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
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
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
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
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.