Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.

Saw Mills and Cotton Gins


Allene, this one’s for you!

great-great-granddad-JosephMeet Joe.

That’s really a copy-machine copy of a picture, so it’s not very good, but it’s the best I’ve got. And really, I’m lucky to have it.

Joe was my Grandmother Ruby’s Granddad, which makes him my great-great-granddad. (Is that cool or what?) His name was Josephus (really!) C. Mitchell, and he was born in North Carolina.

He lived in Illinois in 1875 and had moved to West Plains, Missouri by 1881.

I don’t believe Joe came to Oklahoma for the opening of the Cherokee Strip, at least he didn’t get land in the rush. But not long afterward, he owned a saw mill and cotton gin in the Basin–in the spot where the house was that my parents lived in when I was born.

They always called it Aunt Sarah’s house. Now I know why. (Being his step-mother, Granddad Mitchell called her “Aunt” instead of mother.)

lumber-mill-and-cotton-ginThis picture has stacks of lumber and bales of cotton as well as several people standing around. (The man in the black hat is standing on a bale of cotton.)

Two of those people are my great-granddad and my great-great-granddad. GGG also had a post office and general store in that area, too.


This is another picture of great and great great. The baby is my g-granddad.

The woman is Josephus’s first wife (and my g-g-grandmother) Mary. (Looks irritated, doesn’t she? I might have had that look a time or two in my life.)

Mary died at the age of 30 in West Plains, after having three children. The oldest was six, the youngest two, so old Joe remarried.


This is Mary’s headstone. The note that came with the picture says that Mary’s son, G-Granddad N. S., quarried the stone himself. Since Granddad was only about six when she died, he must have done it some years later.


Aunt Sarah

This is Sarah, Joe’s second wife. He married her eight months after Mary died, while they were still in Missouri. She was 17 years younger than him. She and Joe would go on to have twelve children together. (They named one Okla Homer. Don’t you love it?)

Some of the children died at birth or soon after, and at least two died by the time they were three. Hurts your heart to think about, doesn’t it?

After 21 years of marriage to Sarah, Joe died. Sarah married a man named Johnson and had yet another child. (She was one busy woman!)

Being Terminally Curious, I really wish I knew the story behind their lives. How did they happen to come to the Mannford area? How and why did Joe die? How did Sarah feel when Joe died, leaving her with all those children to raise?

Did Joe make his wives happy? Or were they too busy keeping all those kids fed to notice?

Sarah’s two youngest were five and two when their daddy died. The two-year-old, Jimmie, would die the next year. Doesn’t that just break your heart?

The first time I heard of Joe, I read about him in a book called Cherokee Strip Fever  by Zola Sample. She only mentions him in passing as the store owner in the Basin, but it was a thrill to see my family mentioned in that book.

I think I’ll have to read it again one of these days. 🙂

Author: Susan Shay

For as long as I can remember, I've loved two things--reading and people--and that led me to become a writer. Many of my stories are set in Small Town Worlds. I'm a wife, mother, sibling and an aunt. I have a deep faith in God, and an exciting life in Christ. Maybe I shouldn't be (after all, he's God!) but I'm constantly amazed at the things He's up to. :)

4 thoughts on “Saw Mills and Cotton Gins

  1. Enjoyed reading a little bit about your family, Susan. My husband was really into genealogy an I have him to thank for lots of info on my ancestors. You do wonder about what their lives were like. My mothers Cherokee/Irish family was written about in Unhallowed Intrusion. I was lucky enough to get an autographed copy of the book. The ancestor who started it all here in America was pretty much a scoundrel, but it was fun to have the info. Lol

    • I envy your genealogical help! I’m not very good at it, but when I get started I get lost in everything that happened. Everybody has a story. 🙂
      And I’m VERY glad to hear someone else admit to having scoundrels in the fam! I love having a colorful ancestors! (I didn’t do whatever it was and I didn’t benefit, so why not just enjoy it?)
      I’m going to have to look up the book you mention–Unhallowed Intrusion. Who was it written by?
      Oh, I just remembered–somewhere in our past, we have a Swan relative. We’re probably cousins, several times removed.
      Thanks for dropping by Small Town World, Donna. I hope you’ll come back often.

  2. Susan, thank you so much for this article! I never imagined it would turn into a whole thing. I don’t know why I never knew this family history. Mom used to take me out to the basin and we’d go to the cemetery out there which most of which is now in Oak Hill in Mannford. She would always point to Aunt Jenny’s (?) grave and tell me about how she died the day I was born. I was too young to retain many of the details. It was before I went to school. As for pictures they came out when Lola and Charley came to visit. Usually another bunch or two came along so they would all group around the pictures and tell about them one or three at a time so usually by the time the pics made it around they were talking about something else, ha, so if you remembered anything about it you lucky and if you interrupted to ask about it again you, me, were usually chastised for it. You don’t interrupt adults you know!

    • I first heard about Joe’s store and saw mill when I read Cherokee Strip Fever by Zola Bellis Sample. It was just a little mention, but it set my hair on fire! I had to find out. (Just call me Terminally Curious.) 🙂
      Glad you enjoyed the account.

I'm so glad you dropped by my Small Town World! Hope you'll leave a comment. I really enjoy hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s