I am sixty-four years of age, having been born in November 1873 on a little farm near Fort Smith, Arkansas, and now live on Route 2, Oktaha, Oklahoma.
Father: Tom Conger, white man born in Kentucky. Mother: Anna Harmon-Conger, born in Indiana.
I came along with my parents in 1886 from Arkansas and we first settled on a farm in the Sugarloaf mountain region near the town of Cameron, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, and began farming with one mule and a single stock. The next year we moved near Texanna, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory.
The school and church buildings in these localities (The Choctaw and Cherokee Nations) were of native lumber construction and some few were of slab construction, the slabs being set up end-wise. The residences occupied by the Indians and some whites were principally of log construction with rock fire places built of native stone. Roofs were of shaped shingles and some of these cabins had dirt floors and no windows.
The English language was taught in the schools and the church I attended was of the Baptist faith.
We raised cotton and corn. We did not pick cotton in sacks as they do now but we used baskets that held about two bushels. The gin at Cameron was operated by horsepower and likewise the one in Texanna. The man who operated and owned the gin and mill at Texanna was named John Pierce. Cottonseed in the late eighties were of no value. People did not feed them to their stock or send them to a cotton oil mill as they do today to get the lint, hulls, meal and oil.
We gave one-eighth of the corn for toll. Out of two bushels of shelled corn, shelled by hand, with toll out, we would get back a two-bushel sack full of seed.
The cost of ginning cotton, a horse-power gin, we would have to pay three dollars a bale, which included ginning, bagging, and ties. It was tied by hand.
Our social affairs consisted of barbecues, camp meetings, horse racing, foot racing and poker games. Our camp meetings usually would last for two or three weeks at a time. The meetings usually would start along in the fall and we would take our bedding & provisions and just camp near the meeting grounds until the meeting time. There were old arbors. They were constructed of poles, limbs and brush. Seats were usually logs rolled into position.
There were lots of wild berries and fruits such as blackberries, dewberries, hawberries, grapes, plums and a few seedling peach trees. There was plenty of nuts, namely hickory nuts, walnuts, chinquapins and pecans. All kinds of game haunted the sections of these parts of Choctaw and Cherokee Nations, such as black bear, panther, wild cat, wild turkey, deer, quail, rabbit, squirrel, possum and raccoon. The first deer I ever saw was in the big Sugarloaf Mountains, in the now LeFlore County, Oklahoma; and the first black bear was about four miles north of the South Canadian River, near Texanna, now McIntosh county.
All the streams, large and small, were full of all kinds of fish. The Indians used to catch lots of fish and the prize fish among the Choctaws was the Sun-Perch. They would cook them brown and eat them bones and all.
In the now LeFlore County and near the towns of Cameron, Bokoshe and Panama, coal was just beginning to be mined and when the Kansas City Southern Railroad came through that section, little mining camps sprang up every few miles.
There were herds of wild horses in the Sugarloaf Mountain region. They would come down on the plains to graze and take refuge in the mountains. There was lots of wild hogs in the low lands and woods on the South Canadian near Texanna. If a man could show that he had turned out some three or four gilts and a boar he had what they called a hog title and that would permit him to kill a wild hog for food when he so desired. These hogs were never fed by anyone, as they lived on the moss, acorns, hickory nuts, pecans, chinquapins, roots, grass and herbs. They usually hunted and killed these hogs for meat in the late fall for at this time they would be fat on the moss.
There was considerable stock raising, cattle. The market was Fort Smith, Arkansas. However, some were driven north on the Texas road for points in Missouri. The cattle grazed on the open range, herded by cow hands or sometimes called cowpunchers. These cowpunchers were men of very little education, but they were all jolly good fellows, honest and square in all their dealings, and law-abiding citizens.
I might say more than law-abiding citizens, for their six shooters were the Law. A thief in their midst meant if they knew him to be guilty, that is caught in the act, of rustling cattle or horses, that he be left dangling at the end of a rope tied to the limb of a tree with his body riddled with bullets. They would pull their cow ponies off a few paces after the thief was hung and with their six-shooters and saddle guns, rifles, which they carried to protect themselves, and fire vollies of shots into the body of the thief. The reason they always carried these weapons was not only to protect themselves but to protect their herds from cattle rustlers, coyotes and other wild animals.
The Kansas City Southern Railroad built into what is now LeFlore County in the early '80s. I can't recall the exact year. The old steamboat landing at Skullvill was missed by the railroad and the town of Spiro sprang up, back a few miles from the river. When grading through this section for the railroad hundreds upon hundreds of human bones were excavated, supposedly those of Indians who had died years before from some epidemic as they were buried side by side in long trenches, and it was nothing unsightly to see hundreds of skulls in a pile together that the railroad men would pick up on their shovels and pile back. I never did know why the steamboat landing was called Skullville, but it was a very appropriate name for it for nothing more than the above named reason.
In the early 1900's, I think it was in 1903, the Midland Valley Railroad and the Fort Smith and Western Railroad built through the towns of the present Panama, Bokoshe and Coal Creek and at this period the coal industry was in full blast as these railroads traversed the present large coalfields.
The first and only store for a long time was owned by John Pierce. John Pierce furnished nearly all the Indians as he was the first settler and better known. Months and years he furnished them and individual families owed him thousands of dollars. He depended upon the Indians receiving their government pay and they paying him. I am a white man but I give the Indian credit of being honest for I don't believe that Mr. Pierce lost a single dollar they owed him.
(Source: This interview with Elijah Conger was taken for the Indian - Pioneer History of Oklahoma, and is in Indian Archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society)
Maxine (Crowell) Leonard Note: Elijah's father, Tom, could be Ira T. (Thomas) Conger, 1848, a son of Elisha Conger, 1820, of Crittenden county, Kentucky. Ira T. and his family moved to the Oklahoma Indian Territory. The main question that arises is that there is a marriage record for Ira T. Conger and Mary E. Felker on 22 Dec 1872. This Elijah was born in November of 1873. He stated his mother was Anna Harmon; there were Hammons near the Congers in Kentucky.
It is also possible that he could have been the son of Elisha's brother, John, 1820, who had a son, Toby (Thomas?) born around 1856. This family lived at Johnson county, Arkansas, but there is no record of their being in Kentucky.
Note: This account of life in the Oklahoma Territory was probably written about 1937 if Elijah Conger was 64 years old and born in November of 1873. A number of place names in the Oklahoma Territory were mentioned in the piece. To assist the reader in understanding where these places are located they are listed again here with the counties in which they lie according to the 1995 Rand McNally Commercial Atlas. Richard E. Henthorn
Fort Smith, Sebastian Co., AR
Oktaha, Muskogee Co., OK
Texanna, McIntosh Co., OK
Cameron, LeFlore Co., OK
Bokoshe, LeFlore Co., OK
Panama, LeFlore Co., OK
Spiro, LeFlore Co., OK
Coal Creek, LeFlore Co., OK