Lester's Story, Part One

A Letter to My Children: Introduction & Memories

by Lester Whipple

I was born May 19, 1894, on the south bank of the Hackberry Creek in the Cherokee strip in the Indian territory in what is now Garfield County, Oklahoma, about three miles east of what is now Waukomis and nine miles south of Enid, the oldest of eight children, myself, Henry, the little girl that died, Howard, Mary, Mabel, Raymond, and Virginia, the birthdates being approximately two years apart. I left home when I was 16 and never did return, that is, to live, but only on a visit. None of my sisters or brothers were ever very well acquainted with me, and for that matter my children either. I have had a very full and what has been to me a very interesting life, and not being in very close touch with my brothers and sisters or my children I have not had an opportunity to tell them many things about our ancestry, or what I have thought were interesting events in my own life. Also what little opportunity I have had they seemed not too interested. I will therefore write some of it down and without burdening them to hear, yet, if they desire, they can read and the events will in that way not be lost to those who might be interested and want to know. I will begin with my first recollection and write down the different events as they occur to me.

The incidents related are as I remember them but some names have been substituted or changed to avoid possible hurt feelings if the parties involved should hear them.

Memories

Our father staked a claim in the Cherokee strip when it was opened for settlement in 1893, one year before I was born. A few days after he staked the claim which was 16 miles north of our grandfather's old homestead in what was known as old Oklahoma, a wagon and team unloaded a pile of lumber for our house. It was a little unpainted frame house, and where I was born, about I would say 12' x 20', two rooms used as a bedroom and a kitchen, without glass in the windows. The windows were about waist high, just a hole about 3' x 3' cut in the wall, sawing the boards in such a way they would fit the opening and could be fastened with wooden cleats, in the manner we used to call "barn windows". When the area that had been sawed out was placed back in, at night or in bad weather, the wall was solid and the room was dark. The first recollection I can remember — my mother was standing holding me in her arms, in front of one of the open windows, and it was raining. I can see now how it looked, water on the ground maybe one or two inches deep and big raindrops coming down so big each one hit the water and made a splash an inch or two high. On the other side of the creek was a cottonwood tree that could be seen for miles in that prairie country with one limb straight out some 18 or 20 feet high. A horse thief that had been hanged by a vigilante committee of neighbors, maybe the day before, had not been cut down and was still swinging in the wind hanging from a rope from that limb. I can see the picture in my mind's eye now. Those were turbulent times, and hangings and killings were quite common, and when it happened there was a tenseness in the air that even a child could feel. I have seen several hangings and a number of killings, some about very small things like a cowboy grabbing another boy's hat. When he was about to take it from him he threw to another boy, just in fun, but the boy who owned the hat took a pistol off his belt and shot the first boy who grabbed his hat dead, and right in front of the little schoolhouse where church was going on. As I remember, nothing was done, if so I don't remember it. Killing was not then taken seriously as it is now. Our neighbor living between our house and town was said to have killed seven men. The killer seemed to earn a certain respect and was not disgraced as he is now. I think public opinion changed some time about 1905 to 1910. So much for that.

Comment:

I sometimes think the old attitude toward killing might be more realistic and more in the interest of crime prevention than the modern attitude, which seems to place the entire blame on the killer without reference whatever to the man that gets killed. I sometimes think the old attitude might be illustrated by an incident in one of Frank Dobie's books describing a trip James Bowie made when he was a boy of 17 from the old home in western Louisiana to attend to some family business in New Orleans. At that time there was a professional instructor in fencing who had heard of James Bowie's prowess as a frontiersman and although James was only 17 and the fencing instructor had been teaching fencing some 40 years, sent the boy word challenging him to a duel. The fencing instructor was amazed to have the boy accept the challenge. The custom was that the one challenged had the right to choose the weapon. The boy promptly chose the Bowie knife and specified that the dual would be fought in the middle of the night in a darkened room and without windows and with both participants stripped naked. The professional sword fighter was terrified but found himself bound by his own challenge. As the contestants were placed in the room and the door locked, Bowie dropped to the floor with his ear pressed against the floor so he could hear the bare footsteps of his challenger. Upon hearing his challenger in the right position, he jumped to his feet and stabbed the old sword fighter through the heart, which promptly ended his murderous career as a sword expert. The story appeared in the New Orleans paper which reached Bowie's home before he arrived. Upon his arrival his brother, Resin, said: "Brother, I see you killed a man while you were in New Orleans." James said: "Yes, brother, I did." Resin asked: "Did the man need killing?" James said: "Yes brother, he needed killing." That was the entire conversation which permanently ended the matter. Our present laws and customs would not be satisfied with that. The Matson trial lasted nearly a year and cost the public nearly a million dollars. Who can doubt that a new day has dawned in crime prevention and can such a trial with the attendant publicity aid crime prevention?

During the whole time we lived in Oklahoma we did not even have keys to the house. As late as the days we lived on West Ashby, we do not even lock the house when we spent several days at Medina Lake. Who can think the present ideas of crime prevention are more effective than the old?

Lester's Story, Part Two: Garfield County