Stories & Queries

  • Updated March 1, 2015 0:18 AM

    From: Larry Wilcox
    - click here for photos of Larry and his family.

    When I was about nine months old, my father find out about work to be had for a farmer/rancher in Johnston County in a little community called Russett.

    I once knew the details of how he found out about this work, but I have forgotten. (A lesson here. Better ask those questions and write down the answers while there are still people alive to give the answers).

    The farmer/rancher was Fred A. Chapman whose family owned most of Johnston County. The Chapmans were a wealthy family that barely survived the depression.

    My mother and father did not own any private transportation and public transportation was practically non-existent in rural Oklahoma. My grandfather Weber agreed to transport them and their meager possessions from Cache, Oklahoma to Russett, Oklahoma in his Model A Pickup.

    Mr. Chapman (everyone called him Mister Chapman) had a large farming and ranching enterprise. He had hired hands to do the ranching and some of the farming. Sharecroppers performed most of his farming activities. He actively recruited sharecroppers with large families to populate the community and to maximize enrollment at the Russett public school.

    He generally furnished housing for the sharecroppers and his hired hands. My father had been a cowboy on a ranch near Cache, Oklahoma before he ended up as a floor bouncer at the Medicine Park dance hall. His cowboy background made him well qualified for his first job as a muleskinner.

    Mister Chapman was mechanizing his farms and ranches as best he could. However, a lot of the farm work was still done with mules. Not only did they plow, plant and harvest crops with mules, they also did other projects with mule power. Using a tool called a Fresno, they dug a lot of stock ponds as well as other earth moving projects. Interesting sidelight. The movie industry almost always shows farm and ranch work being done with horses. Most agreed that mules were stronger and more intelligent than horses and were the preferred work animal. Their main negative characteristic was their stubbornness. Many stories have been told about getting a stubborn mule to do what the muleskinner wanted done and not what the mule wanted done. One of my favorites is the story about the muleskinner that hit his mule upside the head with a wooden 2X4. When asked why he did that, he replied, “Well if you want them to do something, first you have to get their attention.”

    Although I was too young to remember our first home in Russett, I was told later and shown where we first lived. It seems that Mister Chapman had acquired a number of old boxcars from the railroad that used to run through Russett. He used these old boxcars as barns; storage sheds and even modified some for people to live in. That was our first home in Russett. It was a cargo boxcar with a hole cut in one end for a wood stove pipe to extend out. As I recall it had a few windows that had been built in. Of course the sliding cargo door had a regular door built into it.

    I don’t know the exact length of time we lived in the boxcar, but we were still living there when my brother Thomas was born. He was born on June 10th, 1936. So, we lived in the boxcar at least nine months.

    We later lived in a house just north of the boxcar and it is there that I have my first memories when I was about two years old.

    To the west of the house there was an old depot that Mister Chapman had moved into Russett from I don’t know where. We later lived in the east end of this rather large building. On the west side of the depot was a sawmill. I used to play in the huge piles of sawdust produced by the sawmill. One day after it rained, I played in the sawdust piles and got my brand new shoes wet. I recall my mother being quite perturbed with me getting my new shoes wet and told me to put them under the oven in the wood cook stove so they would dry out from the mild heat generated from her cooking. I misunderstood her and thought she said to put them in the oven. Well, the next morning she fired up the wood cook stove to cook breakfast and when she opened the oven door to put in the breakfast biscuits, she found my brand new shoes had been baked rock hard and ruined of course. Needless to say she was very upset with me.

    One other thing I remember while living at this house was seeing a steam locomotive going through Russett. It wasn’t long after that they abandoned the railroad and pulled up all rails and cross ties leaving a right-of-way that I was to spend many a day playing in and living near by. Why we moved from the house, a real nice house with a well and a windmill in the backyard to the old depot nearby, I don’t know. I am told a story about me while we lived in the house that I don’t recall except for it being told to me. The windmill had a ladder bolted on the side to allow people to climb to the top of the tower to service the windmill. My father was concerned that even though he had told me not to climb on the windmill, he removed two rungs off the ladder. Even so, one day my mother walked into the back yard to find me calling to her from the top of the windmill tower.

    One other event that I recall occurred at this house. Evidently my mother and father had a rather prosperous year or had decided to spend well for my brother’s and my Christmas toys. The story that my mother loved to tell was after we played with the toys for a while, my brother went behind the wood heater and got the old stove poker and used it as a “stick-horse”, a story that would be repeated many times at many following Christmases.

    I recall a couple of more things that happened while living at this house. My father had a Colt Six-shooter that he had inherited from his uncle. He kept it loaded and under his pillow. I am told that he carried pistol in a shoulder holster back in Medicine Park and that I used the holster as a teething ring. The story is that he had been working nights and was sleeping when he awoke to be looking down the barrel of the pistol that I was pointing at him. When he told the story, he always said it was like looking down a 55-gallon barrel with tombstones floating all around. I don’t recall this incident, but I do recall my father’s constant advice about guns. “Guns are dangerous, lock, stock and barrel. An old lady beat her old man to death with a ramrod.” I picked up this cue from my father. I used to ask my children if a gun was loaded. When they would reply “no”, I would admonish them that a gun is always loaded, even if you just unloaded it. And, you never, never point a gun at anybody or anything unless you intend to shoot whomever or whatever you are pointing the gun at.

    aged 3 to 4 years. As I began to think about the next location we lived at in Russett, it had to be the old depot. I tried to remember why we moved from the very nice home to the end of this old dilapidated building, it occurred to me that my father and Mister Chapman had a "fallen out" and my father quit and we moved to a small house near Lawton, Oklahoma. I recall several things while living in this small shack that was in the middle of a cow pasture. The year was approximately 1938. Although I don't recall it happening, but it was here on December 7th that my sister Helen Juanita Wilcox was born.

    ...After a year or so living in Lawton my father and Mister Chapman must have come to amicable terms and we moved back to Russett...

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