Haskell County Historical Society

Fisher, Josh and Norma - Interview by Karen Miller

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BELLE STARR Rides in Haskell County, Oklahoma

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By Karen Miller
Date March 8, 1984

Name: Josh Fisher and Norma Fisher
Born: (28 Feb 1908) (7 Dec 1912)
Parents: King and Florence Viola Fisher
Frank and Minora Bell Dean
Grandparents: Josh: William and Amanda Fisher;
George and Savanna Stout
Norma: Center and Rhoda Minerva Dean;
James Pritchard

KAREN MILLER: In what year did you come to Stigler?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: My family moved to Stigler December the 8th, 1920, and I was 8 years old, and we moved from Mulberry, Arkansas. Our house hold goods was brought thru in about 3 wagons drawn by mules, and our milk cow led behind the wagon. My mother and I came thru on a train and we arrived in Stigler December the 8th, 1920.

JOSH FISHER: I came to Stigler in January the 12th, 1929. My first job away from home to work in the post office.

KAREN MILLER: Could you tell me a little bit about what Stigler looked like then?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: When I arrived in Stigler, the streets were all dirt, there was no paving of any type, even gravel and the street towards the depot, which is South Broadway, was pretty well developed, it had stores, had a hotel, that was called Travelers Hotel. And the just south of city hall there was a large building that housed a dry goods store then, and on down towards the depot was several little buildings and then there were two hotels, the other hotel was the Eureka Hotel, which is just north of the library, at this present time, and it had formerly, back in the teens, been a music company, operated by President Bill Banosky's grandfather, and he had published songbooks there. There was three banks in Stigler, one was located where the insurance company is now on the corner of the intersection of Man and Broadway and the other one was north across the street where Abstract Company is, then the third building was the building that burned. There was vacant spaces between Dobyn's, which was also a two-story building at that time, vacant at the present location there was vacancy between it and the bank, on the corner which is now the insurance company, that was all vacant in there and also north of the present post office that was all vacant and where Lantz Motor Company is now was all vacant lot. There was no court house, the only building on that whole block was the little log hut, the Legion Hut and it was new. The courtroom, where they held court was across the street from where Dr. Kenneth's office is now, upstairs in one of those buildings. The post office was in the back of the old bank building that burned a few years ago, it was next to the alley back there and there was no buildings west of it and there was no buildings west of the Palace Drug Store. About five medical doctors had their offices here and they were all upstairs, the offices were all upstairs and there was a mill that ground corn into meal and also round feed. Most everybody, especially farmers, brought their own corn in and had their own meal ground because it was better than what you could buy. And there was 3 gins that accommodated the farmers who raised cotton and there was only 2 school buildings in the town, the Grade School 1-6 grades was located on the same block as the present grade school, but it was a large, square, two-story brick building, and the basement was heated by a coal furnace. The other was on the location of the old high school that burned, it was also a two-story brick building and was torn down when the high school that burned, was finished. There was no gyms, the only gym we had served two purposes, the auditorium and the gym, and they took up the folding chairs to play ball and we had to go up in the balcony to watch. And there was only two church buildings at that time, one was the First Baptist Church that was just a block north of Lantz Motor on the east side street of the corner there and the other was the Methodist Church that still exists. There was a fairgrounds where the Civic Center now is and the ball park and there was several buildings there. There was stables for the stock and a large building where the ladies displayed their handiwork and the farmers displayed their garden produce. And then on the same building, there was a grandstand where you could watch the baseball games, and other things that went on. There was also a bandstand, which was a square, open structure that head a upstairs part that the band sat in and played while they were having picnics and fairs and there was concessions on the lower part of it. Many people had their own milk cow, even in town. All the homes had gardens to supply food for their families. About the time I moved to Stigler, they passed an ordinance against having pigs in the city limits, but chickens and cows were okay. When you bought coffee or sugar, or rice, or anything like that it was always in bulk form and you just went in and said I want fifty cents worth of coffee and they weighted the coffee out and took it to a mill and ground it and put it in a paper bag and you took it home. It wasn't packaged like it is now. The main occupation of the farmers around was cotton and corn and row crops and these they grew and cultivated by hand and walking plows with teams to them. Everyone made most of their own living from their land.

JOSH FISHER: When I first came to Stigler as I've stated it was January of 1929 to work in the post office. I thought I'd moved to a city. Having come from the North side of the river, the town of Porum. I'd never seen any town but Porum and Briartown and I thought Stigler was a large place. I might just state, the number of businesses that were here. They had about 5 meat markets and when I say meat markets, that's where meat was butchered by the individual market and cut up on the meat block as they sold it, you come in and order a certain cut of meat then they cut it for you then and the meat was always fresh cut just as they sold it. They had about 5 of those mat markets in Stigler and 5 clothing stores, that's dry goods stores and ready to wear. Three drug stores and 2 hardware stores. One show at the time I came, but later they got the second show. They showed the shows the entire time, even Sunday and Sunday night. They had about 5 different shows a week, counting the midnight shows on Saturday night and Stigler was lucky to have the man in charge of the theater, it was Mr. Pierce and he got good pictures, they were worth looking at. We had about 3 blacksmith shops that's where the farmers, it being a local way of making a living that day and time people farmed, it was farming country. The blacksmith shops sharpened the plow shears and fixed the equipment for the farmers. They had 2 lumber yards. I believe 4 cotton gins and by 1929, there was only 1 bank. About four places to eat, they were more or less fast food places where you just got a hamburger or something. Hardly any of them were where you could order a meal. There was 3 hotels and about 5 filling stations. Cars were pretty much the mode of transportation by 1929 and there was 2 of these grist-mills and churches, maybe they didn't all have their places to meet, their individual building, that you'd call a church building. There was about 6 different churches and of course, grade school and high school.

KAREN MILLER: What was the main type of business?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: Farming mostly and the farms were small, 40-80 acres. As I said while ago they were cultivated by hand. There was no machinery like tractors or combine or anything like that. As he said, in the town there was several type of merchandise in the town itself.

JOSH FISHER: Well the rural business was farming, mostly the ones that farmed just raised corn and cotton and in the city we had the hardware store and some furniture stores, grocery stores, dry goods stores, and meat markets.

KAREN MILLER: How long was you a postman?

JOSH FISHER: Well, a postman, I identify that as when I delivered mail a foot. I was city carrier for 8 years and then a clerk for 16 years, so in all I worked for the post office department for 24 years. I'd like to say this about the post office and how it operated in 1929 and today. In 1929 the post office opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 6 p.m. in the afternoon and that means the windows where you buy stamps and supplies and call for your mail n General Delivery was open 12 hours a day. The Stigler office had 5 rural routes and a star route. Of course the 5 rural routes, all the carriers had cars at this time, they had just recently left the horse and buggy days and they delivered in a car and the routes were from about 24 miles to 40 miles. They were much shorter than they are today. This star route carried the mail that came to Stigler on the Midland Valley Railroad and he delivered it to Whitefield, Hoyt, Enterprise, and Brooken. It was known as the Star Route. They were 2 other offices that came to Stigler, we called them disc-offices and one of them was at Kanima and the other at Tamaha. The rural carrier that served out near there took the mail to those people.

KAREN MILLER: What was the most popular form of transportation?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: At that time in 1920, there was a few cars. We had 1917 model car that my Dad had bought while we lived in Arkansas and when we moved to Stigler he just boarded up the garage and left it because he was coming through with the wagons and it was a year later when he went back and got the car. Most of the people traveling locally, travel by wagon or buggy or horseback and did a lot of walking. Then long trips you went by train because there was no bus service and if you went very far you went by train. The train I came on and it operated here for many years was a steam engine. There was the steam engine with the coal car behind it, then a baggage car behind that which carried freight and mail and things like that. Then was about 3 passenger cars behind that. That was the main way of traveling when you went any distance. There was not very good roads anywhere. It took about 3 days for my family to travel from Mulberry, Arkansas, to Oklahoma in the wagons. We made several trips to Stigler by car and it took us all day long to make the trip.

JOSH FISHER: When I came to Stigler much of the population had their own cars, the only difference then and now, there was only one car to a family, the children didn't all own cars like they do today when they get up old enough to have driver's license and public transportation, the railroad was just fading away and train services was just once a day each way. The bus companies had just begun to operate over the highway. The bus system through Stigler and on to Ft. Smith and from Muskogee, Oklahoma was the Wardway bus company and so people traveled the bus, it would stop along the highway and let them off at places that was handier than the railroad, because you had to go in to the station where the train stopped to ride the railroad.

KAREN MILLER: What was the depression like?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: During the depression, many of the people around the Stigler area, but more so the Western part of the state, left and went to California because of the depression and also because of the severe drouth that struck the state during this time in the 1930s and became what is now called the Dust Bowl. They just left their homes and went out there looking for work. We make a trip or so out there during the 1930s during the depression days just on vacation and it was quite a sight to see people on one side of the highway going one direction and people on the other side going in another all on foot looking for work. They were working in the orchards, orange groves, and grape vineyards, or potato fields, whatever they could find to do to make a little bit of money. They slept out in the open with just a sheet stretched up like a tent. We saw lots of places where they hung their laundry on fences and bushes, just living out in the open that way. We ate whatever grew and what we could afford to buy. We shared and did without. No one that I knew went hungry, but I’m sure some did. Most ate lots of beans and potatoes cause they could raise them and they were cheap. I think that's about all I remember about the depression.

JOSH FISHER: Of course the depression started about the year 1928, I think. History records that was the beginning, however locally it was in the 1930s. I was fortunate during this time to have a job in the post office which paid 65 cent an hour and that was counted as a good wage then. Anyway as my wife has already mentioned we were able to take vacations during the depression days. I say what she said was certainly true, it was a severe depression and it affected everyone to a certain extent. Then what made it worse was the drouth, it came along about the same time as my wife said. To the best of my memory in the last part of the year of 1936 about in March was the last rain we got, then it was October before it rained anymore and you can just imagine through the hot summer months how dry it got. We happen to make a trip to California in 1936. It was the middle of the drouth, we thought things was burnt up when we left in June and we were gone a little over 3 weeks and by the time we got back to Stigler it was just drier than ever and it didn't rain till somewhere in October and my wife has already stated people left Stigler. I'm sure at least half the people of the county either left and went to California or moved into the city for work.

KAREN MILLER: Did many people go to school?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: Yes, the parents usually made provisions so the children could go on to school. The schools were not consolidated when I came to Stigler like they are now. There was lots of rural schools and the rural schools would have a summer session which was about 2 months long after the crops were laid by and before they started harvesting. Then when harvest time came they were out of school again until the crops were in, then they went back to school. That way they got in the full term of school. The schools didn't have any buses and the school house was the Community Center, you might call it, where all the community around it used it for entertainment, like pie suppers and box suppers, picnics and all kind of get-togethers like that. Then a lot of the school houses served as churches for all the people.

JOSH FISHER: In the early 1930s, I'm guessing there was around 20 country school houses, which taught up thru the 8th grade and most of these only had one teacher. The number of pupils varied but to teach 8 grades, one teacher certainly couldn't do her classes justice and very few minutes to the class, it had to be divided up. Later on they'd hire an extra teach. Some of the schools had 2 teachers and they'd just put a partition up in a one room schoolhouse and made 2 rooms and some added a room on and would have 2 teachers. A few places where the schools were larger and more heavily populated. I've known of them having 3 teachers to a school, for instance Lewis Frazier and his wife Murl taught in that type building. They were fortunate enough to be able to teach in one school maybe along with one more teacher. The county had about 5 high schools. Stigler, of course, was the largest and the county seat about half the high school population was around Stigler.

KAREN MILLER: How can you see that raising a family has changed?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: Well, I think one of the biggest changes was the fact there wasn't but one car in the family, as he said while ago. That kept the family closer and more dependent on each other, people didn't get out of their own neighborhood very much and often married the girl on the next farm or next door. And lots of activities were family centered, like holidays and birthdays even many of the parents, it wasn't so hard to know where your children were or who they were with or what they were doing because there wasn't availability of wandering off so far and it was a little easier to keep up with them and the children did their share of the work around the home and farm. This kept them occupied and taught them to work and also show a little responsibility and because of this fact there wasn't so much idle time for them, which sometimes brings mischief. There wasn't a lot of money for them to spend either.

JOSH FISHER: I might add the difference that I could talk about is the size of the family. Earlier years, you had larger families, and anywhere from 4-12 children in a family. And that was pretty much size where, course now, it's from 1 to about 4 is the size of a family. Anyway, we think about children and the things they did for pastime, why, of course, they worked, in the earlier years, I'm sure they helped the parents, those who lived in the country helped them farm and when they wasn't in school they had to help with that type work and course in the cities, why, I might say, while I'm talking about the rural, the women in the rural and farming, worked in the fields, just like the men. But anyway, towns and cities, the women didn't work in public work like they do today. They might be school teachers or something like that, working in the public, but outside of that, there was hardly any women that worked for a salary, and they took care of the children and the home.

KAREN MILLER: About how many people lived in Stigler?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: Well at one time during the 1920s there was about 2800, but of course back then when the depression came on, many left and it dwindled down quite a bit as it hit, probably 1800 or less.

JOSH FISHER: I would agree with that. I think the largest number that census was taken was in the 1920s. Course not coming to Stigler till in January 12th, they was only at that time about, oh, 2000 living here and the wife already said the depression cut those down considerably. And I think, the city of Stigler itself dwindled down to about 1500, might say it (was) about half the population it was at one time. When the coal companies came in, began to strip coal, why, they had a quite of few people move to Stigler to work in that business.

KAREN MILLER: What did people do for recreation?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: Well, they went to church, they even had dates to go to church, and there was the theater that there was mostly young people or adults went to the theater a lot because moving pictures were pretty new at that time. And in the summer they had traveling shows, they were sort of a variety show with a play for the main climax and they were called Shetakwas, they were under tents and they were put up on a vacant lot somewhere. You could buy season tickets and go to every performance and it was quite a treat to have those come to town. And of course, on July the 4th, they usually had picnics, or carnivals, at the fair grounds. And in the fall there was the fair and with a carnival and school programs, like basketball games and class parties, and things like that.

JOSH FISHER: Of course the rural life has always been different than the towns and cities, especially the difference in earlier years, they didn't have any recreation at all. The children, school age, especially girls, would like to play jacks and hopscotch and things like that. And the boys would spin tops and shoot marbles and there wasn't any recreation out in the country. And the men in the country would go fishing, oh, maybe once or twice a year, because the fishing wasn't too good around here, and at that time there wasn't any lakes or anything where fish had been stocked and in Stigler, of course, the women and families, the only recreation, apart from visiting each other, and things like that, was the show and it was entertaining to them, occasionally. I left that out of the country, occasionally, the road shows would come to the country schoolhouses and show once or twice a year. And they'd always have a house full when they did that and it was entertaining, had that opportunity to go to a show. And that about all the recreation they had other than the things my wife mentioned.

KAREN MILLER: In which time would you prefer living, then or now?

NORMA (DEAN) FISHER: Well, the Good Old Days, as we call them, were the warm, secure, simple, happy life with less stress than we have today. But with all the modern conveniences I'd suppose I'd say, now.

JOSH FISHER: I don't know of anyone, I'd have to answer a little different, personally. To me, the years you enjoy the most is the years you always look back on and that was my younger days. And course speaking of Stigler, coming to Stigler at the age of 21 years, I was dating, I was just beginning to date, and course I think those being my best years cause I enjoyed it and I saw more picture shows. I was raised in the country and didn't have the opportunity to see a show other than the ones that came to the local school houses and so to me, that was the best part of my life, and I was happy. And it was a drastic change to my life from the farm to go to the show and date a girl and all that goes along with that.

KAREN MILLER: Thank you.

(This concludes the interview of Josh and Norma Fisher, by Karen Miller.)

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