Chickasaw Firearms Law, 1868

March 27th, 2013

by William D. Welge, CA

With the recent tragic events in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, regarding automatic weapons and the like, it is interesting to note that in October 1867, the Chickasaw National Legislature proposed and passed an act, “prohibiting the carrying of arms in places of public gatherings.”

“Be it enacted by the Legislature of the Chickasaw Nation, that from and after the first day of Jan. 1868, It shall be unlawful for any person or persons except for Sheriffs and Constables and any other person summoned by them…to make arrests to carry arms into any Congregation, preaching, Meeting of Legislature, Ball Playing, Tonsh-pish-opha, Election or any other public meeting in the Chickasaw Nation. And any person or persons violating this Act shall be fined not less than one dollar, nor more than twenty-five dollars for each and every offense on conviction of the court having jurisdiction.”

See Chickasaw Volume 22 on Microcopy CKN 4.

The Process of Creating our Animal Art Exhibit

December 4th, 2012

by Karen Whitecotton, Curator of Collections, Oklahoma History Center

The History Center is currently partnering with the Oklahoma City Zoo for Enriched: Animal Art from the OKC Zoo a display of eleven pieces of animal art created by various animals from the zoo.  While it sounds pretty tame, the process was amazing and there were a lot of great experiences along the way!  Why zoo art?  There is something incredibly fascinating about seeing a work of art done by an animal and exploring that creative process.  It is a truly unique part of the animal enrichment process.

All artwork created by animals is a part of a process called enrichment.  It includes many other activities besides painting and is intended to mentally and physically stimulate animals.

The exhibit concept started about a year ago when I approached the zoo to inquire about getting a piece of their animal art donated to our art collection.  A small group of us met and discussed the proposal and an exhibit idea was formed.  However, with the Oklahoma @ the Movies exhibit gallery remodel about to start, we had to postpone our plans.  Fast forward to this summer and the exhibit was back on the table.  We planned to feature twelve pieces in the Chesapeake Event Center.  We ended up with eleven pieces in the C .A. Vose Sr. Wing, which allows for more accessibility for educational programming.

This is a favorite picture from the painting sessions. Divet, one of the female Red River Hogs, ran and jumped into the camera to greet Karen. (Photo courtesy of Karen Whitecotton)

Read the rest of this entry »

The Warden’s Wallet

July 24th, 2012

by Martha Anderson, Volunteer

In the collection of things brought from the state penitentiary at McAlester (2010.025) there is a wonderful example of what you can tell about a man from his wallet. Most of the time wallets are empty, but this one came to us packed tight with everything but cash or family photos.

It’s a nice but worn wallet with lacing along the long edges and sporting a geometric design tooled on one side. It’s made of calfskin, according to one of five cards the Amity Company included when it was new. The interior is inscribed: Jess Dunn, Warden. Driver’s licenses issued in 1938 and 1940 identify Jess F. Dunn, born March 18, 1892 as standing just over six feet tall and weighing just over 200 pounds.


The wallet contents make a long list of positions held by a man who served his community in both official and informal capacities. Dunn held an ID card from the State Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and was a Deputy Sheriff of Oklahoma County. He also carried ID cards from the Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and the American Prison Association.

Within his local community, which included several counties, Dunn was a member of the Chambers of Commerce in both Coal County and McAlester. His membership dues were paid through 1941 with the Elks Lodge #533, Bruce Lodge where he was Master Mason, with the (Scottish Rite) Indian Consistory, and the Shriners Bedouin Temple of Muskogee.

There are credit cards from Deep Rock Oil Company and Watson’s Service Station in McAlester, as well as business cards from a detective agency in the Cotton Exchange Building in Oklahoma City and The Silver Dollar (Dine and Dance) in Ada.

Odd bits of paper with handwritten notes take care of gun tracking. One note states that a gun was loaned to two named men “to go hunting–by order of Mr. Dunn”. Three other notes track the same state issue .38 caliber pistol given to one Burle Dunn in 1938 until its 1941 retrieval from a local pawn shop.
We see on the downtime side of Dunn’s life that he was a member of the Business and Professional Men’s Recreation Club in Antlers and an honorary member of the Vinita Roundup Club. He was a member of the Oklahoma Game Association and had bought hunting licenses and duck stamps in the fall of both 1939 and 1940. A McAlester fishing permit including his wife ran through the end of 1941. He also was holding an official pass to the National Semi-Pro Softball Tournament slated for August 15-27, 1941 in Wichita, Kansas.

The wallet and its contents make 41 objects. The number of cards issued for 1941 lends an eerie frozen in time feeling that begs the question: What happened to him? We have to leave the wallet to learn that. The warden never made it to Wichita.

On Sunday, August 10, 1941, Dunn was in the prison yard with J.H. Fentress, an electrician, and R. W. Murray, a contractor, and his 10 year old son. They were planning a prison communications upgrade when the group was overtaken by four inmates armed with homemade knives and razors. The leader of the four, Claude Beavers, held a razor to Dunn’s neck. The other three, Roy McGee, Bill Anderson, and Hiram Prather grabbed Fentress and ordered Murray and his son to leave. After seizing firearms from guards, the convicts with their two hostages, sped away in a prison employee’s car.

Local authorities, alerted to the escape, stopped the car not far away where a gun battle broke out. When the smoke had cleared Deputy Sheriff W.E. Alexander, a former guard, had fatally wounded Beavers, McGee, and Anderson. Prather survived his wounds only to be executed two years later. Deputy Sheriff W. A. Ford, another former guard, and Warden Dunn were both shot in the head by the convicts. Dunn had also been stabbed. Fentress, hands bound, was still in the car unharmed.

Ironically, the communications work being planned that morning was intended to prevent prison breaks. From the time Jess Dunn became warden in 1936, his order was to shoot to stop escapes even if he himself had a knife in his back. The tower guards acknowledged Dunn’s change of mind in order to protect Fentress, but Alexander stood true after seeing Dunn murdered.

Warden Dunn was described as hard as granite, but as kind a man as could be found. Convicts mourned his passing right along with the community outside the walls. He left behind a wife, Pearl and two sons, Jess, Jr. and Byrle. He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The minimum security correctional center near Taft, Muskogee County was named in Dunn’s honor in 1980.

Though we know it will never tell the whole story, I have to ask: what’s in your wallet that speaks of your character?

The John J. Harden Collection

June 26th, 2012

oklahoma-city-paving-bond-for-the-western-paving-cosmall.jpgby Lauren Riepl, Associate Archivist

The papers of John J. Harden Collection, #2011.216, in the manuscript archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center have recently been processed. The papers include correspondence, newspaper clippings, legal documents, and ephemera dealing with the real estate developments of Harden and his business associates in Oklahoma City as well as surrounding states. Although Harden was not born in Oklahoma, he arrived just after statehood was established and lived here until his death in 1963.

In 1907 Harden began developing subdivisions for residential homes. Some of his notable neighborhoods include the Crestwood Addition and Edgemere Park in Oklahoma City, as well as the Pleasant View Addition in Mangum. Box 3 of the Harden Collection, part of the Real Estate Development subseries, contains a variety of documents pertaining to the development of Oklahoma City between 1921 and 1936, documents such as blue prints, advertisements, newspaper clippings, abstracts, property assessments, pamphlets, contracts, quit claim deeds, leases, building specifications, financial documents and correspondence. Some notable correspondents include Herbert C. Heller, a prominent financier, and George Veeder, Harden’s right hand man. Harden did not limit himself to just real estate development, he also managed the development of the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club and the Oklahoma City Farmer’s Market.
The Oklahoma City Public Farmer’s Market opened its doors in 1928. Box 6, Oklahoma City Public Market correspondence, includes letters from various Oklahoma City businesses and organizations to the Mayor and city council that outline their support for the construction of a public market. Also included are documents relating to the purchase of land, the establishment of the market, advertisements, purchase agreements, the enforcement of city ordinances and bond issues passed by Oklahoma City and general market management. Notable correspondents in this series include Stanley Draper.



John Harden was also involved in the construction and maintenance of cemeteries with mausoleums. He was responsible for the construction of two Rose Hill Cemeteries, one in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa. Many notable Oklahomans such as Governors William Holloway, Roy Turner and John Walton are buried there. Other families that purchased lots at Rose Hill include Bob Murcer, Phil Daugherty, Senator Wesley Disney, Oral Roberts, Bob Wills and the entire Harden family. Blueprints, correspondence, financial records, contracts and materials regarding the sale of both cemeteries are available for research.

Harden commanded a diversified enterprise. Under his direction the Western Paving Company paved most of the roads in Oklahoma City and many roads in our state parks under Federal Works Progress Administration projects in the 1930s. The subseries, Natural Resources: water, petroleum, paving ventures, 1919-1947, contains correspondence relating to the implementation of the Oklahoma Irrigation Project and purchasing of city improvement bonds as well as general management of related projects, such as Oklahoma City Flood Control Project and the use of “Trammell Pipes” to achieve these means. Notable correspondents in this series include Horace A. Sears, Hugh M. Johnson and J.D. Trammell.

John Harden was also involved in politics. As early as 1924 Harden was forging relationships with men running for state and federal offices. In the 1930s public facilities became a focus of the U.S. government’s effort to recover from the Great Depression. States were receiving money for parks, buildings, utilities, airports, and transportation projects. Harden saw this opportunity to bring money to the state and his many enterprising companies. Boxes 17-19 include correspondence and federal publications regarding the Reconstruction Finance Committee or RFC. The RFC was a federal agency which established relief programs that financed much of the work being done via the WPA.

Following Harden’s death in 1963, there was a lengthy dispute among his family regarding the distribution of his estate. Phil Daugherty oversaw all of these court proceedings and settlements, some of which you can read about in Daugherty’s papers, also in the archives at the Oklahoma Historical Society, #2012.038. Court decisions, transcripts, appeals, correspondence, meetings, affidavits, and sworn statements are all contained within this series.

Harden did not limit himself to just Oklahoma business ventures. He built public markets in Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas, as well as Chicago, Illinois. He built a hotel in Hobbs, New Mexico, in 1930 with hopes that Hobbs was the future of the oil business. He developed neighborhoods in north Texas, Illinois and Kansas. In Acapulco, Mexico, Harden took on an adventurous endeavor to build the Hotel Palacifico, a luxury hotel in the Gulf of Mexico. He dabbled in gold mining in California, Montana and Colorado. Evidence of all these extraordinary endeavors can be found throughout the John J. Harden Collection. The papers remain here, as dynamic as the man himself, diverse in nature and rich with research possibilities.

History in High Definition

March 6th, 2012

by Corey Ayers, Video Production Specialist

In December of 2011 the Oklahoma Historical Society purchased two telecine machines that allow for the transfer of 16 and 8mm film to full 1080p digital files. The digital conversion allows film of all ages to be seen in their original state but enhanced by high definition resolution. The use of these machines has ushered in a new era for the film and video department at the OHS. We are now digitizing and cataloging entire film collections giving moving images not seen for 80 years a new life and the public a rich new source for research. For example, the Haskell Pruett Collection documents community events such as parades and rodeos as well as leisure activities of an Oklahoma family from 1929 to the late 1960s. These films present a visual testament of life in Oklahoma at the time. This is only one of many collections in film storage at the Oklahoma History Center and the beginning of a new era for the use of film in research at the Historical Society.

For the last time…

January 11th, 2012

by Jill Holt, Curator of Textiles

Several months ago, we received a large collection of memorabilia from the family of Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing. Among the items received was a red plaid lap blanket as well as a couple of photographs of Bob Wills with the blanket. I felt that there was a story behind the photographs but I did not have the details. As I researched the life and career of Bob Wills, I came across a passage written by Charles R. Townsend in the book “The Stars of Country Music: Uncle Dave Macon to Johnny Rodriguez” by Bill C. Malone and Judith McCulloh. Bob Wills suffered a debilitating stroke in 1969. By 1973, against the odds, he was able to sufficiently recover and made plans to join in one last recording session with the Texas Playboys. It was scheduled for December 3-4, 1973 in Dallas, Texas. The day before the recording session, all of the Texas Playboys came to the home of Bob and Betty Wills in Fort Worth for a jam session. As I read this, I realized that the two photographs I had were taken at this jam session. The photos show Bob Wills sitting in his wheelchair with the blanket on his lap surrounded by the musicians singing and playing. The next day, they all gathered for the first day of recording. That evening, Bob Wills suffered another stroke and slipped into a coma from which he never awoke. The next day, the Texas Playboys finished recording without him amid great sadness. The album was released in 1974 and was titled “Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys…For the Last Time.” Bob Wills passed away on May 15, 1975. His popularity remains strong even today.




St. Patrick of the Osages

August 9th, 2011

by Jon D. May, Research Division16581.jpg

While exploring the OHS Research Catalog online I discovered an old black and white photograph in the Frederick S. Barde Collection (82.89) captioned, “Indians – Osage – Cyprian Tayrien.” Cyprian, or “Cyp” as he was more commonly known, was my great-great-grandmother’s first cousin. Although you probably never heard of Cyp, he was well-known in the Bartlesville and Pawhuska, Oklahoma, areas prior to his death in 1922.

Born in Clay County, Missouri, in 1836, Cyp was the son of a French father and a French-Osage mother. Educated at the Osage Mission in St. Paul, Kansas, Cyp spoke English, Osage, and French, and served as a scout and interpreter in the Missouri Home Guard during the Civil War.He worked as a clerk, operated a trading post, farmed, and was one of the first mixed-bloods to serve on the Osage tribal Council. Cyp had three wives (he was twice widowed) and twelve children. After the Osage relocated from Kansas to what is now Osage County in 1871-72, Cyp settled along Sand Creek just southwest of present Bartlesville. It was in that vicinity where he and ten of his children received their Osage land allotments in 1906. Many of their descendants reside in that region today.

What makes Cyp’s life story so interesting are the “unusual and occult powers” he was known to have possessed. With a few softly spoken words and a wave of his hand Cyp—dubbed“Saint Patrick of the Osages”—could drive snakes from under buildings or from shocks of grain. He knew by intuition where strayed livestock could be found. Cyp healed snake bites and other ailments by simply passing his hand over the afflicted individual. A man claimed he conferred with Cyp about a woman who was ill and lived some miles distant. Cyp asked a few questions and sent the gentleman on his way, telling him “everything will be alright.”When the man returned to the lady’s residence, he saw her condition had improved.

How Cyp healed the sick and from where he received his foreknowledge is anyone’s guess (if you believe in such things). According to one of his grandchildren, Cyp acquired his powers from an old Osage medicine man. Cyp, however, said his skills were innate and quite common. In fact, he believed a person with similar abilities could be found in almost every family.

Cyprian Tayrien died October 18, 1922, and was interred in Bartlesville’s White Rose Mausoleum.

Image: #16581 from the Frederick S. Barde Collection

Acid, Bomb Squads, and First Aid Kits: All in a Day’s Work with Museum Collections!

June 15th, 2011

by Karen Whitecotton, Curator of Collections

Ever heard of Picric acid? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most people have never heard of it, and neither had I until a few days ago. It’s a highly explosive chemical compound (the forerunner to TNT) that has been around for a couple of centuries and has been used primarily as munitions and fireworks.
Picric acid is actually a liquid that over time dries out and crystalizes. When it crystalizes it becomes highly unstable and VERY sensitive to shock and therefore handling it becomes dangerous.It also leaves a distinct bright yellow powdery residue that is easy to spot.

Why on earth would a museum have explosive chemicals, like picric acid in their collections? Simple answer- they don’t know about it. We sure didn’t! Evidently it’s way more common than I would have thought. It wasn’t until a week ago that I learned about picric acid and its explosive properties from reading several emails on the American Association of Museums Registrars’ Listserv (RC-AAM). Someone send out an email inquiry regarding procedures when disposing of hazardous chemicals. A response mentioned the dangers of picric acid -a substance many people have never heard of, but VERY common in early and mid-20th century first aid kits. You see, medical gauze used to be soaked in picric acid to treat, most commonly, burns (interesting tidbit- picric acid gauze was used in the treatment of burn victims from the infamous Hindenburg disaster).

An example of a first aid kit that may have included picric

After that initial email there were email responses DAILY reporting the discovery of picric acid in museum collections around the country and that bomb squads had to be called out to collect and detonate the picric acid infused items. In one case a whole city block was evacuated and a robot was sent in to collect ONE object. In another case an item contained so much picric acid it was enough to blow the museum worker’s hand off! So, as you can see, it’s a very serious hazard to collections and to people!

After reading those emails over the weekend, I thought I would take the cautious route and so I did a database search first thing on Monday morning and discovered 5 objects in our own collection that possibly contained picric acid. These items were all early 20th century first aid kit components: 3 packs of picric acid soaked gauze, 1 box that stored the soaked gauze, and 1 empty tin. After consulting with the museum Deputy Director/Collections Manager, Jeff Briley, I pulled the objects the next day and inspected them. I isolated the 3 packs of gauze and inspected the box. The box had the distinct yellow powdery residue of picric acid on the insides. The metal tin did not show any signs of acid residue, but under Jeff’s advice it was thoroughly swabbed to make sure. We further inspected the associated first aid kit the items came from to make sure there was nothing else of concern. Thankfully there wasn’t. He called his contact at the Oklahoma City Police Department Bomb Squad to ask if they would collect the pieces for disposal. They agreed and said they would be at our facility 7am the next morning with a robot.
Bright and early the next morning we had the police department, fire department, an ambulance, and the bomb squad standing by. At the employee entrance, the bomb squad began staging their maneuver to retrieve the items. Instead of a robot (which I was actually hoping to see – I had Wall-E pictured in my head), they had a guy dressed in a big suit (think the Halo video game suit but twice the size) carrying a long pole. He went in to retrieve the items in a bucket from the fire safe and came back out and carried the bucket around (and down some stairs!) to the containment wagon. They used a small crane to hoist the bucket of items into the containment wagon and then gave the all clear. Whew.

Our disposal of the picric acid infused items went very smoothly thanks to the expertise of the OCPD Bomb Squad. Museums don’t simply dispose of items without very clear reasoning and procedure is always followed to ensure public trust and ethical behavior is maintained. Sometimes there are extreme situations (like hazardous chemicals!) that speed up the disposal process to ensure a safe environment for the collection, the staff, and the public. Hazardous and unstable chemicals are simply not safe to have in museum collections.

This blog brought to you by Karen Whitecotton, Curator of Collections, Oklahoma History Center
Special thanks to:

OKC Area First Responders:
Oklahoma City Area EMSA
Oklahoma City Police Department Bomb Squad
Oklahoma City Fire Department Hazardous Materials Unit
Oklahoma City Police Department Patrol Squad

RC-AAM Listserv, especially:
Judy Coombes, Manger of Registration, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
Evelyn Montgomery, Curator of Exhibits & Collections, Dallas Heritage Village
Doug Nishimura, Image Permanence Institute
David Ryan, Registrar, Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

Oklahoma History Center Staff:
Jeff Briley, Deputy Director, Oklahoma History Center
Richard Lloyd, Security, OHC
Sherry Massey, Senior Registrar, OHS
Dan Provo, Director, Oklahoma History Center
Mike Scanlan, Head of Security, OHC


Did You Know…

February 3rd, 2011

by William Welge, Research Division Director

February is recognized as Black History month, but is also the month where we honor the Presidents of the United States. Everyone knows that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both have birthdays in February, but what few people know is that there were three Presidents who either lived or visited Oklahoma before it was a state. It must be noted that all three were not campaigning for the office at the time of their visit or residency. Can you name the three future Presidents?

A Soldier’s Footlocker

December 28th, 2010

by Jill Holt, Curator of Textiles

As more and more veterans of World War II military service pass away, we are receiving donations of items pertaining to their service including uniforms, insignia, documents, and footlockers. I recently accessioned a footlocker and its contents that were found in a house in Duncan, Oklahoma. The donor, Craig Lowe, had purchased the house from the family of Gabriel W. Ostroot and the footlocker had been left behind. It was an incredible collection of memorabilia. Lt. Gabriel W. Ostroot served with the 63rd Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division during World War II. Inside his footlocker were multiple guide books for the South Seas islands, East Indies, Solomon Islands, and New Guinea as well as maps for those areas. Other items included officer’s pay receipts, Japanese currency, collar insignia, and a certificate from the United States Navy Domain of the Neptunus Rex, Ruler of the Raging Main acknowledging that Gabriel W. Ostroot had been initiated into the “Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep” in the South Sea Islands. This certificate was awarded when crossing the equator for the first time.

The ultimate find in this footlocker was the photograph album documenting Ostroot’s entire military service career. It begins with photos taken at basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and shows young men laughing and joking. From basic training, the photographs transition to military maneuvers held in Louisiana. The next series of photographs were taken in the South Pacific and include images of natives in New Guinea. The album concludes with photographs taken in Luzon, the Philippines. These images are the most graphic and show dead Japanese soldiers and destroyed tanks.

The stark reality of viewing these young recruits becoming battle weary soldiers was dramatic and very moving. I hope you will join me in giving thanks to these brave men who defended our country.