Redbud City: The place to be

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
This cover page headlines the final volume in the story of “REDBUD CITY,” the six-volume history of Shawnee. That volume is due in 2022, covering the time from 2010 up to the present.

The City of Shawnee has a rich and glorious history. The town rose its head in the 1890s from a small fledging village to a “City of the First Class” in July of 1895, when the railroad came to town. This set momentum to a journey that led to a bustling city of over 30,000 in the 21st century.

The city, like most others, through the years has had its various kinds of people; those who chose to attempt to bring chaos to the city, and those who have chosen to build it up. Shawnee, through the years, has seemingly had more than its share of both.

My attempt to portray this journey through a six-volume story has proven to be a labor of love. Many people have spent time in Shawnee through the years yet, were not born and bred in the city. Like me, they grew to love the city and the spirit of the citizens that occupy its bounds.

My plan is laid out in a series of stories, generally displayed as decades. The first volume, however, is a century-long description of the background that led to the founding of the city. Volume One (1830-1929), covers the period from the time of the moving of the Native Americans into this area and the coming of the European-Americans. Chapter One is entitled, “The Creation of Indian Territory,” covering the period from (1830-1869). The next 20 years, (1870-1889) is chapter two, entitled “Here Come the White Guys.” It covers the infiltration of U.S. citizens taking advantage of the new laws, allowing settlement in what was once considered belonging to the Indians, “as long as the grass grew, and the rivers flowed.”

Chapter three in the decade of the 1890s, entitled “A City of First Class,” covers the coming of the land run, railroads, and the beginning of the city as a chartered metropolis. Chapter four is the first decade of the 20th century, entitled “The Proud Princess.” It covers the continued growth of the city and the coming of statehood. Chapter five is entitled, “Convention City.” Shawnee seemed to be the capital of conventions in the new state of Oklahoma, with countless mass meetings held in the city. There was also a big political fight for the permanent location of the state capitol and for the removal of the county seat from Tecumseh to Shawnee. In the end, Shawnee lost both of those battles. Volume One ends with the 1920s, called “Little Chicago.” Shawnee was a miniature version of the rough and tough city of Chicago in the 1920s, with gangsters, bank robberies, shootouts, and everything else that went with that lifestyle.

Volume Two covers only two decades, (1930-1949). However, it is full of stories. Chapter seven covers the 1930s, which was full of depression stories of all kinds. “Hard Times” covers the hardships the city and its people went through during the Great Depression. It also covered the typical stories that went along with it; desperados infiltrating the city and taking advantage of the peace-loving people. Look for stories about “Pretty Boy” Floyd and other lesser known gangsters like Wilbur Underhill, who was just as desperate as Floyd, but lesser known nationally. The Volume ends with the 1940s. entitled “Redbud City of Oklahoma.” It gained its name from its abundance of redbuds in the city and a designation from the state legislature in 1941. It also covers the World War II adventures and the rationing of various kinds of goods in people’s lives. The volume ends with the city and nation coming out of the war and prospering like no other time in history.

Volume Three covers the period of (1950-69). Chapter nine is the 1950s, entitled “Growing Pains in a Modern City.” It covers a period in which the city is clearly seen going into modern times. It is full of stories about all the Shawnee Rockets teams and their triumphs and disappointments. The rise of outstanding athletic teams at OBU and Shawnee High School appear in its pages. Also, the advent of improved highways in the state, including the emergence of “super-highways,” like I-40 come on the scene. Chapter 10 is about the 1960s, called “On the Edge of Modern Times.” It includes full coverage of the great teams at OBU in the middle of the decade put together by Coach Bob Bass and the national championship in 1966. You will see the appearing of great teams and athletes at Shawnee High School, such as Farrell Johnson, Russell Ellis, and R.B. Lynam, that went on to great careers at the next level. You will also see tennis legends come on the scene, like Patsy Rippy and Janis Mauldin. Football stars like Eddie Lancaster, Rick Thompson, and Gary Rose show their exploits. Tennis stars like Jim Awtrey and Gary “Bo” Terry. Look for coverage of hometown hero Gordon Cooper and his adventures in space and return to the city celebrations.

Volume Four, (1970-89), is still in the development stage, however, it is scheduled for around October or November of this year. Chapter 11, entitled, “Shawnee: The Place To Be,” covers the 1970s. It is full of stories about the passing of the older generation of “town builders,” to the emergence of a new generation of progressive leaders. The city begins to gradually expand to the north toward I-40, including the development of new facilities at Gordon Cooper Technology Center. The high school also got a new home in the southwest part of the city in 1973. New long-tenured mayors like Pierre Taron, Roy Sadler, and Jerry Ozeretny come on the scene and lead the city to new heights. Chapter 12, called “Walk In The Wings,” is full of stories worth preserving and remembering. In the early part of the decade, a big story was the restoration of the old Santa Fe Depot and its conversion to the museum and the new home for the Pottawatomie County Historical Society.

Volume Five is scheduled for 2021. It covers the period from (1990-2009). Look for stories and people not too distant in the past that will bring enjoyment to your memory. Volume Six, covering (2010-2022) will come shortly after that, perhaps early in 2022. During the pandemic shut-in, I have been unable to research the old newspapers in the library, so I have been working on later years online. I am about three-fourths finished with the final volume and it should be just a few months after Volume Five that the final one will be available.

My hope and goal for the history of the city is that it will last until the next generation, and someone else is led to add to this work. For this entire plan to work, I need your help in purchasing as many, or all the volumes. I am operating on a shoestring budget and can pay for each volume by the sale of the previous ones.

(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.)