In The Great Lottery draw of 1901 Rolandus Watkins won one of the options to select and purchase farmland in the newly opened reservation. His choice lies southeast of Lawton in Comanche County, Oklahoma. The days of my Oklahoma childhood were a few short decades from that hot summer of 1901 when before the drawing he examined and recorded in his pocket notebook descriptions of each Comanche County lottery offering. The notebook is still intact though permanently sculpted by the sweat of the hot July and August sun of 1901
Within the year the R. A. Watkins family took possession of the property. The home and Bushnell and Watkins law practice were also maintained in Lancaster. Younger son Ralph B. Watkins remained in Lancaster until he completed high school. This new land was to become the boyhood home of our father and his brother Ralph who was born there.
I am not certain of all the timing and arrangements as much of the information of the early years in Oklahoma was acquired at the time of the 2000 visit in conversation with Ralph Clark Watkins and Ellen Victoria Sheppard Jones. I took no notes. This was not a research trip. It was about connecting roots in family.
The primary record I have of the family’s early days living on and farming “The Claim” is in two wonderful descriptive essays by Margaret Watkins Sheppard. It is obvious that she held the Hirst genes for writing talent and the Watkins talent for wry humor. I am so grateful for her daughter Ellen Victoria Sheppard Jones who permitted me to photocopy and include these essays. They may be read in their entirety here. It is also clear that Margaret at least experienced the move as a great adventure. My personal memory of her later in life is of that same wry humor and optimism.
While living on the farm with his parents, oldest son, Charles Stephen, met Minnie Olive Kendall. She was living with her parents on a nearby farm and teaching at the local schoolhouse.
Minnie Kendall was born in the tobacco country of Kentucky, her ancestors having come into Gallatin, County through the Cumberland Gap. The family of five girls and two boys lived first in Napoleon, Kentucky, in late childhood moving to Vevay, Indiana along the Ohio River. Vevay, Indiana was the home spoken most of by Minnie and Harriet. The four older girls including Minnie attended Indiana Normal College in Terra Haute. Harriet the youngest attended and received her nursing degree from Norton’s Infirmary in Louisville, Kentucky. While in college, the three oldest sisters died within a short span of time.
Minnie went on to finish as valedictorian of her class then moved with her family to Oklahoma as they sought a more healthy climate.
More details about the Kendall family can be found in the superb genealogy compiled over the last several years of his life by Minnie’s youngest son, James R. Watkins. The Kendall genealogy project was begun by Minnie Watkins’ brother James Logan Kendall. The extent of his meticulous research is impressive considering the available tools of the time. In the manuscript preserved in the Louisville Historical society he presents a compelling evidence that our first Kendall ancestor was a member of the Claiborne settlement of Kent Island, Maryland. His full work and the additions documented by James Watkins is in print as Historical and Genealogical Sketches of some Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana Families.
Front: Minnie Olive, Everett, Harriet Mae Kendall Seated James Stern Kendall, Lillie Porter McClure, Harriet Burns Kendall, Standing: Leora, Florence, Susie, James Logan Kendall
I hope to get the larger segments of this manuscript into digital form in the near future. James Watkins’ daughter Anne Watkins Jenkins and son James Patterson Watkins have carefully preserved their father’s work and also share the larger segment of surviving Watkins and Kendall photographs, many of which appear on this site.
Charles S. and Minnie Kendall Watkins were married August 9, 1907. They lived the early part on their marriage on the Kendall farm and it is where our father Charles Kendall Watkins was born 17 July 1908. They moved onto the Watkins claim before the second son, Ralph Clark Watkins was born 30 October 1909.
.With the exception of the youngest, John, the children of R. A. and Ellen Watkins married and remained in Oklahoma throughout their lives. Ralph Bushnell Watkins married Jennie Howell and they lived in Oklahoma City and Chickasha. There were two sons, Richard and Stephen. Both became electrical engineers and Stephen worked in Los Alamos, New Mexico as a member of the team that developed the nuclear bombs. I know he had one son also named Stephen who I believe still lives in New Mexico. I am uncertain of details of Richard’s career. I have not been able to make contact with their descendants.
Margaret Watkins’ married Thomas J. Sheppard in 1906. The Sheppards lived and farmed in Cotton County. Living near each other, the Sheppard and Charley Watkins families were close, the children sharing many growing up and young adult adventures.
Of the Watkins relatives, I recall Uncle Jim and Aunt Margaret Watkins Sheppard and their daughters with greater clarity than the others. They farmed and lived out their lives on their original property in Cotton County. I recall Aunt Margaret as very much like Granddad but with a stronger Wisconsin accent. Their children were George, Louise, Tom, Roger and Ellen Victoria (Vicky).
These cousins were childhood playmates, growing up to become dating buddies and lifelong friends. “Our father had gone to work as a driller in the oil fields . The derrick was George’s idea with Tom and Roger, and anyone else who came by, as labor recruits. I don’t know what happened to it but it was there on the farm a long time.”… Ellen Victoria Sheppard Jones, September 2000.
Ellen (Nell) married Harold Maxwell a chiropractor. There were two sons, Amos and Paul, and a daughter, Margaret. The family lived in Okemah. Amos became a Professor of History at Northeast Oklahoma University. Paul worked for the U. S. Postal Service. I do not have information on Margaret.
John Clark Watkins married twice, Olline Stansell and Aurelia Garnett. He lived in Texas most his life. He had no children. As children we visited in all their homes, except for John and second wife, Aurelia, whom we knew briefly on one or two of their visits to Oklahoma.
Rolandus Watkins retired and the remaining family, including Dora, made the final move back to Oklahoma. Rolla’s sister Dora accompanied them. Ellen’s letter referencing the move to her “men folks” is the only writing by Ellen we have. It gives a brief glimpse into her personality which includes the family’s dry wit.
The Watkins family had been well established in Grant County, Wisconsin for many years. Rolandus’ parents, Stephen and Florinda Watkins were among the original settlers of Wisconsin before statehood. That final leave taking must have been painful for all involved. The account of the church reception in their honor as recorded in the Lancaster Herald may be read here.
During the Watkins family early years in Oklahoma, Ellen’s uncle, John G. Clark was serving as Justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory. His son William and daughter Alice were living in Oklahoma City.
Will, as he was known was a landscape designer and an important contributor to the laying out of the new capital and its public park system. The most notable is the parkway with producing oil well derricks in the median that leads south to north to the Oklahoma State Capitol Building. He secured permanent funding for the public park system from oil production. The tribute to Will Clark that appeared in the newspapers may be read here.
Will Clark’s daughter Alice provided much of the Clark family lore and documented genealogical information in correspondence with Charles Watkins in later years. She also proved out the Clark line DAR eligibility. There is more by and about them in John G. Clark biography in Prairie Tree Letters, p. 267-283.
The year 1918 was filled with disturbing events. Dora Watkins died after a long painful battle with cancer. Youngest son, John Clark Watkins, went to war in the Army and Minnie Kendall Watkins’ sister, Harriet Mae Kendall, just graduated, went to war in France as a member of the Army Nurse Corps. Rolla Watkins and his sisters were also to lose their beloved step-mother Sarah Bushnell Watkins Davies in the flu epidemic.
At some point the Claim was sold and Rolandus and Ellen lived out the remainder of their lives with their children in Oklahoma. Ellen died in 1926 on the Sheppard farm near Walters in Cotton County. Our Great Grandmother Ellen’s death in 1926 followed a long illness tended by daughter Margaret and teen-aged Ellen Victoria Sheppard. Rolandus Aurelian Watkins died in 1929 in his son Ralph’s home in Chickasha, Oklahoma. In 2000 we visited his and Ellen’s graves in Highland Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma.
The 1925 photograph of the Rolandus and Ellen Watkins with all of their born grandchildren was I imagine one of her last.
The corrugated box of Watkins, Clark and Hirst family letters and Rolandus Watkins’ research notes were left to our grandfather Charley. This box was passed to our father Kendall and then to brother David who with my great gratitude has permitted me to carry forward and put into narrative and data base forms some what we now know of family.
I have also a number of letters that passed between our mother and her mother, but they remain largely unattended. The ones I have read are precious confidences and advise between them through Mother’s dating years. And then there are those of the Dust Bowl. If I am unable to do more work with them they and all the photos will be preserved for the next of us who becomes curious about the roots.