Willie's Tree

Willie Halsell was born in 1871, two years after Vinita was officially a town She was the privileged daughter of William E. and Mary Halsell When Willie was ten years old, she contracted meningitis and died the next year at age eleven. Because her parents wanted to honor her memory, they, gave a very large donation to the struggling Galloway College with the condition that its named be changed to Willie Halsell College.

Despite the Halsell familyís generosity, the school did not last much longer. The introduction of public schools sealed the fate of Willie Halsell College and, despite its reputation for excellence, it was no longer the center of educational life in this part of Indian Territory.

When the building was razed, it would seem that the tribute to young Willie Halsell was destroyed also. However, some powerful and interesting reminders remain of the young girlís life and her familyís impact on the community.

The most obvious and traditional tribute is in the form of a monument on the site of the college. Where the Hall-Halsell Elementary School driveway is today, there is a stone and bronze marker describing the history of Willie Halsell College and how it got its name.

Also, the Eastern Trails Museum holds photos of the college and historical records describing the life and times of the Halsell family. These records include some references to Willieís short life and the resulting collegeís name change in her honor.

One of Americaís most famous men attended Willie Halsell College as a youngster and that alone will keep Willieís name in history books for ever. Will Rogers not only attended Willie Halsell College for 4 years, but he was very close friends with Ewing Halsell, who was the brother of Little Willie.

Because Will Rogers life is exhaustively researched and documented, the name of Willie Halsell will always live on in these numerous texts and articles about this most famous and well-loved Oklahoman.

There is one other memorial to little Willie that is not so obvious and not even intentional. But it could be considered Willieís memorial to the folks among us who are inclined to the romantic views of history.

In the playground area of the elementary school but in the days when Willie was a baby, it must have been just a sapling, offering only a small spot of dappled shade.

When Will Rogers attended Willie Halsell College, he might have tied his horse to the tree or had a picnic nearby with his girlfriend from Bluejacket. Maybe Willís friend, Ewing Halsell, looked out the window of his classroom at the tree and pondered his sisterís untimely death.

However casually the students at Willie Halsell College considered this tree a hundred ago, students at the elementary school today canít ignore its massive beauty. It is so big and inviting, it is considered an unofficial landmark in Vinita just because of its sheer beauty and size.

It is no longer an or dinary tree. And there may be a reason why it survived and flourished like no other tree for miles around. The location makes it seem like an obvious replacement for the long gone school building that was meant to memorialize little Willie Halsell. She would probably be pleased.

Manssa Dodson, Shelby Bullard, and Colton Hanes enjoy the cool shade under the giant elm tree on the campus of Will Rogers Elementary.The tree was probably just a sprout when Will Rogers and his friend Ewing Halsell rode their horses here as students at Willie Halsell College.

Vinita  Daily  Journal TECzine,  Oct   2002

dat 2003

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