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Transition from Indian Territory to Statehood

Unpublished Archive by Eyewitness Participant & Resident

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446.     [OKLAHOMA-INDIAN TERRITORY]. CONOVER, George W. Archive of material by and relating to Indian agent, rancher, and businessman, George W. Conover and his life in southwestern Oklahoma at the turn of the twentieth century. Oklahoma, 1891-1907. Almost all the material is in Conover’s highly legible hand and in good to fine condition, except as noted below.

     Philadelphia native George W. Conover (1848-1936) was a significant figure in the area of present-day Anadarko, Oklahoma, in the state’s southwestern Caddo County. He served as a merchant, rancher, Indian agent, and adviser to Native Americans in the area. He is remembered as the author of his 1927 autobiography, Sixty Years in Southwest Oklahoma…with some Thrilling Incidents of Indian Life in Oklahoma and Texas [see Item 447 following herein], which, like Milton, he had to dictate because he was blinded in 1915 by an incompetent doctor. After serving in the Civil War, he re-enlisted a few years later and with his unit was transferred to present-day Fort Sill, which he helped construct. When his enlistment was up on January 3, 1870, he decided to stay in the area and began work with the Indian commissary, remaining with it after the Quakers arrived to take it over. After working at the agency for a few years, he resigned in 1873 and went into business for himself as a rancher, merchant, and farmer. He was married twice and remained in the Anadarko area until his death. Conover, his first wife, and many of his descendants are buried in Memory Lane Cemetery in Caddo County.

     The biography of his first wife (d. 1900), whose maiden name is unknown but whom he called Tomasa, is considerably more thrilling than Conover’s own story, and it is significant that she is frequently mentioned in the archive. Born into a wealthy Mexican family, she was kidnapped as a small child by Comanche, who adopted her. Eventually ransomed and returned to Mexico, she was for some reason never claimed by her original family and instead ended up as a peon for another wealthy family. Tired of the treatment, she and another child, neither of whom are believed to have been over twelve, escaped and after an arduous journey managed to rejoin their tribe. She eventually married a trader named Joseph Chandler, who left her a widow, after which she married Conover. According to Josiah Butler, “Pioneer School Teaching at the Comanche-Kiowa Agency School, 1870-1873,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, 6:4 (December, 1928), her story “is one of the most romantic that may be found upon the old frontier…” (p. 499).

The Anadarko area was the site of numerous events before it became an organized town. In 1862 near it occurred the Tonkawa massacre, in which most of the tribe was wiped out by the Caddo. In 1874, the Anadarko Affair, a fight between Native Americans and U.S. soldiers, took place. Not until 1901, however, was the town officially founded as part of the Land Lottery Bill distribution that year. Although the town’s numbers swelled in the early months, many moved away as the available land was sold off to others. Anadarko remains a significant town for Native Americans, being one of the few in the country where they are a majority.

     The materials in the present archive are considerably more detailed and in some ways more important than Conover’s book. The book itself concentrates on the era of the 1870s, when Conover and white settlers first arrived in the area. This archive, to the contrary, is concentrated on the time at the turn of the century, of which Conover’s book says little. The archive also contains materials much more personal and detailed than those found in the autobiography, which concentrates mainly on discussions of events, some unpleasant, involving Native Americans. The present archive delves into and reveals details of Conover’s life and general life in the area in a way unapproached by the printed text, which was written for public consumption and concentrates, as the title states, on “Thrilling Incidents.” The private nature of the present material is in many ways more compelling and revealing than the printed autobiography.

     Conover’s diaries, basically covering the decade from 1891 to 1910, offer astonishing detail on his own life, his activities, and events and people, including Native Americans, in the Anadarko area and give insight into the area’s transition from a Native American reservation to a full-blown state. His records of diurnal activities are minute and show everyday life in the Territory as lived by both him and his neighbors. For example, his record for February 5, 1891, remarks: “Have not done much of anything today except cleaning sewing machine & helped make a muzzle for colt.” Continuing with practical matters, he notes on September 3, “Sent Andy over to Boons with medicine to doctor cows & hogs with screw worms.”

     Because the materials in these diaries were probably never meant to be read by others, Conover is often brutally frank about his feelings. His descriptions of December 25, 1900, and January 1, 1901, are particularly poignant. In the former entry, he gives in some detail how he passed Christmas day, including the menu for the big dinner (“Turkey & chicken, pie & cake, &c”). Unfortunately, his first wife had died only a few weeks before, and he reflects on the celebration: “I would rather have had my wife without a crust to eat.” When the new year dawns, he observes, “New Years. The first of a new century.” His spirit remains clouded, however, and he pines: “Willie and I have felt lonesome today. It may be now that Christmas and New Years are both past there will not be so many things to cause our minds to [turn to] the dear one we have lost, and it seems so hard to believe she will never return, for try as we will, it seems she is only away on a visit and will be home soon. But, alas, she is gone, gone where we trust and hope she is at peace and happy among other of her dear ones who went before.” The various entries for the few weeks previous to the entry for December 6 offer a detailed and intimate view of the agonies that his wife’s decline caused him and his family. The December 6 entry begins with chilling irony: “A beautiful but oh a sad day for me & this family. My Dear Wife and partner of over 27 years died this morning at 10 o’clock…. I thank God all of wife’s children were here…. I can work no more now.” On December 8, the day of her burial, he ends his entry, “Oh, I am lonesome tonight, but we must bear our cross.”

     Conover’s diary for the crucial year 1901 is fortunately also preserved here. That year the Native American lands in the Anadarko area were opened for settlement on August 1, 1901, a time covered by the diary. Conover already owned land south of the town site but became involved in the buying and selling of town lots, although at one point he grumps that the town building lots are more than he cares to pay. He remarks on August 6, for example, “Attended sale of lots all day. Paid 25¢ for chart of town site…. Commenced selling lots in Anadarko on north side of R.R. Prices ranged from $30.00 to $175.00.” He notes with some pride, “Town of Anadarko born today,” but on the contrary cannot escape his past and concludes the day’s entry, “My Dear Wife died 8 months ago today.” Despite his grumbling about the prices, he finally caves in on the 8th: “I bot Lot 26, Block 34, and paid $195.00 for it.” By August 9, prices have risen to at least $400 and some to $1500.00. On the 13th he bought another lot for $675.00 in concert with Phil Rimick, a decision he regrets. His speculations continue for several weeks until the fervor dies down. During this time, he often notes, as he does in his entry for August 17, that he does business at the bank (i.e., First National). A storm on the night of the 21st blew over many of the shanties, which were built with only 8 penny nails, killing two men and hurting several others. Finally, on the 27th, the sales end: “They finished selling lots today.” Despite the busy scene, on the 23rd, he went to Chickasaw and paid “$65.00 there for my wife’s tombstone; will have it hauled from there to the graveyard.”

     Along with the sale of town lots came the establishment of formal government bodies, such as county courts. On September 5 Conover was subpoenaed to court for the trial of a man accused of illegally seining fish, whom the jury found guilty. As Conover notes, “This being the first jury drawn in Caddo County, a Photograph of the Judge & Jury was taken.” Many such civil events are noted by Conover over the years.

     The diaries are supplemented by Conover’s financial account books, which also provide considerable monetary detail on his personal expenses and transactions with others. Although most of the accounts noted are routine personal expenses and other transactions, his book, marked “Private,” for 1905-1906 contains extensive accounting of dealings with the area’s Native Americans, broken into the two categories of “Wichita, Caddo & Delaware” and “Kiowa Comanche & Apaches.” Those were the area’s major tribes and those with whom Conover had had dealings for years from his days working for the Indian agency and as a private citizen. The accounts in this book seem, however, to be formal accounts of the Indian agency rather than of a personal nature, given that the amounts recorded are substantial and regular. Although no details of what is involved in the transactions are recorded, the book does list hundreds of names, from Big Tree on down, both males and females. In some ways, it could serve as another, unofficial census of the area’s Native American population on the eve of Oklahoma statehood in 1907.

     This collection, especially the diaries, are worthy of much further research and possible publication. The collection reveals the life of a significant Oklahoma settler and his personal interactions with others and embodies significant records of events in the crucial and important days when Oklahoma was in transition from a huge Native American reservation to the 46th state. The collection’s importance is enhanced by the fact that Conover himself was an astute, literate, careful observer who recorded events both great and small, even down to the daily weather and how much his lunch cost when he dined in town. The events were obviously recorded on the spot rather than recalled years later, which gives them a rarely encountered authenticity and immediacy. Unlike his book, here he is not writing for publication but rather to record for himself alone the events of his own life. In so doing he has created a valuable, enduring record of life in Indian Territory and Oklahoma. Although appearing in a different venue, Conover’s statement for his book from its Forward would also serve as a preface to the present collection: “And for the sake of preserving accurately certain facts to my own posterity, as well as to the country at large, and also for the purposes of holding to memory dear the friends and comrades of those wild and tragic days now passed away, I make this brief record of my own life in which the lives of many others are entwined and sketched.”


The collection consists of:

Journal-Day Books

JOURNALS-DAY BOOKS. Seven journal-daybooks covering the time periods indicated below. All are a combination of some personal financial information and autobiographical recounting of his life and events in his community, covering happenings great and small. The level of detail is high.

January 1891-March 1892. About 180 pp. in ink on ruled paper. Narrow 12mo (29 x 14 cm), flexible canvas cover, with signed paper label on front. Slight rodent damage near spine without loss of text.

May 1893-July 1893, January 1895-March 1895, January 1898, and January 1899-June 1899. About 180 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (29 x 18.5 cm), decorative flexible canvas cover, docketed and signed on front. Second half of book has some rodent damage into lower cover and bottom of text, with loss.

June 1899-December 1899. About 180 pp. in ink on ruled paper. Narrow 12mo (29.5 x 13.5 cm), cloth spine over flexible paper cover, docketed on front.

January 1900-October 1900. About 180 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (29.5 x 18 cm), cloth spine over flexible paper cover, docketed on front. Second half of book has some rodent damage into lower cover and bottom of text, with loss.

October 1900-October 1901. About 200 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (31 x 19 cm), decorative cloth-covered boards, docketed on front and signed by Conover on front pastedown.

October 1901-May 1902, January 1903. About 65 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (32 x 20 cm), decorative cloth-covered boards with leather corners, docketed on front.

January 1906-March 1906, January 1910. About 30 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (32 x 21 cm), decorative cloth-covered boards, spine with raised hubs, sheep corners, docketed on front and signed by Conover on the front pastedown. Entries for January, 1910, are accounts.

Financial Documents

FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS. Five ledgers and a personal memorandum book as indicated below. The ledgers are not completely filled; the number of used pages is indicated for each.

Account Book, 1891-1897. About 30 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (31 x 20 cm), three-quarter red sheep over blue and red marbled boards, with pencil sketch of barn plan on front flyleaf.

Account Book, 1905-1906. About 120 pp. in ink on ruled paper. 4to (32 x 20 cm), decorative cloth over stiff boards with sheep corners, signed and stamped on front and front pastedown, and docketed “Private” on upper cover. These are Conover’s reckonings with various tribe members in the area and include hundreds of Native American names and their tribal affiliations. Very valuable documentation.

Day Book, ca. 1903-1904. About 20 pp. in ink and pencil on ruled paper. 4to (34.5 x 20.7 cm), cloth spine over printed flexible paper covers, signed by Conover on upper cover. Two leaves of genealogical and historical notes laid in. Pages are mostly blank. Slight rodent damage to lower right corner not affecting text.

Account Book & Personal Accounts, 1907. Approximately 25 pp. in ink on lined paper. 4to (30.5 x 19 cm), decorative cloth over stiff boards, sheep corners, signed by Conover on upper cover. Pages 34-37 comprise an autobiographical account in Conover’s hand. Several pages include accounts with the area’s Native Americans.

Personal Accounts, January-April, 1911. About 4 pp. in ink on lined paper. 4to (25 x 19.5 cm), decorative cloth over stiff boards, sheep corners, signed by Conover on front pastedown.

Personal memorandum book, ca. 1905-1906. About 20 pp. in pencil on ruled paper. 64mo (8 x 5 cm), red leatherette, signed by Conover on front pastedown. Includes brief itinerary of 1906 train trip to East Coast and personal notes.

Letters, Correspondence & Other Personal Items

Mostly addressed to Conover

TATUM, Laurie. Tatum (1822-1900) was a Society of Friends peace ambassador sent to the Oklahoma Territory in 1869 in response to President Grant’s program to convert and civilize Native Americans rather than make war on them, a post he held until 1873, serving at the Kiowa and Comanche Agency, Fort Sill. At one time Tatum was guardian of the future President Herbert Hoover and his two siblings after their mother died. He was instrumental in recovering captives from the Indians and attempting to introduce the tribes to a settled, Christian way of life. Conover worked at the Indian agency when Tatum was in charge. Conover delivered Tatum’s note to Fort Sill requesting the arrest of Santana and others after they confessed to the Warren massacre.

Four autograph letters signed from Tatum to Conover, all from Springfield, Iowa:

October 22, 1880, 4 pp., 12mo (partial). Relating his in-laws’ 60th anniversary celebration and some of miraculous events that occurred. Also inquires about several of the Native Americans he knew at the agency.

March 19, 1884, 4 pp., 4to. Expresses his view that the Native Americans are better off Christianized and regrets that those who sometimes succeed in cattle ranching are hurt by others who steal stock with impunity. Asks to be remembered to various Native Americans by name and asks for news about them.

April 1, 1896, 4 pp., 12mo. States he has not heard from Conover in many years and hopes he is well. Asks numerous questions about certain Native Americans, their practices, and how matters are going in general at the agency, some of which informs the book he is writing. Also recalls recovering captives (probably Mexican children) from Native Americans and commenting on how overgrown and matted their hair was.

November 10, 1899, 1 pp., 4to, with an 1899 ad for his book, Our Red Brothers and the Peace Policy of President Ulysses S. Grant, printed on the verso. Thanks Conover for his order of five copies and discusses other authors of similar materials. Inquires about old friends and the condition of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache prisoners at Ft. Sill.

Conover Family & Personal Correspondence

CONOVER, Mary Ann. Five autograph letters signed to Conover from his mother, Mary Ann Conover, all from New Brunswick, New Jersey: [1]) June 10 1882, 3-1/2 pp., folio; [2] February 13, 1884, 4 pp., 4to; [3] August 15, 1885, 4 pp. 12mo (partial); [4] December 10, 1885, 4 pp. 12mo; [5] December 30, 1899, 4 pp. folio. Filled with family news, advice, and good wishes.

CONOVER SISTERS. Eight letters: Four autograph letters signed to Conover from his sister, Maria Blake, all from New Brunswick, New Jersey, all 4 pp., 12mo: [1] April 29, 1883; [2] November 11, 1883; [3]) June 12, 1884; [4] March 22, 1885. Chatty letters full of family news, including one report that the new baby is “well and fat as butter.” [5-8] Four autograph letters signed, three from his sister Hannah and one from his sister Doll, 1888, 1915, and two undated (one partial). Newsy family letters.

CONOVER, Andrew J. Six autograph letters signed to Conover from his brother, Andrew J. Conover, all New Brunswick or Highland Park, New Jersey, between 4-8 pp., 12mo: [1] August 13, 1884; [2] November 21, 1884; [3] November 6, 1888; [4] August 22, 1914; [5] August 22, 1920; [6] N.d. (partial). Relaying much family and community news, often with flashes of humor. Andrew had spent time with his brother in Oklahoma in 1874.

CONNOVER, Peter. Autograph letter signed to Conover from his brother, Peter Conover. Lamberville, June 11, 1884, 2-1/2 pp., 12mo. Looks forward to seeing him at home in New Jersey at Christmas and declaring his intention to return with him to Oklahoma: “I am satisfied that country is the best place for a poor man.”

LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION. Three letters of recommendation for Conover by various acquaintances, all 1 p., 4to: [1] George D. Day, autograph letter signed on Day & Sharp letterhead, Clenely, Maryland, September 1, 1896; [2] H.B. Carey, autograph letter signed on Lowd & Wynne letterhead, Chickasaw, Oklahoma Territory, November 5, 1897; [3] Charles E. Adams, typed letter signed on Edward Adams’ Sons letterhead, Tacoma, Washington, February 11, 1897. These letters, all from friends, testify to Conover’s good character and standing in the community. As Adams remarks: “Conover, as I remember you, you were a great help to the Indians and not a detriment, I do remember that many of them spoke to me of your kindness to them about your showing them how to break their land and of your loaning them farming implements, &c.”

COYLE, John. Two autograph letters signed to Conover: [1] Fort Wingate, New Mexico, August 2, 1881, 2 pp., 4to; [2] Erin Springs, Indian Territory, January 1, 1885, 2 pp., 4to. Both letters deal extensively with Masonic questions and controversies, although Coyle also relays personal news and best wishes. Conover discusses Doyle in his book, describing him as Unionist who left the country during the Civil War, an ardent Mason, and “in every way a reliable man” (p. 72). Coyle was the stone mason who built the historic Murray-Lindsay mansion, since remodeled but still standing, at Erin Springs, Oklahoma. He was also one of the Masons who organized the Wagoner and Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, lodges.

HUNT, George W. Autograph letter signed to Conover from George W. Hunt, Kiowa School, [Indian Territory], December 24, 1881, 2 pp., 4to. Hunt describes the Christmas festivities at the school for the children, including lighting a very handsome Christmas tree, complains that he is tired because he has to fill in for the ill night watchman, and states he is sending presents for Conover’s children. An unusual glimpse into holiday festivities at an Oklahoma Indian school.

TAK WAH POOR. Autograph letter in red ink signed twice to Conover from Tak Wah Poor, Elgin, Indian Territory, n.d. This interesting letter concerns a group of Native Americans offering collateral of livestock to secure and pay a debt to Conover.

MISCELLANEOUS. Small group of miscellaneous manuscripts and documents, including some bills on letterhead to Conover, a sharecropping agreement, later letters from WW II to Don Conover, and a 1915 telegram from his second wife (Laura Smith Conover) announcing the birth of a baby.


PHOTOGRAPHS. Seven images:

Albumen print, mounted, identified as Conover on the verso. Oval (23 x 16 cm) on card stock (23 x 18 cm). Trimmed affecting top blank portions of image; faded.

Silver print, mounted, of group of unidentified men, but the badges they wear reveal that they are GAR veterans; Conover stands in the middle of the front row. Rectangular (10.6 x 16.6 cm) on card stock (17.6 x 22.7 cm). Faded.

Albumen print, mounted, showing riders in a river with horses. Rectangular (12.7 x 20 cm) on card stock (20 x 25.2 cm). Faded, stained, and split into image. Card wants upper right hand corner.

Albumen print, mounted, showing wagons and horses in foreground, tepees in middle ground, and buildings in the far distance. Rectangular (12.8 x 20.7 cm) on card stock (20 x 25.2 cm). Mount wants upper left corner, and both it and the image are slightly soiled, but image detail and contrast are excellent. This is probably an Oklahoma scene on an issue day.

Albumen print, mounted, showing a large, 2-1/2 story house with a rear ell. Rectangular (16.5 x 21.5 cm) on card stock (20 x 25 cm). Card has marginal staining and chipping; image is lightly stained at lower corners. This handsome building is the one that may be seen in the far distance of view preceding.

Albumen print, mounted, showing wagons and dozens of horsemen lined up on a road between barbed wire and wooden fences. Rectangular (12.7 x 20.2 cm) on card stock (20 x 25.2 cm). Mount is somewhat soiled; image faded in upper right corner, but overall quite good. This is probably a view of 1901 Oklahoma land allotment at Anadarko.

Albumen carte de visite, showing group of Native Americans in front of a tepee. Rectangular (3.5 x 9 cm) on card stock (6.1 x 10 cm) imprinted on verso with name of photographer H.H. Shuster, Fort Sill, Indian T’y. Faded. Shuster is not listed by Mautz.


MAPS. Three rare maps that show what once was and what finally happened to the reserved lands promised to Native Americans when they were moved to the Oklahoma Territory. The two 1901 maps were used to guide the land openings authorized that year and that followed the general land rush of 1889.

Department of the Interior. General Land Office. N.C. McFarland, Commissioner. Indian Territory 1883 Compiled from the Official Records of the General Land Office and other sources. G.P. Strum, Principal Draughtsman G.L.O. Photo litho & print by Julius Bien & Co. 139 Duane St. N.Y. [upper right] References. New York: Bien, 1883. Chromolithograph map on old linen backing, showing reservations in outline color and major waterways in blue. Neat line to neat line: 60.1 x 82 cm; overall sheet size 68.5 x 86 cm. Right fold mostly split but holding with minor losses, other splits with minor losses, a few moderate stains in image area, edge chips. This is the copy Conover used, and is signed in pencil at lower left by him. Shows all of Oklahoma except Panhandle. Indian reservation boundaries are shown in color. Public land surveys, towns, military posts and reservations, stage stations, Indian agencies, and missions, roads and trails, and railroad lines.

Department of the Interior. Hon. E.A. Hitchcock, Secretary. Map of the Wichita Indian Reservation Oklahoma Territory Showing Lands to Be Opened for Entry on August 6, 1901, under Proclamation of the President Dated July 4, 1901. [lower left below neat line] The Norris Peters Co., Photo-Litho, Washington, D.C. [top center above neat line] Preliminary Edition [upper left] Legend [right center] Additions and Corrections Received While in Press. Washington: Norris-Peters, 1901. Chromolithograph map showing lands available or taken up already for other purposes (e.g., School Purposes, Allotted to Indians, etc.). Neat line to neat line: 62 x 56 cm; overall sheet size: 71 x 60.5 cm. Creased where formerly folded, small split at folds with no loss. No town sites are yet located. Very rare separately published preliminary map.

Department of the Interior. Hon. E.A. Hitchcock, Secretary. Map of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indian Reservation Oklahoma Territory Showing Lands to Be Opened for Entry on August 6, 1901, under Proclamation of the President Dated July 4, 1901 [lower left below neat line] The Norris Peters Co., Photo-Litho, Washington, D.C. [top center above neat line] Preliminary Edition [center left] Legend [lower center] Additions and Corrections Received While in Press. Washington: Norris-Peters, 1901. Neat line to neat line: 74.5 x 76.5 cm; overall sheet size: 81 x 1010 cm. Creased where formerly folded, small losses at folds, edge wear, light marginal staining, old tape repairs on verso. Chromolithograph map showing lands available or taken up already for other purposes (e.g., School Purposes, Allotted to Indians, etc.) This map shows Anadarko at upper right, apparently with the lots Conover bought marked with an “X.” Other town sites shown are Hobart and Lawton. Fort Sill sits prominently in the middle of the area. First edition, “Preliminary.” Very rare, preceding a reprint issued in Butte the same year (the reprint sold at the Siebert Sale in 1999, Lot 931 @ $5,750).


FIRST NATIONAL BANK, ANADARKO, OKLAHOMA. Printed calendar on stiff cardboard with photographic illustration of bank at top and month leaves stapled at bottom for 1902. 25.5 x 20.5 cm. First edition of the first calendar for this bank. Edges stained and chipped; January leaf loose and chipped. The view at top, entitled “Bank Opened for Business August 6, 1901,” photographed by Mrs. C.R. Hume, shows the bank in a tent sitting in the middle of a field. It was quickly replaced with a flimsy wooden building. A highly unusual view and a rare survival. Mrs. Hume is not listed in Mautz, but was a prominent citizen of Anadarko and probably the first female photographer in the area. Other of her photos are Native Americans. The bank was organized on June 7, 1901, and chartered that year on July 30. Although absorbed and renamed several times, the bank is still in existence as Anadarko Bank & Trust. Conover used this bank and begins to refer to it in his August, 1901, diary entries.


Sold. Hammer: $14,000.00; Price Realized: $16,800.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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