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. 🙂

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Pioneer Day

I didn’t make it to Pioneer Day this year. But it was discussed on Facebook and I followed the thread.

Interesting the way people perceive anything that goes on in their Small Town World, isn’t it? And you know what? All of them just want C-Town to shine! (I think it already does!!!)

Back in the Day

Real Pioneer Days

In order to take advantage of the folks coming to town, Homecoming and Pioneer Day have been combined. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, peeps are coming home, so lets use it!

Originally, Pioneer Day was established to celebrate the day the Cherokee Strip was opened. The most land ever in a Land Run. (I think.)


September 16, 1893

If I remember right, Pioneer Day changed to Jolly Roger’s Day back in the late ’60’s. (I don’t remember the exact year, but I’m thinking about 1967 or so. (Wasn’t Viva Lee Rayborn Miss Keystone Lake about that year?)

But Port DX closed, and JRD reverted back to Pioneer Day.

One thought thread on FB was like Oliver Twist’s request. “MORE.”


Invite surrounding towns. Mix up the culture a bit. Invite Indian dancers from nearby towns. Request the girls in local dance/tumbling classes to entertain. Have more than one kind of singers

And floats in the parade!

Not bad ideas. Not the only ideas, but not bad ones.

If it were up to me, I’d get The Mayberry Foundation involved. That group is full of energy and fantastic ideas! (And they follow up!)

They’re what I want to be that when I grow up! 🙂

So, those of you who have ideas for PIONEER DAY . . . what do you suggest? Even if you aren’t from The Capitol of Keystone Lake (aka C-Town) what are some things in your town to bring in people and fun?