Primary Source: Social Conditions In Our Newest Territory (The Forum, June 1898)

Social Conditions in our Newest Territory - Helen C. Candee (The Forum, June 1898) {Slightly Edited For School Use. Footnotes and Subheadings Are Mine.}

Helen Churchill Candee was a writer partly by gifting and partly by circumstance. Originally from an upper-middle class Connecticut family, she found herself in an unhappy marriage with two children and limited options according to the laws and customs of the time. She came to Oklahoma Territory around 1890 to take advantage of the relative ease of obtaining a divorce there. She began writing articles about life in the territory, demonstrating great insight and empathy alongside the sorts of factual information people were interested in ‘back home’. Over the course of her career she wrote about a wide variety of topics just as successfully – too many articles to count, and several books, including a single novel, An Oklahoma Romance. A woman of untold talents and experiences, she is today nevertheless best-remembered for her erudite recollections as a survivor of the Titanic. 

Out Of The Wilderness

“No matter what people tell you to the contrary, there is not a man in this town who would stay if he could get out.” This was the pessimistic remark of a prominent Oklahoman to a stranger, made in a weary time of waiting for a Government appointment; but, fortunately for the growth of the Territory, there are those within its bounds who do not feel that way. They see in the new country a chance to make a fresh start, unhampered by the competition of crowded districts, and relieved of the over-stimulation of haste.

Before the famous “Run” with which Oklahoma opened(1), the Government cleared the decks for action. In the old days, when the geographies showed but one Territory where now are two, the district was supposed to be given over entirely to the Indians; but in reality it contained many white residents of unsettled habits of life and loose morals. Cattle-man leased lands for grazing, and led the usual rough, exciting life of the cowboy; matching shrewdness against savagery, for the sake of both profit and adventure. 

Those of this class now living seem to have left from the experience a residuum of romance which forms the foundation of engaging tales. The retired cowboy, now keeping a grocery or a livery barn with demure respectability in a town’s centre, seems merely a humdrum, shiftless sort of citizen whose life has always been in crowded districts; but if he confidence be gained, his illiterate(2) tales will be a veracious(3) history of the most interesting period of the region. 

Besides the cowboys there were outlaws who fled to the Indian Territory to escape the avenging justice of better-governed States. Once within the Indian borders, there was every facility for the evasion of justice. Here the celebrated James boys had an occasional “dug-out,” to which they flew when respite from adventure was desired. The equally notorious Dalton boys, who were cousins to the Jameses, also found here a home so happy, and express trains so profitable, that they were very loath to leave, even after well-meaning folk had flooded the Territory as homesteaders. Immunity from punishment was secured through the absence of local law. Tribal laws prevailed among the Indians, but did not affect the refugees; and, provided a man kept from trouble with the Indians, there was so little difficulty in living that one wonders at the restless spirit which impelled him again into danger. 

The Best Laid Maps 

When the land was bought from the Indians, surveyors were sent to mark the entire country off into squares. The plan was, no doubt, neatly drawn at Washington on the smooth surface of a pretty pink map(4) in which topographical inequalities were not represented. The lines were surveyed to run a mile apart, north and south, east and west, each to denote a highway, and each square mile between them to represent a section. 

The intention was to give each settler a quarter-section of one hundred and sixty acres. The authorities at Washington, in looking at the plain surface of the map, forgot that the country they were thus geometrically dividing was frequently broken by deep ravines and gulches: but the system was inexorable(5); and, as a consequence, the traveler never deviates from the compass, but his horse toils up a hill, reaches the crest, sidles down the farther slope, crosses a rude bridge, and climbs another hill, to repeat the process indefinitely. The uplands are always bare of trees, but the gulches are thickly wooded; and if the roads could have been permitted to follow the line of trees, a grateful shade would have been secured from the relentless sun, and picturesque beauties would have beguiled(6) the farm children on their way to distant school-houses. 

Those who were arranging the Territory for the entrance of the white settlers located imaginary towns at various points; and these districts were surveyed for town sites. No deviation was permitted from the law of right angles; but a section was cut into square blocks, which, in turn, were subdivided into city lots. In the case of Guthrie, one square was set apart for municipal buildings and another for a university. In the heart of the town a tract was reserved for the “Government Acre,” on which was erected the crude, one-story, wooded building of the land-office. At different points throughout the Territory an entire section was also reserved by the Government for the benefit of the school fund, which land it was intended to lease; using the money thus obtained for the maintenance of the fine public-school system which is one of the best features of our Western civilization. 

Preparing To Run

For several weeks before the opening, the country, then being ready for the reception of homesteaders, was cleared of all individuals except the soldiers stationed there to prevent the arrival of “sooners.” The latter, however, ingeniously effaced themselves(7) for the time only; for, when the signal gun was fired, they seemed to rise from the ground, as though Cadmus(8) had been on earth again sowing the fabled dragon’s teeth. Men who had herded cattle, and those who had traded with the Indians for years, were not to be outdone by the vigilance of soldiers ignorant of sheltering “draws,” hidden “dug-outs,” and obscuring fastnesses(9) of scrub-oak and blue-stem. “A feller had to keep mighty quiet until the marshal’s gun fired,” said a successful “sooner”; “every draw kept fillin’ with men all night long; an’ it was hard to keep from seein’ and bein’ seen.” 

With everything cleared for action, the crowd was lined up on the border of the new country awaiting the hour of noon, April 22, 1889. It was a crowd of determined, almost desperate, men and women, many of whom, having failed in the fight for prosperity, had gathered here for a fresh trial. Every man’s hand was against his fellow. His neighbor on the right, placed there by accident, might be the one who would beat him in the race. 

The men who stood in line were composed of two classes: (a) those who had failed in every undertaking, and (b) others so young that this was their first bout with fortune. Some were mounted on ponies, which they had ridden from distant States; others were in farm-wagons in which they had journeyed from Kansas, Missouri, and even from Tennessee. The failure of Western Kansas after its period of booming was accountable for a large part of the enormous crowd that gathered at the Oklahoma border. The opportunity to try again so near home could not be neglected. 

It was with difficulty that the crowd was restrained by the marshals; and, when finally the signal was given, a mad race began the results of which make interesting history. 

Actuated By An Impelling Necessity

All men started as enemies. The reward was to the selfish and to the bully; and greed and strength were the winners. The number of homesteaders exceeded the number of claims; and more than one man pitched upon the same quarter-section. In some cases as many as four or five insisted on the right of possession. Thus on the very first day began the contests which have ever since been a harvest to the lawyers, and have produced an unhappy condition of society unknown elsewhere. 

As an example, two families built their rude homes simultaneously on opposite corners of the same quarter-section; each family being positive of its own right. The help of the law was sought; decisions and reversed decisions resulted, harassing the contestants, until one, more unscrupulous and desperate than the other, shot his enemy through the window or among the outbuildings at twilight. This is not an exception, but a common condition of things. All over the Territory are claimants who dare not live upon their property until the contest is finally settled. They take refuge in the nearest town; and the case goes on through the local courts until it reaches Washington, and the Secretary of the Interior gives his ultimatum. So much litigation is an expense which all cannot bear; and many a rightful contestant loses his claim for want of money to defend it. 

This condition of injustice and criminality is passing away as the time allotted by the Government for “proving up” approaches expiration; but the hatred engendered in each man’s breast was an unhappy handicap in the settlement of a new country. Besides this, the uncertainty, whether a man is or is not the permanent possessor of the land, robs him of ambition to improve it; for he may be working for the good of one whom he would rather kill than benefit. 

As I have said, the men who rushed into the Territory, and located themselves on claims, were actuated by an impelling necessity, the instinct of self-preservation, excepting always a few adventurers, who ultimately passed to more attractive fields. Men became farmers because the land was given them; not from any knowledge of the pursuit, nor from any love of it. A man who secured a quarter-section was as likely to have been a type-setter or telegraph operator as anything else; and yet he attempted at once to support himself and his family by farming. Men were ignorant of the peculiarities of the country and its climate, and in their selection of a claim could only apply the principles which pertained to the country they had left. Thus, those whose former homes had yearly been in danger from the flooding of the Mississippi, disregarded the rich bottom-lands of Oklahoma, and chose instead unprotected uplands where winds uproot the young wheat. 

New Farmers And Restless Spirits 

Many settlers were doubly handicapped through not having learned the business of farming and not knowing anyone who could give them indispensable information concerning the local agricultural possibilities. Still, over the unbroken prairies sped the sod-plough; and in the overturned soil was sown that stand-by of all Western farmers—Indian corn(10). The next year the plough was followed by the harrow; and the second big crop was wheat. Someone tried an experiment with Kaffir corn(11), and found it suited the climate: it made fodder for stock and bread-stuff for man. Sorghum, broom, and alfalfa were tried with success; and castor beans have lately formed an important crop. 

Somewhat timidly an experimental cotton-field was planted; and it was gradually demonstrated to the farmers that Oklahoma was the land of cotton. One hundred and fifty thousand bales have been marketed this year. The bringing of the first bale into Guthrie is regarded as an occasion of much rejoicing; and its sale at auction takes place on the street in order to give public enthusiasm an opportunity for expression. Another experiment, with melon seeds, showed the extraordinary fitness of the soil for producing that kind of fruit. Melon Day in some of the towns almost equals in gala features the public auction of the first bale of cotton; and melons are given away to all comers. At other times five cents is the common price for a luscious water-melon; and ten cents will buy a dozen musk-melons of sweetest flavor. 

A few experimental peach-trees gave such satisfactory results that many farmers are cultivating extensive orchards. There is scarcely a hard that has not its peach-trees, the negro quarters being no exception; so that in blossom-time the whole country is brightened with masses of pink bloom. Grapes are now being cultivated with such success that extensive vineyards are being planted. 

And yet, many a farm in this fertile country is a pitiable failure; the owner and his family suffering the cruelest privations of poverty. The homes of some of the people are almost devoid of furniture; and the food consists almost invariably of fat salt pork, underdone bread, and coffee. Eggs and butter are all taken to market; for these bring in return either cash or those necessities which cannot be made at home. That shiftlessness and incapacity are the causes of poverty, is demonstrated by the fact, that of two men, with claims side by side and all conditions equal, one will have erected a comfortable home while the other still huddles in his original “dug-out.”

Towns in the Territory show the restlessness born of experiment which has not yet yielded such good results as had been anticipated; and added to this is the spirit of adventure and recklessness characteristic of those who have little to lose. It is not a country of capitalists, but a place where poor men have come to seek possibilities denied them elsewhere. Every man watches jealously his neighbor; and popularity is not always with the prosperous. The freemasonry of poverty and of isolation in this far country are the two bonds which draw people together in mutual sympathy. Men may seem hard and indifferent; but illness or calamity will reveal in them the kindliest spirit. 

Most of Oklahoma’s population is composed of the people whose families, pushed westward form the Atlantic Coast by advancing civilization, have lived on the border for generations. The instinct to seek new homes and fresh adventure is inborn. Other people, mingling with these, acquire the same restlessness. From time to time, since the original opening of Oklahoma, new tracts of land have been thrown open to settlers; and the people who have rushed into them have not been those crowded out from large Eastern cities, but the restless ones already in the Territory, who have sought thus to increase their holdings.

From Tents To Towns 

If a farm be not desired, then there is the more exciting undertaking of procuring a desirable city lot. Men established in business in the principal towns all rush to the new tract, and there establish branch houses; thus repeating in another place the identical conditions of business rivalry. Imported rivals are looked upon with extreme disfavor; but capitalists who establish large industries, that bring money into the district and furnish employment to eager workers, are warmly welcomed. Oklahoma is like a large family which, while having its internal jealousies, unites in resenting the trespasses of outsiders. The Territory jealously guards its reputation too, although painfully cognizant of its defects, just as parents love most tenderly an unfortunate child. 

For the first few days of a town’s life all the shelters are tents; but these quickly disappear, as the threatening winds make them insecure refuges. A new town is at once supplied with an electric-light system and a tall stand-pipe, which latter points, like a mammoth finger, rebukingly at the eternally sunny sky that withholds the blessed rain. 

The city-lot principle determines the regularity of the streets and the architecture of buildings in the business parts of towns. A wooden, oblong building, one story high, is the usual structure. Buildings of this kind stand shoulder to shoulder, with metropolitan economy of space, until some ambitious landowner puts them all to shame by erecting a brick-and-stone building in a florid style. Land- and pension-offices are as quickly established as the post-office; and lawyers appear in droves, knowing that disputes and contests will be the first crop of the new district.

No town of more than a year’s standing is without its second-hand shops, which exist in numbers disproportionate to the population. They tell a tale of disappointment and defeat; for they contain the household effects of many who have travelled to this far country only to meet with failure. On every hand are small investors ready to take chattel mortgages on the household effects of those who are pressed for ready money. The rate of these mortgages is 12 per cent; and, as the interest is usually left unpaid, the goods are seized and sold, in the second-hand stores or at public auction. It may not be uninteresting to mention that $7.50 is the average value of the household furniture of each family in the entire Territory; but this, of course, includes an enormous number of negro homes where the furniture is comparatively valueless. 

“Schooner” People

The most striking expression of restlessness in the Territory is the “schooner” population. These people, although having adopted the nomadic propensities of the Romany, are not gypsies. They have no settled home, are bound for no objective point, and wander year after year up and down the country; going south in winter, and north and west in the summer, seeking nothing but pleasure and a perfunctory sort of comfort. To the city dweller, worried and goaded, such a life looks attractive. To loaf eternally, near to the heart of nature, to eat al fresco and to sleep on the prairies,—these are delights which would tempt even a higher type of civilization than the nomad of the Southwest. 

Originally these people started as a well-meaning, hopeful family, bent on the establishment of a new home. Misfortune, or lack of energy, permitted other men to precede them; and they drifted on to other districts, continuing to wander, better satisfied with life in the wagon than with prospects offered by available farms. The wagon has grown to be a rival of the sleeping-car as regards economy of space and perfection of comfort.

A gasoline stove is established for winter use; and comfortable beds are not lacking. Camping is done just outside the towns, where it is customary to spend the night near a smouldering fire. The vicinity of water is sought; for the “schooner” family has always in tow a prodigious amount of livestock,—horses, cows, calves, and colts,—for use and trading.

Money, Patronage, and Pride 

Money in the Territory is tight; and those who have it to invest obtain rates of interest which would be usurious elsewhere. A paucity of coin has developed much ingenuity in getting along comfortably without it. Municipal and Territorial debts are paid, not in cash, but by a system of negotiable warrants, which are usually exchanged for the necessities of life, and lie long in an investor’s strong-box before maturing. Farmers trade produce for groceries; the marketman gives the apothecary a roasting-fowl in exchange for a box of pills; and thus an ingenious system of barter has grown out of the situation. Much comfort is secured without the actual handling of money. 

The price of all food produced in the vicinity is extraordinarily low. On $800 or $900 a year a family of four or five persons can live in a house of good construction, and have a pony, a cow, a pig, and chickens. The local standard of expenditure being low, there is less than the usual temptation to that extravagance which is our national fault. 

The two principal sources of actual money-getting are (a) the crops which find market outside the Territory, and (b) Federal positions. These last are so desirable that scarcely a man in the Territory looks upon himself as ineligible for an appointment; as he would willingly forego the uncertainties of his business for the cheering regularity of a quarterly remittance from the Government. 

The President appoints all important officers, beginning with the Governor and extending to the judiciary, the marshalship, and minor positions. The men who occupy these offices have the privilege of making subordinate appointments in connection with their work. Each change of Administration disrupts the entire Territory; and business is temporarily paralyzed. Candidates and their aids flock to Washington, and wait on the pleasure of the President; every wire is pulled; and a worthy vigilance and pitiful patience are displayed by the candidates who are loath to leave Washington until the matter is decided. 

Local vernacular describes this condition as “waiting for plums to fall.” Except in the judicial positions, the candidates are professional or commercial men who expect to supplement their ordinary business with the duties and emoluments of Government service. Sometimes the Government at Washington delays settling the affairs of our youngest Territory; but this would never be done were it known how agonizing is the suspense in awaiting the falling of the plums. It comes hardest on the women, who in public maintain a dignified composure, but in private abandon stoicism and weep hysterically over the delay or the denouement(12). It is not strange that people settling a new country with the best energy of their best years should regard the carpet-bagger with jealousy and indignation. 

While Oklahoma remains a Territory its business eyes will turn toward Washington rather than to New York; for the Great Father of the Indians dispenses also to the whites. Society, which is usually spelled with a capital, looks towards Kansas City, Denver, and Chicago as sometime possibilities, but feels New York to be as distant and un-American as London or Paris. If any specially invidious(13) distinction is drawn against New York, it is only an expression of conviction, that that city ignores the national principle of individual equality, and has established for itself an aristocracy. 

A thorn in the side of the Oklahoman is the indifference with which the Territory is treated in the East. He and his fellow feel themselves to be more loyal Americans than are New-Yorkers, and to be doing more than they to increase the spirit of patriotism. “What does a New-Yorker usually look at, when he first opens the morning paper?” said an Oklahoma lawyer. “He reads immediately the European news, which is given a prominent position on the first page, and judges his country financially an socially from the position of a European. He never thinks of the West; he does not even realize our existence; he ignores or condemns us socially, and warily refuses to invest his capital here where he would not only receive large returns, but would also help in developing the country for the good of the nation.”

Competition and Cooperation 

To view the Territory aright it should be remembered that its people are fighting a constant war against paralyzing poverty. They exhibit both ingenuity and patience in subsistence without expenditure; and all the powers of both mind and body are called into requisition to gain a livelihood. Competition in certain specialties of business menaces little; but each man’s struggle, to procure a share of the small proportion of money that comes this way, makes all shrewd and selfish. 

Notwithstanding this, public spirit is a force which is developing for the public good. In one large town there is a club composed of the most substantial citizens, which takes up all matters of public welfare. If a railroad, which will be of advantage to the town, be projected, this club assists in raising money for its construction, or prevails upon manufacturers to bring their plant to the town. The club advertises the Territory as much as possible throughout the Union, with the view of inducing homesteaders and capitalists to settle and to invest. 

It is when calamity visits the country that the club shows its best feeling. On the occasion of a cyclone, not long ago, the members of this club, within two or three hours, subscribed $3,000 for the benefit of the sufferers; thereby entailing upon themselves a self-denial little short of privation. The cyclone was followed at no great interval by a flood; and again the public-spirited club members denied themselves for the benefit of the human brotherhood. Town treasuries are often empty, while the town suffers for need of some improvement,—a bridge or other public work,—but the far-seeing club urges the people to let private enterprise take the place of public neglect, and, by a concerted effort, the bridge is built or the water-works are constructed. 

One of the most striking things in Territory society is the existence of class distinctions – more especially among the women. In business, in politics, in all the affairs of life except amusement, people are equal; but inside the parlors of the frame houses distinctions are arbitrarily made according to local standards. Occupation has little to do with it; for an auctioneer’s wife may be received, while a lawyer’s wife will be debarred. Young men in this country pursue any occupation by which they can life; and few of the young women lead lives of simple domesticity. All young people are at work, some of them in the humblest positions; but these things have nothing to do with the social position. In some places money secures the latter; but, as a rule, it is created by one of two causes,—personal magnetism, and that ultra-snobbishness which is found in its highest development in America. Churches also do much to divide towns into various cliques. Besides these divisions women’s clubs are present even here, although they are bound together by so slight an interest as an afternoon game of whist. 

The extremest of conventionality marks the women, who know nothing of the delightful freedom of the women of larger cities. They live entirely within the limits of their little town; paying visits to one another. When they take their walks abroad, or drive in their buggies or surreys, it is to trot up and down the gridiron of unshaded streets; disregarding the soul-satisfying wonders of the wide prairies beyond. They become absolutely self-centered, and their views, circumscribed; but this works to the advantage of local development. If their eyes were always on the unattainable, whether apparel or the cultivation of the mind, there would be discontent and a tendency to scorn the simple pleasures which alone are possible. The truly feminine desire to follow the mode is evinced by the tendency to adopt new forms of expression and hospitality. Society events are reported in the local papers in the same descriptive terms as those which tell of metropolitan entertainments; and thus the people pleasantly delude themselves. 

A custom exists of providing each lady with an escort, who shall see that she is brought to the place of entertainment, wants for nothing while there, and is accompanied safely home. In the lady’s note of invitation is designed the name of the gentleman who is to be her gallant; and in his is mentioned the name of the lady whom he is temporarily to protect. This plan is presumable intended to prevent heartache in those unattractive ones who might be neglected; but, like all inexorable laws, it acts unhappily in some cases. The “fierce light which beats upon a throne”(14) is a feeble candle compared to the brilliant illumination which surrounds young people during the mating-time in a small town. It sometimes happens that the hostess assigns to a young man the young woman to whom he has been paying court, but by whom he has been recently rejected. He is therefore obliged to miss the affair of the season in order to avoid a contretemps(15). 

Proud of Outlaws

In the Territory local pride exhibits itself in novel and characteristic ways. Whatever the district can produce that is noteworthy, whether in industry or crime, brings upon the people much the same feeling that animated Jack Horner when he “put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said, ‘What a good boy am I.’” This explains the spirit of self-congratulation which makes of the desperado a hero. 

Oklahoma was once the home of the outlaw; but a vigorous system of prairie police under the direction of the United States Marshal has either destroyed or dissipated all notorious bands. An occasional leader is captured, possibly plucked from a life of “exemplary industry”; and great is the rejoicing. That justice has at last descended? Not at all; but rather that for one day all serious considerations are to be abandoned, and the town, blessed by the outlaw’s presence, is to be given over to boyish enjoyment. Thousands meet the prisoner at the train, and he is escorted in a public carriage to the office of some public functionary where, like a great character, he receives an ovation. Even the Governor attends to shake hands with the noted man of adventure. After the reception is a banquet in a public room given in honor of the hero of the hour. It is to the regret of all that the day ends by depositing the city’s guest in quarters more confining than elegant. 

When the event is over, those of cooler blood murmur loudly their disapproval of this royal treatment of a villain, and common sense asserts itself; but no one regrets having for one day tasted the exhilaration of associating with outlawry’s exponent. The gruesome exhibition of dead outlaws killed by marshals is one of the brutalities of border life, and is never sanctioned by the best element. 

The noted outlaws having disappeared, the deputy-marshals form the most picturesque class now extant(16). The marshal is appointed by the Government at Washington, and as a rule is sent from another State; but his innumerable deputies are men who have lived in the Territory for years, and are well acquainted with every billowy prairie and sheltering draw. They are men of iron nerve, defiant of hardship, jealous of honor, and combine shrewdness with fearlessness. Dressed for the hunt of an escaping criminal, with two belts of cartridges around the waist, six-shooters in evidence, and a Winchester hanging from the saddle, they look like desperados themselves. A loose shirt and a sombrero give picturesqueness to the outline; and the man’s mount is a lean, wiry pony of easy gait and untiring muscles. 

A familiar and pitiful figure in the towns on market-day is the impoverished, unsuccessful farmer whose unhappy brain has been upset by the populistic heresies of a certain class of political ranters(17). Want and privation have attenuated his figure; thriftlessness has stamped him; and the long, sparse beard, the tanned  complexion, the torn and insufficient clothing, are weatherbeaten to one sad color—the same color that life has always worn for this son of ill fortune. 

Black and Red In Oklahoma(18) 

The most cursory review of the Territory would be incomplete without a mention of its negroes. In some towns these almost equal whites in number; and the town of Langston, in Logan County, is exclusively a negro settlement, with its own government and educational institutions. Many negroes came to the Territory under the false promises of certain political schemers, who deluded them with promises of free homes which were never realized; their object being merely to import votes. Unnecessary additions to the population were thus stranded in the country. The supply of labor being in excess of the demand, the wages paid to these people are insufficient to sustain life; and thus they are forced to live literally on the crumbs which drop from the white man’s table. Racial prejudice is sufficiently strong against them to make necessary the establishment of separate schools even in districts remote from towns. But water-melons to eat and cotton to pick are the two blessings which mitigate life’s curse for the negro in Oklahoma.

Except on the reservations, the Indians, are but little seen in the Territory. It has always been their disposition to shun civilization. Their presence in towns is so unusual that it excites remark; and the word passes that “Three Indians are on the street to-day.” They are regarded curiously and with contempt. Would-be landowners think of them with envy, as possessing fertile acres without developing them; and the man of business looks with impatience on their idle ways, and solaces his indignation by charging them double price for all goods. Notwithstanding the romance with which Eastern folk invest the Indian, the people of the Southwest place him far below the negro. This, of course, relates only to those Indians who have not been developed by civilization. Among the better class are some with a strain of white blood, hose manner of living is identical with that of the whites. 

These are, in brief outline, the social conditions of our newest Territory, where hard work, more than the refinement of art, occupies attention. It is here that pure patriotism and Americanism are found. Idlers here have time to loaf; thinkers have time to deduce; and the man of ability and ambition outstrips his fellows. In this far district is again illustrated the truism, that when all men start life equal, in a few years each will find his natural level. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1. Oklahoma opened – the first land run was April 22, 1889, which opened the ‘Unassigned Lands’ and led to settlement of an area now encompassing Guthrie and OKC. There were several others in subsequent years.

2. illiterate – not necessarily literal, Candee may be using the term more generally to suggest a lack of formal education, unrefined. Not necessarily used negatively so much as poetically. 

3. veracious – honest, real. Not to be confused with ‘voracious’ (desperately craving food or other fulfillment). 18. Black and Red – while in many ways Candee was a keen and sympathetic observer of humanity, her almost disdainful rhetoric towards negroes (the polite term at the time) here and in other writings is troubling to the modern reader. Her portrayal of Indians (also the polite terms at the time) is more mixed throughout her writings. Without excusing her prejudices, we may recognize them as fairly tame compared to many of her contemporaries and acknowledge these were very different times; the realities with which people of all colors were confronted were quite different than what we think of as the typical American experience today.

4. pretty pink map – this may have been purely rhetorical, but ‘pink maps’ might have carried implications of justified claims over an area or national sovereignty over new lands. Or I might be reading too much into a handful of contemporaneous uses of the term. 

5. inexorable – impossible to change or prevent  

6. beguiled – charmed or helped to pass the time; ‘allowing natural roadways would have made traveling more pleasant’

7. ingeniously effaced themselves – many soldiers used their official positions to cheat during the land run; some were audacious about it, but others – as Candee suggests here – made themselves inconspicuous or actually hid until the race began. These were sometimes referred to as ‘legal sooners’, despite there being nothing legal (or forgivable) about their actions.

8. Cadmus – figure in Greek mythology who among other things was credited with the sudden creation of Thebes and its inhabitants, brought about by sowing dragon’s teeth which sprang up as mighty men who helped build the city almost overnight. 

9. fastnesses – any secure area protected by natural features; a natural hiding place

10. Indian corn – maize; a hard-kernel corn more resistant to extreme weather than other variations 

11. Kaffir corn – sorghum, a hearty variety of corn resistant to drought and often used for animal fodder (‘roughness’), converted into alcohol, or boiled into sorghum molasses – a thick, sweet syrup. It could of course also be used for people food. ‘Kaffir’ refers to the corn’s origins in Africa, but over time became something of an ethnic slur. While used inoffensively here, it’s no longer considered appropriate.

12. denouement – the anticipated conclusion or resolution to something; the decision 

13. invidious  – something likely to cause outrage or provoke criticism, especially if unfair

14. “fierce light…” – used by Alfred Lord Tennyson in reference to King Arthur. Refers to the constant and intense spotlight metaphorically shining on rulers. Here Candee uses the phrase to make a point about how difficult it is for young people in love to hide anything from anyone in the dynamics of small town life. 

15. contretemps  – a dispute or other kerfuffle based on disagreement 

16. extant – still existing, still around

17. political ranters – Candee expressed her disapproval of the Populist movement in other writings as well. It is difficult to say whether or not her opinion was widely shared by others in Oklahoma Territory. 

Add new comment