WPA Interviews with Oklahoma Indian Pioneers--FHC microfiche
Interview 9043 with William Felix Copeland by Ethel B. Tackitt,
Investigator, October 15, 1937. William Felix Copeland resides Lone Wolf,
Kiowa County, Oklahoma.
I was born in Overton County, Tennessee, December 10, 1855.
Wilkerson Copeland, was a native of Tennessee and so was my mother, Pollie
Copeland. They were farm people and also raised stock for a living. My
father had been married before and had several children by his first wife,
who was then dead. My half brothers and sisters were much older than I and
most of them were grown when I was born.
My oldest half-brother, Foster Copeland, went away from home when I was
quite a baby and the family did not know what had become of him. Mother and
Father and his brothers and sisters grieved for him and did their best to
find some trace of him. He had gone away from home with a band of sheep
which were being grazed to market and part of them belonged to him. The
Civil War came on and no one knew whether he had been killed or not. He was
of age when he went away and was the oldest of the family. I grew up with
the desire in my heart to find my brother and everywhere I went I made
inquiry and asked my friends to assist me in the search.
As I grew up I followed the usual occupations of our family, farming
and raising cattle. I have driven hundreds of head of stock through the
hills of Tennessee to Lexington, Kentucky; from there we would ship them by
train to Cincinati, Ohio, for the market.
I married Samantha Allen Sewell, who was also born in Tennessee,
January 23, 1858. She was the daughter of a Hardshell Baptist preacher and
we lived in Tennessee until 1891 when we moved to Dallas County, Texas.
My half-sister, Louisa Copeland, had married Clay Bilber (That would be
Bilberry or Bilbrey, L.S.) and in the early part of 1870 they had moved to
the Indian Territory as she, like the others of the family, were still
hunting for her brother Foster and she had hope of finding him in the Indian
Territory. Sister Louisa was left a widow with several children and she
later married a Chickasaw Indian of the name of Fred Watkins. He was an
intelligent man but not very well educated but he and my sister worked
together and he expected her to look after their business matters, so in
this way they prospered and owned much land and property in the vicinity of
the little settlement of Arthur, which is now in Stephens County twelve
miles southeast of Duncan. Mr. Watkins had also been married before and had
two children, a girl, Lucie, who married Will Little, and a boy, named
In the early part of 1890's I came to the Indian Territory to visit my
sister Louisa and also to see the country and while here she and her husband
insisted that I buy a few head of cattle and leave the cattle with them on
their range and they would take care of them along with their own and in
that way they could accumulate some stock for me and be at no expense
themselves. I purchased the cattle and my sister and her husband took care
of them but I, of course, came back from time to time until in 1898 my herd
had reached such a number that I felt it was asking too much of them to care
for my cattle any longer, so I moved my family to the Indian Territory and
settled on some of their land near Arthur.
I farmed and raised cattle and prospered rapidly, but continued to
inquire about my brother Foster. One day a man who had come to be my
friend, of the name of John Blue, came and told me that he was going to make
a trip over on Wild Horse Creek and he knew of a man who might be my lost
brother and wanted me to go along with him. We went in a two-horse wagon.
There were no roads except wagon tracks as that part of the Territory was
thinly settled. In the afternoon we drove up to a board hut with a lean-to
on the side, down on the creek where the brush was thick as a jungle. There
was a rail and brush fence around the yard and John Blue said, "This is the
place where I think you will find the man". I got out of the wagon and Blue
sat still. No one can imagine my feelings as I went around that cabin, for
I saw there was someone behind the house. I did not know a great deal about
the home conduct of the Indians and I had learned that this place belonged
to a Chickasaw by the name of Wolf.
Behind the hut sat an Indian woman churning with a wooden dasher in a
big old fashioned big-at-the -bottom and little-at-the top cedarwood churn,
bound with brass hoops. Near by, leaning against the wall, stood an old
man, unshaven and ragged, with clothing as dirty as it was possible for
garments to be. He spoke and I said, "A am looking for Foster Copeland" and
he replied, "That is my name." I said, "I am Felix Copeland of Tennessee
and I want to find my brother." He was very much like an Indian, he said,
"Who was your Father?" and I said, "Wilkerson Copeland" and I happened to
remember that my half-brothers and sisters had called my mother Polly, so I
said, "I am Polly's oldest boy. At that he grabbed my by the hand and began
to weep and said, "Yes and you are my baby brother". We were both so happy
and I told him how we had searched for him and how near Sister Louisa and
our brothers Joshua, Burl and Jim had been to him all the time, as they were
all living at Arthur. I learned that the War had taken him away for a long
time, then he had drifted into the Indian Territory and married a Chickasaw
woman. They had lived in the Arbuckle Mountain region and had reared one
child, a daughter. I do not remember her name. Then his wife had died and
the girl had married and he had come to live with the Wolf family. At last
I thought of John Blue in the wagon and I told brother who was with me. He
said he knew Blue well. He intoduced me to the woman and said she was the
wife of his employer. She insisted that we remain all night, but Blue,
finding that I was in the right place, said he must go on.
I remained but they were all Indians and queer to me. I did not know
how they might feel about me. But Wolf came home and saw that Brother was
general manager of the stock and everything about the place. Wolf was a
wealthy man and owned a great number of stock.
That night they put me to sleep in the lean-to on a strew tick, but I
did not sleep. There was a little square window in the side and I watched
those Indians all night as they kept up a continual coming and going all
Very early next morning I heard Brother tell Wolf that I wanted him to
go home with me and spend a while. Wolf said, "Well, why not go? That is
the thing to do." Brother said he thought we were society people and he had
no clothes fit to wear. Wolf said he would get some clothes for him, and
the next morning told brother to take two saddle horses and rise over the
country and show me all I wanted to see, then take a load of apples for they
had as fine an apple orchard as ever grew in Tennessee, and drive over to
Davis and sell them, then go to a certain merchant and tell him that Wolf
would pay for anything Brother wanted and to buy himself a suit of clothes.
We did as Wolf said and sold the apples in Davis, then when we went to
purchase the clothing, the merchant put out the suit we wanted him to have
and Brother balked. He said it was too fine for him, but we insisted and I
told the merchant that if Wolf should object to the price I would pay for it
myself and that I wanted my brother fitted out with everyday clothes also;
and, for Brother's benefit, I told him that my family were not society
people but that we dressed and lived like our associates and had as good
living as we could afford. Brother took the clothing and we went back to
the ranch. I had him gather up all his clothes as I told him my wife and
daughters would want to fix them up for him. He picked them up from all
over the place, the lot, by the side of the fence and in the corners until
he had two cotton sacks full. Mrs. Copeland said, "I never saw such rags."
He went home with me, but acted just like an Indian in standing off to
himself. He seemed glad to see all the family and our sister. They fixed
up his clothing and he visited with us several days but he returned to his
home on the Wolf Ranch. He ofter came back for visits.
I formed a partnership with John Horton and we put in a store at
Harrisburg and we did a fine business, taking in a large amount of money.
One afternoon, and the weather was very cold as it was Winter, John
Horton and I were along in the store. Two men rode up on horseback and came
in at the rear door. The building was large and long. They came to the
stove and I asked if I could do something for them? One said that he wanted
some Star Chewing Tobacco, which was at the far end of the store. I took it
out and he said that he would take the plug but for me to cut it up for him
so he could carry it easily. I did so and he handed me a ten dollar bill
from a great big roll of the raggediest, dirtiest bills I ever saw. Horton
had the money, which we had on hand, in a bag in his pocket as we were
fixing to close up. He had about two or three hundred dollars, the one
day's business. Because the robberies were common in those days we always
sent any large amount of money to Duncan, and we had sent over several
thousand dollars the day before. Horton started to hand me the change when
I heard a gun click in the hands of the fellow walking behind me and I saw
the other one draw on Horton. They said, "Hand it all over", and he did.
Horton's twelve year old boy came in about that time and they stood him up
beside us. They marched us all down the steps and made us stand beside
their horses which were covered with guns and ammunition. They jumped on
their horses and kept us covered until they got out of sight, then they
began to shoot and were joined by six others who had stolen horses and
mules. They had even gone into the lot of the Richison family while they
were at supper and taken their horses and a new buggy with the harness.
This was the Casey Band of outlaws and they knew where everything in
the country was located but they missed our money by one day; however, they
got some of our stock. They made a wholesale robbery and the settlers were
so enraged that they formed a great posse and I hastened my eldest son, Joe,
to Duncan to inform the officers and ask that they come to direct the hunt
for the thieves and the stock.
The whole country took part in the chase and soon the officers at
Wewoka in the Seminole Nation notified us that they had captured some of the
Casey Band together with some of the stolen stock which had been hidden in
the brush about one mile north of the present town of Wewoka, which at that
time was nothing but a village with a few white people and a lot of Indians
and negroes. One of my neighbors who had seen the robbers went with me to
identify the man. One of the outlaws had been killed and I found him to be
one of the men who robbed me and Horton; the other men I could not identify
as I had not seen them, but Casey, who was the other man in the store
robbery, had gotton away and gone back to the Arbuckle Mountain, to which
place a posse trailed him and, running in on his camp, forced the outlaws to
run for cover and one of the possemen grabbed Casey's own gun, which he had
left, and shot him with it.
This was the last of the Casey Outlaw Band and the last robbery raid in
that part of the country, of which I have any knowledge. We got back most
of our stock and I made other trips to Wewoka to bring them back as I was
acquainted with the rough country through which we had to travel without
I learned that my brother Foster was well liked among the Indians and
was known to them as Dad Copeland or just Dad. He continued to live among
them until his death a few years later, than we brought him to Arthur and
buried him in the cemetery there.
In 1903 I moved to the Kiowa country and settled on a farm three miles
north and three miles West of Lone Wolf. I still own that farm which I
farmed until recent years when I have grown too old to work. I have now
bought a home in town and live in it, while my grand-children are in
business around me. My, wife, I am happy to say, is yet also living.