Saturday, June 23, 2012

Woody Guthries Signature on Broadway

Woody Guthrie's Signature

Next time your walking along Broadway in Okemah, Oklahoma, you may want to take a moment and look down at a piece of history.  Just two or three blocks east of the Woody Guthrie Memorial Park, on the south side of Broadway, near the wall of an existing building, you can just make out the signature of Woody Guthrie. According to J D Cosby, guide for the Okemah Historical Society, this rough signature was made prior to Guthries departure from Okemah the first time, pre 1930. Bricks were placed around it at some point to offer a bit of protection from pedestrian traffic, it is worn, but just like Guthries music, the impression still abides.

 Drop in the Okemah Historical Society from 8-noon M-F, for a tour of some of the fascinating historical sites in Okemah Downtown.

Panther Bandmembers and parents,

There will be a meeting on July 6th at 6:00pm in the Band Hall to meet the new band director (me). At this meeting, I will introduce myself and the plans that are currently underway to make this next year a success. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me then! The meeting is mandatory. If you have prior engagements, please message me so we can make arrangements to get you the documents and information needed. At this time, I will introduce our show for next year and the dates for the summer band camp. I look forward to meeting all of you!

Steven Collins

Friday, April 20, 2012

Grand Council of 1842 by Richard West 1941

"Grand Council of 1842"

Painted by Walter Richard West (1912–1996) a  Cheyenne painter, and sculptor from Oklahoma. The translation of his Cheyenne name Wah-Pah-Nah-Yah means "light-footed runner".

In 1941, West won a commission to paint the mural for the U.S. Post Office in Okemah, Oklahoma, from the Works Progress Administration.

This grand and glorious mural still stands today as a tribute to his vision for his people and his art.

Next time you are in the post office have a look....over 70 years ago it was painted, but it looks as if the tempera could still be wet. What a treasure.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A History of Okemah

melons to market

By Perry Rodkey, A founder of the town

May 12, 1927

Okemah was opened on April 22, 1902. the townsite was selected about two years before myself and H.B. Dexler of Shawnee who was making a temporary survey of the railroad from A Shawnee to Muskogee by the way of Okmulgee, known as the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railroad Survey which was being built at that time from Fayetteville, Arkansas, west, by the Kenefick Construction Company. I arranged with H.G. Malot to file Indians on the land that would make us a lease, so he filed Mahala on the east; eight of the original townsite and Nocus Fixico on the 150 acres adjoining on the west. We afterward secured an agricultural and grazing lease from the allot tee on this land. At this time, nothing was known about the Fort Smith and Western Railroad building. About three weeks before the opening, I and Henry Williams, Solomon Williams and John Williams were sent here by the Townsite Company to lay off the town. We fixed up our camp on the Green leaf Creek about one and one-half miles southwest of the town where we get out our fence posts with which the town site was to be fenced. We made stacks for blocks and lots. We told all inquisitive visitors that we were making stakes for a Railroad Survey. No one outside of our little party and the Townsite Company of Shawnee knew of our plans and purposes.

At this time the Townsite was an immense cattle pasture(controlled by one Jug Berry, the husband of Mrs. McDermott, who was hostile to anyone intruding within his cattle range) Texas Longhorns disputed the rights of occupancy with the coyote and the jack rabbit which occupied the spot selected for the future city. With the exception of the small cabin occupied by Mr. Pigley which stands just south of the Fort Smith & Western Railway Depot, not a human habitation was in sight. To those less experienced that the promoters, it was not a promising site for a city. But the founders of Okemah knew the country and its wonderful resources and in the wild but beautiful location they recognized the ideal townsite. About two weeks before the opening, on a moolight night, we loaded our posts and wire and by daylight we had a two wire fence around the townsite and we had pitched our camp on the shore of what is now called silver lake, just inside the enclosurein the Northwest part of the townsite, where the McGee cotton Gin was later located. In fencing the townsite, we crosed what was known as the McDermott and Okmulgee Trail, running east and west and for a couple of days we guarded the fence, where it crossed the trail, to keep people from cutting the fence. At which time, Berry, the owner and cowman appeared on the scene, with a bunch of cowboys armed with six-shooters and ordered us to move out at once and they threatened to cut the fence. There were three of us armed with Double Barrell Shotguns, but there was not a loaded shell in the camp! We stood our ground with those empty shotguns and we finally bluffed them, he and his party, and they rode away. We then proceeded to lay out the Townsite with the help of Henry Williams, Solomon Williams, and John Williams, a Euchee Indian also helped allotted just North of the Townsite, named Son-Kay-Tee-Tay.

On the afternoon of April 20th, I with my wife began housekeeping on a house I had built at the southwest corner of block 18, now occupied by the Citizens State Bank. On the same day, the early arrivals that remained here were M. J. Bently, and his wife; C.J. Benson; Z.H. Sexton; W.H. Dill; who pitched his tent on lot 7 in block 25 opposite the old county jail(where it was later). Mr. H.B. Dexter came later, April 18th, before they opened and established this temporary residence on Silver Lake in the Company tent.

Two days before the townsite opened, the Williams family and Sam Newell put up a hay and feed store on the lot where the Westcourt Hotel now stands and this was the companies headquarters on the day of the opening and also the spot where the first store was operated by W.S. Shauffner and J.M. Clugh.

On the morning of the 22nd, there was a large crowd of towsite boomers here. On account of being delayed by the Ozark and Cherokee Central Enginees in making its location through the townsite of the right of way, we were late getting our blue prints and the lot sale did not begin until noon. Morton Rutherford of Muskogee was the auctioneer and the first lot was sold to Grant Stewart for $500, being  Lot Number Nine Block 24, now occupied by Blaisdells Store. Mr. H. B. Dexter bought the next number of lots, where the Dexter house and Cottage stands. A number of lots were sold to different parties, Steward and Dexter being heavy buyers. about three o'clock in the afternoon while everybody was trying to buy lots, Mr Rutherford, the auctioneer, made a remark that he would not guarantee a railroad and the large crowd stamped like a bunch of Texas cattle and went about a mile east and put a lot sale and called their town McDermott. This divided the town and it could not do much good until a compromise was affected which was agreeably accomplished a few weeks later.

The following named six ladies were here on the day of the opening: Mrs. Esther Rodkey; Mrs. Grant Stewart; Mrs. J Bentley; Mrs. Frank Dennison; Mrs. John Rorer; an Mrs. Alice Davis.

The following named gentlemen were here on the day of the opening: Perry Rodkey; H.B. Dexter, M.J. Bentley; Grant Stewart; John Rorer; W.H. Dill; C.J. Benson; Henry Manser; Z.H. Sexton; H.G. Malot; Frank Miller; A.B. (Barney) Dunlap; Jim Keel; J.M. Clugh; W.S. Shauffner; John B. Richards; A.B. Allen; T.F. Bowler; J.S. Bearden; Leroy Cheek; Henry Williams; Solomaon Williams; John Williams; J.N. Lemmons; Tom Lemmons; Dr. J.H. Hudson; Zon-Kay-Tee-Tay; Dr. Nye; Wm. Sporleader; Dr. J.M. Owens; B.X. Gilmore; W.H. Fields; L.M. Wolfe of Bristow; H.T.Douglas; Sam Newell; A.C. Trumble; W.C. Patterson; M.C. Jones; Jesse H. Hill; Mr. Schofield and others.

We named the town Okemah, in honor of a Kickapoo Indian, noted for his honesty and integrity and uprightness - the meaning of the name being High Man.

Perry Rodkey was the first postmaster and keel (Jim) was his assistant. The location was in the stone building, two doors est of 6th street on West Broadway in the John D. Richards Hardware Store.

W.H. Dill opened the first State Bank in the first frame business building at the Northwest corner of Fourth and Broadway. This becam the FIrst National Bank with C.J. Benson as President.

A.B. (Barney) Dunlap and F.T. Miller also opened the A.B. Dunlap Banking Company at the corner of Fifth and Broadway which became the Okemah National Bank.

The first lumberyard was put in by Grant Stewart and located north of the Fort Smith and Western Depot.
first lumberyard

H.B. Dexter built the first dwelling house after the opening now known as the Dexter cottage. The Indian Bark House built by Okemah and his wife ws on the Lot 22 in the BLock 22, present site of the A.B.S. Bonty Residence but was not built until the later part of May, 1902.

(taken from history of Okemah, by Perry Rodkey, published by permission of Okemah Historical Society)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Founding of a Town

By George D. Harvison - 1946

Today we are gathered here to honor the memory of those who proceeded us down life's rugged pathway and left to us a heritage of progress and achievement which has never been surpassed in the world's history.

Forty-four years ago my wife and I watched the birth of a new town. On a beautiful spring morning in April we drove to the proposed location, not in a new and shiny automobile, but by the commonly used method of transportation in the good old days of the horse and buggy of long ago. With our picnic lunch and food for the horses safely tucked in the back of the buggy, we started on our way. That fair Spring morning we enjoyed our drive over the carpet of soft green grass that was spreading across the hills and valleys, and the fresh young foliage that was beginning to cast its shadows along the water courses.

Arriving at our destination we found the usual group of those who pioneered the progress of our nation's advance to a higher state of civilization. There could be seen among the throng stockmen, farmers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, doctors of Divinity, merchants and the many and varied types of pioneers who were willing and anxious to put their faith and gamble their money on a piece of the blue sky, as that was all of which there were sure. There was not a single foot of land the could acquire title to, but only the right of occupancy, and a strong trust in the Lord. Such is the spirit of the hardy pioneer, always confident in the future, and the eventual triumph of the chance to be right.

The auctioneer's platform was on the south side of Broadway and his voice could be clearly heard, sharp and distinct above the crowd, crying the bids, then down would go the hammer, and another pioneer would be added to the lengthening list of prospective town builders. These were the builders of churches, schools, homes, mercantile establishments, and all that goes into the founding of a new town.

At noon we drove down to a pond, or a small reservoir of water, southeast of the proposed town. There we spread our lunches under the foliage of the willow trees and enjoyed our first meal in the new town. In the early evening we slowly wended our way home, some nine miles away, after enjoying a day such as seldom comes in a lifetime. What was then a piece of blue sky, in April 22, 1902, has now become a modern hometown of many churches, schools, beautiful homes, paved streets, and the other belongings of urban life. It is a town founded by, and for, good citizens striving to pass onto the citizens of the future an example worthy for them to follow. This town was named Okemah in the County of Okfuskee, State of Oklahoma, United States of America.
(from History of Okemah By George D Harvison) 

A Brief History of Okemah, Oklahoma


Main Street Okemah

A Brief History of Okemah, Oklahoma

Okemah was named for Kickapoo Chief Okemah who lived 1& 1/2 miles east and 1 mile North of Harrah upon his original allotment where he died in 1936. Chief Okemah lived on the townsite of Okemah from March1902 until a week after opening which occurred on April 22, 1902. He lived in a bark house constructed in the fashion of the Kickapoos during that period; this house was located just north of Ash Street, half-way between south 6th & 7th streets. The agreeable and fine temperament of this old chief was really the cause of naming the town for him. His presence on the townsite was very effective in giving Okemah the appearance of substantiality and also affected the cattlemen occupying this prairie who were showing resentment to what they termed "intruders" preparing to plat and establish a town thus usurping the lands they were occupying.

Prior to the opening, the cowboy gangs would ride through the camp of the town organizers shooting and whooping, but at no one in particular. Mr. Perry Rodkey, one of the surveyors had an old double-barrel shotgun that wasn't in working condition, but he gave this to Chief Okemah and instructed him to stand by the wire swinging gate on the east side of the townsite or stand the gun near the gate where it would be seen by the cowboys. The effect was efficient, the cowboys didn't know that there were no shells in the gun nor that the gun wasn't in working order.

(taken from "History of Okemah" on file with Okemah Historical Society)

for more info visit

Okemah High School Art Show

Tuesday 6pm, April 24th, Okemah Historical Society Museum Auditorium

Work by Okemah's budding Artists from Okemah High School