Muskogee History and Genealogy
Webbers Falls Museum
The Webbers Falls Museum is a well run community museum. People living in the southern part of Muskogee County are very familiar and supportive of this institution.
The museum began in the early 1980's under the leadership of Troy Poteete. At the time, he was president of the Cherokee Dixieland Historical Society. Among the early society members were George and Linda Miller.
George became the group's leader when Troy stepped aside as society president. Somewhere about the same time, the society decided to change its name to that of the Webbers Falls Historical Society. During the early years, the society published a photocopied newsletter under both society names. Later, the society published articles of genealogical and historical interest in the "Five Star News."
Linda Mayes Miller is currently the sole staff member for the museum. She is an eager and gracious host to visitors no matter whether they are young children or grown adults. Her interest in history has helped her become a human repository of town lore and legends. For twenty years, she has worked with her husband in promoting the preservation of local history.
Webbers Falls came into existence as a trading post on the Arkansas River. A short riff in the river's bed, visible during low water, provided the post with part of its name. The "Webber" came from a Western Cherokee named Walter Webber. His settlement on the townsite in 1828 coincided with the earliest arrival of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.
Webber was a trader who imported manufactured goods from "the states." These goods came up the Arkansas River in keelboats. He traded these goods for animal pelts that the keelboats hauled back down the river to large markets in Fort Smith, Little Rock and New Orleans.
The Webbers Falls Museum owns one of the few surviving kettles used in boiling salt water in the production of that valuable preservative found on every dining table. It was used on Dirty Creek before the Civil War. The salt works there employed a large number of slaves who stoked fires for boiling salt water, rake the drying vats and sack up the finished commodity for sale and shipment.
Museum supporters get to post family photographs and documents on posters. This creative project helps local families to intimately identify with the museum. At the same time, the museum preserves their stories documenting contributions to the Webbers Falls community.
The museum is open from Wednesday to Friday from ten o'clock in the morning to three o'clock in the afternoon. They will also be open for Webbers Falls Day on Saturday, June 13th. Admission is free, but donations are always welcomed. When you drop by, ask for information about the second oldest Baptist Church built in the state.
Labels: George Miller, Linda Miller, Troy Poteete
Webbers Falls Calaboose
The town's jail is now vacant. Pictured at left, it stands on the banks of the Arkansas River in Webbers Falls. Since before 1896, it has been the town's "calaboose."
On Webbers Falls Day, Saturday, June 13th, you can enter the cellblock and be "thrown back in time" to the days when outlaws looked through the flatiron bars of a cell's doorway. Each of the two cells is barely bigger than a king-size bed.
The Webbers Falls Calaboose is simple and plain to look at. Murderers and drunks alike reached through the cell doors to lift the dipper out of the pail. Water in a bucket hung from a hook outside each door. There was no such thing as running water. A chunk of ice never floated in the tepid water. It was all a prisoner got between meals.
A bucket in the cell's corner served as a toilet. The City of Webbers Falls installed commodes in the 1960's in a brief flirtation with restoring the town jail to use. Town elders wasted their efforts. Taking prisoners to the county seat was simpler by that late date. Improved roads and vehicles made the town's jail obsolete.
The circuit box in the front room's corner likely date from the era of the commodes. Early day outlaws went to jail by lantern light after sundown. When the town marshal returned to his own bed blocks away, the lantern and its light lit the way. Prisoners had to wait for the sun's rise the next morning before they could see very far. Even then, the absence of windows in the cells kept each of the two cells dark. The building's single door faces west.
Webbers Falls Day activities include a mixture of the old and modern events. The morning begins with an early pancake breakfast. If you miss the breakfast, drinks and refreshments will be available throughout the day. The Webbers Falls Chamber of Commerce is providing the mid-day meal of barbeque and chips. Nowhere else in the state can a person find a similar serving for a dollar!
If you wish, you can have your picture taken in one of Oklahoma's real jail. You may count your lucky stars when you realize you will never spend a night in the town's calaboose. Your souvenir photograph will nonetheless prove you "did time" in Webbers Falls.
You will also enjoy the tractor pull in the park. Competition between groaning mechanical beasts will continue until the judge announces a winner in the afternoon. Family members and visitors are both invited to root for their favorite competitor.
Visitors will enjoy the arts and crafts exhibits at the park. Between eleven o'clock and three in the afternoon, the Ritter Brothers Band with Wayne Ward will serenade the crowd with free country and western music.
Labels: Webbers Falls Calaboose
The Sinking of the Mary D
Muskogee was bustling with economic developments left and right in 1905. For the past thirty years, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad carried the greatest part of both inbound and outbound freight for building the town. The dependability of rail traffic, notwithstanding the occasional train wreck, drove steamboat traffic from the Arkansas River.
After the US Army established a post at Fort Gibson, boat traffic began intermittently traveling up the Arkansas River as far as Muskogee. The river's water height was best between December and June. Inadequate water depth on the river regularly blocked boat traffic during the rest of the year.
Experience showed that the Arkansas River was a fickle transportation corridor even with high water. Mark Twain and every man making a living on America's rivers knew the dangers. Raging floodwaters, shifting sand bars, floating trees and buried tree stumps (called snags) all presented challenges to a daring boat captain.
In 1905, businessmen were growing tired of the higher railroad freight rates. Recalling the heyday of steamboat travel, they turned to a Fort Smith steamboat in hopes of re-establishing permanent steamboat traffic on the Arkansas.
Capt. Benjamin Blakely was operating a smaller, shallow draft steamboat out of the Fort Smith port that year. The "Mary D", Capt. Blakely's boat, proved that a little steamer could again maintain regular traffic on the Arkansas River during most of the year. Local Muskogee investors formed the Muskogee-Oklahoma Packet Company and purchased the Mary D.
In 1906, a petition pleaded that the US Corps of Engineers maintain a channel two feet deep for boat traffic. The Corps still listed the Arkansas River as navigable from earlier decades of use. Because of decreased river traffic, the Corps ceased working to keep the river clear of snags during the past decade.
The Mary D steamboat operated successfully several years ferrying bulk commodities like lumber and cotton to Fort Smith. Then the steamboat crew mutinied. The federal government, which has jurisdiction over waterway shipping, convened an admiralty court in Muskogee to settle complaints between the crew and the boat's owners.
Another time, Mary D crewmembers became angry over the appearance of another steamboat at the Hyde Park docks. Picking up weapons, crew fired upon the new boat in their little harbor. The intruding boat returned rifle fire in defense. Fortunately, no one on either side was hurt.
The Mary D then became the property of a gravel company. The little steamboat remained in this occupation until its abrupt demise. The end of the Mary D came after a fall storm. By most measures, the storm was not a major one. Like countless other storms, this one raised the river's water height and cut away at the river's banks in places.
The latter caused the end of the Mary D. Near the mouth of the Grand River, raging waters cascading downstream undercut an embankment. Standing above the undercut was a majestic tree that toppled into the Arkansas River.
In the process of falling, the tree struck the little steamboat and rolled it over. The Mary D sank upside down in the river throwing its captain and crew into the water. Fortunately, all aboard swam to shore.
A couple of days latter, James Swift retrieved the boat's steam whistle, steam gauge and signal bell. He found the Mary D's smokestack to be sticking in the bottom of the Grand River's mouth.
The loss of the Mary D was quickly forgotten. The new, grander City of Muskogee steamboat already plied the Arkansas River.
Labels: Mary D
Last Saturday's Railroad Day
Dr. John Fike of College Station, Texas gave the Railroad Day presentation at the Three Rivers Museum last Saturday. He entitled his presentation "Rare Photo's and Neat Stuff About Muskogee's Railroads." A room-full audience participated in the lively give-and-take dialog during his nearly two-hour "show and tell."
Muskogee is Dr. Fike's hometown. Moreover, it was here that his love of railroads began. He vividly recalled awaiting his turn at getting a haircut on the west side of town. Often a chore to be endured, he sometimes was rewarded by the passing of a locomotive on the tracks nearby.
Dr. Fike's calm demeanor brightened considerably when talking about being too afraid one day. If a young boy was really "into" railroads, he sometimes got to ride in the cab of a steam engine. One day, fortune smiled upon young Fike. He was given that rare opportunity of riding with the engineer in the locomotive cab. In rap attention, the precocious youngster noted every move and action in driving a train down the tracks. When asked if he wanted to take the throttle, young John declined. He was too afraid. Today, there is no doubt Dr. Fike would take the throttle if offered.
Muskogee was a "dinner" stop for railroads. Trains stopped in Muskogee to allow passengers a chance to stretch their legs. At the same time, the layover was long enough for passengers to grab a bite to eat at one of Muskogee's downtown diners. Meals were over when whistles announced the train's imminent departure.
Early day Muskogee was fortunate to acquire ice plants. Railroad companies often relied upon their ice for use in their freezer cars. While diners ate, railroad workers loaded new ice into the cars carrying perishables.
One of Dr. Fike's photos was of the Frisco Railroad bridge across the Arkansas River. It was an early photo, he said, because one could easily see the railings on both sides of the bridge. The Muskogee City Bridge Company built the bridge. Between train runs, people and wagons crossed after paying a fare, thus necessitating the railings. The bridge stood until the development of the Arkansas River Navigation System forced its destruction.
Dr. Fike brought up the side topic of light rail transportation in Muskogee when he mentioned the viaduct during his talk. He recalled that traffic on the viaduct only included trolley cars and pedestrians in the old days. Well, not always. He said daring young car drivers thrilled their dates by driving across between streetcar runs.
John Myers, sitting in the audience, spoke up about the City of Muskogee acquiring Muskogee Electric Traction trolley car number 300. Inspectors unfortunately found it to be badly rusted. Car number 304, while burnt out, showed very little rusting when later found in Fort Gibson. Parts from no. 300 are in the last stages of being installed on the no. 304 chassis.
Muskogee will soon have a rebuilt trolley car that last carried passengers in 1939. The cars originally cost $4,200 a piece.
John Myers has started preparing for next year's Railroad Day at the Three Rivers Museum. Trolleys will be the subject of next year's program. Dr. Fike said he is coming just to hear Myers' presentation. Why don't you mark your calendar so you may attend as well?
The 1790 and 2010 Censuses
The United States constitution requires taking a census every ten years. Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, instructed the US Marshals to begin on August 2, 1790.
The reason this requirement appears in the constitution is to ensure equal representation in Congress. The founding fathers envisioned the expansion of American population. They made recounting residents a part of the political process for ensuring equal representation.
This first census counted white men and boys, women and slaves. Males were divided into age groups of sixteen and under and those over sixteen. Native Americans were not counted. The total population equaled two and a half million. That is less than today's population of Oklahoma.
Poor roads and limited means of transportation made it difficult for some marshals to canvass their assigned territories. Jefferson’s instructions gave marshals and their assistants nine months to complete the enumeration. When some enumerators reached the May 1, 1791 cutoff date without seeing an end to their task, they were given another thirteen months.
Assistant marshals, operating under the US Marshals, counted residents in all of the founding thirteen states. Today, the 1790 census for only seven of the original thirteen states survives. The census results for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee and Virginia are missing. British troops probably destroyed them when many government buildings in Washington, DC burned during the War of 1812.
Over the next fifty years, the census became slightly more complex. By 1840, for example, the recording of ages was in five-year and ten-year spans. However, the enumerator still only recorded the names of the head of the household and any surviving Revolutionary War soldier living in the house.
It was not until the census of 1850 that enumerators listed every person in a household by name. That was also the first year the marshals began recording deaths occurring during the previous twelve months.
Only a small fraction of the 1890 census survives. Efforts at extinguishing a fire in the Commerce Department resulted in water flooding the storage area. The President ordered the molding pages destroyed in 1921. This was the first census where each household was recorded on a separate piece of paper.
The twenty-two month effort in taking the first census established many methods of enumeration that have continued for the past two hundred and twenty nine years. Privacy is probably the most prominent among them. For seventy-two years, census records may only be used for statistical purposes. This means the most recent census opened to public is the census taken in 1930. It entered the public domain in 2002. The 1940 census opens in 2012.
Privacy ensures the prevention of misuse of information. Consequently, Americans are more will to participate. Therefore, census results are more accurate. Americans have come to trust the US government in this regard.
The US Census Bureau will conduct the twenty-third census next April 1st. Unlike previous years when some citizens received long forms, residents opening their mail in 2010 will only find the short form.
Filling out the census form will take only a few minutes. The information requested will include your name, gender, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship and housing tenure. Now, that will be a piece of cake.
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