August 20, 1996
A recent column reported on the interest of Ronda Stucks of Mannford in the all-woman community of Bathsheba which once existed briefly in the area between Perry and Enid. The town was established shortly after the opening of the Cherokee Strip on September 16, 1893. Mrs. Stucks and her husband have been digging up information about the quaint little town for some time in preparation for a book she is writing on the subject.
Research at the Cherokee Strip Museum here discloses several interesting facts. The museum has copies of detailed articles about Bathsheba. One is from a 1982 edition of the Stillwater NewsPress and the other is an unattributed reproduction which appears to be from the Oklahoma Historical Society's Oklahoma Chronicles. The latter piece is signed by the late Robert E. Cunningham of Stillwater, the author of Perry, Pride of the Prairie, published in the late 1960s and now out of print. There is no byline on the newspaper article but it probably is based largely on Bob Cunningham's account.
Both of the above documents use the spelling "Bethsheba," not "Bathsheba," and no explanation is given. "As the name would indicate," Mr. Cunningham wrote, "it was a town of women, where male horses, male chickens and male hogs were excluded, along with the male of their own specie. This unusual town sprang up on the prairie in the Cherokee Strip a few days after the opening on September 16, 1893. Towns had a habit of appearing and disappearing on the Oklahoma prairie in those days, just like mirages, and Bethsheba lasted just about as long as mirages do.
"An early day news reporter from Kansas fixed the location of this town as midway between Perry and Enid," the article continues. "In its boom days Bethsheba had a mayor, a police chief and a city council. The principal duty of the police chief was to chase men away from the town. The village originally consisted of 33 members, but 12 of them deserted after the first week, and one was expelled when it was learned she had a razor in her possession, the reporter learned. The local court held that masculine implements were subversive to the vital principles of the community."
Visiting the town, the reporter recognized the mayor. She was a former Kansas woman who, when well beyond the bloom of youth, married a drummer, as traveling salesmen were called in those days. It later turned out that the drummer had a wife and seven children in another state. No wonder the mayor was bitter.
The reporter wrapped up his story with a flourish of rhetoric: "Let us waive the throes of blighted affection, and the pangs of a heart without an affinity, which must have driven them (the town's female settlers) to this extremity. Let us be practical. These women have renounced the opposite sex; they have banished it from their heart-stones. But hold! Is not the primal object of every community perpetuity? Can this retreat of women have a continued existence, and a value in the world, under this one-sided single sex system? In a word, can there be a cackle without a crow? We wot (know) not."
The reporter's managing editor was not satisfied with the story and ordered the uncomfortable writer to return to Bathsheba in search of names and former addresses. Bob Cunningham describes that journey like this:
"After almost three hours in the saddle, (the reporter) arrived in the general area of the town he sought, but he saw no tents, no wagons or gaunt horses searching the prairie for a nibble of dry grass. He looked around for landmarks to make certain he had traveled in the right direction, and found his navigation had been correct. Bathsheba was gone.
"A neighbor, who had managed to chisel a dugout out of the hard ground a mile away, said the women disappeared one night because, they told his wife, they were lonely and afraid, and that dissension had blighted their expected happiness. They went back to the land of men."
One note to add here. A caller advises me that the all-female town was located south of Garber in Garfield county. Otherwise, I have nothing else to contribute.
That brief portion from Bob Cunningham's account indicates that Bathsheba, or Bethsheba, had a very brief life span, which is not really surprising. Anyone interested in more details should visit our museum and read all they have about the town. The story in the two sources quoted above is rich in details about his odd little community. If you can add to it, contact Mrs. Stucks at P.O. Box 913, Mannford, OK 74044.