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Logan County Letters


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by Frank Ahrnsbrak
March 1998

Submitted by: Nettie King
Used with Permission

"I was born Sept. 19, 1921.  My father was born June 27, 1870.  It never occurred to me that he was older than the average dad.

My first memory of him has us in the hayloft.  Hosting a barn dance and serving as bouncer, he is wearing a revolver.

His second appearance in my memory finds us on a cow path just south of the "Bee Tree." I asked where I'd come from.  It's difficult to believe, but we were within 25 feet of the spot where he'd found me sitting on a red elm stump three or four years earlier.

Upon learning my history, my sister, 5 or 6, insisted upon seeing her stump.  I can show you about where it was.  Her's was greater diameter as I recall, but I think mine was taller.  Our youngest brother, 1 or 2, had no interest in his past.  No one knows where he came from.

Charlotte, two years my senior, and already educated by my mother, a former teacher, entered 2nd grade in Marshall in 1925.  It was thought she was too small to be alone on the 2 1/2 miles of country roads between our house and "Pleasant Ridge" school.

Dad stayed on the farm during the 1925-1926 and 1926-1927 school terms while the rest of us lived in Marshall.  Memory of my dad is sketchy during those years but I do remember one Christmas.

We probably had a tree in town.  On the farm, Dad had draped some decorations and gifts on Johnnie's high chair.  The gift I remember was a flute-like wooden whistle painted blue; lead based paint, no doubt.  It did make fine noise.

I still see Dad turning into our gate with his new 1927 Model "T" Ford.  I also remember we lived without him a few days.  I think that was the last time he attended the "Cherokee Strip Cow Punchers Association Reunion" at the 101 Ranch.

Going back a year or so into 1925 or '26, returning from Marshall, Dad and I had just crossed the "crooked bridge" one mile west of our house when he lost control of the car.  We ran off the road and onto "the rocks".  I can show you where.

When we abandoned the car and started walking home, Dad produced a bag of candy- orange slices.  We had a couple on the road.

Charlotte and I began attending "Pleasant Ridge" school in 1927.  Dad always took us the 2 1/2 miles to school mornings, but, weather permitting, we walked home.

In those days, we were a relatively well-to-do family.  Dad had pride in the appearance of his place.  Our fences were in repair, house and barn were neatly painted.  Shocks of wheat, oats and corn were check rowed. There were no combines in those days.

We had telephone and radio.  The night of the last Dempsey-Tunney fight several neighborhood men gathered in our living room to hear it.  I was there, but cared little about who won.

Dad could do anything that could be done with Knife, rope, horse, or gun. He could tie a hangman's knot.  Horseback, he raced down our drive snatching a red bandanna from the ground and demonstrating how Indians fired arrows from behind their horse's neck.  He was a dead shot with our .32 caliber rim fire rifle.  (Russell now has that rifle.) One day, Dad stuck a knife into the cellar door and reduced a pair of my worn boots to long narrow strips of leather.  He braided those leather strings into a quirt. In my hands, the quirt didn't last long.

Like all farmers and ranchers of those times, Dad was a skilled veterinary and butcher.   By his own admission, he was a failure as a mechanic. Mechanical repair was delegated to his son, Leslie.

We were an organized and orderly household.  Upon completing evening chores and homework, we gathered at the family entertainment center-our dad's rocking chair.

During my turns on his lap, I learned to count in German, a couple of German poems, and a little about his history.  Dad estimated he'd had the equivalent of a 4th grade formal education.  He'd attended bits and pieces of seven school years.  Actually, he was more highly educated- perhaps due to tutoring by our mother.  I don't think his speech included "I seen" or "done that".  He read the Daily Oklahoman and kept abreast of current events.  He was a Notary Public, Treasurer of some organization and a pillar of Marshall's Catholic Church.  He never joined the church, but said he supported it because the priests didn't devote their sermon to disparaging other sects.  His funeral was conducted by a priest.

I don't remember that Dad ever raised his voice to man or beast.  I can't remember that he ever used a cuss word.

Despite all his good qualities, Dad had a mean streak.  He gave me the only switching I ever had.

I was innocently sending Johnnie into the kitchen to steal matches. Johnnie, not I, was the thief.  I was striking the matches and dropping them into a knothole in the gatepost.  I never did get a fire started.  As I see it, I was unfairly punished.

Dad showed me how to make a "figure 4" trigger for a deadfall.  With that device, I rid our barn of rats.

He also taught me how to make a sling such as David used to subdue Goliath, according to Old Testament scriptures.  I have cast hundreds, if not thousands, of stones with a sling.  I know that if David hit Goliath between the eyes it was accidental.  Arnold will back up my conclusion.  I taught him to make a sling; he taught his friends in Roxana.  Arnold almost lost his nose to an east, west, or maybe north flying rock that had been aimed south.

My dad always told the truth- except when obviously kidding.  One truth did bother me after he was gone.  He probably told the story in more detail, but all I remember was that he had led two ponies across a railroad trestle over the flooding Salt Fork River.  I never doubted the story, though I knew it was impossible.  My faith was justified when an article in the 1989 "Centennial" issue of the Daily Oklahoman described how army engineers planked the trestles so that not only Dad's ponies but wagons and other livestock could cross the river.

We were snowbound in 1928.  I remember two events.  The afternoon the storm began, Dad walked to the school and led Charlotte and me home.  We waded along stream beds to keep out of the wind.  A week or so later, he tied barbed wire around his galoshes so he could climb the hills on his walk to Marshall to bring back flour and other essentials.  He had tried to go horseback- but a horse couldn't get out of the valley.  The surface of the snow had melted enough to freeze into a sheet of ice.

In my time, Dad was a respected individual.  I did hear one guy do less than praise him.  At noon time one harvest I was in the barn with the "hands"; who had brought their horses in to rest.  One young fellow rolled a cigarette and was preparing to light it when Dad told him there was no smoking in the barn.  When Dad was safely out of hearing, that blood relative of Clyde referred to Dad as a rich S.O.B.

Before my time, I've been told that, except for the fact he had a son, Vernon, in the army during W.W. I, Dad would have been tarred and feathered, or burned out.

Dad did not show proper respect for the local patriots- the Klu Klux Klan members.  When word got out that the Klan heroes intended to burn out a German who operated a grist mill in the neighborhood, Dad advertised that he, his double barrel 12 gauge muzzle loader, and a few others would be at the mill to greet them.  The party was canceled.

Dad was very proud of that gun.  It had been taken from him by soldiers who caught him and his dad collecting firewood in Indian Territory.  He'd had to travel to Winfield to reclaim it.  He made the mistake of permitting us kids to play with it.  Clyde dropped it off the smokehouse porch.  The stock was broken.  I don't know what happened to it.  I'd give a lot to have it.

I don't remember how we were affected by the beginning of the "Great Depression".  I do remember when calamity struck.  That was August 16, 1932.  Unofficially, we had 16 inches of rain in 12 hours.  When we kids got out of bed, Otter Creek was flowing through the barn.  Johnnie and I drove the sheep to high ground at the NW corner of the farm.  Mom and Charlotte came out a little later.  By then, the water had jumped the creek bank north of our place and began flowing across the farm.  Dad remained in the house until he raised everything he could lift to chair seat or higher level.  He waited too long to get the car out.  It was still early morning when he joined us on the hillside at the northwest corner of the farm. I'll estimate he got there at 8:00 am.

By 6:00 pm that evening we were back in the house.  My job was to drag 2 to 4 inches of mud out the house with a hoe.  Dad's work had saved most everything except the piano.  Water depth in the house had been just less that chair seat height

That most of the household items had been saved was the end of the good news.  Hundreds of yards of hog-tight fencing had washed out, our dug well had caved in, the car sat with its headlights half full of water, the cistern had been topped off with creek water, and 1,000 bushels of wheat had been bottom soaked such that it could not be sold.  Most of it was not fit for hog or chicken feed.  The wheat swelled and broke the side of the barn off its foundation along with two grain bins.  The storm cellar where my mom's canned goods were kept was full of water.  When the water drained away, I guess the sealed jars of food were all okay.

My job that fall was to gather all the debris left in the yard, and burn it in the pit of the collapsed well.

Through all the post-flood difficulty, I don't remember either of my parents being in a state of despair.  That was good, for the worst was yet to come.

After the flood, the rains stopped and we entered the era of the "Dust Bowl."

Otter Creek ran a stream of water intermittently during 1933-34, but in 1935, it went bone dry.  Dad dug a hole in the creek bottom - I can show you where.  I'll say the hole was 6 ft by 6 ft by 4 ft deep.  It filled and furnished water for the cattle and sheep.  Because we had no well, we must have watered hogs and chickens from the cistern.

I don't remember exactly when, maybe late 1935, Dad became ill.  He suffered chest pains and breathing difficulty with any exertion.

The drought continued.  Our cistern went dry.  Leslie hauled water for household use from a well 1 1/2 mile west of the farm.  I don't remember how we watered the livestock.  Yes, I do.  It had rained enough to make the creek run briefly.  I remember that my dog, bitten by a snake, lay in the water below the barn to ease the fever in his swollen face and neck.  He had killed the snake, and I took it to show Dad.  He was bedfast.  Dad said it was a rattlesnake that had lost its rattles.  He was right; my dog died.

1936 may stand as Oklahoma's hottest summer on record.  There was no rural electric power in those days.  Even as a kid, I remember the heat.  July 15 may have been the hottest day of the year.

Dad dies early in the morning of July 15, 1936.  I was at his bedside. The last word he spoke was my mothers name.

Mom sent Charlotte and Johnnie to tell our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs Johnson. Mr. Johnson went with me when I drove to Dud's.

I remember little from the following few days.  Dad's body was brought home the day before his funeral.  That night, Mom didn't want to leave him alone, but couldn't bear to stay with him.  She made a pallet for me and I slept on the floor beside his casket.

I don't remember anything about the funeral or the burial.

I'll always remember that I wouldn't have traded him for any other dad...........


Reading over what I'd written, I discovered I'd skipped over a few memories.

Dad was something of an entertainer.  At community gathering at "Pleasant Ridge" School, he was called upon to recite various narrative poems and sing songs.  I remember "That's How I Lost My Sunday Britches", "The Preacher and the Grizzly Bear" and "The Arkansas Traveler".

Dad and my mother's twin, Uncle Carl, were much alike in that they did not believe in ghosts, hoop snakes, and other oddities.

When I was eleven or twelve, there was a panther scare in our neighborhood.  By then, Dad had returned the .32 caliber rifle to Dud and we were armed with a .410 single shot shotgun.  I replaced the shot in three or four shells with solid slugs crafted from automobile battery lead, and panther hunted for months.  As Dad knew- I never met a panther.

You were too young to remember, but Arnold may.  When your dad was working in Roxana, our farm was like a park as compared to any other place along "Otter Creek".  Your Dad sent many of his co-workers over to hunt and fish. One could see a squirrel at 100 yards or more.  Red Squirrels were fair game.  However, we had a pair of grays just below the barn that were off limits.

Dad did appreciate and want to share rare events.  Charlotte confirms that he got us out of bed to see the "Aurora Borealis'' and to watch the "Zeppelin" fly over.

One of Dad's prides was that he had no cockleburs on his place when they were the scourge of the countryside.  When he went into the pasture, he carried a hoe and, if he encountered one, he beat it to death.

As you suggested, I took pencil in hand.  Usually, I do this sort of thing in ink and make copy.  It's too long.  I might run out of ink."

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