fe Railroads at Davenport, and soon the folks were arriving. The migration of the elderly ministers quickly turned into a movement of home-seekers, and they came for the next ten years. It was not long before Davenport acquired the nickname Kentucky Town.
Came then the Kentuckians. First the ministers and after them the deluge. In the latter part of the flood (about 1912) came the Stidhams, poor farmers from Wolfe County, who were my forebears. The Embrys from nearby Butler County, who now enter our supporting cast, may have been poor too, but they were gentry--talented, educated, and ambitious--and they left their mark on Lincoln County.
The Embry Brothers
The first Embrys’ arrival preceded the great migration by a good ten years. The Confederate veteran Virgil Rice Embry brought his family in 1890, a year before the land run, and among them were Clinton, James, and John. Virgil’s second wife is buried in Lincoln County, but his first lay in Kentucky, and by 1910 he had returned there to eventually lie beside her. In 1910 Stella’s father, Clinton, was living in North Fox township, northeast of Davenport. He must have been a quiet man, a farmer with never enough money to own his own farm, but his brothers James and John were the Biblical Boanerges, sons of thunder.
V. R. Embry, 1843-1916
Of the two, John (1869-1960) left the stronger public record. Having taught school in Butler County before being admitted to the Kentucky bar association in 1890, he soon afterward came to Oklahoma and was admitted to the Territorial Bar Association in 1891. He served two terms as Lincoln County Attorney, 1894-98, and was also a county judge and the mayor of Chandler. He was elected to the house of representatives in 1900 and served one term. Appointed United States Attorney for Oklahoma Territory in 1906-1907, he served the Western District from 1907 to 1912. During that time he was instrumental in restoring the right to vote to the blacks who had been stripped of that privilege by the so-called "grandfather clause."
The younger of the two brothers, James Embry (1878-1951), was educated in the public schools of Kentucky and attended high school at Chandler. His early life was devoted to farming and stock raising. He later took up the study of law with his brother John and was admitted to the bar in 1914. Like his father, he had a strong military record to his credit, having served for twenty months during the Spanish-American war. He subsequently served as lieutenant of the National Guard, and in 1916 was elected commander for the Oklahoma chapter of the Spanish War Veterans.
James Embry’s practice was largely private, whereas his brother’s was political and public. He had been county attorney, true, but now he was known as a defense lawyer. It was he who would become the defender of his niece’s husband, Courtney Orrell. From the social niche where Embry stood, landed gentry with strong Kentucky roots, neither Billie Grayson nor her death counted for much. Who was she? The daughter of an auto mechanic who got herself killed while street-walking late at night. He won’t say that of Billie, since one does not speak ill of the dead. But he will imply it by saying as much to her companion Helen, chief witness for the prosecution.
Where did Courtney Orrell fit into this class framework? Nowhere. Big Jim Embry probably gave no thought to the Orrells. There was nothing about them to make them stand out from their background. He would have known that Orrell’s father was a railroad man, and that Orrell himself had served four years in the Navy. Thus they were decent working-class people, but not any kind of gentry. But when it came to murder that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the tie of blood. Orrell had married an Embry, Jim’s cousin Stella.
References to a “Wellston Colony” supposed to have existed at the beginning of the twentieth century have become so common that the first thing to be said about it is this: it never existed. In the field of bibliography, a phrase like this is called a bibliographic ghost. Professor X, a trusted scholar, mistakenly refers to a work that doesn’t exist. Subsequent scholars, wanting to be thorough and finding no reason to doubt the word of the trusted Professor X, repeat the reference. The reference takes on a life of its own and expands like gas in a swamp.
The trusted scholar in this case was Arthur Tolson, who in 1966 wrote a dissertation at the University of Oklahoma called The Negro in Oklahoma Territory, 1889-1907 (nowadays available online). Because he was writing a dissertation, Tolson was thorough, but because he was a young scholar he was not sufficiently critical of his sources. Combing old newspapers--and what a time-consuming job that must have been before the age of online databases, turning all those yellowed pages--he found two articles that referred to a Wellston Colony. Someone should have reminded him that newspaper articles are written to sell newspapers, and that truth-to-verifiable-fact is a secondary consideration.
This is what Tolson wrote:
In the fall of 1900, a colony of about 300 Negroes purchased about 1,000 acres of land near Wellston and divided it into cotton patches. This town was located in Lincoln County near the lines of Logan and Oklahoma counties, in the scrub oak country. Later the Oklahoma Guide reported that the first contingent of the colony arrived 150 strong, from Grimes County, Texas, to build homes on the land, and other members of the colony were on the way.
Had he begun his first sentence as he should have, saying “two newspapers reported that a colony…,” all might have been well. A historian doesn’t just “report the facts” that he has found, he places them within his own interpretation. Failing to do that, he has failed as a historian.
To be charitable, Tolson was dealing with masses of material, and he may have thought that his position was clear. Something like an interpretation is implied when in the paragraph above he continues:
However, the existence of the colony was denied by the Wellston News, apparently in an attempt to discourage more Negroes from coming into the area. The News announced: “It is not true that a colony of negroes purchased a large tract of land near Wellston for cotton raising.”
This is better but still problematical. Tolson doesn’t say that no such thing happened but that the Wellston papers declared it had not. Here he may be revealing his own biases, because as a young scholar doing ground-breaking work on the history of blacks in Oklahoma, he may have preferred to think that there were a large number of all-black towns or settlements started in the period before statehood. And indeed there were--Tolson names about fifty--but Wellston Colony was not one them.
It should be noted in passing that Tolson appears to have gotten his citations wrong, but this in itself is not a problem. His sources are both findable online at Gateway of Oklahoma History. Neither carries the articles that he attributes to them, but two others do and on or about the dates he specified. One appeared in the Southwest World for 10 Nov 1900, and the other in the Oklahoma State Capital on the same date. Tolson is paraphrasing these two articles, sometimes word for word, so there is no doubt about his source--though of course the articles could have appeared in other papers besides those that I found. (The newspaper database at Gateway to Oklahoma History makes no pretense to be complete.)
Let me offer one example of how swamp gas expands. In his Progressive Oklahoma: The Making of a New Kind of State (Oklahoma University Press, 1980. ), the well respected historian Danney Goble writes: “As late as 1900, a group of three hundred Negroes—fleeing the violence that had been unleashed by the White Man’s Union of Grimes County, Texas—established the collective settlement of Wellston Colony, reminiscent of the dozens established a decade earlier.” Goble cites Tolson’s study. With or without footnotes, in the fifty years since Tolson wrote, so have fifty other researchers and black-history fans, whether writing for scholarly journals or posting online.
What did Tolson’s two articles say? Let the reader judge:
That is from the Southwest World. The Oklahoma State Capital gives it a twist, heightening the scandal:
Though it is to their editors’ credit that neither article is nasty, it is clear that neither welcomes the idea of a black colony, and the headlines of the second are alarmist. Both articles are intended to sell newspapers.
Given this slender basis in fact--the articles were published, and their words are there for us to read--what can be reliably stated about the Wellston Colony?
First, forget about Grimes County. Black people may well have come from there to Wellston and vicinity, but methodologically it would be a a labor of hercules and probably impossible to prove on the basis of the existing vital statistics. Chief among these are land and census records. The homestead records at the Bureau of Land Management are of limited use since they don’t give the homesteader’s place of birth or origin. They have to be correlated with the census records. Once every ten years these indicate the county and state of an individual’s residence, but for the place of birth they give only the state, never the county. In the pure good of theory, one might get a general picture of which state people came from by searching the census records for every black living within five miles of Wellston in 1900, but the researcher would need to bear in mind that census records are not very reliable. Many people are missed in every census, especially black people enumerated by white census takers, and the writing of an uneducated enumerator can be illegible. At best the results could show only a tendency for residents to come from one or another state.
The other reason why Grimes County has to be put to one side is that the white-supremacist politics prevailing there were characteristic of the surrounding counties, indeed of the whole of southeast Texas. Even if it were possible to fix the names of the three thousand blacks who made their exodus from Grimes County between 1900 and 1910, it would again be a herculean labor to try to trace their various destinations.
Methodologically, it makes more sense to start with the newly arrived blacks around the Wellston area in the census year 1900. In fact, I have tried my hand at this, and the results are not without interest.
I started with the 1903 plat map for Wellston Township (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~oklincol/plat_maps/wellston-twp.gif) and looked at sections 9 and 10, then 4 and 5 (north of Wellston and south of State Highway 66B). That's where the colony was supposed to be, and the sections are more cut up there than in other areas, often into forty-acre parcels. However, a colleague who examined county land records found no evidence of any bulk purchases. Land purchases were made by individuals, and the census records for the landowners of 1904 show them all to be white. Unsurprisingly, I found that I could not connect any of the 1903 landowners in these sections with burials in black cemeteries.
I looked particularly at Sweet Home, the nearest black cemetery and a very sizable one, where I did find one tendency that should be noted. Searching the 1900 census for individuals buried at Sweet Home and born before 1880 (making them adults in the supposed year of exodus), I found a larger number than would be expected. Perhaps as many as fifty percent did come from Texas. This supports the idea of a Texas migration, since the largest number of blacks who came to Oklahoma before statehood came from Kansas.
Black newspapers at Gateway to Oklahoma History were no help. The Oklahoma Guide, started in 1909, had an occasional Wellston column that provided some names but they didn’t lead anywhere. There was a black paper in Fallis called the Fallis Blade but only a few issues are available at GOH. There was a black community north of Fallis called Dudley, but the Dudley cemetery has only about twenty-five recorded internments. Another paper, the Black Dispatch, didn’t start until 1917, too late to be of use.
Academic databases, as I indicated at the start, were a dry hole. Every reference to "Wellston Colony" ultimately goes back to Arthur Tolson's 1966 dissertation.
Therefore, my provisional conclusion is that while there were plans to create Wellston Colony, and some people may have even made the trip from TX and bought land, the colony never took root. If the settlers did buy land, white folks must have bought them out.
Studies of “all-black towns” in Oklahoma strongly suggest that town planners carefully placed their nascent communities at a distance from any white town. This made excellent sense, since despite the realestate speculators hoopla about a paradise of freedom in Oklahoma, black settlers found themselves unwelcome in many towns, and after the Jim Crow arrived with statehood they were expelled from several. “Nearly every thriving city in the two territories had witnessed an expulsion campaign by statehood,” writes Goble, and he mentions in particular Norman, Sapulpa, Lawton, Perry, Marshall, and Shawnee.
The question then arises, were there black communities near Wellston? Indeed there were. Not all-black but predominantly black. There was Sweet Home, about two miles away from Wellston, too close to have been incorporated as a town. To the north there were Fallis (which later became predominantly white) and Dudley (townsite plat filed 1905), and further to the east there was a large predominantly black community south of Davenport that never acquired a name. Other Lincoln County communities that were founded or were mostly settled by black families before or soon after statehood include Key West, Fallis, Payson, De Graffenreid, Kickapoo, and Rock Springs. To the east of Wellston a few miles, across the Oklahoma County line, was Luther, which began as a predominantly black town, one whose tale does not belong on this Lincoln County website. Please visit Sharon McAllister’s large database called Luther Area Studies.