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Muskogee, OK

Muskogee History and Genealogy

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nidever Near the Neosho

When reading Grant Foreman's book entitled Marcy and the Gold Seekers, I saw a footnote that contained a reference to George Nidever and his incorrectly identified diary.[1]  Accounts of the earliest settlement in the area that became Oklahoma are exceedingly rare.

Curious about the memoir's contents, I went to my local library and requested that it be borrowed from a distant library.  In due process I was notified that a copy was available for me to check out.

George Nidever was a product of the wilderness environment he grew up in.  At age nine he started hunting food in the woods near his home.  He was a keen observer and gradually became a competent frontiersman and an excellent shot.

His family continued moving westward in the vanguard of Anglo migration across the American continent.  The Nidever family, for example, migrated to Missouri Territory before 1819.  This was before the southern five counties of Missouri Territory were cut off to form Arkansas Territory.

The next year, George and a brother drove hogs into the "country of the Osage Indians."   The Osage Indians (in Oklahoma) ceded "land below the falls of the Verdigris" to the United States.  This area shortly became Lovely's Purchase that covered most of the present-day Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokees saw the area of Lovely's Purchase as land promised to them decades earlier by President Jefferson.  However, the Osage did not intend ceding their hunting rights when they gave the land up.  This conflict resulted in occasional raiding parties on both sides inflicting damages on their respective enemy.

Caught in the middle were the white settlers who were beginning to move into this area.  Nidever's recollections state that "Two or three months later, however, they were obliged to move south of the Arkansas…"  This would have been about the time an Osage war party reportedly attacked some white farmers in Lovely's Purchase as warriors were returning from a Cherokee raid.

Whether real or imagined attacks occurred, George Nidever and several other families left in fear and settled below Fort Smith.  This location was across the Arkansas River from where the Cherokees were currently living.

George returned in 1828 to an area of the Canadian Fork of the Arkansas River with another former resident of Lovely's Purchase, a young man named Alexander Sinclair.  These industrious men began chopping trees down.  Their intentions were to build a log "raft" and float it down river.  Their destination was New Orleans.

Just as Nidever and Sinclair were finishing building the raft, they learned that some Cherokees were going to take the raft from them.  With rain beginning to fall, they launched the raft that night and evaded capture.  Nidever and Sinclair rode the raft of cedar logs downstream.  Not being river men, they misjudged the currents and saw the raft run aground.  The current then caused the raft to break apart just as it reached the Arkansas River.

Both men made it to shore safely.  Nidever returned to his family farm where he learned about the Federal government extinguishing white settlement in Lovely's Purchase which had briefly become Lovely County, Arkansas Territory.

Those white settlers who were still living, or had lived, in Lovely's Purchase were offered land in the United States in exchange for their claims to land in Lovely's Purchase.  George Nidever received his donation certificate in May, 1830 which entitled him to receive replacement land.

About the same time, he left Arkansas Territory and went west to become a "mountain man," again accompanied by Sinclair.  Nidever ultimately settled in California well before the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill.

He made his home in California and is prominently mentioned in the histories of that state and in those of many other western states.

[1] It was not a diary, but rather a recollection of his life.  There is another minor error in Marcy.  Joseph White and Allen White are a misreading of an article in the Cherokee Advocate that clearly lists Joseph Waits and Allen Waits as members of the Lewis Evans wagon train going to California in 1849.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Boom to Bust of a China Store

The view pictured here is from the Barbara Higbee Collection at the Three Rivers Museum.  This image shows the east side of the first block of South Second Street in Muskogee.  The focal point is the large dinner plate of a sign for the Queen City China Company.  This sign is partially hidden the by the Alcazar Café sign and the telephone pole.

Lester C. Hayes was the president and manager of the china shop.  The unincorporated business possibly involved his brother Oscar and sisters Corrah, Stella and Pearl.  His family originated in Georgia and migrated to Indian Territory about 1895.

The china store opened for business during the heady days following statehood.  Hayes found commercial space in the Scales Building on South Second Street.  Actually, the Scales Building stretched across the whole block from 111-117 South Main Street to 112-118 South Second Street.  Only a few years earlier, this space was occupied by a couple of pool halls.

As the sign indicates, the company conducted both retail and wholesale business at this location.  The company address was 111 South Main and 112 South Second Streets with the wholesale business being conducted in the back, on the Main Street, side.

Lester Hayes apparently carried top of the line merchandise because he sometimes used the Queen City Premium China Company business name.  In 1914 he was selling china in a variety of patterns, cut glass glassware and utensils made of both silver and aluminum.

In September, 1910, Hayes divided his operations by moving uptown to 317 West Broadway Street, leaving the wholesale operation in the Scales Building.  The move allowed for an expansion in the company's retail sales.  He ordered a large shipment of over a dozen train car loads of new merchandise to stock the new store.

The Queen City China Co. immediately drew competition from the Graham Sykes store located on the corner of North Fourth and Okmulgee Streets.  In addition to selling many items such as linen and parasols, Graham Sykes moved furniture out of the basement in order to stock a larger selection of china.

A photograph of the Graham Sykes china collection has not been found yet.  However, one showing the interior of the new china store Hayes opened is pictured here.  This image was found on the bottom of a glass paperweight.

The paperweight show the linear store display layout that was common during this period.  Hayes clearly had a large selection of patterns for a customer to choose from.

Other stores also were selling china as well.  One, for example, was the Smith-Torrance store.  If their advertising is any indication, their chinaware may have been the lower-priced, everyday variety.

The Queen City China Company, for unknown reasons, was less successful in the Muskogee market and went bankrupt.  It may be that Hayes had a direct competitor.  The Graham Sykes store seems to have had high-end china for sale, too.

The liquidation sale of Hayes' inventory saw the china, cut glassware and tableware sell for twenty-one cents on the dollar.  They also never bothered offering coupons like most popular stores such as Lowe's, Great Clips, and Jiffy Lube. The purchaser was Rider Wreckage Company who shortly afterwards was selling the merchandise for as little as 25 percent of retail.

Lester Hayes bounced back this business failure.   At the time of his death in 1924 from a staph infection called St. Anthony's Fire and Rose, he was the owner of a small furniture store in Muskogee.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Barrels of Salt

John Downing Benedict, in his 1922 area history, honored the trust of his informants by refusing to name the participants in a pivotal conspiracy that insured Muskogee's future.  This story names names and sets the plot.

Muskogee was but a mere hope for the future in the spring of 1875.  The town was barely two blocks long.  There may have been a street between facing businesses, or there may not have been.  However, there was the prospect for growth in the air.

Growth was not expected in the community centered on the Indian Agency located near the Arkansas River north of Fern Mountain.  Agent George W. Ingalls saw the declining changes surrounding the agency building and his residence.  The businesses that used to cluster around his office were being abandoned in favor of locations near the new railroad station. 

Seeing the necessity for relocating to another location, Ingalls decided to move the agency to a location other than in the vicinity of Muskogee.  Perhaps he took the decisions of departing businessmen personally.

Benedict said that Ingalls felt the town businessmen were disrespectful of his position.  Whatever the slights Ingalls thought he suffered, they were enough to motivate him to move his office away from Muskogee.

Special Indian Commissioner John P. C. Shanks reported that Ingalls selected a town site south of Muskogee near a sheep ranch.  The ranch was located in the vicinity of Honey Springs by John G. Roberts, former acting agent for the Creek Nation.  Roberts had tribal approval for operating the ranch.

Shanks then said heavy rains drowned the sheep herd, destroying Ingalls' desire for moving the Indian Agency there.  Ingalls said that the truth was that 2,200 head of fine merino sheep drowned after being driven twenty miles west of Honey Springs.

However, Ingalls was determined to not move the Indian Agency to Muskogee.  Another location he considered, according to Robert M. Gilmore, was a small spring west of Checotah.  He said that "Major Forman [Major John A. Foreman], hearing of this, immediately sent a man to salt the well."  The problem with this story is that Gilmore did not arrive in Muskogee until 1881, six years after this episode.

Shanks, in testimony before a US House of Representatives committee, stated that Ingalls next instructed men to dig a well at a location further south.  This location was near, if not in, Checotah.

Muskogee businessmen understood that such a move to another train station would doom their efforts in building Muskogee.  Being uncertain as to how to stop Ingalls' efforts, Andrew W. Robb, J. S. Atkinson, James A. Patterson and Judge Napoleon B. Moore began meeting privately in order to discuss the circumstances.  Though not named as a co-conspirator, Major Foreman was certainly involved in these discussions as well.

After several meetings, one idea for scotching Ingalls' efforts seemed to have merit.  This was for pouring salt into the newly dug well.

Patterson supplied two barrels of salt from his stock of merchandise.  Each barrel weighed at least twenty-five pounds for it would have taken a lot of salt to "taint" a well of any depth.

On a Sunday morning, probably in late April or early May, Moore loaded a wagon parked in front of Patterson's store.  Joe Goldman of Fort Gibson helped with the loading.  Together, these two drove to Ingalls' well near Checotah where they "salted" it.

Sometime shortly after this, Agent Ingalls proceeded to assay the water to see if it was suitable for consumption.  The test result was negative.

Unready to move further south down the Katy railroad tracks, Ingalls reluctantly decided to move his office closer to Muskogee.  Still not fully committing to locate in the town itself, he chose a spot two miles west of town atop Fern Mountain. 

That was close enough for the adventurous Muskogee businessmen.  After Ingalls wired Washington in August announcing his site selection, a hat was passed around among Muskogee businessmen.  The money raised went toward the construction of a residence in Muskogee for Agent Ingalls and his family.

Though drawn from multiple sources, much of this account was relayed by Clarence W. Turner ten years before his death.  He was one of Muskogee's most important businessmen and was one of John Downing Benedict's sources.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Muskogee's First Newspaper Revisited

The Indian Progress newspaper was established in Muskogee in 1875 after the Cherokee Advocate burned  to the ground on February 2nd.  Elias C. Boudinot and Dr. E. Poe Harris were owner and editor of the new newspaper.

One investor in the new paper was George A. Reynolds.  He was a former Seminole Nation Indian Agent (1865-69).  He worked as an attorney for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Co. afterwards.  He lost $600 of his investment.  Stevens, another reported investor, may have been a manager of the railroad.

Reynolds stated in a House of Representatives hearing that the newspaper's purpose was "to promote the interest, progress, and education of the [Native] people…[and to establish] some form of government different from that of their present tribal organizations."

He thought that as many as half of the American Indians living in the area were in favor of gaining title to their own land.  Reynolds reluctantly admitted that many were fearful that the railroads would gain title to all of the land.

Boudinot decided that the growing railroad town just inside the Creek Nation was the best location for his business.  There were at least two reasons for choosing Muskogee.  One reason was because his brother William Penn Boudinot was editing the soon to be re-established Cherokee Advocate in Tahlequah.

However, it was also natural that Boudinot selected Muskogee because he had long been an advocate of railroads.  He saw steam locomotives as a harbinger of the future.

Visually, in 1875 Muskogee was little more than a few businesses with scattered residences nearby.  About the only structure available to Boudinot was a rundown stable currently being used for hay storage.  After the hay was removed, he set to enlarging the stables into a building capable of housing the heavy press and cases for lead type.

George W. Ingalls became Indian Agent for Five Civilized Tribes about July, 1874.  His wife's ill health delayed his arrival until October 28th.  His posting to the position was authorized by Congress the following January.

Boudinot obtained permission of the new Indian Agent to use the stables, but not that of the Creek Nation.  Being a supporter of economic development, Ingalls thought a new printing business would be a great asset to the region.

Ingalls and Boudinot shared certain views in common.  In particular, they supported the establishment of a territorial government.  This flew in the face of the wishes of the Five Civilized Tribes.  They both saw educational development as important as well.

Yet, opposition to Boudinot's newspaper efforts emerged quickly.  Creek supporters saw the destruction of the Cherokee Advocate as an opening for establishing their own newspaper in Muskogee.

Among these supporters were M. P. Roberts and John P. C. Shanks.  These men purchased the right to print their own newspaper from the Creek Nation.

Roberts and Shanks also persuaded the Creek Council to condemn the Boudinot paper just as it was printing its first issue on October 22, 1875.  The Indian Progress was ordered to cease publication and to leave the Creek Nation territory within ten days.  Boudinot replied that his newspaper was protected by the US constitution.

The Creek Nation was on solid legal grounds in requiring businesses to obtain permits in order to remain in their territory.  Temporarily at least, the tribe was uncertain about their control over a newspaper.

Boudinot moved his press to Vinita about a month later when the tribe exercised its authority over the former stables.  He restarted the Indian Progress there, but the effort failed financially early the next year.  The printing press itself was sold and moved to McAlester where it printed the Star Vindicator newspaper.

Because of Boudinot's disagreement with the Creek Nation over its authority, Agent Ingalls rushed to Washington, DC where he appeared before the US House of Representatives Committee on Indian Affairs in January, 1876.  After deliberations, the Commissioner for Indian Affairs determined that the agent did not have the authority to let Boudinot use the stables in Muskogee.

The closing of the Indian Progress allowed M. P. Roberts to start publication of the Indian Journal in Muskogee later in 1876. This newspaper continues to be published in Eufaula today.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

President Grant Visits Muskogee

The year 1874 was an economically challenging time for many Americans.  They were suffering from a prolonged depression that began the previous year.  The Panic of 1873 was caused by over speculation in railroad construction and financing.  The Panic also followed the government's ceasing use of the silver dollar for money.

With the off-elections of 1874 looming, President Ulysses S. Grant was hearing pleas for help from Republican candidates.  In addition to the financial uncertainty, the Republican Party was split between the radical wing and the liberal wing.  The latter faction advocated easing restrictions on former Confederate states.  The former believed in continuing with the harsh treatment.

Fearing the upcoming elections would mean there would be diminished support for his programs in Congress, Pres. Grant decided to campaign across America.  His aim was to drum up support for Republican candidates by traveling by train making stops at many towns along the way.

On October 12, 1874, Grant's train stopped in the new town of Muskogee.  This whistle stop did not last long.  Normally, Muskogee was a meal stop, but there is no record that the president ate here.  While the steam locomotive was taking on more water, and possibly coal, President Grant agreed to hear supporters' well wishes.

Pleasant Porter greeted the president with the following message.  "The Creek Council, now in session, instruct (sic) me to express to you their appreciation of the great honor you have conferred upon them in visiting the Indian Territory.  The Indian race look upon you as the friend of their people; they feel confident you, while occupying the elevated station you now fill with so much honor to the whole country, will guard sacredly the rights of all, however weak and defenseless they may be.  In behalf of all the people, and sentiments of high regard for you personally, we bid you welcome to our country."

President Grant had earlier in the day stopped in Vinita.  He not only heard a similar message from Elias C. Boudinot, Grant replied to Porter's greetings with a rephrased, canned speech similar to the one he gave in Vinita.  Here is the President's message delivered at the Muskogee train station.

"I shall remember with pleasure my visit to the Indian Territory.  I see on every side evidence of prosperity.  In this latitude you must possess a climate well adopted to the growth of cotton and other profitable crops.  I have always tried to see you protected in every right guaranteed in your treaties, and while I hold my present position I shall endeavor to see that you are protected in the enjoyment of your personal and civil rights.  With industry and a proper observance of the laws of the country and the rights of others, you cannot fail to become prosperous and useful citizens."

President Ulysses S. Grant continued campaigning across the country by train.  For example, he was in Springfield, Illinois three days later for the unveiling of the President Lincoln's new statue.

However, Grant's efforts to support the Republican ticket proved to be inadequate.  The election of November 3 switched control of the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party.  Their gain of 94 seats gave the Democrats 62 % of the House.

There was no political reason for President Grant to stop in Muskogee on October 12.  This was because there were no national elections in Indian Territory in 1874.  However, a refueling stop permitted him to receive a delegation headed by Pleasant Porter and other local residents that day.  It was an exceptional opportunity for area residents to see and hear President Ulysses S. Grant.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas in 1876

Early sources tell us Christmas in Indian Territory in 1876 was in many ways much like the holiday we celebrate today.  There was feasting, gift giving and well wishing. 

Christmas is noted as a time for visiting family and friends.  This was no less the case 136 years ago.  Miss Annie Neal returned to her family for the holidays.  She had taught English to Creek students during the fall semester at Wewoka.  She may have come back with a Miss Rogers who was also returning to Muskogee for the first time in three months.

One of the differences between then and now was that timelines were a little longer.  A trip, that takes only hours today, took more than a day when traveling by wagon in 1876.  For teachers, the holiday break was long enough to provide enough time to return home. 

In the pre-railroad days, months were needed for a merchant to order and receive a shipment of flour.  That was because it was delivered in ox-pulled wagons.  Four years after the building of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, a merchant could telegraph an order to a dealer in, say, St. Louis, and within weeks have a shipment delivered in Muskogee.  Instant gratification was not the rule for the day before the railroad arrived.

When merchant James A. Patterson realized that his stock of flour was getting low because of the Thanksgiving holiday, he received another freight car load of milled flour during the second week of December.  He obviously expected a number of husbands to load bags of flour into their wagons to take home.  No cook wanted to run short during the holidays.

Patterson also received a shipment of merchandise for holiday shoppers.  In addition to the flour mentioned above, he received a quantity of sugar and coffee.  Serving as the Wal-Mart of the Nineteenth Century, he also was selling raisins, blankets and straight pins for the seamstress at home.

Just as today, not everyone enjoyed the holidays in 1876.  The Muskogee "Post Office" advertised having some Christmas gifts available for purchase.  The "Post Office" was selling toys, dolls, candy and books for Christmas gifts. 

In the days leading up to Christmas, the Indian Journal newspaper had published tidbits suggesting several children were going to be lucky recipients of toys that year.  They were the lucky ones.  That Christmas morning Santa delivered coal to the newspaper.  The building occupied by the drug store where the post office operated caught fire and burned to the ground.  The Indian Journal newspaper office, located on the second floor, was destroyed as well. 

Another unlucky person was Major John A. Foreman.  He operated a flour mill and cotton gin on the east side of the MKT tracks.  He also could grind corn into meal.  However, two weeks before Christmas, his life changed sharply when a cog snagged his coat sleeve.  Before the machine could be stopped, rollers had crushed much of an arm.  Only by the efforts of Dr. George W. Cunningham was any portion preserved.  Healing and adjusting to life as a one-arm man lasted well past the New Year.

For most of Muskogee and area residents, Christmas was a joyful occasion.  Young Louis Zufall received a wooden rocking horse.  Many of the gifts consisted of dried fruit, new clothing and wooden wagons.  Just as today, having family and friends near was the best Christmas gift of all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Simmons Family in Muskogee

In 1999, I visited Marguerite Simmons Foshee in her home.  She told me that she was born on Tuesday, December 27, 1910 at 904 Market Street in Muskogee.  She was the second child of Milton C. and Lelia Simmons.  Her birthplace, located on the corner of 9th and Market, was torn down years ago.

Her childhood included a published letter to Santa when she was almost eight years of age.  She wanted a pair of skates and a doll buggy.  For clothing, she wanted a dress, shoes, a coat and a hat.  Candy, fruits and nuts rounded out her list.  This list reflects a middle-class little girl's life.

Her family's status was a product of her father operating a drug store at 225 South Second Street.  This was the "Mecca of Black Businesses" according to Marguerite.

Marguerite's father first came to Muskogee before 1900 possibly as a stone mason.  There was a great demand for stone masons following the Great Fire that burned Muskogee's business district in February, 1899. 

He married for the first time in October, 1899.  Then Milton moved to Denton, Texas where he was working as a stone mason six months later.  This phase did not last long.

Milton Simmons returns to Muskogee before 1905.   We know this because he was one of the three men who founded the Freedmen's Land and Trust Company with a capitalization of $18,000 in February, 1905.

He married a second time in November of that year.  About the same time he became the junior partner of Hughes & Simmons, druggists.  Hughes was Walter L. Hughes who apparently sold his share of the partnership to Marguerite's father a few years later.

Milton Crawford Simmons remained in the drug store on South Second Street until his youngest daughter graduated from high school.  
Marguerite had first attended Dunbar Elementary School, completing all eight grades.  From there, she entered Manual Training High School since there was no junior high school at that time.  At graduation in 1927, McEntee's Jewelry Store awarded a prize for the highest ranking student graduating that year.
The ceremony occurred at the Ritz Theater.  Marguerite received a wrist watch for being the best student.  She wore the watch for the rest of her life.

Marguerite said that "she was Methodist born and Methodist bred!"  Naturally, her father sent her to a Methodist College.  Not wanting to go too far from home, Marguerite attended the Methodist Church sponsored Wiley College located in Marshall, Texas.  This education enabled her to become a teacher, a profession she practiced for forty years in Muskogee.

Competition with Joe Mogota's six Purity Drug Stores gradually forced her father out of business.  Mogota's stores undersold Simmons because of a discount received for purchasing larger quantities.  However, Milton Simmons worked as a druggist in Muskogee for nearly a quarter of a century.

The Simmons family packed up and moved to Wewoka sometime about the time of the Great Market Crash in 1929.  The early years of the Great Depression saw a contraction of market activity all across the country.    Marguerite said her father's drug store "did not flourish" and after two or three years he closed his drug store and walked away from dispensing drugs.

The family returned to Muskogee where her father became involved with the Oklahoma Independent, a black newspaper established in 1932.  Milton became the newspaper's editor in 1942.  He oversaw the publication of this weekly until 1962 when the newspaper ceased operating.  Milton Simmons passed away three years later.

Marguerite Simmons Foshee died on October 15, 2000 just a couple of months shy of her 90th birthday.  She said that when she died, "she would be Methodist gone."  True to her word, she had been a member of the Saint Paul United Methodist Church since 1984 at the time of her death.

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