Mansell's of Kiowa County

My father, Judge John William Mansell, the first County Judge of Kiowa County immediately after Statehood, was born in South Carolina, near Charleston. His father, Richard Jackson Mansell, had enlisted in the Confederate Army from Frog Hollow, South Carolina, and was later transferred to Wood County, Texas, during the War Between The States. After the war, he returned and owned a 1,000 acre farm in the Piney Woods of East Texas (Pine Mills, Wood County, TX). It was on this farm that my father grew up, and received his education.

He was a graduate of two Normal Schools, and later was a school teacher, in order to support the family after his father's death in 1891. Shortly after his father died, he married Lora May Clark, and when I was two years old, and my sister Otha was five, we moved to Austin, TX, where he attended Law School at the University of Texas. One child, Gordon Bryon, was born & died in Austin. Later, four more children were born in Oklahoma.

The family returned to Grandmother's farm (Sarah Addison Mansell) while father attended Law School at Lebanon, Tennessee. While there, he became personal friends with blind Senator T.P. Gore and William Jennings Bryan. Upon his return, we moved to Mineola, TX, and there our oldest living brother was born (Clark Mansell).

In 1900, father decided to move the family to Oklahoma Territory. He and his brother, Henry Myers Mansell, rigged-up covered wagons and we set out for Oklahoma. Uncle Henry was married to my mother's younger sister, Willie Ann Clark. They had no children at that time, so the three of us kids had 'double parents'. Uncle Henry & Aunt Willie made up for it later.

The first settlement we reached was Lawton, Oklahoma. This was a large 'ragtown'. There were no buildings or houses, and white tents stretched in every direction. It seems to me there were many hills, and every hill was covered as far as the eye could see.

There were no accomodations. My father managed to obtain four poles and three or four 'tow sacks' (now called 'gunny-sacks') and put up our first outhouse. Where he got those poles, I never knew... there were no trees, and no shade. When we awakened early in the mornings to enjoy the coolness of the morning air, we could see little dots squatting all over the hills - people risen early for their morning ablutions.

Our water was hauled from some place in barrels, because there were no wells, and it was sold by the barrel, also. It was hot, and the hot winds blew all the time. This was the first and only time my mother and father ever openly quarrelled, and I was frightened.

Because Lawton was so crowded and inhospitable, my parents decided to move on. We loaded the covered wagons back up & went to Cold Springs. There was a cool clear stream there in which we could swim, and fish. There was also cool, merciful shade. My father laid out a townsite and sold lots, but it was apparent that Cold Springs would never develop into a large town, as the railroad had decided to build closer to Mountain View.

We then went to Roosevelt, OK, where another townsite was laid out. This commun- ity was larger than the first. We shored-up our tent with a floor and wooden sides. Our kitchen was the iron cook stove, under the shelter of a tree. After Lawton, Cold Springs and Roosevelt both seemed like the Garden of Eden.

Later, we uprooted again, and traveled to Mountain Park. A townsite was started there. It was customary to sell the lots by drawings. Each lot was numbered, and labeled as a business or residential property. The numbers were placed in a small keg, which was suspended on a stand, and it was my honor to turn the handle on the keg from which the lots were drawn. If a man received a business lot, he was considered lucky, as those lots were worth more than residential lots. It was an important task to be a part of this.

How long we stayed there, I'm not sure... but father learned that Oklahoma, a part of the Indian Territory, was to be made a state, and that Hobart in Kiowa County was to be the County Seat. So away we went again in our covered wagons.

Our first board house was built in Hobart, and the wagons were disposed of. We had come to stay. The house was a box-type, with three rooms, and painted barn red. Red was my father's favorite color, and if he had had his choice, everything would have been red. A box-type house is built by nailing twelve-inch boards up & down, from the floor to the sills, and batts of one-by- four's were used to cover the cracks between the boards, to keep the rain and wind out. The inside was finished with canvas and paper.

The winds and sand surely blew. One night the wind was so strong it bowed the walls to the inside, and my mother and father stood against the wall to brace the boards & keep them from falling in on us.

It was here at Hobart where the second son, John William, Jr. was born. He lived for only one and a half years, and then died of pneumonia. His death was something I just could not understand. He only had a slight temperature, and had been playing with some toys on the floor in the afternoon, and that night he just slipped away from us. It was incredible to me. This left us again with just two girls and one boy in the family. That was the beginning of a family burial plot, in which all of the family now lies, except Gordon. My father did not ever have the money to bring Gordon home, although he had planned to do so. One wind and sandstorm I shall always remember was of such intensity that my parents decided we should go to a cellar, owned by friends on the edge of town. Each of us wrapped a blanket around ourselves to keep the sand from cutting our legs to pieces, and we had to hold hands with each other and not get separated from the others, because it would have been practically impossible to be rescued if we were lost. With the lightning flashing, thunder rolling, and black clouds covering the sky, it was an awesome and grueling experience. It was wonderful when all of us reached our friends' cellar and safety. But our house stood it all, and was still intact when we came back home.

During this time-period, another boy was born into the family, and named Nestor.He wasn't named for the Greek god, but for a law partner of my father's,who later became a member of the Oklahoma State Supreme Court.

Prairie fires were another threat, with all the tall blue stems.Everytime a farmer saw a red glow in the sky, he quickly loaded his plow in his wagon and set off to find the fire, to help stop it. Everyone would plow furrows around the fire, and stomp out any stray blaze that crossed the barricade. One never knew who would be next to need help.

Later, tornadoes became the line of attack. The fierce tornado which struck Snyder, OK, about thirty miles from Hobart, was a major blow. That tornado blew broom straws through fence posts, did untold damage, and killed many people. We had watched the storm clouds from the safety of our own cellar door, and knew someone was in for trouble. Finally, the door of our cellar had to be closed, and it took both father and mother hanging onto a rope that was fastened to the door, to keep it from being blown open. The torrential rain which followed this tornado, like to have filled our cellar and drowned us. Afterwards, a call was sounded for help, and my father set out to do what he could to alleviate the misery of the living, and to bury the dead.

Drawing on memory, it seems like the last land-drawing was held in April of 1907, at El Reno. This opened up the Little Pasture, which was located in the foothills of the Little Wichita Mountains. The drawing was conducted by lottery. Each tract of 160 acres was numbered and placed in a barrel from which each contestant drew a number. My father and his brother went to El Reno, and drew adjoining tracts. These lands were not free. Each of them had to pay $1500, and had to add certain improvements, and live on the land for one year. They were located about 14 miles southwest of Hobart.

Mama and Papa went to live on this property, and left us children with father's sister, in Hobart. They built a one-room house, sixteen-foot square, with a storm cellar and a bed. The land was covered with tall blue stem grass, and when school was out we went to the farm. Our well was dug a little distance from the house, in a draw or low place, where water was a little closer to the surface. It was all 'gyp' water, what we called 'hard' water. Before a washing could be done, it must be drawn up with a bucket and put in tubs, with a little lye added to bring the minerals to the top, and these were then skimmed off.

Our main task that year was to pick up fuel - otherwise known as 'cow chips'. They were plentiful all over the prairie, and were dry and hard. They really make a hot fire. Another chore was to gather wild parsley for the hogs.

That year, my father made the race for County Judge of Kiowa County. It was from this location that his campaign was conducted, and he was away from home a lot, campaigning. His mode of travel was horse and buggy, or a spring-wagon with a team of horses. He rented these rigs, and every week they were alternated. My brothers and I got to take the team home and bring back a fresh one.

His campaign literature was a picture of himself on one side of a postal card, and on the other were well-known proverbs and maxims that were popular at the time. He and his brothers stayed in town on election day and rode home in a wagon, after the final count was made known. As they neared the house, father slipped from the wagon and ran to the front door, and knocked. Mama opened the door, and said, "Why, Mr. Mansell!" And he answered by saying, "Woman, you'll be sleeping with the County Judge, tonight." As long as she lived, my mother always called him 'Mr. Mansell', and his pet name for her was, 'Old Lady'. Her constant formality was puzzling, as I'm sure she loved him, and he worshipped her.

Statehood was declared on November 7th, 1907, and we moved back into town. Since my father had been elected to public office, he was then exempt from further homesteading on his farm, and could obtain title to it. Later, it was sold to another of his brothers.

Smallpox was rampant at this time, and the city maintained a pest house on the edge of town, where the patient usually died. My father contracted this usually fatal disease. A plan was made to hire a nurse to stay in a back room of our house, to tend father. The house had a long hall down the center, and the room was at the far end of the hall, on the opposite side of the living quarters. All of the keyholes and cracks around and under the doors were chinked up with rags. We thought we were safe.

However, when it was learned that my father had postules all over his body, even on the soles of his feet, the older children all rushed to the outside window to view him, for we felt that we might never see him again, otherwise. His disease ran it's course and he recovered, but the day his quarantine was lifted, I acquired the malady, and in a few days all five children followed suit (including another sister, now three months old).None of us had postules, except for one on the end of my nose, but the baby was severely stricken and almost died. One brother had to walk bent over, with a cane, afterwards, for the pox supposedly settled in his side. My mother nursed us all through, and did not ever get sick, but I am sure she suffered day and night, with all of us. Her pain and distress must have been excruciating, and I know she always regretted not taking care of my father herself.

During this era, the people of the country took their political beliefs seriously. They held town meetings on every subject, and every man had the right to express himself, which they did with gusto... and there were many blackened eyes to attest to that fact. It was truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, based on Jefferson's principles. Every politician listened to the opinions of the grass roots.

It was a mystery to me why my father chose the practise of law as a vocation. He enjoyed civil suits and probate work. Divorce cases were pure anathema. I have seen him drive thirty miles in a wagon to try and keep a man and his wife from getting a divorce. He would walk the floor almost all night before pronouncing a life sentence, and he struggled with his conscience over capital punishment. He wasn't God, and didn't believe he had the right to take a life. Today, a simple County Judge no longer metes out such penalties.

He was honest in all his dealings with his fellows, and the forthrightness of his speech often gained him a black eye. He publicly rebuked another officer of the law, for bringing a man with bedsores to court in a purely civil case, after he just reported a bootlegger unable to attend court because he was sick. This man and his two sons drew their pistols on father, after court had adjourned for the day, and threatened to kill him if it happened again.

There was an unwritten law, then, that a politician was being greedy if he ran for a third term, and that rule was respected as a point of honor by my father. So at the end of his second term, he refused to run again. It was his belief that public office belonged to the people, and was something to be shared.

Always an active man, father resumed private practise, maintaining offices at the City National Bank building, in Hobart. He belonged to the Masons, and was the Superintendent of Sunday School at the First Christian Church, in Hobart. He was also the County Superintendent of Sunday Schools, for Kiowa County.

After his term as County Judge, he bought the Hobart Democrat Chief. That news- paper was a hand-crank variety, and the press was turned by hand, something I didn't care for and couldn't master. All of that scrambled type - it was a wonder the paper was issued once a week. Along came another series of black eyes and bloody noses, for my father thought he was duty-bound to call the public's attention to all of the moral and political sins that were being committed.

In 1915, my brother Clark was killed while playing football, and father sold the paper and moved to Oklahoma City, too restless to stay in Hobart. He became the head of the Woodmen Of The World, and was appointed the State Pardon and Parole Attorney under Governor Henry. H. Johnson, whom he had known since Statehood. He died in that office, on 18 January, 1929, in Oklahoma City.

Written by Ruth Clarice (Mansell) Alexander, May 16th, 1967.

This story was contributed to Prairie Tales by Carl Alexander. This remains the property of Ruth Clarice Mansell Alexander and Carl Alexander.

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