History Lies About Heroic Oklahomans in the Greencorn Rebellion!
Shortly before the United States entered World War I, severe repression took hold in the state of Oklahoma. The Socialist Party had its largest and best-organized district there, but they watched nervously as super-patriotism kindled into a bonfire. An unarmed man was shot in Tulsa for saying, in a restaurant, that he hoped Germany would win. The judge ruled it “justifiable homicide.” The State Legislature made provision for powerful vigilance committees all over the state, then adjourned itself until after the end of the war. Effectively, they left the vigilantes in charge.
The infamous Creel Commission of the federal government took over making sure that entering World War I received favorable publicity and suppressing any other point of view. That accounts for the fact that most people have no idea that the Greencorn Rebellion happened at all, let alone having a positive interpretation of it.
Oklahomans who spoke out in any way against the official position of entering the war and fighting hard were at risk. People were beaten with wet ropes or tarred and feathered for no greater crime than refusing to buy war bonds!
An Oklahoman named Frank Little, a legendary labor leader who is also the victim of bad history, wrote an article against the draft that was enacted in June, 1917. He tried to get his union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to stand against the draft. He lost the vote in the Executive Committee meeting in Chicago, but reactionaries in America used Little’s stand against the IWW for the next several years anyway. Incidentally, Little was murdered in Butte, Montana on the same day that the posse broke up the meeting on Roasting Ear Hill.
Oklahomans don’t use the term “green corn.” We call fresh corn in July and August “roasting ears.”
The small farmers and sharecroppers in Southeastern Oklahoma supported the Socialist candidates. Eugene Debs for President actually carried Pontotoc, Pottawatamie, and Seminole County. Bankers in the towns cut off their vital credit in retaliation. Another reason for high feelings had started much earlier. The big ranchers had brought in a number of Mexican cattle, which caused an epidemic of tick fever. They got the state to pass a law saying that all cattle, including the few head owned by poor people, had to be dipped by being driven through a “dipping vat” of chemicals.
The big ranchers had the dipping vats, and they charged the small cattle owners to use it. The “Ada riots” were the result. Poor people dynamited a few dipping vats during that period. Some historians seem to get the the Ada riots and the Greencorn Rebellion mixed up. They were about 10 years separate, but involved a lot of the same people and the same feelings.
There were Mennonites around the area, and they opposed the war and the draft. They participated in the Greencorn Rebellion. Among the small farmers and sharecroppers, there were African-Americans, Native Americans, and whites. All three joined together in a cooperative effort to oppose “Old Slick” (Woodrow Wilson, who ran in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war”) and the war and the draft.
The Working Class Union (WCU) had signed up a large number of men in the area. It had been created earlier in Arkansas by a preacher named LaFever. “A rich man’s war, a poor man’s fight” was one of their slogans. Speakers went to the schools and held meetings. It cost 75 cents to join, and a lot of men did it.
WCU tried to join the IWW, but the IWW did not consider them workers and refused them. That did not keep later writers from blaming the IWW for the Greencorn Rebellion and/or for “fooling” the Oklahomans.
For secrecy sake, some of the poor people of the area referred to their organization as “the Jones family.”
Things came to a head when the draft went into effect. The men gathered, but they had no clear plan. When the posse arrived, they did not want to shoot people they knew, so they scattered. The posse(s) then relentless gathered more than 400 low-income men from the area and imprisoned them. The Socialist Party of Oklahoma closed down and left the state, never to return. Some of those arrested were still in federal prison in 1921 when Kate Richards O’Hair, the famous Kansas socialist, organized a march of wives and children on Washington. President Harding then pardoned them and they returned to their homes. Some of them lived long lives there and shared their stories with younger people. Some of the people who heard the stories still live in the area around Sasakwa, Oklahoma.
Here are two of them, interviewed April 5, 2001:
LeRoy Watters and Larry Guess of Sasakwa share their
remembrances about the Greencorn Rebellion
LeRoy Watters’ father, Jack, spent 6 months in McCalester State Penitentiary for the crime of having joined the Working Class Union after a speech at Rocky Point School. Larry Guess’ wife’s grandfather, Rufus Barkus, was also a participant. They live close to one another, as they have during Guess’ entire life, near Sasakwa.
It is 21.5 Miles from Ada to Sasakwa. The Seminole Nation begins at the South Canadian, about 12 miles North of Ada. Highway 56 is a half mile or so beyond the river. It's East to Sasakwa. There is still a school there, and a few homes. But the business section is almost completely deserted, except for Norman’s store.
Jack Watters eventually joined the army and participated in several battles in Europe.
There were African American, white, and Native American leaders. They might have been "Captains" or even "Generals."
Price Straight was a Captain, Roy said.
Roy was very sure that WCU was not a secret organization. They gave talks at schools around Seminole County, Friendship, and Rocky Point. The theme of the talks was "keep your kids at home" rather than letting them go to a foreign
At Rocky Point, Jack Watters was one of the single men who signed up, as did almost all of them. The speaker was a good orator and he might have had a German name.
The WCU charged 75 cents, and Jack Watters only had 30 or 35, but the WCU speaker gave him a button anyway. "He put it on his hat." WCU held meetings in a lodge in Sasakwa. Larry pronounces it as I do “Sas Sock Wah,” but Roy calls it "Sa Sock aWay"
"Hell no, it wasn't secret. They gave talks at schools."
Jack and his brother and the ones they had nothing on were sentenced to 6 months only. The ones they had something on drew the longer sentences.
When they arrested Dunny Ebley, he had hypodermic needles. Roy guesses they had something to do with sabotage.
On Roasting Ear Hill today, there's timber that growed up.
There were a house up there by the big rock. There was a road. //I should have asked if the hill had some special use to people in those days// Rocks as big as a house are up there.
Can't remember who owns the property now nor who owned it then. But it might be Freeman now, but Freeman came in here later.
Reverend Potter lived across the road.
Leaders of the posse were Alan Crane, Ed Kendall, and Pete Ernest. Almost anybody could get in on being in the posse once the roundup started. "People started craw fishing as the posse began gathering them up." Ed Kendall told Roy "A whole lot."
Indians were involved. Charley Factor got shot at "The Bend" on the Canadian, right outside Konawa, where the Seminole had a camp.
Roasting Ear Hill is directly behind the pond at the Kilpatrick place, but Kilpatrick is probably not the owner of the hill today. Andy Freeman might own it. They are relatively new. From Garvin County.
Spears Hill is back across Highway 56 from Roasting Ear Hill, but was not the site of the incident, as is suggested in the fiction novel. The novel was correct in saying that the barbecue site overlooked the river, but it was Little River, not the South Canadian. The Spears place is on the east side of Highway 56.
There were lots of foreclosures during the crash of 1920(?) Sasakwa bank went broke. Fleets owned it. Lots of farms were bought cheaply.
"Spears Bluff" is probably false. Roasting Ear Hill is where I'm talking about.
"Only the sick man that was there from Friendship was caught." All of the others at Roasting Ear Hill ran before the posse.
They had killed somebody's cow and gathered corn for the feast.
Jack refused to call Price Straight "Captain," Roy reported mirthfully.
Joe Spears was down there. He was a law after that. He was elected Sasakwa Constable.
There were no bridges in those days. Just crossings. Not even across the S.
Someone named Sherman told Larry about the Greencorn Rebellion. Lester Louis knew about it.
Ed Haley, Jack's father-in-law was in on it, but didn't do no time.
Roy has no idea of people leaving the area after the Greencorn Rebellion.
Old Man Gordon, Alec Harjo were participants.
"Harjo" means "no name." it was the surname given to the Seminole when they were registered by whites if they gave no other name. That's why there are so many Harjos.
There are no Snake Indians in the Greencorn Rebellion, as far as Larry, Roy, or I know. The Creeks and Seminoles are often confused. They use the same language. At the Greencorn Rebellion, the Native Americans were almost certainly Seminoles. Once or twice, I saw a reference to "Snake Indians" in the Greencorn rebellion. They may have been thinking of Creeks associated with the great Creek nationalist, Chitty Harjo (Crazy Snake).
(Seminole) Gov Brown was no Indian at all. English. Heinie is Chief now. Jimmy Factor, Grandson of Charley, is Asst Chief of the Seminoles.
How did Jack Watters feel about it, looking back years later and talking to his son?
"They were hooked in?"
Who hooked them? Who were they mad at? The government? The WCU?
Roy didn't answer.
Jack was 6'1" OR 2." Speaker at Rocky Point was a good speaker and recruited for WCU. He signed up all the single men. Larry said that the turnoff to Roasting Ear Hill from Sasakwa is where the Big Indian Church is on Highway 56.
We arrived there from Larry's house. It is straight on west of Larry's house.
near Lone Dove Cemetery, where many of the Greencorn Rebels are buried. Eventually, Larry's road runs into a "T" intersection. Roasting Ear hill is to the right about 1/4 mile.
Webmaster Gene Lantz and Roasting Ear Hill
“Greencorn” Info Continues
On May 9, 2001, I interviewed LeRoy Watters again at his home outside Sasakwa. He remembered that someone named Wyatt and someone named McKnight had participated in the uprising. They had moved “out west,” long after the Greencorn Rebellion. I asked him if his dad and other veterans of the uprising were buried in the Lone Dove cemetery, which is within sight of Roasting Ear Hill. He said that it was a newer cemetery, and that his dad was buried at the “Indian Mission.”
On closer query, I found out that the Spring Hill Church was usually called “Indian Mission” or “Seminole Mission.” I went to both cemeteries. I found a “Freeman” headstone at Lone Dove. At Spring Hill I found these names of interest: Harjo, Jesse, Heard, and Factor. Factor was definitely a Seminole name that was mentioned several times by both Watters and Larry Guess in Sasakwa.
I also stopped by the area that once was downtown Sasakwa and photographed my mother in front of the old City Hall.
Watch for Greencorn Rebellion Book!
I came across your Green Corn Rebellion page for the first time today. Don't know why I hadn't found it before, but I was really pleased about discovery the interviews with Watters and Guess, especially because I'm working apace on my Green Corn book. (You've got a few minor errors, but easily corrected, such as Wells Le Fevre is the man who established the WCU hq in Van Buren, Ark. and he was a physician, not a preacher. I also think Jake or LeRoy misremembered Dunny Ebley. It's probably Dunny Eberle, since I have a list of the indicted men and most of the legal documents from the National Archives branch in Fort Worth. Another Eberle, Antony (no "h") later gave an interview to the Tulsa Tribune on Oct.1, 1939, along with another rebel C. C. Brewer about the rebellion, and the article includes photos. I'm trying to track down the whereabouts of the originals.
I also now have copies of the illustrations a Scrips-Howard cartoonist made and which appeared in the Oklahoma (City) News, a rival of Gaylord's papers. The News also had the best coverage of the rebellion as their reporters talk to several participants, at least one of whom was never caught. This information appears in none of the later works on the rebellion.
I also learned from news accounts that the uprising was also to occur in western Oklahoma, centered at Shattuck in Ellis County. This appears in accounts of the trial of SP member O. E. Enfield, whose papers are now at the Oklahoma Historical Society. News accounts at the trials in October 1918 pointed out that severe storms prevent the men from gathering. By the time the weather cleared, the men undoubtedly knew what was happening along the S. Canadian and elected to delay any of their actions. Other incidents across the Southern Highlands from Arkansas east to Georgia and Virginia suggest there was widespread resistance at the same time. Perhaps there really was an understanding among several groups (excepting the IWW who were as surprised as anybody else) and the WCU's plans weren't so far fetch after all. Also, check out Gateway Heritage from Missouri. It had an article in the late 1980s or early 90s on Kate O'Hare's Children's Crusade. Bill Benefield's family took part, as did Stanley Clark's. I also learned that Benefield later committed suicide, distraught over his experience in jail. His grandson, a former Methodist preacher, has a website which mentions this. BTW, Benefield's middle name was, eerily, Lenin!
Nice to know where the rebels' graves are. I think it's high time the headstones are decorated to honor their courage. In any, case let me what other information you have available and I'll gladly share what I've come across.
Asst. Prof. of History
Christopher Newport University
Newport News, VA
Essay Gives Factual Account
Sellars, Nigel, “With Folded Arms? Or With Squirrel Guns?” in The Chronicles of Oklahoma. Vol LXXVII, Number 2, Summer, 1999. Of the four that I have read, this seems like the most factual account of the Greencorn Rebellion. Dr. Sellars has distinguished himself in recent years as an outstanding historian of Oklahoma. Here is an outline of the points that are generally agreed on by various accounts:
Interpretations of the events are different. For the most part, every printed version of the history of the Greencorn Rebellion disparages the tenant farmers. Their activities are described as “foolish,” “comical” or, at best, “ill-advised.” I have interviewed people from the period, though nobody with first-hand knowledge of the Greencorn Rebellion. I also read a short account by the editor of the Ada Evening News, which affirms that newspersons were asked by federal government representatives to forego reporting the truth or importance of the Greencorn Rebellion. I believe that the tenant farmers acted bravely and with sincerity.
John Womack Jr. "Oklahoma's Green corn Rebellion, the Importance of Fools" has no date. typed manuscript in OU library F700 .W64. For a long time, this was the only scholarly account of the Greencorn Rebellion, and it scoffs at its subjects, probably to get a better grade at OU. Almost everybody else takes their point of view from this.
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