Beckham’s Counties, pt. 7: Beckham’s Legacy

A seven part essay about three efforts to name a county after Kentucky’s 35th Governor.

Beckham County, Oklahoma map. Map created by David Benbennick via Wikimedia Commons.

Land west of the Mississippi River was officially designated Indian Territory in 1825. After 1830, the Indian Removal Act was used to force most members of the so-called Five Civilized Nations (Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole) from the southeast.

The established range of the territory shrank over time as its land grew more and more attractive to white settlers. States formed up from and around it. In 1854, the northern half split off to become parts of Kansas and Nebraska.

Indian Territory was even more dramatically changed in 1889, when the Land Run opened up the Oklahoma District for white settlement. Migrants from all over the country flocked to claim their 160 acres of public land as homesteaders.

Moves for statehood sprung up immediately thereafter. The Organic Act of 1890 made a proper Territory out of Oklahoma District. As Linda Wilson writes, before then the “American Indians generally opposed federal attempts to organize them as a territory or a state.” 

However, by 1890, they were outnumbered in their own territory, as well as politically disadvantaged. The Oklahoma Enabling Act of 1906 paved the way for combined statehood for both Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. They would become simply Oklahoma.

Any new state requires new counties. But the Oklahoma constitutional convention called for dozens and dozens of new counties. It was under these circumstances that it became relatively easy to name a county after pretty much anyone.

Among the delegates to the constitutional convention was a Kentuckian named David Hogg. He happened to be a fan of Governor Beckham. Apparently, Hogg was holding out against the creation of what became Beckham County until he was given the honor to name it.

This may be folklore. A later newspaper report gives the credit to naming Beckham County, Oklahoma, to another delegate named J.B. Harrison.

Regardless, Beckham County was created along with the rest of the state of Oklahoma on November 16, 1907. It sat and still sits on the Oklahoma-Texas border. At its creation, it had a population of 10,000. 

Despite protests from Elk City, and at least partially through the efforts of merchant George C. Whitehurst, the town of Sayre was chosen as the county seat.

Whoever he was, the delegate who had gotten Beckham County its name wasn’t alone in his origins. There were enough Kentuckians in Sayre for a Kentucky Club to be organized there in 1910. Anyone who hailed from the commonwealth was invited to belong.

In 1916, J.C.W. Beckham, then United States Senator, had his portrait sent to the Oklahoma county named after him. The portrait was placed in the county courthouse in Sayre. The senator was invited to visit his namesake but it’s unclear (to me) if he ever did.

Today, Beckham County, Oklahoma has a population estimated to be over 21,709 persons. It has doubled in population since 1907. Despite being in what was once Indian Territory, its demographic breakdown is predominately white and only 3.4% Native American.

Ironically – and there is no evidence that this is more than a coincidence – one of the smaller communities in Beckham County, Oklahoma just so happens to be named Carter.

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As for the county’s namesake, John Crepps Wickliffe Beckham served as governor of Kentucky until 1907. He had first succeeded the murdered William Goebel, then won a special election in the aftermath of that assassination, and finally won re-election by regular means. 

He would lose a United States senate primary nomination only to later win the senate seat in 1914 against August E. Willson, the Republican who had succeeded him as governor. He failed to win re-election in 1920 and ran for governor again in 1927 only to lose there, as well.

Tidying up old business, in 1912 Governor James B. McCreary signed resolutions from both the House and the Senate allowing the Globe Printing Company to sue Kentucky for reimbursement for printing done on behalf of Beckham County.

Memories must have been short. In 1904, when the company must have taken on the Beckham job, the state attorney general had sued Globe Printing Company, alleging that they had artificially inflated costs in their capacities as state printers. 

That lawsuit ultimately went in favor of Globe Printing Company but it is unclear how the 1912 one turned out.

There would only be one more Kentucky county created after the dissolution of Beckham County in 1904. McCreary County was established in 1912 from Wayne, Whitley and Pulaski Counties. It was born under very familiar circumstances.

The same area was where ill-fated Thorne County had been proposed in 1904. Proponents argued the people there were too far from their current courthouses. And, continuing the tradition, it was named for then-sitting governor James B. McCreary.

McCreary County was Kentucky’s 120th County and its last. However, there would be later attempts made. In 1916, the state senate tabled a bill to create a county out of part of Pike County that was to have been named after then governor Stanley.

In both the 1924 and 1926 legislative sessions there were bills introduced to establish a Fields County. It was to have been named for then governor William Jason Fields. Fields happened to be from the part of Carter County that briefly had been Beckham County.

Fields County was to have been cobbled together from sections of Whitley, Knox, Laurel, Pulaski and even McCreary Counties. However, neither bill for its establishment ever made it out of committee.

Even as late as 1929 there was yet another move by Olive Hill in the old power struggle in Carter County politics. That year there was a special measure on the ballot proposing moving the county seat to Olive Hill from Grayson. It failed to pass.

In 1968, the Kentucky Historical Society and the Kentucky Department of Highways placed a historical marker in Olive Hill about the short-lived Beckham County. It stands there to this day.

Beckham County Historical Marker, Olive Hill, Kentucky.

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Sources

Indian Territory established in 1825. Dianna Everett, “Indian Territory,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=IN018.

Kansas and Nebraska split off. Dianna Everett, “Indian Territory,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=IN018.

Land Run. Stan Hoig, “Land Run of 1889,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=LA014.

Movement for statehood. Linda D. Wilson, “Statehood Movement,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=ST025.

Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Niblack, Leslie G., ed. “Boundary Lines Fixed; Report Is Adopted.” The Guthrie Daily Leader (Guthrie, Oklahoma), December 21, 1906. Page 1. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/68291244/. Behind paywall. List of counties.

David Hogg, delegate, responsible for name. Beatty, Michael A. County Name Origins of the United States. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2001. Page 412. Entry “Beckham County”.

Hogg got to name county as concession. “County Named For Beckham.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), January 26, 1913, sec. 3. Page 10. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/119281850. Behind paywall.

J.B. Harrison, credit for county name. “How Oklahoma Counties Were Named: Divisions of State Were Formed By Cutting And Patching.” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), April 20, 1919, sec. C. Page 9. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/448681775. Behind paywall.

Beckham County created. Kennemer, Lynn. Elk City: Rising From the Prairie. Elk City, OK: Western Oklahoma Historical Society, 2007. Page 44.

Population of 10,000. “Beckham County.” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), March 10, 1907. Section: New State Edition. Page 1. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/440961787/. Behind paywall.

Whitehurst, role in Sayre as county seat. Stafford, R.E., ed. “Secured County Bid.” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), January 11, 1907. Page 2. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/440948593. Behind paywall.

Sayre chosen as county seat. Stafford, R.E., ed. “Two-Thirds Vote Is Required To Change.” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), January 17, 1907. Page 2. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/440948593. Behind paywall.

Sayre Kentucky Club. Tillman, H.F., ed. “”A Kentucky club has been organized at Sayre . . .”” Haskell News (Haskell, Oklahoma), May 12, 1910. Page 6. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/33737378/. Behind paywall.

Senator Beckham sends portrait to Beckham County. Hedden, J.W., Jr., and G.B. Senff, eds. “Beckham Portrait: Painting of a Kentucky Senator Graces Walls of Oklahoma Courthouse.” Mt. Sterling Advocate (Mt. Sterling, Kentucky), June 20, 1916. Page 2. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/71085988/. Behind paywall.

Modern demographics of Beckham County. “QuickFacts: Beckham County, Oklahoma.” United States Census Bureau. Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/beckhamcountyoklahoma,US/PST045218.

Beckham’s later political career. Harrison, Lowell H. “Beckham, John Crepps Wickliffe.” In The Kentucky Encyclopedia, edited by John E. Kleber. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. Page 65.

1912 Globe Printing Company lawsuit. “Signs School Bond Measure.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), March 17, 1912. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/118936525/. Behind paywall.

1904 Globe Printing Company lawsuit. “State Sues To Recover Nearly $25,000 From the Globe Printing Company.” The Twice-A-Week Messenger (Owensboro, KY), December 16, 1904. Page 1. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/376010181/. Behind paywall.

1904 lawsuit decided in printing company’s favor. Fisher, Frank M., ed. “Printing Case Decided.” The Paducah Sun (Paducah, KY), February 05, 1906. Page 3. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/71204226. Behind paywall.

McCreary County. Perry, L.E. McCreary Conquest: A Narrative History. Whitley City, KY: L.E. Perry, 1979. Pages 47-51.

1916 bill for new county. Kaltenbacher, Will S. “One County Created While Three Efforts Fail.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), December 23, 1917, sec. 2. Page 4. Accessed July 4, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/119501632. Behind paywall.

Would’ve been named for Governor Stanley. Moore, Paul M., ed. “Kentucky and New Counties.” The Bee (Earlington, Kentucky), February 08, 1916. Page 1. Accessed July 4, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/529685597. Behind paywall.

Governor Fields. “Former Gov. Fields, Democratic Political Figure, Dies at 79.” The Owensboro Messenger(Owensboro, KY), October 22, 1954. Page 1 & 14. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/375737996/. Behind paywall.

1924 Fields County bill. “Rules Committee Votes To Kill “Fields County”.” The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, KY), March 12, 1924. Page 1. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/376077802/. Behind paywall.

1926 Fields County bill. Colt, C.C. “”Ripper” Bill Gets Approval of Committee.” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), February 26, 1926. Page 1 & 10. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/107827801/. Behind paywall.

Carter County votes on moving county seat. “Carter To Vote On Moving County Seat.” The Sun-Democrat (Paducah, KY), November 04, 1929. Page 4. Accessed July 5, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/501594390. Behind paywall.

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General Sources

Olive Hill’s Beckham County

Crawford, Byron. “A Short Course on history of Beckham County.” The Courier-Journal, (Louisville, Kentucky), March 16, 1984, sec B. Page 3 & 5. Accessed July 7, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/109703599/. Behind paywall.

Rennick, Robert M. “The Post Offices of Beckham County, Kentucky.” La Posta: A Journal of American Postal History, July 1988, 33-42. Available at Special Collections Research Center in Margaret I. King Library (University of Kentucky).

Stacy, Helen Price. “Re-discover Kentucky.” The Interior Journal (Stanford, KY), July 11, 1974. Page 2. Accessed July 7, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/221218176. Behind paywall.

Newspapers

The William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY has many useful newspapers for the topic on microfilm including J.W. Lusby’s The Herald (Grayson) and several other Carter County newspapers. 

William Goebel

Klotter, James C. William Goebel: The Politics of Wrath. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1977.

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Special thanks to Steve Middleton, documentarian, instructor, and musician, who provided tremendous help with researching this essay. From Olive Hill, he is in a very talented old time music band named The New Beckham County Ramblers.

Also thanks to my dad who made sure to point out the historical marker in Olive Hill when I was a little boy.

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