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Chapter 3
The Early Years

The foresight of our early city officials and the interest and cooperative efforts of the local people in bringing the railroads to Tulsa provided easy access to our town and resulted in rapid growth. Until the introduction of natural gas, our primary source of lighting was the coal oil, or kerosene lamp. A gas well was drilled on Dad's property on North Frisco, but the city passed an ordinance prohibiting oil or gas wells within the city limits and Dad had to have it plugged. I remember the plugging of the well. I must have been somewhere between four and six years old. The workman hired to plug the well had shoveled out a large bowl-like place about four or five feet deep.

After the plug was placed in the well and dirt was packed tightly around it, the men climbed out of the hole and were preparing to shovel in the rest of the dirt. A man living with us at the time, we called him Uncle Deem. said, "Let me make sure that it is tightly plugged." He jumped down into the hole, examined the plug, and then lit a match. Gas flared up immediately from the accumulation in the bowl-like area surrounding the well. There was no serious damage, but Uncle Deem sported singed eyebrows for a week or two.

Uncle Deem lived with our family on and off for more than twenty years. In Arkansas, as the story goes, he had killed two people, his wife and a man with her. He then fled to Indian Territory and took up residence with our family. This happened before I was born. At times he would return to a veterans' hospital for treatment. He received a pension for having been in the Civil War and he gave my mother money at times to pay for his keep. Occasionally he would get drunk in his room thinking about his wife and the man.

I can remember sitting on his lap and having him ask me to give him a kiss. I soon tired of this and told him to 'go kiss Momma'. During the times that Uncle Deem was away for treatment at the hospital, a Mr. Kerr boarded with our family. He helped Dad in the shop figuring out designs Dad used in his buildings. Mr. Kerr would tell me I needed to clean the moldings when I dusted the rooms. Both he and Uncle Deem would tell me I had to keep my shoes clean. My sister named one of her daughters Rutha Deem Tracy for Uncle Deem. We thought a lot of him I guess because he was a part of our family for so many years.

I do not remember when section lines were laid out nor do I remember when we did not have them. All of the streets and roads were dirt. The first paved streets, actually brick streets, that I remember were First and Main Street. When we lived at 302 North Frisco, we had apricot and various other fruit trees. Mother said that some of the notorious outlaws who had hideouts in Indian Territory, such as Henry Starr and the Dalton brothers, would stop and buy fruit from our family and, if I happened to be playing in the yard, they would sometimes pick me up thus frightening her.

Mother and Dad had a piano when I was born. One day, when I was very young, Mother and I were out in the yard. She was visiting with a neighbor when sounds from the piano were heard. This frightened us and Mother asked a man if he would go in and see who was in the house. As it turned out, it was only the cat walking up and down the keyboard.

In the early 1900's, Dad decided to fence this property. He was digging holes for the fence posts while my friend Joe Moran and I were playing in the yard. We were several yards behind where Dad was digging and Joe said, "Opal, plant me." He got into one of the fence post holes about waist deep and I pushed the dirt into the hole and stamped it down. When he decided he wanted to get out, we could not budge him and we had to get Dad to dig him out.

The fence had wide board rails and was painted white. We used to watch the circus go by to their tent grounds somewhere west of where we lived. They went west on Cameron. After watching the parade of animals and equipment parading to their destination, Uncle Deem took us to see the circus. The next day, Joe and I were playing under a quince tree near the fence and were talking about all of the things we had seen at the circus. The trapeze acts were, of course, high on the list. Joe said he could do all of those tricks so I asked him to show me over on the fence. He tried to turn a flip over the fence but promptly broke his nose.

"In those days, Owen Park, located near the old Roosevelt Junior High School, was a favorite place for Fourth of July celebrations and Bird Creek Falls, upstream of where the creek passes through Mohawk Park, was a popular place to go camp out and fish. Usually more than one family would go together on these trips. Travel was by horse and buggy and we usually stayed several days.

My brother Harry was sixteen years older than I and he and his friends went there often to hunt and fish. At home he had parties. They would string jack-o-lanterns with candles in them between the trees for lighting. If ice was available, they would freeze ice cream. There must have been a compressor of some kind which made the ice in order for us to have had ice cream in those days. Everyone wanted to give me ice cream at these parties. For a long time after, I couldn't stand to eat any.

My brother attended a school about Boulder and Cameron Streets and he would ride his white horse, Old Bill, to school and then turn him loose. Old Bill would come home and wait at the gate for Mother to let him in. Harry had trained Old Bill to buck when kicked in the flanks but, other than that, he was a very gentle horse and we loved him. Mother and Dad would lead him around and let me ride him. One day I talked Mother into letting me ride him alone around the block. Instead of going around the block, I rode out to the Goumaz's place and back. 

The Goumaz's were friends of the family. This obviously took longer than just going around the block and Mother was worried. However, my parents were in their forties when I was born and they were more prone to explaining why I shouldn't do things rather than to spankings and this is how I was corrected. Here I must say that God was very kind in giving me such loving and understanding parents.

In 1902 we went back to Ridgefarm, Illinois to visit relatives. This was quite a trip in those days. This was the year that Dad got the deed to lots one and six of block thirteen, 302 North Frisco. This deed was signed by Pleasant Porter, principal chief of the Creek Nation. They misspelled Dad's name as Kenn instead of Kern, but it didn't seem to matter. The deed showed that the total price paid was nineteen dollars for the two lots. 

The deed was delayed as property owned by whites had to go through the Creek government. A town site commission was not appointed until 1901 and the Creek Nation did not ratify an agreement until that year. Also, the plat of the town was not approved by the secretary of the interior until 1902. A later paper dated January 1903, shows that for seven dollars and thirty-five cents, representing fifteen percent of the total cost, Dad got title to lots two, three, four and five of block thirteen."

Dad was a charter member of the First International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge in Tulsa. He was always active in politics and civic affairs. In addition, he built many homes and buildings in and around Tulsa. Some of these will be mentioned in later chapters. Dad was also on the committee which selected the site for Oaklawn Cemetery at eleventh and Peoria Streets. I remember his saying that some folks were concerned about the location being so far out and some expressed fear that the coffins might slide out of the wagons when they went up the hill to cross the tracks.

When I started to school my first year, I went to Northside school. The name Northside was later changed to Sequoyah. I used to walk with my sister from 302 North Frisco to the school, which was located on Boston between Easton and Fairview, and usually there were other children along. One day I found a quarter on the way to school but my sister and her friend Alice Goumaz talked me out of it. 

They bought five cents worth of candy at a small lunch stand, gave me a piece of candy and sent me on to school. They decided to skip school and, of course, I was late. Dick Goumaz, Alice's older brother, was the school custodian. He was waiting outside when I arrived and wanted to know where the girls were. I told him the story and then went on to class. When I arrived in class, the teacher asked me the same question and I told her the same story, but she made me stand in the corner.

I was always afraid of that teacher. When I was in the first grade and it was my turn to read, for some reason I would start at the end of the sentence and read it backward. The teacher got so upset with me that she got down to my eye level and told me to read again. Looking her in the eye, I panicked and again started at the end of the sentence. She slapped me on the face, putting more fear into me. To this day, when I think of her, I can only see those eyes looking into mine and feel the slap. Time passes though and we were growing up. My brother had taken a job building oil derricks in Kiefer and we were just a short time away from becoming a state.

Reproduced by 
Kathie Harrison
Ancestral Whispers
Copyright 2012 
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