|The interviewer is Missy Carrol, representing the Fort Smith Historical Society. Agnes Oglesby was 103 years old when this interview was recorded in 1977. Read Part 2.
Transcribed by Jenny Boulden
MC: Tell me your full name.
AO: Im blind and deaf.
MC: What is your name?
AO: Agnes Oglesby
MC: Where were you born?
MC: Do you remember when?
AO: Yes. Put it down, darling. I wish I had my paper.
MC: When were you born? 1873?
AO: I wonder where it is.
MC: What was your fathers full name?
AO: Well put this down: Senatobia, Mississippi.
MC: Its on the tape recorder. Its on the tape recorder. I dont need to write it. What was your fathers full name?
AO: What was my fathers name? Ira Dancy Oglesby.
MC: And your mothers?
AO: Louisa Isabelle Nulla
MC: And your brothers?
AO: Ira Dancy Oglesby, the second, the third. Hes the third.
MC: Did you have another brother?
AO: No. No brothers, no sisters, just the two.
MC: How old were you when you came to Fort Smith?
AO: I dont know. Id have to figure it out.
MC: Alright. Where did your father work?
AO: Ira D. Oglesby.
MC: Where did your father work?
AO: Where did your father work? Hes a lawyer.
MC: Ok. Tell me about him coming to Fort Smith. Tell me about when he came to Fort Smith.
AO: Why we came here? I wish we never had.
MC: Tell me about it.
AO: My father and Mr. Echols, they were very close friends. And they took a long, long trip out West and they covered the whole of out West. And when they were touring, why I dont remember now why, I dont remember why so they could both visit I really dont know, but Ive got that all written down. If youll come back, Ive got it, Ill know why Mr. & Mrs. Echols, Mr. Echols, why. Well Mr. Echols, he went into the banking business and my father was an attorney, and thats all I know of that.
MC: OK. Did you visit the old jail?
AO: Where did you, did I what?
MC: Did you visit the old jail?
AO: Oh! Yes, the jail was always full. Wrong. They did [unintelligible]. They arrested Indians when they had no right in the world. There was no one to protect the Indians when they rode here. They had Indians there. Yes, I visited the jail nearly everyday. And at that time, they would let you behind the bars.
MC: Oh, they would?
AO: Thats right. I have gone down there, because I used to go so often. Why I went to the jail just like Id go see my next-door neighbors.
MC: Every day?
AO: I wish I could give you a name of some of the notoriouswhat was that boys name? Now, I have that all written down. I used to go down there and I knew where all them and I took them something to eat and sometimes theyd allow you to give it to them. Youre not taking all this down?
MC: Oh, yes, its interesting Ms. Oglesby.
AO: I would go down there just anytime and visit with those men at that jail. You see they had people in there that ought never to have been there.
MC: The Indians?
AO: The Indians, yes, and other people, too.
MC: Did you help one escape? Did an Indian escape and you help him?
AO: I wonder who
I wish I could remember the name of him. [very soft, sounds like: I was visiting the jail and I didnt think anything at all of going down there.] I wish I could remember, if Id known you was coming, some of the prisoners that were down there they would be known today. I wish I could remember. And one of the prisoners escaped the jail and came to our home for protection. Now that, that was bad.
MC: Did you help him?
AO: He came to the back door. I recognized him, and I said, Come in quick and tell me. And he told me that he had come because he wanted to be free. I said, We cant protect you. Well be the first ones that theyll come for. But I said, You go and hide, and Ill tell you where. I said we had a whole section of land and there were numbers of houses on them that were scattered and I said, Now, dont tell me what house youre in, but you go as quick as you can to that house. Stay there. You come back to me whenever you want to and tell me what you want to tell me and I will help you. But dont you tell me where you are. I cannot disobey the law. My father cannot disobey the law. My father sent you to jail and now hell get you out if he could. Well we took them out all the time.
MC: Did you help him?
AO: I remember one time we had three prisoners in the home.
MC: Really? What did you do?
AO: You know in those days back then.
MC: Tell me about them.
AO: Well, as I said, my father put them in jail and my mother took them everything [unintelligible]. Well, you see, the jury [judge?cant tell] had to decide about a case, about the evidence. [Unintelligible]
MC: Yes. Sam Starr?
AO: Her family lived here near Fort Smith [unintelligible].
MC: Did you see her?
MC: What was she like?
AO: But there was a lot of interesting things that went on here, but there was nothing unusual for me to have somebody to come in to our home for protection and of course I couldnt do that. No, you couldnt do that.
MC: How did you help them?
AO: I used to go all, when they tried different prisoners you know, I went to the law, to the courthouse and law just like most. I mean, for a girl, I went regularly and never had any
[unintelligible] the cases.
MC: Why did you do that?
AO: I did have a memorandum here of some of the names, Pearl Starr. She [unintelligible]?
MC: She died. Oh, Pearl?
AO: [unintelligible muttering] And who else was it?
MC: Sam Starr?
AO: I try to remember these things unless, you know, I write them down. And [unintelligible] when youre getting something in, especially something to be published, you want to make sure its right. You dont want my opinion of it, you want the truth about it.
MC: Wed like both.
AO: You dont want to know what I thought about it. I thought that Fort Smith was the most terrible place on earth and I never wanted to live here. Thats the truth. I lived in Mississippi, and I just thought that this was the end of the world.
MC: How old were you?
AO: Of course I never would have told the Fort Smith people; it had no effect on them. But merely because Mr. Echols and my father were very close friends and they made a trip out West to find a place to go to because our little town was so very small and allSenatobia, Mississippi. Mr. Echols wanted to go to Salt Lake and my father was not willing to go to that area because of the religion, you know. He said, no, that would be a great handicap, he wouldnt go. And so they decided on Fort Smith. And I didnt know the reason they decided on Fort Smith, if I could just think of that.
MC: Because of the Arkansas River?
AO: Well, I hate to say it, but I hated it and always have, and do yet.
MC: Was Garrison Avenue just a mud street when you came here?
AO: I cant here you. [Repeats] Oh, yes. Garrison Avenue. There was Garrison Avenue, and there was 4th, a few houses on 4th There were just a few, it was no, er--Sixth St. was just as far as it went.
MC: Where did you live?
AO: We lived at the house belonged to my father and its still there. It washoney, if I just could find the numberthe house [unintelligible] my [fathers building? Father was building?] and it had a big barn, you know, where we had two horses and goose, and a cow and some calves and [unintelligible] had somebody living in it and I cant remember the street. But Mr. Echols was the one who started the banking business and all that kind of thing, you know.
MC: How did you come to Fort Smith? On a train? A wagon train?
AO: Why? How? [mutters unintelligibly for a minute] I just had to think about it. We had passes. My father was an attorney on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. That covered the whole United States at that time.
AO: What the Missouri Pacific was not interested in, they was connected with[?]. I could traveland did, didfrom the Atlantic to Pacific. I went as far to the North Pole as I could go. And just everywhere in the United States; there was no place I didnt go. Because of having,you know, a pass. And another reason, because I was so terribly interested in it. And I had, I dont know, a pass that covered, if they didnt have it, was related to any place in the United States.
MC: On Garrison Avenue, was there just a lot of saloons?
AO: Garrison Avenue, the prettiest place on Garrison Avenue [trails off]. Honey, I just get raving mad when I see that [unintelligible, sounds German]. The best thing in the town, the old Opera House. That, let me tell you, that was something to be seen by anything. Do you theres a frescoe all around of the operas? Frescoes on the walls. That was something beautiful. I didnt know the mans name that did it. And everyone that came to town that did anything to the town stayed at our home. Even down to Fred Patton; Mr. Patton stayed with him. Well, anyway, the old Opera House was perfectly beautiful. It had a bay window in it that was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. And that, all the frescoes around that wall, and the auditorium and all that, just beautiful. And they tore it down.
MC: Thats a pity.
AO: Yeah. The last time I drove down there, theres three houses on one side. You could tell them because of the window and the way they trimmed them. The town has never had a thing for them, but the block before the bridge, that whole block in there, oh, it had the most beautiful houses, the most beautiful houses you ever saw. Not houses, I mean stores, you know, but in those days all the traffic was going by on the river. We had two rivers and that was the reason the folks lived near there, the two rivers. Because Poteau was also near there, Poteau.
MC: Do you remember anything about the old Free Ferry Road?
AO: Oh, Free Ferry. I dont remember anything.
MC: The road from the river? To Van Buren?
AO: The old free road. Thats recently. Thats nothing new.
MC: Tell me about it when you were a girl.
AO: But the houses down there, youll find three of them. Theyre all together. They had the most beautiful windows and the hooping on them. Those houses, the town ought to preserve them. Honey, I used to take an interest in things like that, and if I do say it myself, I stirred up a lot of interest in this town. I didnt mind going into every saloon in this town. I went every week or whenever I wanted to. We lived on Sixth St. Alright, now on the corner of Sixth there were two saloons. One on one side, one on the other. Now then. I had a little dog. And the little old dog always wanted to go in the saloon because they always fed him. I never went uptown, I never went anywhere. There was a hitching post. I had two beautiful horses that I drove. And this dog, alright. And when we were stopped, I always stopped there at the corner and took off. And the dog, jumped out quick and went into the saloon. The saloon had a window about that wide, you know, and you could open it like that. Well, that dog jumped out and into the saloon. At the end of the counter, they had a roast beef always. And theyd slice this beef and give it to people who came in. Well, I stopped in there nearly every time I went uptown for various things and I knew the man, Ive got his name down somewhere. Well, I went in there one time and there wasnt anyone in. And I looked around and they fished up something for me to drinknot anything with any whiskey in it, just you know. And in a little while, someone from the Merchants National Bank came in the side door, and the next one came in, and the next one. And I caught onto it. I knew what they were doing.
AO: They were catching me in a saloon. And I caught onto it. I suspicioned it because of three of them. You see there wasnt anybody in the saloon, oh, two or three, but I dont know who they were, two or three. But these people I knew. And they were from the business around there. And they came in the side and the third one, I got it. I got it. I told the bartender, Right quick, fix a big bottle of whiskey and put my name on it. He said, Miss Agnes? I said, Fix it quick! And put my name on it! He got a big bottle there and put my name on it and he starte to ask and I said Put it over there. Well, he didnt catch on, you know. He was just puzzled, was puzzled to death. Youre leaving the bottle of whiskey here? I said, Hush, hush. Youll find out. Alright. This one came in, another one came in. Oh, Miss Agnes! Miss Agnes is here! Miss Agnes is here! Finally I said yes, and he handed out this bottle and they like to have died because they thought [trails off, chuckles]. They just laughed over that thing. I stopped in that saloon nearly every time I rode to town. I used to know his name as well in the family. I used to go to see him. But I had more fun in that saloon than anything on earth. They had the saloon, I even have a list of the saloons that had [trails off]. The town had a, I dont know what it was, but it was some kind of a collection, I dont know what it was. I cant rememberreliefwhat did they call that?
MC: Salvation Army?
AO: I cant remember what they called it. But anyway, I was a member of it. And theyd say, Miss Agnes, what territory you take? And Id tell them, All the saloons. I had been in every saloon in Fort Smith just like I knew my home.
MC: After your dog?
AO: And down on the avenue, way down on the avenue, those saloons were torn away. But there were three or four buildings down there, where they were all saloons down there. I did have a list, and I think I have it, of the number of saloons and the names of people on [own?] them. And they had on the floor, and I wish I knew, was a medallion, about this big, and it was put in there of colored material. I wonder if there are any of those buildings left.
MC: Probably some.
AO: I dont think, there may be two or three that are there on Garrison Avenue about a block from the river.
MC: Which one was that medallion in?
MC: What hundred block on Garrison was that building on? With the medallion on the floor?
AO: Im so deaf, please try to talk to me. I cant hear you.
AO: Oh, what block? I think it was Sixth, I think that was right. And the bank, I remember when they opened the bank, too. Mr. Echols opened the bank. But I didnt anymore mind going into the saloon. I tell you, my little dog, would shiver just under the door and make a bound for the counter where the man would slice off, they had at the end of the table all this roast, and he would slice off the roast. Then I would come in, you know, after the dog. But I went into the saloon nearly everytime I went uptown or went back for something and I had a number of times I got money from them. [Unintelligible sentence.] Honey, I went into nearly every saloon in this town with my dog, anywhere here. And at that time, I betcha I got the name to them saloon peoples.
MC: Id like to have that sometime.
AO: But you know itts funny to get to be at home in a saloon as you did anywhere here. We didnt have any Boston store.
MC: What did the people think of the Boston store when it was built? Did they have many stores?
AO: The Boston store? Oh, I think thats just bad.
MC: Did they have many shops for women here in Fort Smith?
AO: Oh, yes, they had, oh what was the name of it? What was the name? The Boston store I guess was one of the oldest ones here. At one time, I did, I wrote down the things that I remembered, but I didnt have it and I wish I knew where it was. Because I used to go down
my father was an attorney and he represented, not just local things, he represented well practically all over the United States.
MC: Did he work with Judge Parker?
AO: Oh, I knew Judge Parker. Now Judge Parker and MacDonaldwasnt that what his name was? Now Judge Parker lived a short time. Now Judge Parker was impervious to the law himself, you know. Judge Parker, Judge Parker.
MC: Did you know any of his family?
AO: Oh yes! [Unintelligible]
MC: Did you know any of his children?
AO: Melanie? (Me-LAY-knee) No, Melanie was young
There was a Parker and a Wheeler married.
MC: Nettie. Nettie Wheeler.
AO: Yes, Judge Parker and Wheeler. I dont know how old I was when Judge Parker
I wrote these things down, I mean the fact things, because I wrote some of the things that werent generally known
MC: Did you ever see Belle Starr?
AO: Yes, uh-huh. But I dont remember where it was. I dont remember the circumstances that I did. She lived her for a while you know.
Do you remember the old bawdy house down by the river? That her daughter had?
MC: There was down by the river, that was where the houses were, you know. And there was the last time I was down there off of the avenue, off of second, there were some houses down there, but most of them have been destroyed. And down there on Sixth St., some of those houses with curly windows, you know? But thats the way they all were. Oh, that Opera House was something beautiful. They had a great big huge rotunda, a huge tower, you know. And the walls were coveredhandpainted you knowthat whole thing with scenes from Shakespeare. Destroyed it. Shoe shop, I think now. That part of Garrison Avenue was beautiful. There are about three of them left, you know, with those round windows. Honey, from Garrison Avenue, that first block on Garrison Avenue was the loveliest building you ever saw. From that on up, was houses built just like that, the prettiest thing you ever saw. I was just so proud of Fort Smith and I said, my father being interested in the things you know, that it was all right for me to go. I didnt any more hesitate to go into a saloon than I did anywhere else. And I knew all the saloon peoples names and their families. Why we didnt think anything more about selling a bottle of whiskey to me than selling a bottle of cocaine. And the Indians they come to my home and stay. I never was the slightest bit afraid of the Indians at all. And I have, as I said, one time I knew that this man was trying to escape and I told him you know where to go so I could tell the authorities, and I did, I didnt deceive them. I told them, Yes, hes been here, but hes gone.
MC: What had he done?
AO: Then I said, There are houses, my father had at one time houses along in there, and out in the river theres an island and my father had houses out there. And I didnt any more mind going to the jail and seeing them. I didnt think anything about it. They got so maybe theyre staying for some of the food, though. [not sure about that sentence].
MC: Oh really?
AO: Thats right. But I didnt anymore mind going to the jail than I did anywhere else. Let me tell you. Most of those boys that were put in that jail were under the influence of some leading white person. Thats right. The Indians that they were persecuting and doing things and driving out of their homes were people who were being persecuted. Thats right. The white people came in. They stole their land from them and didnt pay them. Didnt pay them. They drove the Indians out. And oh my, there I was all for the Indians. I used to go to all their lawsuits, you know with my father. And I was right there at every case. I dont think they ever had a case that I wasnt there.
MC: How long did your father practice law?
AO: How old was I? I dont remember when we came. I have the date down, I dont remember.
MC: Where was your fathers law office?
AO: On the corner of Sixth and Garrison, upstairs, whats there now?
MC: Theres a jewlery store, theres a hotel, a bank, a savings and loan
AO: Thats right. Where the hotel was, upstairs, upstairs. I cant remember. I dont think it was on the corner, I think it was next door. Whats there now?
MC: I cant remember. Its an Abstract Company?
AO: Im sorry I cant hear a word.
MC: Thats alright. Was Merchants the only bank here? Was Merchants the first bank here when your father came?
AO: They werent here.
MC: I mean, when Mr. Echols came. Was Merchants the first bank?
AO: It was started by Mr. Echols.
MC: Was the other bank already here? First National?
AO: I remember something coming in
what was the name of it? Some kind of a loaning company
I dont remember. Mr. Echols and my father were close old friends in Mississippi and they took this trip West, oh my goodness. Boy, I reckon they covered everything trying to find a place to live. And my father wanted to go to Salt Lake City, and they decided because of religious reasons they wouldnt go there. And then they came back here because they thought that the Indian Territory would be good, you know, and then the other thing was they depended on the river. We had to live where we depended on living along the Mississippi River, the Arkansas River. And they had the Arkansas River and the Poteau. And in those days, there was a lot of traffic on the Poteau. And they thought because of the opening of the river, that it would be a good place to live. There was hardly anything here. There were two houses down on where what was their name
I had some notes I thought would be of interest, but I dont know where
MC: Well get that another day.
AO: You know, the ground out there where the old fort was? Thats a pretty place. They should never destroy that. Recently they destroyed a gateway that was there. It was a beautiful, beautiful piece of architecture. They tore that down, they had left this gateway there, it was brick and they left it there for years and years. Last time I drove down there I wanted to go across the river and I was suddenly horrified to find that building gone. And theres nothing down there now. Just two or three of the old buildings, thats all thats left down there now. Well Fort Smith had a good opportunity with the Indians right by them. The Indians have no place thats right in America.
MC: Did you ever go out to the Electric Park when you were a girl for fun and recreation? What was it like?
Oh, the park. I havent been down there in a long time. Is that open yet?
Theyve changed it over to Kay Rodgers now.
AO: They had some lovely trees there, a lovely place.
MC: Did you go to dances at the electric park?
AO: Terrible not to be able to talk to anybody. Oh dances, no. We did have a little dancing club and we danced upstairs on the second floor of a building on Sixth Street and Garrison Avenue, now what was that? I think that was where it was. There was a club, a mans club, now what was the name of that?
AO: Oh, Ill think of it sometime. Well there was a mans club and we had a dance up there every Saturday night. It was near my house, you see, I lived on Sixth Street, and it was on the corner upstairs. A mens club.
MC: Masons? Masonic Lodge?
AO: I dont know. Anyway, it was a mans club. We had a dance every, I dont remember if it was Friday or Saturday night. All week.
MC: Who were some of your friends that went?
AO: I never will forget.