First Muskogee Election

Prior to 1898, Muskogee had no municipal government of any kind. The town had just been incorporated and it now became necessary to elect some officials to transact the town’s business.

Here is an exact copy of the First Muskogee Election Notice to the Voters of the Incorporated Town of Muskogee Take Notice:

That the undersigned agents of the incorporated town of Muskogee, I. T. have appointed the
First Day of June, 1898, for the election of officers, said election to take place in the building recently occupied by Misses Hannan & Cobb as a millinery store and now moved on the East side of Lake Street and South of Masek’s tailor shop, at which time and place all bona-fide male residents of Muskogee, above the age of twenty-one, who have resided within the incorporation for six months next preceding the election will be qualified voters.

Officers to be elected:
One mayor, one recorder, five aldermen.
Witness our hands this 16th day of May, 1898.
S. B. Severs,
C. W. Turner,
W. E. Linton,
W. A. Maddin,
P. J. Byrne,
W. T. Hutchings,
Agents of the incorporated town of Muskogee, I. T.

At this election the following were the first city officials chosen:

Mayor, Patrick J. Byrne
Recorder, W. R. Shackelford
City attorney, J. G. Lieber
City treasurer, Geo. H. Williams
Councilmen, P. N. Blackstone, W. S. Harsha, A. W. Robb, F. B. Severs, and C. W. Turner.

The desire of the voters to eliminate politics from their city affairs was shown by the fact that Messrs. Byrne, Lieber, Williams, Blackstone and Severs were Democrats, and the others were Republicans.

These officials served without compensation except a meager allowance granted to the recorder and attorney, notwithstanding the fact that they had a laborious and responsible task ahead of them. A complete municipal government must be formed and funds provided for carrying it on. The officials, assisted by some of the public-spirited citizens, went to work energetically, and soon had mapped out a plan of city government and had prepared a code of city ordinances. A board of health was created, a police system organized, including a police court. The most serious difficulty which confronted them was that of raising sufficient revenue with which to meet the necessary running expenses of the city and to provide any of the many public improvements needed, for up to this time no taxes could be levied against town lots and many of the taxable buildings were of cheap construction, not warranting a high valuation for taxable purposes.

The new administration was just beginning to get the city’s affairs in fairly good shape and was formulating ambitious plans for the future when the destructive fire of February 23, 1899, occurred which laid in ashes almost the entire business section of the town. Remembering the handicaps—the embarrassing circumstances under which the officials and citizens were laboring, in their efforts to build a city it would seem that the sight of the smoldering remains of whole blocks of the, best part of the young city might have discouraged them from attempting to carry forward their plans, already formulated, but not so ; their misfortune seemed to strengthen their determination to go forward and to increase their activity in that direction. Some of the men who sustained the heaviest losses in the fire were first and foremost in their determination to build bigger and better buildings. One of the first steps taken in this direction was the formation of a good volunteer fire department which was supported in part by the city. Another step, intended to protect the future city against loss by fires, was the adoption of an ordinance which provided that no more frame buildings should be erected in the business section.

The Destructive Fire of 1899
At half past five o’clock on the morning of February 23, 1899, numerous pistol shots and the shrieking of the railroad engines aroused the denizens of Muskogee from their slumbers to witness. the most destructive fire in the history of the city. The fire originated in a cluster of three of four little, frame, Negro shacks located on the north side of Court Street, just opposite the new Federal Court building, now the Railway Exchange building. A cold, bracing wind was coming from the northwest and as the town had no fire protection, the flames spread rapidly toward the east and south. The first floor of the court building was damaged to some extent, but being one of the few brick buildings, it was saved. A frame hotel building owned by William Maim was the next to burn. From there the fire swept down Main Street, destroying all the buildings on both sides of the street, from Court Street to Broadway, and extending on eastward, the depot and Railway Hotel were reduced to ashes. The brick buildings of the First National Bank, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Main Street, -and of the Patterson Mercantile Company on the southeast corner, served to prevent the fire from extending south of Broadway. The principal buildings destroyed were the Maddin Hardware Co., Garrett building, Chandler’s Store, the new Turner block and Opera House, the Shackelford building, the Downing and Katy hotels, depot, freight house and telegraph office, including also quite a number of small buildings. The records of the Dawes Commission, the United States Indian Agent and Indian Inspector, which were located in the Turner block, were also destroyed. The new English block and the Patterson Mercantile Company’s brick building were badly scorched, but only slightly damaged. While the fire was raging at its worst, one citizen who had met with a slight loss, approached Clarence Turner, bewailing his misfortune. Mr. Turner, whose loss exceeded that of any other individual, coolly replied : “Yes, it seems pretty bad, but there are more goods where these came from.” Main Street, at that time, was the principal business street of the city, and while, to some, the loss seemed almost irreparable, yet, before the ashes of the ruins had scarcely cooled, the enterprising citizens began planning to build a bigger and better Muskogee.

Muskogee in 1900
The United States census report of 1900 credited Muskogee with a population of 4,254. At the beginning of the new century there were several two-story store buildings and the first two business blocks three-stories in height were being erected. At that time the Patterson Mercantile Co. employed thirty-eight people in its store arid cotton gin; the Turner Hardware Co. forty-three people; Harsha & Spaulding, thirty-eight; Maddin Hardware Co., twenty-five ; John Sanders, contractor, forty ; the Katy Railroad, eighty-five ; Dawes Commission eighty, and forty-six persons were employed in connection with the United States Court. A contract had just been awarded for the construction of the $150,000 water plant, the new Katy hotel and depot was completed and the City Council had just purchased the first steam engine for the volunteer fire department.

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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