Col. C. H. Eldred. Recent years have witnessed the passing of many of the picturesque old characters who were most prominently identified with the appropriation and use of Western Oklahoma lands before the formal opening of that territory to settlement. Many of the early cattle men whose operations were carried on upon Oklahoma pastures prior to 1889 had their headquarters and homes in Southern Kansas, but grazed thei1836+78
r herds by the thousands on the rich grasses of Western Oklahoma. The death of'.Col. Charles H. Eldred at Alva on February 1, 1914, recalls what was perhaps the largest of these pioneer cattle companies. Colonel Eldred was one of the most active figures in what was known as the Cherokee Live Stock Association during the decade of the '80s. This association held under lease from the Cherokee tribal government many thousands of acres in what was known as the Cherokee Strip, and used these lands for grazing until the country was opened to settlement in 1893.
Charles Homer Eldred was born on a farm in Greene County, Illinois, October 12, 1836, and was in his seventyeighth year at the time of his death. His career deserves memorial, since he was one of the most prominent of the early builders of Oklahoma. He grew to manhood in the vicinity of Carrollton, Illinois, and prior to the Civil war had become engaged in the cattle business as a shipper, sending his stock to the markets in New York City, Buffalo and Chicago.
However, the chief interest in his career centers in his operations beginning with 1879 when he located in Barber County, Kansas. Here he became associated as a member of the firm of Gregory, Eldred & Company. This company bought a strip of land on the southwestern border of Barber County, about eight miles long and 2 Ms miles wide, comprising nearly 12,000 acres, extending eastward from the Salt Fork almost to Hardtner, Kansas. The company engaged in cattle raising on a larger scale and kept a small army of cowboys in its employ. Just south of the Gregory, Eldred & Company ranch was the Cherokee Strip or Cherokee Outlet, across the Kansas line in old Indian Territory. Colonel Eldred and his associates were among the first to pursue a policy of enlightened self interest and justice in their dealings with the Indian possessors of this laud. For many years cattle men had grazed their herds over the Cherokee pastures and paying for their use rather a tribute than a regular rental to the Indian owners. As a better method than this irregular and lawless policy, Colonel Eldred and those associated with him undertook to secure formal leases from the Cherokee Nation at a price that would be of real value to the Cherokees and would establish the cattle industry on a secure footing. On these ideas was organized the Cherokee Live Stock Association, during the early '80s. Colonel Eldred and other members of the company went to Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, and endeavored to negotiate a lease from the Cherokee Legislature. Their proposals were bitterly opposed by the cattle men who had been getting the use of the strip for only a nominal consideration, and the matter was held pending throughout almost two annual sessions of the Legislature. Finally the lease was granted by the Cherokees, at an annual rental of $200,000. From this large revenue the Cherokees built schools and academies and in many other ways employed the fund for the permanent benefit of the tribe. Probably Colonel Eldred deserves the greater share of credit for the successful negotiations of this lease, and for a number of years he continued as president of the Cherokee Live Stock Association.
Until the Cherokee Strip was opened for settlement Colonel Eldred had his home on a ranch just west of the present town Hardtner, Kansas. In 1889 he undertook an interesting project in the building of a sugar mill at Medicine Lodge, for the purpose of manufacturing sugar from sorghum cane. The enterprise was not destined to succeed, and the investment was largely lost. It is recalled that the lake constructed by the company to supply water for the mill was afterwards used as the reservoir to supply the first system of waterworks in Medicine Lodge.
Colonel Eldred on the opening of the Cherokee Strip in 1893 secured a homestead three miles northwest of Alva and remained a resident in that country locality in 1907. In that year he was appointed postmaster of Alva and then moved to the city and had his home on WestFlynn Avenue until his death. He held the office of postmaster five years, until January, 1912.
Those who knew the late Colonel Eldred paid a high tribute to his kindly and genial disposition, his calm and dignified manner, and his great generosity. It is said that no deserving person ever applied to him for aid without success. He was almost patriarchal in his relations with his former employes, the cowboys, and the old sugar mill at Medicine Lodge became known as the O. E. Hospital, from the fact that many former employes of the 0. E. ranch were given positions about the mill. Colonel Eldred had the calm philosophy of a man who has endured the storm and stress of frontier life for many years, and this is well illustrated in some of the
Eldred was buried by services at the Presbyterian Church, and was laid to rest in the A. O. U. W. Cemetery at Alva.
His first wife was Adley Avery, whom he married in 1858. She was a native of Illinois and died in 1868. Their only child, Dudley, born in 1860, died in 1911. On December 25, 1883, Colonel Eldred married Mrs. Emma (Charles) Evans at Chetopa, Kansas. Mrs. Eldred survives her husband and resides at the family home in Alva. By her former marriage she has a son, Robert S. Evans, who was born October 23, 1880, and is now a prosperous farmer and cattle man of - Woods County, having grown up on the cattle range and having a distinction among the old .cowboys as one of the champion cattle ropers. Robert Scott Evans was married in 1903 to Winifred King, and by this union there are three children, two sons and one daughter, named as follows; William Eldred, born June 30, 1905; Julia Joy, born October 22, 1909; and Robert, born March 20, 1911.