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Woodmen Of The World
By Susie Williams susiejtw@telepath.com
Freelance Writer


Pictures Included With Article:
Stones Located In The Chickasha Cemetery
Jumbo Cemetery
Whitebead Cemetery
WOW Baby Headstones
Other Garvin County WOW Headstones

Woodmen Of The World
OKGenWeb Fraternal Organizations

When visiting a cemetery there are always gravestones that resemble tree trunks, stacks of cut wood or logs?
The elite stones standout over others in a cemetery, because of their eccentric authenticity.

Chances are the stone marks the grave of a member of an organization known as Woodmen of the World.
These stones can be found in 99 percent of cemeteries around the state and throughout the United States.
   
A small community in southeastern Oklahoma, Jumbo, has an old cemetery that will place a question in someone's mind. Why are there 11 Woodmen of the World gravestones there, with all the same death dates on them?  

In 1910 a tragic accident occurred in this once thriving town northwest of Antlers. Thirteen men were killed and one seriously injured in a mine explosion. All of the men belonged to the Woodmen of the World organization.
Five gravestones resembling tree stumps were in a row, and two were in a separate section. These stones listed the death date as Nov. 28, 1910. The man seriously injured, who was also a Woodman member died two years later.  Five other graves of men, who died in the explosion, had regular stones placed on them.

A fraternal benefit society, Woodmen of the World was strong in Jumbo in the early 1900s. The town supported an active, high membership lodge. Members frequently met on the second floor of the drug store.
The asphalt mine put this, now ghost town on the map.

Carl and Sue Shaw, who live in Daisy, north of Jumbo, remember the story well. The Shaws lived many years in Jumbo and still farm hundreds of acres there.

"The name Jumbo came when a large vein of asphalt was located in 1880," the Shaws told. "The vein was shaped like an elephant, and that is how Jumbo got its name."

The Shaws said between 1890 and 1900 there were an asphalt shaft mine about 30-feet deep and three strip mines. A near tragedy occurred at the mine in 1905, when the mine caught fire. The mine workers escaped through the air vents going into the shaft mines.

In 1916 the mines closed permanently, but the town remained. The school closed in 1950, and the post office closed not long after that. Now, a church, a cemetery and scattered homes are the only presence of this once prosperous town.

The Woodmen of the World had a unique type of gravestone prior to the 1920s. The basic objective of the organization was to make sure no Woodmen member would rest in an unmarked grave.   When the gravestones were discontinued, members and lodges arranged for their own gravestones to be cut in the Woodman design. There is one Woodman marker in a Chickasha cemetery dated 1953. It is a regular square granite stone with a large log on the top. The letters WOW are engraved in the log.

The Woodmen's gravestones vary greatly in size and shape. Some resemble a tree stump and others a stack of cut wood. There are elaborate hand-carved monuments, and simple stone markers.  

A tree stump is the most common symbol of the gravestones. Many stones stand from one to 10-feet high. A child's Woodman stone usually has a short wood stump with a lamb or a dove in the front of the stump.

Axes, leaves, vines, flowers, scrolls held by a rope are just a few of the distinctions on the gravestones. A Bible occasionally appears on one, while a splitting mall is another emblem on the stone. An exceptionally unusual gravestone in the Chickasha cemetery shows a scroll on a large tree stump, with a stonecutter's expertise showing in the carving of the rose buds. The rose buds are trailed by curled leaves, with fern leaves placed at the bottom of the stump. The death date on the stone was 1899.
The insignia on a lot of the gravestones, ‘Dum Taget Clamat', means rest in peace. These are in a circle encompassed by another circle with writing saying Woodmen of the World Memorial.
The gravestone on women's graves usually reads ‘In Memoriam Woodmen Circle'.

There are cemeteries in the United States that have only Woodmen gravestones. One is located in Grand Rivers, Ky. Another cemetery with a Woodmen only section is located in Laredo, Texas. Most all old cemeteries across the United States have at least one Woodman gravestone in them.

The Woodmen's gravestones erected prior to 1920 bear little resemblance to the markers placed today. The Woodmen stones were elaborately hand-carved. They were either chiseled in conformity with the society's designs or pro-ducts of the cutter's imagination.

The state manager for the organization, James Worley, said the stones were discontinued in the 1920s due to the making and shipping costs. "When these were discontinued, they were replaced by a care program for members," Worley said. The main office for Oklahoma is in Oklahoma City.

Grave markers are available, but not the elaborate stone. Mark Case with the organization in Omaha said the bronze markers are also available for any member that wants their grave marked with a Woodmen of the World emblem.
Early Woodmen certifi-cates provided for a death and a monument benefit. Gravestones were originally furnished to members free of charge, and later offered only to those purchasing a $100 rider to their certificates.

Today, a member can still get a Woodmen gravestone made, but the price is high. Lane Gifford, owner of Gifford Monument in Ada, said the price for one now would be about $500 and up for the smaller one and $3,000 to $4,000 for a large hand-carved stone.
"They are still available, but quite expensive," Gifford said. "Stones are cut now by modern machine tools. The Woodmen stones were made by sculptors and a lot of detail work went into carving one."  

Gifford said the old stones were made of marble, which came from Carthage, Mo. "The marble was soft enough that when hit with the tools of the time, the detail would prevail," Gifford said. A stone located in the Maysville cemetery appears to be made from granite. The death date on the stone is 1917.

Changing with the time, the organization has worked for the betterment of its members. "There is financial assistance for catastrophic illnesses offered now," Worley stated. "Instead of waiting until someone dies of a catas-trophic illness, we provide a $1,000 benefit to eligible members diagnosed with one of the seven dreaded diseases.

Worley said other benefits include assistance to orphaned children, a newborn benefit and youth and senior programs.

There are 27 Woodmen lodges in Oklahoma, with eight of these being youth lodges. In 1997 there were 81,000 youth members, ages eight to 15, in 1,040 lodges across the nation. Worley said the youth program offers youth opportunities for personal growth and civic involvement.  

Today, Woodmen is one of the largest organizations of its kinds with 1997 figures totaling more than 850,000 members who hold one million dollars of life insurance, hospital supplement and annuity certificates.  
Patriotism is a big part of the organization, Worley said. The organization is listed as one of the largest presenters of American flags in the nation.
The state manager boasted that Woodmen of the World was the first nonprofit organization believed to do business in Oklahoma, Indian Territory.

As one of the first fraternal benefit society organizations in the United States, the Woodmen's organization is still in existence. It was founded June 6, 1890 by Joseph Cullen Root. The main head-quarters are located in Omaha, Neb.
The origin of the name ‘Woodmen' was never doc-umented, according to history and facts of the organization. It has been speculated that the name was chosen because Root grew up in Lyons, Iowa, where lumber was the principal industry.

It was also reported that Root's idea for ‘Woodmen' came from a speech he heard about woodsmen clearing away forests to provide shelter for their families. Others speculated that Root visualized himself as the root that would grow into a shelter, protecting members from financial disaster.

Looking back, the Woodmen's organization may have been a mystery to some, but in history books, old obituaries and cemeteries, the organization has been most prevalent.
The Garvin County history books host three Woodmen's organization photos. A photo in 1901 shows 50 or more Woodmen at a picnic on Eight Mile Creek south of Hennepin.
In 1905 there was a Woodmen encampment in Elmore City. The photo shows the group of men in uniforms. All of the men were holding an ax.
Another photo dated 1905, showed a group of women on a hayride. It is listed as the Woodmen Circle of Stratford.

Susie Williams susiejtw@telepath.com

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