MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

June 30, 2013

Town’s gathering place: Sawokla Farm

On July 4, 1910, Alice Robertson opened her newly built home for its first gathering. Created from native sandstone with wide, wrap-around porches, the home fulfilled a dream of the longtime teacher and businesswoman. She had used her earnings from her job as postmaster of the Muskogee Post Office to purchase a 55-acre section of land atop Agency Hill.

The July 4 event was a gathering of postmasters from across the state and served as a housewarming. At the event, Robertson announced that she was naming her home Sawokla, which, according to her, meant “gathering place” in the Muscogee language. This first of many gatherings was covered by the Muskogee Phoenix newspaper.

Robertson had lived in Indian Territory for most of her life, first at Tullahassee Mission and then in Muskogee. She worked in Washington, D.C., at various jobs over the years as well. But it was the position of postmaster in an extremely busy post office that had afforded her the opportunity to build Sawokla Farm. She filled the spacious house with the many relics, books, furnishings and other historic items that she had collected over a lifetime of travel and involvement in Indian Territory politics and history.

She was 56 and unmarried when she built the house, but her account of her life there indicates that she was rarely alone. She entertained frequently and usually had a ward living with her. Former students were frequent guests and she often played matchmaker among these young people. Politicians, Indian leaders, veterans, journalists and fellow teachers also often gathered around her dining table. Robertson was a generous hostess with a fascinating life to share with her guests.

The annual reunion of the Rough Riders from Indian Territory met at Sawokla several times. Robertson was even named an honorary member of this elite group. She also hosted a reunion of the volunteer firemen who had fought the “Great Fire” of 1899 on an anniversary of that fateful event.

The acreage of Sawokla Farm was put to use as well. Robertson grew vegetables, raised chickens and kept a small dairy herd. The products of the farm were sold in her cafeteria located in downtown Muskogee and also called Sawokla. In later years, Robertson allowed veterans receiving treatment at the nearby VA Hospital to create their own vegetable patch on the farm. It was therapeutic work for the men and helped to supplement their diet.

It was a visit from local Republican leaders at Sawokla Farm in 1920 that persuaded Robertson to run for Congress. Sawokla then became a gathering place for big barbecue events to raise funds for her campaign. Her generous spirit and willingness to open her home and heart to others were important factors in winning her election bid.

After her single term in Congress, Robertson retired to Muskogee but found that she could no longer afford the upkeep on the large home on the hill. She moved into a smaller house, fortunately removing most of the furniture and artifacts. Not long afterwards, Sawokla Farm burned in a devastating fire. A cornerstone from the large house still exists, however, and is displayed at Three Rivers Museum.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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