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Washita County, Oklahoma
This bit of Cloud Chief history submitted by Doyle Fenn.



Betty [Jorden] Gilmer was born at Cloud Chief to Leslie & Ruth [Miller] Jordon. Samuel J. Jordon, Betty's grandfather, was a Washita County pioneer and passed this photo down to Betty. Samuel Jackson Jordon was a pioneer county scholl superintendent and the first rural mail carrier a Cloud Chief.


Ira Smith was standing in Main Street near Meler Brothers Store when he took the photo graph. The court house was in the middle of block 22. Lee Shirley is standing beside the drilling rig and Andy Lewis is working the horses. The name of the other man is unknown. The jail can be seen on the left side of the court house



Tents and dugouts served as the court house in Cloud Chief until 1894. When the Iron Hotel was built in 1894, the county rented part of it for county business. In 1895, William Haws built a saw mill on the Washita River three miles east and two miles south of Cloud Chief where he cut lumber from the local cottonwood trees to build a court house and jail. The 20' x 30' one room court house tugged and screeched as the cottonwood lumber warped and pulled nails from the studs. Cottonwood lumber is notorious for its ability to warp. The cottonwood jail house also made it easy for an incarcerated prisoner to pry or whittle his way out.

Edward Everett Dale, a future University of Oklahoma Professor, visited his brother at Cloud Chief in 1898. His brother was conducting a four-week county normal institute for teachers. He described the court house as follows:

The court house which stood in the middle of the central square was a long, low wooden building consisting of a single room. Desks were placed along the walls each with a chair and a sign designating it as the "office" of the county clerk, sheriff school superintendent, and so on. Only the county treasurer's desk was separated from the rest of the room by a low railing and had an iron safe beside it. In the middle In the room were placed rows of chairs separated from the desks of the county officers by a wide aisle. Here district court was held, the judge sitting at a table just in front of the row of chairs. The teachers attending the Summer Normal cooked their meals over a campfire and slept on the floor of the court house or outside on the ground. Many of the students boarded with local citizens for $2.00 a week, but there were not enough houses to board the 40 students. Travelers often slept on the floor of the court house, as there was not a lock on the door.

The jail was a low wooden structure in which the county had installed two steel cells of which the citizens were inordinately proud. Formerly, the jail had consisted of only a single room with a big cottonwood log inside to serve as a seat for men in confinement. Ordinary prisoners were put in the room. More dangerous prisoners were chained to the cottonwood log and the door locked.

The town 's water supply came from a public well in the central square fitted with a pump and trough. The water was clear but so strongly impregnated with gyp that most of the supply for household use was hauled from springs two or three miles away or taken from a cistern

The town had a few stores, two hotels - the iron and Central, two saloons - Elk Saloon and Two Brothers Saloon. (CHRONICLES OF OKLAHOMA, Vol. 20, pp. 368-369)

Of all the history and stories about Cloud Chief, the court house controversy is surely the most colorful and certainly the most controversial. Cloud Chief was the county seat from 1892 until 1900. Cloud Chief being the county seat was a topic of much discussion in the late 1890's. Cloud Chief had the most population of any town and had been designated the county seat by U.S. Congress. The citizens of Cloud Chief felt the county seat rightfully belonged in Cloud Chief. Citizens in Cordell and west of Cordell felt differently. They did not like to travel to Cloud Chief to tend to business. The agitation came to a head in 1898 when citizens filed a petition with the county commissioners that requested an election to move the county seat to Cordell. The Commissioners Court Docket Book documents most of the steps taken toward petitioning for an election and the calling of an election. In some cases, the docket book does not give reasons for not holding an election that was called for in commissioners court.

July 9, 1898
The Board of County Commissioners met at 9:00 a.m.
Present: Stewart Humbarger, Sam Smith, I. P. Dale

The board proceeded to consider a petition for an election on the question of the relocation of the county seat. It appearing however that sufficient time had not been from the filing of the said petition for the board to properly consider the same at this term. Said petition was laid over until Saturday, July 16, 1898.

Citizens of Cloud Chief got an injunction prohibiting the commissioners from holding the 1898 election. The commissioners' docket book does not record the steps that follow, but it was obvious that they did not hold the election.

New commissioners were elected in the fall of 1898 - H. C. Treadaway from the east side of the county, M. B. "Uncle Mike" Brown from the central area and L. N. Williams from the western part of the county. Having new commissioners added a spark of hope to those wanting to move the county seat to Cordell. A petition for an election to move the county seat from Cloud Chief to Cordell was presented to Commissioners Court on April 3, 1899 - three months after the new commissioners had taken the oath of office. They called for an election to be held on May 16, 1 899, and were notified by an attorney that he planned to appeal their decision to a higher authority. Commissioners Court Docket books do not include reasons for not holding the election, but it seems obvious they were unsure of the status of a previous injunction against holding the election and the attorney's notice that their decision was being appealed.

July 16, 1898

The Board of County Commissioners met pursuant to call for the purpose of the further consideration of the county seat removal petition and other business.

A motion to grant the election for the submission of the question to the removal of the county seat from Cloud Chief to Cordell prevailed with Humbarger dissenting."

Whereas a further investigation of the petition for an election submitting the question of the change of location of the county seat from Cloud Chief to Cordell and an inspection of the poll book's of the last election it appears that the number of legal voters on said petition duly verified by affidavits of legal voters from the various congressional elections equals more than two-thirds of the total vote polled at the last election as shown by the poll books.

It is therefore ordered by the Board of Co. Commissioners of Washita Co., Okla. that a special election be held in said Co on Tuesday August the 16th 1898 at the regular voting places - subject the count Seat from Cloud Chief to Cordell and the County Clerk shall advertise the same as required by law. For the purpose of holding said election the following election officers are appointed:

C. E. Sumner &
H. D. Young
Election Commissioners
D. F. Smith Inspector of Election Pct I Turkey Creek
C. B. Heftier Inspector of Election Pct 2 Sold Springs
I. P. Dale Inspector of Election Pct 3 Elk
I. J. Kliewer Inspector of Election Pct 4 Shelley
David 0. Palmanteer Inspector of Election Pct 5 Cloud Chief
H. D. Young Inspector of Election Pct 6 Cordell
R. N. Hughs Inspector of Election Pct 7 Rainey
D. D. Weins Inspector of Election Pct 8 Korn Valley
H. H. Kliewer Inspector of Election Pct 9 Curry
I. W. Delinger Inspector of Election Pct 10 Oak Dale
F. B. Ross Inspector of Election Pct 11 East Elk

April 3, 1899

A petition for an election to remove the county seat was presented to the Board of Commissioners to consider. April 4, 1899

The Board of County Commissioners met at 9:00 am. with all members present and proceeded with the investigation of the County Seat petition. And after due investigation, the petition was granted and election ordered to be held on May 16, 1899."


...It is therefore ordered that the offices, furniture, books, and records of said county be removed at once to said town of New Cordell, and that the sheriff of said Washita County is hereby directed to see that this order is properly carried into effect with as little delay as possible: and he, the said sheriff will make due returns to the Board of County Commissioners of the manner of execution of this order and his charges and expenses in the executing the same.

/s/ L. N. Williams, Chairman
/s/ H. C. Treadaway
/s/ M. B. Brown
Witness: G. W. Wheeler, County Clerk

The court house was in poor condition in 1900, and the commissioners approved paying $832 to J. E. Penick on April 2, 1900, for repairs to the building.

Credit for persistence must be given those wanting an election to vote on relocating the county seat. They presented still another petition requesting an election on July 9, 1900, which was approved by the commissioners with Williams and Brown voting for and Treadaway voting against calling the election. The election date was set for August 7, 1900. Their action violated the previous injunction. Both sides of the issue were confused as to where they stood. Another injunction against the election would probably kill the issue for the foreseeable future. With a cloud over their decision, the commissioners ordered the election held.

The election was held on August 7, 1900, and the commissioners met at the court house in Cloud Chief at 10:00 A. M. on August 10, 1900, to canvas the votes. The vote favored moving the court house to Cordell by a vote of 1349 to 282. The commissioners passed the following resolution:

The Court House at Cloud Chief was dismantled and moved to Cordell but was not erected for use. Even though the cotton wood building was not much to brag about, it was all the county had.

All of the county officers except the sheriff and court clerk moved everything to Cordell. The sheriff and court clerk maintained an office at each place, with the Cloud Chief offices in the Iron Hotel. The Justices did not know which town was legally the county seat due to injunctions obtained before the election. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Burford appointed Judge McAtee to hold district court in Washita County. Judge McAtee opened court in Cloud Chief, while District Judge Irwin opened court in Cordell. Oklahoma Territorial law authorized only one district court per county, so lawyers were bewildered as to what they should do. Judge Irwin thought he would challenge Justice McAtee and took his clerk, bailiff and reporter to Cloud Chief. He stopped in front of the Iron Hotel, where Justice MeAtee was staying and sent his bailiff, Tom Jackson, in to tell Justice McAtee to come out to his hack. Justice MeAtee told Tom Jackson to tell Judge Irwin to come into the hotel if he wanted to see him. The distance in was the same as the distance out of the hotel. Judge Irwin and his staff left in a huff. Judge Irwin opened court the next day with an order to transfer the court records from Cloud Chief to Cordell. A systematic search failed F Second Washita County Court House to find the Photo by lra I. Smith records, so both judges adjourned court without trying a case.

A few days later, some of the records were found under cotton bales in the cotton yard and in a corn field near Cloud Chief. No one seemed to know how they got there.

The commissioners held their first court in Cordell on August 28, 1900, in space rented from local businesses. Isaac W. Gray resigned as Justice of Peace and J. F. Brown was appointed to fill the vacancy. Without elaborating, the commissioners declared the county attorney's position vacant. In other action, they awarded a contract to E. H. Dawson to build a bridge across Cavalry Creek near Cloud Chief for $125.

Using rented space in businesses was not a desirable way for the growing county to conduct business. On October 27, 1900, the commissioners appointed H. D. Young and J. C. Harrell to negotiate, receive bids, and make a contract to erect a new court house on the square set aside in the middle of town. The building had to be built by the bidder and rented to the county. Rent would be paid on a quarterly basis until the loan was paid. Young and Haffell were instructed to report back to commissioners court on November 9, 1 900, with their decision. The docket book does not record a meeting on November 9, 1900, and future minutes do not record a report or decision; however, a decision had to be made because the two-story court house was occupied in 1902.

After receiving the Supreme Court decision, commissioners Sam Massingale and Tom Edwards appeared in court at Guthrie and obtained a continuance. Then, Sam Massingale and C. C. Curtis quietly hopped a train to Washington, DC and talked Congressman Murphy from Missouri into introducing House Resolution #73-139 into the House of Representatives. Senator Warner introduced Senate Bill #1695 in the Senate. These actions would name Cordell as the County Seat. The CORDELL HERALD SENTINEL reported on March 2, 1906, that the bill had passed both houses legalizing the removal of the county seat from Cloud Chief to Cordell. All it needed was the signature of President Theodore Roosevelt, Vice-President Sherman, and Speaker Jo Cannon. A copy of the bill was in the new court house that burned in 1909.

LA $75,000 bond issue passed to replace the burned court house, and the corner stone for the present court house was laid in 1910. (The commissioners were, H. A. Kenner, T. G. Sappington, and 1. T. Hinds.)

The Congressional Act moving the court house from Cloud Chief to Cordell did not put an end to county seat controversy. It seems there was some strong sentiment against Cordell being the county seat. A petition with over 1200 signatures calling for an election to move the county seat to Dill was presented to the commissioners. The election was held on January 8, 1910, and failed by a vote of 2575 to 819.

The strong vote against relocating the county seat to Dill did not end the county seat discussion. According to newspaper accounts, a group from Carnegie organized to create a new Seger county with Carnegie as the county seat. Accusations were made that the leaders (Johnson, Rickey, Crose & Blake) owned a lot of land at Carnegie and wanted to divide the land into town lots. Being the county seat was what they thought would bring in the prospective buyers. They made numerous appearances in meetings held in schools soliciting votes for the new county. General L. P. Crose, admitted to Tom Sappington, Charles Treadaway, Charles Evans, B. F. Kutch, George Curry and others in a meeting at Friendship school that he owned 1000 acres of unsold land near Carnegie. The property owners named above stood to make from a quarter to half million dollars on their property if Carnegie became the county seat.

An election was held to combine southeast Washita County with part of Caddo and Kiowa County to create Seger County with the county seat at Carnegie. Five & one-half townships from Washita county, two & one-half townships from Caddo County and two & one-half townships from Kiowa County would comprise the new county. An election was held March 4, 1911 with 1518 voting against the new county and 1274 voting for it. Washita County voted 362 to 348 against the county, while Caddo County voted 1037 to 838 against it, and Kiowa County voted 89 to 88 against the new county. This was the last county seat election in Washita county

Newspaper Accounts of the Court House Controversy


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