How Curious: An All-Female Ghost Town?
A Kansas reporter wrote in 1893 he had discovered an all-female town in Oklahoma. But when he tried to go back to the village one week later, it was gone.
KGOU listener Bart Varner asked How Curious: What happened?
Claire Donnelly: In 1893, a reporter from Kansas rode his horse into Oklahoma. About halfway between the cities of Perry and Enid, he stumbled upon a little village. According to the reporter, the prairie town was called Bathsheba and it was made up entirely of women. He went home to Kansas and wrote a story about the town.
Then, a week later, his editor sent him back to Oklahoma for more information. So the reporter rode to the same spot--but Bathsheba was gone. KGOU listener Bart Varner came across this story while reading about Oklahoma ghost towns and he asked How Curious about it.
Bart Varner: I'm dying to know what happened and how this is not already a Netflix special.
Donnelly: This is How Curious from KGOU, exploring your questions about Oklahoma. I'm Claire Donnelly.
Bart Varner was immediately intrigued by the Bathsheba story.
Varner: I am picturing a charismatic, angry woman, jilted and slighted by society, who rallies her friends to leave their lives and set up this grand women's communist village in the middle of Oklahoma which fails immediately.
Donnelly: In fact, there is a woman whose name comes up in some of the stories about this mysterious town. Her name was Kentucky Daisy.
Anna Studstill: So Kentucky Daisy was a woman who came to Edmond during the 1889 Land Run.
Donnelly: This is Anna Studstill. She works at the Edmond Historical Society and Museum. The Land Run of 1889 was when the U.S. government opened up the so-called "Unassigned Lands" for settlement. Native American tribes had previously been forced off that same land. A settler could claim 160 acres in the region under the 1862 Homestead Act.
Thousands of people jumped at this opportunity, including some single women, because it was a way they could own land without getting married. Kentucky Daisy was one of these women. Her real name was Nannitta Daisy. But sometimes newspaper stories call her Annette Daisy or Annetta Daisy. Historians say she left Kentucky and came out west, hence the nickname.
Studstill: She was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She actually came here to report on the land run, convinced her editor to let her do a story, and then decided to participate in the land run.
Donnelly: Studstill says Kentucky Daisy didn't claim her land riding a horse or a wagon.
Studstill: From what we know, she convinced the train operator on the train that she was on to slow down a little bit. She leapt from the car, staked her claim and then came back and hopped back on the car.
Donnelly: As time went on, the story of Kentucky Daisy grew and grew.
Studstill: By the time she dies, the newspapers report that she leapt off the cow catcher, the very front of like, the fast moving--you know, a full speed train.
Donnelly: So Kentucky Daisy became a kind of legend--a force to be reckoned with. There's actually a statue of her jumping off the train cow catcher at the Edmond farmer's market.
Studstill: And she was definitely an organizer. Like, she ran for state librarian of Kentucky. Like, she did all these things. I think she spoke at political conventions and was kind of an activist personality.
Donnelly: There were several land runs in Oklahoma--not just the 1889 one. The government opened up more territory to settlers while displacing Native Americans. Kentucky Daisy participated in four land runs.
Studstill: She was hitting them back to back to back.
Derek Lee: So this is the New York Times from Saturday, April 16, 1892.
Donnelly: This is Derek Lee reading from a newspaper article. He also works at the Edmond museum.
Lee: "Annetta Daisy's Amazons: Venturesome Young Women in Oklahoma. Twelve of them are encamped in a hiding place within the borders. The irrepressible Annetta Daisy, who has passed through two campaigns similar to this, again comes to the front in a new role."
Donnelly: The article says Kentucky Daisy and 11 other women snuck onto some land before it was officially opened to settlers, hoping to beat other people to a good claim. They hid from the authorities but eventually got caught and had to go back to the border.
So women were definitely involved in Oklahoma land runs. But did a group of them really start a town called Bathsheba?
Diana Simon: So these women just set up this town, from what we gather.
Donnelly: Diana Simon runs the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry. She and I are standing in a field in Noble County, not far from where Bathsheba supposedly sprang into existence in September 1893.
Simon: And they say that it is located somewhere in Garfield County. And that's between Enid, which is Garfield County, and Perry, which is Noble County. And it also described it as a three hour horse ride to Stillwater.
Donnelly: Highway 64 is a few hundred yards away but when we turn our backs to it, dry grass stretches out in every direction. It's not hard to imagine a tiny town popping up in a place just like this. Remember the Kansas reporter who wrote about finding Bathsheba? I couldn't find his article, but I did find quotes from it in a 1961 Oklahoman piece called "The Town Without Men" by Robert Cunningham.
The article says the women started the town a few days after Oklahoma's fourth and largest land run in the Cherokee Strip or Cherokee Outlet. That was a big rectangle of land in the Northwest that originally belonged to the Cherokee tribe. The newspaper says 33 women originally lived in Bathsheba.
Simon: "It was a town of women where male horses, male chickens, male hogs were excluded, along with the males of their own species."
Donnelly: Twelve of the women reportedly left the town after the first week and one was expelled for having a razor--a so-called "masculine implement."
On his second trip to the town, the Kansas reporter writes he saw a group of about two dozen women wearing long dark dresses staring at him. Then a woman allegedly fired a shotgun in his direction.
Unfortunately, this story is the only proof we have of Bathsheba's existence, and it's not exactly reliable. The late Douglas Werden calls it fictional and derogatory. Werden was a professor at West Texas A&M University. He wrote an article called "Stereotypes, Lies and Crass Humor: When Men Write About Women in Oklahoma Land Runs." Werden writes "by creating such radically anti male characters, the authors both mock the women and construct them as an enemy."
He says there are lots of clues the town is made up, including its name. You might recognize Bathsheba if you're familiar with the Bible.
Lisa Wolfe: In English we usually say "bath-SHEE-buh," but the Hebrew would sound more like "baht-SHAY-vuh."
Donnelly: Lisa Wolfe teaches Hebrew Bible at Oklahoma City University.
Wolfe: She's not exactly your strongest female figure in the Bible. So we meet her in 2 Samuel 11.
Donnelly: The chapter starts out, "when the kings went out to war in the spring of the year, King David was at home."
Wolfe: And he was walking on his palace roof garden and he sees this woman bathing. And he sends his--he asks who this is and he sends his servants to go--the Hebrew just says "take her." Most translations say "go and get her," "bring her to me," or something like that. And we don't know anything about how Bathsheba feels about that.
Donnelly: King David and Bathsheba sleep together, even though Bathsheba is married to someone else. Wolfe says there's no way there was opportunity for consent. And Bathsheba only has one line in this story: "I am pregnant." Wolfe says this makes Bathsheba a potentially tragic character. Later in the Bible, Bathsheba marries King David and gives birth to Solomon. She helps Solomon become king after David. So Bathsheba's identity is almost entirely tied to male figures, which Wolfe says doesn't quite fit with the independent spirit of this rumored town.
Wolfe: I feel like if I were a woman who wanted to start a community of women and name it after a biblical woman, I would pick Ruth or Naomi, maybe.
Donnelly: The late Professor Werden writes it's much more likely the men who created the fictional story about Bathsheba chose the name. He says it would let them sexualize and fantasize about conquering an entire community of females. Back in Noble County, Diana Simon says she enjoys imagining the town even though it might be made up.
Simon: Well I guess I hope it's real because I think that even way back then, women felt like individuals. They weren't just a wife. And I would hope that that's where the spirit came from.
Donnelly: Simon says she's inspired thinking about strong independent women like Kentucky Daisy participating in land runs and starting their own town.
Simon: They must have been some kind of rebels. But I probably would've been right there with 'em, I don't know. I'm kind of a rebel, you know, I like to go off the beaten path a little bit.
How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by Claire Donnelly and edited by Jacob McCleland. David Graey composed the theme music. Email your questions about Oklahoma to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.
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