Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I first met Olivelle Graves at the Muskogee Public Library. She was just entering her eighth decade of life.
I remember her as being sharp mentally with a friendly disposition. I learned later she taught English at the old Central High School for a quarter of a century.
Olivelle was in the library seeking yet another bit of information about one of her ancestors. This contact, and shared interest, prompted me to ask permission to interview her in 1999.
I was just replaying that interview when I heard her say that her mother came to Oklahoma before statehood. I found that she arrived in town about the first day in August, 1906. She had been offered a position as a stenographer by the Dawes Commission.
In her interview, Olivelle said that her mother came from Kansas after having written the vice-president of the United States requesting a job. The year her mother came to Indian Territory was during the second term of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency.
The vice-president's office had stood vacant for three and a half years following Roosevelt's assumption of the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley in September of 1901. Charles W. Fairbanks was Roosevelt's choice for a running mate when Teddy won a second term in office in 1904.
It turns out it was not Fairbanks Olivelle was referring to in her interview. Her mother, Olive Belle Bradley, was born in El Dorado, Kansas on November 25, 1884. By the way, "Olivelle" is derived from the compression of her mother's first and middle names.
Young Miss Bradley was a precocious student in school. She graduated as the school's valedictorian. She first worked as a school teacher, one of the few occupations open to a smart, ambitious woman. Before long, though, Olive sought wider horizons.
This ambition prompted Olive to write to her US representative, Charles Curtis. This Kansas legislator happened to be the one who sponsored the Curtis Act of 1898 that broke up the Indian nations into what became Oklahoma.
Having Kaw Indian ancestry, Curtis was in his last term as Kansas' representative when Olive Bradley wrote for assistance in obtaining work. Olivelle said that Rep. Curtis was very impressed by the letter he received from the young Kansas teacher. Olivelle quoted him as saying "that was the best letter I ever read."
Curtis went on in his reply to say he was "going to give [her] a job in a new state that is opening." Thus, a former Kansas teacher came to Muskogee.
Curtis was still a US representative when he helped Olive get a job. In 1907, he became the junior senator representing Kansas. He rose in influence during the following decades until he served as the Senate's Majority Leader from 1925 to 1929.
Charles Curtis capped this accomplishment by becoming the thirty-first vice-president of the United States on March 9, 1929. He served during the Herbert Hoover administration.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Reading About the Arkansaw Doctor
Just as the Muskogee Phoenix has a digital presence now, so do many books. When my wife first acquired a Kindle, I became mildly interested. It turns out that I was more interested in the spelling game.
I saw her Kindle more as reader for accessing modern books like the currently popular Stieg Larsson novel entitled The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having read Larsson's trilogy in hardback, I just could not picture my reading a suspenseful novel on an electronic reader.
Maybe my problem is the degree to which I am focused on the past as a historian. Then my son purchased the Kindle Fire reader as a Christmas/birthday gift last year. To honor his gift, I sat down to seriously figure out how an electronic reader might be useful.
I was at first a bit awkward in holding and reading from the thing. After all, I had learned how to hold a book over sixty plus years ago when I was just a mere toddler. Having parents who were both teachers will do that to a child.
So, using a Kindle Fire required my learning a new process. Part of the process I was going through was learning that my Kindle need not totally replace the book I learned to love all those decades ago. As a matter of fact, I currently read two paper newspapers most days of the week.
What I found was that my Kindle Fire--there are other e-readers available on the market--gave me ready access to books that I found on the internet, but had never seen any enjoyment in reading them while facing a computer screen.
The first book I found that caught my attention was The Life and Adventures of an Arkansaw Doctor. I found it as a free Google eBook while conducting a search for early Arkansas imprints.
I greatly enjoyed this humorous account of a practicing physician's experiences in eastern Arkansas before the Civil War. It was funny and serious at the same time.
Imagine reading about a doctor who travels to the bedside of a sick patient. While on the way rain begins falling, forcing him to wait out the downpour by standing under a tree holding his horse's rein.
On another occasion, a panther spooked his horse. The rearing steed unseated its rider before running off in fear. Upon getting back on his feet, the young doctor found his only remaining weapon was his Bowie knife belted to waist. His firearms were on his saddle atop the disappearing horse.
I have often wondered what life was like before the Civil War. It is unfortunate that most history books only tell the stories of prominent businessmen, statesmen and generals. The accounts of the "Arkansaw Doctor" opened up many views of everyday life.
I learned a lot about the uncertainties a physician faced in that period. One can say from today's view point that doctors back then were an ignorant lot. Yet, the truth of the matter was that the doctors were held in high esteem for their advanced learning and intellect.
What I have found is that my Kindle Fire has opened up new avenues for learning about the past. Those of you who are reading this article are already knowledgeable about using the internet. Just don't be afraid to read a book on an e-reader, too. You will never know what you will learn until you try.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
When Musick Came to the Indian Territory
This is John Roy Musick's portrait. He was like John Grisham. Musick was a lawyer who became a writer in the late 1800's.
Musick was born in Missouri in 1849. According to several sources, he practiced law for between 1874 and 1882. However, the legal profession could not satisfy his passion for writing. So, he gave it up to begin writing historical fiction.
The path to writing books began by writing serial stories for newspapers. I discovered him while researching old newspaper articles.
Musick came to Indian Territory either late in 1888 or early the next year. He was not traveling on behalf of the Detroit Free Press newspaper. However, his contract with the Michigan newspaper specified that he submit his material to them first.
As happened many times, a good article would be reprinted by another newspaper. That is how I found his observations made during his trip. His Detroit Free Press article was republished on March 10th, 1889 in the Kansas City Times. It was Musick's account about riding the Katy train into Muskogee after spending a day in Vinita.
The next morning, two stage coaches were boarding passengers on South Main Street. These coaches were more likely to have been modified wagons than the stage coaches appearing in movies.
One was bound for Okmulgee, while the other was destined for Tahlequah. John Roy Musick boarded the east bound coach. Both daily coach runs departed from Muskogee at 8:15 each morning.
Musick described the stage coach driver as a genial half-Cherokee who was "well informed on all subjects." While that seemed a bit of a stretch, the driver obviously was willing to voice his opinions on a wide variety of topics.
It seems that the horses pulled the coach at a walk. Crossing the Arkansas River meant waiting for the ferry. The coach's speed and waiting for the ferry delayed the stage coach enough so that it arrived in Fort Gibson shortly before noon.
While the luggage was being switched to another coach in Fort Gibson, passengers grabbed a bite to eat. The cook was a Cherokee lady named Brown. Musick observed that she was a good housekeeper as well as an excellent cook.
In climbing aboard the second stage coach, Musick chose to sit up beside the driver. The driver was a former Arkansan who moved into the territory after the end of the Civil War. The driver said he had driven the coach wagon for seven years.
Musick described the road to Tahlequah as rough and uneven. In places where the wheels would bog down, ruts were cut in wider and wider swaths as drivers simply tried to drive around the low spots. Land was free. There also was no money being spent on road repairs.
The route to Tahlequah took the coach past the occasional corn field and cotton patch. Musick saw that cottages and log cabins dominated the architectural landscape. Fences were few and livestock usually grazed freely.
Thanks to Musick's willingness to write down his observations, we have his brief description of a slower style of living. One can almost imagine seeing the countryside in the vicinity of Muskogee and Fort Gibson.
John Roy Musick wrote continuously, ultimately publishing some 139 volumes and short stories. During 1889, following his trip into the Indian Territory, he published The Kewanee Bank Robbery, or The Mysterious Banditti and several multi-episode serial stories for newspapers.