Haskell County Historical Society

Henry, Jethro - Interview by Robin Dority

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BELLE STARR Rides in Haskell County, Oklahoma

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By Robin Dority

29 February, 1984

Birthdate: 10 August, 1921

ROBIN DORITY: (Where were you born?)

JETHRO HENRY: So you want to know where I's born? I was born in Braggs, Oklahoma, which is over in Sequoyah County in one of them hollers back up there, and they brought me over here (to Tamaha) when I was about six months old. That''s been my lifelong residence.

ROBIN DORITY: What year were you born, and what's your birthday?

JETHRO HENRY: It's August 10th, and I was borned in 1921, so I'm just a kid. And you's wanting to know about the ferry boat in Tamaha. Alright, uh, I crossed that what you call a ferry boat when I was a kid before school age. The farmers of that area took their produce to Vian, Oklahoma. Which is just across the river, about four or five miles. Two wagons and a team at a time transporting across the river, and it was discontinued when I don't know, what year, but I was still small, probably at the time I was nine or ten years old. Why they quit using it for what reasons I don't remember, I guess people, Stigler became Stigler. And they started coming this a way. But that's about the extent of our ferry boat business there. Of course it was there all the time, but still I don't know, I don't know about eight or nine years or something like t hat. It was a pretty busy thing. There's a lot of people that used it at the time. But like I say I don't know why it went out of operation, I sure there's an explanation somewhere, lack of use I guess probably. Now what do you need?

ROBIN DORITY: Tell something about the town, you know, like when it burned?

JETHRO HENRY: Ok, uh, Tamaha has burned twiced, the first time that I hadn't started school but I can remember it. Uh at time probably now I'm taking some of this from what my parents told. There's about one hundred fifty-five stores there I think. A hotel, a bank they had, had a bank. But it had gone out before the fire. And cotton gins, and you know the farmers had said it was there, it was partly built back in. Now it burnt the second time, I's getting a pretty good sized kid, but I don't remember what year it was. To me it was all just a great big time and after that Tamaha almost ceased to be. For years and years you know it just wasn't much to it. Until the Kerr Lake came in. In fact when the lake came in it got a wide place in the road, so to speak, but it's been building ever since. There's a lot of people down there now. But it went a low as a little community could go. Especially after we lost our school. I believe that I was on the school board. I believe it was sixty-two, of course a little community had nothing to offer people toward coming. That's cause we's in a dead end down there you know, when you got there you had to run back and go some other direction. There's no bridge to cross the river until the lake came in. Them people began to grab lots and build, it's a pretty good community now. However the business part of it will never be anymore, I don't suppose. Little ole general store, but humm, there's couple hundred people there, around, but I'm going by the voter registration on that. So that's just about now my Dad was raised there, he was there when the old steamboat came up to Tamaha and brought, you know, everything: barrels of flour, boxes of yeast. All the merchandise was unloaded right there at Tamaha and was brought from Tamaha to Stigler. In his day a wagon, they was freight wagons run up and down there. Stigler, probably, had well, my wife's granddad had one of the first stores that was ever at Stigler. And I can remember when the streets were gravel, instead of paved, when I's a kid. That's about what I can remember.

ROBIN DORITY: Do you have any stories your dad would have told about Stigler or Tamaha?

JETHRO HENRY: Well, my dad was raised there in Tamaha. His dad, that's when he was just a little fellow. He said they always had a good school. I served on the school board about fourteen years. And we was fortunate to have good instructions and have good school system. Kids come out of Tamaha as of grade school. They never had any problems here at high school. That was true with all the rural areas because they instructors weren't always qualified, we were real fortunate to have good instructors, in fact. The Fraziers down here were two there for many years. Mr. Frazier was there about fourteen years. Mrs. Frazier was there a lot of that time. You couldn't have found a better teacher in the county or state than Mrs. Frazier, especially with beginners. So we always had a pretty good school system in that area. There are several kids graduated and gone off and done well. Livesay boy down there, he's a D.A. at California, at uh, oh what's the name of the L. A. I guess. He's a district attorney. We had a boy went to school with me when I's down there that was Lt. Governor of New Mexico. That boy of mine and many others have gone on to finish their education, are teachers or have some professional field that they work in now. I have to brag on Tamaha pretty good school for a little town. That's about my life story of Tamaha. People moved away and little ole community got so low. There wasn't anything at all there, just a wide spot in the road. When you got there you had to turn back and go some other route. There wasn't anything historical happened. What had happened already happened after the war. For many years in there, there just wasn't anything. People scattered. But after the lake came in we got some pretty good people there. I don't guess I'd want to live anywhere else cause I never did.

ROBIN DORITY: Did you know if there were any major battles fought there during the civil war?

JETHRO HENRY: Now, there was a ship sank there in Tamaha, my dad has shown me many times the exact spot I never heard him elaborate much on what happened. It was a fright alright, and this thing was sunk. I never was able to get much language on it. Dad knew the captain of the hip his name was Blakely, I'll never forget that. Hearing Dad talk about Captain Blakely. When they came in down there at the so called dock and things that would happen when he, as a kid, would run around playing on they called it a ship. I'd rather think it was a smaller type boat but it did carry produce, freight, it might be referred to as a freight liner because it did bring freight in there. It was unloaded and transferred to other areas especially Stigler, probably Keota. It was done in wagons, vehicles, they had none. In fact, I had an uncle who had a contract to haul freight from here to there but here weren't very many stores in Stigler. No streets, streets were like gravel roads. Wagon yards were where Mr. Dobyn's warehouse is, A. J. Robinson's, that was a wagon yard, where everyone tied their teams. Also where Dixon Farm Supply was another one, now, I don't remember the stables. They had, my dad did, that's where I got most this by listening to him talk. Tamaha proper was a real thriving little town from the beginning, I guess until some time after World War II. My dad was a veteran. When I was born, Tamaha must have burned the first time in about 1925, I's about four or five years old. I remember the fire, we went over there and it was a huge fire. It was big fire to us, but I still remember it. I wasn't school age.

ROBIN DORITY: Did anybody ever say how it started?

JETHRO HENRY: Not really, that I knew of. I sure never heard anyone make comments on how it started or whether they thought it was foul play. To them it was just a fire they didn't have all them fire marshals to inspect when they built back the second time the business part wasn't as large. They probably have what Stigler has, the business part--barber shop, hotel, drug store, grocery store, hardware. There was an automobile dealership there at one time not that I remember, the building sat there and an automobile was in it. For twenty years and it never was started after all that was gone. One of my aunt's brothers ran it, called hisself a mechanic, I guess he could change tires. But that I've seen the car for years and years, the kids would look through the window and see it. Now would you believe about the time I was eighteen or nineteen. A fellow brought that thing they got it out and made it run and it had been setting there well before I was born. Remember what kind it was whether it was an Oldsmobile, I don't know what it was, a funny looking thing compared to what the cars are today. So that's just about the history of Tamaha as far as I can remember.

ROBIN DORITY: Did you work on the Kerr Dam?

JETHRO HENRY: Yes, well what do you want to know? I was there from the beginning. I worked on the excavation, also the concrete, the whole bit. I also worked on the Eufaula Dam, Kerr Dam, and the one below the Kerr Dam so that was about thirteen or fourteen years on that dam. Laying a waterway is something. I got lots of experience there because I'd never been around a thing like that. You stop up a river, put it through some gates like you would cattle, and dump it down below, and all that sort of thing was quite a deal. It really is, it's quite an engineer. Anyone who has been around those things, it's worth their time to go see and watch'em lock those volts through especially, because it seems difficult, but how you gone bring up stream. How you gonna get that thing through there? When you see the operation it's real simple. It's quite fascinating to watch it. I've saw so much of it I don't think anything about it.

ROBIN DORITY: How did the depression affect Haskell County?

JETHRO HENRY: It was bad. I was a teenager, 15 along in there, in the 1930's. Haskell County was hurt terribly. I mean people just didn't have anything in fact. They did well to have food and I'm sure we had a lot of people who didn't have all the food they could eat, like three meals a day like we are accustomed to. Clothing was, I remember, seeing people on the streets up here with mends on top of mends on their trousers or ladies wear or whatever. And that was the best they had, but you stop to think about you work a day for fifty cents a day, that was from as early as you could get there to sundown. That fifty cents would buy a whole lot but the problem was, nobody had it. Kids went to school. I think one of the pitiful things about it back during that time, they probably have larger families than they do now. Kids went to school half-clothed, barefooted till the ground almost be froze. Really, you wonder how they survived from not having good punishment and proper clothing and of course kids walked or however the best way they could get to school. I was a little more fortunate than some of them. There was just three of us kids, we had plenty to eat all the time, we had mediocre clothes to wear to school. But there weren't any money but we managed to take care of our clothing. So many of them weren't that fortunate. What's pitiful to me is to see a little fellow not dressed for the weather and maybe their little tummies were empty too.

ROBIN DORITY: Did most of the people move to California?

JETHRO HENRY: Yes, I would say probably from down there 80% of the people left to seek employment. California was their destination. It seemed like it happened so fast, like people was there and then they weren't. I don't know if they bettered themselves by going, but people had to do something. All the people in the U.S. were in a turmoil. They were trying to survive. There certainly wasn't a pot of gold at every rainbow. Personally I'm very thankful for what I have today.

(This concludes the interview of Jethro Henry, by Robin Dority.)

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