Grandma Pawhuska

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

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Virgie Elizabeth Steward, also known as Grandma Pawhuska


Hominy resident Carl Blue’s family is full of interesting characters and in this column, I’ll introduce you to several of them. The first is Virgie Elizabeth Stewart, Blue’s grandmother, who lived in the historic blacksmith’s house in Pawhuska where the Chamber of Commerce is now located.

Known to many as Grandma Pawhuska, Stewart, who was four foot eight inches tall, was an avid gardener with a gift for hospitality. She entertained many guests, starting in the 1930s, including outlaws who gathered in a secret room, located off Stewart’s bedroom under the steps, to drink and play cards, Blue said.

Stewart, who was born in about 1898, acquired the blacksmith’s house in the early 1930s, which needed some restoration at the time, Blue said. Stewart completed the needed repairs and lived there for many years.

Blue is proud of his family’s connection to the historic blacksmith’s house, one of the first built in Pawhuska.

“The Indians built it for their blacksmith,” Blue said.

A single mother of three, Stewart worked hard at a canvas tent factory and Dr. Pepper bottling company, Blue said.

To feed her family and bring in extra income, “grandma planted five acres of garden by herself. One year she grew a 110-pound white and black squash in the fork of an old cottonwood tree. She was in the paper for this with pictures of us lowering it out of the tree. We had to use two ropes to get it out of the tree,” he explained. Stewart continued gardening until her death at the age of 104.

“Back then, the grocery stores bought all of her vegetables. She was blessed with a green thumb, but she also used a lot of the natural herbs [she grew] for healing. Peach tree bark in one direction scraped and boiled makes you puke, but scraped in the other direction and boiled cures diarrhea,” Blue said.

“Grandma had so many varieties of plants. We’d pick handfuls of grapes. She grew green seedless, purple Concord and did everything by hand,” Blue said with pride. “We found the old root cellar five steps out the back door to the right … back in the early 1900s, people had to use a root cellar.

“Back in the late 1960s, the house caught on fire and, [Stewart’s son], Uncle Bill about burned to death, but he got out and saved the house. Inside was all natural with natural gas lights and the old electrical cloth-coated wires with insulators on it,” he explained. In those days, the house had a natural gas stove with oven, a refrigerator and a wood-burning stove, he said.
“Up the stairs at the top there was a room filled with books from the 1920s in there. Also upstairs was Uncle Bill’s bedroom. … When he came back from California, he lived [on the property] until his death in 1991.” After the fire, “he lived in an old Air stream camper in the back yard.”

Across the alley was the carriage house where the wagons were and the blacksmith worked on the wagons and carriages.

While his grandmother was still alive in 1992, Blue’s mother sold the home and auctioned everything. The city of Pawhuska bought the home and modernized it, removing the gas light fixtures and closing off the secret room in the process, Blue said with a note of sadness. The kitchen became an office and Uncle Bill’s bedroom upstairs became a conference room.

Since Stewart was not from Pawhuska, I wondered about her life before she arrived here. Blue filled in some of the gaps.

“She was raised by her grandparents, who were an Indian medicine man and woman. She was raised in the Kiamichi Mountains in southeast Oklahoma. She told me years ago that the last year of the sign in on the Cherokee rolls they had a flood … and they couldn’t get there. The last day of the sign in there were hers and a couple of other families that didn’t get to sign in. Her dad’s name was Ed Tice. Her mom died at her birth, but her father walked away,” Blue said.
“We’ve found information about her being in Rock Spring, Wyoming, in the early 1900s … and her three kids. We also found that she was in Canada in the 1930s and 40s census. It shows her at El Reno, Okla., and other parts, but she came to Pawhuska in the early 1900s by horse and buggy, or wagons, with the three kids — Augusta, William and Virginia.” Later, Betty Jo, Carl Blue’s mother, came along.

“Some say grandma was married to a Stewart out of Stewart, Okla., and that’s how she acquired the blacksmith’s house,” Blue said.

Blue’s uncle Bill, William Emanuel Stewart, who lived the second part of his life in Pawhuska at the blacksmith’s house, had worked as a movie actor in Hollywood. “He was Humphrey Bogart’s stand in until he got into drinking and divorced,” Blue explained.

Blue mentioned another interesting ancestor, his great grandfather, George Washington Blue, who served as a U.S. Marshall. He was killed at the corner of Price and Main in Hominy in 1932 by bootleggers, Blue said.

“He had arrested some bootleggers and busted their still. Two to three days later, they ran him over in a Model T Ford,” Blue said.

Carl’s own father, also named George Washington Blue, had been a boxer, who was the 1941 Golden Gloves Champion, Blue said.

Carl Blue, who is an electrician in Hominy has served in the National Guard and in the Army Reserves. He is active in the American Legion post in Hominy. Blue is married to Vivian Blue, and they have a son named Lewis Blue.

His wife’s great grandfather was Bill Doolin, who became a member of the Dalton Gang of outlaws in the 1890s, but that’s a story for another day!

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Carl Blue

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About Roseanne McKee

Journalist who enjoys reporting the community events/news of Pawhuska, Okla. Pawhuska has a rich culture as the home of the Osage Nation. Cattle ranching, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and the oil industry are all located near Pawhuska. The people are warm, generous and unpretentious. I love Pawhuska!
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