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Oklahoma Territorial Governors






George Washington Steele
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Born 12/13/1839, Indiana
Died 7/12/1922, Indiana

Lawyer, Public Service

Robert Martin
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Born 1833, Pennsylvania
Died 3/2/1897, Guthrie, OK

Lawyer, Mayor

Abraham Jefferson Seay
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Born 11/28/1832, Virginia
Died 12/22/1915, Kingfisher, OK

Lawyer, Judge, Banker

William Cary Renfrow
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Born 3/15/1845, N. Carolina
Buried in Arkansas, 1/31/1922

Military, Banker, Oil & Gas

Cassius McDonald Barnes
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Born 8/25/1845, New York
Died 2/19/1925, buried in Guthrie

Military, US Marshal, Banker

William Miller Jenkins
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Born 4/25/1856, Ohio
Died 10/19/1941, Sapulpa, OK

Lawyer, Secretary of Territory

William C. Grimes
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Acting Gov

Born 11/6/1857, Ohio
Died 4/8/1931, California

Newspaper Publisher, Sheriff, US Marshal

Thompson Benton Ferguson
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Born 3/17/1857, Iowa
Died 2/14/1921, Watonga, OK

Teacher, Minister, Editor, Postmaster

Frank Frantz
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Born 5/7/1872, Illinois
Died 5/9/1941, Oklahoma

Rough Rider, Postmaster, Indian Agent

Pictures and Biographies of the 9 Territorial Governors


Oklahoma's first territorial governor was born December 13, 1839, near Connersville, in Fayette County, Indiana. Steele grew up in Marion, Indiana, where he attended public schools. After attending Ohio Wesleyan University, he read law and, after being admitted to the Ohio bar, practiced in Hartford City, Indiana. At the beginning of the Civil War, Steele volunteered, serving as an officer in two Indiana infantry regiments of the U.S. Army. He saw action at Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta, and in Sherman's march through Georgia to Savannah. After the war Steele ran an unsuccessful business in Marion and later reentered the military for service in the West.
In 1866 he married Marietta E. Swayzee, and the union produced a son and a daughter. A Republican, from 1881 to 1889 he represented Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pres. Benjamin Harrison appointed Steele to the post of governor of Oklahoma Territory in 1890, and he took office on May 22 of that year. Steele's administration faced the task of creating the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of territorial government, developing policies and institutions, and filling positions. The governor quickly laid out county boundaries, selected county seats, named county officials, and set up mechanisms for local government. He also directed the establishment of a territorial higher education system, including the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University), and Territorial Normal School (now the University of Central Oklahoma) in Norman, Stillwater, and Edmond, respectively. Steele had limited success, however, in the realm of public education, as the legislature failed to pass a common school bill until late in his administration. Two other issues faced by Steele involved the location of the territorial capital and the settlement of the territory's public domain lands. Factions developed in a battle for the territorial seat of government, which was then located at Guthrie. Believing that the selection of a permanent site should await further territorial development, the governor vetoed or avoided signing legislative measures that would place the capital in Oklahoma City or Kingfisher. A major issue, one with important future consequences, involved settling tribal claims to land in Oklahoma Territory and making the land available for occupation by non-Indians. During Steele's administration federal treaties resolved the claims of the Sac and Fox, Shawnee, and Potawatomi tribes. These made 868,414 acres available to be opened by land run on September 22, 1891. One of Steele's last acts was to divide the newly opened area into two counties, A and B, later named Lincoln and Pottawatomie. On October 3, 1891, George Washington Steele resigned his position as governor of Oklahoma Territory. He returned to Indiana, where he again represented the state in Congress, serving from 1895 to 1903. He died July 12, 1922, in Marion. Although he served barely a year in office, Gov. George Washington Steele began programs that laid a solid basis from which the people of Oklahoma Territory developed a state government.

MARTIN, ROBERT (1833-1897)

Born at Frankfort Springs, Pennsylvania, in 1833, Robert Martin, a territorial governor of Oklahoma, grew to manhood in Ohio. After graduating from Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, he taught in Steubenville High School in Ohio, while reading law. His marriage to Ada S. Gilmore, of Marietta, Ohio, came in 1861; the union produced two daughters. The following year he entered law practice in Steubenville and later enlisted in the 126th Ohio Volunteer Infantry as an officer. Martin's Civil War service was cut short by illness, and he was discharged from the U.S. Army in November 1863.
Reentering law practice, he briefly went into local Republican politics before moving to Kansas in 1887.In company of a group of former soldiers, Robert Martin came to Oklahoma in April 1889, where he settled at Harrison. He immediately became involved in the movement for organizing the territory, serving in the convention that met in July 1889 in Guthrie. Soon after this he moved to El Reno, and when territorial government was established with the Organic Act of May 2, 1890, he was nominated territorial secretary. During his tenure Martin became well known in Washington because of his careful attention to territorial finances. His accurate and timely reports to the Interior and Treasury departments drew favorable notice. He held the secretarial post until the October 1891 resignation of Territorial Governor George Washington Steele. On November, 8, 1891, Martin took office as acting governor. On February 1, 1892, he vacated the governor's office to Abraham Jefferson Seay and continued as territorial secretary until replaced by the Democratic administration that was installed by Pres. Grover Cleveland in May 1893. Martin resided in Guthrie, and in April 1894 he successfully ran for the post of mayor, an office which he held until 1896. During his term he paid off a large portion of the city's debt and placed the community on a sound financial footing. Robert Martin died of heart failure March 2, 1897, in Guthrie.


Born at Amherst Court House, Virginia, in 1832, Abraham Jefferson Seay, third governor of Oklahoma Territory, was the eldest son of Cam and Lucy J. Seay. The Seay family moved to Missouri in 1836 where young Seay attended public schools and Steelville Academy. His first real job was wielding a pick and shovel on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Later he taught school and read law. In 1861 Seay moved to Cherryville, Missouri, to practice law.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Civil War, serving in the Thirty-second Missouri Infantry at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, Atlanta, and Savannah, and he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in command of a regiment. At war's end he entered Republican politics and served as Crawford County attorney and then as circuit judge of the Ninth Missouri District.

In reward for Seay's loyalty to the Republican Party, in 1890 Pres. Benjamin Harrison appointed him Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma Territory and circuit judge of the Third District, including Kingfisher, Canadian, and Beaver counties (at that time commonly called No Man's Land). Seay regularly traveled and held court throughout the entire district, a huge area including all of the unorganized territory from the 98th to the 100th meridian and from Kansas to Greer County, Texas. A. J. Seay took the oath of office as governor of Oklahoma Territory on February 1, 1892. During his administration he actively promoted the development of the territory, particularly the opening of lands for settlement. He supervised the opening of the Cheyenne and Arapaho district in April 1892, directing the organization of six counties, selecting county seats, and appointing county officials. Seay's administration was noted for its attention to the territory's educational system. He advocated compulsory school attendance and favored a tax on liquor sales to raise money for public schools. Opponents criticized him for his philosophy of promoting the welfare of African Americans. He favored equal (but separate) educational opportunity for black children, with school construction to be approved on a local option basis. Seay led the way in promoting Oklahoma Territory to future investors and settlers. Because of his actions, the territory's business and agricultural potential was made known to thousands of world's fair attendees from the United States and many foreign nations. In 1892 he convinced the legislature to provide a fifteen-thousand-dollar appropriation to create an Oklahoma exhibit for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When Pres. Grover Cleveland opened the fair in May 1893, Seay and an Oklahoma delegation attended. Seay later noted that "Oklahoma was never better advertised" than by the world's fair exhibit, and the state's participation continued in subsequent world's fairs. Abraham Jefferson Seay proved an able and dynamic governor. His tenure ended May 10, 1893. An unmarried man, he remained in Kingfisher, where he invested in a variety of businesses. Seay remained an active participant in Republican politics and a staunch supporter of the party's candidates in Oklahoma, Missouri, and in Washington, D.C. Plagued by numerous physical ailments after an accident in 1903, he lived on in ill health until his death in Long Beach, California, on December 22, 1915. An Oklahoma Historical Society property, the Seay Mansion at 605 Zellars Avenue in Kingfisher houses the Chisholm Trail Museum.


William Cary Renfrow, Oklahoma Territory's fourth governor, was a native of North Carolina. On March 15, 1845, in Smithville, Renfrow was born into the farm family of Perry Renfrow and Lucinda Atkinson. While the younger Renfrow was attending school, the Civil War erupted, and the sixteen-year-old dropped his classes and enlisted. He served throughout the war as a sergeant in the Fiftieth North Carolina Infantry. At war's end he moved to Arkansas, settling in Russellville, entering the mercantile business, and in 1875 marrying Jennie B. York. The union produced a son and a daughter.
In 1889 Renfrow caught the scent of opportunity in a developing region, Oklahoma Territory. He moved to Norman, opened a livery stable, and became so successful that he was able to invest in a bank. Soon, he was the majority owner of the Norman State Bank, and he also invested in real estate in Norman. A Democrat, Renfrow became involved in territorial politics. He was a great admirer of Grover Cleveland, suggesting in 1890 that the county surrounding Norman be named for him. After serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Grover Cleveland as its presidential candidate, Renfrow was named by President Cleveland to the Oklahoma territorial governorship--not because of his service to Cleveland, but because the president wanted an Oklahoma resident and businessman to run the territory. Renfrow took the oath of office on May 7, 1893. Renfrow's term as governor lasted longer than any of his predecessors'. This was due primarily to his extensive business management experience and his refusal to fight openly with his political opponents and critics. He preferred to devote his energy to campaigning for Oklahoma statehood and expanding the settlement of Oklahoma Territory. The opening of the Cherokee Outlet on September 16, 1893, was the major event occurring during his administration. He also pressed for the opening of the Kickapoo lands, an event that finally came about in 1895. Educational progress also occurred during Renfrow's tenure. He leased school lands to raise money for public education and took other measures as well. In 1897 he signed a bill creating Northwestern Oklahoma State University. A Southern Democrat, Renfrow held generally antiblack sympathies, and he allowed a pocket veto of any civil rights bills that would improve the lot of African Americans in Oklahoma. Nevertheless, he worked for passage of laws to increase the number of schools for black citizens, and he did not oppose the creation of the Colored Agricultural and Normal University of Oklahoma Territory (now Langston University) at Langston in 1897. In 1896 Republican William McKinley won the presidency, and Renfrow's Democratic administration soon ended. Cassius M. Barnes, a Republican, became Oklahoma Territory's next governor in May 1897. Renfrow returned to public life, engaging in a variety of ventures over the ensuing decades, including lead and zinc production. His last investment was in the oil business. On January 31, 1922, he died of heart failure while on a trip to Bentonville, Arkansas.


A governor of Oklahoma Territory, Cassius M. Barnes, eldest son of Henry and Samantha Barnes, was born in Livingston County, New York, on August 25,1845. In his youth he moved with his family to Michigan, where he grew up on a farm near Albion, in Calhoun County. As a boy Barnes learned telegraphy and worked for Western Union. He was employed in Kansas when the Civil War erupted, and he immediately joined the U.S. Army and served in the Military Telegraph Corps throughout the war. At war's end he was stationed in Arkansas, where he was mustered out of the army in 1866. After going into business in Little Rock, in 1884 he married Mary Elizabeth Bartlett, daughter of a Little Rock judge.
Barnes became active in Republican politics, serving three terms as Little Rock city clerk and in several federal positions. He served as U.S. marshall for the Western District of Arkansas from 1879 to 1889. In 1889 Barnes came to Oklahoma Territory as receiver for the U.S. Land Office in Guthrie, preparatory to the Land Run of 1889. He kept his office until the 1893 election of Pres. Grover Cleveland's Democratic administration resulted in the ouster of the territory's Republican officeholders. In 1894 Barnes successfully ran for the Oklahoma Territorial House of Representatives, where he served two terms and was selected speaker. As a member of the Republican National Committee he worked diligently for his party and was rewarded for his efforts by Pres. William McKinley, who named him to the Oklahoma Territory governorship in 1897. Barnes's tenure as governor was marked by political infighting among Republicans over political patronage and by controversy between Republicans, Democrats, and others over statehood. Some favored statehood for Oklahoma Territory, separately from Indian Territory; others favored fusion into one single state. Barnes's programs became a political football in the contest for statehood. These controversies complicated his efforts enact programs for educational funding and for the geographical placement of five major social-service institutions a home for the deaf and mute, a mental hospital, a penitentiary, and two industrial schools. Rather than building state-owned facilities that would have to be maintained with tax money, he resolved the social-service issue by contracting with private companies to provide school textbooks, care for the deaf and the insane, and house convicted criminals. Because Republican infighting became intense, President McKinley declined to reappoint Barnes as territorial governor in 1901. In order to restore harmony to the party in Oklahoma, on April 15, 1901, Territorial Secretary William M. Jenkins succeeded Cassius Barnes in office. Barnes remained in Guthrie, practicing law and politics. He served two terms as the city's mayor, from 1903 to 1905 and from 1907 to 1909. After becoming a widower in 1908, he remarried and moved to Kansas and then to New Mexico, where he died on February 18, 1925. Barnes's contributions to Oklahoma Territory's growth and progress lay primarily in the field of social services, where he proved his commitment to education and to the welfare of the less fortunate.


A native of Alliance, Ohio, born in 1856, future Oklahoma territorial governor William M. Jenkins attended school in his home town and then attended Mount Union College before embarking on a career in education and law. He married Delphina White, of Indiana, and the union produced six children. In the 1880s Jenkins practiced law in Harlan, Iowa, and in Arkansas City, Kansas. A Republican, he participated in the 1888 Republican national convention and cast the first vote ever received by William McKinley in a contest for a presidential nomination.

For his party loyalty Jenkins received a job as agent for the allotment of Pawnee lands in Oklahoma. Arriving in 1891, he remained to claim land in the opening of the Cherokee Outlet in 1893. In mid-1897 President McKinley appointed him territorial secretary under Gov. Cassius M. Barnes. Because Jenkins held himself aloof from territorial Republican politics and avoided partisanship, he was named governor to succeed Barnes in 1901. Inaugurated on May 13, Jenkins served until November 30 of that year. Jenkins's administration coincided with the opening of the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache and Wichita-Caddo lands by lottery in August 1901. The governor collaborated with the Interior Department and named officials for the new counties created from the former Indian reservation. With McKinley's assassination in late 1901 Jenkins lost his protector. His opponents investigated the governor's role in a corporate stock exchange involving the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company, which contracted with the territory to provide mental health services. The Interior Department also examined the situation, and although the agency found no irregularities, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt decided to remove Jenkins from office because of his "indiscreet" and inappropriate role in the handling of the stock. In 1903-05 the Oklahoma territorial legislature investigated the situation and completely exonerated Jenkins. William M. Jenkins remained in Guthrie for several years and farmed in Kay County. Later he moved to Utah and then returned to spend the rest of his life in Sapulpa, where he held various public offices. He died on October 19, 1941.

GRIMES, WILLIAM C. (1857-1931)

William C. Grimes served as governor of Oklahoma Territory for ten days, but his influence on Oklahoma politics extended well beyond that brief term. Born in 1857 near Lexington, Ohio, Grimes moved at the age of twenty to Nebraska where he became a newspaperman and later sheriff of Johnson County. Grimes traveled south to participate in the Land Run of 1889 into the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma. After claiming land near Kingfisher and establishing a farm, he went into real estate, enlarging his farm, building business blocks and residential areas in town, and helping to establish Kingfisher College. Grimes also became active in Republican politics.

In 1890 he received appointment as U.S. marshal for Oklahoma Territory, a prestigious and powerful position. In setting up a territory-wide law enforcement system, he employed fifty to one hundred deputies at any one time, including legendary lawmen Heck Thomas, Chris Madsen, and Bill Tilghman. In the course of his career as marshal, which lasted until 1893, he set up a record keeping system and contracted for courtrooms and jails around the territory, basically establishing a sound mechanism for the enforcement of federal law. Turned out of office by Pres. Grover Cleveland's Democratic administration, Grimes continued in business and farming in Kingfisher. With the return of the Republicans to national office, however, Grimes was reinstalled in federal service. On May 12, 1901, he became territorial secretary under Gov. William M. Jenkins. When Jenkins was not reappointed governor in 1901 because of a major scandal over a state contract, Grimes acted as governor for ten days. Despite allegations of his own involvement in the suspect transaction, Grimes continued to hold the secretary's office, serving in the administration of Gov. Thompson Benton Ferguson until January 1906. Shortly after this Grimes moved to Oregon and later to California, where he died on April 8, 1931. He is important in territorial history for his active participation in Republican Party politics, serving for many years as chair of the Territorial Republican Committee. He also served as territorial delegate to the Republican National Committee. His most notable contribution, however, lay in the organization of a territorial law enforcement system.


Oklahoma territorial governor born near Des Moines, Iowa, in 1857, T. B. Ferguson grew up on a family farm in Kansas. Early education in country schools led him to Emporia State Normal College, from which he graduated in 1884. He financed his academic career by teaching in small schools, and after graduating he took additional training in Kansas and in Iowa. After two years of teaching, he changed occupations and became a Methodist minister. Always interested in new experiences, he began to write articles for small-town newspapers in Kansas during his ministerial career. In 1885 he married Elva Shartel, daughter of the editor of the Sedan, Kansas, newspaper.

In 1890, when Elva's father died, Ferguson took over the newspaper and at last found a permanent career. In 1889 the editor's adventurous spirit led him to take part in the Land Run of 1889. But after staking and then relinquishing a claim in central Oklahoma, he returned to Kansas. Exposure to the developing Oklahoma country had piqued his interest, and in 1892 he and Elva loaded a wagon with their children, the family's belongings, and a printing press, and moved to the newly opened Cheyenne and Arapaho country of western Oklahoma. There the Fergusons cooperated in producing the Watonga Republican. The crusading editor used his paper to campaign for "law and order" candidates and for the prohibition of alcohol.

A leader of the Oklahoma Territory Republican Party, T. B. Ferguson was selected by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt as territorial governor in 1901. Although disinclined to political service, which he compared to "broncho busting," he accepted the nomination and quickly proved one of the territory's most effective governors. A strong leader, "Honest Tom" strove for cooperation between the legislature and the governor's office, especially in preventing deficit spending. An experienced educator, he proposed and promoted legislation and appropriations to improve the quality of education at all levels from elementary through college. To protect the developing farm and ranch industries, he pushed through laws for stronger quarantine regulations, more livestock inspectors, and a territorial board of agriculture. His favorite cause, however, was the pursuit of statehood for Oklahoma Territory. In letters and reports to the Interior Department Ferguson trumpeted the virtues of the territory's people and the strength of its economy. When Congress rejected the concept of statehood for each of the Twin Territories, he switched his allegiance to the single-state concept and persuaded the territorial Republican Committee to do so as well. His support greatly increased the strength of the statehood movement, which succeeded in 1907. Conflict with his Republican cohorts, specifically Dennis T. Flynn and Bird S. McGuire, hastened Ferguson's political demise. Unsuccessful at smearing the governor with charges of election fraud and financial malfeasance, they took another tack. Both having been Territorial Delegates to Congress, they persuaded President Roosevelt against reappointing Ferguson in 1905. "Honest Tom" Ferguson served his territory well for four years, longer than any other territorial governor, but was replaced on January 13, 1906, by Frank Frantz. Although Ferguson returned to the newspaper business in his hometown of Watonga, he kept his political aspirations. In the state's first congressional election he lost the Senate race to Elmer L. Fulton, and in 1910 the crusading editor lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination to Joe W. McNeal. Thompson Benton Ferguson died in Oklahoma City on February 14, 1921. He has been characterized as "the most successful and progressive of all the territorial governors."

FRANTZ, FRANK (1872-1941)

The last Territorial Governor of Oklahoma Territory born at Roanoke, Illinois, on May 7, 1872, Frank Frantz moved to Kansas with his family in 1889 and then with his brothers to Medford, Oklahoma Territory, in 1893. After two years of college in Illinois, he worked in California and Arizona. While a mining engineer, Frantz volunteered for Company A of Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. As a lieutenant and captain, he saw action at San Juan Hill and Santiago, and his battlefield heroism caught Roosevelt's eye. After the war Frantz returned to Oklahoma and settled in Enid, where he joined a brother in the hardware business. In 1901 he married Matilda Evans of Oklahoma City, and the union produced five children. Frantz's wartime association with Roosevelt blossomed into friendship.

On his visits to the White House, Frantz, an athlete and a boxer, engaged in several matches with the president, knocking him out on three occasions. Their relationship ensured Frantz's career. The president appointed his young friend postmaster of Enid in 1902 and Osage agent at Pawhuska in 1904. The next year Roosevelt named his former comrade-in-arms governor of Oklahoma Territory. The inauguration came on January 16, 1906.Gov. Frank Frantz made an invaluable contribution to the future of Oklahoma's educational system. Discovering that oil companies were drilling on school land (sections of land reserved for funding education and public buildings after statehood) in Pawnee County without obtaining permission, the governor established a policy of requiring those companies to lease the mineral rights. Then he acted to safeguard the state's ownership of mineral rights on state-owned land by securing the removal of the "Warren Amendment" from the Oklahoma Statehood Enabling Bill. After passage of the Enabling Act of 1906 Frantz took steps to locate the remaining amount of school land by filing all of the claims in "No Man's Land," the Panhandle. His agents acquired virtually all of the federal domain in that region for the state. By leasing the land to farmers, the state earned millions of dollars of revenue. Frantz wanted to be the first governor of the state of Oklahoma, but he lost the election to Charles N. Haskell. Frantz soon moved to Colorado and entered the oil business. In 1915 he returned to Oklahoma as head of Cosden Oil Company's land division. In 1932 he reentered politics but lost a bid to represent Oklahoma in Congress. He died March 8, 1941, in Muskogee and was buried in Tulsa.


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