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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.

Bourne Family

Elias Whitefield Bourn and his wife, Melissa Ellen (née Campbell), were rewarded for their patience, courage, and determination when they won a five-year lawsuit in 1894 to gain title to a 160-acre homestead at Northwest 13th Street and North Broadway in Oklahoma City. The Bourns, who arrived in the upstart metropolis the day after the Run of '89, were unwitting participants in the sooner land claim cases that bedeviled Oklahoma City pioneers.

At the time of the opening, E. W. Bourn was a 32-year-old cattleman at the Severs Ranch near, Muskogee, Indian Territory. Melissa, then 30 years old, made the 150-mile trip from Van Buren, Arkansas, in hopes of claiming a 160 acre-homestead. They traveled with five children, horses, wagons, and fifteen cows. A herdsman who accompanied them on part of their journey became fearful and abandoned them.

The Bourns' trip was delayed when several of their cows bore calves en route to the Oklahoma country. They and their children loaded them into wagons, continued on their journey, and arrived at Oklahoma City on April 23. They were shocked to find an enormous crowd and even more shocked to find that all the choice lots had been claimed. That night, they milked their cows and supplied their neighbors with pails and tin cups to become the city's first dairy.

The Bourns breathed a collective sigh of relief when they discovered 160 acres north of the Santa Fe depot (SE/4 Section 28, 12N, 3W) that, according to witnesses, had been claimed by sooners. As a U.S. citizen whose family had played by the rules of settlement, Bourn was confident that officials would accept his application for the land. Meanwhile, they strapped a tent to their wagon, tied their cows to a makeshift fence, and milked them twice a day. The family delivered milk by horse-drawn wagon and dipped it from tin cans into their customers' containers.

Like so many eighty-niners, the Bourns were shocked as contested claims became fodder for lawsuits. As their daughter Stella recalled, "Once when father was being threatened, mother went to stand beside him with her hand on a gun that was in her apron pocket, and that took care of that!" E. W.'s and Melissa's five children included Stella, Cora, Florence, Bert, and Clara. Clara died a year after the family's arrival in Oklahoma City. They were heartened with the births of daughters Hester, Polly, and Dorothy and son, Lee Bryan.

The Bourns sold their homestead in 1898 to developers Charles Colcord, Anton Classen, and Ed Overholser. They used the proceeds to purchase 320 acres at Northeast 58th and Eastern Avenue (later, North Martin Luther King Boulevard). In 1910 Bert started managing the dairy. He was assisted in later years by his sisters Stella and Dorothy whose married names were Crockett and Markwell, respectively.

The Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office placed the dairy's native rock feed storage silo on the National Register of Historic Places. It was demolished in the 1980s to make way for a McDonald's restaurant. As of 2009, the main rock dairy plant still stood. In its heyday, it boasted the city's first DeLaval electric milking system and a glass-windowed observation room. The Bourns' pasture north of 63rd Street became a housing addition, and their bottomland along the Deep Fork River became a movie theater complex.

The Bourne Dairy began motorized delivery in 1915. In a 1967 Living Legends interview at the Oklahoma Historical Society, Bert Bourne recalled that customers preferred milk deliveries the old-fashioned way, by with horse-drawn wagons. He described a pair of horses that remembered every stop along their route. They came to a halt at each house, moved forward on their own, and carefully turned the wagon when necessary. The OHS photo archives include images of the Bourne Dairy's team, wagon, first motor vehicle, milk bottles, and crates. A booklet, Blazing the Trail in a Milky Way, also made its way into the OHS collections.

In 1917 Bert Arthur Bourne, then 31, entered the armed forces and left his father to manage the dairy. The U.S. Army assigned Bert to the 119th Field Artillery, 32nd Division. He served in France as a "wheelhorse" rider at several fronts, including the Meuse Argonne.

After receiving an honorable discharge in 1919, Bert returned to operate the dairy. By 1944 it was no longer feasible to operate such a multi-faceted business. For years, he had single-handedly managed the entire process, from producing feed and milking two-hundred cows (mostly Jerseys) to home delivery in glass bottles.

Bert and his wife, Flora Ellen Ritchie (a native of Hindman, Ky.), had three children: Sally Bourne Ferrell of Chandler and Mary Bourne Wells and Dr. Earl Whitfield Bourne of Oklahoma City.

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