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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)

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