|In Maude's Journey, we followed Maude Ragsdale as she and her family trekked across the
Red River Valley to settle in Hollis, Oklahoma Territory, which at that time was in the disputed area of Greer County.
In this two part essay, Martha Giles recounts Maude's early years as a
beautiful young woman in some of the harshest territory in the United States.
|The Ragsdale's children's school, Bitter Creek, in Oklahoma Territory
Maude’s Youth in Oklahoma
Hollis, Oklahoma was a flat and windy place. Viola, Maude’s mother complained that the wind always blows there. Their farm, just outside
of Hollis was flat and windy, too. But it was filled with row upon row of cotton and their hope for the future. The sandy soil, in close
proximity to the Red River, produced a fair crop of the white stuff.
As the Ragsdale girls and Buddy grew older, they went with their father to work in the fields chopping cotton, then harvesting cotton.
Later, their younger brother, Floyd joined their ranks. Chopping cotton came shortly after the plants achieved about four inches in
height. It was then that extra or weak plants and weeds were chopped from between the plants and rows so that each plant would have a
better chance to mature into a healthy, productive plant.
The girls wanted to be fashionable, which meant, in those days, keeping their skin lily white. In order to do that, they had to cover
themselves from head to toe in long-sleeved dresses, a prairie sun bonnet, and long gloves while working in the fields. Maude hated
chopping cotton and working in the fields. But it had to be done and she didn’t complain.
Maude much preferred romping around, climbing trees with her brother, Buddy, her closest and dearest family friend. She could ride a
horse as well as he could, and they loved to go exploring across the plains. One day they found an arrow head and it frightened Maude to
death. She scurried back to the house to tell Papa.
Climbing trees and riding horseback didn’t hide Maude’s skin too well from the ever relentless sunshine there. So, she wound up getting
a rather freckled face. Eventually, she had so many freckles that she said they all grew together into one big freckle. Freckles or not, she
was a beautiful young girl.
In the summer, all the girls would cool off in the horsetank. They wore old, worn-out dresses and cooled themselves in the only body of
water available. Sometimes, they would picnic on the Red River which was only a mile or so from Hollis, but they never tried to swim in its
dangerous waters or go near the sandy edge which had places of quicksand in its banks. Besides, none of them could swim. Maude
would say, “I dive like a feather and swim like a rock.”
When the circus came to town, it was a thrill for everyone. The men and ladies of the circus rode into town on the backs of elephants and
horses with fancy harness. Some of the ladies stood on the backs of the horses and did fancy tricks off their backs. They wore fancy
costumes of tights and tutus that sparkled and flashed in the sunlight. A giant calliope tooted out fascinating tunes and was followed by
clowns who cavorted around, weaving in and out of the crowd. Muscular men, wearing tights, lifted ladies into the air and tossed them
about as if they were light as air. It was all so thrilling.
When Maude and Buddy came home, they strung a rope between two trees and tried to walk the tight rope, holding an umbrella for
balance. Nothing in their whole lives had ever been so exciting—unless it was the day that the photographer came to their house and
took pictures of their house and animals with the family standing in front of it. That was an exciting day, too.
Most of the year was filled with farm chores and school. All the Ragsdale children went to the new school that was built on the land that
their father had donated for that purpose. The one-room schoolhouse resounded with children of different ages, from first to eighth
grade, practicing their times tables or reading aloud to an older student. Maude was good in school. She was a good speller, reader, and
could do her arithmetic well.
In October, when the cotton had completed its growth cycle and was ready to be harvested, school was dismissed for several weeks while
the school children took part in the harvest. It was then that they would haul ten foot long cotton sacks, strapped over one shoulder,
between the long rows of cotton. It was backbreaking work and their hands would be cut numerous times from the sharp edges of the
cotton bowls. Families picked cotton from dawn to dark, stopping only to eat a quick meal and to take a short rest. It was always a race
against rain. If it rained, it could ruin the cotton. No one liked to pick cotton but it had to be done. Once it was done, the cotton was taken
to the cotton mill. If they could get a good price for the cotton, it was a good year. After the harvest of cotton, the children returned to
School also doubled as a church and social center. On Sundays, the various religious groups took turns holding services. One Sunday,
the Baptists would hold services. The next Sunday, the Methodists, and so on through the entire village’s represented churches. But,
everyone went every Sunday because it was the thing to do. Sunday meant going to church and that was the sum of it.
Circuit-Riding Preachers and Teachers
A preacher known as a circuit rider came through most Sundays to conduct a service and preach a sermon. These were itinerant
preachers who would travel from one town to the next, preaching and holding services and baptizing any who needed such a thing, and
completing a circuit of churches assigned to them. Members of the church who had a strong voice acted as song leaders.
Occasionally, a circuit-rider-music teacher would come through town and teach everyone who was interested, how to read music in a
short period of time. They were taught by a method known as shaped notes. The notes were assigned to a conventional music staff, like
you see in most songbooks today, but each note had a different shape. The first note of the scale, known in Latin terms was “do” and it
was a triangle shape. “Re” was a circle, “mi” was a square, and “fa” was a diamond and so on up the scale—a different shape for each
note of the scale. Keys were indicated in the conventional manner with a certain number of sharps or flats at the beginning of each line of
music and “do” was always placed on the line or space of the indicated key signature. In a matter of two or three weeks, a person could
learn this system and be reading music quickly.
Since there was not a lot of entertainment available, singing was an important part of life in those times. Families would gather together
after supper, haul out fiddles, guitars and sit at their pump organs or pianos, singing and playing until it was too dark to see. Then it was
bedtime. The Ragsdales were no exception. They sang almost every night before bed, and everyone in the family could play an
Maude could play a guitar and the organ. She even took lessons on the pump organ. She said her teacher was mean and would whack
her across the knuckles if she made a mistake. But she persisted until she could play well enough to accompany the family in singing
church hymns and popular songs of the day.
Social events consisted of Sunday dinners on the ground, box suppers, and barn dances. Sunday dinners on the ground were for special
events and were held occasionally. Box suppers were for the young unmarried teenagers, primarily, and were often held at the school.
Teenage girls would fix a supper for two and put it in a box; then decorate the box with ribbons and bows and various items of lace or
colored paper. These were placed together on a large table with other boxes, and the young men would bid on them. If a girl had a
sweetheart already or wanted to get one, she would somehow let it be known which was her box so that her fella would bid on her box
only. Once the box was bid and won, the two would share the contents of the box.
Barn dances were popular and often were held around harvest time after the crops had been brought in. Usually, a small orchestra of
four or five men would play for the dances. Instruments played were usually fiddles, guitars and an occasional banjo or mandolin. The
type of dances danced were square dances. A “caller” would call out the dance as the musicians played.
A boy who wished to court a girl was allowed to come to her house and they could visit together alone in the parlor. He could also take
her to a dance or social event if he obtained permission from her parents first. They often went to dances in a two-seater buggy known as
a “hug-me-tight”. Maude dated in such a buggy.
Maude’s first serious boyfriend was John Branum. John and his sisters and brothers were school chums of Maude’s and her sisters and
brothers. They all went to school and church together and knew each other well. John was a member of a farming family, just like all the
other families that Maude knew. Maudie and John often double dated with Maude’s younger sister, Lily and her boyfriend. Maude and
John went to all of the social occasions and church together. Papa Ragsdale approved of John Branum.
|Will Maude marry John? Or is there someone else who will steal her heart?
Find out in Maude's Wedding!
|For the curious: the future state of Oklahoma was divided into two territories -
Indian Territory to the east and Oklahoma Territory to the west - in 1900, when the Ragdales settled in little bitty Hollis.
by Martha Giles