BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Connecting to the world

Bryan County Genealogy Library
Southwestern Bell Telephone company 1922

Alexander Graham Bell gifted the world with the invention of the telephone at about the same time many communities in Native American Territory were becoming “civilized” enough to need one. By 1886 there was a commercial telephone line from Tahlequah to Fort Gibson to Muskogee. A few years later Guthrie and Oklahoma City constructed small exchanges. 1897 saw Arkansas Valley Telephone company connecting towns throughout the state. In 1902 it became the Pioneer Telephone Company, and in 1905 joined the Bell System. By 1912 the Pioneer company had 115 exchanges in Oklahoma, with 114,975 miles of aerial wire and 19,480 miles of underground wire.

Of course, Pioneer was not the only telephone company in the Territory. In June of 1900 the Jefferson Telephone Company incorporated to build a system of telephone lines in the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Nations. The company offered a franchise royalty of $5 for every ten miles constructed. That same year, The Durant Telephone Co. put in lines east and west of Caddo to give service to Caddo, Blue, Bokchito, Bennington, Jackson, Mayhew, Ego, Wapanucka, and many other communities.

The Choctaw Telephone Company incorporated in 1901 with A. M. Roberson as manager and the Caddo city council created ordinance 61 specifying the details of installation and service. Poles were to be erected only on one side of the street and had to be 15 feet above the street. Commercial service would be $2.00 and residential, $1.50.

The Automatic Telephone and Supply company, organized in 1902, proposed to install telephone exchanges with automatic phones that did not require the assistance of the “hello” girl. The first of these were planned for Fairland and Afton.

In 1905 the Nesbitt Phone Company completed a line to Matoy.

The advent of phone service changed life in the Territory. No longer was it necessary to send someone to fetch the doctor, or be present for every business inquiry. In 1900 Caddo’s Dr. Long had long distance telephone service put into his residence and office. By 1901 there were 55 phones in Caddo, including one at The Caddo Herald. The editor informed his readers that they could “call in your news”.

Having a phone didn’t mean satisfaction. In the fall of 1905, a group of disgruntled businessmen protested to Pioneer that it needed to provide better service, accept payment at the end of the month rather than in advance, and offer a 3-month contract.

Early phone service required a certain level of decorum. In 1903 William Davis, of Spokogee, was fined $40 and costs by Judge Swain for “cussing” over a telephone. The operator had reported him.

The operator or “hello girl” was a necessary component of an efficient exchange. Mary Allen, Anna Dodd, Mattie Harvey, Jessie Mooreland, Margarite Tucker, Beatrice Bullard, Dollie Jones, Alma Butler or Mrs. Laura Winfrey might have assisted you in those early years. Mrs. Winfrey was the Caddo manager for Pioneer for fifteen years.

Phone ownership expanded exponentially after statehood and phones sometimes served unforeseen purposes. In 1914 Henry Anderson of Colbert called Sheriff Lib Hart to

confess that he had killed Jim Brazil and wished to give himself up. When the Caddo National Bank was robbed in 1922 and a dozen people were locked in the vault, it was a telephone inside it that enabled them to call for help.

Our Territory ancestors could hardly imagine the role that the telephone plays in our lives today.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.