, Muskogee, OK

June 15, 2013

Father, son were pioneers in Muskogee

By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History

— John E. Turner, with his wife, Julia, and their children, moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Fort Smith, Ark., in 1867.

Believing there was opportunity for a mercantile business in Indian Territory, Turner traveled to the Creek capital of Okmulgee, and by 1869 he had established a business there.

A year later, his 13-year-old son, Clarence, completed his schooling and joined his father in Okmulgee.

Julia Turner and the younger children remained in Fort Smith so they could continue in school.

Clarence later recounted his first journey through Indian Territory to Grant Foreman. In 1870, the railroad had yet to enter the Territory, so travel was by boat, wagon or horseback. The Turners boarded a steam ferry at Fort Smith for part of the journey.

They spent their first night at a stage stop near Sallisaw, then continued by ferry to Webbers Falls.

From Webbers Falls, they proceeded on horseback to the Creek Agency, near Fern Mountain. They followed Pecan Creek westward, passed Cloud Creek and Bald Hill, and arrived in Okmulgee after three days. Clarence started work in the store the next day.

In 1875 Clarence bought out his father’s interest in the Okmulgee store and at age 18 became a business owner. J.E. Turner decided to move to Muskogee, where the railroad was.

In 1877, he arrived in town and opened a store with William Harvison. He also built a home at the outskirts of town — what is today the corner of Second and Broadway.

The Turner home, as one of the earliest in town, soon became known as “the old homestead.”

Occupying nearly a city block between Second and Third streets, the homestead likely had a barn and other outbuildings as well. When Julia Turner joined her husband in Muskogee isn’t recorded. The 1903 city directory shows that Julia Turner was at the “old homestead.” Later, Fred Turner, their grandson, moved the home to make way for an office building.

The 1903 directory lists this building as the “Old Homestead Building,” so named because it occupied a portion of the Turner estate.

As the downtown grew, the “old homestead” had become prime real estate for business development.

John Turner’s granddaughter, Tookah, remembered him as a dapper and dignified man who was very businesslike at his store but kindly at home.

Fond of giving gloves and parasols to all the female members of the family, he needed no special occasion to bestow a gift.

Clarence Turner moved to Muskogee in 1882 and built his home just west of his father’s homestead.  Both of the Turner families were known for their hospitality.

Tookah recalled that it was a rare evening meal that didn’t include guests.

John E. Turner died in December of 1898, but he left a memorable legacy.

Along with Clarence, he helped to build the Creek capital of Okmulgee and the railroad town of Muskogee.

Reach Jonita Mullins at