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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.

Branch Family

Fired by "Oklahoma Fever," prospective homesteaders flocked to the borders of the Unassigned Lands in central Indian Territory to participate in the Run of 1889. Those who failed to stake a claim tried again when the Cherokee Outlet in present-day north central Oklahoma was opened to settlement in September 1893. One of those hopeful homesteaders was Alpha Curtis "Alf" Branch. Born on October 10, 1871 in Illinois, Alf was orphaned at the age of twelve. By 1893, he was old enough to participate in the Run into the Cherokee Outlet, and he made a bold decision to venture west to seek his fortune.

Alf and his older, 32-year-old half-brother, William Lincoln "Will" Branch, registered for the run at Kiowa, Kansas and lined up with hundreds of others a few miles east of town to wait for the race to begin. As he waited for the opening, Alf used a team and hack to haul people and supplies between the depot and town. Many land run participants were mounted on expensive and well-trained race horses from back East. Yet Alf had purchased and subsequently trained a small and spirited range pony, all black, to carry him across the line. His name, aptly enough, was Little Black.

At high noon on September 16, 1893, soldiers signaled the beginning of the biggest and wildest land run of all time. The Branch brothers were side by side at the starting line, with Alf mounted on Little Black and Will in a wagon. Just before noon, someone "jumped the gun," and the race was on. After the brothers became separated in the dust and confusion, Alf raced off on his own.

Alf later estimated that as many as 100,000 people raced "hell-bent for leather" for 160-acre allotments, but six of every ten went home empty-handed. According to Alf, an elderly lady who was riding ahead of him fell off her horse, rolled several yards, and then quickly jumped up, flag in hand, to stake her claim. Alf drove his stake on an allotment three miles east and one mile north of present-day Wakita in Grant County. He marked his corners, found the rocks inscribed with descriptions of the land, and resolved to ride to the Enid land office the next morning to file his claim.

Shivering alone through a cold and damp night, Alf defended his land from claim jumpers. As his food and supplies were in Will's wagon, he had neither a scrap of bread to eat nor a blanket to keep him warm. He stretched out on the ground, laid his head on his saddle, and fell asleep while holding Little Black's bridle reins.

In the middle of the night, a thunderstorm struck with a vengeance. As thunder rolled and lightning raked the land, Little Black spooked and ran away. The next morning, a wiser young man gathered sticks and wood for a campfire. Even though the wood was wet, Alf managed to start a fire, and by noon he finally felt warm.

Alf did not see Little Black for more than a year. The man who captured him gave Alf a chance to buy him back, and an ever wiser young man gladly paid the asking price.

South of Alf's land, John and Elizabeth Barr, a couple from Germany, had staked a claim. Alf fell in love with the Barrs' youngest daughter, Addie Matilda, best known as Tillie. By 1896, Alf had harvested enough ear corn to pay for a marriage license, and he and Tillie were married. After a few years of grueling work on their claim, Alf and Tillie decided they had had enough of "starving out" and sold their relinquishment for about $1,250, which was considered a fair price.

Prior to Oklahoma statehood in 1907, Alf and Tillie moved west and purchased a relinquishment near present-day Buffalo in Harper County, where they remained for the rest of their days. Their third child, Ernest Samuel, was born in 1905.

The patent record for the land near Buffalo is recorded in the land office records, book 618, on page 493. Their homestead certificate (no. 419) was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

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