Halsell Family Ties

  W.E. Halsell was Vinita’s most prominent citizen from 1883 until 1910 when he and his family moved to Kansas City. While in Vinita. he contributed heavily to all worthy causes and served on the board of many organizations and civic projects.

  His wife, Mary Alice, was well loved in the community. Over the years, she entertained friends and associates in the town*s most elaborate and fashionably furnished home.

  Mr. and Mrs. Halsell had five children, one boy and four girls. Willie, a daughter, was the oldest, Their second child and only son. Ewing, became a successful cattle man and carried on the tradition of his father*s business.

  When W.E. and Mary Alice were expecting their first child they were so sure It would be a boy that they picked the name Willie. But when their newborn turned out to be a girl instead, they decided to keep the name for her.

  So, Willie Edna Halsell was born on July 16, 1873. She was seven-years-old when she and her parents and 4-year-old brother Ewing moved to Vinita in 1881.

  The three younger daughters; Eva, Clare, and Mary, were born much later, while the family lived in Vinita. They eventually married and had families of their own. Ironically It is Willie, who died at age eleven, who has the greater name recognition.

  In the late 1880*s, W.E. Halsell was considered the wealthiest man in Vinita and his two young children enjoyed all the privileges of a prosperous lifestyle. They had fine clothes, a gentle pony, a burro, and the latest toys and books.

  Willie was almost ten-years-old and Ewing six when all the pleasures of their family*s wealth could not make up for one notable deprivation. There was no school in Vinita.

  Mrs. Halsell was 'concerned about this lack of formal education and enlisted tutors to fill In the void. At the same time, Mr. Halsell served on committees that worked toward the establishment of the needed schools.

  Finally, in late October, 1883, Worcester Academy opened and little Willie Halsell was enrolled on the first day of the first session. The school had two teachers and two rooms.

  The next school year, there were five teachers and almost all the subjects taught in public schools at the time were offered at Worcester Academy., That same year, Willie*s little brother Ewing began kindergarten and accompanied his sister to school each day.

  Willie had an outgoing personality that pleased her parents and made her a joy to family, friends and neighbors. She was a healthy child, lovely, and full of vitality. There was no hint of the tragedy that was to come.

  Willie and Ewing Halsell completed their school term of ‘83-84 and were enjoying their summer vacation. W.E. was conducting business at the Bird Creek Ranch Just north of Tulsa when Mary Alice took the children to a Fourth of July family reunion in Texas.

  The day after the children and their mother returned to Vinita, Willie suddenly began to have severe convulsions. Mary Alice sent for the family doctor who diagnosed the condition as "congestion of the brain," or in today*s language, meningitis.

This marble gravestone marks the burial site of Willie Halsell daughter of W.E. and Mary Alice Halsell, prominent citizens of early day Vinita.

  Mary Alice sent a telegram to summon W.E. home immediately. After the telegram arrived in Tulsa, it was carried by horseback to the ranch and arrived in W.E.*s hands at noon.

  He told his wrangler to saddle the fastest and sturdiest horse on the ranch. With his heart full of fore boding, W.E. mounted and headed toward Tulsa at a hard lope.

  As he rode the nine miles to Tulsa, he thought of a plan to get to Vinita as quickly as possible. His options were limited because the only daily passenger train to Vinita had already left Tulsa a few hours before.

  When W.E. got to the depot, he learned that the only other train in the vicinity was a freight train. It had already left Claremore on Its way to Tulsa and would arrive In an hour.

  In this desperate and urgent situation, the usually modest W.E. Halsell used all his power and prestige to negotiate with the president of the Frisco railroad. He chartered the locomotive.

  As quickly as humanly possible, the train was sidetracked, the engine turned around, and then headed north to Vinita. The fireman feverishly shoveled coal until he was drenched In sweat. If he paused even a moment, W.E. would grab the shovel and feed the fire himself.

  The locomotive arrived In Vinita at midnight. The train stopped only a hundred yards from the Halsell home and W.E. ran the whole distance. He dashed past the quarantine sign on the door and up the stairs to his daughter*s bedroom.

  To Mary Alice*s great relief, her husband was home. Willie*s small body was twisted in agony as the doctor Injected her with a heavy dose of morphine.

  Her muscles relaxed but the situation was grave. The doctor didn*t have to tell the parents that there was no hope. It was five days before Willie*s 12th birthday.

  The following announcement appeared In the next edition of the Vinita Indian Chieftain "Willie Halsell, 11, daughter of W.E. Halsell, died of congestion of the brain. A large crowd followed the little coffin up the hill to the burial place. She was a favorite with everyone, and the whole town was stricken with sadness. W.E. suffered much anguish, as did the mother."

  Willie Halsell*s body was laid to rest at the top of the hill. just out side the town of Vinita, Indian Territory, twenty-three years be fore statehood.

  The unspeakable sadness of Willie*s death deeply touched her little brother Ewing. He not only missed his sister, but felt the pain of his parents* heartache as well.

  That fall, W.E. took his wife and on trips to help ease the sorrow. On their first trip, they went to St. Louis where they visited friends, attended church and went to the theater.

  When Mary Alice rested, Ewing accompanied his father to the stockyards and watched him as he dealt with other cattlemen and bankers. This was Ewing*s first experience in learning about his father*s extensive and successful businesses.

  More travel helped to soften Mary Alice*s grief and she became stronger. In June, almost one year after Willie*s death, she was pregnant again. Ewing was nine-years-old and ready to start the second grade at Worcester Academy.

  In 1886, Mary Alice gave birth to a girl who they named Eva. Three years later, another daughter named Clarence (known as Clare) was born. And then in 1891, Mary, the last child of the Halsell's was born. They were all cared for by a nurse and governess

  It was five months after Mary well. was born that Mary Alice had a serious accident. She and her favorite niece, Josie Crutchfleld, were driving a finely made two-wheeled cart when the horse ran away with them.

  Both Mary Alice and Josie were thrown from the cart but It was Mary Alice who suffered serious injury. She never fully recovered and in the autumn of 1892 her health began a steady decline.

  One year later, Mary Alice Halsell died of consumption. She, was thirty-nine-years-old and had three children under the age of eight.

  Mary Alice was burled next to- her daughter Willie who had been dead for nine years. Both mother*s and daughter*s markers are marble and carved with fanciful imagery and poetry.

  Later, when W.E. remarried, he chose his wife*s niece (Josie Crutchfield) to be his bride. In 1910 W.E. and Josie left Vinita and moved to Kansas City.

  Then in 1945, Ewing, who was by then a highly successful cattle man himself, and his wife Lucile moved to San Antonio. Despite both couples* change of residence, they all made arrangements to be buried in Vinita.

  It may have been that Willie*s tragic and untimely end caused the others to be drawn back to Vinita, if only in death. They are gathered near Willie on the top of the hill.

  Her grave Is distinguished by an angel carved in marble and the following poem:

Our souls, Ah.
What can part our souls?
In ties of love entwined,
They will defy the spells and chains
That even death can find."

Source references: Vinita Indian Chieftain Daily; Vinita. I.T. by O.B. Campbell: Vinita Leader, A Ranching Saga. The Lives of William Electious Halsell and Ewing Halsell by William Curry Holden. (Special thanks to Mike Campbell for loaning me his copy of A Ranching Saga.)

by Kathleen Duchamp, Vinita Daily Journal, Nov 11-12,2002

Other related links:

Halsell Mansion
Halsell Family Ties
Ewing Halsell
William E. Halsell

  dat 2003

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