MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 19, 2013

Fight for McIntosh County seat serious

In 1906, when the Oklahoma State Convention was held, one of the most contentious issues the delegates had to deal with was the county boundary lines and county seats. Many cities wanted the privilege of being the seat of their respective county, and the political wrangling on this subject seemed endless.

Finally, as a compromise, the delegates said that if the citizens wanted to change the county seat chosen at the convention, they could do so by vote after statehood.

More than one county had conflicts between towns of similar size vying for the coveted county seat.  Several votes took place in Adair County between Westville and Stilwell before that dispute was settled.

Why was it so important? The location of the county government in a town was a great economic boon, bringing both jobs and dollars. Votes and court battles were often needed to settle these county seat disputes, but in one county the matter turned to a real shooting battle.

In McIntosh County, Eufaula had been selected, but folks in Checotah were not happy with that decision and wanted it changed. So, Governor Haskell called a special election to let McIntosh County citizens vote on the issue.

Eufaula and Checotah citizens launched a vigorous campaign to convince voters to select their town as county seat. At the election, Eufaula won by a slim margin. The county courthouse was set up in rented space downtown at Main and Foley in Eufaula, and the county offices opened for business. But Checotahans believed the election had been rigged and they were furious.

Frank Jones, the hired campaign manager for Checotah, convinced prominent citizens that action needed to be taken. So, on a Sunday morning, June 7, 1908, a group of 50 armed men from Checotah boarded the train for Eufaula. The train reached Eufaula at high noon.

Jones divided the men into two groups which circled around town from the depot toward the courthouse. Here they were met by the county clerk who had the keys to the county offices. A friend to Checotah, he unlocked the county offices. The mob began to pack county records into burlap bags to take back to Checotah.

Soon Eufaula citizens became aware of what was going on, and the town marshal, F.M. Woods, went to investigate. Jones threatened the marshal with a pointed Winchester and told him to get off the street. Soon, Eufaulans who heard about the event armed themselves and began to gather downtown. A standoff between the two groups developed with a lot of shouting and pointing of guns.

Someone took a buggy to the home of Grant Johnson, an African-American U.S. deputy marshal who lived south of Eufaula. Johnson raced into town. Meanwhile, Marshal Woods tried to make an arrest of one of the Checotah leaders and was shot in the street. This brought a volley of gunfire from Eufaula’s citizens.

When Johnson arrived, he found chaos and the real danger of much bloodshed. He recognized Frank Jones, however, and tried to reason with him, asking him to help calm the situation. Jones and Johnson had served together as lawmen in years past.

Realizing the Checotahans were now greatly outnumbered, Jones placed his hat over his gun barrel and raised it as a sign of truce. He then asked for a conference with someone from Eufaula. Cooler heads now prevailed, and they stepped into the Oklahoma Title and Trust Company office. An agreement was made that if the Checotahans would surrender their weapons they would be allowed to leave Eufaula without arrest.

Eufaulans kept their courthouse and county offices, but for some time after that they also kept a guard posted to make sure no one from Checotah tried to move the county seat again.

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

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