Ex-Oklahoman, Frank Cooper Recalls Early-Day Celebrations
Back in the 1890's the Fourth of July was celebrated with picnics, races, contests and patriotic programs including oratory and singing. It was a day long looked forward to, and still longer remembered.
Out in California recently two men, now in their 70s, met for the first time in many years, and spent six hours reminiscing about celebrations they had attended at Cooper's Grove at Seward. One of these men was Frank C. Cooper, ... Hill st, Los Angeles, and the other Joe Stout of .... Calif. The two of them had won the three-legged race one Fourth of July, they recalled.
Frank and his brother, Arthur, made the rounds of Guthrie merchants well in advance of all Fourth of July celebrations, also before Labor Day, Memorial Day, August 4th, and other holiday events, and solicited articles for prizes in the 100-yards foot race; women's 50 yard race; egg race; three-legged race; pie eating and cracker eating contests; and the greased pole climbing and greased pig catching contests.
Further entertainment was furnished by a horse-drawn merry-go-round, Punch and Judy shows, shooting gallery and square dancing until the wee hours. The late Mrs. Belle corn, mother of Luther Corn, led the singing at these functions, and the speakers at patriotic events and political meetings held in the grove included Dennis Flynn, T. P. Gore, Bill Cross, Frank Greer, John Golobie and Fred Wenner, as well as the several Territorial Governors.
"The girls all looked lovely in their poke bonnet hats, and gay $90 dresses made with leg-of-mutton sleeves, long skirt with small bustle, high button shoes, and a small ladies' watch pinned on her waist," they pointed out. "And we boys sure love to dress in those days, too. We wore ascot neckties, celluioid collars, stiff "fried" shirts, bell bottom pants, high-topped patent leather button shoes, and a double watch chain with a pen knife on one end and a watch on the other."
Cooper adds that he also was proud of his Katy plug hat, the rose on the lapel of his coat, and the fact that the watch he displayed was the very one that his father had used to time the start of the first train into the Unassigned Lands. Captain Cooper gave him the watch with instructions to give it later to the Oklahoma historical society, but it was stolen.
At one July 4th celebration a man from Guthrie displayed a new cylinder - type phonograph with rubber tubes equipped with five sets of ear phones, and for five cents each, or a total of 25 cents, he would play one of the more than 100 records of the popular songs of the day, such as "After the Ball," and "My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon." Later in the evening he played two records for a nickel.
They were caught short of supplies on one occasion, he recalls, and ran completely out of ice and everything by 4 p.m. It was on a Fourth of August when E. P. McCabe, Negro leader, sponsored as Emancipation Day picnic at the grove.
"We were excpecting about 500 persons to come down on the Santa Fe from Guthrie on the special excursion rate of 25 cents, but when the train pulled in at 11 a.m., 20 coaches full of picnickers got off."
Camp meetings were also held in the grove, lasting about two weeks; and it was during one of these that Cooper discovered that picking a load of watermelons with a skittish team hitched to the wagon is no time to give imitations of a preacher. At least, not of the well know pioneer preacher, Rev. L. J. Parker, father of City Councilman Paul L. Parker.
It was the final night of a very successful meeting, and the Rev. Parker, a big, powerful man with a voice that did not need any amplifying device to make himself heard, asked for testimonials. After several had spoken, Mrs. Parker, a quiet little woman, arose and quoted, "The Lord is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want," Immediately the big minister jumped to his feet and shouted, "Glory to God; That is my wife, and she never has testified before."
The next day Arthur, Alice and Frank Cooper and a neighbor girl, Abby, were out in the melon patch. They had gathered about 40 melons and were starting to leave the field when Abby, who had missed church the night before, asked about the service. Arthur started to tell her about the service. Arthur started to tell her about the testimonial incident. He was driving, and with a rein in either hand, he jumped to his feet, threw up his hands and boomed out, "Glory to God, That's my wife, and it's the first time she ever testified."
The team waited for no more. The horses bolted, throwing the two husky girls on top of Frank and the melons. By the time his brother got the team quieted down, Frank claims he was not only bruised but covered with watermelon juice, seeds and rinds.
Before he moved to California, Cooper worked in the Guthrie post office in 1903 under McCoy; and still earlier had taught schoool. Other teachers he remembers are George Martin and his wife who was then May Calvert, and Ed Trapp.
He would be glad to hear from anyone who has recollections of these or similar events, or photographs of early days in Oklahoma.
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