There are a handful of self-proclaimed historians in the town of Velma, but few recorded facts. Provided are records told by these citizens. Any and all submissions are welcome, and credit will be given to the contributor.
The Story of Velma, Oklahoma
Donald F. Scott
To give a complete and documented history of Velma, Oklahoma, its geography, its people, its many hardships and its prosperity would be impossible. The story of Velma is to show its many assets. We are indebted to the many oil companies that have their various operations in the Velma field, yet farming and ranching are of the oldest industrial operation in this area.
In 1834 Lietuenant Wheelock of the Dragoons, under Brigadier General Henry Leavenworth, known as the Leavenworth Expedition of 1834, had, as the first assignment of the army's new and elite corps, to visit the plains tribes, establish relations, and induce delegations from them to return to Fort Gibson for a formal conference. As an incidental project, the regiment was directed to procure the release of a youngster, Matthew Wright Martin, and a ranger, George B. Abbay, both believed held prisoner somewhere on the plains.
A diary entry of July 13, 1834 reads: Camp Choctaw—passed through the last of the cross timbers and entered upon the grand prairie; marched at half past eight o'clock from Camp Choctaw west by north twenty three miles and encamped on creek; highly beautiful country, tolerable well watered; command impeded wild horses in large herds; one of the Indian guides caught one of them; immense herds of buffalo; passed several springs of rock oil, (petroleum). (This camp is in the Velma area probably to the west along the Wildhorse Creek, since the report would be made in the evening).
The early plains Indians made their homes among the wonders of Velma. The mountains, the creeks and the wooded areas made it an ideal home. There was an abundance of wild game, fish, wild horses, flint for arrows and oil from the many oil springs to make their medicines. The fruits, the large meadows along the creeks and the abundance of firewood made it a natural wonder. The area was to the advantage of the explorer, army scouting units, the pony express, the stagecoach and the wagon train. The early settler found the natural beauty of Velma to his good taste. The first settlers, the first store, the first church and the first school in what was to become Stephens County was built in this area. To look upon the natural beauty is to understand why the Indian and the settler would want to live here.
The Velma Mountain—known locally as Tower Mountain—is located to the southwest of Velma. To take a drive along the crest is an exciting thrill. Not only will you be enjoying the scenic beauty of miles and miles of magic wonder but to look into at least three different counties. This is the highest peak in Stephens County according to the government survey of 1902.
You will also have the pleasure of riding upon the richest mountain in the entire world. The Velma Mountain (Tower Mountain) has produced more black gold than yellow gold in the vaults of Ft. Knox. The discovery well drilled in 1917-18 is on pump today. Hundreds of wells dot her beautiful landscape, flowing and pumping from the many formations. While driving along the crest of the mountain you will notice the many oil installations.
This discovery well, the T.J. Nichols #1, is the oldest well in Stephens County still on production. The first drilling on the location was for a water well and when oil was discovered the rig had to be skidded and a new well was started. Producers Pol Co. was the first operator and Mr. Edd Thelma was the contractor. Dell Green and Roscoe Lawrence were the drillers. The late Chester A. Stephens was one of the first pumpers, then came the last Sid Martin, and for many years the well was pumped by George Ballard for Skelly Oil Company. Mr. Ballard still lives just east of Velma. Texaco Company now produces the well.
Besides Velma Mountain (Tower Mountain) there are two others of note and both are clearly visible from Velma to the north. Wildhorse Mountain (known locally as Sugarloaf Mountain because of its' shape) is named for the great herds of wild horses that once roamed the Velma region. Up and down the great Wildhorse Creek with its' lush meadows roamed these strong animals. This mountain is to the west of the other, which is known as Hat Top Mountain. This one stands like a great cowboy hat. It is one of the early landmarks by which the Indian and the scout could easily identify.
With the abundance of natural beauty and resources, no wonder that people began to settle this part of the country. In about 1880 John Robert (John Bob) Frensley was working in his uncle's store in Dexter, Texas when the foreman for the Block Ranch that was located northwest of present Velma, Oklahoma and remuda manager, Frank Jones, came to town to celebrate after several months stay in the Indian Territory. John Bob obliged as their guide to the gay spots in the little Texas town and evidently did a good job as when the Territory cowboys got ready to go home they insisted that John Bob accompany them. He did so with the idea in mind to save his money as he hadn't been able to do so up until now, living in town, and on the ranch there was no place to spend it. The Block Ranch was established by Christopher Columbus (Lum) Colbert who had come from Colbert's Station near Durant, and covered about twenty square miles. It was called the Block Ranch because of the brand—two large blocks on the right side and one on the flank.
Working on the Block Ranch with John Bob Frensley were Jim Doad and Albert Femire. Out of two years wages these three ambitious young men had managed to save $200 each. After many serious business discussions, these three decided to establish a store. These three pooled their money and in about 1883 a 12 by 15 foot log room was built for their store. It took most of their money to build the log building and stock it so they decided that Jim Doak would operate the store and Frensley and Femire would continue their work on the block Ranch in order to furnish outside income until their business venture would be paying off. Their supplies had to come from Gainseville, Texas as this was the first store in what is now Stephens County, and no suppliers were closer. It took three days to make the trip to Gainesville for supplies and four to return due to the loaded wagons. The store became known as Doak's Store and was located on the creek at the west edge of present Velma.
When the cattle crash came in 1884 and 1885, Frensley quit his job on the Block Ranch and came to assist Doak in the store. Doak and Frensley sold their store to a Mr. Dobbins or traded their store for Mr. Dobbins' herd of cattle. Mr. Dobbins did not keep the store long. Because of mismanagement and financial difficulties Mr. Dobbins persuaded Mr. Frensley to take the store back.
After taking the store back from Mr. Dobbins, Mr. Frensley had as his partner, Frank Jones, a fellow cowboy from the Block Ranch. In time to come Frank Jones wanted out of the store so again Mr. Doak was a partner with Frensley. Frensley and Doak sold the store to John Fowler and Jim Kinsey and when these men tired of the store they sold it back to Frensley but this time his partner was Dan Sledge, Sr. This partnership lasted until 1905 when Mr. Sledge sold his interest to Jess M. Robberson. Frensley and Robberson moved the store from the original location of the log structure on the creek to where Velma's business area is presently and into a sawed lumber building.
On September 25, 1886, a postoffice was established in what had been known as Doak's Store with J. R. Frensley, postmaster. It was necessary to have a name for the postoffice and after much discussion the name, Velma, was selected. It was named for Velma Dobbins, daughter of Mr. Dobbins who had once operated the store. In those days the mail was brought by horseback from Spanish Fort, Texas and the horseman went as far as Erin Springs. Frensley subscribed to the Gainesville Weekly Hesperian newspaper, the only way to keep up with the outside world. The nearest railroad was at Gainesville, Texas, the reason for all supplies coming from there.
Sometimes before 1885, John Bob Frensley and a fellow cowboy, Frank Jones, ferreted out the origin of smoke they saw in the sky and found a gentleman trying to extinguish a fire that had spread from his camp fire. This gentleman was Dr. Long from Texas. He was looking for a new location to practice medicine, so these two men brought him to Doak's Store where a lean-to office was built for him and soon a stock of drugs were available for him. This was Velma's first doctor and druggist as the early day doctors compounded their own medicines. Other doctors who have followed are: Dr. Hammonds, Dr. Davis, Dr. W.S. Spears, Dr. Harbison, Dr. E.B. Thomason, Dr. Threlkeld, Dr. Rice, Dr. Chumlee, Dr. Guthrie, Dr. Darwin Hixon, Dr. H.R. Corbett and Dr. H.D. Farthing. The succeeding druggists to the first one have only been three: Thad McArthur, Allen Carey and the present one, Donald F. Scott.
In 1904 S.J. Jones came from the Arthur community and established a general mercantile business in Velma. At one time Mr. Jones had as his business partner, John Fitzhugh, and the Territorial Board of Pharmacy issued a license to Fitzhugh and Jones in January 1907. In 1918 Mr. Jones sold his store to Ed Martin and Jim Tussy and at the same time purchased the Robberson and Frensley store. Martin's store was known as Martin and Son—the son being Lee Martin. In 1920, another Martin son, Edgar, and his wife, Cordia, bought the Martin store and continued its's operation. Shortly after Edgar and Cordia bought the store a disastrous fire destroyed it, but they rebuilt and Edgar continued in the store until his death in 1947. After Edgar's death, Cordia continued with the store and her job as postmaster to which she had been appointed in 1929. She remodeled and enlarged the original store as business demanded and in 1963 built the present building which houses the store and post office. Cordia retired from the post office in 1969 with 40 years service as postmaster.
Another business in early day Velma was the gin built by Mr. Frensley but operated by the Maxwell brothers Sam, Charlie and Sterly. For a period of time Mr. J.R. Dempsey operated the gin for Frensley. At the gin location and besides the gin was a grist mill, saw mill and syrup mill. With these four operations there was activity at this location the year around.
Early day settlers needed the services of a blacksmith so the blacksmith shop was an early day business. Charlie Miller owned a blacksmith shop where Scott Drug is now located in Velma. The ownership of this shop passed from Mr. Miller to "Uncle Bob" Anderson., "Uncle Bob" and his son, High, operated the shop for many years, until "Uncle Bob's" death.
Velma's first financial institution was established not long after the town plat was approved in December 1902. This institution was known as Citizen's Bank and its' checks read "The Bank of Velma". There were seven co-partners in this bank: J.M. Robberson, J.R. Frensley, W.S. Spears, Ed Martin, W.A. Newton, J.D. Wade, and J.M. Armstrong. This bank was located where Grantham's Velma Funeral Chapel is now located, and just south of Badgett's general mercantile store. By today's standards the life of this bank was not long as it was liquidated in about 1906, before statehood. Ironically, when the organizers of this bank's successor chose a name for their institution some nearly seventy years later, they chose "Citizen's Bank" not knowing that Velma's first and only bank up to that time had been called the same name. When the first Velma bank was liquidated, Mr. S.J. Jones bought the safe and moved it across the street to his general mercantile store and it is still in the Jones family.
The early settlers of the Velma community lived in many different types of homes. There were tents, half-dugouts, and log homes to name some of them. Probably the most famous early day home was that of Mr. George Jump. Mr. Jump was a native of Missouri but moved his family here from eastern Oklahoma where he was a coal miner. Two rooms of Mr. Jump's home, northeast of Velma was hewn out of the side of the hill. It was built in 1914-15. The east room was built first by Mr. Jump alone, taking about six weeks. The west room was built in about three weeks as Mr. Jump had the help of his brother in law, Jeff Zumwalt. The partition wall was 7 feet thick. There was a well in the house only 6 feet deep with a pitcher pump and plenty of water. The stove pipe came out about 22 feet from the west wall of the west room. It was drilled from the top of the hill with a drop auger and a churn drill and "elled" east into the west wall of the east room. The room had a solid ceiling of poles cut and set on a ledge on the east and west sides of the room. They were pitched like a two-slant roof. Ed Stewart was employed to build two wooded rooms above the hewn rooms. The window openings started at 8 feet thick at the bottom. The Jumps lived here until 1926. The ruins of this home are still visited by many today.
In the days of Indian Territory and in order to procure a farm the white men would find someone of Indian blood and make a deal with him and lease as much land as he wanted. The first men leasing farms around Velma on Wildhorse Creek were Ike Nolan, Hatfield, Passmore, Howard, Nute Ice, J.R. McDuffy, Joe Cordell, John O'Neill, Marian Jackson, John Dellers, Jim Sellers and Side Sellers. These names appear on markers in the local cemeteries.
To find the early grave sites of the pioneers would be impossible. The unmarked grave of the Indian Scout and the trapper was always hidden rather than to expose themselves to the hostile Indians. By 1885 began the marking of burial grounds in stones as grave markers. The first burial ground as we know them today in the Velma area is the Passmore Cemetery which is about a mile northwest of Velma'' business district. The earliest burial date on a marked grave in the Passmore Cemetery is 1887 and that is for Joseph H. Buie. The next is for John Pogue who died April 19, 1889. He is grandfather of Quincy Pogue who presently lives just west of Velma. Another early day cemetery is the Scott Cemetery located about two miles east of Velma. It was first known as Jackson Cemetery. The earliest known burial there was in 1888. The first grave in the Velma Cemetery was in 1893. A child, Hiram A. Rowe, died as result of burns received when his clothing caught fire from the fire under his mother's wash pot.
An industry not common to many areas flourished for a while in the Velma community and that was Grahamite mining. Grahamite was first discovered by Lieutenant Wheelock of the Dragoons in 1834, sone 21/2 miles southeast of Velma in the canyons. There is a large deposit of this coal like substance. We know it today as oil that was trapped in a fault and being exposed to the sun became hard. After removing the crust the Grahamite would become soft and easy to mine. It would burn with a very strong heat. The Southwestern Oil and Asphaltum Co. began the first operations in 1900. The first to be hauled out for commercial use was in 1904. Its' beginning was a strip mine, however the deeper the pits the better grade of the material. This made it necessary to bring in miners. Walter Ivey, father of the late Lonnie and Chester Ivey, was supervisor. There were some 300 men who were employed and lived in camps around the mining area.
There were two shafts 130 feet deep with a drift between them. This was the beginning of trouble because oil and gas came in so fast with no way of removing it. This caused the first explosion. George Hancock was working with Chester Ivey and being a tall man and tired of a stooped position stood his height. In so doing his carbide miner's light caused a pocket of gas to explode. This caused the mine to cease operations until 1917. Mr. Hancock later died at Comanche as a result of his burns.Again in 1917 the mines were reopened using steam in an attempt to remove the gas, however, this was impossible due to the large opening. Operations were again abandoned. At least two of these open shafts are visible today and other evidences of the mining operations of years ago.
What was perhaps the first school in what is now Stephens County was located near Panther Branch which is two or three miles east of the present town of Velma. The school house was poorly constructed of cottonwood lumber 16 by 24 feet. It was built before 1885 from lumber sawed at the Dempsy mill in the Ara community. An Irishman by the name of Hastings was the teacher. Not long after the Panther Branch school was discontinued a school was opened at the same location of Doak's store which is the present site of Velma. Charlie T. Davenport taught the Velma school in 1893, in the bottom floor of a frame structure of which the top floor was used for lodge purposes. About 50 pupils were enrolled. Judge J.W. Marshall taught a subscription school at Velma in 1903-04 in a one room building located where the Hubert Anderson home is now. The seventy pupils paid one dollar per month to attend. In 1915 a wooden building was built at Velma on the hill where the old rock building stood and was used until 1941, at which time the rock building was constructed by W.P.A. and used for both grade and high school. Today, the present school district consists of many small districts and conducts classes at Velma. Those districts include Alma, Caddo, Colley, Countyline, Santa Fe, Center Grove, Arthur, Prairiedale, Stoner, Valley View, Payne, Harrisburg and Loco.
Social life in early day Velma may not seem as attractive to today's young people as it did to the young person of by gone years but events such as taffy pulls, candy breakings, school Christmas Trees, and country dances were the entertainment of the day. In 1890 began a yearly event still carried on today but greatly changed, is the Velma Old Settler's Picnic. It began as a break from the routine of everyday life after the crops had been laid by and families came in their wagons from miles around to camp, visit and enjoy themselves. In the early years ranchers would furnish the beef and it was barbecued on the grounds for free barbecue for everyone. The ladies would compliment the barbecue with their own dishes. About the first attraction at the picnic other than the usual games, races and contests participated in by groups when they got together, was Mr. George Jump's swing pulled by a mule. The free rodeo as we know it today came years later when the local cowboys decided to compete against each other and still later came the concession stands to accommodate the people who attended as the free barbecue had seen its demise. In time, also, came the carnival with the various rides. In 1950 began the taking of the old settlers' group picture. At first, only the men gathered for their picture but later on the women were encouraged to have their picture made with the men and today anyone who feels that he or she is an old settler is invited to be in the picture.
The spiritual life of the Velma area has developed rapidly over the years. At present the community is served by the Velma Assembly of God Church, the Velma Baptist Church, the Velma Methodist Church, the Countryside Freewill Baptist Church and the Velma Church of Christ. Many others drive to other cities for their worship.