“Where Oklahoma Began”

Early Stillwater Main Street.

Stillwater’s Earliest Citizens

Story by Rachel Seitz, Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar OSU Writing Intern 

On April 22, 1889, cannon fire signaled the official start of the first Oklahoma Land Run, which opened up the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma Territory for settlement. The foundation for the future town of “Stillwater” had been laid. The name became official when the post office was established on May 28, 1889. A group of stockholders formed the Stillwater Town Company, to facilitate the purchase and plotting of townsites in Oklahoma Territory. The Company convened in the present vicinity of Stillwater to establish the townsite. Its primary objective was to lay out the townsite in the vicinity of Stillwater creek. The locating committee was instructed to “pick out a location for a town as near the mouth of Stillwater creek” as they saw fit and to report back to the Company. Present-day Stillwater is located about eleven miles north of that location.

There were no courts or officers to enforce laws in Oklahoma Territory prior to the arrival of the settlers, so after the Land Run, citizens made up the rules as they went along. One of the first of these involved the usage of lots acquired via a drawing held on June 11, 1889. Participants of the draw had 60 days to make improvements to their claimed lot; if they failed to make the required improvements, they would hand over the land to a new owner. Another condition was that every business lot had to have a building worth at least $25.00 to prove the owner’s intent to become a permanent citizen. Unimproved lots were “jumped” by those willing to make the $25.00 investment in the future. Stillwater grew both in population and in geographical size due to this requirement. Citizens began building bridges across the streams surrounding Stillwater for trading purposes, as roads could not yet be attempted.

Harry Brown Bullen—son of noted Stillwater Town Company member James Harvey Bullen —was among the hundreds of settlers who chose Stillwater as a place to build their future. H. B. was one of 100 persons to participate in the June 11, 1889 drawing for lots on the 240 acres that made up the Town of Stillwater, and he had one of the town’s first lumberyards. Green cottonwood lumber was the only building material available locally. While cost and convenience favored this type of material at first, Bullen was able to provide laborers with quality lumber for construction by making regular trips to the nearest railroad station to pick up better building materials. In 1886-87 the Southern Kansas Railway Company and the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company had constructed a railroad entirely across Oklahoma via Wharton (today known as Perry) and Guthrie, coming within twenty-five miles of what was to become Stillwater.  Until the arrival of the Eastern Oklahoma Railway railroad in Stillwater on March 25, 1900, the nearest railroad to Bullen’s business would have been in Wharton/Perry—a three-and-a-half-hour trip. He did this out of an eagerness to survive and a determination to build a better future for his family. As the first lumberman of Stillwater, Bullen built the first “home of quality” with the materials he had shipped by railroad, and soon after, opened the first building supply house in Payne County.

Bullen built the first “home of quality” with the materials he had shipped by railroad. It was also one of the first to have plastered walls. 1907

As with every early settler, staking a claim in the Land Run came with its trials and tribulations. Once the owner proved his intent to become a permanent resident, he had to build a new home and new life from scratch. Bullen was no different. His wife stayed in Kansas while he ventured to the Oklahoma Territory for the Land Run. This made communication difficult because the infrastructure was still developing, but Bullen wrote to her every day. Bullen, a laborer by trade and a hard worker, is famously known for tearing a hole in his only pair of trousers. The damage was out of Bullen’s skill range to repair and there was no local source for a replacement. Due to the lack of roads, when he wrote his wife asking her to send a new pair of trousers, it took weeks for a new pair to arrive. Bullen hunkered down and prayed for warmer weather until the pants finally arrived. This was a significant victory for Bullen and, subsequently, early Stillwater. He was back in business.

With little to no road development and limited supplies, Stillwater seemed as if it would disappear; but Bullen and hundreds of other settlers stayed, determined to start anew. Bullen noted in a letter to his wife that population growth had become stagnant, and he was concerned for the fate of Stillwater due to rowdy settlers that fought amongst themselves instead of improving the land. Things began to look up, however, when Bullen wrote that the first religious services and school classes were taking place. This was a good sign that the population was growing enough to develop the town further. A seasoned lumberman, Bullen helped build the benches and tables for the first school on the corner of 9th and Main.

H.B. Bullen in his lumberyard office.

Harry Brown Bullen’s lumberyard was originally located on the corner of 10th and Main until 1902 when it was relocated to 8th and Husband, just blocks from the original townsite. It lay directly behind what is now BancFirst. A 1907 Sanborn map shows its location. In 1920 the business continued as a lumberyard; however, the business was owned by Kermit W. Ingham.  The lumberyard has since been converted to a parking lot, but the visible age of the surrounding buildings offers a brief glimpse into what Stillwater looked like to early citizens.

About Concatenated Order of HooHoo

Founded in 1892, the Concatenated Order of HooHoo is a fraternal organization of lumbermen and those in trades related to the lumber industry. HooHoo is the oldest industrial fraternal organization in the United States.

The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, a fraternal and service society for men in the lumber industry, was founded in Gurdon, Arkansas in 1892.

While in Gurdon waiting for a delayed train, Bolling Arthur Johnson, a journalist for Chicago’s Timberman trade newspaper; George K. Smith, secretary for the Southern Lumber Manufacturers Association in St. Louis, shared thoughts on a unified lumber fraternity. They approached fellow stranded lumbermen George Washington Schwartz, William Starr Mitchell and William Eddy Barns and later Ludolph O.E.A. Strauss with the concept. From these discussions, a new fraternal order emerged, the suggested name “Ancient Order of Camp Followers” discarded for the moniker “International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.”

In a 1906 monthly journal publication of the group, Harry Brown Bullen, Stillwater, O.T., is listed as a member.

The membership grew to a peak of over 13,000 during the 1950s. The promotion of wood became one of the objectives of Hoo-Hoo. The next decade saw expansion into Australia and later into other areas of the South Pacific.

Today, more than 100,000 individuals are members. Dedicated primarily to the principles of true fraternalism and fellowship, the International Order of Hoo-Hoo continues to make many serious, effective contributions to the industry and to the communities from which its members come.

The organization has grown into an international organization, with members in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and South Africa.

The organization has also been known as the Fraternal Order of Lumbermen.