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St. Joseph's Deconfused

A reader commented with some confusion as to the purpose and language of this facility. The anonymous comment read: "am confused ,was this place a asylum and orphanage. Was the park the building or farm land? Are there still people buried in the cemetery now and what happened to the building?"

Here is the information. The term asylum and orphanage were often interchangeable. 

Do not confuse  the use of the word asylum with a facility for mental issues. It was also used in terms of sanctuary, a safe place of care.  It was for children and during one period,in the 1920's, it also housed some senior adults. 

The cemetery has been moved. There is a marker in the park with names on it. Those buried there included nuns, priests, some of the elderly in care there and a few children.  Gory stories of deaths and secret tunnels were largely urban legends created by anti-Catholic groups.  If a tunnel existed, like they did in many such institutions, they were there to allow the removal of the dead in a manner so that current "inmates" (as they were called) did not see and be disturbed but it.  They also allowed for funerals to take place despite rain and snow above ground. which would have make trekking to the cemetery problem-some.

The buildings are still there but have, since the 1970's housed the headquarters of the IPHC, a global church group. The entire area that includes the present park, the IPHC headquarters and part of the area held by Southwestern Christian University were all part of the original institution. They raised animals and a truck garden that helped support the children and teach them skills.

Check the Bethany library for a copy of the city history done a few years ago. I wrote the histories of the orphanage and the school included in that volume. I also  arranged for the IPHC denominational entry as well.

Also, review previous posts on this site for more information on this subject.


A Strange Photo

Originally posted on Strangestate by Cullan Hudson...  Just what it is will be up to you to determine.  A ghost, an optical illusion, or something else? 

Oklahoma's 'Cry Baby Bridges'

Kitchen Lake Bridge.
Earlier in the Fall I was interviewed by a regional periodical and we discussed some of the local legends and urban myths.  As the chilling season of Halloween approaches, I thought it would be fun to look a little closer at some of the 'real' Cry Baby Bridges claimed in the state. The legends have the mandatory crying baby sounds, faint glowing images, and stories of everything from failed love affairs to incest rape where the products of the rapes were thrown off the bridge.

Alderson (Pittsburg County) is claimed as one such bridge. Maps, however, do not show any bodies of water in this community outside of McAlester.  

Atoka County, vague story of child tossed off a bridge into the North Boggy Creek.
Another one concerning a bridge, much older and now replaced near Checotah, again no clear bridge is identified on maps.  

Hontubby, south of Heavner in far eastern Oklahoma.  There it is claimed every night at midnight you can hear a child thrown off the bridge and the splash as it hits the water.  Later, there will be sounds of crying in the night...   Many miles to the south is the Poteau River and, one assumes, a bridge.

Kellyville (Creek County), asserts itself as the "real Cry Baby Bridge" or the 'Original'.  They say that it was repeated and appropriated by Kiefer, Schulter, Catossa, and three "fake" ones in Kelleyville!  Most agree the original bridge no longer exists.  The legend claims a woman holding a baby surrounded by blue glowing light.

Moore locates a bridge east of Sooner Road on Road 134 and claim a woman with a baby drove into the ditch and died. Others claim a car is in the ditch of the now closed wood and metal bridge and a car seat still visible! Having investigated this site the above is untrue and the sounds of crying heard were wind through a pipe dumping excess water into the ravine.  Other versions emerged in response to publication of these facts and unsurprisingly the bridge was in another location or had been torn down explaining the differences.  The area was one crying for some attention as it claims a 'Kitchen Witch', a 'Crybaby Lake' and several other urban legends born no doubt of too much of something or another and too much imagination.  In the post war years, as the Air Depot was transitioning to Tinker Air Force Base, a terrible fuel fire caused explosions and conflagration over an area including the region claiming the strange fire and the witch. It is more than possible this was the basis for the strange fires and the burned structures claimed as victims of the 'Kitchen Witch'.

The legend of the 'Crybaby Bridge" has many older examples in the Ohio River Valley and there are claims of some going back into the 1880's in New York state.  It is hard to pin these examples of living urban legends (legends that grow and change to suit the time period and add new nuances).  Evidence of older legends of crying babies is harder to locate.  I did find one in the 1880's in Georgia, but it did not involve a bridge and seemed too closely correlated to the 'Rock A Bye Baby' lullaby to be anything but a bit of imaginative literature masquerading as a horrible fright experienced by couples coming back from a dance.

As people moved they brought their stories with them.  Newspapers of the 1800s and early 1900's were often filled with the imaginative tales concocted after too much liqueur and too close a deadline by local reporters. The tales were picked up or entered in the frequent 'tall tale' contests between editors around the country.

Simply because it was in a newspaper was no guarantee it was true...local communities seldom wrote down local legends seeing them as reflecting poorly on the community and local youth frequently got bored...All a recipe for the birth of urban tales and their ready relocating into a region lacking excitement to young people needing something to spice up life.

That is why we love the urban legends and their modern form, the slasher/horror/scream movies.  Go out into the country, away from the lights, away from people and listen to nature.  Animals scream and hunt. Sounds are magnified. Strange winged beasts flit around your head. Animals snap twigs as they pass with a sound as sharp as thunder.   Gather around a campfire or a flashlight and tell a story...see how easy it is to believe the tale.

I dare you.


Gruesome Deaths Still Unsolved

In the book, Into Oblivion: Murders, Missing Persons and Mysteries, author Marilyn A. Hudson explores several true life mysteries.  Many of them are based in Oklahoma, with others in Texas, Missouri and New Mexico.

  • The unsolved murder of a butchered body found west of Oklahoma City in 1951. The wife and mother walked home from work but ran into the wrong person.
  • The unsolved murder of a young hitchhiker near Yukon. Links to the previous case and to the heart of OKC itself?
  • A string of mysterious, bloody, and still unsolved murders involved butchered bodies in southern Texas and New Mexico. Are they all connected?
For your ghoulish reading pleasure, get this book (in print or Kindle) and explore the twists and turns of people who found themselves on a road leading "Into Oblivion."

For interviews, please email author Marilyn A. Hudson.


What Really Happened to 'Dynamite Dick"?

Charles Daniel, aka "Dynamite Dick", Clifton was born about 1865 and died November 7, 1897 near Checotah in Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma).  The question has to be asked about this man often labeled the "most killed outlaw in America", is that information accurate?

He was missing several fingers and the story of just how they went missing seemed to change as well. Some claimed he had been a miner or worked in train robbery with dynamite and was a little too slow and lost some digits.  Other sources claimed he had them shot off in the U.S. Marshals vs. Outlaws in Ingalls, Oklahoma in 1893.

He was said to have been killed near Blackwell, Kay County, Oklahoma in 1896 by U.S. Deputy Marshal Chris Madsen.  Yet, in November of 1897 there was a long, detailed story about the killing of the digit deprived desperado near Checotah, I.T. (present day McIntosh County in the southeast corner of the state). 

It was recounted in the news article of the Daily Oklahoma State Capital (Guthrie) of Nov. 22, 1897 (pg.3) that he had been involved in numerous robberies, including the 'Southwestern Bank Robbery" and it was claimed he led the 'Red Fork Train Robbery' (about 1893). The last of which took on a near legendary aura over time. He was one of the original Dalton gang, he had robbed post offices at Rock Island (KS) and in Foyil (OK). He had enjoyed the luxuries of jails in Paris (TX) and in Guthrie (OK).

It was a close Doolin gang cohort as well and led in the famous jail break at Guthrie in 1896 where several bad men escaped.  He was in the Cook gang in all of their raids.  He was described as being big, heavy set, well muscled and having a fair intelligence.  He was known as a shrewd scout and was labeled " the most dangerous criminal and outlaw".

In November he was tracked by law into thicket forested areas of southeast Oklahoma and took shelter in a small house where an "Indian Woman and boy" were.  Attempting to use them as a shield, the law finally got the them out and then a gun battle ensued after which he was killed.  A grave site in Muskogee seems to indicate the truth of the Checotah death in November of 1897. The government, apparently, footed the bill. Plus, there was the rewards of $2800 paid to U.S. Deputy Marshall Lawson for the death of Clifton.


She Was A He!

In the late 1890's a thrilling horse thief raced across the hills and vales of Oklahoma and surrounding
regions.  Big talkers claimed she had been there at the great train robbery at Red Fork.  Bill Doolin of the Dalton-Doolin Gang said she was the best brains around and was one tough hombre. For approximately ten years she lived a life as a daring horse thief who rode like the wind and was known as 'Tom King".

Tom, however, had been born the last child of a wealthy Missouri farmer and in the hills around Holton she rode her beloved horses.  She was sent to Holton College and then another school but soon tired of them and raced back to her horses.  Finally, a shady character caught her attention and she married at  17 John Ora Mundis.  They spent the early months of their marriage visiting all the gaming and saloon dens for all night fun.  Then, they took her inheritance and went to Oklahoma Territory where they lived high in Guthrie until the money ran out.  Some suggest she turned to prostitution and some that she had an affair with a local doctor. Either way, her husband turned jealous and she ran away.  She returned sometime later but in male garb, hair cut male short and calling herself Tom King.  She freed horses from hitching posts, local pastures and fields as an easy way to make money.

She was arrested and escaped a few times and then disappeared... It is believed she died in Clifton, Arizona in 1903, where she was known as Mrs.B.F. Neal and "China Dot",  when a man shot her and then shot himself. Some suggest that the man was her husband Mundis using a fake name. The truth may never be known.

Flora Quick Mundis aka Tom King, Rose Dunn aka "Rose of the Cimarron", along with "Cattle Annie", "Little Britches", Jessie Finley (Finley), and others would fill dramatically the void left by the mysterious murder of Belle Starr in 1889 near Eufaula.  A fascinating page of truly unique history. 

However, they were not the only woman of the west who made a decision that those skirts - and all they represented - were just such a hassle.

In 1907 was the story of a woman who masqueraded in man's attire for many years.  Miss Catherine Vosbugh hid her female sex for 60 years until she died at age 83 in Trinidad, Colorado.  She had been born in France. In this country she found it difficult to make her way and found work as a bookkeeper, male, in Joplin, Missouri.  While she married a woman, who she claimed was in trouble, and lived with her for 30 years as a couple.

About 1905, 'Charlie' Vosbaugh and his wife came to Trinidad where shortly after the wife died and he grew more feeble.  In hospital the secret was discovered and he refused to don female clothes. When he died he was wearing male clothes.

In Buffalo, New York in 1903 was the story of a woman who had worn male clothes for 20 years and when she fell on ice breaking her leg, her secret was uncovered.  Forced into female clothes in the hospital, she vowed she would jump off Niagara Falls before wearing another skirt!  She slipped out and police, staff and others were searching for her, fearful she was going to jump.  She claimed to have a sister in NYC that likewise dressed in male attire.

Into the first dozen years of the 20th century there were many stories of women who were masquerading as men.  It was illegal to do and these often surfaced when someone was arrested.  Several stories indicated that they had adopted male dress and identity merely to make the money needed to survive.  As one young woman from Montana noted: 'A girl can't earn enough to stay straight...I can drive a care and earn fair wages...As a girl more than $5-6 a a boy...$16-30.'    Women joined mining crews, rode with cattle, cooked on the range, and did many other 'male' jobs in order to survive and in many cases to achieve some autonomy.

History is filled with stories of women who masqueraded as men to escape, to have adventures, and to find fulfilment.  They were soldiers, sailors, cowhands, miners, farmers, teamsters, and more. From Deborah Sampson in the Revolution to Catherine "Charlie" Vosbugh they made the determination about what their life would be and how they would like it.


Words of Wisdom from a Forgotten Figure in Oklahoma History

Be True to Yourself. Charles F. Colcord
There is only one way in the world to be successful in business, “Colcord said. “That route is to be true to the one person you can’t fool a bit; that person who knows all about you, knows all your weaknesses and strong points – the one who knows every little trick you try to play to beat the other fellow out of something, and who is going to reprimand you for every mistake you make…YOURSELF. You can go along for years, maybe, and make a big financial success at the expense of those with whom you’re dealing, but you’ll never be happy. Your own conscience will spoil the pleasure of eating the feast you have so carefully prepared.” Colcord continued, recalling something he heard on a Texas ranch as a boy and it lingered with him for more than half a century”” Be true to yourself….Get all the schooling you can even if you have to sacrifice to get it.  Education is something you can’t lose. It may get rusty on you, bt you can brighten it up. Then practice honesty in little things and satisfy yourself that everything you do is above reproach…do what you say you will do and you will learn that integrity is truly the basis of success.”-------  The Autobiography of Charles Francis Colcord, 1859-1934. Helmerich, 1970 (p233-234).

Colcord was born in Kentucky , lived in Louisiana as a boy and then transplanted to Texas where he learned and lived the life of the cowboy on the major cattle trails and ranches out of southern Texas. He made the 1889 run into Oklahoma, became the first law in Oklahoma City, began a deputy U.S. Marshal, made the Cherokee Strip run of 1893, lived in Perry and then returned to Oklahoma City where he launched into a busy life of business, real estate and community building. The Colcord Building in downtown Oklahoma City was one of his projects. 

In 1903 he built a magnificent home based on plans of his real life 'Old Kentucky Home' that would, if it still stood today, would be a draw for people worldwide.  The eleven bedroom home was three stories filled with imports from Italy, Frane, Belgium with marble fireplaces, a solarium, billiard room and ballroom.  Placed at a trolley stop it was a destination for site seers, artists who came to capture its lovely lines, and admire its architecture. The lovely house, still in good condition, was torn down in the early 1960's.

What Will I Wear?

One of the recognized lures for young women to enter a life of shame in the Edwardian era was a familiar one. Clothes. In 1859 when Dr. William Sanger asked some 2,000 prostitutes what had launched them into their life the answers were surprising. The majority had been lured not by seduction, violation, or bad company but by destitution, inclination and seduction/abandonment topped the list.  The fact that inclination came in second must have been a hard pill for Victorians to take given their predispositions about the role of virtue in a woman's life and general beliefs about sex in general.

So, in 1904 Police Chief Brown and Matron Bond had their hands full with a young miss who had run from her grandmother in Perry, had been sent to the Guthrie Rescue Home and had left there to go to Oklahoma City. She was being seriously wooed by someone on West Second Street , i.e., "Harlot's Lane", to enter full time into the sporting life through clothes: silk skirt, drop stitch stockings, new undervest, new corset and the 'inevitable' high heeled slippers.  She was  taken by Police Matron Bond and Mrs. Matthews to the local Rescue Home. So, as the headlines put it, she was "Rescued from a Life of Shame."  

In its historical context, Oklahoma had since about 1895 through the early years of 1900 been in a financial decline. The Cherokee Strip had opened in 1893 and some wandering and adventurous types had set out to stake their claim. Vast numbers of the downtown offices, houses, and businesses were vacant and anyone who wanted to rent space was welcome.  As is often the case, vice survives in the toughest times.

On the home front this might have meant less money for frills, even if your family believed in such things on social or moral grounds, and so the lure for a dreamy girl might have been too much.  The same thing, unfortunately, can still happen to today. Hopefully, we can learn from the lessons already learned by women of an earlier age.

Where Were the First OKC Schools?: First African-American School in 1889

The land run of April 22, 1889 saw thousands of settlers establish a growing community in just hours. It did not take them long to establish churches, government offices and schools.

In October  a school for white children opened in what was then known as South Oklahoma (anything south of Grand Avenue). It was organized at the corner of Washington (area of SW 1st) and Broadway.   Parents were urged to send along any books so they could build a library to help them until funds developed to build a proper collection of books.

In November school officials announced a school for 'Negro children' had also been established with a well qualified teacher from Texas. Further more, the school would be free to all living in South Oklahoma and for a $1 a month to any living outside that area.  There was no address listed in the article found sharing this information in 1889.

Does anyone know where this school was located?  The names of teachers?  Students?

Who Was Vivia Thomas? Updated

Chapter from the 2015 book, Into Oblivion by author Marilyn A. Hudson, available from Amazon in print and Kindle formats.

Who Was Vivia Thomas?

Fort Gibson, Indian Territory
January 1870

One of the longest and most intriguing tales of the Sooner state involves a woman who masqueraded as a man.  Various versions have been shared but all have the same basic tale with no explanations as to the source of the many intriguing details and motivations provided. It is in many ways one of the most firmly entrenched legends of the American frontier in Oklahoma. Her name was Vivia Thomas and she was buried on 7 January 1870 in the Fort Gibson Military Cemetery in what was then Indian Territory (Plot OC 0 2120).  For decades, stories of a slim weeping figure at her grave have been reported and her tale has taken on the cautionary veneer of the cost and regret of personal vengeance.
Fort Gibson in what was Indian Territory was established in 1824. In 1868 one of the first national cemeteries was organized nearby.  The fort operated for only about 60 years but in that time it saw a tremendous amount of history.
With some minor variations, creative additions and rearrangement of events, the following is the accepted tale of Vivia Thomas.
"One of the most interesting stories associated with Fort Gibson National Cemetery is the tale of Vivia Thomas. Legend has it this high-spirited daughter of a wealthy Boston family met and fell in love with a handsome young lieutenant at a ball following the Civil War.
After several months of courtship, they announced their engagement, but shortly before the wedding he left, leaving only a note that he desired to go West in search of adventure. Broken-hearted and bitter over the abandonment, Thomas went in search of her lover. After learning that he was stationed at Fort Gibson, she set off on a journey of revenge. She cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothing and joined the Army. The disguise worked, as the former fiance did not recognize her.
One night as he was returning from a visit with his Native American girlfriend, she ambushed and killed him. Despite an intense investigation, the murder went undiscovered. However, Thomas grew remorseful and began to visit his grave late at night. Eventually she contracted pneumonia from the continued exposure to the cold and collapsed near his grave, dying a few days later. Rather than condemning her actions, her army colleagues were so impressed with her courage in coming alone to the frontier and carrying out a successful disguise that they awarded her a place of honor for burial in the officer’s circle." ( 
Some authors have called the whole story “far-fetched” and many dismiss the tale of a woman dressing as a man as mere fiction. There is historic precedent and these could have been the stories that gave the young woman the idea to travel west as a man, first for safety and then later for other reasons.  In the American Revolution, Mexican and Civil Wars women fought sometimes in disguise.  Deborah Samson Gannett enlisted using her dead brother’s name and even pulled a musket ball from her own thigh to maintain her disguise.  In 1782, she enlisted under the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtleff Samson.  Margaret Corbin helped defend Fort Washington, New York.  Elizabeth C. Newcume in the Mexican War dressed as a man and joined at Fort Leavenworth in eastern Kansas. In 1847 she fought Native Americans in the area of Dodge City, Kansas. Sometimes they died as well such as Sarah Rosetta Wakeman who enlisted as Private Lyons Wakeman. She died during the war in New Orleans at the Marine General Hospital. At the time of her death, her true gender was not known. In fact, her headstone reads Lyons Wakeman.  Sarah Seelye who would become the only female member of the GAR. So women disguising themselves as men and serving in the military was not a new or “far-fetched” idea at all. So even in the gender restrictive Victorian era it was not unknown.  It probably says more about the biases and prejudices of the males who label it as such than about the idea itself.
Strangely, the final resting place of the mysterious Vivia is also home to many notables. Medal of Honor Recipients such as Private First Class John N. Reese Jr., (World War II), U.S. Army, Company B, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Paco Railroad Station, Manila, Philippine Islands, Feb. 9, 1945 (Section 2, Grave 1259-E);  First Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery, (World War II), U.S. Army, 45th Division. Padiglione, Italy, Feb. 22, 1944 (Section 20, Grave 963);  Talahina Diana Rogers - Cherokee wife of General Sam Houston - Section OC, Grave 2467 and others.
All of which makes the question of who she was in more mysterious.  The only apparent documentation found is her name in her tombstone and post records. She is listed in the Post Cemetery Records for Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, showing a death on January 7, 1870  (“Burial Registers for Military Posts, Camps, and Stations, 1768-1921” ; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M2014, 1 roll); Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.)  No other identifying or biographical information is indicated in the record.  
If there was no stone in the cemetery most would have disregarded the story long ago as mere myth and an example of the tall tale told to entertain on long, cold winter nights. In a cemetery with some 2,000 graves of ‘unknowns’ there are stories still waiting to be told and so she is not alone as to scarcity of information. No doubt some of those unnamed graves would be significant to local, military or national history of only known.  So that leaves her place of burial, within the so-called ‘circle of honor’ graves, to offer clues to the truth of the basic story.
In recent years there has been a suggestion by some genealogical researchers that the grave refers to a grandchild of the Fort Superintendent, William Thomas who had married the daughter of Dr. John Westerfield (who is also buried at the cemetery).  Some claim this tombstone for “Vivia Thomas” in the honor circle is for an infant of Westerfield’s daughter Jennie. No documentary evidence is presented to substantiate this claim. However, and there are internal inconsistencies in accepting this theory.
The story of Vivia has been repeated in a dozen or more books and magazine articles.  The original story is filled with rich detail and motivational explanations that give it a first person texture.  All together the story seems to be based on some set of established facts.
Some of the most telling facts are found in the prosaic military records themselves.  From its earliest years the military has operated on the swift and unending flow of paperwork.  Reports about reports are regularly reported and in most cases this wealth of records has been preserved.  Some gaps do exist but just examining a couple of documents sheds some significant light on the story of Vivia Thomas. It also suggests the burial was not that of an infant child.
Item# 1 – Vivia Thomas’ name in all records stands alone accompanied only by the date of her death or burial.  Yet, on those same record pages will be notations “infant child of”, “Mexican soldier”, “wife and child of”, “unknown” and similar labels.   On the line where her name is listed it is starkly brief.  Her name, the date, and burial record number. 
Item#2 – Vivia is listed amid a sequence of deaths #2117 “Unknown”; #2118 “Alice Rockwell”; “2119 “Vivia Thomas”; “2120 David McWilliams” Sept 12, 1869.  Only Thomas and McWilliam’s have a date associated with their entries.
Item# 3 – According to most versions of the legend, Vivia shot the man who had jilted her “just weeks” before her death.  Some specifically name December but with the lack of much documentary information that may be simply a writer’s imagination at work.   According to several military documents, of internments at the Fort in 1868-1870, there was only one death prior to Vivia’s.  That was the death of Daniel McWilliams on 12 September 1869.
Item # 5 - According to the work by George Alexander Otis A Report of Surgical Cases Treated in the Army of the United States (1871), McWilliams was identified as a patient who was thought to have been shot by a “drunken Cherokee without apparent provocation” on the evening of 11 Sept. 1869. His wound was described as a “perforating gunshot wound of the thorax.”   He was shot with a Navy Revolver. He was immediately sent to the fort’s hospital nearby and treated by Assistant Surgeon Alfred Delany but died a day later and is buried in plot 4 0 2120 at the Fort. All of which meshes with the legend’s basic components.
Item # 6 – Vivia was buried in the Circle of Honor at Fort Gibson and it is generally understood this was a place where special individuals were buried.  These were people notable for service, historic significance and similar achievements. 
Item # 7 – Were Vivia the daughter of the superintendent William Thomas and wife Jennie Westerfield Thomas, it would be expected that the standard system of labeling and identifying persons would have been employed.  The father of Jennie Westerfield, Dr. John Westerfield, is buried in 1872 at the same cemetery with a clear notation, “father-in-law of superintendent”.
A DNA test might eventually prove a link to the Westerfield-Thomas line but, for now, the preponderance of evidence suggests that this was an adult woman. 
The story also underscores the reality of how history can “fall between the cracks” intentionally as people try to hide their own identities for a fresh start, to escape legal problems, or hide from those they do not wish to find them.  Add to this the occasional less than stellar ethics of a community, a police force, or newspapers and the truth can sometimes fall into a bottomless pit that makes uncovering the truth next to impossible.


A Volcano in Nebraska?

Doing some research in an old newspaper file, I ran across one of the fascinating tidbit fillers of news from here and there. This one reported a volcano in Nebraska. Originally noted by Lewis and Clark, the region was said to be held sacred by local Native peoples and the 'mound' stood some 180 feet and was seen to smoke, flame, and otherwise give the appearance of a volcano. Earthquakes in the 1870's set nerves on edge as did the fact it appeared to belch fire and heat. Subsequent floodings of the nearby river destroyed it and as the areas around it died up, the story too was largely lost. Today, it is believed the 'volcano' was actually the product of chemical reaction. In a 1901 newspaper it was explained: "The volcano is believed to be due to the peculiar formation of the rock, which is of carbonate of lime mingled with innumerable crystals of bisulphate of iron or iron pyrites. The decomposition of the component parts is credited with bringing about the violent chemical action."

Read more here  and here.


Wanted: Your Stories

I am working on a new project dealing with the saloon owners, gamblers, and 'working girls' of early Oklahoma City (1889-1910).  There are also some interesting crimes in that time frame. If you have one of these fascinating people - or one of the law officers who interacted with them - I would love to interview you or hear your stories.  Email me at


Old West Deadly Gang Had Help From a Girl

The story begins with the discovery of town that had no churches.  Violet Springs sounds like it should have been a lovely and peaceful community. Instead it was a favored hideout and rest stop of outlaws on the run from the law or on the way to break a law. It was a wild and rowdy community with lots of saloons, probably some bawdy houses, a few farmers and shop keepers but no churches. That says a lot for the time when it was hopping (1880's- 1890's) in the land around modern Seminole, Oklahoma.  Mentioned briefly as a ghost of a ghost town where only a cemetery remains to tease the imagination.

Then a story in local papers about a 20 year old female desperado who had short hair and wore men's attire and help smuggle guns to the Christian Brothers (Bob and William), members of the notorious High Five Gang that frequently hid away in Violet Springs. In 1895 the brothers, with others, were in the Guthrie jail and escaped heading to New Mexico and then Arizona to seriously lead a life of crime as bank and train robbers.

She was one of some six people charged by Sheriff Deford with aiding the get away of the Christian and Carr. Early news writers said she "seems to be imbued with the reckless, foolhardy nerve common to the outlaw."  When leaving the area, others were hesitant about crossing the roiling and swollen South Canadian river but she charged across heedless of the danger.  Instrumental in supplies guns, she sat in the jail 'carefully guarded.' 

Only about 20 years old, she was known to wear male attire and, in fact, was changing back into her own clothes when captured. She wore her hair short to support her frequent disguise but newsmen noted, "if neatly attired would not be at all bad looking. Her wayward manner has been too short to show its effects upon her face to any extent."  Apparently, many had difficulty aligning this young, attractive woman with the claims of being a member of such a gang or associated with such wild men as the Christians.   "Jesse Finley endures her imprisonment with equanimity and is happy as a lark. Last night when an Oklahoma representative called at the jail she was playing the organ and singing like a bird. She is really a presupposing young lady and has a good voice."

Daily Times Journal (OKC), July 19, 1895
Weekly Oklahoma State Capitol (Guthrie), July 27, 1895, pg. 1, 3 and 7.


Autographs? So Last Year! We Want Autograph Ghosts

In 1909, the old fashioned Victorian trend of autograph albums had obviously grown a little bit dull.  The new vogue was to collect 'autograph ghosts' from all the notables you encountered. 

All the rage at society parties they were created by signing your name, in ink of course, and then folding the page. In pressing down to allow the ink to seep into the opposite facing page you created a 'ghost' of the signature.  Similar to art work children do with watercolors based on created a reflected image.

Some notables practiced until just the right looking 'ghost' was created. Then, apparently, they were filed away in looseleaf folders or binders. Has anyone ever seen a collection of "ghosts"? They would make a fascinating display with biographies and images. The image above was captured from a newspaper of August 20, 1909 (The Yukon Sun).  On this 1909.


An enduring tragedy that captures the attention of people each generation. It features a missing young mother, a child, strange events and the stalwart presence of one of the early heroes of Oklahoma Territory, Sam Bartell (U.S. Marshal, Police Constable and Private Detective).  Here, through special permission, is the story of the aftermath:

Although most of the excitement surrounding the murder of Katie James in 1905 involved the search for Katie and the woman suspected of killing her, there were other victims of which almost nothing is told; these victims were the children of Katie and Fannie Norton; Lulu Blanche James and Roy, Leta & Elsie Ham. Lulu Blanche was only 18 months old when her mother was murdered. A newspaper article from the Weatherford Democrat says the following:

"The Weatherford Democrat, Thursday, January 23, 1913
Blanche James Dead
Another chapter in one of the saddest tragedies in connection with Weatherford's early history ended recently with the death of Little Blanche James. A letter received by the Cheyenne Marble Works of this place Monday from Mr. DeWitt at Knowles states that he had just got a letter form his sister, Mrs. Shinsteffer who had been notified of the death of the little girl on Jan. 2nd. So little can be known of the fact except that the girl had been visiting her father and took sick with spinal meningitis from which she died. The letter from Mr. DeWitt closed with the cry of the old man's broken heart, "I think they might have might have let me know. I would like to have been with her.
Many of our readers will remember the gruesome story. Seven years ago Mrs. James, having had trouble with her husband on account of his cruelty, had come to Weatherford to her father, Mr. DeWitt. At Clinton she met with Mrs. Ham who offered to drive her through the country. Some place on that lonely drive she was murdered. The body was afterwards found hidden in the bushes near Deer Creek. A little boy related that a woman driving the wagon called hi and asked him to hold the baby as the horses were fractious, then drove furiously away leaving the little child in his arms. Two years ago a trace of the murderer was found in Colorado but she was wanted for stealing horses in New Mexico, so she could not be brought back here for trial until her sentence expires.

But many have asked, what became of the little babe deprived of its mothers care and left to strangers? The father came and took the child, never letting Mr. DeWitt have anything to do with her or to see her. Mr. James married again, but through the years the child was guarded from any knowledge of her grandfather. Mrs. Shinsteffer, the sister of Mr. DeWitt, lived in the same county, Dewey county, and through neighbors kept track of the child and informed Mr. DeWitt. The old gentleman in the course of time amassed considerable property. Mrs. James was his only child and he has no heir. It was the wish of his heart to have and to help little Blanche. Although he was not allowed to see her he could not resist sending her pretty clothes. These were sent through his sister and without letting them know where they came from. Mr. James always told his daughter that her mother still lived and that the clothes were sent by her. And so the story ends with the death of little Blanche."

The Ham children spent their last days together as a family traveling to Guthrie Oklahoma. On July 11, 1905 they were placed for adoption by their Mother Mary Francis Norton, who then left for Shawnee where she eventually committed suicide. Roy, the older brother was 13, his two sisters Elsie and Leta only eleven and seven.

The records that survive show the children placed with families in August 1905; sadly they were not kept together. The entries state:
* Roy Ham-With farmer, good people man and wife of Quaker faith.
* Elsie Ham-With intelligent family, who will give the child a good home. Methodist faith.
* Leta Ham-With Dr. B. and his wife, no children, fine people. The child will have good advantages. Presbyterian and Methodist Churches preferred.

Roy and his sisters had little contact with one another. All letters between the siblings were sent via the Children’s Home. While the records are incomplete they do show that at least in the beginning the children tried to maintain contact with one another. Transcripts of the few remaining letters show the children adapted well to their new lives. Only Roy seems to make any mention of their mother, and even that is only a short sentence to say he is sorry to hear she is dead.

I haven’t been able to track down anything about the family Roy Ham was placed with. He kind of disappears until October 1918 when dies of pneumonia. Roy’s obit in the Kansas City Star of October 20, 1918 reads:
"Ham-Roy L Ham, 26 years old, died Friday at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Gilmer, 5948 Brooklyn Avenue, of pneumonia. He made his home at that address. His father, Taylor Ham, lives in Turlington, Tex. Two sisters also survive him."
Roy’s sisters never knew what happened to their brother.

Elsie Ham married in October 1913. She and her husband had three children, a boy and two girls. Her son died during World War II; I don’t know what ever became of her daughters or if she ever shared with them the sad story of their grandmother’s life and death.

Leta was perhaps the luckiest of the three Ham children. She was placed with a doctor who eventually adopted her. She wrote to her brother of her little pony and of the four dolls she had. Leta too went on to marry, raise children and live her life.

---Courtesy of William Slack


Dead Man's Crossing of the Canadian

For years there has been mention of a "Deadman's Crossing" near Oklahoma City.  There has been mention of one near Quapaw but the two closest to the Oklahoma City area include a location just south of Oklahoma City on the Canadian River. There is another one that is supposed to be at the bridge just south of the dam on tenth street. 

In a 1891 issue of a local paper was a short piece informing people that the body at the dead man's crossing of the Canadian had been removed for purposes of road work. Readers were assured the remains had been moved to more pleasant surroundings.

The cause of death for the individual who gave the area its name of 'Deadman's Crossing' was unknown.  It was noted that various and sensational theories had been advanced from complex robbery by highwaymen to revenge and similar ideas.  What was more rooted in unspecified facts were that it was believed he died from a 'disreputable quarrel' that drove his slayer from the area almost immediately. [Oklahoma City Times-Journal, Dec. 4,2 1891, pg.4]

It is unclear at present which suggested location is referred to in the 1891 news article.

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