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Russett, Oklahoma


by Joan Boyer - Read at the 2004 Russett Reunion

 Russett, Oklahoma, located on the edge of the Washita River Valley, where the soil is deep and fertile, is located in the half of the state known as Indian Territory.  This is the land to which the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole and Creek Indians were relocated by the Federal government when their home lands in the southeastern United States were confiscated in the early 1800's.  White settlers, mostly farmers, began to move there very early.  Not everyone was a farmer, and a town soon grew on what is now the Holland Jester ranch.


There was a post office from October 1894 until September 1924.  There was a cotton gin, a lumber mill, two large stores that sold everything from horse collars to ladies’ taffeta petticoats.  There was a drug store, two cafes, a blacksmith shop, and a casket making business.  A dentist and two doctors.  In 1901, The Rock Island Railroad Company built a line through Russett, there were four trains daily.  There was a two story depot and a water tank where the trains refilled their tanks.


Statehood for Oklahoma in 1907 changed Russett. The Indian population was placed individually on a roll by the Dawes Commission and each one was allotted a portion of land.  An Indian lady by the name of Kate O’Brien, and her two sons, was allotted several hundred acres of land.


Russett was located in the middle of her allotment and she wanted it moved.  She laid down a town site where the present Russett Baptist Church is located and sold lots to business men and individuals.  Most people bought lots and moved to the new location.  Others left the county for someplace else.


After statehood, a two story frame school house was built and three teachers were hired to teach through the eighth grade. 


In the twenties, the people voted bonds and built the brick building that served all you who were students there through the year 1961.  Russett was Johnston County School District #8.


The year 1933 was a memorable year!  The nation was limping painfully along through the Great Depression.  Thousands of American families faced eviction for non-payment of rent or foreclosure of their home mortgages.


No plume of smoke was seen coming out of factory chimney stacks.  Reasonably well dressed men went to back doors of restaurants to salvage bits of food from garbage bins.  Shop fronts were boarded up for lack of tenants.  Almost everybody learned the trick of lining their shoes with cardboard to get more wear from them.


Meat, if you could afford it at all, was bought once a week.  New skyscrapers stood empty.  (Not in Russett, of course!)  Trains ran half empty.  Hobos sneaked free rides.  New car markets collapsed.


There was little or no work.  Rain stopped, crops failed, soil eroded, then blew away in the hot wind.  In the large cities of America, boys sold newspapers and earned $1.60 per week.  They took their money home to Mama to help keep the family going.  Supper, if there was any, was lard spread on a piece of bread.


In Russett, grown men hoed corn and cotton for 50 cents a day.  But, people were better off in Russett than the big cities because they could grow gardens and have room for some livestock.  Somewhere else in the country, two young men just out of college, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, sang songs on the sidewalk for dimes for they could find no work.


In Germany, Adolph Hitler was making good on his promise to eradicate Jews from national life. Edward R. Murray and H.V. Kalternborn brought America the news from Europe and Walter Winchell told us what the movie stars were doing.


Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated president and was beginning programs designed to put some of the thirteen and one-half million unemployed to work.  Among them were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).


Alfalfa Bill Murray was headed to Oklahoma City as governor and Wiley Post set a record around the world flight in seven days and nineteen hours.  You could get into the movies if you had fifteen cents and see “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Private Life of Henry VIII.”


If you didn’t have the price of a ticket or a way to get there, you turned on the radio and listened to George Burns and Grace Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, or Lum and Abner.  In 1933, Gene Autry was singing “The Last Roundup”  and Guy Lombardo was playing “Stormy Weather”  and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”


But, the most important thing, to the people in this room, that happened in 1933, was that Russett High School graduated its first Senior Class.  A.R. Richards was superintendent and his teachers were Evorie Reynolds, Mabel Smith, Ruby Wolfe and U.R. Branscomb.




The class of 1933 graduated five seniors, a girl and four boys,  Ora Mae Brown, Ivan Roberts, Lawrence Lemons, Hillary Martin, and Edwin Campbell.  We have the honor tonight of having with us the last remaining member of the Class of 1933.




In 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were killed in a police ambush.  You could buy a new Ford for $435.00, a pair of work shoes for $1.59, a pair of tennis shoes for 79 cents, a gallon of coal oil for 5 cents.


Bing Crosby and Kate Smith were singing “God Bless America” and “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”


You could buy a broom for 29 cents and a box of Jello for 6 cents.




Storm clouds are gathering over Europe.  Will Rogers and Wiley Post are killed in a plane crash in Alaska, Monolopy was invented (although I doubt anyone in Russett had one.)


Ma Barker and her son Fred were gunned down by the FBI, (a bad era for gangsters), and Elvis

Presley was born.  People were doing the Charleston, the fox trot, and the jitterbug.  They were singing songs like “Red Sails in the Sunset” and “The Isle of Capri.”


The sheriff’s force in Johnston County captured four whisky stills, the Washita River was on the rise again and prospects for the cotton crop were extremely poor.  You could buy two bottles of Ben Hur perfume for 26 cents.




Movies offered an escape from hard times.  The Princess Theatre was showing “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi in Tishomingo.  DuPont patented nylon and the first Volkswagen was manufactured in Germany.


Bing Crosby was crooning “Pennies From Heaven” and “I’m an Old Cowhand.”  You could get a permanent for $1.59 and a finger wave for 15 cents.  Eleven bars of Luna soap cost 25 cents.




Amelia Earhart was lost at sea while attempting an around the world flight.  The Nazis opened their fourth concentration camp and began taking children away from their parents who refused to train them in Nazi ideology.


You were listening to Bing Crosby sing “Sweet Lalani” and Guy Lombardo was playing and singing “Boo Hoo.”  At the movies you saw the “Keystone Kops” and “The Great Ziegfield.”


Ed Gill was superintendent at Russett and was paid $168.00 per year.  His teachers were paid $75.00 and $85.00 per year.  Yes, you heard me right!!!!




Joe Louis floored Max Schmelling in the first round.   The minimum wage was 40 cents per hour.  You were listening to “A Tisket, A Tasket” and “Begin the Beguine.”


The Russett Redbirds played the Fumbling Five from Murray and lost 27-12.  You could buy a bale of hay for 40 cents, two pounds of crackers for 15 cents, and 20 pounds of sugar for $1.00.


Bromide School sent a note of sympathy to Russett School at the passing of their beloved superintendent, A. R. Richards.




The Nazis invade Poland.  “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With The Wind” came to the movie screen. 


Work started at the Russett School WPA project that built the gymnasium, the auditorium, the driveway and some landscaping.


You could buy a ladies’ coat at Armstrongs for $6.75, a work shirt for 59 cents, and a man’s suit for $9.00.  You could buy 8 pounds of lard for 60 cents and 3 pounds of coffee for 73 cents.


That year, everybody was singing “Jeepers Creepers.”




Germany conquered Holland, Denmark, Belgium, and invaded France.  Churchill was installed Prime Minister of England, and the first draft number was called in the United States.


The number one movie was “The Grapes of Wrath,” and you were listening to Glen Miller do “In The Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction,” and “Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh.”


Seniors were Nova Lemons, Rowe Harvey, Carl Smith, Dorothy McClain, and Glenn King.


Wanda June Dake and Dalton Beam were the first students so far to complete all their school work at Russett.




There were only two seniors to graduate this year.  Vera Barham and Etolia May.


Hitler invades Russia, Yugoslavia, and Greece.  The war is really boiling in Europe now.  Penicillin was tried successfully for the first time.  Joe DiMaggio hit safely in a record 56 games in a row (he didn’t know about steroids.)


The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor


In the district basketball tournament in Tishomingo, Russett girls beat Coleman 16-10.  Neta Jane Boyer, also known as Hook Shot, made all 16 points.  Martha Lee Poindexter was known as the fastest guard in the conference because she could intercept passes so suddenly.


Bill Watts and Curtis May pitched the boys’ softball team to victory after victory, with assistance from Harold Watts at shortstop, Roy Gentry at third base, and Hardy May, Max Clifton, and Troy Gentry in the outfield.


The top songs were “Amapollo, My Pretty Little Poppy” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”




In Germany, Hitler implemented his final solution for the Jews and other undesirables (to him) by sending them to the gas chamber.


Russett sent some of her daughters to the aircraft factories and her sons to war.  Among them were:  W. C. Jester, S. A. Triplett, Clyde Triplett, Buddy Beam, Dalton Beam, Bill Watts, Harold Watts, Woodrow Brown, Charles Fitzgerald, and Junior Metcalf. 


In 1942, 36,000 Americans were killed or captured on Battaan and 42,000 more on Corregidor.  One of Russett’s sons, Junior Metcalf, is still at the bottom of the Pacific aboard the USS Oklahoma.


The class of 1942 included:  Buddy Beam, Max Clifton, Gladys Bates, Cora Mae Hefley, Lola Upchurch, Harold Watts, Charles Fitzgerald, Bill Watts, Tommy Shaw, Neta Jane Boyer and Nolan Lemons.


This class went to the movies and saw “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”   “Mrs. Miniver,” and “Holiday Inn.”  They listened to “Moonlight Cocktail” and “I’ve Gotta  Gal in Kalamazoo.”


Ed Gill was still superintendent at Russett.  Last year, he made $160.00 a year.  This year he was paid a whopping $1,800.00 per year.  What happened?  The war changed everything.  The economy went sky high.  Coffee was now 39 cents a pound, bananas 25 cents a dozen,  100 pounds of potatoes $2.75 and now Jello is 12 cents a box.




Goodyear rubber workers earned $1.20 per hour and the war churned on in Europe as well as the Pacific.


Russett Seniors in 1943 were:  Donald Martin, Ray Noah, Christine Mouser, Geraldine Lemons, Bessie Cremeen, Floyd Rogers, Paul Elledge and Louise Dunn.


If they could get to the movies, they saw “Casablanca” and “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”  They were singing “Paper Doll” and “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”



Bombs saturated Berlin and MacArthur started his drive through the Pacific.


The seniors were:  Margaret Ann Watts, Curtis May, Louise Easley, Junior Jester, Hazel Kirtley, Martha Lee Poindexter, Roy Gentry, Troy Gentry, Geraldine Autrey, Lois Duke, Eldon Upchurch, Leola Elledge, O. M. Allen, and Jo Martin.


They went to the movies to see “Gaslight” and “Going My Way.”  The top songs were “Swingin’

On A Star,”  “Don’t Fence Me In” and  “Mairzy Doats.”


And Jello is now 15 cents a box.




Glen Miller’s plane is lost at sea, The Stars and Stripes  were raised over Iwo Jima, Hitler, Mussolini, and Roosevelt all die this year.  Hitler, by suicide;  Mussolini, hanged by his own people; and Roosevelt from a cerebral  hemorrhage. 


Atomic bombs destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The war is over!


Charles McGilberry is superintendent at Russett and the seniors are seeing “The Bells of St. Mary,” “Lost Weekend,” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”  They are:  Wanda June Dake, Anna Sparks and Mary Ann Bennett.


They are listening to “Sentimental Journey,”  “Rum and Coca Cola,” “The Atcheson, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” and “Bell Bottom Trousers.”




Meat is in such short supply that people in NYC are eating horsemeat.  Government Regulation #L-85 legalized the wearing of long skirts again.  That had been prohibited during the war because of shortages of fabric.


The Russett seniors were:  Alton Rush, Zelma Crow, Charles Ray Richards, Georgia Autry and Janice Green.   They were going to the movies to see “The Yearling,” “Anna and the King of Siam,” and “The Best Years of our Lives.”  They were singing along with Frank Sinatra with, “To Each His Own,” and “Oh, What It Seemed To Be.”


Rena Mae Jester Albright was teaching at Russett and earning a whopping $1,678.00 per year.




Lowell Easterwood, Beatrice Hamilton, Maxine Ritchey, Dillard Scruggs, Barbara Henry, and Louise Hines were seniors.


The Xerox machine was invented, Henry Ford died, and a French ship in the Texas City Harbor caught fire and started a chain reaction that spread to chemical plants and oil refineries resulting in a holocaust.


Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and the top movies were “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” and “Song of The South.”  They were singing “Near You”,  “Dance Ballerina, Dance” and “The Too Fat Polka.”




The Dead Sea Scrolls are found.  The state of Israel was born, and Korea is separated into the north and the south with both claiming jurisdiction over the entire peninsula.


“Johnny Belinda” is the top movie, along with “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” and “Key Largo.”  Russett graduates are Weldon Biles, Eugene Henry and Peggy Easley.  Pouring through the air waves are:  “Twelfth Street Rag,”  “Buttons and “Bows,” and “Manana is Good Enough For Me”




RCA introduces the 45 rpm record, the first jet airliner made its debut, and Leland Portman was superintendent at Russett.  The graduating class consisted of :  Paula Brock, Bertha Futch, Sue Taylor, Bernice Davis, Norma Behrens, Roy O’Steen and Leland Covington.


When they went to the movies they saw “12 O’Clock High,”  “All The Kings Men,” and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”   They were singing “That Lucky Old Sun”  and  “A Little Bird Told Me That You Love Me.”




U.S. troops are sent to South Korea.  To the despair of the theatre owners everywhere, drive in movies are taking away their business.


Russett seniors are:  Billy Behrens, Beth Biles, Melba Dawson, Lafon Brown and Claudius Smith.  They were going to the movies to see “Samson and Delilah,”  “All About Eve”  and “Sunset Boulevard.”   They were singing to the tune of “Tennessee Waltz,”  “Mona Lisa” and “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake.”




American troops celebrate Christmas in a makeshift jungle church in Korea.  Charles Nessler, the inventor of the permanent wave and false eyelashes, died.


Seniors were Floudell Beardon, Dale Easterwood, Guyman Henry, Imogene Ingle, Donald Covington, Fay Covington, Eddie Armstrong, Leoma Gray, Geneva Gray, and J. K. Biles.


You were watching “Streetcar Named Desire”  and  “The African Queen” at the movies.  Your phonographs were playing “How High The Moon” and “Come Ona My House.”


You were putting 39 cent per gallon gas in your cars and Leland Portman was still superintendent and making $3,600.00 per year.




The Allies make their biggest air strike in Korea, Eisenhower won the presidency by a landslide,  and the first “Don’t Walk” traffic sign was installed.


The seniors at Russett were:  Ora Mae Smith, Lavelle Cryer, Delois Coffman, Lawrance Wilcox, Dale O’Steen and Lometa Word.  At the movies, they were watching “The Greatest Show On Earth,”  “High Noon” and “Come Back Little Sheba.”


They were singing along with Jo Stafford and Kay Starr to “You Belong to Me” and “Wheel of Fortune.”




A scrawny ex-GI named George Jorgenson flew to Denmark and after 2000 injections and 6 operations, he stepped off a plane in New York City and was forever after known as Christine Jorgenson.  Salk polio vaccine was used successfully for the first time and Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England.


3-D movies were in, and the first automobile air conditioning was installed in a car.  Armistice in Korea began and you were watching “Shane” and “From Here to Eternity” at the movies.


Graduates that year were James Behrens, Jerry Henry, Mona Jo Brown, Wanda Serner, Martha Nell Beardon, Wayne Easterwood, Geraldine Underwood, and Willie Fay Coffman.


Your car radios were playing “Vaya Con Dios,”  “Til I Waltz Again With You,” and “How Much is That Doggie in The Window.”




Ozzie and Harriet were on TV every Friday night, Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley  celebrated his 19th birthday by taking his guitar to Memphis and paying $4.00  to record “Casual Love” and  “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way.”


Leland Portman was still superintendent at Russett and the seniors, Jack Cumbie, Ollie Gray, Codeen Looney and Ruel Monroe went to the movies to see “On The Waterfront,”   and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”   On the way there their car radios played  “Oh, My Papa” and “Sha Boom, Sha Boom.”




Civil War breaks out between North and South Vietnam.  James Dean is killed in a car crash and children all over America are wearing mouse ears.


Russett seniors that year were Arlie Frank O’Steen,  Arnold Pratt, Thomas Wilcox, Carl Wayne Gray, Bobby Henson and Frank Clifton.  The class of ’55 was watching at the movies – “East of Eden,” “Man With The Golden Arm” and “Bad Day at Black Rock..”


They were singing “Sixteen Tons,” and dancing to “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” and “Rock Around the Clock.”




Rocky Marciano retired from boxing undefeated; Castro started a revolution in Cuba; and Dr. Seuss wrote “The Cat in the Hat.”


Elvis Presley had four number one hits this year:  “Heartbreak Hotel,” “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.”  You were going to the movies to see “The King and I,”  “Giant” and “Anastasia.”


Seniors that year were: Fay Covington, Gene Underwood, Wendyl Andrews, Marvin Cryer, Patsy Smith, James Sims, and Sylvester May.




The Edsel hit the market, the Russians launched Sputnik, and playing at the movies was “The Three Faces of Eve,”  “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Sayonara.”


Elvis sang “All Shook Up” and Pat Boone did “Love Letters in the Sand.”




Elvis entered the Army; Alaska became the 49th state, and we wondered where the yellow went when we brushed our teeth with Pepsodent.


The movies you watched were “The Old Man and The Sea,”  “Gigi” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”


The songs you listened to were “At The Hop,”  “Get a Job” and “Tom Dooley.”




Ford drops the Edsel; the hula hoop is in, and Hawaii becomes the 50th state.  The United States sent two monkeys into space and the top movies were “Ben Hur,”  “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Pillow Talk.” 


The songs of the year were “Mack The Knife,” “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Stagger Lee.”




John F. Kennedy was elected president; Clark Gable died; and the top movies were “Spartacus,”  “The Apartment” and “Elmer Gantry.”  Elvis sang “Are You Lonesome Tonight,”  the Everly Brothers sang “Kathy’s Clown” and someone did “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Polka Dot Bikini.”


Although the songs of the year do not yet reflect it, you were just entering the era where your parents disapproved of the music you were listening to.  Their chief complaints being they were too loud, the words don’t make sense, and the songs are ridiculous.   They had evidently forgotten the songs of their school days that made so much sense and with such a clarity of understanding.  Such as:


            Boop, boop, dittum, dottum, wattum choo    - or

            Hut sut rah sittin on a rilla rah is a bralla, bralla suet    -  or

            Flat foot floogie with a floy floy




The last class of seniors from Russett High School.  That year the Peace Corps began.  Forty more Dead Sea Scrolls were found in Palestine; and the first American soldier was killed in Vietnam.


“101 Dalmations” was on at the movies and the top songs were “Big Bad John” and “Runaround Sue.” 


Will the first class of 1933 please stand with the last class of 1961.  You have the distinction of being the first and the last graduating classes to gather at the well at Russett, and in the gym, and the auditorium, and the classrooms and on the playground.  These two classes and all of you in between, from 1933 to 1961, have produced the teachers, merchants, doctors, lawyers, cowboys, farmers, soldiers, sailors, politicians, secretaries and seamstresses that have been the force that has run the engines of commerce, fed the nation and the world, and protected the United States of America for the last 72 years.


Although Russett High School has faded into history, it will live forever in the memories of the offspring she produced.  We will remember the friends we made.  Some of us met our spouses at Russett.  We will remember the sports, the teachers, the lessons learned, the plays we produced and the end of school picnics we enjoyed.


We will not remember metal detectors.  All the boys brought knives to school---to play mumblety-pegs.  We will not remember armed gangs or a campus under lock-down.  The worst thing to fear was the principal’s paddle.  And that our parents gave us another going over when we got home – instead of calling a lawyer.


Most of all we will remember the camaraderie, the spirit, the collective experiences  that propelled us toward our futures, and that will bind us together for the rest of our lives.


Oh, and I checked this morning.  The price of a plain vanilla Ford costs $22,000.00 and a box of Jello is 88 cents.


In the years where the names of seniors are not listed, they were unavailable to me.


This work is dedicated to my mother, Ora Mae (Brown) Boyer, age 90 at this writing, is the last surviving member of the first graduating class of Russett High School.  She has always been a strong supporter of education  at every level and values the friends, experiences and relationships from her school days at Russett.  This was written to honor the 72nd  anniversary of her graduation because of her long-time commitment to this alumni gathering.


While this is a compilation of true statements gleaned from the sources listed below, it is not, nor is it intended to be a comprehensive history of Russett High School or the Russett community.


It was intended to cause you to reach back in your memories of days gone by.  If it has made you recall your school days, or if it has entertained or amused you, it has fulfilled its intent.


Information Sources:


Russett High School Yearbook

Johnston County Capital Democrat Archives

The Daily Ardmorite  Archives

Office of Johnston County Superintendent Archives

Chronicles of the Twentieth Century

Oscar Winning Movies of the Twentieth Century

Top Ten Songs of the Decades


Copyright © 2007, 2008 ISC, Inc.

Last modified: 05/27/07