"What a life he had! It was extreme good fortune to have reveled in an inimitable 37-year friendship with him when we both lived in Shelby [Ind.]. His friendship provided me with a lifelong gift of treasured memories. What an incredible human being he was!"
That was written by a former resident of Shelby, who along with many other friends, enjoyed knowing Claud Osburn, pioneer of Oklahoma and New Mexico, and a resident of the Kankakee River village for many decades. Claud loved to tell the stories of his adventures in the western states, stories now furnished by his faithful grandson, Dean "Doc" Osburn.
In about the year 1901, Osburn traveled to the village of Lawton, Oklahoma (founded 1901), when the last of the Indian land was opened up for settlement and a lottery took place at nearby Fort Sill. In all, 25,000 persons were living in tents, waiting to own a 160-acre plot, but only 6,500 settlers were selected.
Osburn told about seeing the famous Geronimo:
"They had a big calvary there [Fort Sill]. Hundreds of soldiers, ya' know, and horses; they had a lot of fun, them boys did. They'd git out, they'd come over to Lawton to the horse track and race, ya' know. 'Bout nineteen and five I'd say. Maybe four. I'd say about four or five. "I and Charles Solomon, I don't know what we were doin'. Maybe building fence, I don't know. He [Geronimo] had a coat made out of scalps he took off of white people. He was with Big Bull at Sterling. That was about seven or eight miles from where we lived. One time he was gonna wear that coat to the doins' down there. They told him he'd better not, they'd kill him. I never seen the coat.
"He wasn't a very big man. I'd say he weighed about 160 or 165 pounds. I'm not sure how tall he was, five eight or nine. I never did see him only when he was on a horse. Anyway, him and a couple soldiers come ridin' up to us and asked if we seen any horses. We hadn't. He was a trusty at the fort. They caught him and put him in prison and he got to be a trusty. Any horses would get out, why they'd put him out with another cowboy or two a huntin' the horses. He escaped twice that I know of. They caught him once in New Mexico, and they caught him once down in Texas. I don't know if he died in prison or not."
Geronimo, along with 341 Apache prisoners of war, was brought to Fort Sill in 1894, where they lived in villages on the range. Born in 1829 in western New Mexico, the famous Apache died in 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and is buried there. He once wrote: "I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there is no enclosures."
While at Fort Sill, he was furloughed for a time to join Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. The Apaches remained at the fort until 1913, after they were trained to build and farm. The village of Lawton, Oklahoma, founded 1901, had a population of 8,000 in 1910, with over 92,000 persons listed in the 2000 census. Osburn also told about the Indian life in the Lawton-Anadarko area. The town of Anadarko was also founded in 1901 where an Indian Agency was established in 1870. Because of the Indian culture and artifacts, the Chamber of Commerce advertised the town as the "Only Authentic Indian City in the United States." The population is now about 6,500.
Osburn continued: "There wasn't a lot of Indians down in where we had our place there. But around Anadarko . . . That place was lousy with 'em. She [his wife] cooked out to the Indian Mission for about six weeks. Kids, ya' know, just Indian kids. They'd learn 'em to talk and to write a letter an' read, an' to learn 'em anything they could learn 'em. She was a witness to some Indian marriages. They was marriages just like white people's.
"Christmas holidays they had their programs. They all just sat around on the floor. They just sat cross-legged on the floor. It was right smart of a sight to go out an' see them Indians camped in them tepees, ya' know, and see 'em millin' around.
"Slingle was her uncle. He only lived about two miles from there and we'd go up to his place once in a while on Saturday. On Saturday night they danced all night. An Indian drum was their music. They didn't dance, they just run in circles, an' hollerin'.
"I never had any of 'em to work for me. The men wouldn't work. The squaws did the work. Bill Slingle, he went and got an Indian to haul bundles he was threshing one time. The Indian did pretty good 'til along toward noon he took a notion to quit. He just unhitched the horses, tied 'em to a wagon, and come up to the house and said "Me quit, me quit." Bill told him to go down there to get the horses or he wouldn't pay him. The Indian went an' got 'em."
Osburn also told about his experiences with homesteading: "I think we was out there about a year and half when we heard that country [near Oklahoma City] opened up for homesteading. Hundreds and hundreds of acres. People from all over the United States came there. We had to go over to Eldereno [El Reno], forty miles to register. I and her dad and her brother an' two or three others, but we never heard from that registration. Never knowed if we drawed anything or not. That happened in the late fall.
"Then the next spring I and her took off for the new country. That was down by Lawton. East of Lawton, it was a territory then. It wasn't no part of anything. Quick as they'd git things fixed, ya' know, that's why we went down there, it was declared a state when they had the drawin', but everything wasn't fixed up yet. Fact, Oklahoma City was just seventeen years old when we went out there. Golly, it just growed up like mushrooms. But I never liked it up there.
"I and Daddy Solomon bought a half-section. It was school. That school land, ever so often they'd sell off sections for school business so we bought a half section. That's where we all stayed. At the agency. That land was in Township 3, Section Number 16, Range 8 West. I'll never forgit that.
"That land cost us twenty-five dollars a year. The checker [government man] would come around. Mail-ordered it. You go to the office. If you want it [the land] you'll have to go to him [homestead officer]. You go to him. Whatever you owe, that's all right, but you can't buy it back. [Default on yearly payment resulted in permanent loss of property.] I had a lifetime lease [on the half-section].
"I stayed on that place about four years. [They lived in a sod house.] I beat the whole country on corn. Raised the awfulest corn you ever seen. Would a' been over a hundred bushel to the acre.
"Daddy Solomon came over to my place one time. It just happened to be fair week over to Lawton. He always called me Tommy. Tommy why don't you go down there in that field and pick out some corn and take it to the fair? -- Aw, I said, I wouldn't win nothin'. Let's go down there, he said. We got out to the field and I seen that I did have somethin'. I think we picked a bushel, maybe it was half bushel, and ten ears. Well, went to town that night. I asked the fella' who took care of the building where the exhibits are. That man like to have a fit. Yeah, he like to have a fit. He said: I never seen such stuff!
"We couldn't get back over there 'til four o'clock on Friday. This fellow seen us a comin'. Met us outside the building. He said: You didn't get a thing. I says, I'm not surprised. The man then said: Come in here, I want to show you something. I took every prize. Every one of 'em.
"There was a real estate man showed up in town and he asked me when I come back if I would give him ten ears of corn. He told me that he wanted to show people up north that they can raise corn down here. I told him that he could have ten ears of corn.
"You never seen any better corn than I had. And I had peanuts, the shell would be that long [finger length]. Cotton. We raised cotton. Sweet potatoes. We raised anything! We had a nice orchard started. I and her brother had four acres of watermelons. You could step from one melon over on to the other. We'd load up two or three wagon loads of watermelons and take them over to Lawton. Ten cents apiece. Chester and Melvin were just kids then."
Osburn talked about his move to New Mexico: "After that we made our big move. We went to New Mexico. That was the biggest mistake I ever made, ever made. Her dad and brother went out there. It happened to be a good year. They brought back nice corn, nice potatoes, and everything. They homesteaded there that winter. Her Daddy told me: 'Tommy you're a fool if you don't sell out here and go out there and homestead.'
"She didn't want to go. But I started ding-dongin', finally she said it was all right. I think it was around the middle of winter.
"We went on the train, we sold everything we had. We took our clothes an' put 'em in satchels, and beat it. We went to Tucumcari, the prettiest country you ever saw. About three miles west of us the mountains came down from the north. And we lived just three miles from the end of the mountains. That ground around there was just about as level as this floor.
"An' all I raised in New Mexico was 'the devil. Didn't grow nothin'. Dry? Oh, dry! The first year I was there, why there was an old bachelor, his farm just across the road from ours, and he was from Arkansas. He wanted to go back to Arkansas for the summer. He had his broom corn planted. He had horses and a plow and things.
"He made a deal with me. I'd use his team, tools, and everything for half. And he was to come back then and help me harvest it, and he did. We got through harvesting and baled-up an' shipped out. I got fifty dollars for the whole year. That's all I got. That was the nicest broom corn you ever seen. So that put me out of pardens with broom corn business.
"I planted another crop the next year. I plowed up [a] piece of ground and put in corn. Planted it about the first of May. I left about the first of September, don't remember exactly. But it wasn't up yet. Never rained. I had eighty acres there, plus another forty pretty close to me that I was aimin' to file on, too. That is, if it had a been good. There was a little crik ran down across the corner of it. Wasn't over four feet deep. An' there was a spring there that never went dry..."
"That fall I got a chance to trade that claim for that mule team and wagon, even up. I had to get out o' there. I sent her and the two boys. I sent them back to Anadarko, Oklahoma, and then I had to stay six weeks to prove up the claim, ya' see there if you file in a claim and you live there, I forget how long it is, it don't cost you nothin'. But in that time if you didn't prove-up it cost you a dollar and a quarter an acre. So I got a chance to trade for this team and the other guy he was to pay the cost and everything, which he did. I had fifteen dollars, a team and a wagon, to make 400 miles."
Tucumcari, New Mexico, once called "Six-Shooter Siding," began in 1901 as a tent city for the railroad, on old Route 66, now Interstate Highway 40. It is now called the "Gateway to New Mexico" with a population of 6,000 on the year 2000 census.
Osburn told many other stories about his exciting adventures in the West. He told a long story about having a close call as he was traveling through Texas on the way back when he was sure that two men were planning to steal his team and wagon. The barking and growling of his two dogs made the men go away. "But them dogs just saved the day," said Osburn.
Osburn had some experience helping a doctor with an 'operation.' A man "got tight" and fell off his wagon and "tore that ear off down to the Lobe." Osburn volunteered to assist the doctor in sewing the ear back. "He'd push that needle through and I'd take a pair of tweezers and pull it through, then I'd hold up the ear while he'd make the stitch. We did that without any pain killer at all. He already had plenty of that in 'im." On one other occasion, Osburn helped the doctor as he removed a bullet from the leg of a friend who accidently shot himself in the leg.
Osburn also told about a trip to Indianapolis when there were streetcars towed by mules and two toll-gates between Lebanon and Indianapolis. He said that he didn't go back to Indianapolis for eight or nine years. "Gol, I didn't know the place! Had electric lights. Streetcars run by electricity. But the roads was still muddy. Oh, them good ole' times is gone," he reported.
After his return to Indiana and the move to Shelby, Osburn claimed that he worked at all kinds of jobs, from operating a Louisiana plantation to state highway work, his last work that of a carpenter. He was also Justice of the Peace and retired about 1964, when he suffered a broken hip.
"Claud Osburn, County's Oldest Registered Voter" was the headline for a story in the interesting and well-written "Shelby-History-News," circa 1976, which was researched and compiled by Pat Tilton, a resident of "Water Valley" for many decades who enjoyed hearing Osburn's stories.
Osburn celebrated his 98th birthday in July 1975. He said the best claim to his own longevity was "hard work." Claud Osburn, homesteader and lovable story teller, was nearly 101 years of age when he passed away on April 3, 1978.
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