The Oklahoma Portland Cement Company

by William Lychack

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

Despite taking its name from the first postmaster’s daughter, Ada earned a reputation as one of the roughest cattle towns in the Southwest. Gun slinging, cattle rustling, frontier justice, Ada withstood 36 murders in 1909, as well as threats of range war between the area’s two largest ranches, one run by former U.S. Marshall Gus Bobbit, the other by Joe Allen and Jesse West.

Early April 1909, as Bobbit and a ranch hand drove two wagons into town, a hired killer shot the men dead with a shotgun. After years of corrupt officials, bribes, unpunished murders, Adans took the law into their own hands and started a manhunt for James Miller, a cool killer with more than 30 deaths to his credit. They caught him in Texas, brought him back, and at 2:30 in the morning, sheriff and deputies conveniently absent, vigilantes took the prisoner to an old livery barn. Before the inevitable, there was a hushed pause as the crowd tried to get Miller to talk about the murder. “Come on, come on,” he said to the crowd, “let’s get this over with as soon as possible.”

The busy undertaker who cared for these dead was A.L. Mossman. In the window of his mortuary shop, Mossman displayed his equally rememberable passion: rock collecting. The reputation of his geological specimens spread as far as Indiana, and Adam Beck ventured west to peruse Mossman’s stones. The mortician led the industrialist on a prospecting survey of Pontotoc County, in the Chickasaw Nation. After the tour, Beck decided to locate a cement plant in the rich limestone region and purchased a quarry just outside Ada.

Thus, Beck organized and founded the Oklahoma Portland Cement Company. The original, dry-process plant consisted of two kilns, 125 feet long, with a daily capacity of 1000 barrels. On Christmas Day 1907, little more than a month after statehood, almost two years before the infamous hanging, the Ada plant burned its first clinker. Cement soon shipped out by train, in large wooden barrels, to Texas and points east.

William Lychack is the author of a novel, The Wasp Eater, and a collection of stories, The Architect of Flowers. His work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and on public radio’s This American Life.