Category Archives: Oklahoma History

The Book Whisperer Looks at Lost Restaurants of Tulsa

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Photographer and writer Rhys Martin published Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. The book provides stories and photographs of restaurants “from the Great Depression to the days of ‘Liquor by the Wink’ and the Oil Bust of the 1980s.”

After traveling through Southeast Asia and Europe, Martin returned to Tulsa, taking a new look at Oklahoma. With a renewed interest in his home state, Martin examined Route 66 and Tulsa. Learn more about his photography at his site: http://www.cloudlesslens.com. There, visitors can purchase photographs from Martin’s travels, including a large number of photographs of Tulsa locations.

Martin also maintains a Facebook page on the Lost Restaurants of Tulsa: https://www.facebook.com/losttulsarestaurants/.

While Martin covers many of the lost restaurants of Tulsa, he could not capture all in one book. He laments that there are many more he could not include in Lost Restaurants of Tulsa: Borden’s Cafeteria, Sleepy Hollow, Martin’s BBQ, and Cardo’s Cadillac.

Martin gives his readers history to go along with the stories of those restaurants now lost in time. He explains “the booming community [Tulsa] was not immune to the Great Depression; however, the area wasn’t as hard-hit as the rest of the Midwest.”

The tremendous wealth brought by the oil industry brought many people to Tulsa. With the growing population and the number of people from a wide variety of places, the options in food grew. In addition, it became easier to ship more varieties of fruits and vegetables into the area.

Lost Restaurants of Tulsa is full of vintage photographs of the restaurants which range from mom and pop cafes to fine dining establishments. As one who arrived in Oklahoma as an adult, I don’t look upon these lost restaurants with the same fondness as someone who grew up in OK and watched the places disappear. Lost Restaurants of Tulsa does interest me in terms of what has been in Tulsa.

Readers will enjoy the history and photographs in Lost Restaurants of Tulsa.

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Takes a Look at an Oklahoma Writer

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James Myers (Jim) Thompson was born in Anadarko, OK, shortly before statehood on September 27, 1906. In Roughneck, published in 1954, Thompson gives readers an inside look at the trials of this life, not holding back on his foibles.

Destined to be a writer, Thompson sold his first story to True Detective when he was only fourteen. Over his career, he wrote twenty-nine books including Roughneck, a memoir. In addition to his novels, he co-authored two screen plays for Stanley Kubrick: The Killing and Paths of Glory. Both American and French directors have made Thompson’s novels into films including The Killer Inside Me, After Dark, and The Grifters.

Library Journal reminds readers that Roughneck is “another of Thompson’s autobiographical titles and supposedly true; fans know that half of [Roughneck] is inseparable from his crime writings.”

Jim Thompson had too many jobs to mention here. He tried his hand at a number of jobs from newspaper boy to plumber’s helper. He lived paycheck to paycheck and often had a few cents to no money in his pocket. In Roughneck, readers can follow Jim as he moves from OK to TX to NE and back to OK.

One of his best jobs came when William Cunningham, director of the Oklahoma Writers’ Project, hired Jim. It was not only a steady job, but it also involved his first love, writing. Thompson and his team published a Guide to Tulsa and a Calendar of Annual Oklahoma Events. As always, though, disagreements and arguments haunted Thompson and the projects he wished to complete. Because Thompson had joined the Communist Party, he lost the job when Gov. Leon Phillips rooted out the Communist members of the writers’ project. Still, Thompson had tried to resign four times before that, so he simply moved on to the next job.

As part of the federally funded writers’ project, Thompson taught workers who were “poorly educated” and “others who had no work experience.” He taught classes after work: spelling, typing, shorthand, and business etiquette. He proudly explained that many “unemployables” then found jobs.

Roughneck is an entertaining look at Jim Thompson’s life. He does not gloss over his struggle with alcoholism. In fact, some of the benders he describes would certainly have killed many other people. He writes about eating at soup kitchens and about “signs offering new shoes for a dollar, complete men’s outfits (slightly used) for two-fifty, and clean hotel rooms for five dollars a month.” Often, however, he did not have even a quarter in his pocket, so he had to be resourceful in finding food and lodging. He always landed on his feet, however.

I found myself wondering how Thompson lived to be 71 years old because his early life certainly was difficult.  His difficulties about finding and holding onto employment, his smoking and alcoholism make it is easy to see that he could have died a young man. Roughneck is an honest ad open portrait of a writer not afraid to take a hard look at himself.

The Web site Biography offers an extensive look at Jim Thompson: https://www.biography.com/people/jim-thompson.

To learn more about Jim Thompson, read about him at The Oklahoma Historical Society:

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=TH013.

 

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews Oklahoma’s Native Son’s Story: Will Rogers

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In Will Rogers, Betty Rogers wrote a personal story chronicling Will Rogers’ early life and of their life together. Betty Blake met Will Rogers when she went to Oologah to visit her sister after recovering from typhoid fever. Betty lived in Rogers, AR, “a busy little town with considerable community and social life.” Betty’s sister wrote “the only young people in the town are the daughters of the hotel keeper, and there is one boy, Will Rogers, who lives out a few miles on a ranch.”

This offhand reference to the one boy in Oologah will become significant. Betty’s brother-in-law was the station agent at Oologah on the Missouri Pacific Railway between Fort Smith, AR, and Coffeyville, KS. Betty was in the station when Will Rogers got off a train and walked up to the window where Betty stood. Before she could ask him what he wanted, he turned and walked briskly away. A few minutes later, Betty’s brother-in-law discovered a package addressed to Will Rogers, a banjo. Clearly, that is what he wanted to ask for at the window, but became shy and walked away.

Betty and Will do officially meet while she is still in Oologah. She says of their meetings, “I don’t think you would call our meetings there in Oologah incidents in a courtship. We simply became good friends.”  When Betty returned to AR, Will wrote her letters which Betty saved over the years. The first one Will signed “Hoping you will take pity on this poor heart broken Cow pealer and having him rejoicing over these bald prairies on receipt of a few words from you I remain your True Friend and Injun Cowboy. W.P Rogers, Oologah, I.T.”

In another letter, Will tells Betty he will be in Rogers, AR, soon and would like to see her. He does meet her in Rogers, but then two years go by before she sees him again. During that time, Will had traveled around the world.

Betty describes Will as a man who could not be still. He needed to be busy all the time. She says of Will that he “had superb health, great physical energy and mental vitality; and along with this an inner serenity that was seldom ruffled. He was unhurried, and worry was unknown to him.”

Betty describes the many people she and Will met and the many places they went during their marriage. Will and Betty met famous people in show business, business, and politics. Will’s warm and engaging smile drew people to him. His wit was homespun and never malicious. Much of his humor did center on politics. Most people remember the famous lines Will spoke.

One of those is “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Government and report the facts and I have never found it necessary to exaggerate.”

Will Rogers is truly an American treasure. Betty Rogers wrote a history of their life together. Regardless of how many famous people Will met, he remained “your True Friend and Injun Cowboy.”

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews An Oklahoman’s Boyhood Memoir

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Coon Mountain: Scenes from a Childhood in the Oklahoma Hills by Glen Ross depicts a time long gone. He was born 7 August 1929 in “what was once the Indian Territory, during a thunderstorm.” Ross tells his story of growing up in the Cookson hills with humor and honesty. The family was small with only Glen and his older brother along with his mother and father. However, the family often had other relatives living with them from time-to-time.

From reading Ross’s biography, readers will not be surprised to learn that he became a creative writing professor at Central State U in Edmond for years. No doubt, some of the early memories come from family stories, but that fact does not make the story less true. Ross gives readers a picture of the countryside where he grew up along with his observations on the beauty and danger found there.

Ross’s mother, one of twelve children, grew up in Arkansas and remained proud of “her respectable Arkansas upbringing. Though his mother liked to say she arrived in OK via covered wagon, she would admit upon being pressed that the journey was only thirteen miles. Ross tells readers that to his mother “Arkansas stood for respectability and cultural refinement.” Further, she felt that Oklahoma “only pretended to be a state to please the federal government,” but it was in reality still Indian Territory.

Ross’s father was a resourceful man, as one would have to be before, during, and after the Great Depression. When the family moved to their home in the hills, getting water to the house was a major problem. Ross’s father figured out how to get the water to flow through a pipe. That did not provide water in the house, but, at least, the family did not have to haul water up the hill and into the house daily.

Ross describes working in his uncle’s general store. I could relate to his story even though he is somewhat older than I. My paternal grandfather opened a general merchandise store in Parkdale, AR, just ten miles north of the Louisiana state line. I like to describe the store as Walmart before Walmart in that Granddaddy sold everything from groceries to clothing to cattle feed and almost anything else one might need. He just didn’t open multiple stores as Sam Walton did.

While the days of Ross’s childhood are in the past, his story is relevant in that readers get a realistic picture of the time following his birth in 1929 well into the Great Depression and afterward. Kirkus Reviews describes Coon Mountain: Scenes from a Childhood in the Oklahoma Hills as “autobiographical tales, told with elegant simplicity, of a boyhood spent among the rocky bluffs and woods of Cherokee country.” The review continues with “a marvelous evocation, related with Twain-like skill, of a recent past so utterly vanished as to seem ancient.”

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews The Cherokee Strip

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Marquis James wrote The Cherokee Strip: A Tale of an Oklahoma Boyhood at his daughter’s behest. She asked her dad, “Pop, why don’t you write some of the things you tell about instead of what you do write?” James told readers in the preface that he wrote about what he himself knew about the Oklahoma Strip with the “object to give an idea of what the place was like in those days.” William W. Savage, Jr., remarks in the forward that The Cherokee Strip is a “personal book that tells us a great deal about Marquis James. Savage goes on to write that “[Marquis James] was a boy seemingly into everything.” Readers can agree to that notion.

Marquis James was born 29 August 1891 in Springfield, MO. Houstin [sic] and Rachel Marquis James, Marquis’s parents, took the family to a claim near Enid about 1894. Marquis had two much older sisters, Zoe and Nan, and two sisters who did not survive infancy. The two sisters had married and moved to Chicago when Marquis begins his tale of his boyhood in OK.

Clearly, Marquis was a bright child; he learned to read by the age of four and was especially interested in history. His mother had a large collection of history books and Marquis took advantage of those. His father was a lawyer. Their finances went up and down with his father hoping to secure a fortune from striking oil. Sadly, that dream never materialized. The picture below is dated 1910, just a year before Marquis James left Oklahoma in pursuit of his newspaper career.

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Marquis met a number of interesting people as he grew up, including outlaws like Arkansas Tom and Dick Yeager. At first, the family lived on a farm; when Marquis was ten, the family moved into Enid. Once they lived in town, Marquis’s world expanded considerably. He found odd jobs all over town so he could earn pocket money. When he lived in the country, trips to town were occasional and his parents would give him money. Living in town proved to be expensive, so Marquis decided he needed to earn money. He swept his father’s law office and other offices, also emptying and cleaning the spittoons in those offices.

He became interested in sign-painting and in setting type for the newspaper. Eventually, though he thought working as a typesetter more interesting, he began writing for the paper. At first, he had to write personals such as who visited whom and who painted his barn or put up a new addition to a home. He also wrote poetry which the paper printed. He began with original poetry, but he also did some plagiarizing in that he took published poems and changed a few words here and there and called them his own.

When Marquis was in high school, his father died suddenly and unexpectedly. Marquis and his mother found that their home and other property was mortgaged and his father’s law firm was in debt. His brother-in-law, an attorney in Chicago, stepped in and helped Marquis and his mother. Marquis also took whatever jobs he could to help. His mother refused to allow him to drop out of school, however.

Marquis James included one anecdote after another in The Cherokee Strip.  Readers certainly develop a sense of life during those early years in OK. James left Oklahoma by 1911, so his stories in The Cherokee Strip all predate that time.

When the family still lived on the farm, Marquis saw a picture of a boy who was following a horse along a path beside a creek. The horse seemed to be pulling a funny-looking boat.” When Marquis asked his mother about the picture, she told him the boy was James A. Garfield and that the horse was pulling a canal boat. She went on to tell him that Garfield was “a good boy, who worked hard and studied hard and obeyed his mother and got to be President of the United States.” Marquis felt sorry that he had no canal or horse so he could guide the horse to pull the canal boat and thus become President of the United States.

One of the stories I liked best occurred when Marquis’s father took Marquis to school. Marquis was excited about going to school, but he did not reckon on having to wear shoes! His father told Marquis that he would get Marquis “boots—red-topped, copper-toed boots.” His father went on to say that he himself had had such a pair of boots and had worn them everywhere.

Marquis got into trouble often enough, mostly for little infractions. However, when the family first moved into Enid, they ate breakfast his mama cooked on a gasoline stove in the Cogdal-McKee Building where his dad had his law office. They ate “their dinners and suppers at the Donly Hotel.” Marquis treated his friends to meals in the Donly only to learn that “Mr. Donly’s dinners cost fifty cents apiece.” That put an end to Marquis’s generosity.

In high school. Marquis founded the Enid High School newspaper, The Quill. He went on to become a newspaper reporter, working in such cities as New Orleans, Philadelphia, and New York. James helped found the New Yorker Magazine and covered the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. He wrote The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston, which received a Pulitzer Prize in 1930. He received another Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for two books about Andrew Jackson: Andrew Jackson: The Border Captain and Andrew Jackson: Portrait of a President.

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Marquis James married Bessie Williams Rowland, also a journalist. They collaborated on a number of books, particularly biographies for children. They had one daughter, Cynthia. In 1952, Marquis and Bessie divorced. Marquis then married Jacqueline Mary Parsons in 1954. The two of them collaborated on books as well. He died in Rye, NY, in 1955.

 

Read about Marquis James at this Oklahoma Historical Society link: http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=JA007.

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Oklahoma Story

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My friend and colleague Sally Bright told me about a book club that meets in the Broken Arrow Historical Museum: Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma. The book club is part of the Oklahoma Humanities. From the Oklahoma Humanities Web site: “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma (LTAIO) offers more than your average book club for adults. With the added benefit of a humanities scholar to inform and broaden discussions, participants are able to explore the human experience through literature in meaningful and thought-provoking ways.

A series consists of 4-5 sessions, each featuring a book from the chosen discussion theme. A humanities scholar opens each session telling about the author’s life, giving historical context to the book, sharing its contemporary relevance, and explaining how the book ties into the overarching theme. Participants then discuss their own thoughts about the book.”

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I missed the first session in the book club when members discussed Leaves in the Wind by LaDonna K. Meinders. I will be joining when the club discusses Hurrah For My New Free Country by Leon Charles Fouquet. Fouquet’s twin granddaughters Rosalie Fouquet Davis and Mathilde Fouquet Ruggles compiled and edited their grandfather’s journals which he kept from the time he was a young boy. The journals began as gifts from his mother, and Fouquet developed the lifelong habit of recording his experiences.

Leon Fouquet was born in France on 12 December 1849, an only child. When his father became ill and had to be hospitalized, Leon’s mother sent him to live with his uncle and two aunts in Paris. In 1860, Leon’s father died, so Leon’s mother came to Paris to live also. Leon had four years of schooling. He describes the teasing he experienced. The other boys called him “Red Squirrel” and teased, “Go climb a tree” because Fouquet means squirrel.

Because schooling after age ten required that parents pay for the child to attend, Leon ended his formal education and became apprenticed to “a firm to learn the trade of packer, box, and trunk maker.” Instead of teaching him the trade, though, the boss sent Leon throughout the city delivering goods. As a result, he earned his salary and tips. He gave the salary to his mother, but he saved the tips for himself.

Leon was quite industrious from an early age. He was a quick study and had a pleasant disposition, so he advanced in all the jobs he took. He was also careful with his money and saved as much as he could. At first, he thought he wanted to become a doctor; then he decided he would like to go to military college and travel the world. His mother and aunts objected violently to this new ambition. His family told Leon stories about “the new wild country of America.” They persuaded him in1868 to go to America to seek his fortune. Aunt Francoise and Uncle Gaillard lived near Leavenworth, Kansas, so Leon booked passage on a ship to New York and then would travel to Kansas to join his aunt and uncle.

Readers follow Leon on his trip to the US and then on to Kansas to his aunt and uncle’s. He was helpful to his aunt and uncle, always willing to work hard. Leon worked many kinds of jobs over the years. Those jobs included freighter, ferryman, farmer, storekeeper, and postmaster. He remained cheerful and optimistic despite economic downturns and disappointments in various businesses. Even when he did work for promised pay that did not materialize, Leon took the disappointment in stride and carried on.

He describes buffalo hunts in Kansas along with meeting people of all sorts. He also meets Native Americans, some of whom he feared; most often, however, he found ways to communicate with the Native Americans. He met the Foucher family, who had also immigrated from France. Their daughter Mathilde quickly caught Leon’s eye. Leon and Mathilde were married 6 November 1875 in Wichita. By this time, Leon’s mother had come to the US also.

Leon and Mathilde’s first son, Charles, arrived on 5 October 1876 and daughter, Emily Marie, was born 5 July 1878. Their second daughter, Rose Modeste was born 1 October 1879 followed by Alice Renee on 27 January 1881. Sadly, Alice died the following August. Blanche arrived on 17 January 1883, but died in July. Hermance Pearl was born 27 February 1886. Leon Eugene, a second son, arrived on 18 February 1890. Leon wrote of the happiness of having his sons and three daughters and the heartbreak of losing three infant girls: “In these last five years, we have learned the meaning of joy and grief—life and death.”

Leon was an inventor as well as entrepreneur. Because two of the infants died during summer heat, he invented a cooling device that would “help cool the rooms for the feeble and sick.” It could even dispense medication through the water in a reservoir. Because of that invention, he became a member of the American Inventors Association. Physicians invited Leon to attend the meeting of the South Kansas Medical Society where the doctors endorsed his cooling invention. Although Leon received a patent on the device and it was manufactured, he says he “did not prosper from it.”

After living in Kansas and very briefly in Rich Hill, MO, Leon and his family moved to Oklahoma. They settled near Chandler at a place they called Dreamland Fruit Farm. They planted three thousand apple trees and six thousand peach trees. They also had twelve acres of grapes and six in berries. Below is a picture of early Chandler about the time Leon and his family lived in the area.

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Leon and Mathilde celebrated their golden wedding on 6 November 1925 with a party that included most of the adult children and grandchildren. The seven children produced a large number of grandchildren. Leon and Mathilde’s descendants are spread across the US. The Fouquets’ story represents one of the many about hard-working immigrants who came to a young, free country and made a good life for themselves and their families.

Library Journal says of Hurrah For My New Free Country that Leon Fouquet’s “optimism never flagged.” The review also goes on to report that “a few famous names slip into the story, but [Hurrah For My New Free Country] is first and foremost a fine example of an average pioneer’s narrative.”

Dreamland Fruit Farm is gone, but Sparks Vineyard and Winery located in Sparks, OK, credits Leon Fouquet and his family for paving the way to vineyards in OK.

The next book in The Oklahoma Experience: In Our Own Words include The Cherokee Strip by Marquis James, On Coon Mountain by Glen Ross, Flight from Innocence by Judson Jerome.