Mrs. Ike C. Renfro
|Renfro, Mrs. I. C.
Field Worker: John F. Daugherty
Date: March 11, 1938
On April the 22nd, 1889, Ike and some other men from our neighborhood were at the line along with thousands of others. Three other men were on race horses. Ike rode a mule. The shot resounded at twelve o'clock noon, and the great race was on. Our bunch had already selected their claims where Oklahoma City now stands, and they made a run for them. They had agreed among themselves that they would not get on to another person's claim, even though someone else had gotten theirs. When they arrived the claims were clear, except Billie Couch's Whose claim was staked by a man from Kansas, named Adams, who had beaten him to it. Billie was much disappointed but told Adams that if he would agree to it, there was enough land for them both, and said that he was willing to let Adams remain without a contest. Adams agreed to share the claim with Billie. They were located about where Eighth Street is now in Oklahoma City. They both went to work and made dugouts. A few months later, Billie decided to fence his part of the claim and Adams shot him through the knee. This caused lockjaw and Billie died before he saw this new Territory improved and transformed into farms and cities. Adams was sent to prison for a few years. Everybody in the country for miles came to Billie's funeral in wagons. He was buried on the first anniversary of the opening. The church where the funeral was held was too small to accommodate the crowd, so people all sat in their wagons around the church, and the services were held outside. His body was laid to rest on his claim, about fifty yards from his dugout.
Our claim was tow and a half miles east of Oklahoma City in the bend of the North Canadian River. We used water out of the river. I didn't come until the September after the opening. I stayed at home and canned a year's supply of of fruits and vegetables so that we could have something to eat until we could raise a crop. When we first arrived on our claim, we built a brush arbor. This was where we lived until we built a dugout which was dug into the ground about three feet, and above the ground we laid three or four logs which made the top part of our wells. The top was covered with pine lumber. The way we got this lumber was queer. Two or three people were claiming the lot at Robinson and Main Streets. One of them was a friend of Ike's. One day he built a small frame building on this lot, and that night it was torn down and hauled away. The next day another claimant built a frame building and that night Ike's friend tore his building down and the lumber was brought to our place. It was from this lumber that we made the roof for our dugout and later a floor. We put native cottonwood boards over the cracks and before long they warped and curled until the rain poured into the dugout. Of every three drops of rain that fell, two of them came inside. Many a night I have sat up holding a parasol over the lamp. My daughter was three years old. I would put her in bed and spread oil cloth over her and the bed to keep them dry. The sand storms were terrible. Many a time we had to keep a plate partly turned over a plate of food while we were eating to keep the food from being covered with sand.
We made a fire in the corner of the dugout. Three boards were left off the top for an opening to carry the smoke out of the dugout. I cooked on this with a skillet and lid. We didn't have much to eat. Meat was scarce and high. We had very little money. We had brought a dozen chickens with us from Kansas. These furnished about a dozen eggs each week which I sold at the White and Wyatt Grocery for 25 cents a dozen. I bought beans with my eggs each week. We didn't have any cows. Everybody who had brought cows from the north lost them during the first year with tick fever. A neighbor had a cow which we called a "Cherokee cow", because she was brought from someone in the Cherokee Nation. She gave about a pint of milk at each milking. Each Sunday this good neighbor would give us a pint of milk. That was the best milk we ever tasted.
We had no shortening and we made sour dough biscuits. The men tried to tell us women how to make them but we didn't make a success of them. sometimes my biscuits would be black and sometimes green, other times they were of a yellow hue. But never good. How I longed for milk and shortening so that I could furnish good bread for my family to eat. Each Sunday several families gathered at somebody's home to spend the day. Each family brought its own biscuits and such an array of bread. There were all colors, sizes and shapes and none of them looked eatable.
We enjoyed those Sunday gatherings. Places to go were not numerous. The first operahouse was on Grand and Robinson Streets. It was here that they held court. When a trial was in progress people came for miles to spend the day listening to the trial and visiting among the neighbors. I remember how excited we were over the Hank Cunningham trial. hank was a friend of ours. One day some drunken Indians stopped a man and his wife as they were driving west from Oklahoma City. They began talking to the woman in a very insulting manner. Hank happened to ride up at that time and a fight ensued. The husband of the woman was killed and the Indians said that Hank killed him. Hank was arrested and tried but was found not guilty and we were happy over his release.
I did the shopping for all of my neighbors. They all had more children than I and I could easily leave my one child with them while I took the wagon and a gentle team and went to town. The sidewalks were built wagon high and we would drive up to the sidewalk and step from the wagon onto the walk. I have seen Main Street so muddy that I couldn't walk across it. If I wanted to go to the opposite side I had to drive across. It was axle deep in mud and water. The stores were all between the present Robinson Street and Broadway. The first Lion's Store was located where the Kress store now stands. The first post office was at the east end of Main Street about where the Santa Fe Railroad now runs.
When the Canadian River rose there was no way for those living on the opposite side to get to Oklahoma City. so my husband, Ike, his brother and two neighbors cut poles and made a pole toll bridge a short distance below the ford. They charged each wagon 10 cents for crossing. Many times several wagons would come as far as the bridge and each man would pay his part of the told for one wagon. This one wagon went to market for the group. Sometimes some of the drivers of the other wagons would get into this wagon and in that way some saved the expense of a toll charge. Ike and his neighbors thought they were getting along nicely with their toll bridge when one night in April a heavy rain fell. The next morning when they went to look at the bridge it was gone. They found it near Choctaw City. They built it back as soon as possible and after that it was guarded to keep the driftwood from taking it out during high water.
The second year after the run, we had a picnic on the fourth of July, seven miles north of Oklahoma City. There was a large crowd. They built a platform and had speeches by the most prominent citizens. The women tried to sing "Star Spangled Banner", "America" and other patriotic songs but that part was a failure. Nobody could lead the singing and that part of the program was not so good. That night, lanterns were hung around the grove on trees and a big dance took place on the platform. That was a memorable day for all of the pioneers. The first Democratic caucus in Oklahoma County was held on our street about 1891. There was one paper published in Oklahoma City and John Porter was one of the employees in this printing office. He was the leader in this meeting. Charlie C. ?? was elected and nominated and later elected the first sheriff of Oklahoma County.
When the Pottawatomie County opened, Ike made the run and got a lot ?????. We built a small home there and I put in a hat shop in a small frame building in town.
One day two women came in and bought two hats. They cost about $8.00 and when the two women paid for the hats, they handed me the entire amount in quarters. I was very suspicious and when I questioned the women, they said that they had been running a lemonade stand at a picnic recently and had gotten these quarters in that way. As soon as they went out the door I ran into a Racket Store next door with my pocket full of quarters. The clerks in the Racket store examined the quarters and decided that they were counterfeit. The manager rushed to the bank where it was discovered my fears were correct. When one of the quarters broke in two pieces. I rushed to the square where the court house was located just as these women were going into a livery stable and told the sheriff what had happened and he sent me to my shop while he arrested the women. When the women came back, they were both in tears, saying that they hadn't known that the money was counterfeit but I took them into a back room and made them undress and and dimes, quarters and half dollars fell from their clothing and I was convinced that we had found a bunch of counterfeiters. They were kept in jail and five men were arrested in connection with their gang. We had to take them to Oklahoma City for trial in the Federal Court under Judge Scott. It took all day to make the trip. They were convicted and sent to the penitentiary. Thus I broke up a band of counterfeiters.
I had always wanted to make a run but Ike always left me at home, until the opening of the Cherokee Strip, when I made up my mind that I wouldn't be left at home this time. I had an Indian pony and a side saddle. I practiced running for days before the opening. We camped near Stillwater for two or three days and at last the great day dawned. I was very excited over my venture. I had already picked a location which I intended to stake. Ike was on a race horse. I was on my pony and there was an immense crowd on the line. When the shot was fired we were off. At last my desire was being filled. I ran to the spot which I had selected but a soldier told me that that place was the square, so I stopped across from there and jumped off my horse, staking my claim for a lot. I took the saddle off my horse and laid it down. I was the possessor of a lot in the Perry townsite. That night I slept on my lot with my saddle as a pillow. The next morning I awoke, tired and hungry. The dust was flowing till I couldn't see any distance. Ike managed to get a tent up for me to stay in. sometime during that day a man came along and offered me $500.00 for my claim. I was thoroughly disgusted by this place so I sold out to him, gladly. Ike sold his lot for $600.00 and we returned to Tecumseh where I continued to operate my hat shop until 1901 when we moved to Sulphur in Murray County. We have lived there continuously since that time.
Transcribed by Brenda Choate and Dennis Muncrief, February, 2001.