THE LAWTON CONSTITUTION

 
 

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2003

 
 

By

 
 

EDWARD CHARLES ELLENBROOK

 
 

WICHITA MOUNTAINS FIELD NOTES

 
     
 

HOME ON THE RANGE

 
 

Cache's Woesner Saves Historic Buildings

 
 

 

 

James Carroll and Emma Epting McMillian, Herbert Woesner's grandparents on his mother's side of the family, were only in their 30s when they migrated to Oklahoma for the opening of Big Pasture for settlement.  They packed all their belongings and came by rail, sometimes riding in boxcars, all the way from Tupelo, Miss.  Herbert's mother, Cora, was only 3 years old when the family uprooted, leaving Tupelo and arriving in Lawton, by rail, in 1906.

During the bidding, the McMillians failed to bid enough to obtain a piece of land in the Big Pasture bidding, but soon bought a relinquishment for a farm just outside Lawton.  McMillian built a house on a hill east of where the Great Plains Vo-Tech is located.  Later, he sold his  land and went to work at Quartermasters at Fort Sill to help build the new post.

On his father's side of the family Herbert Woesner's grandfather came to America from Germany when he was about 7 years old, in approximately the 1870s, where the family settled in Ottawa, Illinois.  During the early years he worked at the Western Organ and Piano Co.  In 1907, both of his parents died of the influenza epidemic and were buried in Ottawa.  They left behind four sons; Arthur, Emil, Herbert and Walter.  The brothers were split up among various relatives.  Herbert's father, at the age of 12, was sent to live with his aunt Jewel and his brother, Emil, went to live with Aunt Minerva.  Experiencing difficulty adjusting, Herbert Sr. ran away and went to work at Berson Millings Machine Co., where he learned the trade of a machinist.

In 1917, during World War I, Herbert's father and his brother, Emil, joined the Army.  His father served at the Rock Island Arsenal (Illinois) and the Frankfort Arsenal (Philadelphia) where he worked as a machinist and tool maker.  Eventually, he was ordered to Fort Sill to help open the new Artillery School.  His brother Emil (Dan Woesner's father and former county commissioner) served in the infantry and was sent overseas where he fought and was wounded in the combat Battle of Verdun.

In 1919, Herbert's father was ordered to Fort Sill to help open up the new Artillery School.  They set up shop in the old Post Trader's building.  He was discharged in 1919 and resumed his work in civil service at Fort Sill in ordinance.  In 1950, he was given a promotion, becoming armament foreman supervising all armament work.  When he retired in 1952, it was noted that in his 35 years of he had never taken one day of sick leave or been absent from his job for the reason of illness.

Although raised a Lutheran, Herbert's father attended Lawton First Baptist Church where he met and married Cora McMillian.  Their first born was Herbert Woesner Jr., born at Fort Sill in the old rock faced hospital on Feb. 4, 1925.  Later a daughter, Kathleen, was born to the Woesners at Angus Hospital in Lawton in 1939.

Herbert grew up in what is now called "the old North Addition" of Lawton.  He attended McKinley Elementary School for three grades, completing grade school at Washington Elementary in 1936.  After attending  Lawton Central Junior High School and then Lawton High School, Herbert graduated from Lawton High with the class of 1942.

In the fall of '42 Herbert enrolled at Cameron College where the first year, at the insistence of his father, he studied engineering.  He didn't return for his second year at Cameron until 1946 when he enrolled in agriculture.

Following in his father's footsteps, as Herbert's father had instilled in him the ethic of hard work, by the age of 12 Herbert worked for John Helvy at Lawton Drug Co. next to the Dome Theater.  Then worked as a doorboy and assistant cashier at the Dome Theater, and between 1941-1944 worked for Willie Weinburg as a clerk at Willie's Men's Store.  In 1944, he moved to the country near Cache where he worked with his father on their 250-acre farm and 160-acre Indian lease.

Herbert has had many roles in his life including a span of years when he served as a Sunday School teacher at Lawton First Baptist Church.  He taught a 12 year old boy's Sunday School class for three years when Mrs. Witzel, Sunday School Superintendent, took another church position.  Herbert felt the new superintendent might want to enlist his own teachers so he went back to Joe Troop's men's class.  One Sunday, H. Tom Wiles, pastor, spotted him sitting in class and asked him, "What are doing here?"  After a brief conversation, ordered him to report to Roy B. Hooper's 8-year-old boy's primary class as they needed a teacher.  Herbert continues to to be a member of First Baptist Church Lawton.

In the fall of 1956, Herbert bought the Ferris wheel, bumper cars and dark ride (spook house ride) from Frank Rush Jr., who was forced to close Craterville Park due to the Fort Sill land expansion.  In late 1956, he opened up an amusement park to the public called "Frontier Park," later to be renamed "Eagle Park" in 1957 in honor of Quanah Parker, known as the "eagle of the Comanches" to his people.  In 1957, a skating rink was built, and the bumper cars and "Dark Ride" were installed.  The first building brought to the park was the Elk Mountain Ranger Station (original headquarters used by Frank Rush, forest supervisor) in 1957 and later, in 1958, Quanah' Parker's "Star House."

Herbert remembers Mrs. Birdsong driving up to the front of the trading post and beeping the horn for him to come out.  It was on Easter Sunday morning in 1958 when Neda Birdsong and her daughter, Annona, beckoned Herbert to the car.  "Neda and Annona appeared very worried and concerned about the fate of the Star House," Woesner recalled.  There was a tinge of urgency in her voice as Neda began telling Herbert that he Army had jacked up Star House and begun to move it to the edge of the military reservation.  Already prowlers had gotten into Star House and smoke damage had occurred as someone had set a small fire in one of the matresses in a bedroom.  Needa and her husband spoke to officials at Fort Sill convincing Gen. DeShazo to put a hold on the house so it would not be immediately torn down.  She told Woesner, in no uncertain terms, "if you don't do it no one else will save it.

Due to some complicated, technical government regulations Star House would be torn down if it wasn't moved within a few weeks.  In order to move it Woesner ended up buying a house from the Cache High School basketball coach, Charles Collins, who was leaving town and subsequently, gave this house to Neda in exchange for Star House.  Star House was moved by C.E. Putney, house mover from Lawton, several days later.  But, had it not been for the efforts of Neda Birdsong, the last Comanche to live in Star House, and Herbert Woesner, Quanah Parker's Star House would probably have been destroyed and lost forever.

Over the years Woesner operated Eagle Park as an amusement park and village of historic buildings, for a period lasting 27 years.  Eagle Park was officially closed in 1984 due to the exorbitant cost and eventual cancellation of Insurance, which in a year's  time had doubled in cost.  A rodeo, picnics, family reunions and school parties that had been previously booked for months had to be cancelled.  One group, MacArthur High School, was granted permission to have its activity rescheduled for the day before the deadline for closing.  The next day the gates were shut and have been shut ever since.

Today, Herbert is more that content and right at home living in one of his historic houses.  The home Herbert resides in is the old Fort Sill railroad agent's home, a 1901 vintage bungalow.  The railroad agent was a man by the name of Vern Lew.  Years ago, Herbert lived on the grounds of Eagle Park in the gingerbread-style Hopps house.

Nowadays, Herbert and his old friend and sidekick, Allan Sasser, keep busy poking around, chasing history, looking for century-old historic buildings, sites and places in this part of the country.  Recently, they found the abandoned building of the historic Peace Congregational Church.

Herbert keeps busy with a plethora of tasks from store attendant, fix-it-man, farm worker, errand runner, buyer of goods, caretaker and historian of Star House, tour guide and dozens of other tasks just to keep things running around the old trading post.

If you are out that way, stop by the Cache Trading Post, Cache, and if Herbert is there you will enjoy his stories about early history and way things used to be.

     
  Historic Buildings Preserved by Herbert Woesner  
     
 

Building

Original

Location

 

Date

Built

Date

Preserved

 
 

Picket House

Fort Sill

circa

1869

1963

 
 

Star House

Mi. N. of Cache

 

1884

1958

 
 

Elk Mountain Ranger Station

Refuge

circa

1907

1957

 
 

Orient Drug Store

Blair

circa

1890

1962

 
 

Real Estate Office

Chattanooga

 

1901

1964

 
 

Frisco Railroad Depot

Cache

circa

1902

1963

 
 

Cache Journal Office

Cache

 

1902

1963

 
 

Sunny Side School

2 Mi. S. of Baseline

circa

1902

1963

 
 

Saddle Mountain Indian Mission

Kiowa County

circa

1903

1964

 
 

Saddle Mountain School

Kiowa County

circa

1903

1964

 
 

Frank James Home

West of Fletcher

circa

1905

1967

 
 

Codopony Bungalow

2 Mi. W. of Cache

 

1923

1967

 
 

Hopps House

410 SW B, Lawton

 

1902

1962

 
 

Buffalo Hall  *

West Texas

 

1880

1975

 
 

Violet Livery Stables  **

Cache

 

1907

 

 
 

Fort Worth & Denver Caboose

Childress, Texas

 

1907

1965

 
 

     * Reconstruction of 1880s music hall in west Texas

 
 

     ** Reconstruction of the original which burned in 1907 fire in downtown Cache

 
     
  RETURN TO:  HERBERT W. WOESNER JR.  
     
  RETURN TO:  QUANAH PARKER WEBSITE