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The Redbud City: Great Depression doesn't get any better in 1936

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
In 1936 Norton Chevrolet was the leading auto dealership in Shawnee. It was located on north Union, between Main Street and 9th Street.

CITY-WIDE QUARNTINE INVOKED

A general scarlet fever quarantine in Shawnee, closing all schools except the senior high school and keeping children under the age of 15 years from attending theaters, churches, and other public gatherings was announced on May 1, 1936. Dr. Leroy G. Neal, city physician served the notice as three new cases on that day brought the total in Shawnee to 54.

Dr. Neal announced the general quarantine after conferring with an official of the state health department, whom he requested be sent from Oklahoma City. It was expected to be in force for at least a week. Dr. Neal estimated the quarantine could possibly last longer if the epidemic wasn’t broken. “Nobody should be unduly alarmed,” said Dr. Neal, “but it was time that stringent measures be taken to slash the gain in the epidemic here.”

SCARLET FEVEFR QUARANTINE LIFTED

On Sunday, May 10, 1936, the scarlet fever quarantine was lifted by City Physician Dr. T.D. Rowland. This alouded the youth the freedom of the community for the first time in over a week. However, they did have to go back to school.

Only one new case appeared on Saturday. W.S. Knight, the city health inspector also took glad tidings in releasing eight families who were also down with the measles.

THE OKLAHOMA INDIAN WELFARE ACT

The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936, also known as the Thomas-Rogers Act, was a United States federal law that extended the 1934 Wheeler-Howard or Indian Reorganization Act to include those tribes within the boundaries of the state of Oklahoma. It was enacted June 26, 1936. The purpose of the act was to rebuild Indian tribal societies, return land to the tribes, enable tribes to rebuild their governments, and emphasize Native culture. These Acts were developed by John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who wanted to change federal Indian policy from the “twin evils” of allotment and assimilation, and support Indian self-government.

The Thomas-Rogers Act was adopted in order to enable Native American tribes in Oklahoma to rebuild governments that had been dissolved in order to prepare the territories for Oklahoma to be admitted as a state in the Union in 1907. As part of this effort also to encourage Native American assimilation, Indian land title was extinguished in Indian Territory by the break-up and allotment of communal lands. Under the Dawes and Curtis Acts, the communal land of the former reservations in Oklahoma were first, allotted to individual Indian Tribal members with 160 acres per household, too little in many areas to support subsistence farming because of poor conditions. Secondly, allotted to individual Indian Tribal members with 160 acres per household. Thirdly, held in trust by the United States for the benefit of tribal members. And finally, what the government determined to be “surplus” was sold off or otherwise distributed, including to non-Indians, in a series of land runs.

In addition to surplus lands being sold, many Indian Americans lost their allotments to speculators and unscrupulous businessmen. The Indians suffered major losses of land in Oklahoma. In addition, the disruption of their societies and cultures resulted in considerable breakdown of their worlds.

There were several major points in the act. First, U.S. Secretary of the Interior was authorized to obtain good agricultural and grazing lands, including Indian lands, to be held in trust for the Indians. Secondly, land held by the United States was free from all taxes, except Oklahoma Gross Production Tax from oil and gas produced from the land. Next, where Indian lands were sold, the Secretary of the Interior showed preference to obtain those lands for use by Indian Americans.

Also, any recognized tribe residing within Oklahoma could receive a charter of incorporation from the Secretary of Interior, and have the right to self-determination, including the right to make their own bylaws. Any group of 10 tribal members could receive a charter of Cooperative Association, for specific purposes, from the Secretary of Interior; laws of the state of Oklahoma governed issues not covered by federal law or regulations issued by the Secretary. And finally, the act did not relate to Osage County, Oklahoma, which was retained by the Osage Nation.

As issues arose, Department of Interior officials sought the opinion of its Solicitor General about the effects of this legislation. The correspondence was part of the agency records. As the Five Civilized Tribes began to reorganize and set up new governments, the question arose as to whether they could change their membership rules, specifically, to exclude the Freedmen. Each of the tribes had been required under terms of new 1866 treaties to extend citizenship to their Freedmen.

Later, in 1941, the Solicitor General noted that Congress had approved the law that enabled tribes to reconstitute their governments and, by extension, enabled them to create new constitutions and rules. It said that the tribes could pass new constitutions with new membership rules that limited membership to persons of American Indian descent. While some of the tribes resisted providing Freedmen with full tribal benefits, they did not generally take action to exclude them as members until the late 20th century, at a time of increasing assertion of tribal sovereignty. Freedmen descendants filed suit against the Cherokee and Creek tribes over such exclusion.

CITY’S WATER SITUATION BECOMES CRITICAL

Shawnee’s water shortage remained at the critical stage on July 2, 1936, although City Manager T.E. Thompson hastened to reassure representatives of insurance companies that a two million-gallon reserve was being maintained as fire protection. Inquiries were received, which could lead to an increase in the city’s fire insurance rate.

The city manager reiterated his plea to citizens to refrain from sprinkling lawns and using city water extravagantly as the supply of water remained scarce. All 24 wells of the city’s water supply group were pumped 24 hours, but the supply repeatedly failed to meet the demand.

The only possible relief was for sufficient rain to fall in the vicinity to raise the level of the city lake to the first intake, so that water could be pumped from that source in case of a fire emergency. Meanwhile, some city physicians were attributing a mild epidemic of cholera morbus to a plant growth and resultant chemical treatment in the city water.

At the same time, workmen were speeding completion of the city’s huge municipal swimming pool in Woodland Park. However, the city manager said it could not possibly be filled with water. The abnormal situation was caused by the drought, which began the previous fall and extended through the spring and summer.

These stories appear in Volume Two of the six volume series on the history of Shawnee, entitled, “Redbud City,” (1930-1949). The first four volumes are now available and can be purchased by going onto the Pottawatomie County Historical website, or by calling (405-275-8412). Volume One covers from (1830-1929); Volume Three documents the years (1950-`969); and Volume Four, (1970-1989) is now available. Volume Five, (1990-2009) is scheduled for October of 2021. Volume Six, (2010-2022) is about 75 percent finished and should be ready in early 2022.) Each volume is $35, but any purchase of two volumes or more can be purchased at $30 for each volume.