Friday, May 16, 2014

The Abernathy Story

Statue of the Abernathy Boys stands on Tillman County Courthouse Square in Frederick.

Story of the Abernathys 
      Those of us who are associated with the Tillman County Historical Society and the Pioneer Townsite Museum often find ourselves telling the remarkable story of the Abernathy family to folks who have never heard it.
     For folks who do not know the story, it follows. Links are to related past posts in "Tillman County Chronicles".
The Remarkable Abernathys
This brief account of the adventures of Jack Abernathy and sons Bud and Temple includes references to “Tillman County Chronicles” entries that tell sections of the story in detail with photographs.
As you read, click on the links for more detailed information.
Crossroads Ranch
The area that is now the western part of Tillman County, Oklahoma, was opened to settlement by land lottery on August 1, 1901.

One of the men who secured land in this newly settled part of Oklahoma Territory was a man named John “Jack” Abernathy. Jack Abernathy had grown up in Texas and had an adventurous upbringing. As a very young boy he had worked as a cowboy and during his growing-up years he even worked for a while as a saloon piano player.

Jack Abernathy and his wife Jessie Pearl had homesteaded their ranch west of Frederick in the Tesca and White Lake community in 1901 (the nearest early post office at the time was Tesca. The nearby school was White Lake). Their first “residence” there was a piano box, followed soon after by a dug-out, and later a house. The couple had six children: Kittie, Golda, Louie (Bud), Johnnie, Temple, and Jessie Pearl.

In the new territory, Jack Abernathy was renowned for being able to capture wolves alive… with his bare hands.

His ability was so remarkable and so unique that President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a great adventurer, heard about Jack Abernathy and wanted to see Abernathy’s feats for himself.

On April 8, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt came to Frederick for a five-day wolf hunt with Jack Abernathy. 
The Wolf Hunt

After the hunt, President Roosevelt and the hunting party departed from Frederick on April 13, 1905.

The President had a wonderful time. On his return to Washington, D.C. he wrote an article for Scribner’s Magazine called “Wolf Hunt in Oklahoma” in which he described day-by-day the adventures of the hunt.

The wolf hunt forged a friendship between the Roosevelt and Jack Abernathy that lasted for the rest of their lives.

Less than one month after the hunt, Roosevelt appointed Abernathy as Deputy U.S. Marshall for Oklahoma Territory. He would be sworn is as full U.S. Marshal on March 8, 1906.

The Abernathy family moved to Guthrie, the territorial capital, although they kept the family ranch west of Frederick and returned there often. Abernathy relatives remained on the ranch.

The family’s happiness in Guthrie would be short lived.

Jack’s wife, Jessie Pearl Abernathy, died in Guthrie in May 1907. Her reported cause of death was Bright’s Disease.

Certainly, Mrs. Abernathy’s death coupled with Jack Abernathy’s adventurous upbringing combined to allow the remarkable adventures of sons Bud and Temple that came just a few years later.

In 1909 when Bud and Temple were just five and nine, Jack Abernathy took a trip to New Mexico Territory. When he arrived home, he told the boys about his trip and they begged to go, too. So… He let them go, alone on horseback, to New Mexico Territory. The boys survived the trip well and made it home safely.

The next year, in 1910, a huge celebration was planned in New York City to welcome then former President Roosevelt home from a year that he had spent abroad in Africa collecting specimens for the National Museum in Washington, D.C.

Jack Abernathy had planned to attend the celebration, travelling there by train.

Bud and Temple, then ages six and 10, begged their dad to let them go, too – on their horses.

In 1910 when the boys were ages six and 10, they rode their horses alone from the family ranch west of Frederick to New York City to greet the former President. Along the way the "little cowboys from Oklahoma" (as the 1910 news media called them) became celebrities of the day and met many important people of the time, including President William Howard Taft, his Cabinet officials, and one of the Wright brothers.

Their father was in New York City to meet them on their arrival, having travelled there by train. Also on hand to greet them were huge crowds of people.

In New York City they were part of a giant celebration and tickertape parade that welcomed former President Theodore Roosevelt back to the United States after his long trip abroad. The boys were treated like celebrities in the big city.

When it came time for the trip back to Oklahoma, though, they convinced their father to abandon their plan to travel home on the train. They shipped their faithful horses home by train. The boys drove home – in a brand new bright red 1910 Brush Runabout.

The Brush Runabout… and the Trip

The boys’ trip back to Oklahoma was remarkable and received extensive coverage in newspapers of the day. What’s more, the famous Abernathy Boys were used in Brush advertising.

The boys went on to have other great adventures in coming years, including a coast-to-coast horseback ride from New York City to San Francisco and a cross-country trip on an Indian motorcycle in 1913.

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