Frank Martin was the brother of my great-grandfather, John Thomas Martin. They grew up in Kansas with their two sisters. There was another brother, Milton, who died young. John Thomas Martin stayed in Kansas all his life but his three siblings migrated west to Oregon in the early 1900s. Here, in Frank’s own words, is the story of his life and details of his participation in the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1893.
Front (L to R) John Thomas Martin and Francis Marion (Frank) Martin, Back (L to R) Cora Gozena (Grace) Martin Payne and Upha Penina (Effie) Martin Skaggs
The La Grande Observer newspaper (La Grande, Oregon) published his story on 22 June 1932, Page 27. I’ve added photos to it.
“TODAY WE HAVE Frank Martin of Imbler – I was born in Lyon County, Kansas, Oct. 8, 1868. Except for two years in the mercantile business at Avery, Oklahoma, I have spent my life farming. I married Rosella Kennedy when I was 27 years old and we began life together on a farm in Greenwood County, Kansas. If some of our young farmers in this valley could get old Father Time to let them take a try at wresting a living from the Kansas prairie in ’89, I believe they would be pretty well satisfied with their lot here.
We didn’t have to worry about the price of gas, repairs for the tractor or whether Uncle Sam would vote the bonus bill but we did have to kind of study about whether old Dobbin and the shoats would get the benefit of the corn crop or would it be just another year of hopes blasted by hot winds, grasshoppers and chinch bugs.
I apologize for the shadows on this picture. It’s a photo that I took at the Greenwood County Museum in Eureka, Kansas.
Three years after our marriage we decided to try our fortunes in the more fertile soil of Illinois. We arrived there along with the hard times of the nineties and again the outlook was discouraging.
During that year, news came of the great land lottery to be held in the Oklahoma country. The attorney general ruled a lottery would be illegal and President Cleveland ordered that people must run for the claims instead of draw for them. So the 24-year-old boy and his young wife began another trek across the prairies in search of adventure and opportunity and we were among those present on the morning of the 16th of September, 1893.
There are many days of my life of which I recall no single incident but I can still vividly visualize that warm sunny morning and the motley crowd, provided with every form of equipment known at the time on which they hoped to best the others and win a valuable claim. ‘I would like to live that day over again, not as a seeker after land, but as a reader of human faces and hearts. If one had been there with a keen sense of humor and nothing to do but give free rein to it, he would have had enough funny incidents to have chuckled over for a lifetime. But that was serious business and everyone’s nerves were keyed up to high tension, their faces were grim and determined. Of the two incidents that stand out in my memory as the funniest, one was a very fat girl standing up in an old hack, whip in one hand and lines in the other. The team was running at breakneck speed and the hack bouncing in the air. Although it seemed she would surely be thrown at each bound of the hack, she managed to stay with it. She and her father had the same claim in mind and she beat him to it.
The other incident was of an old Kentuckian who had a little scrawny team of mules and a very heavy covered wagon. He refused to worry or get excited, The thoroughbred horses, noted for their racing ability in his native state, bothered him not at all. The tough little cow ponies, the fast driving-horses, the bicycles, and the marathon runners and champion walkers might as well not exist so far as he cared. Everyone had their own ideas as to the best way to get there and he most decidedly had his.
The start was to be at noon and that forenoon seemed endless. Finally, the mad rush was on. We were running north and the line was visible on both sides for several miles. For a long time, it was very crowded and it seemed all the claims we came to were taken but gradually the crowd thinned and I took my claim about 5 hours after starting!
Afterward, I learned that the old Kentuckian had taken his own good time about getting started had calmly driven out behind the crowd just a mile and a half and staked a very valuable claim which the rest of us in our mad scramble had taken for granted was already claimed. The tough little cow pontes proved tho fastest over that rough ground and easily outdistanced the others including the Kentucky racehorses. The bicycles were the worst failures. There were a few new models with wheels of equal dimensions but most were the old-fashioned big wheelers. I rode a mule.
Photos in the public domain – Oklahoma Land Rush
This body of land 150 miles long and 57 1/2 miles wide was all taken within a few hours as were the town lots which had been staked off in Carey, Ponca City, Enid, and Round Pond. Within a few hours, those townsites were towns of four to six thousand population. Beat that with your mining towns if you can. There were many feuds over the town lots and some over the claims and fatal shooting scrapes were numerous.
Life was rough and hard on these claims. There were improvements to be built, wells to be drilled and crops planted and little money to do it with. I remember black jack wood being hauled thirty miles and sold for $1.25 – $2.00 a load and it was in 16-inch lengths and split.
I came to Oregon in 1905 settling at Flora. I later moved to Washington and came here in 1913. I have made many moves and been a resident of five states but I like this valley best of all.
Frank Martin in Oregon
My wife died last year. Of the six children born to us, five are living. Edna was born in Kansas and the other five in Oklahoma. Edna, Austin, and Lawrence live here; Hazel lives in San Francisco, Effie in La Grande, and Arthur is a doctor in Enterprise.”