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Oklahoma Family Tree Stories

This beautiful sculpture of three redbud trees with gold and silver leaves by artist Robin Starke is located just outside the Eleanor & John Kirkpatrick Research Center in the Oklahoma History Center. Each leaf of the "Oklahoma Family Tree" memorializes an Oklahoma family with the family surname, first name(s), and the town or county where they lived. In addition, a short family history will be preserved in the digital family history book at the base of the tree. This is a great way for your family to make history and benefit future generations at the same time. To find out how to honor your own family with a leaf visit the Oklahoma Family Tree Project page.

Disney Family

The Disney family traces its lineage to the seventeenth century when William Disney (1633-80) emigrated from the British Isles to the Maryland colony. As noted in a journal, "William Disney was transported to the colonies along with fifty-three others by John Emmet for consideration of lands given to him by John Browne—June 26, 1677." William married twice, first to Sarah Watts and later to Mary Snowden. He died in Ann Arundel County, Maryland in June 1721. His pioneering descendants spanned six generations and were among the early settlers in Oklahoma Territory.

James K. "Polk" Disney was born in Licken, Ohio in July 1845. He served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War and lost an arm in a battle at Resaca, Georgia. He married Abigail Poston on July 3, 1865. Their ten children included Charles Emit, Gilbert Levi, James Benjamin, Albert, George Theodore, William Lee, Lydia Grace Helen, Pearl May, and Flora Viola. Polk participated in the Run of 1889 into the Unassigned Lands. He cancelled his claim on January 20, 1890, and returned to Kansas during the coldest winter on record.

The Disney family's next attempt to secure a claim came when the Cherokee Outlet was opened to settlement in the Run of 1893. Polk's son, James Benjamin (best known as "Ben"), also staked a claim. Polk died in Garber, Oklahoma Territory on September 11, 1906. All of the family's claims were in Garber in Garfield County, where many family members were laid to rest.

Disney pioneers were often accompanied by members of the Rhoads family. James Benjamin married Rosetta (Rosie) Rhoads on October 11, 1891, in Tescott, Kansas, a year after her father, John H. Rhodes (now under a different spelling), bought a 272-acre claim in Oklahoma Territory which grew to become Crescent in Logan County.

Rosie wanted to live no more than a one-day horse-and-buggy ride from her mother, and she convinced Ben to sell their claim in Garber and use the proceeds to buy a new one in Kingfisher County. Rosie's grandmother, Sara Burner Rhodes, was born in Carol County, Ohio, on July 24, 1800, and died on June 12, 1905. She lived in a sod house in Marshall and was known far and wide for her pioneer grit. Five generations of her family attended her funeral.

James Benjamin and Rosetta Tiad had six children. Venda Mae was born July 1, 1892, in Salina, Kansas, died December 4, 1975, in Ada, and was buried in Crescent. Ida Inis was born December 12, 1897, in Douglas, Oklahoma, died January 27, 1983, and was buried in Crescent. Bessie Cleo was born August 4, 1900, in Douglas and died July 25, 1969, in Pauls Valley. She was buried in Garfield County. Benjamin Herbert was born June 28, 1903, in Douglas and died December 10, 1992, in Britton, South Dakota. Abbie Lavina was born August 2, 1907, in Covington, Oklahoma, and died March 7, 1982, in Sweeney, Texas. She was buried in West Columbia, Texas. Dorothy Daisy was born March 17, 1912 in Columbia in Kingfisher County and died July 7, 1990 during a family reunion at Lake Murray. She was buried in Fort Sam Houston Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

Even though they are scattered from California, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Missouri to Oklahoma and Texas, Disney / Rhodes descendants gather at family reunions every two years. They have remained a close-knit family and enjoy opportunities to visit and celebrate their heritage. A family friend once said, "After five generations from Ben and Rosie, you still favor each other. You all still have a distinct likeness."

A two-year-old child who attended his first Disney / Rhodes reunion was excited to meet his cousins. Upon returning home, he noticed a group of children walking in front of his home. Delighted, he screamed, "Nana, look! My cousins!"

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