I recently discovered that the papers for this time period contain a series of articles written by M.K. Wyatt about territorial days. I didn’t notice them at first because they are in the “filler pagers” that contain news from other areas, ads for national products, serial stories, and national editorials.
I found this piece amusing. Mr. Mugler may have had fond memories of the “good old days”, but the historical facts- from the newspapers, church minutes, and court records- prove he was indeed in danger of being robbed or murdered during his travels. He was just one of the lucky ones who never encountered trouble!
The Caddo Herald
October 11, 1929
An Old Timer Tells of Territory Days
By M. K. Wyatt, Home Color Print Co.
Frank Mugler, who lives near Caddo, can recall early days in old Indian Territory when he rode about the country with his pockets fairly bulging with great sums of money, unafraid of being either hijacked or murdered. Mugler carried the money in a shot sack in order to keep the gold and silver from wearing holes in his pockets. Although not yet 60 years of age, he claims the distinction of being one of the ”old-timers” of Territorial days for he says one doesn’t necessarily have to be old to be numbered among the pioneers of Oklahoma.
Mugler was an early-day cattleman and says when he bought cattle back in the ‘80s and ‘90s the Choctaws wanted only gold and silver; no paper money or checks for them. They liked the feel of the gold and the musical clink of the jingling silver. Green backs, to them, were but scraps of paper and represented nothing tangible, so when cattle buyers went forth to buy cattle they took with them gold and silver. At that time there were no banks in his section and Mugler, who usually had a pretty good stock of gold and silver cash, kept what he couldn’t carry in his pockets either concealed in an old trunk, or in the ashes of his fireplace, or buried in his back yard.
Sees Wilderness Disappear
Mugler helped to wrest the new state from a wilderness- a very different country then from what it is now. Fifty years ago cattle roamed at will over the broad, unfenced prairies for not many quarter sections of Indian land, and no government lands, were enclosed. Less than forty years ago very few farms dotted the valleys and prairies; in fact, Choctaws and even white people who had come from settled states did not believe the prairie lands suitable for raising crops, so they devoted their time to stock raising and shipping cattle north to the big markets.
When Mugler bought cattle and paid for them in cash he took the fat steers to the stock pens if it were time for shipping. If not, and he wanted to graze them a while longer, he simply put his brand on them, turned them loose and whenever the season was good for shipping all he had to do was to round up the cattle and get them to a shipping point. He figured his losses from strays and thefts about 1 per cent. Property rights and branding rights were strictly adhered to by the Choctaws and the while cattlemen. There was a severe penalty for infringing on the rights of others as regarded ownership of cattle.
Respect for the Law
In this connection it was considered comparatively safe to ride about over the country with a pocketful of gold and silver, Mugler says, because the people had respect for the law between man and man. Consequently he never feared thieves or hijackers. Honor among individuals of pioneer days was a virtue. People of that time borrowed money, just as they do today, but no security in the form of personal notes was required of the borrower. If a man wanted $1,000 he usually asked a fellow cattleman for the amount and it was freely tendered. To pay the debt was a sense of honor and Mugler knows of no instance where a debt of this kind was not settled according to verbal agreement. Another thing that was unknown to the people of those early days was a mortgage. None of the Indian Territory land was under mortgage forty or fifty years ago. This is one of the changes that has come about with the passing years and the introduction of new business methods.
Great herds of cattle that used to be trailed from Texas to Kansas had disappeared before Mugler entered the cattle business; instead cattlemen were shipping their stock by freight over the Missouri-Kansas-Texas lines that traversed the Indian Territory. Mugler shipped his cattle to St. Louis and would receive in return for them a draft on a Denison bank. This caused him from time to time to make trips to Denison, where he cashed his drafts and replenished his supply of gold and silver money in his old shot sack.
Track Choked with Cattle
In those days of small locomotives the single track of the Katy railway was constantly choked with cattle trains headed northward. At widely scattered points in the Indian Territory the Katy maintained feeding stations for the cattle on the way to market. Feeding cattle at various stations presented no small problem to the railroad, so heavy were the shipments.
A few progressive men conceived the idea of providing cattle feed by cutting hay near the railway right-of-way, therefore crews of men would cut and bale the hay which was then sold to the railroad company at $8 per ton.
Contractors paid 10 cents an acre for hay rights from the Choctaws and labor for crews cost 50c cents a day for each man. A thriving business of this kind was done by a few men as long as the ranges of Texas supplied a big percentage of the of the nation’s meat supply. In about ten years, however, the country became so thickly populated that the wild hay crop diminished and there was little money in cutting and bailing it.
Mugler and his friends knew nothing of the telephone. If they wanted to talk to a man twenty miles away there was always a good riding horse handy and 20 miles on horseback was not considered discomforting, even if it did require five or six hours to make it. Journeys by horseback of four days, and sometimes longer, were not looked upon as hardships. Horseback riders slept wherever night found them- in a rancher’s cabin or in the open. Hospitality was always free. No one thought of charging for a night’s lodging or for supper or breakfast. A stranger was an honored and a welcome guest in any rancher’s home. It was by no means uncommon for the ranchman to order a meal cooked for guests at the hour of midnight.
Federal Court Established
Establishment of federal court at Muskogee, in 1889 brought resident white man’s laws into the country. Caddo was a court town of the Choctaws in territorial days and was even then an important commercial point. Sterritt, formerly called Cale, was another town and shipping point of that section. It is said to have been the first townsite in which a white person outside of the Indian Nation could purchase lots and get a title direct from the tribe. The first sale of these lots occurred in 1899. The railroad station and some village activities had been there since the construction of the railroad. Durant, further south on the Katy, was hardly known as a town.
Requirements of the people in those days were very simple. They knew nothing of our complex civilization and the high cost of living. Meat and corn were always plentiful and cheap- corn 25 cents a bushel, meat 5 and 10 cents a pound. Beeves were slaughtered as needed for home use. Small patches of wheat, in course of time, grew on ranches as white men began to break land. This was milled at home and no one thought of growing it in quantities for market.
Safe and Sane Days
Those were safe and sane days, as Mugler looks back upon them. No worrying about the morrow or about unpaid bills. Every man was practically your friend. Trading was the chief source of income and the trader, although he carried plenty of gold and silver in his pockets, was safe in any company.
Business honor and integrity were highly prized, every man and woman taking pride in keeping their word, and a man’s word was invariably as good as his bond. The people lived a life of charity toward all and malice toward none.
Yet the new era has its compensations, thinks Mugler. He is glad to have seen Oklahoma grow to be one of the most prosperous states in the Union in a span of less than 40 years, with more than 60 per cent of its land under cultivation and at least 75 per cent tillable, with many industries thriving, many new homes, many new schools, churches and business buildings of all kinds dotting the landscape.
While Mugler recalls the good old times with a feeling of regret, yet he rejoices in this new era of progress and is grateful for the part he played in the making of a great commonwealth.