A Book from Gail Lee Martin’s bookshelf (reviewed by her daughter, Virginia Allain): Oklahoma Geological Survey Guide Book XV – Alabaster Cavern and Woodward County.
The University of Oklahoma published this in 1969 with a second printing in 1972. A slim 38 pages, but filled with useful information if you want to know about the geology or history of this area. The pictures are in black and white, but you get some maps, various charts and graphs explaining the geology and photos of the interior of the caves.
In the history section, starting at page 25, it covers the early times with the Indian tribes, then the military presence with the Custer massacre at Washita of over 100 Indians including women and children and the establishment of Fort Supply.
That was followed by ranching and then homesteaders in the land rush of 1893. Sod houses were constructed and hardy families eked out a living and built schools and eventually churches and towns.
In the oversized booklet, it describes a typical sod house as 12 feet by 16 feet with walls made from blocks of sod cut into brick-like shapes. The roof was slightly rounded and made of poles and tar paper and then covered with dirt to hold the tar paper in place.
The settlers would collect dried buffalo chips or cow patties to burn as fuel since wood was scarce. I found it fascinating reading about the early ranchers, then the land rush and homesteaders.
How This Relates to the Family History:
From Gail Martin’s notes: The Vining family came to Woodward County from the Pea Ridge School area which is probably “where the Vinings lived in Wilson County, KS, before moving to Woodward, OK, area when Mother (Ruth Vining McGhee) was 5 years old.” That would have been 1902.
Henry Vining was the son of James and Almira Vining. He was born 17 September 1837 and died 28 July 1897. He married Nancy Jane (Babcock) Ashlock on 30 March 1866. She had 3 children from her first marriage. Mom’s story about Henry’s mother is told in My Pioneering Great Grandmother. That story takes place in the eastern part of Kansas.
More about Woodward County, Oklahoma
There were 2,241 residents in 1894 (right after the land rush). For the next four years, the population kept dropping due to drought, harsh winters, and conflicts with the cattlemen.
The homesteader had to pay for the land in installments plus a filing fee of $15. Then he had to live on that quarter section of land for 5 years, grow crops and make certain improvements to gain title to the land.
The Vining family bought their land from one of the homesteaders who gave up and left.
The photo of the frame house shows Ruth (youngest child on the left) and her family in front of a small home on the Oklahoma prairie. Extending to the right is a dugout or sod house which was probably the original house. Her father, Henry Vining, died six weeks after his youngest daughter was born.
My aunt recently told me this tidbit of family lore: “Mother often slept with covers over her head; she said it was from her childhood years living in a dugout home, and insects scuttled across the ceiling”
My mother wrote a story from Ruth’s childhood that she heard many times. It’s called The Day the Mad Dog Came. This event happened at this location.
Ruth Vining’s older sister Belle Vining lived in Woodward County through the 1930s while married to Orville Espie Brock.
Here are more pages with Woodward County history.
In June of 1955, Albert Vining, his wife Vina, and two of his sisters (Ruth and I think, Bessie) made a trip to visit “the old home place.” My older sister, Susan went with them. At this point, there are only these two photos to remember the road trip. I don’t know if any remnants of the old sod and frame house remained or if they were able to visit any relatives still in the Woodward area.
The first photo is labeled “standing by the well at the old birthplace.” In the second photo, there’s a monument labeled “Rogers” so I’m guessing that they stopped in Claremore, Oklahoma to see the Will Rogers memorial. The link shows a video of what is there now, probably expanded quite a bit over the years.
Here are a few things I found online about the area. The map is from 1905 and as you can see the Kansas line forms the upper border of Woodward County. The street scenes are from 1910 and 1920.