Mrs. George Bassler
Questionnaire Indian Pioneer History Vol 77
Transcribed by: Jeane Barthel Freeman, email@example.com
Mrs. George Bassler
Shawnee Apartments # 9
Born: Chamois, Missouri 1870.
Parents: Peter J. Comby & Nancy Jane Comby. White
First name is: Stata or State or Stati
MRS. BASSLER'S STORY:
My parents came to Oklahoma from Missouri, in 1888. My mother ran a rooming house when we first came.
MY EXPERIENCES IN MUSKOGEE, I.T.
Father was born near Paris, France and came to St. Louis, Missouri, at the age of 17. Later, he and his brother opened a store at Chamois, Missouri. Here he became acquainted with my mother and they were married in Jefferson City, in 1868. Father died when I was six months old, leaving mother to care for me and my half sister, who is now Mrs. Alice Cummings of Tulsa.
In 1886, when I was sixteen years old, I visited an Aunt, Mrs. Laura Allen, in Muskogee. At this time I became acquainted with a Mrs. Alice Reed, who owned and operated a millinery store. It was the year of "cartwheel" hats. The demand for these was great and she was destitute for help, so I worked for her that summer. One day an Indian came into the store and wanted to see the feathers. I was at a loss to know what he could possibly want with a feather, and was amazed to learn that the Indians wore them in their hats. This fact was proved to me many times in the next few months, since I sold nothing else but "Cartwheels" and feathers.
I was so thrilled with this new and exciting country that I was finally successful in persuading Mother to move to Muskogee in 1888. She bought a house that stood on railroad ground, as "Whites" were not allowed to own land. When we had lived there only a few nights we heard an unusual amount of shooting. "Twas the Belsteed boys and their pals "shootin' up the town." Their favorite sport was shooting out the lights in the homes they passed.
After getting settled in our new home, I immediately began to look for employment. As I had had some experience in a printing office, I went to the Phoenix office and there met Mr. Frank Hubbard, who was the editor. It was unheard of at that time for a girl to work in public and it was several days before Mr. Hubbard would consent to give me a "tryout."
I was there five years before the Phoenix was sold to Mr. Singleton. During those five years I had two frightful experiences. One day while working by the window, someone said in a trembling voice, "Here comes Belle Starr."
I looked up to see just outside my open window the most notorious woman of all Indian Territory. She was not bad looking, but most peculiarly dressed. She had on a divided skirt and a man's shirt. Her dark hair hung in braids over her shoulder and on the end of these braids were tied rattles from rattlesnakes. She carried a gun in her belt and with her hand on this gun said to me in a very gruff voice, "Where is "Doc" Bennett?"
I told her in a very small voice that he was out of town. As she drove off she muttered that it was a good thing for him that he was not there. An article had appeared in the Phoenix about her which she had resented and she had "come to get him." The other time we were doing some night work, Dr. Bennett came in and laid a six-shooter down on the table between us and said, "I understand the Book gang is coming in tonight." I don't know whether it was the size of the gun or the fear of the bandits, but I didn't accomplish much that night.
Miss Alice Robertson had a girls' school not far from the Phoenix office. When she heard a girl was working there she came down to see me, and after we got better acquainted she asked permission to bring her students down to observe my work in order that they might see for themselves that a girl could be independent. She often came in to see about work she was having done and she never failed to stop by my desk for a word or two. On one occasion she said, "Miss Comby, are you going to the dance tonight?" Knowing her aversion to dancing I very reluctantly replied, "Yes, I am." She then remarked, " I don't approve of dancing, but if you are going, you must have flowers," and with that she left early to come back in a short time with some beautiful flowers out from her own plants. (This party was at the home of Mrs. Narcissus Owen, mother of Robert L. Owen).
In 1894 I went to work at the Patterson Merchantile Company. It was the largest store in that part of the country, and "Whites, Indians and 'Blacks'" came from a distance of fifty miles to trade there. The trade was so enormous that it was necessary for the clerks to wait on as many as four customers at a time. I had just gone to work there when Charlie Garrett informed me that I would have to pay a permit of $2.00 to work in the Indian Territory. From the tone of his voice and as he was a native, I lost no time in handing over the money. Never the less, as far as I know this was the first and only such permit ever paid.
There were several notorious gangs at this time, one of them being the Dalton gang. One day it was reported that this bunch was on its way to Muskogee to hold up the bank, which was located directly across the street from the Patterson store. Preparation for this raid was made by the installing of an automatic alarm, which when stepped upon could be heard at both Patterson's and the Turner Hardware Store. The owners of these stores had arranged to place guns in their second floor windows and at the sound of the alarm, which when stepped on rang in both places, the men in these stores were to run upstairs, get a gun, and be ready for action. Among these men were: Mr. Patterson and Mr. Robb, owners of the store, Joseph Schmidt, Charlie Hart, Houston Estes and son, Bert, John Dorsey, Charlie Holt, Jack Evans, and Charlie Seekings. A few days after these preparations were completed, at a most unexpected moment this alarm sounded. Immediately the store became the scene of turmoil and excitement. The boys fell up the stairs and down the stairs, getting to their guns. Customers knocked each other down in their haste in getting out the door. Just as suddenly as all the noise and excitement broke forth, however, it ceased and everyone waited breathlessly for the orders to fire. I must have been paralyzed with fear for I had not moved from my place behind the counter. As I looked out the open door, I saw a man from the bank coming across the street. Not until he said, "Tell the boys that was a false alarm" did my strength return.
At another time it was reported that members of the Starr gang were seen near the old fair grounds. This was on Saturday night and about 9:30 o'clock a stranger walked in through the back door of the store and up to the grocery counter. Mr. Charles Seekings went forward to wait on him. As Mr. Seekings was wrapping up his purchase, in order to make conversation he remarked, "We have heard the Starr gang is coming in tonight, and by George, we're ready for them." Before the stranger could reply another girl clerk in the store, who had just come to Muskogee from Chicago seeking adventure, rushed up to him and said, " I hope those bandits do come tonight; I'd like to see one of them." The stranger said, "Girlie, you might be interested in knowing that I'm riding one of their ponies tonight." Needless to say, the girl never again had much to say to strangers. Others that worked at Patterson's during the six years that I did were: May Martin, Beulah Hollingsworth, Della Curts, Rilla Towns, Ella Robertson, Will Keys and son, Dan, Sam McMurrey, Theo Stedham, _____Ford, Bob Hutchinson, N. B. Spaulding, and Homer Spaulding.
The first party I attended in Muskogee was at the home of Dr. Callahan. Games and music provided the entertainment for the evening. Another interesting party was an all day Christmas party at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Elliott. They had three girls and a son. Mr. John Cobb, who boarded there, had three girls and a boy, and Mrs. Elliott's niece made her home with them. These girls were called the "Seven Sisters". This was my first Christmas in the Indian Territory. About twenty young people had been invited for the whole day and evening. I never saw so much food-cakes and pies stacked high, and everything else customary on Christmas.
We enjoyed the programs at the old Harrell Institute and Bacone University, including home talent plays in which "Little Maud" Cummings, now Mrs. Maud Tally of Tulsa, entertained with songs and readings. We also amused ourselves with picnics, lawn socials, and dances. The music for the more exclusive private dances was furnished by the town orchestra, which had the distinction of being the first orchestra in Muskogee, and of which I had the honor of being pianist. Other members of the orchestra were: Mr. Best, leader and violinist; William Bozeman, cornetist; Frank Lockes, bass viol; and Ben Bellis, clarinet. Later Mr. Messick, a tailor, took over the leadership of the orchestra and his son played the clarinet also. We enjoyed playing the orchestra very much, but were called upon to play at the most inopportune times. For instance, on a very busy Saturday afternoon while I worked at Patterson's, a political convention was to be held at Turner Opera House. I wouldn't ask for permission to go, but the leader asked Mr. Robb and to my great surprise he told me to go right along. Another time Mr. Mills, a competitor of Mr. Patterson's was having a two-day sale and wanted Mr. Best and me to furnish the music. I was allowed to go-most unusual, I would say. We also played at the "balls" at the old Adams Hotel; also, at the home of Robert L. Owen, and many other places.
When Mr. Harsha and Mr. Spaulding bought out the J. E. Turner store, I was offered a position with them with an increase in salary, and after a short vacation I accepted. It was there that I met George Bassler, who three years later became my husband. We had three children, Nancy, George and Sue. The first was born in Indian Territory, the other two in Oklahoma, yet all three in Muskogee. Mr. Bassler went into business with J. E. Chapman about 1905 in the building owned by Mr. Sharum. In a short time the building collapsed and Bassler-Chapman dissolved partnership. Later Mr. Bassler opened a clothing store and continued in this line of business until his death in Kansas City, Kansas in 1931. We lived in Muskogee until 1914.
I was one of the ten that organized the Christian Church and was organist for many years. Our first meetings were held in a school building on Third Street in the Primary room. After a while the W.C.T.U. built a hall and we very happy to move into that. The church continued to grow and we finally had to build a larger building, which is the same building in use at the present time.
Date of Interview: Approx 1937
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© Sue Tolbert