In 1893, an anonymous reporter from Kansas wrote about a town in northern Oklahoma comprised entirely of women. But when he tried to go back to the site one week later, it was gone. Was this town real?
Editor’s Note: A version of this story aired October 1, 2018.
“I’m dying to know what happened and how this isn’t already a Netflix special,” said KGOU listener Bart Varner, who came across the story while reading about Oklahoma ghost towns.
The all-women settlement, called Bathsheba or Bethsheba, ostensibly sat about halfway between the cities of Perry and Enid and “was a town of women where male horses, male chickens, male hogs were excluded, along with the males of their own species,” according to the reporter.
“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,” said Varner.
Who Were These Women?
Thirty-three women reportedly founded Bathsheba in September 1893 in the days following Oklahoma’s fourth and largest land run in the Cherokee Strip or Cherokee Outlet, a stretch of land in northwest Oklahoma that originally belonged to the Cherokee Nation. But twelve women left the all-women settlement after the first week, according to the reporter, and one was expelled for having a razor, a “masculine implement.” The women reportedly stared at their visitor during his trips to the site--and once fired a shotgun in his direction.
One woman’s name often appears in speculations about Bathsheba: Nannita Daisy, often called “Kentucky Daisy.” According to historians, Daisy left Kentucky to come out west and was one of hundreds of single women who participated in Oklahoma’s land runs. White settlers could claim up to 160 acres of land that had been taken from Native Americans by the federal government.
Daisy staked her claim in the 1889 Land Run by jumping off a moving train and marking a plot in what is now Edmond. Anna Studstill, Director of Education at the Edmond Historical Society, said the train was moving slowly, but as time went on, Kentucky Daisy became a legend.
“By the time she dies, the newspapers report that she leapt off the cowcatcher--the very front of a full-speed train,” Studstill said.
In the spring of 1892, Daisy and 11 other women snuck onto some land before it had been officially opened for settlement and camped out, hoping to beat others to a good claim, according to a newspaper article from the time. They were eventually caught and sent back to wait with the other settlers.
Was The Town Real?
It’s not clear whether Kentucky Daisy was involved in setting up the all-female Bathsheba settlement, or if the town even existed. The only evidence is the Kansas reporter’s story.
The late Douglas Werden, a professor at West Texas A&M University, called the tale “fictional” and “derogatory” in his article Stereotypes, Lies and Crass Humor: When Men Write About Women Homesteaders in Oklahoma Land Runs.
Werden wrote the town’s name is actually a clue that it was fake.
In the Bible’s 2 Samuel, King David has sex with a married woman named Bathsheba, after he sees her bathing and orders his servants to bring her to him. Bathsheba has one line in the story: “I am pregnant.”
“She’s not exactly your strongest female figure,” said Lisa Wolfe, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Oklahoma City University.
Wolfe said Bathsheba’s identity is closely tied to male figures throughout the Bible, which does not fit with the spirit of the rumored all-women town.
“It is much more likely that the men who created the tale gave the town its name so that they could sexualize and fantasize about conquering an entire community of females,” Werden wrote, adding the Kansas reporter’s story makes more sense when read as satire.
But Diana Simon, Site Manager at the Cherokee Strip Museum in Noble County, said she still enjoys imagining the town and hopes its spirited women were real.
“They must have been some kind of rebels. I probably would have been right there with them,” Simon said, laughing.
How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by Claire Donnelly and this episode was edited by Jacob McCleland. David Graey composed the theme music. Email your questions about Oklahoma to email@example.com. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.
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