Early Muskogee, Oklahoma History

During the year 1871 the M., K. & T. Railroad, then called the Missouri Pacific, was built from Parsons, Kansas, to the Arkansas River, three miles north of the present site of Muskogee. Three months’ time was consumed by the construction company in building the bridges over the river, and in the meantime quite a colony was formed on the north side of the river—and such a colony ! The bridge builders, and other employees of the railroad company, excursionists, homeseekers, freighters with their teams of oxen, hucksters, boarding-house keepers, gamblers, liquor peddlers, and an array of loafers and outlaws—all living in tents and improvised shacks, waiting to get across the river and anxious to know where the railway company would locate the next town. Finally, on the first day of January, 1872, the bridge was completed and the railroad employees announced that they would locate their next station 11/2 miles south of the river. As rapidly as the cars could be loaded, the tents, shacks, stocks of groceries and household effects were moved to the new location and a still larger colony soon assembled at the new location. A frame depot was erected, streets were opened on the railroad’s right-of-way and fully 500 people stopped there, but stores, shops, boarding-houses, gamblers and bootleggers, were still housed in tents.

The new station was christened “Muskogee,” in honor of the Muskogee or Creek Tribe of Indians. Mr. E. L. Bracken, the present city weighmaster of Muskogee, is the only resident of the present Muskogee, who came across the river with that outfit. Mr. Bracken, at that time, was in the service of the Overland Transportation Company, whose business was that of hauling provisions, clothing and hardware from St. Louis to the forts and outposts of the Southwest in covered wagons drawn by oxen. These provision trains usually consisted of from 30 to 40 covered wagons, heavily loaded, with three yokes of oxen to each wagon. Upon opening up the restaurants and boarding-houses of the new town, it was noticed that the quality of the bread, meat, coffee and canned goods was much better than had been served on the north side of the river, and upon investigation it was disclosed that great quantities of Government provisions intended for the army forts, had been stolen during the rush and excitement of crossing the river. Deputy marshals from Fort Smith were sent for, to investigate the theft, and with the assistance of Mr. Bracken, it was found that two soldiers from Fort Gibson, who were guarding the provisions, disposed of a large quantity of them to some gamblers for a trifling sum of money. While exploring the new town, the deputies discovered that none of the merchants or restaurant-keepers had, as yet, secured any internal revenue license, and they proceeded to confiscate all the cigars and tobacco in the town, except those of one merchant, who, upon learning Of the raid upon the other stores, piled all of his boxes upon the floor and covered them with sides of bacon. For several days after the deputies left, he had a monopoly of the tobacco business. The deputy marshals arrested a few men for various offenses and on their return trip to Fort Smith, confiscated a wagon, mule team and a barrel of whisky.

Mr. Bracken, who accompanied them as an officer, reports that deputies and prisoners partook freely of the tobacco and liquor, and that the prisoners had such an enjoyable time, that none of them tried to escape.

Atkinson & Robb had the principal general store at this first town.. They will be remembered by old settlers, Mr. Robb later being identified with the Patterson Mercantile Company and known as one of the best and most progressive citizens of the young city of Muskogee. Joshua Ross, one of the pioneers of this country, and Bent Cobb, another old-timer, both of whom are still residents of Muskogee, sold goods there. After retaining its station at that point for about four months, the railroad officials decided that it was not a suitable location for a permanent station, as the road grade .was rather steep and the land sloped in but one . direction, rendering it difficult for trains to stop and start easily. They wanted a spot where the ground was practically level, gently sloping in both directions, and they found it at the present site of the M., K. & T. Station, and on the 12th day of April, 1872, all hands got busy and moved their provisions, tents and household goods 11/2 miles southward and the real Muskogee sprang into existence. The first tenements were tents and cheap shacks adjoining the right-of-way of the railroad on the east and west, all stores and shops facing the railroad. Doctor Cummings, Muskogee’s first physician, erected the first store building on the present site of the city. It was located on the west side of the railroad, midway between Broadway and Okmulgee Avenue, and was filled with a stock of drugs. Otto Zufall hauled the lumber for this building from a mill on the Arkansas River, nearly all of it being of good walnut stock. Walnut timber was plentiful in those days along the streams, but the farmers did not appreciate its value. Much of it was converted into fence posts and rails and it was known to be excellent fire-wood.

Atkinson & Robb moved their stock of general merchandise down from the temporary station and located on the southeast corner of Broadway and Main Street. George Elliott was the first postmaster and the first post office was in the rear end of the Atkinson-Robb store. The mail was not heavy and the accommodating postmaster would stand in the doorway and call to each passer-by who happened to be so fortunate as to receive a letter. Joshua Ross moved his general store down and located on the east side of the railroad. For many years it was known as the “Red Front.” Other stores which were soon established were those of J. A. Patterson, Parkinson & Kincaid, and W. L. Squires. Parkinson & Kincaid’s store was successively purchased by Kincaid & Hogg, A. B. Cass, W. A. Wade & Co., and within a few years became the property of J. L. Turner & Parkinson, who for many years were among the city’s leading merchants. Otto Zufall and his brother, George, located the first blacksmith shop on South Main Street and for many months they were probably the busiest men in Muskogee. The first eating-house was owned by John Porter, who established himself on the west side of the railroad, almost in the center of Broadway. The railroad moved its frame depot down to the new town and occupied it until it became necessary to construct a larger building. That original depot is now a part of the property of the Minnetonka Lumber Company, on East Okmulgee Avenue.

One among the very first important institutions located in the new city was Major J. A. Foreman’s mill which was erected on the east side, just north of the Katy viaduct. It ground wheat and corn and ginned cotton. Its motor-power was an immense windmill of thirty-two horsepower, resembling the famous windmills of Holland. For many years, the farmers, from every direction, hauled their products to the old windmill. James Mitchell started a restaurant east of the railroad on the south side of Broadway, and in 1873 built a two-story hotel on the site of the present M., K. & T. (Katy) Depot. For several years, until it was destroyed by fire, the Mitchell House was the largest hotel in Indian Territory.

Before Muskogee had completed its first year’s existence the water problem became a serious one. Charley Willy had a monopoly in the business of hauling water for the stores and homes, but his supply was too limited to meet the demands of the railroad. George W. Ingalls, the first United States agent for the Five Tribes, had his headquarters out at Agency Hill, two miles west of the depot. He felt that the merchants were not extending to him that degree of courtesy to which the dignity of his office entitled him, and decided that he would try to find a suitable source of water supply farther south and would ask the railroad to move its station down to his proposed new location. The consummation of his scheme would, of course, have meant the death-knell of Muskogee and. the merchants were fully aware of it. Ingalls made arrangements with some men to dig a deep well fifteen miles south, at the present site of Checotah. The excavation of this great well was vigilantly watched by the merchants, and when it reached the depth where water was beginning to seep in at the’ bottom, some enterprising Muskogeeans, whose identity the old pioneers have ever since refused to divulge, purchased a barrel of salt at Patterson’s store, hauled it down in the nighttime, quietly poured it in the new well and. returned to their homes to await further developments. When the Indian agent learned that his big well had struck salt water, his scheme of moving the agency headquarters from Muskogee was abandoned, and the citizens were thoroughly convinced of the efficacy of salt as a remedy, when properly applied, for it saved Muskogee’s life. But the excitement which this little affair caused put the merchants to thinking. It was plain to be seen that if they expected to build a town of any size, they must have an adequate supply of water for the railroad, and for the factories and shops which they hoped to secure. At that time, however, Muskogee had no municipal government, no officials, no authority to raise any funds by taxation.

When they needed any improvements of a public nature, they had to raise the money by voluntary contributions. After carefully canvassing the situation, it was finally decided to build an immense pond just north of the business section of the town. About two thousand dollars was contributed for this purpose and a pond was dug, covering about twenty acres, the center of which was three blocks north, about where the depot of the Kansas, Oklahoma & Gulf Railroad Co. is now located. For twenty-five years the “Katy Pond,” as it was named, was the sole source of water supply for public purposes, which the town had. As late as the year 1900 it was a customary sight to see scores of men, women and children sitting on-the bank of the pond, during Summer evenings, catching small cat-fish and perch.

Prior to 1874 each of the Five Civilized Tribes had its separate agency with a Federal official in charge. The Creek Agency was located at the base of Fern Mountain, three miles northwest of Muskogee. Long before Muskogee was started quite a settlement was built up around the old agency and several stores were located there. The first tavern in this section of the country was located there and was kept by Aunt Sarah Davis, an old colored woman weighing 250 pounds. Aunt Sarah’s tavern became quite a noted resort for she had’ the reputation of being an excellent cook and her tables were always overloaded with well-cooked victuals. Soon after Muskogee was located, Mr. J. A. Patterson persuaded Aunt Sarah to move to town, and built a tavern for her on North Main Street near the railroad which she continued to maintain until the building was destroyed by fire some years later.

Perhaps the first permanent residence built in Muskogee was the small cottage erected by Mr. D. N. Robb on the present site of the First National Bank, near the corner. of Broadway and Second Street. Mr. Robb’s youngest daughter, Jessie, now Mrs. Hobart, was the first white child born in Muskogee. Mr. Atkinson, Mr. Robb’s partner, erected the first two-story residence, on the lot now occupied by the Travelers’ Hotel. This building was afterward purchased by some well-to-do colored men and was converted into a colored school.

The first Masonic Lodge in Indian Territory was instituted out at the old Creek Agency, near Fern Mountain, about 1856 by John Barnwell, an Irishman; D. B. Whitlow, an intermarried Creek citizen; J. MAD. Coody, a Cherokee, and George W. Stidham and Col. D. N. McIntosh, Creek Indians. They secured a dispensation for organizing the lodge from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, at Little Rock, and when the Fern Mountain settlement was transferred to Muskogee, they moved their lodge to Eufaula, not being able to find a suitable lodge hall in Muskogee. While at Eufaula, however, it retained its original name of “Muskogee Lodge No. 1.”

While Muskogee was in its infancy the Presbyterians established the first church at the present site of the First Christian Church on the corner of Court and Fourth streets. This building was soon destroyed by fire and a new one erected on the northwest corner of Second Street and Okmulgee Avenue. Their first pastor was Rev. John Elliott, who was the father-in-law of Mr. Deming of the Deming Investment Co.

The first sermon, however, was delivered by Rev. Timothy Hill, a Presbyterian missionary, who spent a few days in Muskogee and started the organization of a church. The Methodists soon followed with the organization of a church, locating their building near the corner of Okmulgee Avenue and Cherokee Street.

After having had a separate Indian agent for each of the Five Tribes for nearly a half century, the Federal Government, in 1874, combined those offices into one Union Agency, with headquarters at Muskogee. This was the first important step taken toward insuring the future growth of Muskogee, for it practically made this city the capital of the Indian Territory. The citizens and officials of the Five Tribes, together with their attorneys and witnesses, all had to journey to Muskogee to transact their governmental business. George W. Ingalls, the first Union agent, was succeeded by Col. J. Q. Tuffts, an army officer. Then came Robt. L. Owen, now United States Senator, Dr. Leo E. Bennett, Major Dew M. Wisdom, J. Blair Schoenfelt and lastly Dana H. Kelsey. One of Mr. Robb’s daughters taught the first school in Muskogee, in a small house located near the southeast corner of Broadway and Fourth Street. A man by the name of Payne came down from, Kansas shortly afterward and started a little subscription school at the northeast corner of Okmulgee Avenue and Third Street. Both of these schools were short-lived and were followed by the Mission schools of the Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic denominations. Miss Alice Robertson organized a school for girls called the Minerva Home, which was succeeded by the Presbyterian School for Girls. A few years later Miss Robertson, assisted by a few benevolent Presbyterians, founded Henry Kendall College, which, for several years, was the leading educational institution of the city.

About 1878 Dr. Theo. F. Brewer, started a Methodist school, which became known as Harrell Institute. Dr. Brewer remained in charge of this school for eighteen years and resigned its presidency on May 26, 1896, and was succeeded by Rev. W. A. Thornton. Dr. Brewer was too deeply interested, however, in Christian educational work to remain out of the harness many months and he soon took charge of Willie Halsell College at Vinita, where he continued to make his influence felt as a leader and teacher of the highest standard. His ability as an educator was recognized after statehood by his appointment as a member of the first State Text-Book Commission and as a member of the State Board of Education.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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