THE ORIGIN OF “ALOHA OKLAHOMA!” ON LINE
I penned my original 500-word series of related character sketches, Aloha, Oklahoma!, in 1987 to demonstrate Apple Computor’s prescient Hypercard technology. While a quick read on the surface, Hypercard links gave the engaged reader immediate access to related materials including photos. While Hypercard operated only on one’s computer, two years later in 1989, Sir Timothy “Tim” Berners-Lee announced the World Wide Web and I was able to put Aloha, Oklahoma! on the WWW for the world to see. The technically interested can compare how far the visual aspects of WWW technology have advanced since 1989 by taking a quick look at my original version HERE.
The expanded WordPress version below introduces more bigger-than-life characters and spans some 45 years. The story was the seed of my written perspective of the dramatic social and political changes in the United States beginning in the mid-20th Century. The book in progress includes many other political Masters of The Universe I’ve happened upon (and those who thankfully happened upon me) during the past half-century while working in, seemingly, the family business of politics.
If you’re not playing the great game of politics,
then you’re being used as a pawn by someone who is.
– Scott Foster –
Tishomingo Oklahoma around 1900
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, my mother and I would spend a few weeks during the long, hot Oklahoma summers with my great aunt and uncle, Lovie and Judge John Stobaugh in Tishomingo Oklahoma. Dad would drive the 100 miles, as the crow flies, down from Oklahoma City to the large Victorian house with a 3rd-floor tower room. His arrival was announced by the sound of tires on the long, circular gravel driveway beneath a magnificent canopy of native Pine.
Uncle John had moved the solid furnishings to the small southern Oklahoma town by horse-drawn wagon from his original homestead in Chickasaw, Arkansas – near the Louisiana border and just across the state line from Poteau in southeast Oklahoma. Uncle John had bought his acre of land in 1902 following the “Great Oklahoma Land Run” of 1889.
Glamorized in Edna Ferber’s 1929 novel, “Cimarron” and the 1931 movie, in reality “The Run” was just a land grab enabled by Republican President Benjamin Harrison to steal two-million acres of land (later expanded to 40-million acres) from the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains; the Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes during the shameful era of Indian Removal in the 1830s. This is how Oklahoma came to be.
Four-years after the 1889 Oklahoma land taking, Republican President William McKinley annexed the peaceful independent Republic of Hawai`i and it became a U.S. territory — despite having been earlier blocked by Democrat President Grover Cleveland after the much-loved Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani made a personal appeal.
Uncle John was an early Oklahoma judge and his law partner, William “William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray was, among other things, the first Chair of the state’s first Democratic Party Convention. One historian wrote, “William H. (Alfalfa Bill) Murray is the most important figure in the political history of Oklahoma. No other individual contributed so greatly to the formation of its political institutions – and no more colorful or controversial character ever strode onto the state’s political scene. Flamboyant, unpredictable, and stubborn, Alfalfa Bill became a legend to several generations of Oklahomans.”
Somebody please say “Amen!”
Also known as “The Sage of Tishomingo” throughout Oklahoma, in Little Rock, Austin, Baton Rouge, and in Washington D.C., Alfalfa Bill was elected as a Democrat to the Sixty-Third and Sixty-Fourth Congresses and was the ninth Governor of Oklahoma during the Great Depression years. Alfalfa Bill had run for President against Franklin D. Roosevelt, and of course lost. As Governor, he later fought many of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” projects, preferring to set up his own versions of the President’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) public employment programs using Oklahoma’s enormous oil income.Born in Toadsuck Texas, Alfalfa Bill got his nickname after introducing alfalfa to the many farmers and ranchers needing a crop that would rebuild the land after “The Dust Bowl.” He was way ahead of his time and on many issues save one — segregation; a sad legacy indeed.
Uncle John and Alfalfa Bill’s close friend, Thomas Pryor Gore (Al Gore’s great uncle) had “been with ’em” during the 1906 State Constitutional Convention in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. Blind, Gore became the new state’s first United States Senator. Senator Gore’s young grandson, Gore Vidal, was both his his eyes and his constant companion and confidant — on the floor of the US Senate or at important White House dinners.
Senator Gore’s headstone in Oklahoma City reads, “Great Is the Memory of His Character.” While it doesn’t, Alfalfa Bill’s headstone could very well have read, “He Is The Greatest Character Of Memory.” If people were animals, the cantankerous and defiant Alfalfa Bill would have been a bantam rooster. Alfalfa Bill assured his rising political career by helping the first Governor of Oklahoma, Charles Haskell to move (some said “steal”) the capitol from Guthrie to Oklahoma City. Local lore has Alfalfa Bill saying, “Guthrie’s too damn far from Tishomingo.”Gore Vidal later became a very successful writer and “… public intellectual known for his patrician manner, epigrammatic wit, and polished style of writing.” He was born at the military academy at West Point where his father was an instructor and was raised near Washington DC by his grandfather where he “… grew up among political and social notables.” Vidal also spent time on the Virginia estate of his stepfather, Hugh. D. Auchincloss – later to become Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s stepfather as well. Suffice to say, Gore Vidal knew which fork to use at an early age.
So, on June 11, 1910, the state seal was “moved” to Oklahoma City, and along with it, Guthrie’s entire economic base. A “special election” was hastily arranged and they “made it legal,” as Uncle John was fond of saying. Oklahoma City became the new state capitol. The growing railroad traffic shifted the 30 miles south and Guthrie was relegated to the role of small picturesque county seat. More than a few large landowners in those parts grumbled, “Tishomingo’s an Indian word meaning ‘pack of goddamn Democrats runnin’ the whole goddamn state.'” While not of record, the Indians must have at least been mildly amused by the turn of events for the Republicans who had originally taken the Great Plains lands from the Indians during The Run. Today, Guthrie Oklahoma is one of only 12 American towns to be listed by the National Historic Trust in its entirety.
Ironically, in 1919, “One of the world’s largest Masonic Centers” — the great Temple of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry was constructed in Guthrie. No one living knows exactly why this massive edifice (400,000 sq. ft.) was built in Guthrie — nine years after the state capitol was moved to Oklahoma City — but my guess is that it was because Uncle John and Alfalfa Bill (and my maternal grandfather and namesake Shelby Jennings) were Woodmen of The Western World. That we will never know for sure. Take a virtual 360-degree tour of this spectacular Masonic Temple HERE
The new marble and Tishomingo granite Greek-Revival capitol building was erected near downtown Oklahoma City where William Skirvin’s fine new hotel would later rise from the oil-rich Indian lands. Literally boarded up after the oil crash of the 1980s (finally refurbished and reopened in February, 2008), the Skirvin Hotel with its grand, glittering lobby and ballroom and regal suites quickly became the social and after-hours political center of the young state.