Centennial Report: Wagoner County Board of Commissioners
1918 - 1927
Wagoner County government seems to have settled into a routine of tending to the business of the County during this decade. Construction and maintenance of roads and bridges continued to be a central concern. Granting permission for oil and gas pipeline construction, and for placing telephone and telegraph lines along county roads occurred on a routine basis.
The roads were primarily dirt roads which turned into mud bogs when it rained and into ruts when it was dry, making travel a long and arduous task. Making the roads passable was a challenge until a Missouri farmer named D. Ward King invented a drag device that improved road maintenance considerably. This device consisted of two wooden rails that lay side by side about three feet apart and were attached by wooden braces. Pulling this drag over a dirt road smoothed out the ruts and created a crown of dirt in the center which caused the water to drain off to the sides. Using this device kept the roads in good repair. Farmers built similar devices and were paid by the County to maintain the roads. It is said that the improvement in travel resulting from the King Road Drag enabled daily postal delivery in rural communities and opened the door for mail order catalogs (see “Clicks and Mortar” by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, December 6, 1999).
Other improvements were on the way, slowly but surely. The Commissioners authorized purchase of a Ford Touring car for the official use of the County Engineer in 1919. In 1922 there is record of “asphatic road oil and chatt” being used on a portion of the State Road system and “asphalt treatment” for a federal aid project in Wagoner County. The road between Coweta, Redbird, Porter, and Tullahassee was completed during this time and the state highway department was ready to take over the Wagoner-Coweta road as soon as it was “graded to certain specifications.”
The effects of the end of World War I and the stresses brought about by the return of the veterans to meager opportunities for work show up in the contract specifications for road construction during the 1920’s. The contracts for roads specified that “in the employment of labor…preference shall be given, other conditions being equal, to honorably discharged soldiers, sailors, marines and tax payers, citizens of Tullahassee, Porter, and Gatesville Townships….” Stress fell on First State Bank of Wagoner as well which failed and closed its doors for business on December 21, 1922. Wagoner County had $61,566.48 in the bank when it failed with only $40,000 in surety bonds. The sureties also failed and the County Attorney was directed to bring suit. The only additional note in the minutes is that one of the sureties offered a $10,000 settlement for the bank default.
Progress on road building was also interrupted. In 1924, it is noted in the minutes that “state funds for repairing roads are inadequate to meet the expenditures of the claims filed each month” so the Board voted to discontinue the work on the roads until all the claims in the County Clerk’s office were paid. Distress continued and in 1925, the Board instructed the County Attorney to prepare an application for the issuance of funding bonds to liquidate the County’s indebtedness. Bonds were used routinely to fund roads in the various townships and the County was now following suit. The bank failure and subsequent default of the sureties may have helped to create the stress the County found itself regarding road funds.
Wagoner County grew and changed during this decade. The town of Okay was declared to be incorporated on September 1, 1919. Part of Adams Creek Township was formed into Bilby Township, but the resolution creating Bilby Township had to be rescinded because the township did not meet the minimum requirements of 36 square miles and 300 population. Part of Cherokee County was annexed into Wagoner County. December 1, 1924, Governor Trapp issued a proclamation adding the land in the northeast corner of the county (Yonkers area) to the present Wagoner County boundaries. The Commissioners named this new land Cherokee Township. It has been said that the reason for this annexation was to increase the number of voters who would support leaving the Courthouse at Wagoner. There were those who were interested in moving the Courthouse to Coweta, a more central location, and the annexation was a political move to ensure the status quo.
Besides roads, Commissioners were still involved in the collection of taxes and employed a “tax ferret” to collect delinquent taxes. His compensation was 15% of the taxes collected but this position was declared unconstitutional in 1928. The Commissioners were involved in school business, taking appeals from citizens regarding the transfer of students between districts that had been denied by the County Superintendent. And they still issued ferry licenses and approved application for “brands,” appointed justices of the peace and constables for the various townships, and selected the newspaper for county publications. The Record Democrat in Wagoner was the paper of choice for most of the decade.
In 1919 the Commissioners contracted with the Extension Division of Oklahoma A & M for a Farm Demonstration Agent. This position was created by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 to provide research and education on subjects relating to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy to those in rural communities who were not attending college. The Agent was to provide knowledge to the farmers which would help solve their problems and to get research results out to the people who could use them. The Home Demonstration Agent was an outgrowth of the Home Demonstration Clubs organized by farm women to disseminate educational information on agriculture and home economics to individuals who did not attend college. They informed women on gardening, the use of the pressure cooker for food preservation, sewing, and household sanitation.
The support of the Commissioners for these programs is not clear as in 1920 they denied a salary increase to the Agent and in 1923, they abolished the positions of the Farm Demonstrator and the Home Economic Demonstrator in spite of a petition from the people not to abolish the positions. These actions could have been taken due to the economic downturn in Wagoner as it was during this time that the County did not have sufficient funds to pay their bills for road construction. However, in July of 1925, during the budget process, the Board voted once again to employ a Farm Agent and a Home Demonstration Agent for the fiscal year ending July 1, 1926, a good move on their part.
A. L. Hausam, one of Wagoner County’s first Commissioners, was re- elected to the board in 1923. At his first meeting, he was instrumental in passing several resolutions that would turn the focus of the Commissioners to their own districts rather than to the County as a whole. The first resolution was that each member be given privilege to look after the interests of his District—in other words, the privilege of making the decisions regarding bridges and roads within his own territory. The second was that each member should investigate the needs of applicants requesting charity in his respective district, something that is still practiced today. The third was that all county property in each respective District be assembled at some convenient place in the District and that each Commissioner complete an inventory of county property under his control. This sounds like the beginning of the District Barns, a move which appears to have been solidified over the next few years as in 1925, the Commissioners purchased three trucks, one for each Commissioners District. Commissioner Hausam’s service to Wagoner County ended with his death which was noted in the January 5, 1925 Commission meeting minutes.
While the number of scandals during this time frame is far fewer than those in the first ten years, there was still one grand jury investigation regarding the previous Board of Commissioners and the Verdigris Drainage District in 1923. There were also requests for special audits throughout the years from various townships and agencies, all probably fairly routine for a still young government. However, it is apparent that the Wagoner County is making progress as it begins its third decade of County government.
Next decade : 1928 - 1937
Growing from "Good" to "Great"!