I never noticed it as pink, but nearly every description of the exterior of the state Capitol mentions Indiana limestone and pink granite from Oklahoma.
That pink granite has a colorful history of its own.
On Dec. 26, 1915, The Oklahoman published a story written by a special correspondent who gave some surprising details about where the granite originated.
“Granite for the Oklahoma Capitol is being taken from a boulder having 10 acres of surface above ground. This small hill of solid granite was known to the cowmen and outlaws of the early days as the Ten-Acre Rock and was a landmark and rendezvous known throughout the Chickasaw nation.
“The Ten-Acre Rock is about 12 miles northwest of Tishomingo near the town of Troy on the Frisco Railroad. It was included in an allotment to Gov. R.M. Harris of the Chickasaw nation, 14 years ago. J.A. Shannon, a pioneer of this section, opened the quarry and in a small way got out the splendid building material for years.
“From the Ten-Acre Rock came the material for the Chickasaw national capitol, now the Johnson County Courthouse, and the Harris building in Tishomingo, one of the most beautiful buildings in southern Oklahoma.
“Before statehood and the quarrymen’s arrival, the Ten-Acre Rock provided a safe haven for outlaws. Thick woods hid and protected the cabins of the few residents.
“Indian renegades, white outlaws, train robbers and horse thieves were safe here. The few men living in the widely separated log cabins asked no questions of hard-faced visitors but they scowled at officers of the law. Hospitality was extended to those most in need of it but outsiders seeking information were not encouraged.
“It was considered dangerous enough that U.S. marshal deputies thought twice about entering this area.
“But, as law-abiding citizens moved in, the train robbers, horse thieves and bad men found themselves unwelcome.
“Cotton, lumber, corn and cattle replaced the outlaw industry, and the Ten-Acre Rock became a quarry.”
The special correspondent went on to describe the quarry:
“A quick turn of the road opens up the woods for the first view of the most remarkable quarry in the state. The Ten-Acre Rock bulks high against the skyline and towers above the trees. It is one huge solid boulder of finest granite.
“Forty men blasted and shaped a train carload of granite a day to be shipped to Oklahoma City for the Capitol. It was estimated 50,000 cubic feet of Tishomingo granite would be used for the building, and still there would remain an almost unlimited supply of the finest quality granite for building and decoration.”
Our unknown writer concluded his story with this statement:
“So the stone that will house the lawmakers of Oklahoma is the same granite that in the Ten-Acre Rock sheltered camps of outlaws in the days before statehood. Beside the rock the refugees from the law built their fires and discussed plans of robbery and murder.
“Behind the granite now new laws will be made. The Ten-Acre Rock will shelter lawmakers instead of lawbreakers.”
Now when I pass the Capitol I think of the Ten-Acre Rock and the solid pink granite foundation it provides Oklahoma government now and for the future.
This story appeared in The Oklahoman on Aug. 30, 1951.
It was written by Ray Parr, The Oklahoman’s well-known political writer and columnist.
It exhibits the humor Parr could bring to a mundane political story.
Fifty years ago, Jay Lee, the director of the Public Welfare Board also known as the emergency relief board, predecessor of the Department of Human Services, found himself in hot water.
He had been appointed by Gov. Roy Turner in 1947 and in 1951, new governor, Johnston Murray, suspended Lee, citing the need for an investigation for “loose handling of funds.”
I’m not sure the actions described below got Lee suspended, but it appeared the day after the announcement of his suspension.
“Cats Eat Rats! Then It’s Up to Bureaucrats!”
“Jay Lee, under suspension as administrator of the state emergency relief board, Wednesday defended the purchase of cat food with department funds.
The food, he said, was purchased for two cats who are working full-time for the state — and doing a fine job of it, too.
The two cats are employed at the surplus commodity warehouse in the 100 block of E Washington. Their duties are to catch rats. They were employed on a merit basis and have no legislative sponsors, Lee said.
Lee said that rats were doing so much damage at the warehouse that the federal government threatened to disqualify the warehouse for storage of the commodities.
Rats were having a field day in the warehouse with sort of a free lunch program of their own.
Lee said they had destroyed large quantities of cheese, raisins and other commodities.
They had never been certified for the free lunch program and the federal government did not approve of the idea of passing out nibbled commodities in the school lunch program. A considerable amount had to be destroyed because of the nibbles.
Lee said lowest estimates of rat exterminators to keep the building free of rats ran from $13 to $20 a month.
The cats didn’t cost anything.
As a matter of fact, they worked for nothing for awhile, under a state and federal agreement that they could eat the captured rats.
But they did such an efficient job, Lee continued, they got rid of the rats. Those that didn’t get on the menu ran away.
Then the cats got hungry. The emergency relief board faced an emergency. if the cats left, the rats would come back.
They would eat the commodities. The federal government would get cross with the state agency. Things would be in a mess.
Lee huddled with his top assistants. A decision was reached.
“We bought a case of cat food.” Lee said Wednesday. “These cats have paid their way 100 times over. It was a good investment.”
Lee got his job back, and four months later resigned. His 1980 obituary noted a 37-year career as a state employee and gave him credit for starting the Hot School Lunch program.
Pick up a newspaper, check online or listen to the television, and it seems all you hear is about the heat and whether or not Oklahoma City will break the 1936 high temperature record of 113.1 degrees.
This observation appeared 75 years ago Sunday, Aug. 16, 1936, on Page 1 of The Oklahoman. It recaps the week of heat that included the record-setting 113.1 degree high temperature.
Fear is the papa and mama of invention. We have been very scared the last two weeks because the human body is 90 percent water and we have been evaporating at a rapid rate.
Harry Wahlgren, with the two hottest weeks on record, until a few days ago had us believing he was drying us like peaches on a smoke house roof. He had us wondering how long it would be until we dried up completely and blew into Arkansas, just so many irritants to hay fever victims.
It’s got to be admitted that Harry’s first few blows brought out our creative impulses. The humblest became scientific. We reasoned that if we were drying up at twice our weight a day we would have to drink three times our weight in water to hold our own.
That was elemental, but as soon as we were waterlogged it became clear that other modern means would have to adopted to cut down the evaporation. We quit all work to apply ourselves to this problem.
Primitive souls hauled in tubs of ice and sat opposite electric fans. Stone age men hung wet towels in the windows. Reactionaries tried gin highballs. The best minds among us evaporated a lot of rigging up air coolers. They sought boxes of wet excelsior, ran water through them and fanned the air on their heaving bosoms.
Some made gadgets out of fishing reels, bicycle pumps, flannel underwear and electric fans. Some lay under water sprinklers. Others floundered in tepid swimming pools.
It looked like it would all be in vain. We were losing ground. Wahlgren was pouring it on.
The worse day was the day we broke the record. Panting from inventing we learned that on August 10 we had been hotter than ever an Oklahoma Cityan had been before. That made us kinda proud. It set us out as hardy people.
Sleeping through that night under the cool off a mere 81 degrees that was long in coming we found we could take it for certain.
The next day we weren’t even impressed when Harry raised the ante to 113 degrees. Then when the temperature began to fall a two and three degrees at a clip we gave Wahlgren the horse laugh. We drove out Classen in the heat of the day to mock him.
We even went back to work. We forgot about our gadgets to keep cool. We forgot even to remember we were hot. We have proved that hearty Oklahomans can sweat and live. Not only sweat and live, but sweat and get the job done, sweat and even have fun. We have proved we’re tougher even than rag weeds.
Hang in there! In 1936 the rains and cooler temperatures finally came in September.
Note: Harry Walgren was the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau branch on Classen Boulevard in what are now law offices
MOURN THE LOSS OF GYPSY QUEEN NOMAD, HEAD OF BAND HERE, IS BURIED IN FAIRLAWN CEMETERY.”
It was just a small item on Page 5 of The Oklahoman, on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1908, with a headline almost as big as the story.
Ellen Young, 69, was camping in Colcord Park near the river with her “band of nomadic Egyptians” when she died in a tent Friday, Jan. 31, 1908. Her funeral services were conducted the following Monday by the Rev. T.H. Harper of Pilgrim Congregational Church, and she was buried at Fairlawn. Fifty grief-stricken Gypsies attended her service.
The Oklahoman’s story read: “Mrs. Young had spent all her life travelling in covered wagons through Europe and America, telling fortunes, creating rugs, painting pictures, doing what she could to secure a living from a nomadic wandering life. Unlike her countrymen, she became a Christian, and she is of the strain of family which includes the renowned Congregational preacher, “Gypsy,” Smith, one of the greatest preachers of England.”
Can you imagine how cold it was living in a tent in January in Oklahoma?
From my research, I learned Gypsies more likely came from India, than Egypt, and many more of them were, and are, of the Christian faith than most people think.
Also, Rodney “Gypsy” Smith, born in 1860 in England and raised in a gypsy wagon, never attended school and was converted at the age of 16. He started preaching at 17, and during his evangelistic career that ended in 1947 with his death, he was as widely traveled and admired as Billy Graham is today.
Colcord Park, later renamed Delmar Gardens, was owned by Charles Colcord and consisted of 160 acres near Reno Avenue and Western close to the North Canadian River. Baseball was played in that area until the flood of 1923.
A trip to Fairlawn Cemetery and a check of the records located Young’s resting place, 103 years after her death.
The original entry in the cemetery ledger read Mrs. Emma Young (gypsy) camped near the ballpark, died Jan. 31 and was buried Feb. 3, 1908. The ledger also disclosed the location of her burial place in the cemetery and the funeral home handling the arrangements. Her first name was different, but the rest of the facts fit the newspaper’s story.
Turns out, her final resting place is just a few steps north of the cemetery office.
The last curious fact about Ellen/Emma is that her grave stone bears the wrong year for her death.
Gators in the river! The Oklahoma River!
It’s been almost 34 years since the last reported sighting of an alligator in the North Canadian River.
In October 1977, The Oklahoman reported Jim Ellis was fishing the North Canadian River on a Saturday near the E Reno Avenue bridge, when he saw what he thought was a snake. He grabbed it and it turned out to be a 29-inch alligator. He turned it in to the Del City Police Department where it spent some time confined to a wash basin until it was sent to the zoo.
It was thought to have been a pet released into the wild.
This was not the first time alligators were found in the river. The Oklahoman Archives record several instances of alligators being seen.
In 1918, the city was building a new sewer near S Walker and the Canadian River, and J.W. Linch, a watchman for the Boardman Co., noticed activity in the water and along the banks.
Seeing alligators, he shot at one, and the July 11, 1918, newspaper article said, “He managed to get it to shore after a fight and then finished its career.
“There are five or six living in the river. The one killed measured two feet from nose to tail and was of the gulf variety. Others in the river are larger, Mr. Linch says.”
It was believed these alligators were the descendants of an alligator that escaped Wheeler Park Zoo when it flooded in 1916.
In May 1947, a man was fishing near Western and SW Choctaw (now SW 7) when he saw a 6-foot alligator. Capt. Clifford Holloway of the Oklahoma City Fire Department was dispatched to the scene, but he was unable to catch the alligator. It was believed that the alligator had washed downstream during high water.
According to the state Wildlife Department website, alligators generally are found in southeastern Oklahoma and are thought to be unable to survive the colder temperatures in central and northern Oklahoma.
It seems alligators have been sighted every 30 years or so in the part of the North Canadian River now known as the Oklahoma River.
Perhaps the rowers and boaters who use the Oklahoma River should keep a weather eye out — that floating debris might just be full of teeth.
You probably missed it. I know I did.
Saturday, May 1, was State Bird Day. So designated by House Joint Resolution 21, adopted on May 26, 1951.
This was the legislation that made the scissor-tailed flycatcher Oklahoma’s state bird.
According to A. Marguerite Baumgartner, The Oklahoman’s long-time bird columnist, a popular vote selected the quail as the state’s official bird, but that choice was never officially proclaimed.
In the late 1940′s, garden clubs across the state and the Tulsa Audubon Society began the push for the scissortail as official bird, and their efforts were successful in 1951.
An explanation of why we missed State Bird Day may be found at the end of the resolution after all the “whereas” listings of the attributes of the scissortail.
“SECTION 2. “Bird Day” — May 1st. May 1st of each year is hereby established as “Bird Day” in Oklahoma, to be commemorated in such manner as the Societies for the Preservation of Wildlife may prescribe, from time to time.”
A search of The Oklahoman’s Archives found 21 mentions of State Bird Day from April 1951 to May 1972. Most of these are articles retelling how the scissortail became the state bird and that May 1 was to be State Bird Day. A few organizations sponsored displays, but not much happened with Bird Day.
The scissor-tailed flycatcher is arriving for the summer, so even if we missed Bird Day, we can enjoy our beautiful state bird and celebrate the 60th anniversary of it’s officialdom on May 26.
Several men were recently inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. One of the inductees was Army Maj. Gen. Roy V. Hoffman.
Hoffman was posthumously honored and his service was summarized in an article in The Oklahoman published Sept. 7, 2010:
“Maj. Gen. Roy V. Hoffman was born in Kansas and came to Oklahoma Territory on the eve of the 1889 Land Run. During the Spanish-American War, he entered the Army as a private. Soon he was commissioned as a captain of infantry in the U.S. Volunteers. In 1899, he was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the Oklahoma National Guard. Hoffman served in France during World War I and in the Officers Reserve Corps until 1931, when he was appointed major general and commanded the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma National Guard. He retired from military service in June 1933. Hoffman died June 18, 1953.”
While that statement summarizes his military life, reading his obituary, published in The Oklahoman on June 19, 1953, tells the story of a multi-faceted man.
“The full and exciting career of Roy Hoffman, 84, one of Oklahoma’s best known citizens, ended Thursday with his death”.
“Newspaperman, lawyer, judge, statesman and soldier, Hoffman probably was best known for his military exploits. He served every rank from private to major general.”
Roy Hoffman was born June 13, 1869, in Kansas and at 19 years old, he participated in the Land Run of 1889, settling at Guthrie.
It was in Guthrie that he became a newspaper man.
“My brief and transitory newspaper experience began in Guthrie in the early days when it was a tent city and shortly after the opening,” Gen. Hoffman wrote years later.
Guthrie residents of the Democratic persuasion did not have a newspaper to support their point of view, so Hoffman started the Guthrie Daily Leader, the first daily newspaper in the territory.
“Having tried farming, cowpunching, school teaching, short-hand reporting, I thought I was eminently qualified for the service,” The Oklahoman quoted Hoffman as saying.
Hoffman was accepted to the state bar in 1891 and would practice law for 46 years. He was appointed an assistant U.S. district attorney, but resigned to begin his military career, when he enlisted for the Spanish-American War.
Returning from the war, Hoffman settled in Chandler and practiced law, until moving to Oklahoma City in 1914. He served as county attorney for several counties. He had experience as both a prosecution and defense lawyer, having participated in more than 100 cases.
He was a very successful attorney, representing Phillips Petroleum, Standard of Indiana and the Prairie Oil Co., the precursor of Sinclair Oil Co.
Hoffman served as a director of First National Bank and had other businesses. For a newspaper questionnaire he wrote about his business experiences: “Have been into nearly everything except train robbing.”
Hoffman helped organize the American Legion, served as a committeeman for the Democratic Party and belonged to many civic and social organizations.
Gen. Roy Hoffman arrived in Oklahoma at 19, started a newspaper, served in the military, practiced as an attorney, served in state government, helped lead the Democratic Party, and he was a husband, and the father of two sons and a daughter.
Roy Hoffman was an Oklahoma renaissance man.
Here’s a story from The Oklahoman, published Nov. 1, 1936, that makes a great tale:
“Probably the only train robbery in which the entire loot consisted of three gallons of whisky was recorded for posterity Saturday by the Works Progress Administration writers’ project.
“And if you wonder just where such a thing occurred, you might have known it would be in Oklahoma, back in the early days when anything could happen and usually did.
“The story was told to a project writer by Lon Stansberry, pioneer Tulsa citizen, who swears by all that was holy in whooping early day Oklahoma, that it’s the truth, yes-sirree. The tale probably will be included in the American Guide book as one of the tidbits of pioneer life.
“The exact date is not listed, but along about that time a certain outlaw gang headed by one Bill Cook, notorious for his law flaunting, was roaming the hills and dales of eastern Oklahoma. In the gang was Jim Cook, Henry Nunsing, Curtis Davis, Lon Gordon and Everett Baldwin, all pretty bad in their own right, and fit to strike terror in the hearts of any bank clerk.
“They got a tip that a Frisco train was coming into Red Fork, southwest of Tulsa, with pay for a cattle shipment from the Spike S ranch south of the town.
“An hour before the train time they galloped into town and took possession of the depot. One of the more inquisitive outlaws discovered a gallon of whisky there and commandeered it. Each member had a sip or so.
“When the train puffed in, two men took control of the engine and the remainder guarded the express car. Shaking like an autumn leaf, the express messenger dropped his receipt book and thrust his hands into the air. He denied the money was on the train.
“The robbers then decided to look around and found two more gallons of whisky. That hit them as right fine and they proceeded to get friendly. They marched up and down the cars, forcing passengers to take a few drinks. In great spirits they celebrated and the victims joined right in, surprised at the queer Oklahoma outlaws’ hospitality.
“Finally the whisky ran low, and the outlaw band decided to leave. The express messenger retrieved the receipt book, and away with the wind went the badmen.
“With a sly grin, the express messenger looked inside the receipt book, and right there was the cattle payment, all in crisp currency ready to be paid. Some people claimed the whisky deadened the outlaws’ sense of perception, while others claimed they just didn’t give a hang for the money, what with three jugs of spirits.
“Any way the story is being prepared for Oklahoma’s section of the guide book. And posterity can believe it or not.”
The Writer’s Project index at the Oklahoma History Center includes an interview with Lon Stansberry, and a search of the Internet indicates that the gang robbed a Frisco train July 18, 1894, but due to the quick-thinking express messenger, left empty-handed.
Jake leg is a rarely used term, and memories of the jake-leg epidemic have almost disappeared.
A little-known epidemic, first detected in Oklahoma, it spawned slang words, songs and a dance, all of which have been nearly lost to the passage of time.
Oklahoma City has the dubious honor of being the first place the mysterious condition appeared, and from here it was to reach national epidemic status before the cause was determined. It began with Dr. Walter H. Miles, a city physician, and Dr. E. Goldfain, a neurology specialist, noticing that men suffering from the same symptoms were presenting themselves at hospitals in the city.
A front-page article published March 7, 1930, in The Oklahoman described the symptoms and the probable cause: “Spinal afflictions, believed the result of poison whiskey, which has afflicted 60 men in Oklahoma City in the last ten days, and possibly caused one death, Thursday night brought an order from city officials for an investigation seeking the source of the poison liquor supply.
“The strange malady affects the spine, causing a partial paralysis, especially of the feet, resulting in inability to walk normally.”
It became known as the jake-leg, jake foot, jake walk, jake wobblies and jakeitis.
On March 9, the newspaper reported 400 cases of men afflicted. Investigators determined their theory of poisonous liquor was correct: “The poisoning is the result of some denaturant used by wholesale drug houses in mixing Jamaica ginger.”
In 1930, Oklahoma and the nation were still in the throes of prohibition, and many drinkers got their “liquor” from patent medicines or extracts that were mostly alcohol. A favorite was Jamaican ginger extract, familiarly known as “jake,” which was 70 to 80 percent alcohol.
The government told the makers that they had to make it less palatable. Some got creative, adding ingredients such as castor oil and increasing the ginger in an effort to make it more like medicine and less like a beverage. One company experimented, adding — after being assured by the supplier that it was not dangerous — a chemical called ortho-tri-cresyl phosphate.
In an article Aug. 28, 1930, The Oklahoman reported that a “tasteless, odorless compound, generally used in the lacquer and leather industries, is responsible, in the opinion of government chemists, for the thousands of cases of paralysis that followed the drinking of ginger concoctions.”
The epidemic, first reported in March 1930, pretty much had run its course by October.
On March 12, 1931, The Oklahoman reported the recognition of research done by doctors from University Hospital (now OU Medical Center) by the American Medical Association on the treatment of Jamaica ginger paralysis. Their determination was that ortho-tri-cresyl phosphate was the cause and that there was no cure.
The story ends with this summary of events: “Simultaneous with the Oklahoma City epidemic, similar ones occurred in Tennessee, Kentucky and Kansas, especially in Wichita. A wave recently was reported in Los Angeles and on the West Coast. Several owners of drug firms have since been indicted and convicted for sale of Jamaica ginger.”
Street names intrigue me.
Fretz Avenue is a street in Edmond. It runs just south of 15th and just north of Danforth through Edmond. It is west of the railroad tracks.
Aaron Fretz was born in 1840 in Pennsylvania and survived the Civil War fighting as a Union soldier. In 1889, he made the run on a special Santa Fe train and staked his claim to 160 acres in Edmond.
From archives of The Oklahoman, I learned that Aaron Fretz may have filed the first taxpayer’s lawsuit in the state of Oklahoma, when he brought suit in 1914 against the city of Edmond and its officials after they passed a resolution in 1913 giving Central State Normal School (now University of Central Oklahoma), 2.4 million gallons of free water a year, while charging taxpayers for their water use. He felt that was illegal and took it all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him.
On Nov. 11, 1917, a story in The Oklahoman told of Fretz taking a 10-month-long trip, with a 24-year-old horse as his only companion, and a wagon outfitted for camping, to visit the battlefields of the Civil War where he had fought. He visited 10 states on his journey. He was 77 years old. It also told of his providing sewing machines — he had a sewing machine repair shop on Broadway — to the local Red Cross chapter to help in the World War I effort.
The Oklahoman, on April 21, 1918, reported that Aaron Fretz still possessed the claim stake flag he used at the run of 1889 to stake his claim. It was yellowed and with the hand inked letters faded “Taken — Center of 160 acres — A. Fretz.” The story said he used a weed as pen and later added the legal description of his land. It was located west of Fretz Avenue and the railroad tracks and east of Kelley Avenue and between Edmond Road and 15th.
In 1919, when Fretz was 80, the newspaper announced a patent for “an automatic shifting device for speed change gearing has recently been granted to Aaron Fretz which promises to revolutionize present methods of speed change, especially in use on the automobile.” The story said that its initial use would be for hoisting machines.
The final story about Aaron Fretz from The Oklahoman was published Jan. 12, 1931, and announced his wedding:
“Aaron Fretz, 91 years old, and Bertha Eckert, 19 years old, were married Sunday noon by Paul Powers, peace justice, in the Powers home, 1508 N Blackwelder Ave.”
“The couple left immediately after the ceremony to visit friends west of Oklahoma City, where Fretz said he would ‘seek the blessings of the old folks.’ ”
“Fretz operates a sewing machine repair shop in Edmond. Mrs. Fretz was his housekeeper several months prior to their marriage. She became the stepmother of three children, all more than 50 years old.”
I was unable to find an obituary for Aaron Fretz in The Oklahoman archives and was curious as to whether the marriage lasted and how long Aaron Fretz lived, so I went to the Internet. The University of Central Oklahoma’s Max Chambers Library Special Collections Obituary Index listed Aaron Fretz and the date his obituary appeared in the Edmond newspaper.
His obituary from the Edmond Booster dated January 31, 1935, stated: “His career here during the early days was one of civic work, and among the accomplishments to his credit are: Bringing the first minister to Edmond, helping to build the first church here; helping to establish the first free public school in this community; helping to organize the first business men’s organization; among the organizers of the local G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) post.”
Aaron Fretz died in the Union Soldiers Home of Dayton, Ohio, on Jan. 29, 1935. He is buried in the Union Soldiers cemetery there.
Alas, the marriage does not appear to have lasted as in the list of survivors, his young bride is not listed, only two daughters and a son.
An active, creative and civic-minded individual. What better person to name a street after!