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Indian Pioneer Papers - Index

Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: April 19, 1937
Name: John Thompson
Post Office: Okemah, Oklahoma
Residence Address:  
Date of Birth:  1844
Place of Birth:  Choctaw Nation
Father:   Nelson Thompson
Place of Birth:  
Information on father:
Mother:  Hanna Thompson
Place of birth:   
Information on mother:
Field Worker:  Carl R. Sherwood

I was born in 1844 in the Choctaw Nation on the South side of Red River. My parents were Nelson and Hanna Thompson who were brought here to Indian Territory as slaves.

I do not remember the name of the owner of the slaves; but, I do remember that in some way, my father was killed near Red River when I was very young and my grandfather, William Thompson, who lived in the vicinity of Fort Gibson, brought my mother and me to his place near Green Leaf Court House about ten miles east of Fort Gibson where I was reared.

In 1866 I was married to Emma Battles and to this union five children were born. Later we were separated.

We had much more to eat in those days than we have now. If you did not own a cow, your neighbors had plenty of cows and calves running loose on the range and they would let you milk as many cows as you needed for your family. First, they would have to find out which calf belonged to the cow you selected by driving a few calves towards your home; their own mothers would follow. The calves were kept in a rail pen and their mothers did not wander so far out on the range.

Getting our first start of cattle was done by making posts, rails, clapboards and cook wood in the winter for the cattlemen and taking our pay in cows and horses which were very cheap in those days. Ten dollars was the average price for a cow and calf. 

In the spring of the year, first came the wild onions and polk greens which were plentiful along the creek bottoms. Next, came the wild strawberries. Next, the dewberries and the blackberries; and huckleberries ripened at oat cutting time. In the fall of the year we would fill our smokehouse full of meat which consisted of two kinds. At hog killing time, besides killing a hog or two, we would go out and kill about four large fat deer which were dressed, cut in quarters and hung and smoked the same as the pork. Smoked venison would keep for over a year and never get strong; but, would be so hard that you would have to cut the meat with a saw. It was then soaked in warm water for several hours when it became very tender and ready to cook in various ways.

Field Worker: Billie Byrd
Interview #7261
Date: August 20, 1937

John Thompson 
Age 64, Colored


The country that is now within twenty miles of Muskogee in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, and all down towards the southern and southwestern vicinity of Boynton, Oklahoma, and then back southeastward towards the present Checotah, Oklahoma was once covered by large herds of longhorn cattle. And, in other words, this was a cattle country and cattle range.

It was not only cattle that roamed this country for there were the cattlemen from the Cherokee Nation and men from south and southwestern Oklahoma and even from the Osage country that could be found. These cowboys were of all types of men—Indians, half-breeds, whites, and colored.

There were the stockmen who came from St. Louis to pick their own cattle for the market. In this way they had their choice of some of the best cattle.

The cowboys that came and frequented the range were not only cowboys in the saddle; but there were men noted as bronco busters, ropers, gamblers and of other types.

This range was also of interest to those men who took delight in horse racing. There was the whooping of cowboys and all the other noises that go along with a busy ranch life. Day after day there was firing of guns to quiet down the stampedes. Still, around and on the range there lurked suspicious characters who were watched day and night.

There was one man named Charles Caldwell who owned the ranch known as the Half Diamond Eye and the brand which he used on his herds was /.\. This ranch was about twenty miles west of Muskogee.

Clarence Turner, another ranch owner had for his brand, the C A Bar. While P. O. Porter’s brand was One Hundred Eleven, 111.

Southwest of Boynton was another ranch whose owner was known as Barbecue Campbell and for his brand he used Bar M Bar –M-. 

All these men had their herds anywhere on the vast range in the locality. They were noted for their success as cattlemen; although their herds did mix they could separate their property from their respective brands on the cattle.

These men claimed that they had the best cowboys in the country that could ride and break broncos that had never been ridden.

Sundays were not the "dead days" as some people thought. The real showdown for the cowboy came then for a man to show himself, to see if he was as good, as he thought he was, as a cowboy. There were two good cowboys that came from the Bar M Bar Ranch who were John Moore and Napoleon Moore. A half-breed Cherokee who was once a notorious outlaw who paid with his life on the gallows for his crimes was known as Cherokee Bill. He figured on that range as one of the speediest and quickest ropers. There were riders and ropers from the neighboring ranches who gathered here to see and show themselves.

Once there was a bunch from the Turkey Track Ranch who stopped by to rest their horses. They were on their way to market and shipping which was at St. Louis. It was during their stay at the ranch of one of the men that the Turkey Track bunch were challenged to a contest among the men. This was heartily accepted. Everyone on the ranch rode when their time was up; but there was one man whom I think outdid himself in all performances of the day. He really showed us boys real western riding, and it seemed like that the rest of the home range were even then ready to go hide themselves. I don’t remember that man’s name at all. The Turkey Track bunch came out from the western part of the country on the trail that had be laid through this vicinity.

There were other sports which were dear to the cowboys and that was horse racing. Some notable entrants at these races sometimes were Belle Starr and Cherokee Bill. Tiger Grayson from the Cherokee Nation owned a large stock of horses and was a specialist breeding only horses. He had three horses of the racing type and on which he never lost a bet. He would often bet from $1,000.00 to $1,500.00 on these three horses and never lose a cent. Horses of those days were fed only oats that had been shipped from Kansas City.

Such as these activities were my days on the range. Beans, steak and canned tomatoes were the main food of the cowpuncher; and, it was while I was on this ranch that I had and learned to eat tomatoes. I like it then and I still like it now. I liked steak then and like it yet, but I hardly ever have any.

NOTE: Billie Byrd is of Indian blood and expresses himself in word and writing in Indian manner. No change has been attempted in this manuscript. – Editor.

Submitted to OKGenWeb by Marylee Jones Boyd, August 2001.