Primary Source: "Oklahoma" (HCC - The Atlantic, September 1900)

Oklahoma (Helen Churchill Candee) - The Atlantic Monthly, September 1900.  {Slightly Edited for School Use}

Helen Churchill Candee was a writer partly by gifting and partly by circumstance. Originally from an upper-middle class Connecticut family, she found herself in an unhappy marriage with two children and limited options according to the laws and customs of the time. She came to Oklahoma Territory around 1890 to take advantage of the relative ease of obtaining a divorce there. She began writing articles about life in the territory, demonstrating great insight and empathy alongside the sorts of factual information people were interested in ‘back home’. Over the course of her career she wrote about a wide variety of topics just as successfully – too many articles to count, and seven books, including a single novel, An Oklahoma Romance. A woman of untold talents and experiences, she is today nevertheless best-remembered for her erudite recollections as a survivor of the Titanic. 

“I notice you’re going to Oklahoma…”

The traveler returning to Oklahoma after two or three years’ absence is made aware of a great change that has come over the territory long before the confines of the territory are reached. While still hundreds of miles away, the mere fact of carrying a ticket to Guthrie or Oklahoma City makes one an object of interest and speculation, but in a different way from formerly. 

There is nothing to absorb the eye outside the car window on the long ride south from Topeka, so fellow passengers fall to observing one another and guessing as to the purpose which takes this one and that abroad. The conductor’s cry of “Tickets!” is always an event, and a very interesting event if he reads aloud, as he frequently does, from a passenger’s slip the name of a town in the territory. A curious silence is sure to follow, and later the holder of the ticket realized why. One and another of his fellow travelers will speak to him, probably about the ventilation of the car, or the probability of quail on the supper table at Arkansas City, or other topic of common interest; but no matter what the talk, or how it begins, it leads quickly to Oklahoma,—so quickly, that sometimes almost before the time of day is passed comes the inevitable and tentative, “I notice you’re going to Oklahoma.”

Four or five years ago such a suggestion would have been resented, as in those days it was better to suppress the inquirer and imply that, although your way lay southward, your destination was nothing short of a Texas or Gulf town. Why as this? Because in those early experimental days the territory was in ill repute, and some evasion of the law was a frequent motive in seeking its hospitality. To enter as a transient during the five years succeeding the Run was to invite suspicion as to motives, unless a drummer’s1 sample trunk or a valise obviously technical advertised a different sort of sinister intent. 

“No questions asked,” was the unwritten law of society in the earlier days, and this inducement attracted many who had a past to forget; therefore those who entered were looked at speculatively, but silently, by fellow travelers. But now it is different. “Oklahoma? I have a brother there who has the finest wheat farm in the Southwest.” “I’m getting out at the next station, but I wish I had the chance to go to the territory and try my luck. Everything is booming there; they say you can’t help making money.” “If you are going to Perry, you must know a friend of mine who took two hundred dollars down there and has turned it over and over in loans until now he’s actually rich.” This is the sort of thing that is now said on the trains that glide along through the prairies and over deep-cut streams to what was the promised, but is now the possessed land. Prairies I mention from old-time habit, but they are a thing of the past, except in the Western grazing districts, and the long Cherokee strip which caps the Texas Panhandle. 

It is disconcerting, perhaps even annoying, to be called upon to make over ideas concerning a place, but that is what every one must do about Oklahoma. The blossoming prairies of spring, the waving prairies of summer, and the rich mahogany-red prairies of autumn and winter are metamorphosed, turned to profitable wheatfields. Long cross-country rides with the sun as clock and compass, and shaded ravines as resting places, are an impossibility, for every farm is “wired up,” and the rider must perforce regulate his goings and comings by the uncompromising directness of the section line. “Where do you live?” asks one of another. “Three miles south, two west, and ten south.” “How shall I get to Kingfisher?” asks one in the saddle. “Take the next section line west, and straight on for twenty-eight miles.” This truly utilitarian system is liked by purely practical folk not seeking diversion and desiring to go by the most direct line from place to place, but the transplanted Easterner sighs for a curve or two, or an angle, even, that is not a right angle.

An Unusual Birth

Another reason why Oklahoma piques the interest is, that almost every one remembers the unique way in which it sprang into being as a land for civilized men, and yet only those who actually took part in the Run remember its excitement and its injustices. First the land was bought from the Indians and surveyed in a plaid of mile-square sections with stones or blazed trees to mark the corners. Then the militia swept the country of every unofficial being, and, the government having duly advertised the date of this grand gift distribution, somebody fired a pistol into the air at the time selected, and nearly one hundred thousand desperate, greedy folk burst through the boundaries and ran for prizes. 

They had come from distances near and far, and had camped for days near the border with a saddle horse, a buggy, or a farm wagon and team, and for hours before the signal, had stood in line restrained by the militia. In that mad race brute strength, selfishness, and blind disregard of others were what won. If a racer’s horse fell, others rode over him; if a neighbor lost a wheel, so much the better; if women or the aged were not strong enough to keep the pace, then there were fewer in the race. 

But a modern Cadmus2 must have been about directly before the opening, for where no men had been the night before, men appeared as if by magic. None knows how long they had lain concealed in the wooded cracks of the earth, locally known as draws, for those who know will never tell. “No man sleepin’ in the draws dare stretch his foot out the night before the Run,” explained one with knowledge of those early days, “for fear he’d touch another feller.” These were the fraudulent “sooners,” some of whom were ousted, while others quietly acquired possessions with smiles of self-congratulation. 

Of course it was not the intention of a beneficent government to set its people quarrelling and to involve them in years of litigation, but could any other condition result? Not one man alone, but two, three, and sometimes as many as seven, claimed ownership of a quarter-section, the precious one hundred and sixty acres that was apportioned as a claim. Each man declared his right, and so the notices of claim contest were filed almost simultaneously with homestead entry. The bitter meaning of this was that very often a man’s nearest neighbor was his hated enemy, for as neither contestant would acknowledge his error and move on, and as there were no longer any desirable claims unoccupied, both or all the contestants erected dwellings and lived on the land. 

What happened? For a year or two it was a common thing to hear that a farmer living “three miles west and one mile south,” had been shot at twilight or dark by a person unknown. If the man was a bachelor, or lived a bachelor’s life alone on a claim, and the murderer was undiscovered, the other contestants had a fair chance of securing the claim. If the dead man left relatives, sometimes the family tired of the slow way of the courts, and there was another twilight shooting. The very lightest trouble was years of expensive litigation as the contestants knocked at the door of one court after another until they reached the ear of the Secretary of the Interior at Washington. 

Reputation vs. Reality

All this made rough tales of the early days, as the times of ten years ago are now called, but those things are past, for claim contests are for the most part settled, and prosperity has warmed men’s hearts and turned their thoughts from the two-edged sword of revenge. Blood has been spilled in private internal wars at Oklahoma, but the territory of to-day is a tame place for those whose appetite demands border ruffianism. 

In the East, preconceived notions of the district prevail, and these all have to do with rough characters who clank their spurs and inordinately indulge in “tin-roof cocktails,” when not “holding up” trains, and all of them are known by terror-inspiring names. Slaughter Kid, Zip Wyatt, the Dalton boys who claimed kin with the James brothers and rivaled them in lawlessness, are all veritable characters, and are greatly beloved by those who warm up to reminiscent tales when the chair is tilted back, the hat brim tilted forward, and duty can be postponed until to-morrow. But marshals and deputy marshals were as reckless of life as the desperadoes, and fled after them toward the Indian country, where the rogues usually found safe asylum. Until prosperity brought higher ideals of amusing diversion, the public appetite for pleasure fed on the escapades of the desperado. 

It was not more than four years ago that one of the bravest of deputy marshals captured a well-known outlaw while he was innocently “having a shave” at a barber’s. The capture was tame, but an amusement-starved public rose to magnify it. The territory, to a man, felt the thrill of brotherhood with the outlaw, and, kicking the world of moral conventionality like a ball before their feet, they greeted and fêted3 the captured outlaw with public rejoicing, regretting deeply the necessity of taking him at the last to a hotel which harbors only guests of evil reputation at the territory’s expense. A year or two later, this noted outlaw was brought to town in the piteous garb of death, run down after an escape, and again the spirit of diverting excitement claimed its own, and demanded a public exhibition of the man’s body. The feeling prevailed that with the passing of Bill Dalton the territory had lost its own peculiar and legitimate diversion which made small boys thrill and men “swap yarns.” 

As well look for the typical desperado within sound of the happy village chime4 as to look for him in the latter-day  civilization of Oklahoma. He simply does not exist. When he flourished, there was also that other band of men, more reckless than he, and braver, because backed by right, the deputy marshals, to whom is due the honor of having rid that country from as dangerous a class of men as ever preyed on others. When Theodore Roosevelt organized the Rough Riders, some of his earliest volunteers were from among these same deputy marshals, who were full tired of lounging about in a country of peace and plenty. They languished for excitement, and there being none at home, went abroad for it, still with the right behind them. Bill Tighlman of Chandler, who has made famous captures, but who is modest and shy to self-extinction in company, was among the first to go, and by some error of the press was reported killed at San Juan. 

Another invincible was Heck Thomas, whose life has been made of danger bravely faced. “Our day is gone; there’s no more work for the deputy marshal,” he says, with the sweet and melancholy lingering on vowel sounds that characterizes the Southern speech. Equipped for the pursuit, he was a thrilling sight, two yards of supple strength furnished like an armory, and swaying easily on a swift-footed mount. Now he lives in urban ease in a comfortable cottage, on the interest of various ransoms. But alas for picturesqueness, he is more absorbed in his garden than in border life, and like all men to whom danger seems the normal state is too modest to tell the story of his life, a tale that would make a writer famous for three generations. 

From Potential to Prosperity 

The very young, the repeatedly unsuccessful, and the incompetent, these are the three classes to which crowded centres show no mercy; and these are the three classes which fled to Oklahoma for a last chance at Fortune’s favors. It is America’s peculiar talent to convert European peasants into intelligent citizens. It is Oklahoma’s peculiar talent and special pride to make self-respecting, prosperous men of almost desperate ne’er-do-weels5.  

The territory is now a garden of quarter-sections, each farm containing a farmhouse of the modern pattern, that is, like a suburban cottage, large barns for storing grain and hay and sheltering cattle, with enough windmills to shadow Holland. The hundred and sixty acres which at first was more than a man could handle is now too small for his ambitions, and we hear of farms of four quarters where others’ claims have been bought and added, sales of claims being allowable after five years’ residence and “proving up.”6 Claims make farms, not cities, and the homesteader of every class was obliged to turn farmer; therefore, the life blood of Oklahoma is the farm. It is perforce an agricultural territory.

Its cities are made by the necessities of the farm folk, and will be until large enough to become manufacturing centres. The prosperity of towns and cities bears directly on the prosperity of the farm, and reflects it. If a storm rages to the entire obliteration of a street fair, which a town has been weeks in preparing, the people say cheerfully, “Never mind, it will help the farmers and save the fall wheat,”7 for without crops there would be no money, and that condition would be a painful reminder of the early days. There were very hard times for four or five years after the opening. 

It could not very well be otherwise, with all this horde of moneyless people trying to coax fortunes out of the ground and to convert their produce into horses, clothing, and groceries. In those days, the apothecary accepted a fowl for his table in place of a bottle of cough syrup, and the dealer in hardware took feed for his horses in exchange for cook stoves. Many farmers who staked claims had never been on a farm before,—had been clerks, mechanics, city workers. Besides this, they were unacquainted with soil and climate, and every crop, save Indian corn, was experimental. 

Pretty nearly every claim had the misery and expense of a contest8, and there followed several seasons of discouraging drought. This brought terrible reminder of the defeat in western Kansas whence so many of Oklahoma’s settlers had come. They wondered if this too was to be a graveyard of dead hopes. In those dark days of struggle there were many who would have given up, had such a course been possible, but they were held to their bargain by want of means to escape, and out of their desperation grew one of the most phenomenal successes of our country. In ten years this people, who started with nothing, showed $43,000,000 of taxable property. This, as every taxpayer knows, represents only one half or two thirds the actual amount, for who is going to tell all to the assessor?

Choosing Crops / Poetic Cotton 

Four years ago the brave settlers of the territory began to smile. Rain then appeared with sufficient frequency to suit every sort of crop, and the results were even beyond the dreams of farmers. The experiments of the government agricultural station at Stillwater had helped the farmers in deciding what to plant, and new crops are assured and strong. Those who like to discover springs of human action can see here other influences that lead to decisions. The climate is temperate, suitable for the crops of both North and South. How is each farmer’s crop determined? Mainly by the locality from which he came. If he migrated from the North, he plants wheat; from the West, he plants corn; and from the South, he plants cotton, alfalfa, and castor beans. And all these things, and many more, grow luxuriantly side by side. 

Why does the cotton crop of ’99 fall below that of the preceding year? For one of those human reasons that lighten the numerical dullness of statistics. The difference between 140,000 bales in ’90 and 90,000 bales in ’99 is attributable entirely to the indifference of the picker. The despised and humble “fiel’ han’” of slavery days is responsible for this enormous falling off. 

The negro, who abounds in Oklahoma, is the natural cotton picker, for he loves the work and declares with an opulence of tone, “Hit’s des’ de putties’ plant dey is,” as he plucks the foamy white from the horny boll. But here is where racial peculiarities come in; the negro laborer9 is an individual of short and optimistic views; he picks the first yield of the cotton fields with a light heart and a light purse, but directly the purse is filled, he tosses his cap over a windmill and lives with inconsequent joy on the money he has amassed. Neither prudence nor wisdom can conspire to make him work again until the last cent has been two days spent, and actual hunger has him in its clutches. 

Meantime, the next yield of cotton has matured, wide fields of green bolls have burst like mammoth pop corn, and the beautiful fruit lies chaste and lovely under the smiling sky. Then comes a drenching, devastating storm of three days or a week, when the red mud splashes up to the highest bolls, and the farmer endures the agony of seeing his profit cut short by the destruction of his crop,—all because the negro will only work on an empty stomach. 

Another reason for the diminished cotton crop is that laborers are paid seventy cents a hundredweight for picking, and the payment of this wage diminishes the farmer’s profit. The lucky cotton planter is he whose house is full of children, and who turns them loose in the cotton patch with their mother as overseer. Then the cotton picking wage is conserved within the family, and the labor becomes a domestic diversion, like dish-washing or sewing. 

Cotton will not, however, continue a decreasing crop, for it is of too great value in the territory. The trustworthy laborer is sure to appear in course of time. The bales are all shipped to outside ports, so the money they bring adds that much to the territory’s wealth. Five million dollars was received for the crop of 1898, all of which poured into Oklahoma for its enrichment, some of the cotton being sent to Liverpool and Japan by way of the Gulf ports. The residuum of cotton gins is of great local value. From the seeds oil is made, and this has caused the erection of large mills. The refuse is good fodder for cattle, and thus cotton helps the cattle-fattening industry. Cotton is bound to be a large and permanent crop in Oklahoma, notwithstanding the improvidence of the negro field hand. 

All You Can Wheat

There are no tramps, no unemployed, in this land which overflows with prosperity. There is more work to do than people to do it, and farmers are clamorous for help. Four families to each square mile is not a large allowance for agriculture. In the wheat districts the Eastern eye notes the result of this at once in the mammoth slovenly stacks of straw which stand like uneven yellow mountains all through the fields of young green wheat, and in the massive machines for threshing which are left in the open for need of hands to build a shelter. “Shiftless,” is the first impatient comment; but think a moment if this is just. 

There are not enough laborers to keep things prudently tidy. Wheat is not grown in Oklahoma as in other districts. The soil is fresh and unexhausted, and is used year after year with no preparation except rather crude tillage. Fertilizers? They laugh down there at the idea that farmers try to live in countries where such an expense is necessary. And so, when the wheat waxes yellow over their hundred and sixty acres, they attack it with reapers and binders, and feed it to the mammoth thresher which stands in the open to save labor. 

And so grows a mountain of straw, and the thresher moves on a few hundred feet and piles another mountain, and again and again, until the vast plain is metamorphosed. Then, before the straw can be moved or the machinery housed, tillage begins again and the fields are replanted, so that October will smile like spring in its diaphanous10 green mantle of sprouting wheat. Thus the process goes on year after year, and even though labor is scarce, Oklahoma is becoming one of the most important wheat-raising districts, twenty million bushels being the yield at the last harvest, and thirty-five million bushels prophesied for this season. 

Kingfisher has the honor of being the largest primary wheat market in the United States, one million bushels having been shipped from there this year. Dollar wheat11 started prosperity in Oklahoma, is the declaration of those who claim to know. It certainly was responsible for many individual changes, especially among farmers. When they first built shelters to live in – they could not be called houses – they used whatever was at hand: logs, sod, or even a hold in the ground, called a dugout. But the year succeeding dollar wheat was followed by a crop of fine houses, and how one never gets too far out on the prairies to see lace curtains fluttering from the farmer’s windows, or to hear the sound of a piano on the breeze. 

Buggies vs. Bicycles 

As recently as three years ago, the farmers still used as their only vehicle the big springless box wagons which agriculture demands, and in which many of them had made the Run. They are cumbersome affairs, and require a stout team to draw them, and if the produce to be taken to market fifteen miles away was a pot of butter and a basket of eggs, the chariot and the expenditure of force seemed overlarge. So with better times came a desire for a light carriage for light work. One who observes closely noticed fourteen buggies on one Saturday afternoon, towed by fourteen happy farmers in farm wagons, going homeward over one prairie approach to Guthrie. 

A difference is noticeable, too, in the smaller shopping. During the first discouraging years privation was the rule. In the wagons that rumbled homeward after a day in the market town were one or two poor little packages of groceries rattling forlornly about in the vast wooden square. Peep into those wagons now, and there will be seen bundles from the drygoods shops, luxuries from the markets, large framed pictures tenderly packed against the jolts, and showy pieces of furniture. But, best of all, the faces of the farmer and his family tell the story of prosperity and independence. 

In the towns, the story of progress is told another way. Those who originally had no carriages now have several, and as for bicycles12, they are considered too unfashionable for any but negroes. At flower parades, which are a usual autumn pageant, as brave a showing of vehicles is made as could be found anywhere away from the large cities of the Union. 

“Travelers”

There is one part of the population that travels on wheels which changes not with prosperity, but this class only deserves notice because there is so little left of human picturesqueness in the territory. Travelers, they call themselves, and only the stranger notices their presence at all, although several strings of their wagons can be seen any day on the prairie roads, lingering within the towns or camping by a stream. 

Their vehicles are the box wagons of the farmer arched over with bows of hickory to support a canvas top,—the “schooner” of the emigrant. Where they are going no one knows or cares, not even the drifting family itself. The lines of wagons and live stock look like the emigrant trains of Indian days bound for some promised land; but with less definite purpose, these people wander on, gypsy-like, year after year, objectless, mildly predatory, but, to judge from their faces, unspeakable wretched. 

An old woman seems to be part of each outfit, two or three desultory men of unguessable age, a younger woman, and a horde of children, curious and unwashed. A stranger one day fell to talking with one of these families as they were camping for dinner, and on learning that the group had been on the move for ten years, realized that the three children must have been born in a state of migration. As a matter of curiosity, he asked the places of their nativity. “Well,” said the father ruminatively, “Johnny, he’s a Studebaker; Jimmie, he’s a Mitchell; and Emma, she’s a South Bend.” He counted residence by wagons, not places. Most of Oklahoma settlers emigrated twice before reaching this land of plenty, but the people of whom I now speak have acquired a moving habit, and only the grave itself will insure permanence. 

Growth of Railroads & Cattle

Railroads are supposed to develop a country,—are often built for that purpose. In Oklahoma we see the uncommon condition of the country maturing ahead of the railroad, so that now four trunk lines are tumbling over one another in the race to secure desirable rights of way. The Sana Fe system threw a tentacle across the territory while the Indians were still in possession, and brought thousands of settlers and boomers at the opening,—with a time allowance for those who came afoot or on horseback. Now this road is uniting with the Rock Island to ramify13 Oklahoma with branches, and to make it accessible from east and west, thus putting it in easy touch with the Middle and Southern states and California. 

Handling the wheat and cotton crops is an important matter for the railroads. Corn is mainly shipped “on the hoof,” to use the Western stockman’s term. The farmer finds that corn yields him a far higher price per bushel if it is converted into “hawgs,” as he calls the black swine of the fields, so he breeds the best of Poland chinas14, fattens them inordinately on his corn crop, and sells his produce in animate form, to the aggregate number of two hundred and twenty-eight thousand a year for the territory. Thus, although the real yield of corn for this year reached the astonishing figure of seventy-five million bushels, a large amount of the crop was for home consumption. 

The increase of railroad facilities is acting two ways: it is moving the vast crops with such facility that growers can easily dispose of their products, thus raising local prices for home-grown necessities and luxuries. It also tends to lower the price of manufactured goods which are shipped in. Naturally, there are but few manufactories as yet in the territory, and these only for the purpose of converting crops into more convenient shape for shipment, as cotton gins, presses, and oil mills. 

Except in its western reaches, Oklahoma is not a grazing country, yet Governor Barnes’s last report gives the figure of eight hundred and fifty thousand as the number of cattle raised in the territory. Oklahoma is a fertile ground for new ideas, and adopted the new theory of cattle raising almost before the East had learned of it. According to the old theory, cattle were left on the range from calfhood to maturity, leading a precarious life, often succumbing to drought and blizzard, and those who endured the suffering were sent to be fattened in smaller inclosures. Poor wrecks they were, many of them, and repulsive to contemplate, if the March grass was late in springing. 

Why let the cattle get in such a condition? asked some one, and so the plan was changed. Cattle are raised in small herds of twenty or thirty, grazing partly on native grass, but mainly on Kaffir corn15, cornstalks, and other “roughness.” Shelters are built for stormy weather, and each steer is known to its owner and cared for. In this way a steer has no period of starvation, is always fat and healthy, and is ready for market as soon as grown. Packers express a signal preference for this sort of beef. And this is the way the Oklahoma farmers raise their million head of cattle. 

Cost of Living

There is no need to go to Europe for cheap living while Oklahoma exists. Distance from the large markets makes it the ideal place for housekeepers with a slender purse. All home-grown foods of a perishable nature can be had for refreshingly low prices. Some of these I quote that I may make heads of Eastern families groan with envy. Watermelons, notwithstanding that several hundred freight cars of this juicy fruit roll northward to Kansas City, can be bought at any time from July to cold weather for five cents each, and these of a size and sweetness unsurpassed. Muskmelons, delicious as nectar, are five cents a dozen, although these, too, are sent away liberally in carloads. Spring chickens are twenty-five cents a pair; sweetbreads, ten and fifteen cents; beef and lamb, fifteen cents a pound. Grapes – alas, this luscious crop is nearly given away – one cent a pound for the best. The reason for this humble price attached to so fine a fruit is that the crop matures and is in its prime during the heat of August, and shipment is impossible except in refrigerator cars which are too expensive. And so the whole population revels in delicious juice. Some attempt is being made to convert it into wine, but the liquid is not yet for the connoisseur. 

In March the whole land is abloom with fragrant pink. This is the promise of June and July peaches. They come in rich abundance and of a size rivalling the California fruit, while in flavour they far surpass those of the older state. When they become known in the East, there will be loud clamoring for them, and Oklahoma housekeepers will notice with regret an upward tendency in price. However, almost every one has a few peach trees tucked in around the house. Added to cheap provisions is low rent, although at present there is said not to be a house in the market for renting at Guthrie or Oklahoma City, so great is the demand. Yet, when there are houses to be had, comfortable ones are obtainable at from ten to twenty-five dollars a month. 

Hard coal is as great a luxury in Oklahoma as English cannel16 is in seaports, but within the territory are mines of soft coal, and this sells at about five dollars a ton. The other cheap fuel is wood, which brings about three or four dollars a cord. Servants are cheap in both quality and wage; but I have already proved that a dollar brings more in Oklahoma than elsewhere. 

Community Growth

Five years after the opening the principal towns were firmly established, not on “boom” principles, but illustrating a permanent and steady growth. Five years from the time that the land was unbroken prairie, there were two cities of ten thousand inhabitants each, and in these towns a man could live in as great comfort as anywhere in the West. Houses were comfortable and were furnished with luxuries, lighted by electricity, and supplied with city water. Daily papers served the day’s news, local, domestic, and foreign; large brick schoolhouses harboured industrious children, and all promised well. Now, ten years after the opening of the original Oklahoma, the promises are more than fulfilled, and men can find there a better chance for success in farming or commercial interests than they can in any other state of which I have knowledge.

Public spirit there is not merely an altruistic fancy, but a real actuating17 motive. The men of the town may not have been boys together, as they come from every state in the Union, but they have had mutual experiences of hardship and its prosperous outcome, so are bound together with close ties. If public misfortune occurs, they are quick to succor18 the needy. One year a cyclone devastated Chandler, and a flood washed away hundreds of negro shacks in Guthrie. At each calamity the Guthrie Club raised in a few hours sums of money reaching the thousands for the alleviation of suffering, and this was while poverty was still a present experience with nearly every member of the humane organization.

Oklahoma originally took its politics from Kansas. But when a man is engaged in garnering phenomenal crops or in lending money at eight and ten per cent, he is too pleasantly occupied to concern himself about free silver19 or Populism20. In the early days of hardship, Mary Lease21 made pilgrimages to the territory to sow firebrands22 for the discontented, and incidentally to reap dollars for herself, preaching the doctrine of “raising less corn and more hell.” Her appearance was accompanied by a buncombe23 parade of men and girls in scarlet raiment, headed by a weak attempt at a street band, but even then she only attracted the idle and ignorant. Now, her doctrines would be either hissed or hooted, for folk find in their own full purses the remedy for discontent22. 

What are the chances now for those who want a share of this golden land, this place where poverty turns to riches, where civilization’s failures may be made conspicuous successes, where schools, colleges, and churches abound, where high ideals of social life prevail, and where one cannot help, except through idleness or vice, growing richer year by year? Desirable farms for agriculture are all absorbed, but some are for sale at about sixteen hundred dollars a quarter-section of one hundred and sixty acres. When the farm is more conveniently located, and has permanent improvements in the way of fruit trees and buildings, such a quarter-section may be bought for twenty-five hundred dollars or thereabouts. 

There are abandoned farms here, as in New England,—but that is often the fault of inefficient farming, although western Oklahoma presents the same condition as Kansas,—the western portions suffer for lack of rain. In the western part of the Cherokee strip, north of the Texas Panhandle, are six million acres of land still open to homesteaders, but this is only good for grazing cattle and the thirty-six thousand sheep of which it boasts, and for raising Kaffir corn and other roughness23,—to give fodder its Western name. 

Oklahoma, the land of prosperity, sunshine, and brotherly love, has a thorn in its side. That cause of pain and irritation is the failure of her sister states—and especially of those in the East—to recognize the truth concerning her. They prefer tales of outlawry and border ruffianism to stories of successful agriculture, and are inclined to shut their ears to all stories save those that thrill the imagination. It is in the hope of securing justice for those who have accomplished in ten years what men of other states have taken fifty in doing, that I have made this humble attempt to influence public opinion in regard to Oklahoma, a place of unprecedented opportunity to both worker and investor. 

Footnotes:

1. “drummers” here refers to traveling salesmen of various sorts – out to “drum up” business.  

2. Cadmus was a figure in Greek mythology who, while searching for his lost sister, Europe, was encouraged by an Oracle to follow a cow instead and ended up founding the rather impressive city of Thebes. Candee is humorously suggesting a similar miraculous occurrence before explaining how “sooners” cheated their way into instant townships. 

3. fêted – celebrated; literally refers to lavish outdoor festivals of celebration, but here is used more colloquially 

4. village chime – church bells; close enough to hear church bells would be in town, among civilization, with implications of peacefulness and Sunday-type thinking and doing

5. ne’er-do-weels – an older spelling of “ne’er-do-wells”; an idle or useless person, with implications of shady behaviour

6. “proving up” – the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed homesteaders to claim 160 acres (roughly a quarter square mile) by paying a small fee, living on the land for five years, and showing improvements – crops, fencing, house, etc. The goal was to discourage speculation and encourage actual homesteading. Once title was secure, the homesteader could do with his land as he wished, just like any other property.

7. fall wheat – several types of wheat are planted in the fall to be harvested the following spring. Usually called ‘winter wheat’. 

8. contest – here used to mean general struggle or hardship, not an organized competition 

9. the negro laborer – Candee’s portrayal here reflects the racism of her time. Even recognizing that, however, she seems to go above and beyond in her caricaturization – the extreme dialect, the hyperbole regarding his respite until truly desperate, etc. Given her other writings and extensive travel and knowledge of the world, one wonders if she believed such things or was simply catering to the prejudices of her day. Either way, it’s disappointing to read. 

10. diaphanous – light, delicate, translucent; literally accurate, but Candee is also being poetic

11. dollar wheat – it was unusual for wheat to go as high as a dollar a bushel; when that happened, it was totes yay. 

12. bicycles – this attitude towards bicycles would have been quite non-representative of the rest of the country. “Safety Bicycles,” the kind most of us picture today with wheels of equal size and a chain drive, were relatively new and all the rage at this time. Except in Oklahoma Territory, apparently.

13. ramify – to form branches or spread out; ‘ramifications,’ for example, are the offshoots or spreading results of a choice or action

14. Poland chinas - a breed of domestic pig known for their particularly large size.

15. kaffir corn – sorghum, a hearty variety of corn resistant to drought and often used for animal fodder (‘roughness’), converted into alcohol, or boiled into sorghum molasses – a thick, sweet syrup. It could of course also be used for people food. ‘Kaffir’ refers to the corn’s origins in Africa, but over time became something of an ethnic slur. While used inoffensively here, it’s no longer considered appropriate. 

16. cannel – a smooth, hard coal found in England which was easy to light, burned with an unusually bright flame, and left little residue. 

17. actuating – motivating, pushing into action

18. succor – comfort, aid 

19. free silver – part of the populist movement of the late 19th century, ‘free silver’ referred to bimetallism – essentially putting more money into circulation by minting both gold and silver coins, and/or backing up paper money with silver as well as gold. This would lower the value of each dollar and thus assists the less prosperous – especially those in debt, such as many farmers in the Midwest. 

20. Populism – a political movement in the late 19th century largely driven by farmers. Increased productivity led to lower prices, while banks, railroads, and others seemed to profit immensely by their struggles. The Populists wanted a graduated income tax, more government regulation (or even ownership) of banks, railroads, telegraphs, etc., and more money in circulation (see ‘free silver’ above). 

21. Mary Lease – Lease was involved in a number of movements, including temperance and women’s suffrage, but was best known as a fiery lecturer on behalf of the Populist party. She travelled around encouraging farmers to get involved politically for mutual benefit. The bit about growing less corn refers to basic economics – the more there is of something, the lower the price. By cooperating, farmers could be more intentional about how much product they brought to market and have some control over profitability (think OPEC). 

22. ‘the remedy for discontent’ – this is one of several passages in which it’s difficult to tell whether Candee is pandering (which would be out of character, based on many of her other writings), whether she might be falling prey to her own biases (we all do sometimes), or whether these mindsets and attitudes were in fact common in Oklahoma Territory at the time of her writing. 

23. roughness – see Footnote 15

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