Sneaky strategy provides good food for
settlers in 1889: Strategy used at the
original opening in Oklahoma brought
good victuals to a hungry horde
When Byron R. Baker arrived in Guthrie, OK, on April 22, 1889, his well laid plans to open the biggest and best eating place in Guthrie became a reality.Baker started planning early in the spring of 1889 when he loaded a freight car in Wichita with a 24 by 80 foot tent that he had specially made in St. Louis.He added a long ready-made lunch counter, chairs, beds and a large kitchen stove. The load was finished out with flour, slat, sugar, coffee, firkins of butter, and tubs of eggs, which were cushioned with bran and shelled corn to keep them from breaking.When the car was sealed, Baker marked it as "Government Supplies" in hopes that it would be sent south with the first train.
But just who was Byron R. Baker? Born in Summer, Atchison county, Kansas on January 19, 1858, Baker stayed around that area until he obtained a team of ponies, harness and a wagon. He then took on a job peddling household wares to the farmers in Kansas. From this time forward, Baker held on to the idea of always working for himself, or by contract.Baker came to Wichita in 1878, where he worked as a buffalo hunter and sold the meat and skins. It was probably what he learned in these early day ventures that prepared him for what was to follow.
In April 22, 1889, Baker collected his wife, Mary Rudolff Baker, their daughter Minnie and son Ed, an infant in arms just 6 weeks old, and the barest essentials of household goods and clothes in trunks, and set out on the train for Guthrie. The family arrived that afternoon and spent the first night camped out on the corner of Oklahoma and the Santa Fe Railroad right-of-way.Near them was camped Harry Franklin, a Santa Fe detective that Baker had become acquainted with.
The next morning, down at the depot, were two freight cars, one of them marked "Government Supplies."Bakers idea had worked perfectly, but unloading the car in the midst of the mob of confusion and without a proper "government" official to claim it was another problem. About that time Franklin happened along, and being as how he was a railroad detective, he took charge of the situation and the car was rapidly opened.The tent was up in no time, and the rest of the contents of the car were rapidly transferred to it.Almost before the tables and chairs were set up, the big kitchen stove was in operation with Mrs. Baker working her magic making pies and preparing meals. Word rapidly spread that the big tent was the place to go for the best food and pies in town, and by the end of the day, the family had made over $50.00!
When Guthrie finally got itself organized, a town lot was presented to the Bakers for having the youngest citizen on the townsite the opening day. Before returning to Wichita in 1900, Baker also served as Guthrie City Marshal and deputy United States Marshal.
Baker always remembered several things that happened on that first full day in Guthrie.
While unloading the rail car, a 4 by 4 pole about 16 feet long emerged.Having no immediate use for it, but knowing that lumber was scarce in the new townsite, Baker kept it close to the tent. Before long, someone yelled: "Mister, a man is getting away with your pole. "When Baker got to where it had been, he found seven new silver dollars on an overturned bucket.That pole ended up as the ridge pole for a barbers tent, and in addition to the seven dollars, the barber insisted on shaving Baker free for a month.
Another event was the large sand storm that hit Guthrie in those early days. It kept them brushing sand off of the lunch counter as fast as the patrons were putting away their pie.
The final happening concerned little Minnie.Somehow she found her way into one of the tubs of eggs and had great fun walking around on them. Needless to say that was one mess that took some cleaning up!
Compiled from information provided by William Langley, grandson of Byron R. Baker.
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