Shack Train

Columnist Phyllis Young recounts how her family moved from Kansas to Oklahoma Territory in two “shack” trains.

Margarett Elizabeth (Updegrove) Harrold was my grandmother and 13 years old in 1902 when she came to Oklahoma Territory in a wagon. I want to use this column to share what I know about that wagon trip.

Thomas Franklin and Mary Jane (Gnder) Updegrove were living near Sterling, Rice County, Kansas. Apparently there was a dispute over a loan with one of his brothers, so Frank packed up his family — wife, seven children and hired hands — and moved south to settle on previously purchased property south of Anadarko, Oklahoma Territory. He designed and built the two wagons out of wood, thus giving his family better protection from the elements. The family has always referred to these wagons and the caravan as “the shack train.”

On this trip they herded some livestock but the authorities at the Oklahoma Territory border destroyed the livestock because of an outbreak of hoof-and mouth disease. Replacement horses had to be purchased to finish the trip. A goat was taken along to provide milk for the baby, the youngest of the Updegrove children. (The goat must have been hidden in a wagon to evade destruction, because she arrived at the destination!)

The letter

The following is a letter written in 1983 by their third daughter, Myrtie, who turned 5 years old on the day they arrived at Anadarko.

“In March 1902, we left Kansas. It took about a week to reach Byron, Oklahoma, where we spent a week with Uncle William Updegrove, Father’s brother. It took another week to reach Anadarko, Oklahoma.

“We traveled in two ‘shacks.’ One the cooking and dining area. The other sleeping quarters. Then two covered wagons. Each ‘shack’ was drawn by four horses. Bob Logue drove the cook shack and Uncle Gerry Webb the other. A lady friend came with us. My Father and Mother and we seven children made the number.

“We brought provisions. My Mother cooked the meals in the ‘cook shack’ as we traveled. The baby [Ervin] was tied in the rocking chair so he wouldn’t fall out. Roads were rough or just trails. We brought a milk goat for the baby’s milk. A number of horses also were herded along. Two covered wagons with feed for the horses. So this was our caravan.

“We arrived on the farm on April 6. My Father said, ‘We must have a well drilled the first thing. If we don’t get good water, we won’t stay.’ It was a piece of land — 160 acres never lived on before. Then farming started, and we lived in the shacks for awhile. My Father went to Anadarko before moving there and filed on 160 acres of ‘school land’ which he bought later.

“A family lived in a log cabin across the road. The man and his little girl came at once to see and welcome us. They were the only people in the area. We lived on the farm until all the children were grown, and my parents died there.”

The “shack train” had to stop every few days to rest the livestock, do laundry, and cook food enough to last another few days. During one stop, pies were prepared and set out on the wagon to cool. The goat found them first!

Importance of written records

While I asked Aunt Myrtie specific questions about this trip and she was forthcoming in answering them, her response is a good example of the importance of asking questions about family events and then keeping their answers. Letters are rarely handwritten these days but when they are, they should not be discarded with haste as they may contain valuable family history.

The same is true for keeping a diary. Imagine reading a daily account of this family’s notable event! I so wish my grandmother had kept a diary. But that did not happen.

She lived during an extraordinary timeline in our history. It is virtually impossible to absorb the multitude of advances that were made and events that occurred during her lifetime — from wagon trains to space exploration.

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