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.
It was still eight months before Black Tuesday would usher in the Great Depression when the story of the killing appeared. All three of the Lincoln County newspapers must have carried the murder story, but they are not online in the archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Initially I was forced to read about it in the Miami Daily News for Tuesday, 29 January 1929:
J. H. Townsend, 40, was being questioned by county officials today in connection with the death of his wife, Mrs. Ethel Townsend, 36, found beaten to death late yesterday in the family home, three miles northeast of Kendrick, near here. . . . the woman had been dead about seven hours before the body was found.
Two small children of the family, returning from school, found the body of their mother on the floor, her head crushed. The house was cold and an infant child, with the mother at the time the body was found, today was in a critical condition from exposure to the cold.
Townsend told county officials that he had left home early yesterday morning and that he had not returned until night, when he was taken into custody.
Officers were seeking an 18-year-old son of the Townsends, who does not live at home, for questioning.
The initials “J. H.” instead of a first name was the standard newspaper usage of the day for any man who was married and not yet convicted of a serious crime. Only children and criminals were referred to by their given names; married women were referred to by “Mrs.” followed by their husbands initials and surname. J. H.’s full name was James Henry Thomas Townsend. His friends, if he had any, called him Tom, as revealed in a single stray document, the record of his 1909 marriage to Ethel. Yet for me to call him Tom suggests a geniality I don’t feel, so I’ll call him Townsend.
By Wednesday the situation for Townsend was not looking good. Every experienced law officer knows that most murdered wives are usually killed by their husbands. Rates of uxoricide are much higher than whatever the opposite is called. Of the 2340 deaths at the hands of intimate partners in America in 2007, female victims made up 70%. Ethel was murdered in 1929 rather than 2007, but the war between the sexes probably hasn’t altered much. The finger of suspicion was pointing at Townsend, and that evening brought witnesses and more fingers.
Murder charges were filed against him the next day, and an Oklahoma paper reports a damning bit of additional evidence.
Mrs. Townsend’s body was found by two of her small children when they returned from school Monday afternoon. Townsend had been seen leaving the home of his wife shortly after 10 o’clock Monday morning. A coroner’s jury established the time of the death at that approximate hour.
What the papers don’t comment on, but which strikes the general reader, is Townsend’s leaving the infant with its slain mother in a cold house in the dead of winter, knowing full well that the other children would not be back from school for hours. Murders are often committed in the heat of anger, but nothing can account for going off and leaving an infant in a cold house in the dead of winter except the man’s indifference, which must have been colder than the temperature outside.
The transcript from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which automatically reviewed all murder trials, was brief but did provide some details. The Court head heard the case in December of 1929 and rendered its verdict in early January 1930. Affirming the local court’s finding “guilty of murder,” it noted that at the time of the murder the parents of the four children “were not living together as husband and wife. Defendant had been away for some time but spent the previous night at the home, sleeping in a bed on the floor with a son about 19 years of age.” This would have been the oldest son, Warren, the son they were searching for the afternoon that the killing was discovered.
We learn a bit more from the Court’s summary of the evidence:
The body of Mrs. Townsend was discovered in the house in the afternoon lying on the floor with the skull crushed in two places, the wounds apparently having been inflicted with a blunt instrument. The testimony of the examining physician is that death had occurred from four to ten hours previously. After leaving the house defendant was seen at other places, where he made statements indicating a consciousness of guilt.The evidence is circumstantial, but sufficient to sustain the judgment.
This is scanty and leaves obvious questions: what was the blunt instrument? what statements did Thompson make indicating his consciousness of guilt?
Some weeks later I received news clippings from the Chandler branch of the Lincoln County Historical Society, which had the 1929 microfilm, and from the Stroud Library, whose collection of obituaries is a county treasure. Sources outside the state and diligent excavations had already answered most of our questions, though we were happy to have local confirmation and amplification. First from The Stroud Democrat, nearer to the scene of the crime than the Chandler papers:
Mrs. Tom Townsend, 40 years old, wife of a tenant farmer, was clubbed to death late Monday in her farm home near Kendrick, while her 18-month-old child played on a bed.
T. H. Townsend, the woman’s husband, was arrested early Tuesday and placed in jail at Chandler. Townsend was arrested in bed at his old home near Davenport. The family had moved recently from Kendrick to the Kendrick farm.
The two smaller Townsend children, Arthur and Ida, returning from school, were the first to find the body and they rushed to a neighboring home for aid. Warren Townsend, 18 years old, a son, and Mrs. Townsend’s sister, who had been living with her, were in Seminole at the time of the slaying, according to officers. . . .
The child in the home was in a critical condition, physicians said, on account of exposure to the cold.
Officers said they found a heavy stove lifter partially covered with blood in the room. A stick of stove wood, also covered with blood, was found in the room.
This is well observed journalism. It gives the names of the children, mentions Ethel’s sister in Seminole, and names the murder weapons. Then it wrings the readers heart with the pathos of the infant dabbling in its mother’s cold blood.
The Chandler News Publicist gives many of the same details, no doubt working from the same initial report as the Stroud paper but amplifying it:
Mrs. Townsend was found murdered in her home Monday evening when the 13 year old daughter returned home from school. She had been murdered with a stick of wood and was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Her eighteen month old baby was crawling thru the blood and over the dead mother’s body. The little girl took the baby and went to the neighbors for help….The officers caught her husband near Depew at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday.
We also find a short summary of where the family had been living:
The family were newcomers in the vicinity, having moved from near Milfay, where they had resided for the past eighteen years. J. H. Townsend, the husband, was a share-cropper and oil field worker. He and his wife had been separated since last June up to the time they moved to near Kendrick, when he came back and assisted in the moving.
More vividly, we also hear about the towel, “upon which the murderer had wiped his hands,” and “blood and hair upon a a stick of stove wood and on a file which was used for a stove-lid lifter.” That a file was used to lift the lid of the stove adds a bitter poignance. The file would have surprised the victim, even caused her to fall with pain, but Townsend required a stick of firewood to bash in her brains--to do what present-day law enforcement calls “the wet work.” A week later, on the 8th of February, the Publicist, also ran a reader’s response to the murder, which adds the pathos of a different kind of knowledge:
Was shocked to see in tonight’s Daily Oklahoman (The Times) the mysterious death of a Mrs. Townsend at Kendrick, because the description in both papers fitted so well a family who lived in the eastern part of the state where I once taught school. Two little ones were in my room and such sweet behaved little tykes were they. I can even remember show shyly sweet they would hover at my side to be petted, poor little boys, babies then, but older and wiser now.
The school teacher must not have considered all the nuances of her last phrase, “older and wiser now.” Let us be charitable and ignore them.
Means, motive, and opportunity form the sacred trinity of murder investigations. The means could have been anything, a shovel or a flat iron but in fact they were a stove-lid lifter and a stick of firewood. The novelist William Burroughs used to say that anyone who picked up a frying pan owned death. (He must have been thinking of cast iron.) Opportunity is self-evident: the estranged husband and wife are alone in the house. Motive? Here the case opens up in two directions, both of them sufficiently dramatic to ask the reader’s indulgence for the present scribble and to justify the the long hours of research behind it.
The motive was twofold, immediate and psychological. The immediate motive was the conflict between husband and wife over the fact, which she must have long suspected, that her husband not only had another women, he was living with her as man and wife. He was a bigamist. Before Townsend ever met Ethel, he had been married to a woman we know only as Rosa Lee (“Rosielee”), and he not only remained married to her after his marriage with Ethel, he continued to visit and stay with her. The newspaper article cited above noted that he and Ethel were estranged and not living together. He appears to have been away from home for substantial periods of time. The ostensible reason was his work with oil leases, work which would indeed have taken him away for weeks at a time, but while this excuse may have satisfied Ethel for a while, even a good while, it didn’t fool her forever. Perhaps for the children’s sake, she took it as the usual male philandering and tried to overlook it. But something brought the simmering kettle to a boil, and the most plausible explanation is that she found out that Townsend was still visiting and staying with his first wife.
That he was can be shown with little doubt. Though I have found no documentation of the marriage, in the first record of Rosielee appearing in the Chandler newspapers, in October 1907 she was suing Townsend for divorce. The suit pended until February 1908, when it was stricken from the court’s docket unresolved. That is, no divorce was granted. Clearly, however, Townsend told Ethel that it had been. On 17 September 1909 the two of them married in Creek County and set up housekeeping, probably near Milfay south of Depew in the southwest corner of the county. Yet less than a year and a half later, on 13 May 1910, the census enumerator found Townsend and Rosielee together in a boarding house run by one Maud E. King in “Baswell Ward”in Choctaw County in the southern part of the state on the Red River.
Ms. King’s house must have been a cosy one, if not a honeymoon home for these recently reconciled parties to divorce proceedings. Townsend and Rosielee are the only two boarders shown, and Ms. King has a black cook to handle the culinary chores. Back in Milfay, Ethel at this time was three months pregnant with Townsend’s first child, a boy who would be called Warren and who at the age of eighteen would be away from home on the morning of his mother’s murder.
That Townsend and Rosielee’s reconciliation was something more than temporary is indicated by city directories which show them as man and wife: first, after the marriage with Ethel, in1912 (Oklahoma City), in 1923 (McAlester), and in 1925 (Oklahoma City); then, after Townsend’s imprisonment, in 1934 (Oklahoma City), 1938 (Chickasha), and 1941 (Oklahoma City). In their typical form, these directories list the man’s name (last, first and middle), his wife’s given name in parenthesis, and then his occupation and street address. The fact that such directories appeared even after Townsend was in prison, indicate that Rosielee, in her fashion, was being faithful to him. Townsend was released on parole sometime after 1947, and is not found in any record again until his appearance on the Social Security Death Index in December 1966 in La Verne, Los Angeles, California. I have found neither obituary nor burial record for him, and such a long blank seems not unsuitable for a man of his dark nature and circumstances: Unanswered, Unresolved, Unredeemd. Rosielee too disappears after 1941.
If the motive for Townsend’s murder of Ethel was first of all her confronting him with his bigamy, the second was psychological, but before entering into that matter something must be said of the victim and her background. Murder investigations tend to focus on the murderer, the victim having been silenced and interred, and this becomes the psychology of crime writing as well. It’s the killer who can explain his crime, and this has become the obsession of crime writing since Thomas De Quincy’s “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” published in 1827 switched the focus of crime stories from the horror of murder to the psychology of the murderer. De Quincy wrote during the height of the Romantic movement in England, and his essay identifies the killer as an artist, the artist (the Poet) being the great subject of all Romantic poetry and fiction. This identification has colored crime-writing to our own day. But I’m straying from my subject.
The first thing that can be said of Ethel is that it has been very difficult to discover anything at all. Born in Arkansas in 1892, married in Oklahoma in 1909, mother of four children, murdered in 1929--those are the facts of her life. The newspaper articles I had found didn’t even show her maiden name. Townsend had given his wife’s name on his registration for the draft in 1917: “Alice Ethel Townsend,” he wrote for next-of-kin, not seeming to recognize or care that Alice was her middle name. I didn’t discover her maiden name until I found the 1980 Texas Death Certificate for Warren, but to find that first we had to find Warren.
The initial task was looking not just for Warren but for his siblings as well. Some relative had to have taken the younger children, and they had to be on the 1930 census, probably with their brother, but I didn’t even know their names. Only Warren’s. To cut to the crux, for 1930, we found Iva, Arthur, and George in Quitman County, Mississippi, in the home of Ethel’s sister Pearl, who was married to Tom Richardson. Then Diana located Warren in 1920 in Depew, where the names are spelled with abandon. The family is called Townsman, and Warren has become Worn. The researchers too had become worn, but the 1920 census broke things open, and we soon had a family history for Ethel.
Ethel Rogers was the fifth of the eight known children of George Stanley Rogers and his wife Amanda “Mandy” Hickenbottom. George was born in Arkansas in 1858 and Mandy in the same state in 1861. He died in Creek County in 1927, after which she moved with her children to Santa Clara County, California, where she died in 1943. Among the family members participating in the westward movement was her grandson Warren, together with his wife Irene Worthy and their child Jimmy, for the 1940 census shows them one page away from Warren’s grandmother.
[First Genealogical Excursion (impatient readers are advised to skip): The murdered Ethel Townsend appeared at first to be an orphan, but she turned out to have a large and viable family, several of them living within a few miles of her at the time of her death. The known children of her parents George and Amanda Rogers (or Rodgers) were born near Lees Creek, Crawford County, Arkansas, on the Oklahoma border. Lees Creek lies along Highway 220 north of Cedarville, and the county shares borders with Le Fore and Adair counties of Oklahoma. This is where their parents lived between 1880 and 1900. The children who lived to maturity were: Elenora Rodgers (1879-1962), who married Robert A. Johnson and died in Contra Costa, California; Emma E. Rogers (1881-1920), who married Samuel Myrick, died in Creek County OK and is buried in Bristow Cemetery; Walter Bynum Rogers (1888-1964), born and died in Randolph County AR; Samuel L. Rogers, (1886-1936), born and died in Randolph County AR but the census places him on Tiger Creek near Bristow in 1920 and 1930; Pearl T. Rogers (1890-1962), who married Tom G. Richardson and who took the three youngest children with her to Mississippi (as noted above); Sallie Tennessee Rodgers (1896-1942), who married Isham Ernest Cook, and was probably the Mrs. Cook reported in the newspapers as helping take care of the children at home; Albert Dewey Rogers (1898- ?), who married Clara Ethel Scott and who also was living around Tiger Creek from 1910 to 1930; and Esselman W. Rogers (1901-1967), who is buried in Davenport.
[This still leaves one large void in the collected data: no reference to the place of Ethel’s burial has been found, though a lot of data has been excavated and microfilm scanned. We are forced to speculate, and my own opinion is this. She would not have been buried at home, because it was rental property and as the scene of her murder it was inauspicious. The most likely cemetery is the Creek County Poor Farm, which was within a few miles and where Ethel’s father, George Rodgers, was buried in August of 1927, one year and five months earlier. However, to repeat, no record of her burial has been found there or anywhere, though a record of her embalming exists in the Lincoln County Historical Museum.
[Second Genealogical Excursion (caveat as above): J.H. Townsend was the first child of Joel (of whom we’ll hear again) and Sarah Jane Boyd Townsend, both of whom are buried in Stroud. Their children, like Ethel Townsend, were all born in Crawford County, Arkansas: John Oscar Townsend (1886-1962), lived near Depew; Arthur T. Townsend (1887-1924), died Washington; Della Ann Townsend (1888-1885), married John Rainwater; Joel Cletus Townsend (1893-1957), lived in Creek Co. in the 1920s and 1930s, died Crawford Co. AR; Tiney M. Townsend (1896-1912) died young; Elizabeth C. Townsend (1898- ?), died before 1910; and Vernon Homan Townsend (1904-1962), buried in Stroud.
[Since Townsend men play such a large role in this tale, we are fortunate to have a photograph of one. He is John Oscar Townsend, his parents second child, who married Laura Mae Faire, with whom he had six known children. They lived around Depew.
John Oscar Townsend and great granddaughter
He appears to be the soul of grandparental geniality. Here endeth the genealogical excursions.]
We return, finally, to the question of Townsend’s motive in killing his wife, this time to the psychological aspect. The adage, older than scripture, states “like father, like son.” Today we would attribute the similarity either to DNA or to an inherited propensity which could be as much environmental as genetic. Though in this case it might be better to say “like son, like father,” for the son’s outbreak preceded his father’s by four years. However, we cannot know what the boy learned from his parent. The child is father to the man.
In Tiger Township north of Drumright, on the 28th of May, 1933, the father, Joel Townsend, went on a jealous rampage. He wanted to avenge himself on his wife, and in the process slew his mother-in-law, a neighbor, and then himself. A coherent account appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer for that date under the title “Three Lives Are Claimed.”
Drumright, Okla., May 28--Three persons were killed by shotgun fire here today. Officers expressing the belief jealousy prompted J. R. Townsend, 73 years old, to kill Jim Wilson, 44, his neighbor, Mrs. Charles Swafford, 65, his mother-in-law, and then himself.
Police said Townsend and his twenty-six year-old wife were estranged. Wilson, they said, had defended Mrs. Townsend’s action in filing suit for divorce Saturday.
Wilson was slain in the presence of two of his daughters. Mrs. Swafford was killed at her home. Mrs. Townsend fled to safety. Townsend killed himself by tripping the hammer of the shotgun with a toe.
Joel Townsend was 77 years old at the time (not 73). When he had married Cora Ella Swafford (variously spelled) four years earlier, he had been 73 to her 23. On the marriage certificate he either fudged his age or didn’t know it, giving his birth year as 1869 rather than 1855. He may have had a charm that belied his years, and the fact that he owned his own farm took nothing from it. Owning a farm at the height of the Great Depression was in itself an indication of relative prosperity. Whereas in 1930, his mother-in-law to be was a poor tenant farmer.
However it was, the wedding was a May-December affair with a half-century vengeance, and for a man with a temper and a shotgun it was a powder keg with a short fuse. The mother-in-law probably said irritating things to her daughter. The daughter probably repeated some of them to her husband. That would have been enough to light the fuse to the powder keg. After that it was only a question of how long the fuse would burn. Then the nosy neighbor, who may have had his eye on Cora Ella, butted in, and the fire reached the keg. The father’s temperament, particularly its violence against women, was his legacy to his oldest son--the psychological motive referred to earlier. Dynamite in his DNA. Joel Townsend was an oldest son; so was J. H. Thompson. It seems possible that first sons inherit the greater charge.
Cora Ella with mother Susan Davenport Swafford
Joel Townsend lies buried with his first wife Sarah Boyd (1860-1919), the mother of their eight known children, in Stroud Cemetery. He rests under a small flat shoebox stone that says only “Father.” He has another son in the same cemetery, Tiney, who had died in 1912 at the age of 16 with what was called “cerbro-spinal complaint.” Sarah Boyd’s death year, 1919, was a good year for the Oklahoma newspaper archive. I looked in the Lincoln County papers for evidence that she had died of an “accident” with her husband’s shotgun--such accidents happened often to women and children in the golden olden days--but I found nothing at all. It would be another ten years before the explosion near Kendrick cost the dead woman a daughter-in-law.
News articles listed chronologically:
“Husband Questioned in Murder of Wife.” Miami Daily News, 29 Jan. 1929.
“Townsend Charged in Wife’s Murder.” Oklahoman, 30 Jan. 1929.
“Townsend Questioned in Death of His Wife.” Joplin Globe, 30 Jan. 1929.
“Woman Murdered Near Kendrick.” Chandler News Publicist, 31 Jan. 1929.
“Husband to Face Charge of Murder.” The Stroud Democrat, 1 Feb. 1929.
[no title: “Mrs. Townsend was found…”]. Chandler News Publicist, 1 Feb. 1929, p.7.
[no title: “Was Shocked to see…” ]. Chandler News Publicist, 8 Feb. 1929.
“Held for Murder.” Lincoln County Republican, 14 Feb. 1929.
“Townsend Preliminary Draws Large Crowd.” Chandler News Publicist, 15 Feb. 1929.
“Domestic Quarrel Leaves Three Dead.” Amarillo Globe, 29 May 1933.
“Five Dead in Death Orgies in Oklahoma.” Albuquerque Journal, 29 May 1933.
“Guns Take Five Lives in State.” The Oklahoman, 29 May 1933.
“Three Lives Are Claimed.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 May 1933.
“Warren Townsend” [obit]. Galveston Daily News, 25 March 1980.
“Townsend v State.” Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, 12 Jun. 1930. http://law.justia.com/cases/oklahoma/court-of-appeals-criminal/1930/43102.html
Shirley, Glenn. “Townsend v State” [outline and summary of the case]. Shirley Papers 88, National Cowboy Museum, Oklahoma City, 1947.
Anvil, a village six miles east of Meeker in southern Lincoln County, was named for a rock. Not just any rock, of course, but a stone god: ten feet long, five feet wide, shaped like an anvil, and standing eight feet high on its pedestal. The settlement had a post office between 1892 and 1914, and it had a school, a church, and a cemetery where the black settlers buried. What it never had, and the reason for its disappearance, was a railroad. The village has long since vanished, but it is said that the anvil rock is still there. Today, however, the area is so grown up with underbrush, the curious visitor would stand as much chance of finding the vanished village or even the farm where Cecelia Hiemer died as of finding the rock.
Frank Hiemer, a farmer convicted in the second year of the new century of killing his wife and subsequently sent to prison, was a man caught between an anvil and a rock. On the one hand the rock of rural poverty and of his wife’s intransigence, and on the other the inexorable anvil of the law.
I. Foreground: The Death of Cecelia
Aristotle states that a narrative has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end--or it might be said a background, a foreground, and an ending. It is a peculiarity of this story that at first it seems all foreground. The newspapers, those brief and abstract chronicles of the time, supply the foreground and nothing but the foreground, giving the narrative the flatness of a Grandma Moses painting with nothing in perspective.
The primary report appeared in the Chandler News for 1 August 1901 and ran to a full-page column:
Mrs. Celia Hiemer was shot last Saturday night about 9:00 o’clock at her home in south Seminole township, three miles north of Bellemont, by her husband, Francis Hiemer, and died from the effects of the wound Sunday morning about 10:00 o’clock. An inquest was held Sunday afternoon by Justice of the Peace Vlasak, of Creek township, and . . . we gain the following facts which were brought out at the inquest.
That’s the essential happening, omitting only the weather. In central Oklahoma in late July, the temperature during the day had probably passed the 100 mark, and at 9:00 p.m. was still hovering in the 90’s. With no air-conditioning or electric fans, tempers too were overheated, certainly those of the old folks if not of the young. Frank was 61, Cecelia 53, and with them at home were their three youngest children, John 16, Frank Jr. 12, and Celia 7.
The family were preparing to go to bed and the children were on a pallet in the west room of the house, the room in which the killing was done. The old man was in the east room and suddenly he took down his shotgun and loaded it, then got his pistol saying that he was going to the dance at Ladra’s, where his elder daughter, Mary, had gone to spend the evening with the young folks. Mrs. Hiemer was also in the east room at the time, and he asked her why she had had him arrested, referring to the time a year ago when she had had him arrested for beating her. She answered that, since that trouble was long past, she wished he would not refer to it anymore, and then she started to go into the west room where the bed was.
Though the narrative is flat, already a couple of bumps arise show, suggesting suppressed questions. With what intention would a man take a shotgun and pistol to a dance? What sort of cruelty would it have required for a wife to file a complaint against her husband and get him arrested?
As she reached the door between the two rooms he suddenly pointed the pistol at her and fired, the ball striking her in the left breast, just below the heart, and ranging downward and diagonally backward, lodging just above the top of the hip bone on the opposite side of the body. The pistol used was of the bull dog type and was of 44 caliber.
The details of the bullet’s path means that the inquest included a coroner’s report, getting the attention of the male reader. The weapon too is described. Handguns are never simply pistols--each carries a history and implies a personality. The Bull Dog was a popular British pocket revolver introduced by Webley & Son of Birmingham, England in 1872 and subsequently copied by gunmakers in Europe and the United States. It featured a 2.5-inch barrel, making it useless for killing anything further away than the opposite side of a card table or a kitchen.
Bulldog, 1900 Model
Charles J. Guiteau used a Bulldog revolver for his close-up killing of President James A. Garfield on 2 July 1881. Reportedly, he wanted a British Bulldog revolver with ivory grips instead of wooden ones, as he believed they would look nicer when the gun was displayed in a museum. After Guiteau's trial, the revolver was indeed placed in the Smithsonian Institution but thereafter disappeared. Frank Hiemer and his family arrived in the United States in July of 1881, just in time to read about the assassination in the newspaper. Perhaps the clamor made Frank think the Bull Dog would turn him into a better American.
After shooting the lady the murderer asked her where some of his clothes were, saying that he was going to kill himself. Shortly after he lighted a match and held it over her so that he could see her, saying as he did so, “This is just what you should have had long ago.” Then he went out of the house and fired his pistol off three times and the old lady died believing that her husband had killed himself She was conscious up to the last and spoke frequently, saying that she would soon be gone. . . . She averred that the shooting was maliciously done, saying that her husband had no just cause for his act.
What we can gather from this reported conversation is that Frank believed there was malice on Cecelia’s side. She had accused him of cruelty. Now he was returning the accusation. “This is just what you should have had long ago.”
The children corroborate the statements of their mother in every particular. The little boys saw the whole affair. They heard their father’s remarks after the shooting and were ordered by him not to go for the doctor. About half an hour after the shooting occurred they went to Bellemont for the doctor, leaving the little girl with her dying mother.
Though children’s testimony may have been accepted in a coroner’s inquest in pre-statehood Oklahoma, this seems a bit naïve. Their testimony could not corroborate the statements of their mother when the children themselves were the source reporting what she had said. What they were corroborating was each other. John at sixteen was old enough to tell the others that their stories had to agree. Naturally they took the side of their mother, as any child under such circumstances would have. They had time to correlate their stories in the half hour that passed between Frank’s exit and the departure of the boys to fetch the doctor.
The neighbors soon heard of the tragedy and a great crowd gathered and posses of men at once started in search of the murderer. He was found at daylight at the home of F. D. Satterlee, four miles from the scene of the shooting. He was placed under arrest . . . and hustled to the county jail for safe keeping. The community seemed very much aroused over the killing and threats against Hiemer’s life were freely and publicly made by the people. The jury at the inquest returned a verdict that the deceased had come to her death from the effects of a pistol shot and that her husband, Francis Hiemer, was responsible.
On their ride to get the doctor, the boys must have informed the neighbors, who otherwise would not have known or gathered. The shooting took place on Saturday night. Cecelia died the next morning and at about the same hour Frank was detained by the posse. On Thursday, a preliminary hearing was held by Justice of the Peace Frank Vlasak at the village of Dent. The accused was held without bond and sent to the county jail at Chandler. As reported in the Anvil column, on the 16th of August a grand jury rendered a verdict that Frank Hiemer should be tried, and the trial was set for October first.
The law, as is well known, is subject to delay. It was the third of April 1902 before Frank withdrew his plea of not guilty and pled to manslaughter in the first degree. He was sentenced to fifteen years reduced to seven and a half. Since the Territory of Oklahoma had no prison, a week later he was taken to Lansing by Sheriff Bill Tilghman with a group of nine prisoners to serve their time at the Kansas State Penitentiary.
To understand how a man with so much evidence logged against him could plead not guilty, would require a different account of the death. Significantly, there is one, or rather one that at least adds a luminous detail. The two Chandler newspapers openly copied each other’s important local stories, and the account from the Chandler Publicist for August 1st repeats the Chandler News story quoted above almost word for word, but it adds a final paragraph:
Hiemer’s account of the affair is that on going into the room he found his wife with the pistol and that he attempted to take it from her and in the scuffle it was discharged. He claims that he had given himself up to Satterlee before the men who took him arrived on the scene [but] these men testified that he was hidden outside the house when they demanded his surrender of Satterlee.
The armchair detective must feel skepticism about the testimony of the posse men. It makes no sense for Frank to have ridden four miles to Satterlee’s farm in order to hide, but the contrary notion is reasonable: he went there to give himself up to a man of property and prestige. Satterlee was the postmaster at Anvil, a political appointment. In June of 1900 a Chandler paper called him "well known and influential throughout the southern part of the county."
II. Background: The Anvil Chorus
According to their Find-a-Grave memorials, Frank and Cecelia Hiemer were both from Salzburg Austria, the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of The Sound of Music. But probably Salzburg was merely the nearest important city, as the passenger list shows they came from the village of Althutten (present day Horní Stropnice) in the South Bohemian Region of Austria, now part of the Czech Republic. They arrived in New York in 1881 with four children, all of whom are designated as being Austrian by birth. Within ten years, if not sooner, The Sound of Music would give way to the hammering of the Anvil Chorus.
There had been a massive migration of Czechs into the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, at which time the mother country was known as Bohemia and its people as Bohemians. Farmers looking for land came first to the midwest and then into the plains states, prominently Nebraska, which boasted several thriving Czech communities. Frank and his family were there between 1892 and 1898 in Polk County in east-central part of the state, before moving to Oklahoma for the opening of the Sac and Fox Reservation by the land run of 22 September 1891. Their homestead was located about ten miles west of Prague, or about four miles from the village of Anvil to the north and an equal distance from Bellemont to the south.
The four children who arrived with the family in 1881 were Anton (8 years), Alfred (4), Florian ((infant, no age given), and Vincent (infant, no age given). The next four known children all seem to have been born in Nebraska: Mary (1882-1954), John (1885-1978), Herman (1887-1901), and Frank (1889-1978). The youngest, Celia (1893-1991) was born in Oklahoma. These figures should be compared with the 1900 census, which gives the number of children borne by Cecelia as 14, and the number still living as 7.
At the time of Cecelia’s death, the newspapers make it clear that only the three youngest were at home, while a fourth (Mary) was still living at home but had gone to a dance. Mary, let us say, represents the first bump in the flat canvas of the Hiemer home. That Frank is about to go to the dance as well, not with his dancing shoes but carrying his pistol and shotgun, speaks loudly that something is amiss. The obvious inference is that he opposed Mary’s presence at the dance and intended to bring her home, by force if anyone opposed him. In fact, the girl was eighteen and would marry Albert B. Frost on 9 May1902, one month after her father was taken to prison. The Anvil column in the Chandler Publicist reported, "a dance was given in honor of the occasion at the home of the bride." If I understand the English language, the home of the bride means the Hiemer home. This is repeated the next week in the same column: “A dance was given in honor of the occasion at the home of the bride. Refreshments were served at midnight and a nice time was enjoyed by all.” This makes the reader wonder what occasion is being honored here, the marriage of bride and groom or the carting of the cantankerous old man off to Lansing. Both, we might suspect. The interim between the two events was not as short as in the case of Hamlet’s mother, but the use of the Hiemer home does suggest that the funeral meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding feast.
Though the events are murky, the wedding feast in the Hiemer home reflects earlier family turmoil. At the start of the century, the first sparks had flown upward not from the rock striking the anvil but from two rocks striking each other. Together they suggest that Frank Hiemer was a hard man, perhaps even a mean one, but that his wife’s intransigence was a match for him.
The Chandler Publicist, 5 January 1900
Upon complaint of his wife Frank Hiemer was arrested Tuesday on the charge of cruelty to his family [family!] and was taken before Justice Lewis. On change of venue the case was taken to Justice Riley’s court. S. D. Decker appeared for the plaintiff but after interviewing her witnesses he dismissed the case.
It is surely remarkable that in an age when the suffrage movement had not reached Oklahoma
Cecelia had the independence of spirit to lodge a formal complaint against her spouse. She had a sense of her own dignity, it must be supposed, and she had endured enough of Frank’s guff to have her belly full. Normally, such a complaint would not have reached court. She would have lodged it first with the Constable, the township law officer, and he would have persuaded her to go back home and try to get along with her husband. In effect, that is what happened, when Chandler attorney S. D. Decker interviewed her witnesses and dismissed the case.
The Chandler Publicist, 4 May 1900
Frank Hiemer and his wife dissolved partnership last week. Frank took $450 and left for Nebraska turning all his personal property over to his wife and children.
In fact, Frank did not go to Nebraska, unless so briefly as to go unnoticed by the gossip columnists, and he can’t have turned over his property to his wife, for a year and three months later he sold a substantial parcel of it. The “Real Estate Transfers” column in the same paper for 9 August 1901 reads:
The Chandler Publicist
Franz Hiemer to Frank S. Satterlee ne 21-12-5, $600.
Which means that Frank sold Satterlee a parcel of the homestead in section 21 of N12-E5 for $600. The acreage is not given but judging from the price it would have about 40 acres.
In summary, between 4 May 1900 and 9 August it would appear that $1050 passed through Frank’s hands, a very substantial sum for the day. What did he do with the money? A couple hundred may have gone to pay debts, since a farmer in this time and place was always in debt. The debt started when Frank had to pay $1.25 an acre for the 160 acres he proved in 1896: $200 with at least 10% interest added yearly. This was a burdensome debt and had been the ruin of many a farmer in the area covered by the Homestead Act. (The inalterable law of debt--high credit costs, low cotton prices--meant that the mortgaged homes would soon go the banks and merchants.) Some of it may have gone to pay for Herman’s medical treatment in a sanatorium, when the boy developed the pneumonia that would take his life in February of 1901, but the lion’s share is unaccounted for. Cecelia’s probate may cast some light into this darkness.
It appeared in the Chandler Daily Publicist, and as required by law ran for four weeks in July and August of 1903.
A. J. Cain, plaintiff, vs. Franz Hiemer, L. W. Clapp [a lawyer working for the firm of Hoffman & Embry], Alfred Hiemer, Mary Frost, formerly Mary Hiemer, and Susie Hiemer, John Hiemer, Frank Hiemer, Celie Hiemer, minor children of Cecilliye Hiemer, deceased, and William B. Hudspeth, administrator of the estate of Cecillye Hiemer, deceased and guardian of the minor children of said Cecillye Hiemer, deceased, defendants.
The defendant Franz Hiemer is hereby notified that he has been sued . . . and that unless [he] answers ...on or before the 17th day of September 1903, said amended petition will be taken as true and a judgment according . . . will be rendered thereon against the defendant . . . for the sum of $350.00 with interest thereon at the rate of 10 per cent per annum from the 17th day of January, 1902, together with an attorney’s fee of $38.50 and the foreclosure of a mortgage given by the said Franz Hiemer to John Embry to secure the same on the north east quarter of section No. twenty one (21) in township No. twelve (12) north of range No. five (5) east in Lincoln County, Oklahoma territory; and for the sum of $118.00 with interest thereon at 12 per cent per annum from January 18, 192 and an additional sum of $25 attorneys fees and the foreclosure of a mortgage on the above described real estate which was given by the defendant Franz Hiemer to J. H. Wright . . .
To cut through the legal cackle and reduce this to one simple sentence, it sounds like the lawyers got the money and the kids got the farm. Or the lawyers got both.
One final way to view the background of the uxoricide is to look at what becomes of the children, since their fate necessarily reflects their upbringing. We recall that in 1900 Cecelia had seven children still alive of the fourteen she had borne. A 50% average may trouble some readers, but in fact it reflects the late-19th century infant mortality rate, with half of the children born not reaching the age of ten. The loss of seven children over the past decade would have created a heavy burden for both parents, and doubtless there were mutual recriminations.
The fates of the known children may be summarized:
1. Alfred, born in Austria in 1877: beside his immigration list for 1881 and the reference to him in the 1903 probate, no records have been found for him, except for the inexplicable fact that he has a gravestone in Meeker’s New Hope Cemetery dated 1952, which forms part of the Welch family plot. It is impossible to understand why there should be no records on him or newspaper references between 1900 and 1952 unless he was in an institution.
2. Florian, born in Austria in 1800: Florian is also on the 1881 shipping list, but without further records. Again, he does not appear in the databases. It is assumed that he died before the 1900 census.
3. Vincent, born in Austria in 1881: the evidence for Vincent is exactly the same as for Florian.
4. Mary, born 1882 in Nebraska: as mentioned above, she married Albert Benjamin Frost in 1902. They had five known children and are buried in Gable Cemetery, seven miles east and south of Meeker.
5. Susie Annie, born 1884 in Nebraska: married Richard Frank Welch in Pottawatomie County in 1905. They had four known children and are buried with Alfred in Meeker’s New Hope Cemetery.
6. John, born 1885 in Nebraska: married 1) Cecil Hester Hall in Payson, Lincoln County, 1917, and 2) Yarmila Moucka in Pottawatomie County, 1925. He may have had one child with his first wife, though this son was reared by his Hall grandmother and family tradition holds that the child was not John’s; and he had one child with his second wife. Husband and wife are buried near Albuquerque NM.
7. Herman, born 1887 in Nebraska: died of pneumonia in February 1901 and is buried in Shawnee’s Fairview Cemetery, probably in what may have been at the time a pauper’s grave but was more likely paid for by unknown kinfolk. It may have had a temporary marker, but a record was kept. In 2010 a new tombstone was set, though by whom is not known. Herman’s sickliness may have been a factor in darkening the domestic atmosphere that resulted in the fatal shooting.
8. Frank, born 1889 in Nebraska: married Mamie Rachel Haase in 1911 and had six known children. Frank registered for the draft in both WWI and WWII but is not known to have been called up. The 1910 census shows him in Pueblo Colorado, the 1920 back in North Seminole Township, near Sparks, and the 1930 in Yavapai County AZ. Mamie died in 1937 and is buried in Warwick’s Star Valley Cemetery. Frank died in 1978 in Oklahoma City but is buried beside his wife.
9. Celia, the only child born in Oklahoma, 1893: married Robert Winfield Sargent and had three known children. She died in 1991 and is buried in Meeker’s New Hope Cemetery. Her stone reads “Cecelia Hiemer Sargent,” employing both the full form of her mother’s given name and the old -ei- spelling of Hiemer.
A rough pattern emerges from this summary. The boys seem to have had more difficult lives than the girls and either died early or left home as soon as possible. This suggests conflict with the father, though whether he was a hard-hearted man or just an authoritarian and hard to live with, the evidence from the children’s lives doesn’t say.
In an earlier essay I wrote about another Bohemian family of Prague. Anna Burda was convicted of the murder of her husband in 1897, and the quarrel between the spouses was over the marriage of their daughter. The prospective groom was a recent immigrant and not financially well established. In the case of Mary Hiemer’s beau, Albert Frost, the man was neither an immigrant nor of immigrant extraction. His parents came from Missouri, and theirs from Illinois and Ohio. The father had homesteaded in the very area where the Hiemer’s lived, and thus financially there can have been little to choose between the two families. The reason for Frank’s opposition to the marriage remains a question, except perhaps for the natural reluctance of fathers to let go of their first daughter.
Thus, the shooting was over-determined. Many factors were in play, none of which can be called the chief. The friction between husband and wife was severe and of long standing and included the deaths of seven children. It would have been exacerbated by the besetting poverty and debt of farm life, making Franz doubt his ability as a provider, a defect which his wife may have habitually thrown in his face. Mary’s betrothal may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Then the presence of the handgun in the house was incendiary.
If it was Frank who first pulled the pistol, we should reflect that men who kill their partners may have both an unconscious dependence on their wife and a resentment of her. They wish to leave the relationship, but find themselves helpless to do so, which results in a belief that killing the wife is the only way to be free of her. This interpretation is reinforced when the man commits or threatens immediate suicide, as Frank supposedly did. The man ends his life not due to guilt, but due to his perceived helplessness and dependency.
We can’t establish who picked the handgun up first. The children said it was Franz, but their orchestrated testimony inspires little confidence. Franz and Cecelia may have wrestled for it. After the fatal shot, both spouses are culpable in their mutual animosity and desire to make the other suffer for the consequences. He does not want a doctor called (again, according to the children), and she wants to make sure the children believe that the shot was intentionally fired. Finally, an important note. In the final trial, Frank was not charged with murder but with manslaughter, and that is the crime he was convicted of. In the U.S. definitions can vary among jurisdictions, but manslaughter is invariably the act of causing the death of another person in a manner less culpable than murder. However it was, If Frank and Cecelia had met in hell, the devil would have been laughing at them both.
III. Ending: The Wretched Old Man
Franz and Cecelia may have been destined to destroy each other, but hers was the easier death of the two because it was quick. On the day before Christmas 1903, a pathetic follow-up story appeared in The Chandler News:
A Wretched Old Convict
Franz Hiemer, aged about 70 years, who was sent from Lincoln county to the Lansing penitentiary for life for having murdered his wife in South Seminole township, is one of the most wretched convicts in that penal institution. He is forcibly and sadly finding out that “the road of the transgressor is hard” to travel on. Sheriff Tilghman says: “When I took the last consignment of prisoners to the Lansing prison Old Mr. Hiemer shed bitter tears and asked me if he never more could go home and visit his children. He looked haggard, wild-eyed and like one utterly forlorn and extremely miserable.” The old man does little, if any work. He is supposed to work in the toy shop, where some of the more artistic prisoners make some toys, canes and other articles that are sold as penitentiary-made curios. Hiemer, like Cain, feels the murderer’s load which he can not throw off. His punishment is almost more than he can bear much longer. He is still a living, suffering example for all those who propose to or shed innocent blood.
Prison life must have been hard on Frank. At the time of this report, he was 64 not 70 and had been imprisoned only eighteen months. But grief can take a toll on a man, and his tears may have started even before the trip to Lansing that Sheriff Tilghman describes. His spirits may have fallen still further if he learned the results of his wife’s probate, decided just three months before. All his years of farm labor had come to nothing.
Our hearts may lift when we read about Frank’s making things for the toy shop, if we imagine him engaging in traditional Bohemian crafts the way that Anna Burda did, but no. He may be anticipating the birth of his grandchildren, but he’s not making craft items for them.
The penitentiary in Lansing had been accepting out-of-state federal prisoners for decades, and the arrangements was a profitable one. A succession of wardens, appointed for political reasons, concentrated on maximizing financial advantage from prison industry. The penitentiary received a per diem rate for each prisoner, while simultaneously increasing its pool of income-producing labor. There may have been artisanship in Frank’s work, but it was work done for the market, not for his family.
It would be possible to point out other faults in the writing of this column. Frank was not sentenced for life but for fifteen years reduced to seven and a half. That term might in effect prove to be a life sentence, which it did, but the author couldn’t know that. Also he has mangled Proverbs 13:15, “The way of transgressors is hard.” And the comparison with Cain doesn’t fit because Cain killed his brother, not his wife. For Biblical wife killers he might have cited King Herod and for secular ones King Henry VIII, but those wouldn’t have fit either because they are royal examples not humble ones. More importantly, the load of guilt a man would feel for manslaughter would not have been as heavy as for murder. Still, it was a long road and a hard one to travel. Frank would live another five years.
Entrance to the Lansing penitentiary, c. 1900
Available upon request to the author.
Available upon request to the author.
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. I expect to find another publisher. When that happens, I'll announce it here.
As of this writing (7 May 2017), the publisher has failed (moral bankruptcy) and the book is out-of-print. I expect to find another publisher. When that happens, I'll announce it here.
Foreword to the Book
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.