Mary listened to her grandmother tell mesmerizing stories about traveling with her family to Indian Territory in a covered wagon following the Civil War.
The allure of claiming free land in the Oklahoma Land Run was significant enough for her family to uproot and head to what is now known as Oklahoma with the hope of finding a better life.
According to Mary, Bessie Mae was only 12 years old when she watched from “the line” as her father took off running with the hope of securing a piece of land.
Unfortunately, participation in two land runs fell short.
“In the Run of 1889,
Bessie’s father was met by some men who had come from another direction and threatened violence.
In the Run of the Cherokee Outlet in 1893, her father claimed school land, which was reserved to support schools and was not available.
It was unmarked, but anyone claiming it was left with nothing,” Mary said.
“My great-grandfather participated in two land runs and failed to get free land in either.
This is the point when the story takes an interesting twist.
Occasionally, when seriously bad luck turns into good fortune, one realizes what was previously thought to be a small tragedy is actually a blessing,” she said.
What was so lucky in this predicament?
Failure to secure land resulted in the family living in Indian territory on the top bank of Cottonwood Creek, an area now known as Stillwater.
And while on that land, her father found work with the Cherokee Indians.
To make ends meet, Bessie had to help her father earn the family’s income.
She was only five years old when she accompanied her father to Mulhall, Oklahoma to collect items dropped off by the train.
Bessie and her father would collect lumber, groceries, mail and other goods people had ordered.
They earned a decent living transporting those items.
Bessie would take the smaller items like groceries and mail, and her father would haul the lumber – delivering goods to surrounding areas including Mul hall, Still water and Guthrie.
The transportation and delivery business boomed during that time, and the family was able to save some money.
With the money, Bessie’s father drilled water wells for people on their land, for which he was compensated.
Several years later, a drought hit the Still water area, and the farmers who had crops watched them wither away.
“A catastrophic drought occurred in 1890 and left the farmers who had gotten land in the land run without food or income from the lack of crops.
It was known as the ‘year of the turnip’ because that’s all they had to eat during the winter.”
Since Bessie’s family was not in the farming business, they had cash and a cow that provided milk.
Her family had to build a fence around their cow to deter hungry children from eating its food.
Bessie’s mother would milk the cow and pass around cups of milk to ease their hunger.
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