First Families

by Tamara Logsdon Hawkinson


“Pa Taken with Oklahoma Fever” is how my great-grandmother described her father’s obsession with the exodus. He’d uprooted his clan from its productive Missouri farm and started anew in the Oklahoma red dirt. Dora Krumme was already married with a six-month-old baby in the fall of 1891, when her middle-aged parents, John and Frances McBride, embarked on a new adventure. You can follow Mitcccny.

As she wrote years later, “He came to Chandler, bought a homestead from another fellow, paid him $25 for his rights. They had to pay $1.25 per acre to the government.” Since the original Land Run a year and a half earlier had opened the Unassigned Lands to white settlers, there had been a consistent push for more land to become available, so several tribes were forced to accept a federal government offer and relinquish their “excess” land.

On September 22, 1891, more than 20,000 folks surrounded the defined area, champing at the bit to claim one of the 6,097 160-acre homesteads. It only took a few hours for all the available allotments from the Iowa, Sac and Fox, and Shawnee-Pottawatomie lands to be occupied. And that is where my great-great-grandparents started farming. Today, the Turner Turnpike cuts through the original McBride farm.

But life back then was not easy, according to Dora. “In the following year of 1892, the Bank at Chandler went broke and Father lost $1,200, all he had. For three years they hardly ever saw a dollar.”

Nine years and seven children later, Dora and her husband John also left Missouri and immigrated to Oklahoma Territory. “They say the wind in Oklahoma always blows quite hard and it surely does do that,” she wrote. “Next summer John caught the Oklahoma fever.” He rented half of the McBride farm and “… in December [1900], myself and five youngest came down.”

Roy, the second oldest of the Krumme clan and 8 years old at the time, later wrote: “My memory is not too heavy on details but we children did not seem too happy.

“Dad was to come to Chandler in an immigrant car to be loaded with our household goods, farm implements, harness, wagon, potatoes, shelled corn and miscellaneous items in the farm home and any item or items used on the farm.” Roy explains that, after the railroads were built in the Twin (Oklahoma and Indian) Territories, “… they wanted more farmers in their territory so the railroads offered migrant rates to encourage people to move into Oklahoma at or near their railroad stations. This lower rate was an inducement to my parents to make the move.”

* * *

In August 1901, the Krummes’ eighth child, Vilena—my grandmother—was born. She was the first of the Krumme kids (there would eventually be fifteen) and the first of my three grandparents to be born in one of the Twin Territories.

By then, the family of Vilena’s future husband, John Landers, was also in the region near McAlester in the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory. Unfortunately, there weren’t prolific writers on that side, so the family history is pieced together from the family bible and random newspaper articles—and unfortunately way too many obituaries.

John Landers’ parents, J.T. and Annie Landers, also emigrated from Missouri at the peak of Land Run fever, probably in the late 1880s, since all twelve of their children were born in either Indian Territory or, in the case of the two youngest, in Oklahoma after statehood.

With a pack of mules, J.T. made a living hauling “stuff” for people, including moving houses, which he accomplished by jacking a house off the foundation, and maneuvering the structure onto big skids that were pulled behind the mules. By the early 1900s, he was hauling vast amounts of stone for the construction of the McAlester penitentiary.

As a child, I was mesmerized by this great-grandfather. He would rock for hours on a front porch swing, and always had a spittoon nearby for his chewing tobacco.  As an adult and parent, it’s hard for me to imagine the emotional suffering of J.T. and Annie, who produced seven children who died before ever reaching adulthood, including their first set of twins, stillborn, and five sons.  Their oldest son died at 20, and their next son at 21.  The third was only two and a half months and the fourth just two years.  Then their eleventh child, Orvil, died when he was just one.  The heartache knew no end: Annie died during the swine flu epidemic in 1920, and then J.T. lost a daughter to cancer.

Four children lived to eclipse J.T.’s 92 years— the youngest son, Virgil; twin daughters Lillie and Lillian; and their eighth, my grandfather, born in 1903 in the Choctaw Nation.

(J.T.’s brother worked for the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific railroad and it was discovered years later that he had a wife and children at each end of the rail line. What family doesn’t have a bit of salacious scandal?)

* * *

My dad’s family, likewise drawn to this mysterious new land also staked a claim in pre-statehood Oklahoma. Luckily, my paternal grandmother, Mattie Marsalas Logsdon, was committed to tracking down her ancestors, possibly because she was orphaned at age nine. She was a prolific writer, authoring three books on our family heritage.

In Climbing the Cherry Tree, she chronicled my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Cherry, who wished his “foresight was as good as his hindsight” since he and his daughter “made the Run in 1889.” Not happy with their original lots south of Oklahoma City, “Isaac traded his for a team of mules and Sophia traded hers for a trunk, which became her hope chest, and they went back to Arkansas.” It apparently didn’t take long for Isaac to realize that probably wasn’t the smartest business move he’d ever made.

“The statistics seem to say that the Cherry men were a restless people, always hunting better farm land— more land—and/or they did not want to feel fenced in or crowded.” Repentant, in 1893 Isaac moved his family, including my 15-year-old great-grandmother Martha “Mattie” Cherry, back to Indian Territory, this time settling around Tecumseh. Mattie Cherry became a teacher in the Seminole Nation and, in 1902, married Thomas P. Marsalas, who was eighteen years her senior.

Now, this wasn’t Thomas’ first marriage, and it wasn’t even his original name. Thomas Marsalas Mothershead was married in Texas in 1886 but the marriage was enormously volatile, according to family accounts. So after a “stormy session” his wife declared, “I wish I didn’t even have to use your name.” And Thomas replied, “I’ll take care of that immediately.” In Mattie Marsalas Logsdon’s book My Mothershead Family, she explains, “He simply dropped the name Mothershead and never used it again.” And then he left for Indian Territory.

“[H]e came to the little village of Holdenville. Then he leased land from a Creek Indian at Yeager, where he raised hogs and cattle for the market at Holdenville.” Eventually, Thomas was involved in banking—a building in Holdenville that for decades bore the Marsalas name.

Thomas’ second marriage ended tragically after just eleven months when 23-year-old Mattie died in childbirth. In the grief, no one ever named the baby girl until an aunt finally started calling her “little Mattie.” My grandmother never even knew her exact birthdate, since her Social Security card said December 12, 1903, but her mother’s headstone lists the 11th as the day of her death.

Mattie Cherry Marsalas was buried in the Holdenville cemetery near her grandfather, Joel Cherry, who had been murdered two years earlier.

In February 1901, Joel and his farm employee, Obe Hayden, headed to Wewoka, Indian Territory to buy corn.  Hayden “remembered seeing two Indians watching them while making the purchase but forgot about them until later.” Hayden left to do another errand and then came back to meet Joel and discovered the horses loose and eating the corn out of the wagon.

According to Climbing the Cherry Tree, “He found Joel on the ground with a bullet hole through his head and one through the back.” The men were caught and “a mob composed of Joe’s neighbors shot one Indian (the story was that there were 32 shots in his body).  The sheriff succeeded in getting the other one to Muskogee for trial. When asked why they did this, his answer was that they thought all white men had money, so they decided to rob him. He had only fifty cents in his pocket, for he always took only what he expected to spend when he went to town.”

Racial tensions extended beyond the whites and local Indian tribes to the relocated eastern tribes who had displaced the native plains peoples originally in the region. The Indian state of Sequoyah was proposed but defeated. Another idea was to make Oklahoma an all-black state. That was even more of an uphill battle, given the African American community’s even more diminished clout in Washington. Many of the territories’ black population were “freedmen,” descendants of Native American slaves also forced from their homes to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

Jim Crow laws, a poll tax required to vote, and communities that prohibited black citizens were common. When the Krummes moved to a farm near Okemah in Indian Territory, blacks were not allowed in the town after 7 p.m. A few miles away, Boley, one of the state’s numerous all-black towns, was established by a Creek freedman, although my great-grandfather was a welcome visitor.

In 1902, John Krumme and his brother-in-law bought a water well drill and, according to my great-grandmother’s journal, “They went down in Creek Nation. Drilled 1st well in Boley, a colored town. They had reserved a couple rooms in a hotel for a while. Salesmen stayed there when they came through. So they was welcomed there when another white wasn’t allowed to stay in town or hang around town unless they had some kind of business.” In addition to drilling the first public well, the two men were present in 1903 when the citizens voted for the franchise that would make Boley a city.

* * *

By the time the U.S. declared Oklahoma the forty-sixth state on November 15, 1907, five land runs, land lotteries, and auctions had parceled and allotted all the state land, including the original Indian Nations. The cultural and industrial change witnessed by those early settlers over the course of the 20th century was staggering.

My grandparents got around by horse and wagon but were ultimately all seasoned airline passengers. Despite their rural upbringing, both my grandmothers were college graduates and my granddad, with only an eighth grade education, began a very successful oilfield business. In fact, my nameless grandmother ultimately made a name for herself. The Mattie Logsdon Memorial Library in Ada also houses the Ada Historical and Genealogical Library. Her painstaking family research, decades before computers, placed her Cherry ancestors in this country in the early 1600s, providing documentation for her inclusion in the Daughters of the American Revolution. In fact, my Krumme ancestors were also in this nation before the American Revolution. So it makes sense that these restless ancestors continued to move westward into the next new territory finally bringing them to Oklahoma.

In 1988, the Oklahoma Genealogical Society established the First Families of the Twin Territories association to celebrate early settlers like my grandparents and their families. And while some historical groups focus on European lineages, First Families embraces the heritage of everyone who was part of this state’s history and encourages membership of anyone who can prove they are a direct descendant of an early pioneer or Native American family. With one grandmother born in Oklahoma Territory, another born in the Creek Nation, and my grandfather born in the Choctaw Nation, I’m fortunate to be a First Families member times three.