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Tillman County, Oklahoma

Tillman County History

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County History


Tillman County was named after the Honorable Benjamin R Tillman, United States senator from South Carolina. While Mr. Tillman was a national figure in his day and way, he had no part in Oklahoma history. The fact is that county seats, county lines, and even county names were things to be conjured with in the consitutional convention. The support of some delegates was secured by making their home towns county seats; that of others was secured by making certain concessions on county boundaries; others for similar reasons, were privileged to name counties or to have counties named for them. So, without consulting the wishes of any of the people of the counties concerned, several were named for political idols who had about as much to do with Oklahoma as the man in the moon! Tillman was one of those counties.

The account below of Tillman's history comes from volume one of "A Diamond Jubilee; History of Tillman County" published by the Tillman County Historical Society in 1976. It has been reproduced here with permission.

A Brief History of Tillman County Before Statehood by Carolyn Maxwell

The first known people to inhabit what is now Tillman County were the Plains Indians, primarily Kiowas and Comanches. This land was only a small part of a great expanse of hunting grounds that they roamed. Leading a nomadic life, the Indians moved with the seasons, dependent on the vast buffalo herds which provided them with food, shelter, clothing.

Their relatively peaceful existence was irreparably interrupted by the advent of the white man. The first to come in numbers were the adventurers, oftentimes only passing through on their way to the gold fields in California. They were followed by a trickle of settlers, which soon after became a mainstream of pioneers going west. U.S. Army soldiers were sent to protect the white settlers from the Indians who were determined to hold their lands inviolate. (Camp Auger was established on Red River, in what would become Tillman County, as an outpost from Fort Sill. Its purpose was to keep an eye on the roving Kiowas and Comanches.)

Bloody battles were the result of the meeting between Indian and Army. The Indians won victories, but more often, they suffered defeats and were gradually brought to submission. Coerced into "peace" treaties, the Kiowas, Comanches, and Plains Apaches were assigned to a reservation of 4639 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut. All of Tillman County, as we know it, was included in the reservation.
Meanwhile, great cattle empires were being established in north Texas, and, before long, the cattle barons were enviously eyeing the fertile pasture land allotted to the Indians north of the Red River. These influential men, primarily W.T. Waggoner and Burk Burnett, began making contacts and soon negotiations to lease the Indian lands were made.

Most, if not all, of Tillman County was leased by Waggoner and Burnett, so during the next several years the history of this area was the story of big cattle operations; cowboys, round-ups, brandings, trail-drives.

As the pioneers continued their trek west, pushing the boundaries of civilization before them, other white men began to eye this land, too, but with another idea in mind. The homesteader wanted to settle on it and raise crops. Congressmen were petitioned to favor the settlers' cause, and in 1892 a commission negotiated an agreement. In lieu of communal holding of the entire reservation, the Indians accepted individual allotments of land. Surplus acres remaining after each Indian received his share were to be given away for settlement under the homestead laws. The cattle men opposed the homesteaders, knowing they would lose their pasture leases, and they managed to forestall the settling until 1901.

But on August 6, 1901, at Lawton a land lottery was held. About 200,000 people registered, either at Fort Sill or El Reno, in person or by proxy, the number being more than fifteen times as many as there were available places. The land to be drawn for included what is now Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Kiowa, and Tillman Counties. Roughly, there were 13,000 tracts of 160 acres each available. There was more land than this, but what was supposed to be the most choice lands had been reserved for the Indians. The largest of these, about 440,000 acres, was the Big Pasture. There were three other smaller areas also set aside for the Indians.

Among the 13,000 who drew the lucky numbers were people of all professions, both men and women. A Mr. Woods drew #1 and a Miss Beale drew #2. Both chose sites as close as possible to Lawton, then a city of tents.

Our section of the land included in the lottery, the extreme southwest part, was among the last chosen by the number holders. In fact, many places in this area were not filed on before the end of the 60-day period allowed. These were grabbed up, however, when opportunity permitted others to file.
A person who filed on a tract had six months, in which to settle and make improvements. This was called "proving up." Failure to do so allowed others to contest the claim at the end of the grace period.

Shortly after the 1901 land opening, six government townsites were designated in our area: Thacker, Jarrell, Gosnell, Manitou, Hazel, and Olds or Texowa (which became Davidson.) Except for Jarrell, northeast of Frederick, and Thacker, two miles west of Manitou, the townsites were to be located on the Blackwell, Enid, and Southwestern Railroad (BES, later the Frisco) which was rapidly laying tracks north from Texas.
Davidson is considered by many to be the oldest town in Tillman County because the BES arrived there first. The town's name was changed from Olds by Charles E. Hunter, townsite agent for BES, Davidson being the name of the railroad official.

Hunter was convinced to put the railroad through Gosnell instead of nearby Hazel by citizens voting to re-name Gosnell after Frederick VanBlarcom, the son of the BES official. Fledgling Hazel then moved to Frederick.

Hunter decided that instead of putting a railroad depot at Manitou, he would place it a Siboney, two miles north of Manitou. An intense rivalry resulted that finally ended in 1906 when Siboney, the depot included, was moved, 42 buildings in all, to Manitou.
The Big Pasture and three other smaller pastures opened for settlement in 1906. This opening was a radical departure from previous ones in that it was done by sealed bids. Bids were submitted to and opened by officials in Lawton. With the addition of Big Pasture lands, what would become Tillman County almost doubled in size.

The opening of the Big Pasture brought three more government townsites to the area, Eschiti, Isadore, and Quanah. Eschiti and Kell, an "illegal" town since it wasn't government designated, united to become Grandfield; Isadore and Quanah withered.

With the coming of the Katy Railroad, Loveland, Hollister, and Tipton sprouted on the prairie.

About the only objections that the settlers in this rich new land had were that Oklahoma was still a territory, and it was at least a two-day trip to Lawton, the county seat, since this was a part of Comanche County then. These situations were remedied by 1907 statehood and the creation of Tillman County, with Frederick as the county seat.

Seven bustling towns were thriving in the new county: Davidson, Frederick, and Manitou on the Frisco line, Grandfield, Loveland, Hollister, and Tipton on the Katy. Tillman County entered the twentieth century with great expectations!

(First published in The Frederick Press, April 4, 1975)

The following links bring you the history of Tillman County.

Town Histories

Hazel was a small pioneer town started in 1901. It was 1/2 mile south of another little town called Goznell that had started about the same time. It had no post office or train depot. After only six months, the residents of Hazel moved their town north to Goznell, and Hazel vanished away. Eventually, Goznell (Hazel/Goznell) did get a train depot. But when the train arrived, the railroad renamed the city! To Frederick.

Goznell was a small pioneer town started in 1901. It was 1/2 mile north of another little town called Hazel that had started about the same time. Unlike Hazel, Goznell had a post office which drew residents towards the north and led to the move of Hazel to Goznell as the two towns merged into one. Eventually, Goznell (Hazel/Goznell) did get a train depot. But when the train arrived, the railroad renamed the city! To Frederick.

Isadore was a small town that was designated by the governement with the opening of the Big Pasture area for settlement. That was in 1906. Isadore was situated 11 miles east and 1 1/2 miles south of Frederick. The few residents were unable to convince the railroad to stop there so the little town floundered. A train depot was opened in nearby Holister instead. The Isadore post office went with the railroad and soon the town followed.

Parton was located 2 miles east of Holister. As the railroad approached the cluster of little towns including Holister, Isadore and Parton, there was a battle to get a train depot. Holister won over the other towns and Parton took its turn folding into Holister.

Siboney began 13 miles north of Frederick in 1902. When the railroad came to the area there was an intense rivalry between Siboney and Manitou for the rights to a depot. At that time, Manitou had an abundance of water that Siboney was lacking. Manitou won the train depot, had the water, and left Siboney in the dust.

Thacker started in 1901, 2 miles west of Manitou. It lasted 2 or 3 years, but never really flourished. It did have a post office and a school, but no train depot.

Tillman was started in 1920. For a short time, it was six miles north and 1/2 mile east of Grandfield. It had a train depot, and school, but no post office. It started out healthy and hopeful, but ran into hard times and money problems stunted its growth. Eventually, even the train quit visiting Tillman, and as a town it just faded away

Quanah started in 1906 seven miles west and 1 mile north of Grandfield. It was chartered with the opening for settlement of the Big Pasture area. It had no post office or train depot, and faded away not too long after it had started.

Texowa combined with another old pioneer town named Olds to become Davidson, Oklahoma.

Olds combined with another old pioneer town named Texowa to become Davidson, Oklahoma.

Eschiti combined with another old pioneer town named Kell City to become Grandfield, Oklahoma.

Kell City
Kell City combined with another old pioneer town named Eschiti to become Grandfield, Oklahoma.

since October 20, 1996

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