Grant County Oklahoma Courthouse

By Guy P. Webb
Book Published by the Grant County Historical Society 1971

The Cherokee Outlet

 Once owned by the Cherokee Indians, but never occupied by them, Cherokee Outlet was the first and formal name of what later became popularly known as the Cherokee Strip.  Boundaries of the Outlet were established in a treaty of 1828 between the western Cherokees and the United States. 

Spotted here and there in the Indian country in the Outlet were trading stations.  Among the traders hustling well-earned dollars in exchanges of goods with the Indians were Jesse Chisholm and James R. Mead.  One of these trading stations, which had been built by James R. Mead in 1866, was located at Round Pond Creek, present site of Jefferson.  Mead’s trading station was the southern point of the original trail named after Chisholm.  Gradually, Texas cattlemen, seeking a shorter route to Kansas railheads, brought their herds from as far south as the Rio Grande and connected with the original Chisholm Trial at Round Pond Creek.  The Chisholm Trail name caught on and its use came to mean the entire trail to the Rio Grande.

By 1884 the Chisholm Trail cattle drives virtually ceased.  Wichita, alone, survived its boom period to become a metropolitan center.  Would-be settlers in the Cherokee Outlet and in other unoccupied lands in Oklahoma Territory watched Kansas cattlemen cross the border and graze their herds in the Outlet with impunity.  These land-hungry farmers uttered cries of discrimination, of favoritism toward cattlemen over settlers.
On 13 November 1879 a post office named Pond was opened near the present site of Jefferson.  The postmaster was a cattleman, William E. Malaley of the Malaley cattle outfit.  The post office served cattlemen and traders in the Round Pond area.  This post office, the first and only one in the Cherokee Outlet, continued in operation until 24 April 1887.  Thereafter, mail addressed to Pond was delivered to Caldwell.

In 1883 the Kansas cattlemen formed the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association, chartered under the laws of Kansas.  The Association obtained a lease of the entire Outlet for five years for $100,000 a year, payable semiannually in advance.  The first payment, $50,000 in silver as requested by the Cherokees, was hauled in a wagon from Caldwell to Tahlequah by Milton H. Bennett, treasurer of the association.  A renewal of the lease was obtained in 1888 at an annual rental of $200,000 a year.  But this lease was not to be fulfilled.

“…on February 17, 1890, the President issued his proclamation based upon the opinion of the Attorney General, declaring that whatever title the Cherokees had in said lands, they had no rights under which they could make grazing leases or contracts; and therefore ordered all livestock removed therefrom by October 1, 1890.  This date was extended to December 1, 1890.”

February 27, 1893, Congress enacted the Indian appropriation bill.  Actually, the authorization to open the Cherokee Outlet to settlement was contained in the rider to the bill consisting of three amendments.  This was ratified by Congress on March 3, 1893.  The Act provided that sections 16 and 36 in each township should be reserved for the use and benefit of public schools.  The Secretary of Interior was delegated in this Act to divide the Outlet into counties.

President Grover Cleveland on August 19, 1893, issued a proclamation declaring the Outlet, including the Pawnee and Tonkawa lands, would be opened for settlement on September 16, 1893.  The proclamation specified that five registration booths should be on the northern border of the Outlet, and four on the southern border.

Any citizen age 21, or head of a family (including widows), was eligible to register.  Minors and wives accompanied many of the claim-seekers.  Instant eligibility was accomplished by some young men under 21 by marriage on or near the state line.  Registration began on September 11, under the direction of Alfred P. Swineford, Inspector of Surveys General and District Land Offices, from Superior, Wisconsin.
Each person who made the run was supposed to have a registration certificate but the number of applicants simply overwhelmed the registration machinery.  By September 14, Swineford realized that not all applicants would be able to register.  About 115,000 were issued although only 40,000 claims were available.

The Race

               Firing of gun shots by patrolling troopers at 12 noon on 16 September, 1893 along the borders of the Cherokee Strip signaled the start of the race of thousands of land-seeking settlers to stake claims for a quarter section of land in the Strip.
Settlers had to locate markers in order to recognize the boundaries of their quarter sections.  Surveyors had laid out the Strip in grid form around 1873, placing markers on section and certain quarter section corners. 

The Enid land office, to prove a claim, required evidence indicating that basic improvements of a permanent nature had been made on the land, such as digging a well, or erecting a house.  Many settlers satisfied this requirement by digging a dugout or erecting a sod house.

In order to obtain patents on their claims, settlers were also required by law to pay for their homesteads at the rate of $1.00 to $2.50 per acre, depending on location.  On May 17, 1900, Congress passed the Free Homesteads Act, which eliminated all payments except the customary small fees for issuance of final certificates.

The Railroad War

The railway had moved too fast in installing depot stops at Round Pond and North Enid, acting upon apparently reliable information that these places would become county seats of L (Grant) and O (Garfield) Counties.  The two locations had been recommended by Swineford.  This information was innocently or overtly leaked by word of mouth and it then was published in newspapers.  The L County location placed it approximately at the site of Round Pond, a place name which had been used since the late sixties for a site one mile south and about a half mile east of present Jefferson.

U.S. Senator Robert L. Owen, a Cherokee and former United States Indian Agent of the Five Civilized Tribes, had no difficulty in learning of the recommendations of the two county seats.  Senator Owen’s had two citizens of the Cherokee Nation chose 80-acre allotments here.  Authorization to grant these allotments was contained in the agreement of the Cherokee Tribe made with the Cherokee Commission on December 19, 1891, for sale of the Outlet lands to the federal government.

Silas W. Lamoreaux, Commissioner of the General Land Office in the Department of Interior, inspected the allotment schedule and learned that the above selections of the allottees had been made. The Commissioner saw that Swineford’s proposed townsite tracts were “nearly or completely surrounded by the Indian allotments.”  He then acted to select other tracts for townsites.  Lamoreaux did not believe that the interests of prospective settlers would be best served by townsites almost surrounded by Indian allotments.

So Commissioner Lamoreaux rejected Swineford’s proposed county seat locations and recommended present town of Pond Creek for L County and present town of Enid for O County.  Sites were approved by Secretary of Interior Hoke Smith.
The Rock Island, following prearranged schedules, stopped trains only at the railway’s selected sites of Round Pond and North Enid.  Passengers were somewhat confused.  By November, South Enid and Pond Creek had become, respectively, cities of the first class.

Citizens of these two cities of the first class had had enough of words, words, and words by Congressmen, by letter, by telegram and in the courtroom while the trains continued to roll right though without stopping.  Citizens of Pond Creek and South Enid now tried to stop the trains by waving red garments, red lanterns, and by placing on the railroad track objects like dynamite caps, a wagon, or a frame building.
By mid-June the point of violence had been reached.  Citizens of Pond Creek tore up the track of the railroad for about a hundred yards, in order, as they claimed, to stop a freight train to make arrest of the employees on the train under a violation of their town ordinance for running through the town at a rate of speed faster than that authorized under the ordinance.

The battle of two small towns versus a giant railway corporation came to an end on August 1, 1894.  The two towns won their depots.  Henceforth, the trains stopped at Pond Creek and (South) Enid.
Remarkable was the fact than no human lives were lost in this conflict lasting over ten months.

County Government

Dr. John C. Mahr, four years out of the Kansas City, Missouri, Medical College and an appointed member of the first Board of County Commissioners of L County, called the first Board meeting to order on October 30, 1893.  Present at this first meeting were Chairman Mahr, Commissioner R. M. Harrison and County Clerk S. L. Bradley.  Commissioner Isaac N. Winfrey was absent.

In its second meeting on November 6, 1893, the Board approved bonds for these appointed county officers: Probate Judge D.B. Madden; County Sheriff R. H. Hagar; County Treasurer John H. Cox; County Attorney C. C. Daniels, and County Superintendent of Schools W. G. Ross.  County Clerk Bradley entered the name Round Pond as the county seat of L County on all of the proceedings for meetings of the county commissioners up to and including the one held on February 5, 1895.  After that date, the name Pond Creek appeared.  The Railroad War, which ended in August 1894, had caused confusion about the county seat name.

From numerous accounts of settlers’ experiences in the early days, there was a scarcity of ready cash.  Not so with the saloon keepers.  They set up shop in a matter of a few days and it was not long until they paid their fees to sell liquor.  The first Board of County Commissioners correctly anticipated that this money from liquor licenses would bring them their first pay day.

In September and October 1894, the commissioners assigned names to 15 townships.  The 1928 Grant Conty Atlas shows that a new alignment of townships had been made.  The 15 original townships had been increased to 24 by splitting nine of the double townships.  The tier of double townships across the northern part of the county was not changed.

Officers of township boards, chosen at general elections, were the township trustee, clerk and treasurer.  Their duties, mainly involved in road maintenance, included:  appointment of a bonded road overseer for each road district, each of which ran six sections, east and west and three sections, north and south; purchase of scrapers, ploughs, bridge and culvert materials and crushed rock for road improvement; approval of changing the route of any road; building of bridges and culverts; making annual estimates of tax funds needed; sitting as an equalization board; receipt and disbursal of county funds.

After 1933, upon expiration of the terms of the members of the township boards, county commissioners were responsible for highway maintenance.  Self-propelled motor graders were then introduced and driven by commissioner-appointed employees. 
On November 13, 1894, the Board of County Commissioners authorized erection of a courthouse at Pond Creek.  The builders were C. B. Franke, J. W. Berryman, H. N. Wasson, P. T. Walton and C. S. Watson.  The first courthouse, a frame structure, did not have a very long life, for, early in the morning of December 12, 1896, the building was destroyed by fire.  Most of the records were saved, having been protected in safes.  Although no evidence of arson is known to have been found, T.  J. Palmer noted in his diary that the building was burned “to protect crooked work of officials.”  Two days after the fire, the commissioners offered a $300 reward “for the arrest and conviction of guilty parties,” in connection with the fire.  If this burning was a case of arson, identity of the arsonist is lost in the oblivion of unrecorded and untold events.  The county collected $3000 insurance.  Until a second courthouse could be built, quarters were rented to house county officers.  The new courthouse, a substantial brick structure, served for the remainder of the territorial period.

The constitutional convention, which convened at Guthrie on November 20, 1906, designated the town of Pond Creek as the county seat of Grant County.  Under authority of Section 6, Article 17 of the state constitution, a special election was held in the county of May 27, 1908, to determine permanent location of the county seat.  Medford, Pond Creek and Jefferson were competing for the honor.  Electors cast these deciding votes:
Medford              2010
Pond Creek         1056
Jefferson              674
TOTAL                 3740
Governor C. N. Haskell, on June 9, 1908, officially proclaimed Medford the new county seat.

The County Commissioners met on July 10, 1908, in the Palmer Opera House, a temporary meeting place, and issued these orders and instructions:
The county officers are hereby instructed to remove such records as each officer shall require for immediate use from Pond Creek to Medford in said county as soon as can be accomplished without jeopardy to the records.  It is further ordered that the remaining records shall be stored for safekeeping in the vaults in the courthouse at Pond Creek until further orders of the board.”

The third courthouse building, completed and occupied in 1911, was built at a cost of $60,000.  The building has been renovated and improved over the years.

The counties of Oklahoma derived their original structure of government, with three-member boards of county commissioners and supporting departmental office, from the state of Kansas.  The first Oklahoma Territorial Assembly, which met in Guthrie from August to December 1890, adopted a completed code of laws, basing the criminal law section upon the laws of Dakota, the civil laws upon the laws of Indiana and the pattern of county organization upon the laws of Kansas.  Excepting minor changes in the staffing and titles of the officers of county attorney and county judge, as provided by law, Grant County retained its organizational structure intact.