WELCOME TO NOWATA COUNTY, OKGENWEB

 

 

 

Looking Back
by Allene Briggs Stevens
July 21, 2008


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At the beginning of the Oologah Lake project, there was a lot of controversy over what this would mean to our town of Nowata, Oklahoma and this whole area. Some people thought this would ruin Nowata in the years to come while others said, "This Lake will be the best thing that has ever happened. It will bring new people and business, and the town will prosper." Anyway, it was progress and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers had Highway 60, east of Nowata, raised above the proposed water level, and built a new bridge across the Verdigris River. They also made calls on the people who would have to sell their homes and property to the government and move out. There were many heavy hearts when people realized they would be forced to take their offer, move out, and watch the place they loved be covered with lake water.

 One small area affected by this lake brings a lot of memories to my mind, although it is hard to point out the exact spot after all the changes of these past few years. The water has covered it now, and all that’s left are the old trees and a few markers. There were cement steps with a footprint, but it’s under water now. Before the water covered it, my husband Bill and I went out and dug up some small trees and replanted them at our home. They are good memories for us.

The little crossroads grocery store and post office at Coody's Bluff stood five miles east of Nowata, at the intersection of Highway 60 and 28. Richard (Dick) and Kate (Dollie) Rodecape Briggs operated a small grocery business there during the thirties. They were forced out of business by people’s inability to pay their bills during the Depression, so Dick worked in several grocery stores in Nowata until 1940. At that time George Stanfill offered to re-stock the Coody's Bluff store as a joint operation with Dick Briggs, and Stanfill would continue to run his Nowata store. Later, the Coody’s Bluff Postal Service moved there, and Dick obtained the position of Postmaster with Dollie as his assistant. He also bought out Stanfill’s share of the store. He retained this position until retiring at the age of 70. Ruth Setzer obtained the Postmaster position then and the Briggs' continued running the store.

The Briggs' weren't newcomers to that area as they had operated a store in the old Henry Armstrong building in about 1919, and were there for a few years - it was half a mile north of the corner grocery and Post Office.  Briggs and Alex Cook went into business in the beginning, then Briggs bought Cook’s interest.  Dick and Dollie were my parents, and they got the idea to move down to the four corner spot and build a new store, so we moved to the Coody's Bluff corner in 1929. I was the youngest of their five children; the others were:  Eldon, Elma, Howard and June.  When the new store was completed, a play party and dance was held there, and I have been told that Dick was the life of the party.  I spent many happy hours in that store, and as I grew up business improved in the forties. I remember the look and smell of the store -- oranges were individually wrapped in crates that stood in the center of the store beside crates of big, juicy apples. A stalk of bananas hung at the end of one counter, waiting to be cut off with a long curved knife as the customer placed their order. Near the front door, on the east side of the store, stood several nail kegs full of nails, and the candy and gum case. The cash register was on the north end of the counter, and beans and brown sugar were stored in pull out bins where they were weighed and sold by the pound. In the back was the meat case and meat block. There were long rolls of bologna and other lunchmeats along with fresh meat. Nothing has ever equaled those huge rolls of aged longhorn cheese my Dad sold there. An old-fashioned paper holder and roll of string were mounted on the end of the counter to wrap the customer's selection. Some of the working men would come in and have Dad make them sandwiches and pack them a lunch.   On the west side, the pop case was under the front window, a crank telephone on the west wall, and shelves of canned food, cereals, and crackers lined that wall. Opposite this was a dry goods section with bolts of bright material. Tall wire baskets were placed around the store holding different items to draw the customer’s attention.

In the back southwest corner was the post office. There was a large roll top desk, tables for sorting the mail, and a wall of individual postal boxes to place the mail until people came to call for it at the mail window. The mailman came each morning with heavy, padlocked canvas bags full of mail. Dad unlocked the padlocks and dumped the mail on the sorting table. After he sorted out the area mail, he padlocked the bags again for the carrier to take on to other post offices.  I remember a few of the carriers were Mr. Bullock, Harry Sanders, Mary Sanders, Mr. Whitley, and Jewel Gregory. Jewel would often wear jodhpurs.

 Families often came to do their shopping late in the evening, and while the adults sat and caught up on visiting, the kids played outside. Many warm, summer evenings Dad would have a watermelon cooling in the bottom of the meat case waiting to be sliced on the back porch when the sun went down. Our house stood close on the east side of the store.  Sometimes, at night we would build a little bonfire and roast wieners. We had a dog and cat, and usually kept a cow or two for milk. There was a garden, chickens, hay meadow and a cornfield. Mother grew rose bushes and flowers, and also built small bookcases and end tables by hand since she had no power tools.

Both of my parents were active in several clubs. Mother was in the Armstrong Home Demonstration Club, was a member of the Rebekah Lodge, and the Friendship Club. Dad was a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge. They always went to the yearly A.V.A. convention where drill-work was put on by different clubs from other towns in the state and ribbons presented. At one time, my sister Elma played the piano for them, and in practicing the drill-work before the A.V.A., they marched by the piano – if one was out of step Elma would thump a base key and they would quickly get in step.

 I got really excited and a little scared when the bands of gypsies came by the store. They would park their cars along the highway and come swarming into our store - men with mustaches and fancy shirts with big full sleeves. Women wore long dresses of bright colors, long earrings, and lots of jangling bracelets. The barefoot children trailed along. Gypsies were noted for fast-talking and slick deals. They would rush in, talking in their foreign language, whispering among themselves, with many gestures.  Often, some of them would engage Dad in conversation, asking him a lot of questions while the others tried to talk the store helper out of a bargain. They liked to look at all the bolts of material, unwind it, feel it, try to bargain but bought little. A little food is about all they usually bought. There was always a sigh of relief when they loaded into their cars and took off. Dad usually got along with them fairly well. One band of gypsies camped out on Monday Hill, east of us, for about a week. Their music and singing could be heard far into the night. Some of the local young folks were known to pay a visit to the campsite to listen to their music and hear their tales, and were well treated.

 Sometimes, tramps camped out on Monday Hill too, as that hill had large overhanging rocks that you could get back under for camping and shelter, and there were lots of trees also. One tramp appeared at our door, wrapped in newspapers for warmth, and although my mother would give them food, we were a little uneasy that night. No one ever locked their doors in those days. Mother was awakened one night by a man shining a flashlight in her eyes. He asked directions, and she told him to get out of the house. Fortunately, he did leave.

 On certain days of the month the Drummers, as salesmen were called, would come to the store. There were always long tales to tell before they got out their order books, and got down to the business of replenishing the shelves. My folks were known as Dick and Dollie to everyone around there, but since we were near the highway, there were many strangers coming in, too. Dad would often strike up a conversation with, "Where you headed?" He had a natural interest in people, and liked to visit as the purchases were made.

It was a good thing the house was close to the store when the Verdigris River flooded. A close watch was kept on the rising water, and if it looked as if it would get really high a boardwalk was put up from the back store porch to the side porch of the house. We would have to cross the high walk to go back and forth above the water.

Sometimes, the water would get into the house and store. My folks would try to put everything on blocks or stack it high when this seemed eminent. In 1942, we had the worst flood ever recorded in the area, and people were caught unprepared to cope with it. I had stayed in town to go to school, and when Mother and Dad woke up that morning the water was up to the bedsprings. They had put up everything they could the night before. They thought it would be above water level, but the water was rising fast. They jumped up and went to work trying to save what they could, but the piano and many heavy things just couldn't be put up high enough. They would be working in one room, and see something floating by, go to save it, and end up working on something else. It was getting so bad they knew they had to quit and try to get out. The high-walk had washed away, and most of the people had been evacuated. They decided the only thing to do was climb into the attic and fire a gun for help. They started to do that when two men in a small boat appeared to check on them. A kitchen stool was used to climb into the boat from the front porch, and as they looked back it floated out of sight. Two cars were still parked there, and the water went over the top of them. They hadn't had time to go back to the store to do anything that morning. When we could get back in to survey the damage, I have never seen anything as bad as that mess. I thought we would have to move, but the folks said, "No,  we have to clean it up and do the best we can with what there is." The mud had to be scraped out of cabinets and off window glass. Everything had to be taken outside to air, and what furniture was saved had to be cleaned. The whole house had to have the mud and debris swept out, and then the digging and scrubbing began. The survey of the store was equally dismal! The counters were turned over; the cash register on the floor with money spilled out in the mud. Labels were off the cans and everything, in general, was all stuck in the mud together. The post office had fared no better, and the inspector was called in to check it all out and make the necessary reports as to what had to be done. It took a long time, a lot of hard work, and expense to get the Briggs corner back to normal, but it was accomplished. People got a few bargains, and we ate a lot of potluck suppers that used canned food without labels. After it was all over, we sat around telling about things that happened - there was the amusing along with the sad. Dad said "Well, I thought I would make a pot of coffee that morning and sure had a hard time. Every time I would light the stove burner, I would splash water and put it out!" It sure would be hard to work at the stove with water up around your waist, wouldn't it?

This store burned in 1952, while my Dad was in Halstead Clinic for surgery. There was no insurance and this was their only source of income, but Mother had grit. She thought it all out before we told Dad the bad news, and she had plans! When we told Dad, we were really worried about his reaction, but he said, "Well, if it happened, it just happened, that's all." He discouraged mother in doing anything then, but when he came home, it was business as usual. It was on a smaller scale, by far, but a new beginning. We had all pitched in and helped get her idea going. There was a small tin building behind the house that she used as a washhouse. She wanted it moved close to the gasoline pumps, and stocked it on credit with a basic supply of canned food, cereal, potatoes, cigarettes, candy, and whatever she could manage. She could still sell gasoline, which was about 26 cents a gallon.

 People came in good faith, and paid their bills by estimate since all the credit books were burned. With the help of good neighbors it all worked out. Plans were made for a new store, and this was completed within the next year. My brother, Eldon Briggs, drew up the plans and all the men of the family pitched in to build it. Dad had Leukemia and was never well after that, but after he died in 1954, Mother continued to run the store. Ruth Setzer continued as Postmaster of the post office.

When the government bought the land for the Oologah Lake project, Dollie Briggs had her house moved to town. The house burned August 17, 1976, and my brother, Howard Briggs, died in the fire. Dollie passed away February 3, 1983.

A yearly event I would like to mention is the annual Fourth of July food stands. About a week before the Fourth, a carnival would come to Nowata and set up at the City Park. Several Nowata area families would build stands along the south end of the carnival and sell food and drinks. Dick and Dollie built one each year, and I will never forget the fun and excitement of that week for me as a young child. I could see the top of the Ferris wheel and all the lights before we got to town each evening. A nickel would pay for a ride, and I could have a hamburger, ice cream and pop at our stand. There was always a rodeo on the weekend where the baseball fields are now. My folks started doing this back in the 1920s when Al Spencer and Pretty Boy Floyd, the infamous outlaws, was a concern in the area. He was robbing stores, and the trips home with the proceeds from the stand were risky. The main worry besides that was the carnival men. They were suspected of planning to make an attempt to steal the stand money. Dad was being watchful and careful because he would see them stand around and watch the stand, and occasionally one of them would walk by and look at him menacingly. One night as he drove home there was a car parked at the side of the road, and as our car approached, several big men stepped out, as to flag down the car. It looked suspicious, so Dad stepped on the gas pedal and never slowed down. The men jumped in their car and followed, but didn't follow him on to the house when he reached home. One of my brothers always stayed at the stand at night as watchman.

So many memories - there was the Coody’s Bluff country school, church, neighbors, and the 'Ruby Light’ scare. People would park all along the road at night to watch for this, and it was exciting as well as scary. There was hunting, fishing, parties, and a host of good families that shared it all and more. Those times were so different.

 

SOME MEMBERS OF THE FRIENDSHIP CLUB:


Mildred Ward

Opal Reed

Irene Briggs

Maude White

Ruby Erwin

Helen Stith

Bessie Blanke

Ione Boop

Imogene James

Elma Driskill

Grace Cline

Billye Lee Cline

June Briggs


 

PEOPLE I REMEMBER SHOPPING AT THE BRIGGS


Walter & Margaret Barnes

John and Mildred Dart

Evert and Neva Lilburn

Cott and Viola Long

Bill and Wanda Barnes

John Winter’s

Ross and Mable Lewis 

Charles Wesson

Dorothy Carter                       

Floyd and Willie Jordan

Bill Jones                         

Wanda Harney

John and Ruth Setzer

Bud and Idabelle Reed

Rob and Verneice Brown

Gus Christy

Arthur Scott

Roy Woods

Roy Scott

Jack Ballard

Herb Couch

Curtis Couch

Hurd’s

Jackson’s

Clark and Pauline Couch

Jewel Sarcoxie

                                 

Clell Armstrong

Bill and Edna Branstetter

Milton Frauenberger

          

Charlie Long

Bert & Lattie Beerman

 


Submitted by: Judy Stevens Gerken, 21 July 2008

 


Briggs Store
Coody's Bluff
1941
Courtesy of Judy Stevens Gerken
31 July 2008

 

 

 

 

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