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Notes and Sources on Slavery and Abolition in the US

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  • 8 months later...

Tomorrow is the last day of Black History Month 2024, and I’d like to share a bit of black history in a space of America I was familiar with as a child.

I recall as a small child being on the wrap-around porch of my aunt who lived in Caddo, Oklahoma. This is in southeastern OK, not too far from the Red River and Lake Texoma. She and my father were reminiscing. They spoke of the time their Uncle John had jumped a N . . .  who was trying to steal a hog of John's. Uncle John slit the man's throat. "Near cut his head off, they said." John was a big guy and had been a Roughrider. So far I've not found whether anything legal was put in motion over this incident. I've gathered that racial hatred and fear of Black people (men especially) had crescendoed down there just before and during the childhood of my father (b. 1917).

Our family lived just outside OKC. During my early childhood, in the 1950’s, I was often with relatives down in Caddo. From my memory, it would have been strange to have ever seen a Black person in that town. Yet decades later, thanks to the internet, I read in an old newspaper, from earlier in the century than birth of my father, of a Black-owned and operated retail store (groceries I think) in town. I imagine it was for Black customers. Story with it in it had come up in an incident against the owner/operator who lived above the store. One night a White guy broke in and lit a stick of dynamite in the store in the corner above which was normally the location of the owner's bed. By sheer luck, the owner had rearranged a week before, and his bed was that night in the opposite corner. He closed the store, and left town.

My parents were born and raised on farms near the town of Caddo. The town was named after the Caddo tribe who had earlier been natives of the area. The town began as a rail depot (1872) in the Choctaw Nation within Indian Territory. The rails were lain by the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway. Initially the town was a tent city. Box cars were used for freight storage until a depot building could be constructed. A sudden influx of white people and some black people occurred at that time: tenant farmers, coal miners, railroad workers, cowboys, and merchants. Whites quickly outnumbered Choctaw in this area.

Law and order in Indian Territory among white Americans was near zero. It was hideout territory to many gunmen. U.S. Marshals worked for fees only, which they lost if their prisoner died on the way to court. Bogus arrests were pervasive. Not rule of law. The Indian tribes tried to provide the rule of law for their own members. In the early years of Caddo, the region was still Choctaw Nation, and treaties had to be honored in all developments undertaken in the region. The dealings of the railroads were with Choctaw tribal officials. The railroad improved the transportation of cattle, grains, and cotton. Locomotives and sawmills were by coal-fired steam engines.

Newspapers were established very soon. I have seen in old newspapers advertisements addressed to Negroes of the South to migrate on over to Indian Territory. The Caddo area was advertised as having rich soil, plenty of work, schools within walking distance (if you have a horse, I’d say!), and a mild climate (Ha! Hot!). Freedmen (from Choctaw slaveholders) still resided in the area already. Businesses and churches came on quickly. I’m pretty sure there was plenty of sin.

I mentioned that as a child in the 1950’s, I don’t recall any black people being in Caddo. Recently I have learned, thanks to Mary Maurer’s GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN – A HISTORY OF THE BLACK FAMILIES OF CADDO 1872–1911, where the black people had lived. It was across the railroad tracks. The town is at the intersection, in my times, of two main paved roads, and one of them runs along the railroad. I don’t recall anything across the tracks except the cemetery Gethsemane and then farms and their homes on and on. An older eye might have seen more right there across the tracks even in my time, and have known what had been.

Actual emancipation of slaves in Indian Territory did not come until 3 years after the end of the Civil War. The Five Civilized Tribes had sided with the Confederacy. A peace treaty with them and the US government was reached in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The treaty stipulated that freedmen receive allotments of land and membership in the tribe. Choctaws and Chickasaws balked at the idea, but eventually (I don’t know when) many freedmen received an allotment of 40 to 160 acres.

Choctaws and Chickasaws wanted black people moved out of the two nations. The Choctaws eventually granted citizenship to many of their freedmen. None (of the nearly 5000 from the Chickasaw) were ever adopted into the Chickasaw Nation.

Choctaws did not provide education directly for freedmen; they provided education for former slaves through missionary organizations with funds from the federal government for teachers and supplies. The freedmen supplied the building. The first such school was run by the Baptist Mission Board, which opened at Bogey Depot (now a ghost town about 25 miles north of Caddo) in 1874. 

In the 1870’s, Caddo got so civilized as to build a jail and establish a cemetery. The Oddfellows Lodge and Masonic Lodge were large contributors in getting the cemetery. My ancestors are buried there at Gethsemane, including my mother. I’ve noticed Choctaw names there such as the Maytubby family (one was a code talker in WWI).

Statehood of Oklahoma began in 1907. In 1910, the state legislature (Democrats) had passed the “grandfather act” keeping a literacy requirement on Oklahoma black men for eligibility to vote, while removing the requirement for white men. (Native Americans were not allowed to become U.S. Citizens until 1924. Yet there were Choctaw code talkers in the U.S. Army in WWI ! Women were not allowed to vote until 1919.)

The Caddo high school graduating class of 1911 had five students. One of them was a sister of my grandfather Boydstun. I have a faint memory of her from early childhood in the 1950’s, when she was elderly and residing in Durant, a larger town south of Caddo. She was crucial in preserving a lot of history of the area and of our family. Durant is home of a State college called Southeastern. In the era of my youth, it was known as the campus of a thousand magnolias. I’ve noticed from old newspaper photos that a lot of extremely attractive Choctaw women were in attendance there. Today Durant is also home of the Choctaw Nation headquarters (a corporation if I’m not mistaken) and home to the Choctaw Casino and Resort.

On Independence Day of 1911, newspapers report, shops closed and many residents headed over to Blue River to cool off. When I was a child, everyone referred to that beautiful river simply as Blue. My father was baptized in it when he was 17. (He got baptized again later when, set to marry his second wife, he became high church.)

For a year, publications had been discussing “the negro question”. A major newspaper out of OKC contained a piece on taxing and voting that included: “THE NEGRO QUESTION IN OKLAHOMA IS DEVELOPING A CRISIS. It is no longer presented in the form of theory, but as a grave condition. Unless the Negro is restricted, he will soon become a menace.”

Caddo originally had over 200 black residents, mostly freed slaves of the tribes. Some of the women worked in prosperous white homes as cooks or nannies. Others took in laundry or worked in the fields. Men farmed as tenants, and some had specific skills for hire. Farmers in that vicinity raised mostly corn, oats, and cotton. In a dry year, corn will not make, but oats may still come through.

The Kentucky LEXINGTON HERALD, August 15, 1911, had a story headlined

“Race War Threatened in Oklahoma Towns”

“Negroes Warned to Leave Caddo Following Murder of Another Woman”

“Blacks Take Train”

The assault against Mrs. Campbell, in Durant, included a gunshot wound of the woman eventuating in her death. While she still lived, a posse formed swiftly from all over the county, soon found and cornered the armed suspect and riddled his body with bullets. The body was taken back to Durant where Mrs. Campbell positively identified him as her assailant. A large assembly of men from all over the county built “a huge bonfire on which they threw the body of the negro, burning it to a crisp. Many spectators secured parts of the charred body as souvenirs.” CADDO HERALD, August 18, 1911 (Versions of this story appeared across the nation from MA to CA.) The identity of the man is unknown.

(On August 24, at the Oklahoma town of Purcell, a black man suspected in a similar crime against a white woman was killed by being burned alive, to a crisp, while a crowd of 3,000 gleeful men, women, and girls applauded every move of the white men performing the execution. The only two law enforcement officers of the town, who had attempted to save the man’s life, had been locked up in the “booze room” of the courthouse. The name of the man so viciously and lawlessly executed is Pete Carter. –The Daily Oklahoman)

Learning of the slaying of the accused man at Durant, some black men of Caddo began talking of revenge. The Kaddo Klan posted notices giving negroes of Caddo one week to leave. The membership of the Klan there was large. Later one member pleaded guilty to posting some of the notices, and he was fined $10.

Meanwhile over in Atoka, which was evidently at that time almost entirely a black town, men were enraged at the posse killing and burning of the black man at Durant. They organized and when the MKT freight train came through, they put their guns on the trainmen and took charge. The conductor managed to send warnings to Durant and Caddo. And in those towns, nearly every man in town was armed and awaiting the arrival of the avengers.

(To be continued, drectly)

Edited by Boydstun
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Apparently, another objective of the black men who took over the train was to try to intercept another lynch-posse in the area out to get a negro for another recent killing of a white woman. 

As far as I’ve been able to find, no violence occurred in Caddo or Durant as the train passed. Many black residents of those towns quit those towns immediately on that occasion. I’ve not found that any black residents of Caddo heeded the “order” of the Klan to leave. In a couple more weeks, however, all black residents of Caddo and outward a radius of three miles did uproot and leave the area forever.

I’d like to interject that it was apparently not only southern and eastern Oklahoma that was teetering on an all-out race war in those days, with very frequent mob violence at hand. It was evidently the same in north Texas. Black suspects were taken from law enforcement by mobs there also and burned at the stake (before the like case in Purcell, OK.) White youths toured black residential areas shooting any negro they saw in one Texas episode.

The circumstances by which Caddo became a town of only whites and Choctaw are these: Note that dynamite was readily available, as it was used for railroad work and for “fishing”. A white farmer from Caddo, Horace Gribble, was killed 2 September 1911 in an exchange of gunfire between nine white men in the black neighborhood outside the home of the black family Daniels. Two of the Gribble party showed up to law enforcement and claimed that they had been passing the Daniels house when they were fired upon. Two black men a Daniels and Will Stevens were placed under arrest. They did not resist, and the sheriff spirited them safely out of the county to avoid muster of a mob. From the black men, the story was that the white party had been shooting in the neighborhood and had thrown a stick of dynamite at the Daniel home, which did not proceed all the way to full explosion, and the men in the home (women and children also at home) fired upon the attackers. The city Marshall found dynamite at the home, was inclined to believe the whites had started this, and arrested the two known of the party of nine.

Meanwhile as word of the fatality spread, there was an overnight exodus of all black families from Caddo. They caught Katy trains northbound or southbound. The Katy added cars. Cattle, hogs, and crops of the negroes were sold at absurdly low prices. A large crowd of whites assembled at the station to cheer over each departing train. Passengers on the trains waved goodbye. I read one notice of tears on some black faces at the station, now driven out by terror from the only home they had ever known.

Versions of these events appeared in newspapers across the country. I don’t recall any of them being told in my high school Oklahoma history book in the 1960’s.

Filling the labor gap in Caddo was urgent. Some creditors were left in the lurch.

The public-visibility heights of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the region seems to have been 1921–24. Large parades and assemblies to cheering white crowds, you know. In Caddo, after the exodus, there was no more violence-work for the Klan. They popped into churches, bringing cash donations and words for the minister to read (which gladly those pulpits professed anyway) of how Christian were the ideals and services of the Klan, those being the ideals (some were deviations and diversions from practice): Protestantism, sanctity of woman, law-bound justice, free speech and assembly, separation of state and church, racial segregation, white supremacy, and singing “America”.

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