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.
Family Tree Leaf
Richards, Samuel W. & Sarah Burkett
Byars, McClain County
The heroine of this story is Donna Beulah (Woodfin) Richards, born in Copperas Cove, Texas, on September 7, 1884. Her qualities of faith, fortitude, perseverance, thrift, personal sacrifice, and dedication to family personify the pioneer spirit that is the underpinning of this great state.
In his book, Doctor Jesse, Colonel Charles W. Mooney wrote:
"In the spring of 1893, Dr. Jesse contacted Samuel Richards, who recently settled a few miles north of McGee, with his wife and a large family of eight daughters and two sons. During the Civil War, Richards had been a friend of Jesse's father, Major Jesse Mooney. After the…war, these two confederate veterans resumed their acquaintance in Washington County, Arkansas. Richards decided to enter into a partnership in the drug store that Dr. Jesse had opened the previous year, buying half interest in the thriving store and changing the name to Richards-Mooney Drugs. 'Dad' Richards, as he was called, previously owned a drug store in Missouri and was a registered pharmacist. The original Mooney Drug in McGee was the third building constructed in the little town, and was the first drug store in that part of the Chickasaw Nation.
"While Richards was in the Confederate Army, he was wounded twice… as had happened to Dr. Jesse's father. Richards was first struck in the neck by a bullet, which was never extracted, and later was wounded in the left knee by a Yankee mini ball, causing a slight limp he endured the remainder of his life."
Samuel Watt Richards, best known as Watt, was the eldest son of Samuel and Sarah Richards. In 1902 he was one of twelve graduates of the University of Oklahoma School of Pharmacy. After his graduation, Watt returned to McGee, Indian Territory, and met Beulah Woodfin, who was working in the post office for Jim Harris, a nephew of Beulah's mother. Romance blossomed, and Watt and Beulah were married in the Woodfin home in Belton, Texas, on November 22, 1904. Before traveling to McGee, Beulah had studied at Mary Hardin Baylor College in Belton.
The newlyweds made their home in Byars, Indian Territory. They had four children, one of whom—a daughter—died at age five. Jack, the eldest of their three boys and best known as "Little Watt" in Byars, was born on March 12, 1908. As he lacked a birth certificate, Little Watt changed his name to Watt when he entered the Navy during World War II and was identified on his official birth certificate as Watt Jack Richards. The two younger boys, Gordon and Don, were born in 1911 and 1913, respectively.
As the local pharmacist, Samuel Watt Richards was the only health care provider in Byars during the flu pandemic of 1918-19. He dedicated himself to caring for the ill until he succumbed to the virus on January 19, 1919. Samuel's death left the story's heroine, Beulah, to raise their three young boys. Little Watt, who was ten at the time of his father's death, recalled his mother saying, "You are the man of the family now; you are responsible for the education of your brothers and yourself." Watt carried this mantle of responsibility for the rest of his life.
The family remained in Byars until Watt graduated from Byars High School at age sixteen. Beulah then moved to Shawnee so that her boys could attend Oklahoma Baptist University. She started a boarding house near the OBU campus and, through a resourceful and frugal lifestyle, enabled her boys to attend OBU and complete their pharmacy degrees at the University of Oklahoma. As evidence of Beulah's commitment to education, all of her grandchildren graduated from college. Four of her six grandchildren attained advanced degrees.
In 1939 Watt, Gordon, and Don were working as pharmacists in Shawnee for O. H. Marmaduke. Upon his death, the brothers faced a dilemma: they could either purchase the three drug stores where they were employed or lose their jobs. Encouraged by local bankers, they bought the stores and launched Richards Brothers' Drug Stores. As they built their business, the brothers relied on and respected one another's strengths. Watt was the business manager, an avid golfer, and a charter member of the OU Touchdown Club. Gordon's involvement in community affairs included participation in local and state politics, and he served on the State Board of Pharmacy and the State Highway Commission. Don was the tall, handsome brother who applied his social skills to building a positive brand for Richards Brothers' Drug Stores.
In 1946 Richards Brothers' Drug Store sponsored the first annual Richards Drug FFA banquet. Gordon and Otto Krausse, FFA teacher at Shawnee High School, came up with the idea for a banquet to recognize an outstanding student from each FFA chapter in Pottawatomie County. In 2000 Pottawatomie County commemorated the sixty-fourth consecutive year of honoring vocational-agricultural students. Recipients include Governor Brad Henry and Abbott Lawrence Stasyszen, OSB, of St. Gregory's Abbey.
Built in the 1890s, Richards Drug Store at 324 East Main in Shawnee was renovated in 2008. An exterior mural depicts the drug store as it appeared in the 1950s and includes an image of Gordon Richards, Sr., looking over his shoulder at fond memories. A bust of Gordon at the Santa Fe Depot Museum includes the following caption:
"Gordon (Red) Richards, 1911-1981. A leader who, with vision and unselfishness, worked to build a better community. Gordon Richards took in hand projects beyond his lifetime, and with the love of God and commitment to his fellowman, said 'It can be'."
It is hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to this family's heroine, Beulah Richards, who gave so selflessly to her children.