Historic Guthrie, Oklahoma/Chickamauga Presentatio
Historic Guthrie, Oklahoma/Chickamauga Presentation Gavel to First Major D.B. Dyer
With associated newspaper clipping and printed pamphlet relating to the opening of the Oklahoma Territory in 1889. The symbolic gavel measures 10” long made from a piece of souvenir wood embedded with a lead minie ball from the Chickamauga battlefield. The front of the simple mallet head bears a jeweler inscribed gold plate (not tested) that reads: “PRESENTED TO/Hon D.B. Dyer/ FIRST MAYOR OF/Guthrie, I.T./BY HIS FRIEND C.C.S./June 4, 1889.” The presentation is flanked by CHICKAMAUGA and TENNESSEE on either side. The identity of “C.C.S,” presumably a local Indian Territory inhabitant and former soldier-friend of Dyer, is unknown. Additionally, the lot includes a small archive of nine files containing Dyer manuscript correspondence to/from the Quapaw Indian Agency in the O.T. 1880-1884. Also, three sundry files, the first being a printed inventory booklet with annotations of “Colonel Dyers Collection of Indian Curiosities” exhibited at the 1893 Columbia Exposition, with a later article discussing the same collection then on loan to the Kansas City Public Library. The other files contain a typed letter dated February 1911 acknowledging Dyer’s, the newspaper man, cancellation of his Associated Press Membership. Last is a damaged manuscript letter to Dyer dated March 1911 on the letterhead of “Pawnee’s Bill’s Buffalo Ranch.”
D. B. Dyer’s time as Indian Agent — documented by Mrs. Dyer in the “Frontier Classic Series” Fort Reno — came to a sudden end in July 1885 when the visiting government inspector concluded that “his conflict with the Cheyenne prevented him from effectively carrying out his duties.” Mr. and Mrs. Dyer then moved to Kansas City, Missouri where he engaged in the real estate business for the next few years with a partner from the Indian Agency days. In 1887 the Dyers also organized an exhibition of their “large collection of Indian artifacts and relics” from the Quapaw Agency and this served as a catalyst for their lifelong friendship with “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
Dyer then found himself at the forefront of one of the most noteworthy events of the later 19th century. Leaders of Kansas City requested that D.B. Dyer go to Washington to lobby Congress to obtain support for what would become the two million acre "Land Run" of 1889. With the help of friendly Congressmen, after a lengthy and sometimes factious debate, President Harrison was pressured to open the Oklahoma District to a wave of homesteaders--Boomers--on April 22, 1889. On that one frenzied day thousands of would-be settlers from across the country poured into the District staking claims and erecting tent cities. Overnight, the small way station previously known as Deer Creek on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line mushroomed into a boomtown of 10,000 people soon to be renamed Guthrie, Oklahoma. When the Oklahoma Territory was formally organized on May 2, 1889, Guthrie became the first capital quickly transforming itself into the “Queen of the Prairie” complete with modern brick and stone structures in the Victorian style, a municipal water and electrical works underwritten with bonds, a horse drawn mass transit system, and underground carriage parking in the central business district.
At the forefront of this unprecedented development were “hundreds of men who contributed time and money to bring about this result,” including D. B. Dyer who was elected first Mayor of Guthrie. Recalling those bygone days in 1904, Dyer wrote, “Everything was confusion and bedlam, but on the morning of the 23rd a mass meeting was called where thousands assembled on the highest point of land in the town and proceeded to organize a regular old fashioned town meeting.”
Of immediate concern was the multitude of conflicting and haphazard claims in and around Guthrie coupled with the fact that there was “no law or precedent” for organizing the city, policing the newcomers, or arbitrating their claims. Dyer added that “having been stationed in the territory for many years previous to this time and having represented Kansas City before Congress to secure the opening of this Territory I was probably at that time better known than any other individual on the ground.” An executive committee was formed and from this exercise “of starting a government by the people,” D.B. Dyer was nominated to be Mayor. At first Dyer wrote that he “steadfastly refused…as I did not expect to remain in the territory permanently.”
Dyer soon availed himself, persuaded by his close friends and associates, “to accept the responsibility” as “I could no longer decline…given what seemed an impending crisis.” The committee made its report to the “assembled mass” and “when my name was presented to the people I was unanimously elected.” A city council was then elected and the two United States Marshals on the scene together with deputies and a small military detachment temporarily provided public safety. The burden of the early administrative work dealt with arbitrating overlapping claims and establishing property boundaries. The public right of way took precedence over individual claims and mayor himself was forced to cede at least one potentially valuable property to make way for a city street.
The symbolic gavel offered here was presented to D.B. Dyer on June 4, 1889 — the occasion is not recorded — and it clearly reflects a sense of steady fair-mindedness that he demonstrated to the citizens of Guthrie. Faced with the overwhelming task of constructing a city from the prairie Dyer wrote humbly, “Thousands of arbitrary decisions for the want of any law were forced upon those in authority…” The mayor recalled that his “own personal work was unremitting,” but after just three months on the job during which time Guthrie’s “streets had been laid out,” he suddenly returned to his wife in Kansas City in July 1889 to pursue a more grandiose business scheme back east in Augusta, Georgia.
Dyer’s 1904 pamphlet recounting Early Oklahoma Days — published by his Augusta Chronicle newspaper — is fondly imbued with the lofty principle of Manifest Destiny. Oklahoma, he waxes, was the “promised land and it is the same spirit that has reclaimed the vast solitude to civilization.” The popular American ethos of inevitability — our national self image on late 19th century stage — had already crystallized into a retrospective: “They were genuine pioneers full of push and enterprise, not satisfied with any half-hearted efforts to achieve their ambition and realize their dreams.” In 1910 Dyer reminisced about “the cruel days of the opening of Oklahoma and rejoiced that the city of Guthrie itself was established without bloodshed, through the cooperation of its brand new but stalwart citizens.”
The small archive of letters that accompany the presentation gavel contain nothing of extraordinary significance but offer some interesting insight into the day-to-day workings of the Quapaw Indian Agency. In March 1880 D.B. Dyer wrote his parents (three lengthy letters) suggesting that they come to teach the Indian children at the agency school. Dyer matter-of-factly describes the arrangement as an ideal business opportunity as the teacher tends the agency farm rent free and is compensated “$3.75 per month on each pupil” while the Indian children labor in exchange for food and lodging.
Two more deeply personal letters from March 1881 from Daniel to his wife Ida are extremely revealing given their often rocky relationship documented in the forward of Mrs. Dyer’s Fort Reno account. In these letters Daniel writes passionately, his words driven by a hitherto unknown religious zeal. Opting for the third person he engages Ida by invoking God: “…and today he (meaning Daniel) is striving to repay his Lord with good deeds by working in the vineyard as a Missionary among the Indians — trying faithfully to atone for past offences…” The letter pleads for reconciliation without begging. Written the next year an indenture in long-hand from August 1882 stipulating the division of real estate and property in advance of George and Ida’s ultimate divorce.
Another exchange of letters dating from March 1884 between Dyer and Henry M. Lawson of Texas discusses the details of the Lawson’s transition “as my successor to this Agency!” Lawson explains that he is unable to secure legal signatures for the required bond required by the government and until the matter is resolved he can only offer “that I will be with you at or before the time indicated.”
Still another file contains a typed copy of an 1886 lawsuit brought by one Rachael Silverheels in defense of her property in the Indian Territory illustrating the extent to which Indians were manipulated and ‘legally’ cheated out of land ostensibly deeded by right of treaty. The file containing the inventory booklet of D.B. Dyers collection of Indian artifacts from the 1893 Columbia Exposition includes a description of Captain Jack's coat: “Modoc. Buckskin, beaded, made by Princess Mary, sister of Captain Jack, of Lava Bed fame, and who was hung by the Government. Mary made this coat the same as the one Captain Jack had on when he was hung, and presented it to Col Dyer, at that time agent of the Modocs.”
Collectively, a fine historic artifact together with supporting archive relating to the early territorial history of Oklahoma, of immeasurable importance to the Shangra-la-like city of Guthrie.
Finally, there are 67 empty covers with stamps dating to the 1880's, mostly addressed to Col. Dyer at the Quapaw and Darlington Indian Agencies. The majority of the envelopes have printed return addresses such as "House of Representatives," "Senate Chamber," or "Department of the Interior." Sadly, the whereabout of the letters are unknown, presumed lost.
Descended Directly in the Dyer Family
Gavel is complete and undamaged; all letters/paper complete and intact showing age with usual folds, etc.