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The Redbud City: It happened in July

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
The first train of the Choctaw, Oklahoma, & Gulf Railway made its way into Shawnee at about noon on July 4, 1895. It was followed by an excursion train of 15 flat cars bringing sightseers. This moment marked a significant “milestone” in the early development of the city.

1876 – In July of 1876, Father Isadore Robot of the Benedictine Order accompanied by a companion of the faith, came up from Louisiana and settled among the Potawatomi Indians, who four years earlier moved to the area from their reservation in Kansas. Father Robot settled on a site in what was known as the southern part of Pottawatomie County, and chose for his mission a plot known as Bald Hill. The Indians offered him 600 acres to establish a church and school.

125 Years ago – The opening run of the first Choctaw, Oklahoma, and Gulf Railway train to arriving in Shawnee was on July 4, 1895. The construction train came first from the west, crossing the last track laid down, with James McNerney as the engineer, along with Bill Martin, who was the fireman stoking the boiler. Following it was the excursion train with 15 open cars loaded to capacity with Shawnee people and free beer. The engineer was Al Dietrich and the fireman was John Rutty. The arrival was followed by an all-day Fourth of July picnic and celebration. Being such a glorious event, the city promised the workers on the railroad, who were about three miles short of the city on July 3, if they would finish by the 4th, they would be given all the free beer they could drink. With that incentive, they made on time.

On Independence Day, 1895, Shawnee became a major transportation hub. With the work finished just before 10 a.m., a work train steamed into Shawnee. It was followed at noon by the first passenger train ever to reach the “blooming” city.

“If our original town fathers had not been aggressive in pursuing the railroad; and gave the railroad the land for free, we might not be here today,” said Pottawatomie County Historical Society Museum Director Ken Landry.

 100 Years ago – The Catholic University started a drive for more funds with which to build a greater school for Shawnee and the state in July of 1920. The authorities planned to build a much-needed gymnasium, faculty building and dormitories.

The aim of the drive was to raise $300,000. All businessmen of the city were backing the drive and heartily recommended the scheme that the school put forth. The school was attempting to have the streetcar line extended to its campus and if successful, would have one of the most beautiful locations in the state.

1932 – Revelation of a cleverly laid scheme to control between 200 and 400 black votes in the county came late Monday, July 4, 1932, as candidates not on the slate made investigations at Earlsboro, Maud, Brooksville, McLoud, and Shawnee. Blacks formerly registered as Republicans, were listed as Democrats, and given marked lists of candidates.

 75 Years ago – Doyle Parrack, one of the greatest guards turned out by Coach Hank Iba’s basketball mill at Oklahoma A&M in the past eight years, signed a contract to coach the Shawnee Wolves’ cage team in July of 1945. Parrack would also assist Coach Ray LeCrone in football duties and would teach social studies.

“We’re very pleased with Parrack,” said Superintendent A.L. Burks. “He has an outstanding record and the change should strengthen our sports program.”

Parrack stayed only one year at Shawnee, but eventually would go on to coach the Oklahoma Sooners in the 1950s.

50 Years ago –  Earl Udall, 51, village manager of Mamaroneck, NY, a New York City, suburb, was named by the Shawnee City Commission late Monday night, July 13, 1970, as the new city manager, succeeding Bill Moran, effective September 1, 1970.

Udall was first cousin to former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. He was interviewed by city commissioners in executive session on Monday. He was hired as local city manager in a motion passed unanimously. Udall’s salary was set at $17,000 per year. However, eventually Udall changed his mind and did not take the job. The city went on to hire William Frueh later.

 20 Years ago – Pottawatomie County Clerk Nancy Bryce and Court Clerk Cecil Dunlap won re-election to new four-year terms when they drew no opposition before the close of the three-day filing period Wednesday, July 12, 2000, county Election Board secretary Diana Knight announced. Sheriff Weldon Cantrell drew one more opponent Wednesday when former undersheriff Herschel E. McMunn, 57, Route 3, Tecumseh, filed for sheriff. McMunn’s entry into the race brought the number of sheriff candidates to four.

Four, including incumbent Jerry Richards, also were seeking the District 2 county commissioner position. State Sen. Brad Henry, 37, D-Shawnee, received a Republican opponent Wednesday when W. Jerrel Puckett, 65, Norman, filed for the District 17 state Senate post.

10 Years ago – A face once familiar to Shawnee High School now occupied an office in OCU’s Shdeed Presidential Suite. Robert Henry, 1971 Shawnee High School graduate, now served as OCU’s 17th president and CEO. Henry assumed his university presidency Thursday, July 1. He was hired for the position by university officials in December and was selected from a pool of 43 applications and 10 nominations which were reviewed by a search committee.

 Five Years ago – After nearly 25 years on the bench in Pottawatomie County District Court, Associate District Judge John Gardner was retiring. A retirement party was held in his honor Friday, July 10, 2015, where District Judge John Canavan took the bench to congratulate Gardner and said no other judge had served a longer tenure as associate judge in the county.

One Year ago – Former Finance Director- turned Assistant City Manager Chance Allison would soon be taking on a new role again as Shawnee city commissioners unanimously voted Monday, July 15, 2019, to hire him as the city manager. Allison officially was set to take the position on August 2 — on the weekend before the next board of commissioners meeting.

Leaders with Oklahoma’s powerful Native American tribes were voicing frustration with the state’s Republican governor after they say he caught them off guard with plans to force renegotiations for a bigger piece of the billions of dollars tribal casinos generated each year. In an editorial Monday, July 10, in the Tulsa World, Gov. Kevin Stitt suggested the existing compacts, which call for tribes to pay between 4% and 10% of a casino’s net revenue in “exclusivity fees,” should be reevaluated now that the gambling industry had matured in Oklahoma.

(These stories appear throughout the six-volume history of the city of Shawnee, entitled “REDBUD CITY.” The first three volumes, through 1969, are now available for purchase. They can be purchased for $30 each. Normally, they are available at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society, but it is temporarily closed for moving to the new facility. If you wish to purchase copies, call me at (918) 470-3728, and I will arrange to get you copies. Volume four, (1970-89) is back on course and should be available late in the year.)

Clyde Wooldridge is a local historian.