Friday, October 15, 2010

Obama's Roots In Oklahoma

Two years ago, when I was Secretary of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, one of the articles I ran in our quarterly newspaper, the "Yellow Dog Dispatch," featured then-Senator Barack Obama's roots in Oklahoma. Here is that story.

When Oklahoma City’s founders dined at Jacob Dunham’s restaurant at Main and Santa Fe in 1890, or ate at his son’s lunch counter near the post office, they had no reason to suspect the White House was in the family’s future.

Everyone today knows Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, that his father was from Africa and his mother from Kansas. But the next president has some pretty solid Oklahoma roots as well.

Four of his ancestors are buried in our state, and he has numerous cousins still living here. And Barack Obama’s mother came very close to being from Oklahoma instead of Kansas.

Sen. Obama’s mother was Ann Dunham. Her great-great grandparents were Jacob Mackey Dunham and his wife Louisa Eliza Stroup. Dunham was born in present-day West Virginia in 1824 and lived in Ohio, Indiana and Kansas before being among the first white settlers of Oklahoma City. They appeared in Smith’s First Directory of Oklahoma Territory of August 1, 1890. He eventually had restaurants in Oklahoma City, Okmulgee and Dustin.

Jacob and Louisa had seven children. In 1890 Jacob (age 65), Louisa (53) and their three youngest children, Joseph, Samuel and Mary Mae, lived at the corner of Main and Hudson in Oklahoma City, just south of today’s downtown Metropolitan Library. Joseph and Samuel worked as clerks in their father’s restaurant and confectionery businesses on the south side of Main between Santa Fe and Broadway.

Dunham and his sons David, then 34, and Joseph, then 23, were in Oklahoma by May of 1889. The other family members arrived from Kansas three months later.

By 1895 Dunham moved his family on to Wellston, probably about the time Lincoln County was opened in the September 1895 land run. Louisa died in 1901 and is buried in the Wellston Cemetery. Mackey then moved with his children to Okmulgee, where he died on June 12, 1907. He is buried at Okmulgee.

The Dunham Grocery and Billiard Parlor in Okmulgee was located at 300 North Oklahoma Street. When it opened in 1916, it was the first brick building in the west section of town. They shipped pecans and animal pelts to St. Louis, and supplied goods to Okmulgee residents for several decades.

When Barack Obama’s direct family line moved on to Kansas, the rest of the Dunhams remained in Oklahoma.

- In 1890 their oldest son David Henry lived next door to his parents in Oklahoma City with his wife Phoebe (Kearney) and their four children. They eventually relocated to Okmulgee, where they are buried. At least 15 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren were born in Oklahoma.
- Jeptha Dunham lived in Wellston by 1902, where he owned a jewelry store and clock repair business on Main Street and a grocery store near Luther. He is buried near his mother in the Wellston Cemetery, and several of his ten children and their families remained in Oklahoma.
- Jacob William Dunham, the great-great grandfather of Obama, was the fourth of the seven Dunham children. In 1890 he ran a lunch counter near the post office in Oklahoma City, and lived on Main between Harvey and Hudson near his parents. He married Mary Ann Kearney on March 1 of that year in Oklahoma Territory. By the end of 1890, however, Jacob and Mary Ann had already moved on to Wichita, Kansas, where he became a pharmacist. Their seven children, including Obama’s great-grandfather, were born and raised there.
- Joseph and his wife Jennie Lula (Hill) Dunham lived in Oklahoma with their eight children and many of their descendants. They are buried in Okmulgee.
- Samuel Lemuel Dunham, a gifted natural musician, married Carrie Harmon in 1899 at Wellston. In 1907 they moved to Dustin, and in 1919 relocated to Tulsa. Their thirteen children were born between 1900 and 1923, and most live in Oklahoma. They are buried in Tulsa’s Clinton Oaks Cemetery.
- Jacob and Louisa’s youngest daughter, Mary Mae, married Arthur Lay. They and their five children lived and died in Tulsa.

David Lee Dunham, a grandson of Samuel Dunham, is a retired postal worker in Owasso who has been doing genealogy for 40 years.

“I can see Barack’s resemblance, kind of like the thin face, not too wide, fairly nice looking – a lot of Dunham’s have that,” he said.

Harbin Wilburn McCurry had had enough with the terrorists of his day.
After the Civil War, bushwhackers burned his Missouri home, killed his first-born son and nearly blinded an infant daughter with burning coals. They packed up and, after a brief stay in Kansas, moved to present-day Pontotoc County after 1880.

Quantrill’s Raiders probably targeted the McCurrys because, as Missouri Baptists, they sided with Northern congregations in opposing slavery. 15-year-old Worth McCurry was killed because he recognized some of the family’s assailants.

The baby’s eye was burned so severely that as an adult she could never close it. Sophronia McCurry married and had two children, but died shortly after the second child was born.

Harbin McCurry was a blacksmith. He died in 1899 and is buried at the Center Cemetery between Ada and Stratford.

Elizabeth Edna Creekmore, an Illinois native, was raised near Springfield and married Harbin in Missouri in 1848. She lived in Ada with her son Edward, died in 1918, and is buried at Rosedale Cemetery in Ada. Also buried there are three of their eleven children and their families.

One son, Daniel Fletcher, married Annie Jones of Wynnewood in 1895. Their ten children were all born at Ada, where he was a farmer. His brother Nathaniel Albert was a contractor and builder; his three children were all born at Ada.

The second of their children was Thomas Creekmore McCurry, who, with his wife Margaret Belle Wright, became Barack Obama’s great-great grandparents. Born in 1850, he moved to Kansas before 1880, about the time his parents moved to Indian Territory. They had seven children, including Obama’s great-grandmother Leona McCurry.

Coincidentally, at least three of Thomas and Margaret’s sons later moved to Okmulgee County. John McCurry worked for 35 years with Oklahoma Natural Gas; he and his wife Blanche lived on Bald Hill, and are buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery at Morris.

Thomas Wilburn McCurry, his wife Alpha and their seven children also lived at Morris. Jacob Monroe McCurry was 95 when she died at Morris. Another brother, Joseph Elmer, filled out his WWI draft registration card in Okmulgee. Had Leona moved back to Oklahoma as well, Senator Obama probably would be talking about his mother from Oklahoma instead of his mother from Kansas.

If all of Obama’s relatives in Oklahoma turn out to vote for him on November 4, there should be no problem carrying the state!


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading this! Have you identified any of the living cousins of President Obama still in the state? On the other hand, they all likely live in hardcore Republican districts and might not welcome having the connection exposed!

Peter T said...

Even if they are Republicans, they can and probably will be proud of their relation to America's first African-American president.

Jenifer Williams said...

I'm one of those cousins and proud to be so! Thomas Creekmore McCurry was my great-grandfather, and a family document states he survived the raid only because his mother hid him in his grandfather's feather bed. I'm looking for outside verification of some of these family stories and wonder if you can point me to any resources?