Muskogee History and Genealogy
The Education of an Oklahoma Girl
Nellie Harris, in an interview in 1997, talked about learning there was a bigger world outside her home. As a resident of the Wagoner community, she was growing up intellectually as well as in size.
From an early age, Nellie began reading newspapers like her father did. By the time she was a teenager, she was often laying on the floor reading the newspaper from cover to cover
Werner Schatz, Nellie's father, asked an acquaintance to build a radio for the Schatz household in 1922. The Schatz radio was just like the machine this unknown early day builder had made for his own home.
The Schatz radio was only the second one built in Wagoner County. It is now preserved in the Three Rivers Museum.
The radio arrived with its large, cone-shaped speaker. Then her father attached the aerial strung between three poles outside the family home. The family was on pins and needles when the radio was first turned on.
Nellie said they could receive only two stations at first. The stations were located in Pittsburg and in Cincinnati. When WGN in Chicago started broadcasting in early 1922, she said "we were thrilled to death with three radio stations."
It was likely over the radio that Nellie heard Jack Dempsey fight Gene Tunney for the world heavyweight title. Dempsey entered the 1926 fight as the title holder.
Tunney was two years younger than Dempsey. But, Tunney was also an inch shorter.
Dempsey, on the other hand, had experience on his side. Not only had he won the world championship in 1919, he also defended his title in four additional bouts between 1920 and 1923.
Nellie believed Dempsey's experience would carry him through the fight. Wanda Stone, Nellie's best friend, backed Tunney in the 1926 bout.
When Dempsey lost the ten-round fight on points to a more agile Tunney, Nellie got mad at her friend. Within a week, however, these two young fight enthusiasts made amends. Their friendship lasted the remainder of their lives.
Mrs. Harris reluctantly said her high school history teacher also taught her a lot. Her teacher often assigned topics for the students to study. One time he divided the candidates for the 1932 presidential campaign among the students in his history class.
The team of Nellie and J. L. Hassel studied the New York governor who was campaigning for the presidency. Really diving into the books and magazines, the two young adults learned that he often "promised things he never delivered on."
In the early days of the Great Depression, Nellie and J. L.'s opinion concluded their person would make "a horrible candidate because he didn't do anything we thought he should have when he was governor." Then, the two students were astounded when the national Democratic Party "turned around and nominated him!"
Nellie then said Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned out to be the "second only to you-know-who, was perfectly marvelous, and could do no wrong and J. L. and I were just stupid bunnies!"
Even though Nellie Harris passed away in 2006 at age 91, a record of her intellectual development is preserved in the Three Rivers Museum.
Myra's Recollections of Attending Jobe School
"I have such great memories of going to school" said Myra Vanderpool Gormley in a recent interview from her home in Seattle. Especially vivid were her recollections of attending Jobe School north of Muskogee.
Myra attended this one-room schoolhouse for her first three grades. She began in the fall of 1945 just as World War II was ending.
The Jobe School was located on Harris Road just down from the new Muskogee Community Hospital. The schoolhouse is now believed to be a residence.
As an educational tool, the development of the chalk blackboard stands at the top of educational inventions. All of the children went to the blackboard or learned from the teacher writing on the blackboard. Myra also remembers the joy of getting to beat the blackboard erasers outside on the sloping doors to the storm cellar.
Myra recalled the lyrics of songs being written in chalk so that the class could sing. One year, music instructions included playing instruments. The band members played plastic "Tonette" horns, triangles, and tambourines. More information about the Tonette may be read HERE.
According to her, Myra never went to the storm cellar when inclement weather was building up. She said that her fear of rattle snakes prevented her from going. Children who refused to go to a storm cellar were apparently allowed to walk home, the option Myra preferred.
Students at the Jobe School had two small cloak rooms at the back of the classroom. One was used by the girls and the other by the boys. Students kept the usual seasonal clothing such as winter coats and rubber boots in their respective open closets.
Myra recalled the cloak rooms as smelling differently. Since playground sports equipment were also stored separately according to gender, the boys' room smelled more like a gymnasium locker room without the antiseptic.
Maybe this was because the boys' sports gear included sweat absorbing leather balls and gloves. The girls' cloak room contained rubber balls and jacks along with jump ropes.
The division by gender also existed on the school playground as well. Boys played behind the schoolhouse where the male outhouse stood. The school well was also on this side of the schoolhouse.
Girl students tended to play on the south side of the school. In between the two playgrounds were the playground swings, teeter-totter [seesaw], merry-go-round and monkey bars. The girls' outhouse stood on the same side of the building.
The war years interrupted the expansion of electrical wiring into rural areas. The fact that the schoolhouse stood just outside of Muskogee, and Myra's failure to recall lanterns in the classroom, suggest that the school was wired before the war.
Myra recalled only one time when a student rode a horse to the Jobe School. Most of the time students walked down the graveled Harris Road to school because most of them lived nearby.
One boy usually rode his bicycle to school. Myra was discouraged from doing so. She walked the mile each way.
Myra said that most of the parents who sent children to the Jobe School worked nearby in the Griffin farm fields or for the Carnation dairy farm. Hopefully, readers will share their recollections of these two enterprises for future articles.
Fairview School Notes
For several years now, I have been interviewing local residents about their life experiences in Muskogee County. In 2006, I interviewed James H. Ford, Jr. Mr. Ford, a Muskogee resident. He passed away in 2009.
Mr. Ford enjoyed telling about his days attending the Fairview School. This school was a two-room county schoolhouse located southwest of Muskogee toward Wainwright. As usual for a country school, students attended through the eighth grade.
He described his schoolhouse as a "White frame [building that] faced south. I think it’s where a church is now." Of the interior, he only mentioned the blackboard.
A gymnasium "was built on after I started there but it was a new gymnasium. It was a good deal because the country schools out there would come there for basketball games and tournaments and stuff like that."
Mr. and Mrs. Eland Rainwater were the teachers. This couple remains otherwise unidentified except in the memory of their student.
Their "teaching style was probably very much like it is today. Mr. Rainwater was very outgoing. He told us stories. Every day he’d take 30 minutes off to tell us a story about characters he had invented. Adventure stories and things like that. And he was very good at it. And we enjoyed it very much and looked forward to it every day."
When asked about the stories, Ford said "Oh, they were adventure stories and stuff like that. He always had a theme for them. He made them up but he was very good at it and we looked forward to it every day."
Teaching has almost always covered the development of both the mind and the body. James described his teachers as "very good people. [Mr. Rainwater] was not only a teacher but coached our ball teams, our basketball teams, softball teams. He was a small man but very athletic. He was a wrestler in college so he was very athletic. And they were very good people. Everybody liked them."
When I asked about Mrs. Rainwater, Ford said she "was a very good teacher, too. I think they both came from families of teachers and they were very interested in the young people. They went out of their way, even after school, and things like that. They were always there for you, you know, if you needed something or anything."
The old Fairview school had "a very strong athletic program. Mr. Rainwater [started] a tumbling team and we traveled over the country putting on shows. "Yes, I was on a tumbling team and two of my sisters were on a tumbling team. I was on the tumbling team in [the] 6th, 7th and 8th grades."
While the school did not field a football squad, students played basketball very competitively. Some of the players Ford recalled were Gene Herndon, Bill Condon and Charles Ford. "We [also] had a very good girls’ basketball team," he added.
"We matched games with all the little country schools around. And [the students] had a good little track program. We always had a good little track team and our basketball teams were very competitive for a country school."
James Ford related his experiences of being educated at a Muskogee County school for future research. His effort preserved just one school's Great Depression story about the role teachers and sports played in local education.
Recollections of County Schools
The following accounts are a tribute to anyone who either taught at a county school or attended one as a student.
Lulu Boggs recalls teaching one year at the Wickett School. This county school was located about three miles south of Webbers Falls. George Miller of Webbers Falls believes that the Wickett school was in School District number 78 along with the McIntosh school that was south of Dirty Creek.
Lulu taught her first year in 1943 in that one room school house. She would go on to teach for thirty seven years.
Like most county schools, students received instruction for grades one through eight. That first year she had twenty-eight students; five from one family.
Ms. Boggs says that there was a corner of the school house partitioned off for cooking. The previous teacher had fixed hot lunches there. At the time Lulu taught at the Wickett school, she said, "I didn't have to do that."
She likely was referring to a WPA program for maintaining student health. Prior to the war, the government successfully expanded a lunch program for feeding students during the Great Depression.
The school's board president, a Mr. Martin, lived right across the street. He had a son attending the eighth grade that year. Each morning, the son came over to the schoolhouse and started the fire to warm up the building. The school was heated by a coal stove during the winter.
About the end of the school year, Lulu said she closed the school so that she could attend summer classes in Tahlequah. She laughed in remembering the events. "At the end of school you were supposed to have taught a certain number of days. I didn't know the law then. I didn't know that I was supposed to have taught one more day."
Barbara Seeley recently recalled going to the Brushy Mountain schoolhouse in the summer of 1942. Being adventurous, she climbed the steps of the slide and fell down. She remembered the slide as being huge, but learned later that it was only about six feet tall.
Barbara said the Brushy Mountain schoolhouse was near an artesian spring. People used to stop and get a cool drink. The spring was probably the reason the schoolhouse was built close by.
She soon moved to Keefeton where she attended school through the fifth grade. Most years Barbara was the only student in her grade.
The Keefeton school differed in one important way from the Wickett school where Lulu Boggs taught. It was a two-room schoolhouse. The first four grades were in one room, with the remaining grades in the second.
There was a woman who came to school and cooked hot lunches at Keefeton. Meals always included potatoes and a dessert. Barbara said she always enjoyed the cooked meals prepared at the Keefeton school.
There were more than one hundred county schools outside of the larger towns in Muskogee County. Some were attended solely by white students, while the African American students were segregated into separate schoolhouses.
These recollections are preserved at the Three Rivers Museum. Hopefully, more recollections of attending county schools will be donated for saving this legacy.
Going To Har-Ber Village
I decided to make a history excursion on Memorial Day. The drive up to Har-Ber Village in Grove, Oklahoma was pleasant.
For decades I have loved researching and thinking about my three-great grandmother, Rhoda Cope Waits Sanders. She died in a small cabin in 1867 after having survived the hard years of the Civil War.
Rhoda's second husband was a well-to-do farmer and former state legislator. Late in life he built a grist mill on a nearby stream.
The harshness of Rhoda's life was made more difficult during her last years because Rhoda separated from her second husband sometime in the 1850's. She moved out of his house into a small log home where she lived the remainder of her life.
There is little known about her cabin. Only the corner stones are left to mark the dimensions of her last residence in Northwest Arkansas.
Until her separation, Rhoda resided with her second husband and their children in a large home made of lumber from a saw mill. This home was the hallmark of a financially secure family.
Visiting Har-Ber Village gave me insight into how she might have furnished this cabin. Many of the log buildings in the village were built for displaying antiques. In one case a surviving cabin from the same county where Rhoda lived was moved and rebuilt in the village.
All of the log cabins are quite small by today's housing standards. Most cabins in the village mirrored the size of Rhoda's last residence as marked by the cornerstones.
The smallness of the cabins in Har-Ber Village showed me that there would have been only room enough for a few pieces of furniture in Rhoda's cabin. She would have had a small bed, a rocking chair, a cupboard and a small table. I saw many similar pieces of furniture on display in Har-Ber Village.
I also saw many of the other possessions on exhibit that Rhoda would also have owned late in life. She needed cast iron cooking pots, a larger wash pot, lanterns and china ware. Baked clay crocks were used for preserving food. There would also have been trunks or chests for storing woolen clothing, bed spreads and blankets during the summer.
The one thing that I did not see was any fireplace rocks, tumbled down or otherwise, at the Rhoda's last cabin. I came away after touring Har-Ber Village with the realization that there were two ways of heating a home in the 1800's.
In olden days, homes had fireplaces for heating and cooking. The wealthier homes could afford cast iron stoves for these purposes. It dawned on me that Rhoda likely brought such a stove with her when she moved into her cabin.
I urge each of you to drive to Grove, OK where the marvelous collection of antiques is on display at the Har-Ber Village. You never know what you might learn about your ancestors.
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