The First Eight Months of Oklahoma City.
THE CITY'S HISTORY IN BRIEF
When Rev. James Murray was elected mayor by the Oklahoma Colony in the big tent on the afternoon of April 22nd, many protests were entered against the election. The opposition to it was active and shrewd and it was not long before general dissatisfaction existed. As a result the articles of confederation were adopted and another election held as elsewhere detailed in this work. The council, consisting of Sidney Clarke, John Wallace, E. G. Hudson, W. C. Wells, C. T. Scott and J. E. Jones convened immediately after the election in the office of Ledru Guthrie, on Main street, May 3rd, 1889. They adopted the laws of Kansas applying to cities of the second class, as the constitution or charter of the city. The city government started off fairly well, yet in certain quarters there slumbered the fires of defeat or jealousy or vengeance or, well, it would be difficult to define it. It existed, however, and ultimately broke forth in flames so strong that looking back to it now since the mists have cleared away, the wonder arises that there was no serious disaster or bloodshed.
The council very early in its official capacity developed a life sized penchant for writing and passing ordinances. They were enacted fast and furious. Their violators were hauled up before the police court and punishment administered in broken or unbroken doses according to the nature of the offense. One of the first ordinances of the council was the voting of pay to its members at the rate of two dollars each per meeting. Another important one was the occupation tax ordinance imposing a tax on those engaged in whatever walk of life they might be. Lawyers, doctors, merchants, mechanics, fakirs, gamblers, prostitutes, peddlers and dealers or tradesmen in any and all lines, came in for a share according to the importance, magnitude or dignity of their calling. Preachers were excepted, nor did the council pay anything for being such a body. With these two exceptions every other class of citizens was reached.
The brain that gave birth to the occupation tax ordinance must have been one of wondrous fertility. The murmurs of discontent were occasionally heard after the council voted themselves a salary. Some wag had the audacity to call them "salary grabbers" but the name did not receive the sanction of public opinion and he never spoke it again. The occupation tax was collected from a great many and as long as it lasted the salaries of the officials did not go unpaid. Books of record and supplies
for the city were purchased, streets were graded and side-walks built. A calaboose was constructed and dedicated as the Cottonwood de Bastile. The collection of the tax progressed well until the lawyers were asked to give up their gold and then war was declared. They made a bold, brave fight, and as it ever is, victory came to those who were vigilant, active and brave. The ordinance was de-dared invalid and the multitudinous disciples of Blackstone in the city jumped up and down and shouted for joy. Then came contempt for ordinances in general. The city government, oftimes to preserve itself, was obliged to call out the military who were under orders to back the city officials and keep the peace. In this Captain Stiles, as provost marshal, became famous. He was repeatedly called upon to make ejectments and perform other unpleasant duties which made him a great many enemies, he was denounced as a tyrant by those opposing the city government and called other bad names, yet when it was all over he was complimented by the commanding general for his conduct.
Public meetings were held and a committee appointed to wait on the city officials and ask them to resign. This was done, but the request was not complied with. Hudson and Wallace went out of the council after a while and an election was called for the purpose of filling the vacancies. When it came off J. B. George and J. E. Love were elected. These gentlemen were opposed to the city government and were called the Kickapoo councilmen. Their constituency greatly rejoiced over their election and thought the clouds were opening in their favor. Several charter elections were held but none was ever carried. The Kickapoos forged to the front and it was for a long time considered a dull week if an election of some kind or other did not take place. Mass meetings were nightly held and numerous orators raved and ranted about the city's weal and woe. The unsettled state of affairs, the racket and constant turmoil kept capital away from the city and seriously retarded its upbuilding and growth. Matters continued in this shape till Mayor Couch resigned and Dr. A. J. Beal was elected to fill the vacancy, his election was a great Kickapoo triumph and they plunged recklessly into the task of reconstructing the city. The mayor recommended that the council do certain things which the council refused to do.
The gallant doctor found his hands tied. Four of the councilmen voted against anything in which he was concerned in any way and the other two councilmen - the Kickapoos
- remained faithful to their chief.
Being born agitators the Kickapoos were bound to do something and they finally concluded to declare the offices of council-men Jones and Wells vacant, hold another election - elections were their great hobby - elect two of their number to fill the vacancies and thus secure a majority in the council. Mayor Beale issued the following proclamations which speak for themselves:
Whereas, the following petition has been received by me, signed by a large majority of the voters of the second ward:
To A. J. Beale, mayor of Oklahoma City: "In view of the fact that Councilman J. E. Jones and W. C. Wells, who were elected to represent the second ward, have moved from and for some months past have been non-residents of said ward, thus leaving the people of that portion of the city without just representation in the city council, we, your petitioners, residents of the second ward, respectfully and earnestly request that you declare the offices of said Jones and Wells vacant, and
immediately call an election to fill the vacancies thus created. We request. this for the further reason that the said Jones and Wells, In our opinion, as the result of a studied conspiracy, are in all possible ways attempting to obstruct and defeat the will of the majority of the people as expressed at the polls at the recent election.
Signed by 154 voters.
Oklahoma City, Dec. 18, 1889.
And, whereas, the well known fact, made more emphatic by the report of Secretary Noble and the message of President Harrison, that there exists no laws to govern us save the will of the majority of the people;
And, whereas, I have every reason to give full credence to the above petition, and believe the carrying out of the suggestions therein contained will promote the harmony and best interests of our people;
Therefore, I hereby declare the seats held by J. E. Jones and W. C. Wells as councilmen of the second ward as vacant for reasons set forth in the petition.
And, whereas, by virtue of authority vested in me as mayor of Oklahoma City, I hereby order an election to be held on December 30, 1889, between the hours of 8 o'clock a.m. and 6 o'clock p.m. of that day, at Lindsey &
Brandom's office, corner California avenue and Harvey street, to fill vacancies of said Jones and Wells, occasioned by their removal. I further appoint Victor Sherman, J. S. Lindsey and H. S. Butler, judges and Wm. Pyres and K. S, Fisher, clerks of said election.
A. J. BEALE, Mayor.
MAYOR BEALE TO THE COUNCIL.
Oklahoma City, Dec. 14. 1889
To the City Council:
Gentlemen: It is clear to my mind from the cases on the subject, that the laws of the United States intend town lots on the public domain to go to the actual settler in good faith. "An occupant within the meaning of the townsite law of congress, is one who is a settler or resident of the town, and in the bona fide actual possession of the lot at the time the entry is made. One who has never been in actual possession of a lot
cannot be said to be an occupant thereof. The occupancy may be for residences, business or for use.
" -21 Pac. p. 818.
This rule of actual
occupancy or possession as the foundation of title, is of special
importance and application in a city like Oklahoma, where a great
concourse of lawful homeseekers are gathered together, exceeding in
numbers the actual quantity of town lots open by law to appropriation
and settlement. The
principle ordinances of Oklahoma City on this subject are in conflict
with the laws of the United States. Ordinance No. 3 makes certificates
conclusive evidence of compliance with the law, of settlement.
The holder of a certificate of a vacant lot is conclusively
presumed to have complied with every requisite of the law of the land.
And ordinance No. 14 makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to
question by claim the validity of his title, or to attempt to occupy
such lot. These ordinances
are in conflict with the letter and spirit of the laws of the United
States, and persons undertaking to enforce them are making themselves
guilty of the violation of those laws. It is needless to say they
encourage speculation, false swearing and fraud.
The pretence that a certificate conveys guaranty of title is a
specious conceit. The only
possible title at present is that of actual possession or occupancy for
use. Where a person has such pos-session his certificate is of no
importance, and when one holds a certificate to vacant property he has
city council cannot make new and extraordinary
regulations for acquisition of town lots. It may memorialize congress or offer suggestions to the secretary of the interior, but until such regulations are provided by competent authority, they will hardly be considered binding by the land office or the courts. Actual possession as above de-fined is the true rule of settlement, and ordinances looking to the protection of such actual settlement require and will receive the support of the people as well as the enforcement of the city government. It appears therefore that so-called-lot-jumping is reducible to one or the other of these divisions: 1st, where actual bona fide possession is assailed; 2d, where a pretended title to vacant property is sought to be impeached. In the first class of cases my duty as a peace officer is clear enough, and I shall use the power at my hand to swiftly interfere and publish offenders. The second is of cases illegal in their inception, and to undertake to defend them would be a flagrant abuse to power and contrary to the laws of the United States. I further recommend the repeal of ordinance No. 29, which has created in town lots a diminutive but pestilential land office, that is a standing invitation to lot jumpers to enter contests upon lots of bona fide occupants, who have not seen fit to comply with an unlawful ordinance commanding them to pay an exorbitant and unnecessary price for a certificate. I further recommend the repeal of ordnance No. 8, which obliges lot owners to submit to arbitration and award, when the laws of the land entitle them to await the decisions of constitutional courts having jurisdiction. These illy [sic] conceived ordinances are the fruitful source of those contentions concerning our titles which have occasioned so much complaint and uncertainty, and confusion is worse confounded by illegal awards and city land office contests entered without authority of law.
Had our settlement been left to ordinary usages and the laws of the land, nice distinctions concerning certificates and their value would never have been heard of; and the indications of actual possession at all times plainly point out settlement, occupation or use in good faith. By this time titles might have been tolerably well settled, and if adjudication had to be made, temporary courts with the ordinary American system of trial by jury, instead of secret award, would have more readily gained the confidence of the people and litigants. Our sister city of Guthrie has found, I am informed, the adoption of these courts an available expedient, and if in the opinion of the council any great delay may intervene before the establishment of constitutional courts, I should gladly recommend the creation by election of these popular tribunals,
with jurisdiction to try questions of actual possession but
not title to real property.
A. J. BEALE.
As the time for the election
approached the agitation became great.
The deposed councilmen, gave notice through the papers that they
would not submit or abide by the results of the election and vigorously
protested against it. A
committee of citizens waited on the mayor and asked, or rather demanded
in the name of the commercial interests of the city that he withdraw his
proclamation relative to the election. This he refused to do and the old
fight was taken up again. A lot jumping epidemic prevailed for a time
and matters assumed a serious aspect.
United States Marshal R. C. Walker, of Kansas, made frequent
visits to the city, heard both sides of the case and on the morning of
the election notified Mayor Beale that it could not be held. The mayor
gave out there would be no election and in a short time after
instructions came from the attorney general establishing the reign of
status quo. This was the
end of city government. The
United States marshals controlled the country.
The regulation of the liquor traffic was given to their keeping
and saloons at once started all over the territory.
Several ineffectual attempts were made to suppress them. Agitation ceased to exist in visible form, and to business
there came an impetus resembling a boom.
The city rapidly built up and the fever is still on. Brick blocks
are going up on all sides and capital is centering here.
The surrounding country is so fertile, the advantages for
manufacturing are so great, the location of the city for a commercial
center is so plain that Oklahoma City’s future is certain and sure.
has been criminally slow in giving the territory legislation and some
say it is because it has been memorialized so often.
It is a fact that it has been slightly harassed in this line, for
every time a meeting of any kind was held congress was sure to receive a
lengthy memorial setting forth just what the territory and the cities
needed and wanted.