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.