|A lot of folks my age
went to schools named after American poets. This made it easy for first
graders in Emerson Elementary to answer the question, ‘Who was your
school named after?" The reply: "A poet."
The same easy one-word answer would suffice for kids attending John
F. Kennedy Middle School or Eisenhower Elementary. The answer "A
president of the United States."
But ask students attending Vinita*s
Ewing Halsell Middle School who their school was named after and a
one-word answer is not so easy. In fact, there are many lifelong
residents who would find it difficult to give this man one simple title.
The Halsell family had deep roots in Vinita: and although firsthand
memories of them fade with each succeeding generation, there are still
many Vinitans who recall why Ewing Halsell is memorialized in the name
of the middle school.
He died In 1965 at age 88, after a long and successful life as a
rancher and businessman. Among other things, he will always he
remembered for his close, lifelong friendship with Will Rogers.
Will Rogers had been a frequent guest at the Halsell ranches, one
near Tulsa named Bird Creek Ranch and another in Texas named the Mashed
0 Ranch. In 1935, just before Will Rogers left for Alaska on his fatal
trip, Ewing Halsell visited him at the Rogers family ranch in
As young boys they had shared the same passion for roping and racing
horses. They practiced their roping skills at Ewing*s
child hood home in Vinita, which is now the site of Ewing Halsell Middle
three younger sisters would run around the house and Will and Ewing
would try to lasso them as they sped by.
Halsell married Lucille Fortner, the daughter of a prominent Vinita
physician, in 1899. They made their home both in Texas and Vinita. When
in Vinita, they lived in the family home that Ewing*s
father built and where Ewing and Will had played as boys.
Ewing Halsell was well-known for his highly successful cattle
breeding and trading. One of his ranches, the Big Creek Ranch, covered
hundreds of acres in Craig and Nowata Counties.
In 1944, Ewing Halsell bought the Farias Ranch, which was
ninety-seven thousand acres near the Mexican border In Texas. Later, he
and his wife permanently moved to San Antonio. He donated the mansion
and the block of property to Vinita*s
public school system.
There are many answers to the question of "Who was Ewing Halsell
and why was the school named after him?"
He was a successful rancher and businessman who lived in Vinita. He
married the daughter of one of the town*s
pioneer physicians. He donated land and his home to the Vinita school
system. He and Will Rogers spent many happy hours of childhood playing
on the very land where the school is located now.
And, Interestingly, he was the only son of William E. Halsell... but
that is another school and an other story altogether.
Note: Details on the life of Ewing Halsell mentioned in this column
are taken from the biographical index of The Papers of Will Rogers,
Volume One edited by Arthur Wertheim and Barbara Bair, University of
Oklahoma Press, 1996.
by Kathleen Duchamp, Vinita Daily Journal, Oct 14, 2002