Muskogee History and Genealogy
Muskogee's New Year, 1878
Early contemporary accounts of Muskogee events are scarce. Here are a few from an early newspaper around the time of New Year's Day.
Just like the weather of today, it was cold and freezing as New Year's Day of 1878 approached. Temperatures dropped well below freezing at night. Snow fell several days before the year's change. New Year Day saw a high of 37 degrees. That night the temperature reached a low of 23 degrees. So reported Sergeant George H. Crane of the U. S. Army's Signal Service stationed at Fort Gibson post.
There were no Black Friday sales in Muskogee following Christmas. Merchants in the small town may have offered sales on a few items after Christmas passed, but they placed no advertisements suggesting they offered large discounts. The only New Year's sales notice was for a watch, clock and silverware store in Denison, Texas.
The parties and dinners that celebrated Christmas apparently did not welcome in New Year's Day. The residents spent their efforts the week before and then treated the year's change over as another day. It was as if the celebrations of the week earlier had consumed the energies for partying in Muskogee.
There was only one party reported. Some small children in Tahlequah enjoyed attending a party on New Year's Day. Mr. Samuel Sixkiller's residence was the scene where "the little folk were pleasantly entertained." It is not clear that ushering in the New Year was the purpose.
The New Year of 1878 was a harbinger of change for Muskogee. The "Indian Journal" newspaper burnt to the ground on Christmas Day, 1876, in a fire that destroyed two other businesses. Because of financial support offered afterwards, the newspaper re-established itself in Eufaula. After almost nine months of publishing in that southern town, Marion P. Roberts announced that he was moving his press back to the larger town of Muskogee. News of the impending move was just beginning to spread as Muskogee townsmen celebrated New Year's Day.
Another announcement began circulating in the days before the beginning of the next year. Doctor R. I. Pearson of Fort Scott, Kansas said he would be traveling into the Indian Territory. His itinerary included stops at many of the communities in the northern half of the territory. He planned to visit Muskogee during January.
Dr. Pearson's arrival brought a surgeon dentist into the area. Dr. R. B. Howard of Fort Gibson recommended him. Dr. Pearson arrived by train. He took up residence in the Mitchell House, Muskogee's finest hotel located near the railroad depot. The hotel keeper saw patients arriving in pain and departing with fewer teeth.
Muskogee was continuing to attract residents and businessmen. Some of the new entrepreneurs were apparently operating without adhering to the letter of the law when dealing with Native Americans. In early January, the Office of Indian Affairs re-issued their instructions. The government admonished traders to follow all established rules and regulations when conducting their business.
This reminder came on the heels of tribal delegations from the Indian Territory visiting in Washington over the holidays. Members of each delegation sent their calling cards back to their hometown editor. The forerunner of the modern business card was commonly used in the nation's capital. In the Indian Territory, however, they were a novelty.
End of the Line, Part 3
First, a full size railroad was built to operate between Warner and Webbers Falls. It was named the Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad Company. This railroad ran slightly less than ten and a half miles between the two towns.
Last week, the story was about Marion J. Maples and the beginning of motorcar service on the same tracks. For the first half of 1914, Maples operated his transportation service that provided no seats for passengers. At this point he moved to Warner, a town one third the size of Webbers Falls. We pick up the story again when Maples ceased operating his motorcar service.
Events took an interesting turn in the fall of 1914. Nicholas W. King also saw an opportunity to use the Webbers Falls tracks just like Maples had a year earlier. Though King was working as a carpenter at the time, he possessed a mechanical inclination. He purchased a gasoline powered automobile and modified the wheels to run on the rails like the previous train and motorcar.
In this business venture, King also operated on the rail line without license just as Maples had before him. But King set a schedule for his runs back and forth between the two towns. His schedule allowed Webbers Falls passengers to arrive in Warner in time to catch either the north or the south bound Midland Valley railroad trains.
Unlike Maples, King decided to not carry any freight. This simplified maintenance. At the same time it kept King's investment low.
His service was for passengers only. He also established a flat fare of fifty cents per passenger regardless of how many boarded his car for the next run. King's car, like Maples' flatbed passenger car before it, had no top to protect the passengers and driver.
King said he was going to purchase a canvas top for his car. He worried about the thirty-three minute run between towns was too fast. After all, he was traveling almost twenty miles per hour!
Like Maples' earlier effort, King's automobile was not built to hold up to long term, regular use. King's automobile runs became popular before mechanical problems caused interruptions in service.
Marion Maples stirred into action because he felt King was taking advantage of his own idea. He threatened to block King's use of the railroad track. Since both were operating outside of any legal agreement with the railroad, both stood on weak grounds.
The Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad Company assumed control of the tracks. Then the railroad company abandoned operation between Webbers Falls and Warner. Over ninety years ago, the rails were torn out and went to a scrap dealer. Even the cross ties were dug up and sold. This ended the shortline railroad in southern Muskogee County.
Within a few years Nicholas King moved on to another venture. He is operating a garage in Fort Gibson in 1920. He was obviously using the practical experience gained running an automobile on a railroad track. Only now the automobiles he worked on stuck to the potholed roads of eastern Oklahoma.
End of the Line, Part 2
The Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad had abandoned operating trains between Warner and Webbers Falls. With the iron rails still in place, Marion J. Maples saw a business opportunity in 1913.
Maples was a hotel owner in Webbers Falls. This former Justice of the Peace also operated both a hack line (a horse and buggy taxi) and a ferry across the Arkansas River.
He had seen the railroad company move freight and passengers back and forth between the two towns. The problem was that there was not enough business to support the expense of operating a full size engine and cars.
In the later part of the year, Maples purchased a railroad inspection car in Chicago. Inspection cars were called "motorcars." They were designed to operate under their own power. When the motorcar arrived, Maples found he had to install a new four-cylinder engine. He also purchased a second-hand flat car for carrying freight.
Maples' motorcar was basically a flat-bed freight car with short walls on the sides. It had room for seventeen passengers, but never had seats installed. All riders simply sat on the flat surface like the shipping boxes on the freight car. So, too, did Maples and his son who took turns operating the motorcar. The operator and passengers alike turned their backs to the elements during inclement weather.
Maples calculated that his contract with the US government to carry the mail between Warner and Webbers Falls paid the expenses for operating the motorcar. To make a profit, he figured he had to earn $1.50 each trip. If one passenger was traveling, he paid the full dollar and a half. Tickets for two travelers were 75 cents apiece. Three or more rode the motorcar for fifty cents each.
Freight loads were never the super heavy shipments that larger lines hauled. The small engine on the motorcar simply could not pull the weight. Maples charged a freight rate of thirty-five cents per hundred pounds. There was more freight shipping than passengers' fares on the line.
Maples' powered motorcar business was good. However, it was not strong enough to cause the Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad line to return to running its own train over the tracks.
The steady motorcar business was progressing normally when one day the motorcar ran through an open switch. Maples was the "engineer" at the time. He suffered a broken leg.
As a consequence, the Maples line went on sick leave and the regular three a day runs between terminuses came to a halt. People missed the service enough to urge Marion to get back into the saddle. The motorcar resumed operation shortly thereafter.
Then a serious accident occurred to the motorcar. In the fall of 1914 when electioneering was in high gear, a Midland Valley Railroad train backed into the motorcar while it was stationary in Warner.
Aboard the motorcar were a number of political candidates. Among the candidates was Robert Toomer, the clerk of the Muskogee County Supreme Court. He suffered a broken arm.
With his legal knowledge, Toomer knew who to sue: the bigger railroad. He claimed nearly $3,000 in damages and losses. After his death from other causes, his estate won a judgment and received $1,200.
In the mean time, freight and passenger hauling on the Maples motorcar slackened. The little four cylinder engine on the motorcar reached a point where replacement or serious repair was called for.
Maples seemed to also be losing enthusiasm for the venture. Then Maples committed the ultimate sin in the eyes of Webbers Falls residents. He moved to Warner!
This story concludes next week with more twists and turns.
End of the Line, Part 1
There once was a railroad line running between Warner and Webbers Falls. This photograph shows part of the Webbers Falls depot. The Webbers Falls Museum supplied it. Shown in front is a railroad employee.
The railroad was the Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad Company. It was a branch line off of the Midland Valley Railroad that ran between Muskogee and Checotah. The Webbers Falls line connected to the Midland Valley at its Warner yard.
There were Muskogee investors in the joint stock company that built the railroad. Fred E. Turner served as president of the railroad. He was the son of old time merchant Clarence W. Turner. Oscar Lee Hayes, another Muskogee merchant, served as vice-president. Other investors lived in Oklahoma City where the annual stockholders' meetings were held.
Midland Valley Railroad Company was a much bigger company. Investors in the Webbers Falls line hoped that the larger railroad would purchase their shortline road. In the end, the investors' dreams of selling out for a quick profit vanished.
The branch rail line extended almost ten and a half miles between Warner and Webbers Falls. Operation of the railroad began with popular fanfare. Its inaugural run occurred on Wednesday, October 4, 1911. The Webbers Falls depot pictured above was completed two weeks later.
This heartening event came six months after a major fire in Webbers Falls. The first run greatly cheered the businessmen's hopes for town expansion and lower shipping costs.
Muskogee's businessmen helped celebrate the event. They got off of the Midland Valley train and boarded the Webbers Falls passenger car in Warner. The train made a special stop outside of Webbers Falls to pick up "Grandpa" John H. Eiffert. Ninety-seven year old Grandpa Eiffert got to ride the excursion train the last mile into town. He served as the grand marshal.
Residents from Warner and the surrounding communities came to Webbers Falls for the celebration. The local merchants had bunting and flags flying. The new Phoenix Hotel replaced the one burned in the March 11 fire. All of the visitors enjoyed viewing the newly rebuilt businesses.
Music provided by the Muskogee band followed the barbecue lunch. Ex-Governor C. N. Haskell, himself a railroad promoter, spoke approvingly of the efforts exerted by the Webbers Falls railroad backers. Another speaker made the prediction that Webbers Falls' population would double to 2,000 in eighteen months.
Horse races began shortly afterward. Other events had to be cancelled because of rain that began falling in mid-afternoon.
The railroad operated a main engine and a donkey engine. The latter was used to switch the freight and passenger cars into position. There were at least two cars for freight and passengers. Photographs show a small tank car, too.
The state Board of Equalization valued the railroad at $3,300 per mile for tax purposes in 1913. The railroad company ceased operating the train that year when tonnage and passenger fares failed to cover operating expenses.
It was about eighteen months after the inaugural train run. Webbers Falls had not doubled in size.
The last president of the railroad line was Joseph H. Stolper. He was a Russian who immigrated to the United States in 1890. He was a naturalized citizen and physician.
During the fall of 1917, the company officers decided at last to liquidate the operation. The company left many creditors unpaid when the line was abandoned. Investors got nothing for their risk.
The rolling stock and track was sold to the Muskogee Junk and Supply Company for $36,000. The engine and maybe more equipment were then sold to France where it was needed for their war effort.
It is reported that the Webbers Falls railroad line operated "now and then, mostly then." Next week's article will tell the story of what happened when the Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad was not operating trains over the tracks between Webbers Falls and Warner in 1914.
Elizabeth Jane Fulton Hester
Elizabeth Jane Fulton was the daughter of missionaries. Her parents had moved to Georgia to work with the Cherokees before the removal. Elizabeth was born in January of 1839 and was home schooled. The lessons she learned from her father and mother led to her gathering the children of slaves together. She taught them the rudiments of reading and writing while still a young girl.
Then she went off to a college for two years. She served as an instructor during the second year. Shortly thereafter, she decided to seek a future as a missionary. It was the same time that her Uncle Aaron Harlan wanted to become a merchant in Indian Territory.
The two left Georgia by stage coach for Huntsville, Alabama. There they boarded the Memphis and Charleston Railroad train that took them to the Mississippi River. Then they took a steamboat up the Arkansas River to Fort Smith.
They loaded the store goods they purchased into wagons pulled by oxen. Then they followed a wilderness road into Indian Territory. They arrived in Tishomingo in the Choctaw Nation in 1858.
Miss Fulton immediately began teaching Indian children by traveling to different log school houses in the area. On Sundays she held Sunday School classes open to all.
Aaron Harlan decided to sell out to George Benjamin Hester about a year later. About the same time, George asked for Miss Fulton's hand in marriage.
The beginning of the Civil War forced the new couple to move to Boggy Depot in 1861 because of her husband's decision to join the Confederate army. Throughout the war Mrs. Hester regularly ministered to wounded and sick soldiers. Her medical caring ended her teaching efforts except for her Sunday School work.
Following the end of the war, G. B. Hester reopened his business on the road served by the Fort Smith stage line. The two-story building stood just east of the public well. Mrs. Hester soon returned to her church and teaching duties.
G. B. Hester died in 1897, just two weeks short of his sixty-fifth birthday. The couple had already lost six children. Only a daughter, Daisy, survived and became the wife of Robert L. Owen. At statehood, Owen became one of Oklahoma's first US Senators.
Mrs. G. B. Hester continued her church work. Beginning in 1899, she served for 12 years as President of the Woman's Foreign Missionary Soc. of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In this endeavor, she traveled at her own expense to meetings all across the state.
She moved to the bustling city of Muskogee in 1901 to live near her daughter. Mrs. Hester's interest in social work soon focused on the Salvation Army's efforts. She began visiting the county jail on Sundays. Eventually, she visited jails all across eastern Oklahoma and in Fort Smith.
It was while working with the Salvation Army in 1908 that she encountered F. W. Rubel, the "Alabama Hoodoo," of last week's article. She said on another occasion that 90 percent of the prisoners she saw blamed whisky for their downfall.
Mrs. Hester's interest in the welfare of Confederate veterans never diminished after the end of the war. After arriving in Muskogee, she joined the General Nathan Bedford Forrest Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The chapter still serves current veterans in many ways.
Mrs. Hester continued to have an interest in social welfare. She was a member of Oklahoma delegation that attended a national conference in May of 1915. The Southern Sociological Congress sponsored "The Conservation of Health" conference in Houston.
The Oklahoma Speaker of the House asked Mrs. Hester to speak about women's issues in the new chamber in February of 1917. She was the first woman to speak to in new state capitol building.
Elizabeth Jane Hester died at her home on August 2, 1929 at age ninety. Many people came to her funeral in the sanctuary at St. Paul's Methodist Church to pay their respects for her seventy years of service to Oklahomans. Hester Hall on the University of Oklahoma campus is named in her honor. Like Miss Alice Robertson, Mrs. Hester was a giant in caring for others.
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