Through Letters, Land
Reprinted with permission of Kansas City, Missouri's Farmland News, from its November 1995 issue.
In 1899, John Franklin (Frank) Weaver got off a train in Oklahoma, looking for a place to build a new home for his wife, Julia, and their five children: Edgar, Edna, William, Harvey, and Louella. The 160 acres he purchased southwest of Newkirk became their family farm in January, 1901, soon after they arrived from Dayton, Iowa, in a covered wagon.
'Iowa is all right, but Oklahoma beats it,' Edgar Weaver wrote to his uncle in Iowa in February 26, 1903. 'If we do have hot winds, droughts, dust storms, centipedes and a hundred other such things some of you Iowa people think we have, I would rather have them all, such as they are, than your long-bill steel-pointed mosquitoes.'
Whether that conviction was held by other Oklahomans breaking the prairie into tillable land is unknown, but many facets of the Weavers' lives are known thanks to dozens of letters kept through the decades. Those letters have given Karen Dye of Newkirk a great deal of insight into the lives of Frank and Julia Weaver, her great-grandparents.
'When Frank and Julia set out for Oklahoma, they sold the house to Frank's brother, and it stayed in the family for generations,' said Dye, the granddaughter of Edna Weaver Bush. 'That's how I got the letters written from Oklahomano thing was ever thrown out!'
Frank Weaver wasn't one to stay put. Born October 5, 1854, in New Jersey, he married Julia Mumford in Henry County, Illinois, on August 19, 1880. After they reached Iowa, Frank taught school and farmed. He was quite active in civic affairs by the time he settled in Oklahoma, where he served as president of the Newkirk School Board and secretary of the Newkirk Democrat Victory Club. He was also president of the Oklahoma State Fair Association and secretary and treasurer of the Oklahoma Corn Breeders and Growers Association.
Julia Ann Mumford Weaver was born February 10, 1859, in Lewis County, New York. After arriving in Oklahoma, she, too, became active in local organizations, including the First Presbyterian Church of Newkirk and the Merry Wives Embroidery Club. She frequently sold butter and eggs, which in 1904 fetched 17 cents per pound and 25 cents per dozen, respectively.
The 50 letters in Dye's collection, neatly written and amazingly well preserved, chronicle the day-to-day life of the Weaver family. Even in letters describing special events and holidays, the prevailing theme is that of the basics of survival on the prairie weather and crops.
'It is cool and windy for the celebration,' Frank wrote to his brother on July 4, 1902. 'In fact, that has been the general condition of the weather all summer, together with lots of rain. Wheat goes from 3 to 20 bushels per acre, oats 50 to 80. Sometimes they will get a hundred. Corn is looking fine. Our potatoes are fine, I never raised any better, but the rest of the garden was poor. Got hurt by the hail. Peaches are quite plenty now, as well as plums. How did your strawberries do? We got our second cutting of alfalfa put up in nice shape just happened to get between rains. Will start two plows Monday for wheat The timothy that I sowed is headed out now so I think it done pretty well.'
Frank and Julia' 'done pretty well' themselves, building a house with two food cellars. When he bought materials to build the 13-room house, Frank spent a total of $459.25.
That $459.25 was well spent. 'My children were the fifth generation to live in that house,' Dye said. 'My father and several other relatives were born there. The house is still standing, and part of the original flower garden is still there, along with the cedar trees that Frank brought from Iowa.'
Of special interest to Dye is the information she's gleaned about her grandmother, Edna. According to Edna's writings, Frank Weaver at one time believed that a girl needed no more than an eighth-grade education. But Edna attended Highland College in Iowa, where she earned a teaching certificate. She taught in White Eagle, Oklahoma, and Eddy, Oklahoma, and gained the admiration of many, including her father. Then, she was faced with a choice that most of today's women can't even imagine.
'I suppose this will be Edna's last Sunday of single blessedness, for she has concluded to marry instead of teach school any longer,' Frank Weaver wrote on May 31, 1903. 'I hated to see her change her mind just as she had got nicely acquainted and a reputation as a teacher and she was liked so well by the young people. He is a farmer living over where she was teaching. Seems like a nice fellow, but not what I had expected would suit her, but love does strange things.'
That 'nice fellow' was Charles Bush, and he seemed to suit Edna just fine. They married on June 3, 1903, and made their home in Newkirk, where they had five children. The youngest, Raymond, was Dye's father.
For Edna, who became known as 'Grandma Bush,' hard work was a way of life. For fifteen years, she ran a market every Saturday at the Newkirk Community Building. By her own estimate, she churned 7,800 pounds of country butter and sold 4,000 cakes, 8,000 pies and 10,000 loaves of bread during that time.
After Charles died in 1936, Grandma Bush assumed full responsibility for the farm. When she was in her 90s, the story goes, her son-in-law, Frank Worley, stopped by one day to help with the milking. As they worked, he suggested that perhaps it was time for her to sell the cows. But as they returned to the house, she set her milk bucket down and turned to her son-in-law.
'Frank, I've thought about what you said, and I think you should tend to your business, and I will tend to mine.' And tend to business she did, running the family farm until her death in 1975.
But that wasn't the end of the family link to the land that began with Frank Weaver's train ride in 1899. The land that held a family together is still in that family and still helps support the descendants of Frank and Julia Weaver. Karen Dye, her husband, Kenneth, and her brother, Harvey Bush, who are members of the Farmers Co-op Elevator and Supply Company in Newkirk, grow wheat and raise cattle on 137 acres of the land that caught Frank Weaver's eye nearly a century ago. That's a family legacy worth preserving.