Al J. Kester’s Childhood & Rodeo Days

By: Roseanne McKee

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Al J. Kester has a framed photo someone took of him riding a bull in jeans, not chaps, in Burwell, Nebraska, before he retired from rodeoing at the age of 21. Photo from Kester’s personal collection.


Al J. Kester, a resident of Bartlesville since the age of six, was born the son of a bootlegger, but he didn’t let that stop him from having a regular childhood.

“I grew up with Butch Donald Stern, known as Butchy. He grew up around the whiskey at my house. When he’d stay over at my house during the summer, we’d get up in the morning, and have to walk around baskets of whiskey to get to the other room. He knew all my dad’s customers just like I did,” Al J. Kester said.

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Although Al J. Kester was a bootlegger’s son, he didn’t let that stop him from having a regular childhood. Al J. Kester, on the right in a cowboy hat, is pictured with his childhood friend, “Butchy” Stern in the ball cap. “He was a football player and I was a cowboy…Around me he never acted like a big shot, but all the kids wanted to be his friend,” Kester said. Photo from Kester’s personal collection.

Describing Stern, Kester said, “[H]e was a little pit bull. He went to College High and played football. Bill Holbrook was the coach; when the coaches heard Butchy Stern was coming to College High to play football, they grinned from ear-to-ear. All the girls loved Butchy Stern. When he played football, they would flock. They would all be there to watch him to play… Around me he never acted like a big shot, but all the kids wanted to be his friend.”

“Butchy was a football player, and I was a cowboy,” Kester said with a smile.

Instead of playing football, Kester joined the Bartlesville Roundup Club and began bareback bronc and bull riding.

“I started rodeoing at 13. Bret Fowler, who was three or four years older than me, was the one who got me started.

Showing the bareback rigging he used when riding broncs, Kester said: “They made this for me when I was 12 years old. It was made by Dickson, which was one of the best rigging makers for all the champions. It was worth $500 in 1983, according to a letter I received from the Rodeo Headquarters in Denver. I don’t know what it’s worth now.”

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Showing the bareback rigging he used when riding broncs, Al J. Kester said: “They made this for me when I was 12 years old. It was made by Dickson, which was one of the best rigging makers for all the champions. It was worth $500 in 1983, according to a letter I received from the Rodeo Headquarters in Denver.” Photo by Roseanne McKee.

Showing photos, Kester said: “This is when I started at the Bartlesville Roundup Club. Here’s Cheyenne, Okla., that’s where I won this buckle. There’s my second horse in my life. I was 13. I won this in Hennesey, Okla. I won $27 and that was a lot of money then.”

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Al J. Kester bareback riding a bronc in Hennessey, Okla., at the age of 13. “I won $27 and that was a lot of money then,” Al J. Kester said. Photo from Kester’s personal collection.

Dewey, Okla., had a professional rodeo arena, but Kester was too young to ride there, he said.

“Butler Brothers got to be the biggest rodeo outfit in the world and it started at Dewey.

“Eddie Curtiss was such a great promoter that he got all the bulls at Dewey, Oklahoma. Then when they went to sign the contracts in Denver, all the rodeo committee men loved Eddie Curtiss. He would party with them from Cheyenne, Denver, Odessa, Texas, Vinita and Claremore, North Platt, Nebraska. He promoted all the rodeos for Butler Brothers.”

Al’s nickname in the rodeo circuit was “Cocklebur.”

“When I was 16, I was winning everything, and Curtiss said, ‘Cocklebur, it’s time for you to get in the R.C.A. (Real Cowboy Association). In Dewey it was called the Turtle Association, then it went into the R.C.A. In the 1950’s I was in that first bunch. I was the youngest professional bull rider in the world – didn’t go to school. I travelled all over the United States with these guys rodeoing in Albuquerque and South Bend, Indiana.”

The best bull riders became celebrities, Kester explained.

“Buck Rutherford was the first cowboy in the world to make $40,000. He lived in Delaware.”

In those days rodeo clowns were big celebrities too.

“Buddy Heaton was one of the top rodeo clowns and he got all the rodeo clowns for Butler Brothers. Buddy Heaton was a tall guy. He was the most feared guy in the rodeo business. You had to be a certain person to be able handle him. Everybody know better than to mess with him because he’d pick you up, put you in a slop can and put a lid on you. He was one of the great bull fighters. But Buck Rutherford and Andy Curtiss, whatever they said, he would do.”

Kester claimed that Heaton even made the cover of National Geographic riding a buffalo.

Kester was urged to continue his career, but decided to stop at the age of 21, when he was at the top of his game, and joined the family business.

No, it wasn’t bootlegging. The family also had a restaurant in Bartlesville.

“We had a restaurant for 25 years: 1954 – 1975 and boy we had the business! We had all the business. The restaurant, called The Log Cabin Drive-In, was located at the corner of Frank Phillips Blvd. and Comanche in Bartlesville.

Even after the restaurant closed, Kester’s family life was food-focused.

“We had big dinners on Sunday at my house for 40 years; we just quit about two or three months ago. We’re gettin’ old. This was for our family and friends. For 40 years we cooked Sunday dinner.”

At the restaurant, Kester developed his own, special barbeque sauce.

“I’ve been makin’ it for 50 years, but I didn’t know how to make it to sell it.

“I have a real good cowboy friend I gave the recipe to. This sauce a child can eat!”

After the restaurant closed, Kester took a job at the Bartlesville Hospital in maintenance, where he stayed for 13 years before retiring.

Kester showed a picture of a friend’s birthday party. Among the group was a man named Gene Wing, he said.

“Gene Wing was one of the great horse trainers of the world, but he was also a safe cracker. He would go to all the big cities and crack the safes. He did do time in the penitentiary,” Kester said.

“You might ask how could you be friends with these guys but not get in any trouble? Well, I didn’t go with ‘em. We were friends, but I didn’t go down the road with ‘em.”

Now 77, Kester credits his longevity to his decision to quit drinking and smoking in his 40’s.

“All of my friends who kept drinking and smoking are gone now,” he said wistfully.

Another of his good health practices is daily prayer and a dose of honey and apple cider vinegar.

Kester boasted, “I have friends who’ve taken this for over 50 years and they never get sick!”

These days Kester lives with his wife and family in his childhood home in Bartlesville on Cheyenne Ave., which he repurchased 20 years ago.

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Al J. Kester in front of his childhood home on Cheyenne Ave. in Bartlesville where he grew up. He repurchased the home 20 years ago.

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The Bootlegger’s Son

AlJKester (2) Al J. Kester at his childhood home on Cheyenne Ave. in Bartlesville.

By: Roseanne McKee

Al J. Kester, a life-time resident of Bartlesville, sat down in his childhood home, to share his memories of growing up with his father — a prominent Bartlesville bootlegger during the Prohibition era.

Kester’s father, Amos Lovelin Kester, was born in 1903 in Kansas and traveled to Oklahoma on a covered wagon with some cattle and initially settled in Dewey, Oklahoma.

Amos Kester became a bootlegger to make ends meet during the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce.

“Before I was born my dad was working for the Sinclair Prairie. In them days people were lined up looking for a job. There were a hundred people there to take your job in case you did not show up or you didn’t want it. It was a hard time. People were hunting squirrels and getting rabbits to eat – raising a few hogs, chickens — so they started making moonshine whisky.

“In Washington County, there was a place out west if you drive west of Bartlesville and go in front of the Mound where the water tower is take the Mound Road and go north and there was a place called Straits Dairy. You turn left at Straits Dairy and go about two miles and there is a place where there is a great big hill.

“There was a place in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s where they had these parties at a place called Chimney Rock. Well the road went on around that big old hill and there was a house back there and my dad and his brothers and a friend of his started making moon shine whiskey and they were selling it – trying to make a living.

“My dad got married and he decided to start selling bonded whiskey and stop selling moon shine whiskey, so he moved right down here on the corner of Santa Fe and First Street.

“My dad was the main bootlegger here. When I moved to this house, Prohibition was still going on and my dad was making moonshine whiskey. He decided to make bottled whiskey, so he started selling whiskey.”

In those days Hensley Street, the cross street with Cheyenne where he grew up, was called First Street, Kester said.

“Well, right there was a building and a house. My dad rented the house and he started selling bonded whiskey and he got a federal stamp from the federal government to sell bonded whiskey.

“As the years went by, there was a house for rent up here on Cheyenne. My dad rented that house, and started selling whiskey out of that house. When I was about one year old, they bought the house they had been renting here at 107 Cheyenne where I’m at right now.

“I bought the house by paying the taxes on it and moved back in several years ago. Glad to be here.

“Anyway, so he bought this house and moved over here when I was six years old and he continued selling bootlegged whiskey. The people liked him so well that his business grew and grew and grew.”

Kester named a busy private business club in downtown Bartlesville.

“I was a little kid. I would get in the car and go with my dad and he would pull up in front of the building at five o’clock in downtown Bartlesville, and people would be coming out and he would carry in little baskets of whiskey.”

Kester named three prominent business leaders of the era, who have since passed on, and said, “they gave him permission to take the whiskey down there because they really liked my dad.”

“My dad also delivered whiskey to the hotel and another club. He had a booming business,” Kester said.

Kester described gatherings of prominent local business men at his father’s kitchen table.

“They would come over and they would set around our table and talk and they trusted my dad and gave him power to sell his whiskey. According to Kester, these men even consulted Amos Kester about who to name as police chief and they listened. His father was the one who let the man know he’d soon be named police chief.

“The number one bootlegger telling the policeman, that he got the job and that he was going to be Chief of Police – that was something else,” Kester recalled.

His father even had a say in who became the Washington County Sheriff in those days, Kester said.

Amos Kester was not the only bootlegger in the region Kester said.

“There was a man who was a bootlegger who bought a farm on the Oklahoma Kansas line up by Coffeyville, Kansas. He would go into Missouri with his trucks and get truckloads of whiskey and take to this barn and unload on the Oklahoma side and then he would deliver the whiskey to all the bootleggers in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Claremore and all over the state and country and they had no bigger whiskey hauler. His name was Big Mack McCormick. He lived in Collinsville, Oklahoma. He always was wearing those big beautiful suits and wore a hat like Al Capone.

“There was another whiskey hauler named Johnny McCall. He looked like a movie star and talked like Frank Sinatra. Finally, he went over to Grand Lake and opened a store and got out of the whiskey hauling business.

“There was another little guy named Ralph Davis and he could have been a doctor, but he wanted to be an outlaw. His dad was a surgeon. Ralph Davis always wore beautiful suits and he would come into Bartlesville and go in with the rich people and get in the card games and find out where the jewelry was and where they kept their money. He was an outlaw deluxe – mafia connected I believe.

Things did not end well for all who took up the bootlegging profession, Kester recalled.

“One time Little Ralph [Davis] called my dad and said, ‘Amos, I got seven cases of Yellowstone.’ (Yellowstone was a type of whiskey). I’m out here on Virginia Road. In them days it was almost a one lane road out there going towards Oak Park, so my dad drove out to buy the seven cases of Yellowstone from him and he said, ‘Amos, the feds is after you and he had another guy with him and he was called J. Eddy. He said, ‘we got to leave the country.’ So time went by. Someone brought the newspaper over to my dad and it showed a photo of Ralph shot plum-full of holes.”

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Amos Kester, who lived to be 80, never did get caught. Al J. Kester, who is 77, decided to walk a completely different path as a cowboy and family man, but that’s a story for another day. Watch for an article about Al J. Kester’s youth and days as a rodeo champion, coming soon!

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Native American Flute Player Serenades at Hominy Gardeners’ Market

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By: Roseanne McKee, Hominy Tourism/Economic Development Consultant

Native American Plains flute player David Inda from Bartlesville, serenaded Hominy Gardeners’ Market customers as they shopped on Saturday morning from 8:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the corner of Price and Main. Inda took time during quiet moments to share how he came to be a flute player and the history of the flute.

His late friend, Michael Joe “Mickey” Morrison” who worked with him at Phillips Petroleum encouraged him to learn the flute and play.

“About 15 years ago I had some life changes that caused me to turn to the flute as an outlet and it just kind of blossomed,” David Inda explained. Inda, would play outside in downtown Bartlesville during his work breaks.

Over time, his friend Mike Elkins gave him several flutes as gifts.

Inda said, “The flute took me places I’d have never thought about. I thought I was healing myself, but I realized it touched so many people. At times I thought of stopping, but my friend said, ‘that’s a gift you don’t walk away from without consequences.’”

One day he played at the Washington Park Mall in Bartlesville; a man from Woolaroc heard him and asked him to play at the Mountain Man Camp there, which he did.

He has also played at Doenges Stadium entrance for the baseball series held there, at Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club functions, at the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show events and at Prairie Song in Dewey.

“The flute speaks volumes without me saying a word. It crosses all the barriers between people. Flute music soothes. It’s not about the money. It’s about blessing people,” he said.

One irony is that according to Inda, he doesn’t read music, so each time he plays the melody is unique and he claims to be partially tone deaf.

“Because I play from the heart, it’s hard for me to promise to play something again,” he said.

Nonetheless, when he plays the flute, magic happens.

“You breathe into the flute whatever Creator gives you – part of the story of your life, the story of the flute-maker’s life and part of the story of the flute itself – the materials it’s made of combines and whatever comes out is mean to bless people. It’s not me. I’m just the vessel that Creator uses,” Inda said.

The Native American Plains flute is unique because it is a two-chamber instrument – a lot like a recorded – made to hand and arm measurements. One of the flutes he also plays is the river cane flute.

“There is a membrane inside and there’s a hole on either side. It acts like a fibble on a flute and causes it to vibrate,” Inda explained.

“Historically, the flute was played by young men to win young women’s hearts,” Inda said. “The young men would stand by the creek where the women gathered water and play. Playing the flute was something to do. They’d sit outside the lodge and play. Women would come outside and talk, begin to get to know the men and plans to marry would result.”

In the early twentieth century, the Native American Plains flute and the ceremonies at which it was played were frowned upon by white society and white boarding schools, Ida said.
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“The culture was lost,” Ida said. “The resurgence of the Native American Plains flute happened right here in Oklahoma. In the 1960’s three men began bringing the flute back: Doc Tate Nevaquava, Tom Mauchahty-Ware and Woodrow Haney.

“Flute player Carlos Nakai is quoted as saying that when he started those three were the only ones playing. Doc Tate would trade flute playing for art. He has a son who still plays,” Inda said.

While not sure of his geneology, Inda has been accepted in Native American circles. He played at the Copan Pow Wow and at the Delaware, or Lenape, Pow Wows.
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His playing has a spiritual component. As he plays, Inda watches a hawk circle or a butterfly move and this influences his music.

“All of that ends up in the music some way,” he said.

“Each flute has a different story to tell and a difference voice. Like each of us, we have our own voice and our own story. If we use our voice and stories right, we bless Creator.”
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Visit the Hominy Tourism Facebook page for future dates when David Inda will be playing at the Hominy Gardeners’ Market on Saturday mornings in June and July. To sell uncut produce or honey at the market, call Roseanne McKee at 918-287-8784 or e-mail her at hominytourism@outlook.com.

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Skiatook Arts Center to hold exhibit and sale benefitting Osage Ballet


June 12 – 30, the Skiatook Arts Center will present an art exhibition and sale featuring the work of many artists, including, Loren Pahsetopah, Carolyn Mock, Ed Smith, W. Begay, Cha’ Tullis, Ed Smith, and Daniel Ramirez with proceeds benefitting the Osage Ballet. The Center is open weekdays 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Plan to attend the exhibit’s opening reception, June 13 from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Skiatook Arts Center located at 705 W. Rogers Blvd. in Skiatook. This art exhibit is being underwritten by Attorney Gene Dennison.

The art exhibit will also feature a bronze sculpture by Duchoiselle, a nineteenth century artist. Bronze sculptures by Duchoiselle, are among those sold by the prestigious Sotheby’s Auction House in New York City.

The Osage Ballet’s annual fundraiser enables the continued sharing of the story of the Osage people through the artistic medium of ballet in the tradition of the late prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, who was Osage, and her sister, ballerina Marjorie Tallchief.

Since 2012, the Osage Ballet, organized as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, has performed Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet, at prestigious venues such as the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian, the International Festival of Families in Philadelphia during the Pope’s visit to the U.S., the Coleman Theater in Miami, Okla., and most recently at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe.

Their next performance will be at the Leach Theatre on Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. The Leach Theatre is located at 400 W. 10th Street, 103 Castleman Hall in Rolla, Mo. For tickets, contact the box office at 573-341-4219 or leach@mst.edu.

The following day, Sept. 9, many Osages and members of the community will gather for the unveiling of a bronze statue by the City of Cuba, Mo.

According to Osage Ballet Director, Randy Tinker Smith, this sculpture is the first monument to the Osage people in the state of Missouri. The sculpture depicts an Osage family traveling westward along the Osage Trail. After numerous removals, the Osage people purchased land in Northeast Oklahoma, where many Osages still reside, known as the Osage Reservation, sharing the same geographical boundaries as Osage County.

To learn more about the Osage Ballet or to make a donation, visit their website: http://www.osageballet.com and watch for posts on the Osage Ballet Facebook page.
Contact Gene P. Dennison, Gary Forbes, Jr. or Anna Burnett at the Skiatook Arts Center 918-396-4600 for more information about this art exhibit and sale.

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Godwin Fey Speaks about the journey that led him to his position as Pawhuska Hospital Administrator


(L-R) Carol Crews, Rotarian of the Day, Eddy Red Eagle, Jr., Rotary Club President, Godwin Fey, Pawhuska Hospital Administrator, Cindy Tillman, Director of Outpatient Services, Cohesive Healthcare

By: Roseanne McKee

Godwin Fey was the guest speaker at the Pawhuska Rotary Club recently where he spoke about the journey that led him his present position as Pawhuska Hospital’s Administrator. He was asked to speak by Carol Crews, who was Rotarian of the Day.

Fey, who hails from the country of Cameroon in the Western part of the African continent, grew up the son of a school principal and the youngest of six children.
He connects with rural Oklahoma in part because of his own rural upbringing.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandmother on the farm and learned to cook and to farm,” Fey explained.

When he was young, he sold oranges grown on the farm, and brought the money home and put some of that toward his tuition.

Fey came to the U.S. on an education visa in 2003 to attend Hillsdale Freeway Baptist College in Moore on a soccer scholarship.

After two years, he transferred to Oklahoma State University, where he earned an associate’s degree. Thereafter, he began working two jobs as a certified nursing assistant to pay for the balance of his undergraduate education at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Fey moved to Shawnee, Okla., which he felt represented America.

While living in Shawnee, Fey earned his Master’s degree in Business Administration, met and married his wife, and the two began exploring what he described as his “American Dream” to open a business selling uniforms.

His wife, who is also a nurse, now runs that business, which continues to grow and prosper.

He became a U.S. citizen recently and is very grateful for what the United States offers.

“If people were to leave for one year, they would appreciate their citizenship,” Fey told Rotarians.

In 2016, Fey accepted a position at Cohesive Healthcare, a management and consulting company based in Edmond, Okla. They placed him in a position at Pawhuska Hospital as the Administrator.

Since taking the position as hospital administrator, he’s had to make some tough, yet fair decisions, he said.

“We’ve been very blessed and we feel like we’re making an impact,” he said. “Last year we invested $150,000 in new hospital beds. We’ve changed the flooring and had central heat and air installed.”

“The hospital staff is like a family. I’ve never been somewhere that people work together so well. One thing I’m very proud of is the quality of employees we have. We pay competitive wages at Pawhuska Hospital — comparable to what is paid in Tulsa and Oklahoma City,” he added.

In all he does, Fey draws from the base of moral and ethical support that he was taught as a child and tries to “not miss the opportunity to learn and to teach.”

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Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club holds 65th Wild Onion Dinner Native American Academic Scholarship Fundraiser

By: Roseanne McKee

Carmen Ketcher, BIWC Wild Onion Dinner Entertainment Chair, who is Sac and Fox and Delaware, shows a plate of wild onions and eggs, ham, hominy, fry bread and a side of cobbler for dessert, served at the dinner. Photo by Roseanne McKee


The Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club (BIWC) held its 65th Wild Onion Dinner on Sat., March 11, at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Dewey, Okla. The inter-tribal group of ladies served wild onions and eggs, ham, hominy, beans, fry bread and cobbler for dessert to more than 150 guests.

Entertainment was provided by the Bartlesville Education Program’s Dance Outreach, which is a part of Operation Eagle, which seeks to preserve the culture of Native American students. The group of seven students danced at noon accompanied by singers and the traditional drum. Students ranging in age from six to 17 danced.

One purpose of the wild onion dinner is to raise funds for scholarships for Native American students. Students wishing to apply for the Roberta Sanders Memorial Scholarships may do so by submitting a letter of application by April 15 to the BIWC Scholarship Committee Chair with two letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors or employers. Those reapplying must submit a form to the scholarship chair before the start of their fall and spring of their academic semesters. A year-end transcript is also required. Call Scholarship Committee Chair, Sharon Armstrong, who is Laguna Pueblo and Cherokee, at 918-335-2460 for the needed forms and mailing address.

Another purpose of the dinner is to preserve tribal traditions and continue to bring awareness of Indian heritage, said Club President Sandra Jamison, who is Osage and Seneca-Cayuga.

Wild onion dinners are a Native American tradition celebrating the arrival of spring and with it – edible plant growth. After the winter season, “the first greens that came up were wild onions,” explained member Carmen Ketcher, who is Sac and Fox and Delaware. “You’ve probably got onions in your back yard. The way that you can tell that you’ve got the right one is that if it smells and tastes like an onion, it is an onion. The other one with broad leaves is bitter … and it could make your stomach hurt.”

Sharon Armstrong, BIWC Wild Onion Dinner Chair and Scholarship Chair, who is Laguna Pueblo and Cherokee, cuts wild onions. Proceeds of the wild onion dinner fund academic scholarships for Native American students. Photo by Roseanne McKee


The onions used in the dinner are finer than a scallion and mild in taste. The onions are sourced and purchased from a local woman, who gathers, cleans and cuts them for the club.

Another delicious component of the dinner is Indian fry bread. Ketcher and Club Vice President Paula Pechonick, who is Delaware, explained the basics of fry-bread making.

“Fry bread needs to be light, full of holes and soft,” Ketcher explained. “These ladies here do a super, super job!”

“We use self-rising flour, two parts flour and one part water or milk, a little dash of sugar. If the water or milk is warm the bread rises a lot faster,” Pechonick said. Once mixed, the dough is placed in large stainless steel bowls, covered with a dish towel and allowed to rise.

Annette Ketchum, BIWC Publicity Chair, who is Delaware, makes fry bread at the Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club’s 65th Wild Onion Dinner. Photo by Roseanne McKee

After the bread rises, it is very gently rolled out.

“You have to get the thickness just right and then we’re cutting them out with a round mold,” Pechonick said.

“When you re-roll the dough, it gets tough. You don’t want a tough bread,” Ketcher said.

Describing the origins of fry bread, Ketcher said, “I don’t think it was an original Native American item. They used acorns or corn to make their bread and I think it’s after the white man introduced white flour that we began making fry bread.”

Ladies with CDIB cards or other tribal certification of membership in a federally recognized tribe, are invited to join the Bartlesville Indian Women’s Club by calling 918-336-8053. Leave name and message and you will be contacted.

The club meets on the second Thursday of the month, Sept. – May, at 11:30 a.m. at the Women’s Club Building located at 601 S. Shawnee Ave, which intersects with Adams Blvd. in Bartlesville. Drop-ins are welcome! Visit their Facebook page for upcoming events and photos.

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The Life of Sally Carroll, a Tribute

By: Roseanne McKee

March 22, 2017

Sally Carroll, who owned and managed Sally’s Sandwich Shop at 614 S. Kihekah Ave. for 65 years, died last week at the age of 100. Over the years, I’ve spent many hours talking to Sally Carroll about her amazing life, these conversations are the basis for this tribute.
“Sometimes when you think about it, it’s like a fairytale,” Sally said. “I was two years old when we came to Pawhuska. I’ve never lived anywhere else.”

Born in 1916, she moved to Pawhuska in 1918. Her mother Luz Elias told her father Felipe Elias that because the Osage had the same skin color as them, they’d be more accepted. Her father, who had a good job doing construction for Williams Brothers out of Tulsa, agreed.

Her parents settled in Pawhuska with their ten children and rented a home on the east side of town. They brought their wood stove with them and slept on mats on the floor Sally said. She went to public school for a year.

When she was seven, the Catholic Priest visited and suggested that Sally and her sister attend the Catholic School. At the time six nuns lived there and taught at the school.

“They were very nice. The nuns taught three grades in one room. We went to church at 7 a.m. and school at 8 a.m.,” Sally said.

The arrangement was that Sally would work in the kitchen preparing meals for the nuns to pay her school tuition. There was no school lunch program, so her cooking was for the nuns, she explained. One of her sisters cleaned rooms for the nuns.

She learned to tell time working in the church kitchen. “There was a clock I looked at, and I knew when to put the pies in the oven,” Sally said.

When she was ten, the priest found her family a home nearby on Woodward Street. “That was the beginning of a better life for me,” Sally said. “I got babysitting jobs and began making money to help the family. At the age of 12, a restaurant on West Main St. called Lazo’s hired Sally. “I delivered sandwiches. Mrs. Lazo took me in and showed me a lot of things…. She was a big influence on my life.”

Mrs. Lazo married and her husband decided they would sell watermelon. Sally was put in charge. She had to keep track of the slices and the money and she liked the responsibility. However, Sally’s mother did not like the arrangement because the watermelon was sold outside at night.

One day when the cook didn’t show up, Sally jumped at the opportunity to fill in for him.

“That’s when I knew what I wanted to do – I wanted to cook! I made the bacon, the eggs, the T-bones. I love doin’ this…. It’s just like breathin’,” she said with a smile.

Sally made $5 per week. Her mother gave her $2 back, which she used to buy clothing with money to spare.

When Sally graduated from the eighth grade, she had to decide whether to go on to high school or begin working to help her family.

“My family didn’t have a lot, so I decided to go to work,” Sally said. She worked full time for Lazo’s, which was known as a chili parlor, making $18 per week.

Mrs. Lazo helped Sally’s father, Felipe, also known as Phillip, get a job with the WPA. As a result, her family was able to “buy a house on Twelfth Street for $500 that people said was haunted, but it wasn’t,” Sally said. “We paid part of it up front and paid the rest out.”

In 1943 George James asked her to come and work for him for $2 more a week at The Post Office Sandwich Shop. She didn’t say yes right away, but was eventually persuaded because at Lazo’s she was doing more and more without additional compensation, while Mr. Lazo sat in the back and Mrs. Lazo didn’t come in at all, she said. Sally was 27 at the time.

“At the time, there were businesses up and down the street. The Post Office Sandwich Shop was a beer joint more than anything,” she said. There were dances a few doors down at Whiting Dance Hall, which brought in live bands regularly. Many of the entertainers were African American. Due to segregation, Sally explained that a special section in the back of the shop was designated specially for the band members, who came to eat after their performances were over for the evening – glad for a place that welcomed them. After desegregation, the back room became a place where regulars who didn’t want to sit at the lunch counter would go for table seating. They had to go behind the counter and through the first small kitchen to get there, so only locals who were familiar would do so. The bigger kitchen was beyond this small dining room and had the larger stove, oven and shelves for food storage.

At 30, Sally married and had her two children, Andrea and David. After ten years of marriage, things were not working and she divorced. Sally lived in a cottage behind her parents’ house on Twelfth Street, and she and her children had meals in the main house with the family, she said.

When I went through my divorce, I’d visit her often after the lunch crowd had left and the café was empty. She’d be making pies for the next day and we’d talk. I always appreciated her wisdom.

Sally said, “After my divorce things started to change for me.”

Her employer, George James, died in 1949, and left the building and business to a nephew who lived in Greece. “He didn’t want it and Mr. A.S. Sands was in charge of the estate.”

Mr. Sands and Sally made an arrangement that would change her life. Sands rented the building to Sally for a year starting in Feb. 1949 with the understanding that she see how much money she could save toward the purchase that year.

In Jan. 1950, Sally had $5,000 in her bank account at Osage Federal Bank, and Sands agreed to sell it to her for that amount. The sales price included the building and contents at 614 Kihekah, the building just north of it and a garage behind it.
(Fish frying in Sally’s kitchen for Friday’s plate special.)

She changed the name to Sally’s Sandwich Shop, but always referred to it as “the café” and continued to sell beer until 1970, when a clothing store owner across the street, Mrs. Lennis Wright, suggested she stop selling alcohol.

“She’s the one who talked me into switching to food. I had been working until 2 a.m. when I sold the last beer, but then I’d stay until they drank it – sometimes 3 a.m. So I began on Saturdays making barbecue ribs and fried chicken and it just took off like wild fire.”

Based on this success, Sally expanded to weekdays, and decided to have a daily plate special with entrees such as: tamales, meatloaf, ribs and fish.

In 2010, when I worked at the Pawhuska Journal-Capital, her specials were just $5.45 tax included and were offered Tuesday – Friday. Breakfast, burgers from the grill and chili were available every day. The chili idea happened one day when a customer wanted tamales before they were done. The customer was insistent, so Sally served them the tamale sauce with crackers, which became her own special chili.

The things the café became known for continued to evolve over time. For example, the pies that Sally is so well known for, she only began making when her daughter was in high school. She regularly sold out of chocolate, banana, coconut meringue, apple, pecan, and cherry cream pies, which were on shelves behind the counter above the cash register.

Speaking of the pie crusts, she said, “I don’t measure anything. I just throw it together. I couldn’t tell them how I do it – I just feel.”

Sally’s was closed Sat., Sun. & Mon. However, the locals knew she was there on Saturdays preparing for the next week and they’d often ask her to fix them breakfast, which she graciously did.

She confided to me that one customer would bring her an egg from his farm that he’d pull from his pocket and give to her cook and serve at no cost; he’d just buy a cup of coffee to go with it! She never complained – just found it amusing.

The café had such a community feeling that local customers would get themselves a second cup of coffee from the ancient coffee urn behind the counter, or go behind the counter and get themselves a bottle of soda from the case where she kept glass bottles of Coke, IBC cream soda, Strawberry, Orange and Grape Crush. The vintage bottle cap remover was attached to the counter nearby.

The pay phone on the café wall, eventually the only one left in Pawhuska, would ring with takeout orders. A pad and paper were nearby so that customers could answer, take the order and hand it to Sally. This inclusive, informal way of doing business, conveyed the warmth and acceptance that Sally always had for her customers.

One piece of advice she gave me that I treasure was this: “I don’t ask if somebody likes what I cooked. If they like it, they’ll tell me. If you ask, they’ll feel that they have to say they like it.”

Over the years, she had a close relationship with the reporters at the Pawhuska Journal-Capital. Illustrations by one of the more talented ones hung behind the counter – pencil-drawn caricatures of the reporters and more noteworthy customers – including the one who’d bring the egg from home.

When I came into her café for the first time and introduced myself as the new reporter at the P-JC in 2010, she greeted me by saying, “Where you been! I’ve been waitin’ for you!” Naturally, we became instant friends. She thought of all the P-JC reporters that way. She sold the P-JC newspaper in the café as a show of her support. Sally’s was always the place to catch up on the latest local goings on, so it’s no coincidence that astute reporters gathered there.

After she divorced, she went on for a time running her café and raising her children on her own. Then one day, she realized that her son didn’t know how to fish or hunt and she started feeling that David needed a father figure.

She began to take more notice of Bill Carroll, who drove a taxi. He was retired from 13 years in the Army, and had a taxi service in Pawhuska. He lived at the Whiting Apartments across the street. Sally never learned to drive, so Bill Carroll began transporting her to and from the café, but he would never charge her.

“He decided to marry me before I even knew he existed,” Sally said.

She accepted his proposal and they moved into a house in Pawhuska where they raised Andrea and David.

Bill became a regular part of the café. “People said he was gruff, couldn’t take a joke, but he was strictly Army. He was good to me and my family … We were talking about celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary when he died,” she said.

She shared a dream she’d had of her late husband. Sally said she was in the café and Bill was on a ladder reaching down to her and he said, “come up here with me”. She tried to reach out to him but couldn’t grab his hand. “I still miss him,” she told me wistfully.

After Bill’s death, Sally shifted her focus to her children and extended family. “I have a daughter and a son. They rule my life. I have time for breakfast on Sundays. I try to cook something they both like.” This routine continued until she closed the café in August 2014 after a fall on her front cement steps at home. She recovered, but her family urged her to retire. “I didn’t even realize I was 98! I decided it was time,” she said.

I had sometimes taken her home at the end of her work day, so I knew where she lived. After she closed the café, she said I could stop by for visits. I would bring her flowers or six-packs of Coke classic, which was her favorite soda, and we would catch up.

Reflecting on her life, she told me, “To me it’s been a good life. We started out poor. My folks were in a new country and a new town. But look, we all got a good education. I credit the Catholic school and church,” she said. Sally was pleased that Andrea and David had been college educated and had found successful careers.

“The only life I know is this. I mean this town, this school, this church, this place …. I don’t dream often, but when I do, I’ dream I’m here.”

One afternoon after she said that, I visited her at the café while she was making pie crusts. I asked her, “Do you think that when you go to heaven, you’ll have the café?”

I don’t recall her answer, but she seemed to like the idea.

“Well, when I get there, I’m gonna come lookin’ for you,” I said.

She smiled and continued rolling out dough for the next day’s pies.



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