Pioneers

In The Great Lottery  draw of 1901 Rolla Watkins won one of the options to select and purchase  farmland in the newly opened reservation. His choice lies southeast of Lawton in Comanche County, Oklahoma. The days of my Oklahoma childhood were a few short decades from that hot summer of 1901 when he examined and recorded in his pocket notebook descriptions of each Comanche County lottery offering. The notebook is still intact though permanently sculpted by the sweat of the hot July and August sun of 1901

Within the year the  R. A. Watkins family took possession of the property. Only second son Ralph remained in Lancaster; this  in order to complete high school.  The home and Bushnell and Watkins law practice were also maintained in Lancaster also. Younger son Ralph B. Watkins remained in Lancaster until he completed high school.  This land was to become the boyhood home of our father and his brother Ralph who was born there.

I am not certain of all the timing and arrangements as much of the  information of the early years in Oklahoma was acquired at the time of the 2000 visit in conversation with our Uncle Ralph Clark Watkins and our cousin Ellen Victoria Sheppard Jones.  I took no notes. This was not a research trip.  It was  about connecting roots in family.

The primary record I have of the family’s early days living on and farming “The Claim” is in two wonderful descriptive essays by our  great aunt Margaret Watkins Sheppard. It is apparent that she held the Hirst genes for writing talent and the Watkins talent for wry humor. I am so grateful for her daughter Ellen Victoria Sheppard Jones who permitted me to photocopy and include these essays. They may be read in their entirety here. It is also clear that Margaret at least experienced the move as a great adventure. My personal memory of her later in life is of that same wry humor and optimism.

While living on the farm with his parents, oldest son, our grandfather, Charley (as he was known his entire life) met Minnie Olive Kendall.  She was living with her parents on a nearby farm and teaching at the local schoolhouse.

Minnie Kendall was born in the tobacco country of Kentucky, her ancestors having come into Gallatin, County through the Cumberland Gap.  The family of five girls and two boys lived mostly along the Ohio River, Vevay, Indian was the childhood home of memory. The four older girls including our grandmother Minnie attended Indiana Normal College in Terra Haute.   Harriet the youngest attended and received her nursing degree from Norton’s Infirmary in Louisville, Kentucky.  Two while in college, the three older sisters died within a short span of time at the end of the century. Minnie went on to finish as valedictorian of her class then moved to Oklahoma as the family sought a more healthy climate.

More details about the Kendall family can be found in the superb genealogy compiled over the last several years of his life by Minnie’s youngest son and our Uncle James R. Watkins. It is published under the title;  Historical and Genealogical Sketches of some Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana Families.

The Kendall genealogy project had been begun by Minnie’s  brother James Logan Kendall. The extent of his meticulous research is impressive considering the available tools of the time. I hope to get the larger segments of this manuscript into digital form in the near future. James Watkins’ daughter Anne Watkins Jenkins and son James Patterson Watkins have carefully preserved and now share the larger segment of surviving Watkins and Kendall photographs, many of which appear on this site.

Our grandparents, Charles S. and Minnie Kendall Watkins were married in 1907. They lived the early part on their marriage on the Kendall farm and it is where our father Charles Kendall Watkins was born 17 July 1908. They moved onto the Watkins claim before the second son, Ralph Clark Watkins was born 30 October 1909.

 

With the exception of the youngest, John, the children of R. A. and Ellen Watkins married and remained in Oklahoma throughout their lives. Ralph Bushnell Watkins married Jennie Howell and they lived in Oklahoma City and Chickasha. They had two sons, Richard and Stephen. Both became electrical engineers and Stephen worked in Los Alamos, New Mexico as a member of the team that developed the nuclear bombs.  I know he had one son also named Stephen who I believe still lives in New Mexico. I am uncertain of details of Richard’s career. I am very anxious to make contact with their descendants but have so far been unable to do so.

Margaret Watkins’ married Thomas J. Sheppard in 1906. The Sheppards lived and  farmed in Cotton County. Living near each other, the Sheppard and Charley Watkins families were close, the children sharing many growing up and young adult adventures.

Ellen (Nell) married Harold Maxwell a chiropractor. There were two sons, Amos and Paul, and a daughter, Margaret. The family lived in Okemah. Amos became a Professor of History at Northeast Oklahoma University. Paul worked for the U. S. Postal Service.  I do not have information on Margaret.

John Clark Watkins married twice, Olline Stansell and Aurelia Garnett. He lived in Texas most his life. He had no children. As children we visited in all their homes, except for John and Aurelia whom we knew briefly on one or two of their visits to Oklahoma.
In 1916-17 Rolla retired and the family made the final move back to Oklahoma.  Rolla’s sister Dora accompanied them.  Ellen’s letter referencing the move to her “men folks” is the only writing by Ellen we have.  It gives a brief glimpse into her personality which  includes the family’s dry wit. The Watkins family had been well established in Grant County, Wisconsin for many years. Rolaudus’ parents, Stephen and Florinda Watkins were among the original settlers of Wisconsin before statehood. That final leave taking must have been painful for all involved.  The account of the church reception in their honor as recorded in the Lancaster Herald may be read here.

The year 1918  was filled with disturbing events. Dora Watkins died after a long painful battle with cancer. Youngest son, John Clark Watkins, went to war in the Army and Minnie Kendall Watkins’ sister, Harriet Mae Kendall, went to war in France as a member of the Army Nurse Corps.  Rolla Watkins and his sisters were also to loose their beloved step-mother Sarah Bushnell Watkins Davies in the flu epidemic.

At the time of our own childhoods it had been just few short decades since this land had been opened and settled. Even less time had passed since our cousin Will Clark, created the Oklahoma City public parks, funding them from the producing oil wells that today still line the boulevard leading to the Capitol Building that he designed. Will’s daughter Alice provided much of the Clark genealogical information. There is more by and about them in John G. Clark biography in Prairie Tree Letters, p. 267-283.

Of the Watkins relatives, I recall Uncle Jim and Aunt Margaret Watkins Sheppard and their daughters with greater clarity than the others.  They farmed and lived out their lives on their original property in Cotton County. I recall Aunt Margaret as very much like Granddad but with a stronger Wisconsin accent. Their children were George, Louise, Tom, Roger and Ellen Victoria (Vicky). These cousins were for Uncle Ralph and our parents  childhood playmates, growing up to become dating buddies and lifelong friends. “Our father had gone to work as a driller in the oil fields . The derrick was George’s idea with Tom and Roger, and anyone else who came by, as labor recruits. I don’t know what happened to it but it was there on the farm a long time.”… Ellen Victoria Sheppard Jones, September 2000.

At some point the Claim was sold and Rolandus and Ellen lived  out the remainder of their lives with their children  in Oklahoma. Ellen died in 1926 on the Sheppard farm near Walters in Cotton County. Our Great Grandmother Ellen’s death in 1926 followed a long illness tended by daughter Margaret and teen-aged Ellen Victoria Sheppard. The 1925 photograph of the Rolandus and Ellen Watkins with all of their born grandchildren was I imagine one of her last.

Ellen Maria Clark Watkins died in  1926 in the home of her daughter Margaret Sheppard.   Rolandus Aurelian Watkins died in 1929 in his son Ralph’s home in Chickasha, Oklahoma. In 200o we visited his and Ellen’s  graves in Highland Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma.

The corrugated box of Watkins, Clark and Hirst family letters and Rolandus Watkins’ research notes were left to our grandfather Charley. This box was passed to our father Kendall and then to brother David who with my great gratitude has permitted me to carry forward and put into narrative and data base forms some what we now know of family.

I have also a number of letters that passed between our mother and her mother, but  they remain largely unattended. The ones I have read are precious confidences and advise between them through Mother’s dating years.  And then there are those of the Dust Bowl. If I am unable to do more work with them they and all the photos will be preserved for the next of us who becomes curious about the roots.

 

 

 

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