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Oklahoma Family Tree Stories

This beautiful sculpture of three redbud trees is located just outside the Eleanor and 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 is preserved in the digital family history book at the base of the tree. Sponsoring a leaf is a special way to recognize your family 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.

Whiles Family

Family Tree Leaf
Whiles, Johnson & George
Payne County & Pawnee County

Johnson Whiles married Cathryn Patience Black in Pulaski County, Kentucky, in 1857. The couple later moved west. A son, George, was born in Kansas in 1865. He married Leola Surber in 1889. Among their nine children were the parents and grandparents of Bruce Johnson, Etta Dean Musgraves, Kathy Young, Hazel Cole, and Charles Witty. All five were born in Oklahoma and contributed to the Whiles family story.

The Whiles families settled in Cedar Vale, Kansas and remained there until 1893, when they joined thousands of others in the land run into the Cherokee Strip in 1893. George and his wife, Etta, who was pregnant with her third child, were accompanied by their 3 year-old son, Clay. Johnson, Patience, their son Jonathon and daughter Mahulda, and her son Johnson Jr. recalled that crisp September morning of 1893 as the experience of a lifetime.

Today, we can only imagine the scene when soldiers fired cannons and rifles at high noon, September 16, 1893, to begin the fourth of the epic land runs. Conveyances of every description, including bicycles, horses, and horse-drawn wagons, buggies, and buckboards crossed the line in a swirl of humanity. The Santa Fe Railway chugged across the line with nine cattle cars loaded with people. Gunshots rang out along the line and contributed to the deafening roar. Some who discharged their weapons were surely frustrated by their long wait at the starting line, while others were probably celebrating the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Chaos ensued as sooners—those who crossed the line before the appointed hour—scrambled to maintain their claims as legal participants in the Run of '93 came relentlessly on. It seems certain that Whiles family members remained above the fray as sooners and land run participants squared off to secure their claims.

Johnson registered a 160-acre claim in Payne County. After working the land as required in homestead law, he turned it over to his sons. He then moved to Pawnee County and established businesses in Pawnee and Ralston, where he was elected as probate judge. Like many first families of the Twin Territories, Whiles family members were in the area before the land rush and certainly before statehood in 1907. Nevertheless, their entry into the Cherokee Strip was legal.

George farmed a 160-acre parcel near Ralston in Pawnee County, where he lived and farmed until he died in 1951. Most of the children were Oklahomans before statehood. George's land was adjacent to the Acheson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Etta always let her nanny goats graze on the railroad right-of-way. Goat's milk was not the first choice of visiting grandchildren, but with enough cocoa and sugar, some of us got use to it. Etta's kitchen always smelled of food and kerosene. Grandchildren loved to pump water from the well just outside the back door. The rusty pump always required priming. George and Etta lived out their lives in Ralston without running water or many of the wonderful amenities their progeny have been blessed with. What they did have throughout their lives was the loving family Whiles family.

The Santa Fe Railroad played a significant role in Whiles family history, as family members depended on the train in all their trips to and from Ralston. The passenger train had four cars and was affectionately call the "Doodle Bug." Some of the cities and towns it passed through are gone, but others have prospered, including Shawnee, Meeker, Kendrick, Avery, Cushing, Ripley, Stillwater, Pawnee, Skedee, and Fairfax. All of the depots identified themselves with bold letters. Conductors passed through the cars to announce their arrival at each city. Ralston was a small town then, and it remains small today. Almost any location in town is a short walk from the train station.

Visitors looked forward to dominoes and checkers under the trees in the grandparent's yard. Sometimes, they set up a croquet court in the large side yard. Entertainment came in the form of movies. A theater with a single projector was only one city block from their house, and a piano player entertained moviegoers between reels. Eating ice cream cones at the local drug store was part of every day. Feed stores and farm implement dealers had soda pop coolers full of root beer, cream soda, orange crush, and cherry soda.

Grandchildren from the city enjoyed performing farm chores. City dwellers were jealous to hear about driving a tractor at the age of six. Jobs that helped the family included turning the handle on cream separators and making butter with a simple churn. Many grandchildren rode a horse for the first time on nearby farms.

Grandmother Etta had an old pump organ whose bellows were not exactly air tight. Even so, grandchildren liked to play it. Sometimes, afternoon trips to town came after the six o'clock curfew. Grandpa George joked that if grandchildren strayed too far from his side, they might wind up in jail.

The Santa Fe Railroad no longer passes through Ralston. The Whiles home is still there and looks pretty much the same. But the trees are gone, and there are no chairs and tables in the yard for dominoes or checkers. Goats no longer graze in the railroad right-of-way.

Whiles family photos cover three generations. Bruce's wife, Joyce, is one of two people who have researched the family's genealogy. Before she died, Joetta Whiles published an online history of the Clay and Whiles families. (Clay was the 3 year-old child mentioned above.) The genealogies run for hundreds of pages.

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