(Editor’s note: this biography of John Samuel LeForce, prominent early-day cattleman of this area, is taken from the “Bluestem Breeze,” published by the Bluestem Cattlemen’s Association issue of March 28, 1949.)
Sam LeForce came to the Cherokee Nation in 1886 when his parents, Mr. & Mrs. John B. LeForce moved from Kansas. He became a prominent figure in the cattle industry along with his brother, Erastus, who was better known as “Rass” LeForce.
The family first settled in the Pheasant Hill area but a year after their arrival, Sam LeForce married Sallie Keys & established a home of his own.
Tell of the period of the 1880’s & 1890’s when he was interviewed in 1949, Sam LeForce said “At that time Jim Hall, Judge George Clark, Nat Skinner, Boob Little, S. S. Cobb, Bill Halsell & Grayson Wills were the main cattlemen of Northeast OK.
“Vinita had just officially changed its name from Downingville to Vinita, & Doc Frazee had the main drug store, E. N. Ratcliff had the large Dry Goods & Grocery Store. Lucien Buffington, Chief Tom Buffington & Davis Hills were the citizens. A dozen cattlemen occupied the entire territory. There were no fences or leases, but each man had a territory & it was known as his range – Halsell Range, Little Range, etc.
Most of the early cattlemen lived in town & had camp houses on their ranges. I could ride from Vinita to Claremore & never see a house, except when I crossed the river or a creek.
There were no leases, rentals or taxes, & you could cut all the hay you wanted. One summer my brother Rass & I cut & stacked 2,100 tons of hay for Nat Skinner. We used an overshot stacker, bought of E. N. Ratcliff. There were no roads in those days, only trails. Prairie chickens, coyotes, wild turkey & deer were plentiful. I can remember seeing droves of prairie chickens, looked like a thousand in a bunch. In fact, they were thicker then blackbirds are now,” LeForce recalled.
L. W. Marks was Deputy U.S. Marshal & later became quite a cattleman.
“Bill Halsell was the largest cattle operator & had come from TX where most of the early cattlemen originated. In later years Ewing Halsell, his son, carried on here in addition of his large TX holdings.
In the early days I have ridden often in prairie bottoms where the native bluestem grass was higher than my head, with me on my horse.
The first big cattle deal that my brother Rass & I made was when we bought 1,400 cows from the Stevenson brothers who lived on Clear Crrek. The Cherokee authorities wanted them to pay taxes, which they refused to do, so they moved the cattle out of Indian Territory to Elgin, KS.
The Stevenson brothers came over & wanted to sell them to us. Rass said “where would we get the money?” & I told him to go buy the cattle & I would rustle the money. I told him to make a small payment so he could not be arrested for stealing, & he bought them for $14 a head. When Rass came home he said “I bought the cattle. Where are you going to get the money?” I said I will borrow the money from Evans, Snider, Buell Livestock Commission Company of Kansas City.
I borrowed all the money (?) for 8 percent & 10 percent. It was 8 percent if you paid when due & if you ran over the rate was 10 percent. At that time I was only 23 years old & I had never borrowed any money before.
Mr. Snider let me have the money without seeing the cattle, but he did give me some good advice by saying “Young man, this is your opportunity. If you make good, you can go ahead. If you fail, you might as well quit the big cattle business”.
We bought the cattle about the 20th of Feb. & sold them in July & August & paid our note before it was due. The cows brought 3-4 & 1/2 cents, & the calf crop, which was good, brought 4 cents a pound. We shipped cattle to Kansas City until we had overpaid our note of $2,200.
I went into Kansas City & asked Mr. Snider how we stood & he told me & asked if I wanted the money. I said to leave it until we were through shipping, & he finally sent it to the First National Bank of Vinita, $10,108.08.
The First National Bank of Vinita was started in 1892, & I was its first depositor. I had just tidden in from the ranch & tied my pony, & as I came to the bank, Col. Cook, the cashier, opened the door for business.
In the early days we usually bought cattle & paid for them in cash. One of my first trips buying cattle was to Going Snake District near Siloam Springs, Ark., & I tied $3,500 in cash around my left arm & I started out alone on horseback to buy cattle.
After that time we shipped thousands of cattle, & at one time owned 14,000 acres of land,” LeForce recalled in that 1949 interview.