THE LIFE STORY OF OLIVER W. CHISUM Blair I was born in southeastern Oklahoma, near Durant. When I was still a baby we moved to Altus, Oklahoma and that was the first school I went to. I was there for about a year I think. There was a town named Blair about 10 miles north of there. We moved there and we lived on a farm.
We were cotton farmers. We raised some maize to feed the horses and cows. We raised some truck crops, watermelons and cantaloupes, every year. We marketed some of it but you couldn’t get anything for them. The money crop was strictly cotton. There wasn’t any such thing as irrigation. A bale of cotton to the acre was a real good crop and that didn’t happen very often.
We flat-broke the land with a turning plow. Then we listed with a team of mules to bed it up for planting. We came back later and planted it. At one time we had a team of draft horses, but we always had four to six mules. Mules were better than horses for what we did; mules were stronger and faster.
We were heading maize one fall. We put the sideboards up high on one side of the wagon and head maize on the other side. When they threw the heads in the wagon, they hit the high sideboards and fell in the wagon bed. I was the smallest one that day, so I was driving the wagon. I was sitting in the spring seat in the front of the wagon. It was a boring and sometimes I got sleepy. My brothers would swat the mule in the rump with a maize stalk to make sure I was awake. Once I was asleep when they hit the mules. I fell backwards over the seat and the mules ran away. They turned and galloped straight for the house across the listed rows. The ride was so bumpy I could not get up – it nearly beat me to death. The mules ran up to the barn and stopped. Mother came running out to see what was the matter. She did not know I was in the wagon until I stood up. It like to have scared her to death.
We moved into Blair for about a year. That was the only time we ever lived in town. Blair wasn’t much of a town. They didn’t have a sanitary sewer; everybody had an outhouse on the alley. Every so often a guy with a mule would come down the alley in a honey wagon and clean out the toilets.
We lived in Blair until I was just beginning the freshman year of high school. We had a real good school there in Blair, they had real good teachers, and I learned more there in grade school than I did in high school the place we moved to.
We moved from Blair to Cache, Oklahoma, which is the first little town west of Lawton out in the backwoods area. This was in 1934 when we moved there, during a very severe part of the Depression. There were nine children in our family and I was the fourth in line. There was Roy Granville, Irene , R.L, me, Lyla May, Lester, Dorothy (Evans), Wilma (Hurley), and Glen. I was the first one in line to finish high school. My two older brothers and my older sister dropped out of school to help my parents make a living and I stayed in school. I started in Cache high school and it was a very poor school in education and in everything else.
We didn’t even have plumbing in the schoolhouse. We had outhouses in the schoolyard, one for girls and one for boys. The teachers, well, when I started taking an algebra class I had to help the kids work the algebra problems, because the teacher couldn’t even work the problems. I had already had some algebra in the first half of the ninth grade. I was an outstanding student for the first half of the first year, but after that I was just like all my peers. I quit learning. After that I was just like the rest of them the rest of the three years of high school. I didn’t learn anything and nobody required me to learn anything.
East Texas Kinfolk
One day we went to East Texas to visit my grandparents. They lived at Avery, Texas. Grandpa Fanning was a doctor. He was Dad’s stepfather. Just the two of them lived together out in the country. Grandma hit my parents up to let me stay there with them for a week or two. Boy, did I have a good time. He had a Model T Ford and took me with him when he made house calls. There were a lot of black folks there he doctored. Once we drove way over in the backwoods. There were three or four little houses there, and they had about 15 kids. He left me in the car when he went in to doctor the woman. Those kids climbed all over the outside of the car hollering and screaming. That like to have scared me to death. They never did get inside the car.
Another time I remember we were going someplace and it had been raining. We had had a pretty good flood, and we came to a creek. There was an old wooden bridge across this creek. The water was lapping at the bottom of this bridge. Grandpa didn’t know whether we ought to cross it or not. He got out and walked back and forth across this bridge, testing it out and checking it. He finally decided that we could cross it in a car. And that nearly scared me to death. I just knew that bridge was gonna give way and we were gonna go in the creek.
Credit at the grocery store
We used to buy a lot, even our groceries and other things, on credit all summer and then pay up when they got their cotton out. That was what my folks used to do. When we left the place we’d lived a long time near Altus, Oklahoma, and moved to Cache, my dad had built up quite a bit of credit at the grocery store there in the little town. He didn’t have the money to pay it. I mean we were broke. We moved to Cache, about sixty, seventy miles away. The way people were back then, they’d end up paying those debts. My dad would make us do without things saving money to pay that grocery bill that he’d left there, till he got it all sent to them. That’s worth a whole lot to the kids, to have parents that teach you to be honest.
Squirrel Hunter There were a lot of squirrels on the place at Cache, Oklahoma, where we farmed. We had half a section in pasture and there were Post Oak trees on it. Those trees had lots of squirrels. We hunted squirrels and we ate them. There were certain times of the year mother would not cook squirrel, but other times she would.
We had one .22 rifle that we all shared. Shells did not cost much then, but we were real careful not to waste shots. We took turns carrying the gun. I got to keep it until I missed a shot. Then I had to pass it to the next brother in line. I had two older brothers and they were good shots so I did not get that many turns. The two of us who were not carrying the .22 carried slingshots (sic). When a squirrel was treed, the boys with slingshots would shoot rocks at him until the rifleman hiding behind another tree could get a clean shot.
People came out from town sometimes looking for a place to hunt squirrels. One day I was walking along the road and a car drove by and stopped. It was big, nice car with three men in it. They looked like professional or maybe businessmen from town; they were certainly not farmers. They all had new shotguns. They asked me, "Say, do you know any place around there where we can hunt squirrels?" I said, "Yeah, I know some good places. The best place is Post Oak Creek. Big tall trees and lots of squirrels." Then they noticed my dog. They asked, "Does your dog know how to hunt squirrels?"
"Yes sir, he sure does", I bragged, "In fact, he is probably the best squirrel dog in the county." Then they got excited and said, "Would you show us where this Post Oak Creek is? Would you go with us? Would you bring your dog along?" I said "Sure, I don't have anything better to do"
Well, we were not all out of the car before Skipper had a squirrel treed. By the time they had shot and bagged the first one he had another one treed. That happened over and over until they all had their limit. They were tickled; they laughed and laughed and said that was the best squirrel hunt they had ever had. Then they drove me back home and gave me five dollars. Mother could not believe it. That was more money than I could earn in two days working at hired hand wages.