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Newkirk Community Historical Society Hosts Program
By Tourism Industry Partner
The Newkirk Community Historical Society received an Oklahoma Humanities Council grant to research and highlight the lives of the builders of early day Newkirk. The grant is titled “From Sod to Stone: Master Builders of Newkirk, Oklahoma.” As a part of this grant there are two wonderful displays in the windows of the Newkirk Heritage Center featuring five of these men and their accomplishments. On Sunday October 2, 2011 at the Heritage Center at 2:00 p.m., the Newkirk Community Historical Society will host a storytelling event featuring these five men. The program, a part of the grant, is free, open to the public and refreshments will be served.
It was a hot, dry day September 16, 1893. The country was in a terrible recession. The government had laid the Outlet in 160 acre plots and townsites for the county seat towns. The prairie had been burned to make it easier to find the corner markers for the land.
Every conveyance imaginable was at the line waiting in the heat for the shot that would send them racing for land. Horses stamped impatiently, and the hot wind blew like a furnace into the faces of those who waited.
People from every walk of life were prepared for a new beginning in this fertile land, and among them were the carpenters, stone masons, architects, and builders who would change this fertile sod into a community filled with magnificent limestone buildings in what would seem like only a heartbeat.
Men by the names of Nehemiah Tubbs, Jesse Feagins, Billy Morgan, Al Todd, Elisha Biggerstaff, John Pierce – they came the same as the others, and they knew the potential of a ripe new land waiting to be settled.
Instantly tents and temporary frame buildings lined the streets so that merchants and shopkeepers could begin trading their wares and selling their services. Laborers and carpenters were busy building, but it was not long before those intent on building permanent monuments in the form of substantial buildings put these master builders to work
Jesse Feagins managed to come into the outlet prior to the opening on September 16, 1893, thus becoming known as a “sooner.” Jesse was only 31 at this time. With his advance entry, he had an opportunity to locate a 160 acres that had a rock quarry located on it. For he well knew the importance of the limestone rock to this area. Although there were four rock quarries north and east of Newkirk, Jesse’s quarry was only a mile north and east of the county seat site of Newkirk. This rock quarry was as good as a gold mine in this prairie land.
Later, Jesse using stone from his quarry built a beautiful limestone house on Main Street.
While Feagins came into the Outlet as a “sooner,” Elisha “Lige” Biggerstaff came in as a stowaway in another man’s covered wagon. At the tender age of 21, he recognized the potential of this new land. Using his mode of transportation, he was able to stake a claim 5 miles east and 3 miles south of Newkirk. He stayed on his claim until 1898 and then moved to town where he took up the trade of carpentry in the booming City of Newkirk. He helped build many of the commercial buildings as well as homes during this time. He had an uncanny eye and when visiting the St. Francis Catholic Church while they were building the altar, he told Father that the altar was not straight. Upon measuring it, they discovered he was absolutely correct.