Haskell County Historical Society

Jetton, T. A. - Interview by Teri McKinney

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BELLE STARR Rides in Haskell County, Oklahoma

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By Teri McKinney

Date of Birth: 1 September, 1913
Place of Birth: Yell County, Arkansas

Parents: Thomas Zeblon Jetton
Arizona Arizona Barrett

Grandparents: William Zachary Jetton
Emaline Berry

Summary: Mr. Jetton discusses school, law enforcement, Tamaha, and Pretty Boy Floyd, plus other things.

T. A. JETTON: I'm T. A. Jetton, born September 1, 1913, in Yell County, Arkansas. I moved to Haskell County about 1919. I've lived in Haskell County approximately 65 years. I move to Tamaha community in December 1919, about 1 miles south of the town of Tamaha. At that time the roads were very bad, there were few cars and no trucks at that time in this area. We moved with wagons and teams. We started moving in December and it took until February to get all the stuff moved. It would take 3 to 4 head of horses to get a wagon on the road. Sometimes you'd get stuck and it would take 2 to 3 more horses to get out of the mud.

TERI McKINNEY: What was school like in Tamaha? How far were you from it?

T. A. JETTON: I didn't go to grade school here in Tamaha, but at that time the old school building was still standing, and a two-story building. Some of the rocks of the present standing school building are from the original school building. At one time they had a high school in that building, later they were consolidated with Stigler. We got the first bus to transport the children from Tamaha area to Stigler. It was a major accomplishment just to get there and back. A lot of days they couldn't make it on the bus. If the bus got stuck, the students had to get off and push it back in the road and some have been known to push it in the ditch. It was nothing unusual to have to get out and push the bus up a hill to get it over. And if the bus got stuck and we couldn't get it out, the students walked from there to school or someone took them in a wagon, or they got there the best way they could get there.

TERI McKINNEY: How far did you have to go to get to a bus?

T. A. JETTON: I had about 1 miles to go. If it was raining we had one horse I could saddle and ride over to catch the bus and send the horse back. Dad had saddled a horse, if it was still raining or bad that night, and sent it back after me. I'd usually find the horse anywhere from where I got off the bus, between there and home, comin' that way.

TERI McKINNEY: You want to talk about that tree you were talking about earlier?

T. A. JETTON: There's a big oak tree near the present school building that almost was thought to be a state record for size, but there has been considerable field dirt put in around the base of it, and which they don't measure the tree for record purposes at the base, which put it out of contention. For the record there is one in the southern part of the state which is a larger tree than this one is, due to the field dirt at the base.

TERI McKINNEY: What were the streets in Tamaha like at the time?

T. A. JETTON: They were strictly dirt streets, some were just trails, but most was just dirt streets. There was no paving at all at that time.

TERI McKINNEY: Did you have sidewalks?

T. A. JETTON: There was a few sidewalks just in front of the places of business that was hand poured, and only 1 or 2 homes ever had any porch sidewalks in front of the house. There was no paved streets or paved sidewalks at all. At one time the town did have a generator plant, had lights, before my days here, that was called the Dynamo, that D. D. Generating plant. Also at one time they had a somehow running water because most of the town depended on cisterns for their household supply of water because wells was very undependable. Most of the homes in Tamaha had, or still has, a cistern on the property, but a few years ago we uncovered some of the mains of some of the water pipes up in the eastern part of town that was long before my day. Now the business places we've had a lot of them burn down, we've had the town burned in two fires. Once of the last business buildings remaining was torn down in 1983. It was made of hand poured concrete, it had wire reinforcing, reinforcing steel, and just any kind of scrap iron that happened to be available is what was used in that building. There is still one structure standing and that is the old original jail which was a rock structure with a 2x4 laid flat for inner lining in the walls; that is still standing in what is now part of Tamaha park. That is the only old structure I can recall in the town.

TERI McKINNEY: Were there a lot of businesses in Tamaha? Was it bigger than it is now?

T. A. JETTON: Yes, there was considerably more business than there is now. There was 2 blacksmith shops, 2 gristmills, and a drugstore, and several businesses here. After the last fire, most businesses either moved to Stigler or discontinued operation.

TERI McKINNEY: Are the streets basically the same as they were?

T. A. JETTON: Yes, the streets remained the same. This town was surveyed by the government in 1896, so the old timers tell me. It was laid out in blocks and all, and that survey was approved in 1901 in Washington and the streets are all the same. They don't run directly north and south, they run approximately 30o northeast and southwest. Main street is the one that now has a blacktopped surface entering town and after it came down what used to be the business section of town there is an offset in the survey of the streets and main ends there and runs on to River Street, which runs on what used to be the river. When I first came in the community, the ferry was right on the end of this River Street, and the first time I remember seeing the ferry, they had it tied up repairing it. It operated in various places up and down and the first place it operated was about of a mile east of River Street. That was when it was washed away the last time, and never brought back into operation.

TERI McKINNEY: What were the social activities in Tamaha at the time?

T. A. JETTON: They had their churches. In the summer time they held church under brush arbors which were poles put up covered with brush, worked as a sunshade, and in case of a sudden shower it helped a little bit with that. And the usual summer revivals were held in various places over the area. Other social affairs were what they called "play parties", parties held at private homes. And there were square dances usually at someone's house, I don't remember there ever being any public place for square dances for a long time after that. After some of the schools were abandoned and consolidated with Stigler for instance, Mt. Olive school, that was one of the community activities that was taken over there. For years after that they had a square dance group that regularly met there, but that's the only public place to dance I can remember.

TERI McKINNEY: Were school sports a big event?

T. A. JETTON: School sports were limited to those who lived in or near town because of distance.

TERI McKINNEY: Earlier you mentioned a jail here in Tamaha, was it ever used?

T. A. JETTON: Yes, the jail has been used, it hasn't been in a lot of years. It was never used extensively that I know of, but it was used to hold prisoners in.

TERI McKINNEY: Was it used as a place like to hold them overnight?

T. A. JETTON: Well, unless it was something serious enough to go to the county seat with, they were kept there until they paid their fines or made other arrangements.

TERI McKINNEY: Does having a jail mean Tamaha had its own law enforcement?

T. A. JETTON: Well, yes they did. They used to have the Justice of the Peace system, and all minor offenses were handled on local basis. Some fines were levied and even jail sentences passed out. At one time John Baker was a deputy U.S. Marshall that lived here for several years. For a good many years after that they had locally elected deputy sheriff and law enforcement on that basis to my knowledge has never had a full-time paid law officer. They've had volunteer officers and officers paid on a percentage of fines before the roads and transportation improved. Now they depend on county law officers and sheriffs.

TERI McKINNEY: How long has it been since the jail was used? Do you know?

T. A. JETTON: I don't know. Uh, probably in the early 20s. I don't know exactly. There has been several people here, one was a mail carrier who used to deliver the mail here, who was too drunk to continue, so they jailed him overnight and they have had several locals through the years. There has been a lot of major criminals that have come down through this part of the country. Even in the 30s law enforcement was the sheriff and county officials. During Pretty Boy Floyd's day, before he was an outlaw, he used to come over and play baseball against Tamaha's team. Frank Henry at one time managed the team here and he used to have quite some teams, and Pretty Boy would come over with the team from the other side. And so he'd been here before he got in trouble with the law and was familiar with the people and the area, and made several trips through when he was on the wanted list.

There have been several come through the Lone Star community about 2 miles west of here. The walls of the old stone 2 room school house are still intact. North of there when the law got after some, those boys who happened to be passing through here, they'd cross the river, Canadian River or the Arkansas, north of the Lone Star school house. That way it would be quite a while to cross around to the other side. That was a good crossing point or get away point there. Occasionally if they got too hot after them, they would abandon their car, sometimes burn it, and cross the river to the other side and the same from the other side, and use their local connections to rest up over here. On one occasion when they was in here they had problems with a car, I did work on their car, got one started and they burned the other one. And there has been numerous times when the sheriff would have a hot race chasing them out of this end of the country, but, when they got to close on, then they usually crossed the river where there was no means of crossing with an automobile except by going around.

TERI McKINNEY: About how old were you when you fixed his car?

T. A. JETTON: I was an old teenage boy. That was back in the 30s.

TERI McKINNEY: Did you know who he was when you fixed his car?

T. A. JETTON: Yes, I did. I had met him before. I was never a personal friend of his. At the time I was asked to go fix the car, I didn't know who for. There was people with him but I wasn't acquainted with them. There have been people from time to time who came through with him.

(This concludes the interview of T. A. Jetton, by Terry McKinney.)

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