The Good Old Days

Chronicler of the Times — George Norris who moved to Oklahoma Territory in 1892 has been a writer who has devoted much time to setting down on paper the events of bygone times. He constantly is recalling incidents and boosting a worthy cause in his column in the Daily Ardmoreite.
Chronicler of the Times — George Norris who moved to Oklahoma Territory in 1892 has been a writer who has devoted much time to setting down on paper the events of bygone times. He constantly is recalling incidents and boosting a worthy cause in his column in the Daily Ardmoreite.

On Sept. 1, 1955, a letter was written to Sam Blackburn, editor of the Daily Ardmoreite. Most of it is printed here because it gives a concise eyewitness account of the last century and the way that particular eyewitness feels about “the good old days” in relation to the present and future.

I was quite interested in an article appearing in your column a few days ago. You pictured a boy, I believe six years of age, looking out on a world which he had no part in making, and wearing a sort of sad expression resulting from the terrible situation in which he found himself.

This incident caused my thinking to revert back to another six-year-old boy who, with his family, moved to Ardmore, Indian Territory, in the month of November, 1889, and to the world in which he found himself at that time.

He looked out upon a world which had no public school system. There were a few subscription schools in Ardmore, but none in the country. Most of the teachers were well qualified, in that all of them could read and write, and some of them had some idea of mathematics, most being able to add, subtract, and multiply. At any rate, the greater part of the people were illiterate and thought they had no need for an education. As I remember it, there were no churches whatever, although almost immediately after our arrival the Southern Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, and the Cumberland Presbyterians commenced the erection of churches.

There were no bridges… no paved sidewalks or roads. As a matter of fact, in the year 1907, at the time of statehood, a trip to what is now Ringling, and was then Cornish, required the opening of 12 gates. The roads were only passable in dry weather, and then the dust was almost suffocating.

But to get back to 1889. We had no telephones, no electric lights, no gas, no sewers, no scavengers, except the hogs which ran hither and yon, up hill and down dale, and over the streets, alleys, and yards that were not fenced. Naturally, we had no radios, no televisions, no automobiles, very few sewing machines, no bathtubs, no water except from individual wells and cisterns. No milkmen, and many, many other things we take for granted in this great world of ours were totally lacking in 1889.

A few of the things we had then were fleas, lice, bedbugs, and malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox, diphtheria, and other diseases which have since been mastered and entirely or almost entirely obliterated.

Other things we had were wooden walks, some high, some low, some wide, some narrow; we had gunfights, killings, thievery, robbery, and other crimes in profusion. We had child labor. Our women did their washing with, at most, a washboard, their ironing with a sadiron; they swept the house with a broom, if they had one; they cleaned their lamps after the rest of the family had retired. They cooked over a hot cookstove if they had one, and if not, they cooked in a pot in the yard.

We had an apple and a banana at Christmas time, and in season we had vegetables, peaches, grapes, blackberries, and dewberries. No one thought of having tomatoes, green beans, peas, corn, okra, and such vegetables the year around. And of course, the thought of fruit out of season was unheard of. For you know we had no refrigerators, very little ice, and no way of preserving perishable fruits and vegetables…

When I look out and see what the people of my lifetime have provided for the six-year-old of today, I feel proud that I have been a part, although a very, very small part of it. Need I recount the principal items: schools, churches, beautiful homes, wonderful stores that bring the merchandise of the world to the feet of the people in as small a city as Ardmore; food from the whole world, every day, in perfect condition, and in quantity. Paved roads, paved streets, paved walks, transportation such as the boy of 1889 could not even dream of, opportunities for service such as were unknown in the 1800s.

When I finished business college, I went in search of employment. I got it, but I got no salary with it. I worked two months for nothing, and then I received $15 per month. After some time, I obtained new employment at $400 a year, and when I married in 1906, I was receiving the munificent salary of $100 per month, and there were not too many who could match it. Ordinary workers, when they could get work, were paid 10 cents an hour, or a dollar a day for 10 hours’ work. Those were the good old days.

Another vast difference between 1955 and 1889: The 1955 budget of the Community Chest for the city of Ardmore alone was fixed the other day at some $63,000 and that it will be raised I have no doubt. I venture the opinion that the entire territory that is now the State of Oklahoma could not and would not have raised $5,000 for benevolent and charitable purposes in the year 1889.

Oh, but it is said that the people were so much better in those days. It is true, the women wore long skirts. It is true there were no automobiles to park along the highways. It is also true that an area from three to four blocks wide, and reaching from the south side of Main Street beginning at the Santa Fe tracks and extending to the easternmost limits of the city was occupied by houses of prostitution. The criminal courts, after they were finally established at Ardmore in 1893, were busy all the time. The jail was filled to capacity practically all the time.

It is true the women went to church regularly, but the greater part of the men felt it was sissy for them to do so, and they stayed away in droves. In this connection, I noticed in some responsible publication just a few months ago that the churches of the United States have the greatest number of members, percentage-wise, they have had in their entire history. Some people seem to think this is evidence we are being taken over by the Devil. To me, it is evidence the Spirit of Christ is working in the people to a degree never before known. Men are not ashamed to go to church. The school children of today are able to take charge of, and conduct a religious service that is entertaining, instructive, spiritual, and elevating to a high degree. We hear a great deal about juvenile delinquents. We had them in the good old days, but we did not have youngsters who could and would go into our pulpits such as is done today.

I envy the youngster of today, as the world of electricity, uranium, and other forces are opening up before him, having at his command schools that are able and anxious to open the doors to the wonders that lie before him. May God guide and direct him as he reaches out to attain the heights that are accessible to him.

Respectfully, J. E. Williams

Post Office at Ardmore in 1895
Post Office at Ardmore in 1895


The history of Carter County : a pictorial history of Carter County, covering both the old and new, Fort Worth, Texas : University Supply and Equipment, 1957.

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