Jane Little Botkin
In the past couple of years, we Texans have experienced some mighty changes in our weather...or perhaps I could say…the weather pattern is more like it was before the drought. I am not about to get into the global warming argument since I want this post to be amenable to all! But I have to tell you, Oklahoma has Texas beat when it comes to extremes. My friend Nancy and I left Austin, driving through Dallas-Ft. Worth northeast into Oklahoma. I had planned an ambitious itinerary of nine stops for researching archives, libraries, courthouses, the former homestead…well, you get the idea. It wasn't long before we smelled smoke and the sky became hazy. Oklahoma was on fire! The state was experiencing some of the worst wildfires in history plus severe weather. Couldn't have picked a worse time for spring travel. But Oklahoma winters are icy and summers, chigger-ridden and hot (wait, that sounds like here). By the time we saw a poor farmer driving his cattle through flames into the middle of his stock pond, I knew it was going to be bad. I had my first asthma attack that evening in Bartlesville at Nancy’s parents’ home.
The next morning I went outside to load my trusty Toyota Land Cruiser with the gear we needed for that day. The truck was parallel parked on a residential street so I was mindful opening the door of the back seat. In fact, I had the door resting at my back as I stretched inside to rearrange things. And then I was hit. All I can remember was the metal crumpling around me, a sound that seemed to increase in volume and intensity, and I was helpless to move. A woman, perhaps on a cell phone, who knows, t-boned directly into me and the Cruiser, shoving my knee into the edge of floorboard, and destroying the door at my back. The driver took off. Yes…she finally stopped. But the damage was done. No, I refused to go to the hospital, and yes, I was injured and in great pain with an enormously swollen right knee. Still, I had a mission and was not about to be stopped. We duct-taped the crumpled truck door where it would not close, and after a delay, continued our journey. Nancy drove. I did have knee surgery several months later, but nothing was going to stop me from getting my story about my uncle Frank Little at that moment. As for my then 12-year-old Land Cruiser? Repaired and driven into Arizona a couple of years later.
One family story is that Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe loved her fried chicken so much when he called at the house that he would eat way too much to her displeasure! In Drumright in 1914, my g-grandmother could sell her fried chicken for 35 cents a plate.
Nancy and I had a great time at the Drumright Historical Society where I was able to find information about the KKK and other civic groups that went after the IWW (yes, in Drumright, many considered the KKK a civic group). But as the sky darkened, we drove out of town quickly, trying to stay ahead of the storm to come.
So my friend and I continued our trip in Oklahoma to research Frank Little. I had my leg extended over the dash with an ice pack on my knee. While Nancy drove my duct-taped truck, we periodically checked on the weather. Not only was it a bad year for fires in Oklahoma, it was also a bad year for tornadoes. I did not want my land cruiser to have hail damage too. We managed research in Bartlesville, Vinita, Skiatook, Tulsa, Sapulpa, and Drumright before going to the family homestead in the next days, stopping occasionally for something to drink to kill the pain or eat.
Drumright is chaptered in my book primarily because of a life-altering family incident occurring there. The town has the longest main street in Oklahoma, made up of rolling hills, or humps as the locals call them! One old lady we met there told us that she had to stop and take a nap at the bottom of Tiger Hump before walking up the next hill. It is no surprise that the most famous gambling den was likewise called The Hump. Yes, Drumright was once a tent city, full of gamblers, prostitutes, ne’er do wells, and other questionable folk following the discovery of oil there in 1913. After the first gushers had blown in, the new town was surrounded by oil derricks as far as the eye could see. Nearby oil camps were named just like Drumright— Gasright, Dropright, Alright, Justright, and down by the dam on the town's creek, Damright! Civilization was slow to arrive. As an example, Drumright’s post office consisted of a pool table where everyone’s mail was thrown down. Like many other poor Oklahoma farmers, my g-grandparents moved to Drumright to make money off the oil workers and disreputable parasites that followed the oil camps. Maybe some would suggest my family members were parasites too. But I consider them wonderful entrepreneurs who didn’t want to take handouts. They set up a boarding house since my g-grandmother was a fine cook.
Historical aside from Wikipedia
The Tulsa Outrage was an act of vigilante violence perpetrated by the Knights of Liberty against members of the Industrial Workers of the World on November 7, 1917 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The incident occurred when 12 members of the IWW were convicted by Judge T. D. Evans for the crime of not owning a war bond. Judge Evans also convicted five men who, though they were not members of the IWW, were witnesses for the defense. After sentencing, the police rounded up the seventeen men and delivered them into the custody of the black-robed Knights of Liberty, a short-lived faction of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Knights of Liberty abducted the men at gunpoint and drove them to a deserted location west of town. The men were then, one by one, bound to a tree, whipped, then tarred and feathered.
From the author
Oklahoma became home to more radical forces of resistance to emerging corporate order--a perfect breeding ground for unionizing, all because of dissident tenant farmers and laborers whose needs largely were ignored.
The author (left) with her friend in Bartlesville Area History Museum (Oklahoma)
Since my last postings, my host in Bartlesville, my friend's father, passed away. So with a heavy heart, I will conclude this part of my journey to find the truth about my uncle.
Nancy and I left Drumright with storm clouds chasing us. Our next stop was Ingalls, OK, a ghost town where a famous outlaw shootout occurred. The skies were gray and rain pelted the top of my truck—not the best time for photographing Ingalls' ruins and my g-g-grandparents' graves in the cemetery there, people who play a part in my story. The Doolin-Dalton gang, train and bank robbers, also lived in and around the community. In fact, my physician g-g-grandfather, an eighty-niner in the Oklahoma Land Run, had no issue taking bullets out of outlaws' arms! (See “Chasing Rabbits” in the menu box under My Journey Researching Frank Little.) The Battle of Ingalls on September 1, 1893, has been exaggerated and mythologized with help from a 1914 Hollywood movie and the press. What is factual is that a posse of fourteen US marshals attacked the gang, killing not one member, but caused the deaths of bystanders and a few of themselves. During the melee, my g-grandfather hid behind a cracker barrel. You can look up the fight on the internet. What does this all have to do with my uncle? Well, that is in the book.
When we stopped at Ingalls Cemetery, a ferocious storm was now in progress, but I was determined to lay flowers on my g-g-grandparents' graves. Even more foreboding, when I stepped out of the Cruiser, my umbrella blew outward! After placing the limp, wet flowers on the graves, we high-tailed it out of Ingalls and returned for one last night in Bartlesville. My knee was still painfully swollen, but I was proud that we made every stop on my itinerary.
The next morning, we loaded the Cruiser, checked the duct-taped door, and began our journey home. The weather was still foul, and when we reached the small town Tushka on Oklahoma highway 69, we realized that the other parts of Oklahoma were in turmoil. While we were fighting wind and rain in Ingalls, an EF-3, multi-vortex tornado had demolished the little town. The season of wildfires and storms would continue throughout that summer, but Oklahomans are very resilient: my own family can attest to that. Nancy and I were glad to return home.
Well here goes! My journey to write this book began eight years ago, but the idea had been on my mind for years. When I was a kid, I had had no interest in the infamous McCarthy hearings, but my ears certainly picked up during a visit with my aunts and uncles in El Paso a decade later. When everyone went through our big box of old photographs, not one photo of Frank Little could be found. Not surprising. About 100 years ago, if a man was found with Frank's photo on his person, he might be arrested for sedition. So, it is no surprise that almost all Frank's photos were removed or destroyed. Of course, no one knew this at the time. No family member would or could even definitively address what happened to my great-grandfather's youngest brother except that Frank had been lynched. And we Littles are not like some of the families whose children have no idea who their great-grandparents are—an abundance of generational family stories and photos have drifted down to my cousins and me. And that is where I began—robbing my cousins' files. There had to be a story somewhere. After additional research on-line, I was ready to begin "THE RESEARCH TRIP" with my friend Nancy in 2012. Fortunately I traveled with a gal who had known me since we were both ten years old. What could be more fun? Well, I needed more than a old friend, because this trip was a disaster.