Wednesday, May 20, 2015

1911 Oklahoma Aviation Firsts

Muskogee’s 1911 Free State Fair was the scene of several firsts in Oklahoma’s aviation history. 

The story begins with the Muskogee Commercial Club, the forerunner of today’s Chamber of Commerce.  The club contracted with the Curtiss Aeroplane Company to send a biplane to the fair.  The Curtiss aircraft, a Model D, had a single propeller in the back.  This “pusher” plane was scheduled to make at least three afternoon flights each day during the fair, Oct. 9 - 14.

Originally, Hugh Robinson was to be the pilot, but the company at the last minute sent their youngest pilot, Beckwith Havens.  He probably arrived by train and was able to make at least one flight Monday afternoon, the first day of the fair.  The “paddock,” i.e., the center of the race track on the fairgrounds, was used for the landing field.

Miss Olive Adair, the society reporter for the Muskogee Daily Phoenix, interviewed Havens.  She learned that “Becky,” as he was called, was 21 years old, having just the previous May received his pilot’s license.  She learned that he had already survived several crashes.  Miss Adair said she found Havens to be “one of the best” pilots flying. 

After asking about several of his exciting adventures, Olive asked if Becky would take her for a ride as a passenger.  This posed a problem with Havens because his aircraft only had one seat: the pilot’s.  He agreed provided the weather remained calm.

Between flights the next day, Havens and his assistants improvised a second seat for a passenger.  Then late on Tuesday afternoon, after he had already flown the contracted three flights for the day, Havens decided to make a trial flight to test the new seat before he took Olive aloft.   Being cautious, Havens asked his second assistant, “Tommy,” to ride in the new passenger seat located slightly to the right and behind the pilot’s seat.  Olive had come prepared to be the first passenger, but had to watch as Havens took off without her.  Tommy thereby became the first passenger to fly in the state.

The flight did not go well.  The engine ran rough after ignition.  The Curtiss bi-plane started down the paddock ground gradually gaining speed.  Then it rose slowly into the air.  The test flight was expected to be a short one because all flights were less than a half hour in length.

After circling over the fairgrounds a time or two, Havens set a course that took him and his mechanic away from town.  When Havens failed to reappear at the fairgrounds watchers became concerned that there had been a crash.  Tom Smith, president of a real estate firm, offered to go looking for the plane in his automobile.  With Smith at the wheel, searchers found Havens and the mechanic in the middle of a country road.

Havens had flown southwest to the Muskogee Oil Field where he buzzed an oil derrick and then over a pool of oil.  The engine misfiring got worse, probably because of water mixed in the gasoline.  Finally, Havens was forced to land two miles south of Muskogee.  He barely missed a fence in the process.

When the search party arrived, Havens was about to take off again to return to the fairgrounds.  The approaching darkness prompted the searchers to urge the pilot to wait for daylight.  A tarpaulin to cover the plane was brought out from the fairgrounds and a guard was posted for the night.

Havens made no additional attempts to carry a passenger during the fair.  There are two possible reasons.  The passenger seat may have proved to be unsafe.  Or else, the aircraft did not have enough lifting capacity for safely carrying passengers.

Earlier that same Tuesday, the Phoenix newspaper office received a phone call from a man at the fairgrounds who said he was an aviator.  Leonard W. Bonney had arrived in town in a Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway boxcar with a Wright Brothers biplane he called “Miss Cheyenne.”  Bonney and his plane had arrived uninvited, but the Commercial Club welcomed it at the fair.

Bonney’s arrival produced another “first” in Oklahoma aviation during the fair.  There were now two “heavier-than-air” planes in one location in Oklahoma and later there would be two in the air at the same time as well.  This resulted in the state’s first aviation “meet” occurring.

Interestingly, Cal Rodgers was expected to arrive during fair week.  Like Bonney, he was flying a Wright Brothers plane.  His arrival would have also resulted in the state’s first meet.  Unfortunately, Rodgers in his “Vin Fiz” airplane was delayed.  He arrived the week after the fair ended.

During the next four days, both the Curtiss plane and the Wright Brothers aircraft gave exhibition flights that demonstrated their respective strengths.  Havens’ plane was lighter and smaller than the Wright Brothers.  Because the Curtiss plane was more advanced in design, it made sharper turns and flew higher.

The Wright Brothers started selling their improved Model B twin propeller, pusher biplane in 1910.  The new plane was big enough to now have two seats facing forward with the pilot sitting in the left seat, a practice that continues today.  In design, the plane resembled the original Kitty Hawk flier.  Bonney made more gliding descents.  The bigger wings of the Wright Brothers airplane allowed for slower flights.

The spectators were amazed in seeing machines flying in the sky overhead.  Some of the younger fair attendees went so far as to lie on the ground so that they would not miss a moment of the aerial shows.

Wednesday was the day a bet was won.  While riding to the fairgrounds, A. J. Emery, a Food Service Inspector from the Oklahoma Health Department, said that he wished he could fly.  Hyman Otto Tener, an Oklahoma City lawyer, overheard his fellow passenger’s comment and bet $100 that the 219 pound state employee wouldn’t or couldn’t fly.

Bonney in the larger Wright Brothers plane was willing to give Emery a ride but there are only a few brief references to the flight.  Emery likely had a short flight, apparently without any problems.  Thus, Emery became Oklahoma’s second passenger to fly.

The paddock area had been crowded throughout the fair because it was also the location of a four-story diving platform and a twelve foot deep half-barrel of water.  Space was also taken up by two large tents that covered the planes at night.  The area in the center of the race track was constantly a beehive of activity as diving men, women and a horse jumped off the high platform.  Race officials started and clocked horse races.  All the while mechanics refueled and worked on the two airplanes before pushing them into position for takeoff.

On Saturday, after several horse races before noon, the attention shifted to aviation.  Bonney took off in the “Miss Cheyenne” at least three times that afternoon.  Two men had agreed to fly as passengers with Bonney.  But, when it came time to sit down in the passenger seat, both got cold feet and suffered some good natured kidding.

Two young women reporters wanted to fly.  Miss Adair had already tried to fly with Havens.  Miss Kathryn Hull of the Muskogee Times-Democrat newspaper also wanted to go flying.  In order to be fair as to who flew first, Bonney took a coin out of his pocket and flipped it into the air.  Kathryn Hull won the coin toss and took the passenger seat beside Bonney.  The Wright Brothers plane rose to a low altitude, probably about 500 feet, for a couple circuits around the fairgrounds.

This 18 year-old, slender brunette became the first woman to fly in Oklahoma. Only at the last minute did her mother learn of her daughter’s escapade.  She also became the first newspaper reporter to fly.

After Miss Hull landed, Miss Adair produced a bottle of Mumm's Champagne, and despite the fact that the fairground was situated on Indian land where it was illegal to have liquor, broke the bottle on the foot rail of the biplane.  She christened the Miss Cheyenne.  Bonney then took her on a flight establishing her as the second female passenger and the second reporter in the state to fly.

Bonney was not finished hauling passengers.  On one last flight, he took a Mrs. W. L. Goodycoontz aloft.  Little is reported about this passenger other than she was a resident of Williams, AZ and was in town visiting friends.  She was Oklahoma’s fifth passenger.

The Three Rivers Museum has two photos of the Wright Brothers biplane at the fair.  In one, Bonney is shown alone in the plane as he is taking off, kicking up dust in the paddock.  The second photo shows him sitting aboard the “Miss Cheyenne” with Miss Kathryn Hull as a passenger while a mechanic is posed to spin a propeller to start the motor.[i]

[i] Checotah [OK] Times,Oct. 13, 1911, p. 1, c. 3
Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 15, 1911, p. 4
Daily Oklahoman, Oct. 22, 1911, p. 1, c. 5
Ft Gibson [OK] New Era,Oct. 19, 1911, p. 1, c. 1
Muskogee Daily Phoenix,Oct. 11, 1911, p. 1, c. 5
Muskogee County Republican, Oct. 19, 1911, p. 4, c. 1
Muskogee Times-Democrat, Oct. 7, 1911, p. 1, c. 4
Muskogee Times-Democrat, Oct. 9, 1911, p. 1, c. 1
Muskogee Times-Democrat, Oct. 10, 1911, p. 8, c. 2
Muskogee Times-Democrat, Oct. 11, 1911, p. 1, c. 5
Muskogee Times-Democrat,Oct. 12, 1911, p. 5, c. 1
Muskogee Times-Democrat,Oct. 17, 1911, p. 5, c. 3
Muskogee Times-Democrat,Oct. 19, 1911, p. 5, c. 3
Shawnee [OK] News,Oct. 12, 1911, p. 1, c. 3
Three Rivers Museum.  The Barney Williams Collection.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Plowing behind a Mule?

My neighbor grew up in Pennsylvania.  We were talking the other day and he bet that he was the last person in Muskogee who knew how to harness a mule for plowing.  I doubted the fact, but thought I would check to see if anyone else in the area knew how to hitch a mule to a plow.

The last mule I saw pulling a plow was south of Magnolia Arkansas about 1966.  Has anyone seen a farmer plowing behind a mule since then?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Picnicking at Spring Creek

Pictured here are picnickers who have just gotten out of the passenger cars for a day of relaxation.  They are employees of the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf railroad, a short-line transportation company based in Muskogee.
The occasion was the summer picnic at Spring Creek, a train stop about twenty-five miles north of the home office on the way to Miami.  In the early 1920’s, the KO&G ran excursion trains twice a day around July 4th to Miami and back so that individuals and families could have a break from the summer heat.  The fare to Spring Creek cost between a dollar and $1.13 per person.
At the Spring Creek stop, there was no depot.  The shed on the left provided some relief from the elements.  For the railroad, there was a wooden water tank and trestle across the creek that offered cool spring water brimming with fish.
One of the railroad employees was Mary Beulah Hannah who took her camera along for capturing for posterity the gaiety of the occasion.  She eventually became the Administrative Assistant to the railroad president.  In that capacity, she oversaw the payroll, often signing the paychecks in her own name.

Mary was Kevin Hannah’s aunt.  He has loaned his aunt’s photos to the Three Rivers Museum for digital preservation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

WPA School Construction

By Marjorie Barton
and Wally Waits

From 1935 until 1943 a work-relief program known as Work Projects Administration (WPA) changed the face of Muskogee County and put hundreds to work in what became known as the Great Depression.  Only if you have been nationwide or researched the topic can you realize that Muskogee County had a similar number of projects as other like-sized populations in the United States.  That such a variety of jobs secured national approval and was completed is “mind-boggling.”

Building schools was only one type of WPA project, but Oklahoma excelled in that category.  Schools were built in all sizes, including one-room schoolhouses, and many are a part of the WPA accomplishments.  Throughout the WPA era, there was a focus on stopping the drop in school attendance.  The Great Depression was a time when some families were sending their children to dilapidated schoolhouses.

In the 1930s, there were about 100 school districts in Muskogee County.  Each district had its own schoolhouse.  During the decade of financial stress, the county had little money for school maintenance.

This is where the WPA helped.  One “make work” project in the county was the construction of sixteen one-room schools to be built in rural Muskogee County.  In these cases, it appears that the schoolhouse were being replaced.  In other cases, the school building was structurally sound, but was fast approaching the point of needing major repairs unless action was quickly taken.

Many of the surviving WPA school buildings are made of stone, or was encased in a stone exterior.   Local material, when available, was used because it was more “labor intensive.”

Here are the schools in Muskogee County where WPA work occurred:

Brushy Mountain
Buck Horn
Council Hill
Elm Grove
Fort Gibson High School
Heff School
Hickory Ridge
Lone Star
New Hope
Oak Grove
Popes Chapel
Pumpkin Center
Sally Brown
Sunny Slope
Webbers Falls Junior/Senior High School

Although the WPA was “reorganized” in 1939 into the Federal Works Agency.  the new governmental structure continued to function pretty much as the WPA had.  Inside the entrance at the Alice Robertson school in Muskogee is a plaque indicating the presence of the Federal Works Agency.   As the Indian Bowl stadium was a WPA project in Muskogee, likewise, many of the schools listed had Gym/Auditorium or a stadium built.

Some schools were also upgraded with better “outhouses” or sometimes, indoor plumbing.  Another frequent aid to school districts was that of building a “teacher cottage” to provide housing.  A few schools saw the construction of houses for administrators and teachers.  Rural schools had a difficult time attracting teachers, unless there was a place to live.

Many of the listed school buildings are still in use, though not always as schools.  Homes, community or senior centers, and churches have taken advantage of the soundly constructed buildings.

It is significant to note that Oklahoma built 825 schools, far outnumbering other states.  Another 175 additions were WPA projects for schools already in acceptable condition.  No other state came close to building the number of schools that Oklahoma WPA produced, and Muskogee County received its fair share.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Frozen Rock Notes

During the Civil War, Confederate troops fled across the ford at Frozen Rock in an effort to flee Union forces then making a drive to retake Fort Gibson.  Two dozen bodies of Rebel soldiers were found dotting the ridge at the end of hostilities.

A year after the end of the war, a Saint Louis book[1] reported that Frozen Rock was six times as likely to be a steamboat destination as was heading for Fort Gibson.  Merchants were advised that Frozen Rock was located 714 miles above the mouth of the Arkansas River on the Mississippi.

[1] Annual Statement of the Trade and Commerce of Saint Louis for the Year 1865.  By Merchants' Exchange of St. Louis, p. 17.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Local Dentist Was War Hero

The US Congress declared war on Germany and their allies on 6 Apr 1917.  Ten days later, Dr. Otto L. H. Hine volunteered for military service.  This was almost exactly two years since he passed the Oklahoma licensing examination and began practicing dentistry in Muskogee.

His volunteering effort sent him to Oklahoma City where he took an oral exam and passed.  Shortly afterwards, he was sworn in as a First Lieutenant in the US Army’s Dental Corps Reserves.

In the middle of July he was drafted into active duty.  He spent the rest of 1917 in uniform awaiting orders for debarkation for the European Theater.  He served in the Second Battalion, 139th Infantry.

This is Lt. Hine in a more peaceful moment.  However, the war in France was a brutal one of attrition as each side tried to wear its opponent down to the point that they gave up.  Trench warfare caused horrendous losses on both side.  The infusion of American soldiers shifted the balance of power to the British-French-American side.

No Man’s Land existed between the trenches.  When the whistle blew to send GI’s out of their trenches, and “over the top” into No Man’s Land, they entered a zone that was raked by machine gun fire and exploding artillery shells. 

Naturally, chaos regularly ensued as soldiers tried to avoid being killed while advancing forward.  One time, Lt. Hine became lost.  Another time he found himself in the vanguard of the attack and he captured 32 German soldiers.

On September 29th, this Muskogee dentist followed the advancing 139th Infantry into No Man’s Land.   He was assigned supervision of a field first aid station located at Chaudron Farm.  There wounded soldiers received basic treatment before being sent to hospitals behind the front line.

Finding German resistance to be too great, American troops were withdrawn in this area leaving only 25 American infantrymen to protect the aid station. This aid station with 94 wounded soldiers happened to be very far forward and soon became the focus of German gunners.

At great personal risk, Lt. Hine returned through No Man’s Land to American trenches about 2:00 in the morning of the second day.  Reporting the danger wounded American soldiers faced, he requested artillery fire from the 129th Field Artillery to prevent the Germans from overrunning the aid station.  Otto returned to the forward aid station, again having traversed the deadly terrain called “No Man’s Land.”

The American artillery barrage to suppress the Germans lasted nine hours.  It took that long to carry those wounded soldiers back to the American trenches.

Lt. Otto Hine’s account of these events became a footnote in Jay McIlvaine Lee’s 1920 history of his service during the war.  But to the men whose lives he saved, Lt. Hine was their hero who deserved more than a reference at the bottom of a page.

In July, 1919, the US Army agreed with these wounded men and awarded Capt. Otto Hine the Distinguished Service Cross.  The DSC is given to soldiers who at great personal risk in combat, performed gallantly.  It is ranked next under the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Dr. Otto Hine returned to Muskogee.  Two and a half years after volunteering for service, he restarted his dental practice.  He was Dr. Ted Hine’s father.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Muskogee's Auto Tourist Camp


 by Glenn Smith, Muskogee, OK

Muskogee's Auto Tourist Camp
  In the earliest days of long distance travel by automobile, motorists who ventured very far from home faced a problem at the end of the day: where to spend the night? Hotels were expensive and inconveniently located in downtown business districts, and after a hard day's drive few motorists were comfortable traipsing across stuffy hotel lobbies in their road-worn touring clothes. Pitching a tent out along the road was soon perceived by many to be a better alternative.
     As autocamping rapidly increased in favor after 1915, many communities along the major highways, hoping to lure motorists and their dollars, built municipal camps and made them available at no, or for a modest charge. Road associations also touted the many public tourist camps on their favored routes. In 1923, for instance, the Jefferson Highway Association published a "tourist camp manual" describing the features of over one hundred municipal camp sites that had been especially built for the accommodation of travelers on the Jefferson Highway.
 One of the largest and best appointed tourist camps listed in the JHA manual was the camp at Muskogee, Oklahoma. Built in 1921 by the Muskogee Kiwanis Club in Spaulding Park at the then-hefty cost of $3,000, the Muskogee camp could accommodate 200 cars and provided a screened building containg electric lights, twelve gas plates for cooking, and four large tables and benches for dining.  Other crucial amenities provided for campers included sinks with running water and bathrooms containing toilets and showers. A pond was available for swimming during the summer months, and band concerts held in the park provided free entertainment.
     Muskogee's tourist camp was an immediate big hit with motorists, one of whom--Frank M. Smith of Dallas, Texas--described his favorable impressions in a 1921 letter: "When we reached the park we hesitated to go in as the lawn and everything about it was so well-kept we thought we must have made a mistake. In a few minutes, however, an officer approached us and invited us in.  We were directed to a large building where we found bathrooms, reading and rest rooms, and also a place to cook meals. A registration fee of 25 cents is charged for each car utilizing the camp. There were probably 50 cars in the park the night we spent there. We found Muskogee highly praised during our trip and every tourist had a good word for the city on account of the excellent arrangements made for their comfort."

View of the Camp from across the 'pond' in 2013.
      According to a Muskogee Times-Democrat article, as of July 15, 1922, over 1,400 tourists had already stayed at the Spaulding Park camp during that season, a big increase over the previous year's total.  Noting that the camp's users came from all over the U.S., the article concluded that "the univeral lure of the open road and purring motor is best attested by the diversity of the people who make this outdoor camp their temporary haven." Within only a few more years, however, most of those fetched by the "open road and purring motor" no longer cared to put up a tent at the end of a day, preferring instead the convenience of a tourist cabin.  In Muskogee and elsewhere in the U.S., most travelers very quickly abandoned municipal camps in favor of private cabin camps and, subsequently, tourist courts and motels.  By the mid-1930's, no fewer than eight private camps, all offering cabins, were in business in Muskogee.
     In the early 1930's, the Kiwanis Club gave the camp building to the Girl Scouts, who remodeled it and for many years used it as a meeting place and camping house.  Known as the "Little House," the building was recently remodeled again and, now in the care of the city's Park Department, can be rented for meetings and family gatherings. Although several historic buildings in Muskogee have been torn down, the "Little House" in Spaulding Park remains as a memento of the earliest days of motoring on the Jefferson Highway.