January 26, 2013

Pioneer woman known as ‘Aunt Katie’

Kate Bemo was teacher, caregiver, lively community member

January 26, 2013 By Jonita Mullins Three Rivers History

Upon her death in February of 1933, Kate Bemo was fondly remembered by her community as one of the great pioneer ladies of the old Indian Territory. Everyone had called her Aunt Katie, though all her true nephews and nieces lived in Ohio where Kate had been born in 1848. In the true Southern tradition of small towns, those well-known and well-loved community leaders were given the respectful title of aunt or uncle.

Kate Edwards came to Indian Territory in 1870 at age 22 to teach Creek students at the Tullahassee Mission. The school was under the direction of William and Ann Eliza Robertson and two of the Robertson sisters, Augusta and Alice, had also taught there. To reach Indian Territory, Kate had taken the train to Girard, Kan., which was as far as the line went in 1870 and then traveled, probably by stagecoach, over the Texas Road to arrive at the mission.

There were 100 Creek students at the school at this time and it was referred to as the Tullahassee Manual Labor Boarding School. Kate remained here for about a year and a half and then moved to the new community of Muskogee in 1872. She took a position teaching school here and later remembered early Muskogee as being a “long, straggling railroad town.”

At some time in this early interval of her life in Indian Territory, she met Douglas Bemo, a Creek-Seminole who had a large farm at the little community of Creek Agency, across the Arkansas River from Tullahassee. How they met isn’t recorded, but they were married in 1873. Kate continued to teach in Muskogee while living at Creek Agency. It was here in this small Creek community that she gained the title of Aunt Katie.

Douglas Bemo was the son of John Bemo, a Seminole missionary who had helped to establish two mission schools in the Seminole Nation — Prospect Hill School and Oak Ridge Mission. Bemo was quite well-known in American church circles, having served as both a Presbyterian and Baptist minister. In his later years, he moved to the farm of Douglas and Kate and they cared for him until his death in 1890.

Much of what we know about Aunt Katie’s home of Creek Agency is from the notations on a map of the community drawn by another resident named T.F. Meagher. As is obvious, the town of Creek Agency was given its name because the federal Creek agency was located there. The Agency and appointed Indian agent were housed in a large log cabin that sat near the base of Fern Mountain.

A scattering of homes made up the little community as well as a school, Creek courthouse, a blacksmith shop, and the trading post of George Stidham. The most infamous landmark at Creek Agency was the “Hanging Tree,” where in rare instances justice was administered by the court at the end of a rope.

After Muskogee grew up around the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, most of the businesses at Creek Agency moved to be closer to this important means of transportation. Eventually, the Creek Agency itself moved to the Turner Mercantile. But the Bemos remained on their farm until the death of Douglas Bemo in 1898. A few years later, Kate remarried and with her new husband W.S. Mitchell moved to Muskogee as well.

Kate was widowed again in 1929. She lived to be 85 and was reportedly a vivacious and witty woman even into her sunset years. She passed away in 1933 and was much lauded by all who knew her as Aunt Katie. She was buried in Greenhill Cemetery.

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

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