This story of the Fitzpatrick family's move to Oklahoma after the Oklahoma land run of 1889 is part of a longer manuscript written by my mother, Iva Fitzpatrick Potter, when she was 91 years old. After the death of her mother when she was seven months old, the little girl lived with her grandparents for nearly 15 years. These recollections begin when she was seven years old:
My grandfather, Joseph J. Fitzpatrick, and my father, William W. Fitzpatrick, made the run to Oklahoma from Arkansas City, Kan., on April 22, 1889. They staked claims cornering, five-and-a-half miles southeast of Mulhall on Beaver Creek.
My father had been on his claim only a few hours when a man came by and said he had staked a claim on the land before Father did. Father knew he was a Sooner or claim jumper, as some called the men who came into the territory before it was officially opened. All they wanted was money or something that could be turned into money. Father offered him money-$25, I think. The man gladly took it, and Father never saw him again.
After the run, Father and Grandfather stayed on their claims so they could improve them. They had brought as many farming implements as they could carry in two wagons. They plowed up the sod, and planted pumpkins, potatoes, turnips, corn and other garden seeds. They dug wells and walled them with rock. Grandfather built a two-room cabin from oak logs which he and Father hewed so they would fit together closely; if there was a space between logs they chinked it with clay from the creek bed.
In October the men came back to Kansas to bring their families to Oklahoma. When we came to the Salt Fork, it was bank-full so we couldn't ford it. Some men had a ferry boat there which held a team and wagon. Horses on the bank pulled the ferry across by means of a heavy rope; men helped with their long poles. My uncles, on horses, drove the cows across.
The next stream we crossed was Red Rock, and as the wagon went down the bank to the stream, a barrel of pickles my grandmother was taking to her new home turned over. I cried as some pickles went floating downstream, but Grandfather lifted the barrel quickly and we didn't lose many.
There weren't any bridges for wagons over the creeks or rivers for a long time after Oklahoma was opened. The only bridges were built for trains. For the '89 run some men put boards down between the rails of the railroad bridges so horses and wagons could get to the starting points.
It took six days to make the trip from Cedar Vale, Kan., where we had lived, to the claims.
There were many wild animals when we came to Oklahoma. We saw bobcats, lynx, and early one evening we heard a panther. It was following along the creek and would scream once in a while, sounding like a person in trouble. We saw a few deer when they passed between the house and the creek; some hunters were after them, but lost track of them. One day Grandfather went across the creek to cut wood and a flock of turkeys came out of the trees. He shot one and we had it for our Thanksgiving dinner. The men always took a gun when they went to the woods or fields in hope they could shoot some game.
Grandmother and I went to Beaver Creek to pick plums and wild grapes. We also found greens such as lambs quarters, poke, dock and wild lettuce. They made good eating-if you like greens. We picked sheep sorrel to make filling for pie. It tasted like rhubarb.
Some men came to see Grandfather about locating a sawmill on the bank of Beaver Creek, a little distance from our house; Grandfather thought it would be fine. There were many trees on the creek and the men around the area could cut trees and bring them to the mill to be sawed into lumber. The owners of the mill took lumber in return for their services. So a lot of families were able to live in a house instead of in a dugout with a dirt floor. My father built a three-room house with lumber from the mill.
Mrs. Thelma Potter Taylor
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.