The Oklahoma Ottersons - 
 Joseph, Sarah and their descendants
 Indian Territory-Oklahoma, USA 
 1880-today

The Ottersons first settled in the coal mining community of Krebs, in the northwestern part of the Choctaw Nation.


The Osage Mining Company was the largest of several mining enterprises in the area that were extracting coal from the McAlester-Krebs coal field, which extended for several miles. Three of the Otterson sons - George, John and Tom - worked at Mine No. 7 in late 1888 and through 1889, and possibly for much longer. George, the eldest, earned $2.50 a day as a roadman. Tom worked as a “spragger” - a job that required lodging wooden “sprags” or blocks beneath the wheels of railroad cars carrying coal to stop them moving. He earned much less than his elder brother at that time - $1.50 a day - no doubt because he was only 14 or 15 years old. In later life, Tom’s enterprising mind invented a wheel for coal carts which he patented, and one can assume his invention stemmed from what he learned in this early work. John was a driver, but appears on the payroll of Mine No. 7 only every other month or so, and so may have worked between different mines.


As the Otterson sons grew up and had families of their own, they moved to other coal communities. There is no sign of father Joseph at the Osage Mining Company where his sons worked in the late 1880s, or, for that matter, of son Joseph, the twin to John. The absence of the destroyed 1890 federal census is crucial for this period, and all we presently have to go on are the dates and places of the children’s marriages.


George married in the early 1880s, probably at Krebs, though we know only the first name of his bride - Elizabeth. John was the next to marry. He wed Ella Gillfoil, a girl from an Irish Catholic family who grew up in Illinois, and the couple set up home at Coalgate, to the southwest. Much has been learned about the posterity of John, who is generally referred to as “John W.” Jennie followed a year later with her marriage to Jack Halstead, an English coal miner, and then youngest son Tom married Elizabeth Clark three days before Christmas, 1897.


Wilburton

Krebs

McAlester

The children of John W. Otterson 











Joseph and Sarah’s son, John W. Otterson, had five children - Ruby, John Joseph, Hazel, Julian (“Sammy”) and Elmon George. 

In May 2009, research into the Otterson line led to Mary Carillo Otterson (above), the widow of Elmon George Otterson (also above), who lives in Nevada. Mary’s information, photographs, obituaries and keen memory has helped substantially to fill out the picture of the children of John W., including the few male descendants in the United States who still carry the Otterson name.

Elmon George Otterson

Mary Carrillo and Elmon Otterson met in Oklahoma City, although both were from the same small town of Wilburton. After World War II, in which Elmon served in the Army Air Corps, the couple moved to California where they raised their family. Their children and grandchildren live there today. Elmon died in 1984.

Hazel V. Otterson

One of Elmon’s four brothers and sisters was Hazel Violet Otterson, an elegant woman who was said to be very much attached to her Otterson name. When she married in middle age to L. L. Lyon, a real estate and construction company owner, Hazel kept the Otterson name even on her bank account.

In 1950, when her husband (known by everyone as “L.L.” - understandably since his full name was Lafayette LaMar) developed a subdivision in Oklahoma City, he named one of the center streets “Otterson Drive.” The original plat is shown below, and the street still exists today. Lyon Boulevard is nearby.

More information on Ruby and Julian (known as Sammy) and their descendants is still being sought.

John Joseph had one son, also named John Joseph. His son’s widow, Molly Parks Otterson, still lives in Wilburton, Oklahoma. Since her husband suffered from a severe asthma condition all his life, the couple decided not to have children, although Molly has children and grandchildren from an earlier marriage.

Above: The plat from 1950 showing Otterson Drive, named after Hazel Otterson by her husband, L.L. Lyon. He was a construction and real estate developer who has left his mark on Oklahoma City in at least ten subdivisions, and a Lyon Boulevard that skirts the Skyline suburb where Otterson Drive is located.

Left: Hazel’s newspaper obituary, and below, that of her mother Ella Gillfoil Otterson.

Ella Gillfoil was born in Illinois of Irish parents. When she married John W. Otterson about 1893, she insisted that any children be raised Catholic - a common requirement at the time for Catholic-Protestant marriages. That agreement applied after the birth of Ruby, John Joseph and Hazel, but following a disagreement with the Catholic priest, the last two children - Julian Wilfred “Sammy” Otterson and Elmon G. Otterson - were baptized Methodist.

Left: Hazel Otterson, daughter of John W. Otterson, with her mother Ella Gillfoil Otterson, circa 1920s. Above Otterson Drive, Oklahoma City, named for Hazel Otterson; Below: Hazel in 1950 with husband L.L. Lyon.

Joseph Otterson 
Born 1829, Jarrow, County Durham, England
Sarah Ingram 
Born 1836, County Durham, England
Nicholas Otterson 
Born 1857 England


Died Kentucky
George B. Otterson 
Born 1858 Kentucky
Md: Elizabeth
Died 1947 
Oklahoma City, OK
John W. Otterson
Born 1863 Kentucky
Md: Ella Gillfoil
Died 1913
 Wilburton, OK
Joseph Otterson
Born 1863 Kentucky
Md: Fanny Brooks
Died 1920
Oklahoma
Sarah A. Otterson
Born 1866 Kentucky
Jennie Otterson
Born 1872 Kentucky
Md: John Halstead
Thomas P. Otterson
Born 1874 Kentucky
Md: Elizabeth Clarke
Died Oct 1952
McAlester, OK
Jane Otterson, b. 1883, Indian Territory
Anna Otterson, b. 1885, Indian Territory
Loella Otterson, b. 1887, Indian Territory
John G. Otterson, b. 1890, Indian Territory

Line ends

Line ends

Line ends

Josie Halstead, b. 1896, Indian Territory
George Halstead, b. 1898, Indian Territory
Lottie Halstead, b. 1903, Indian Territory
David Halstead, b. 1905, Indian Territory
Letha Halstead, b. 1908, Oklahoma
Thomas Halstead, b. 1910, Oklahoma
Elizabeth Halstead, b. 1912, Oklahoma

Descendant lines still to be traced

Descendant lines still to be traced

Alderson

First American generation

Second generation

Third generation

Ruby M. Otterson 
Born 1894 
Indian Territory
Md: John Blake Mitchell
Died 1975
Oklahoma City, OK
John Blake Mitchell, b. 1923, Oklahoma
Patricia M. Mitchell, b. 1925, Oklahoma
James Mitchell, b. 1927

Descendant lines to be traced

John Joseph Otterson Born 1897
Coalgate, Indian Territory
Md: Mildred H. Staub
Died 1958
McAlester, OK
John Joseph Otterson
Born 1930
Oklahoma, USA
Md: Molly Parks
Died 2001
Wilburton, OK
Hazel V. Otterson
Born 1898
Wilburton, Indian Terr.
Md: Lafayette L. Lyon
Died 1982
Oklahoma City, OK
Julian W. Otterson
Born 1908
Wilburton, Oklahoma 
Md: Helen Ann
Died 1974
Oklahoma City, OK
Elmon G. Otterson
Born 1910
Wilburton, Oklahoma
Md: Mary Carillo
Died 1984
Livermore, California

Fourth generation

Line ends

Line ends

Sam Otterson, b. Oklahoma City, OK
Hazel Ann Otterson, b. Oklahoma City, OK
Sally P. Otterson, Oklahoma City, OK

Descendant lines to be added

Mary Ella Otterson, b. 1949 Oklahoma City, OK
John Elmon Otterson, b. 1951, Oklahoma City, OK
Vicki Lynn, b. 1962, Alameda, California
Alice Otterson
Born 1909
Oklahoma
Md: Joseph Crowl
Died

Descendant lines to be added

No children - line ends

Clarence C. Otterson 
Born 1900 
Oklahoma
Md: Margaret
Died 1973
Texas
Irene Otterson 
Born 1904 
Oklahoma
Never married
Died
McAlester, OK

No children - line ends

Bessie Otterson 
Born 1907
Oklahoma
Never married?
Died

No children - line ends?

Thomas Crowl 
Born 1930
McAlester, Oklahoma
Md:

Move to the West


The Ottersons arrived in Indian Territory in 1881, after more than 20 years in Kentucky. The head of the family was English-born Joseph Otterson, now in his early 50s, and his wife, Sarah. With them were their four sons and one daughter, Jennie. The graves of first son Nicholas, and possibly also daughter Sarah, had been left in Kentucky.


Coal mining was their life. Oldest son George was now in his early 20s, and both he and his younger twin brothers were all miners like their father. Youngest brother Tom was only seven years old, but in a few years he, too, would enter the mines.


As they looked to the west from Kentucky, maps of the United States at the time showed Indian Territory divided among five “nations” or tribes. Indian Territory had been designated for the forcible resettlement from the southeastern United States of the so-called five civilized tribes - the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole - whose presence on their traditional homelands in the southeast of the United States had proved a hindrance to European settlement and expansion decades earlier. The tribes had been relocated from their homes east of the Mississippi River over several decades authorized by federal legislation. It was to the Choctaw Nation, in the southeast of Indian Territory, that the Ottersons came. Within 20 years, the entire area of the five tribes would become the State of Oklahoma.

The “five civilized tribes” - the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. These tribes occupies Indian Territory (the future Oklahoma) when the Ottersons arrived there in 1881. From the website theartisticindulgence.com (used with permission).

This area is hilly and forested. Whites began to know it when an overland mail route was established in 1858, but with increasing white settlement came the discovery of rich coal deposits which profoundly affected the economic development of the area. With the mines came the railroads, which helped open up the territory and enabled transportation of coal and other commodities to distant markets.


The story of the Ottersons in Oklahoma over the next hundred years revolves primarily around four locations - Krebs and neighboring communities, (McAlester, Alderson), Wilburton 30 miles to the east, Coalgate 40 miles to the southwest, and Oklahoma City, 125 miles to the west. The family chart below shows the descendants from Joseph and Sarah Otterson, the first immigrants from County Durham, England, as far as they have been traced in each of these communities. Descendants have now spread as far as California.

Coalgate

Osage Coal and Mining Co., Mine No. 7


Above: Rocks and undergrowth now mask the old entrance to mine No. 7. (photograph taken October, 2010).

Left: Page from the original Osage Coal and Mining Company payroll register of January 1889 includes Tom Otterson’s pay for 12 days, totalling $18. Tom, John and George are all listed in other pages throughout the book.

Above: Choctaw Nation, 1880s. The cluster of towns labeled were all coal mining communities, and members of the Otterson family were at one time living and working in each of them.

Below:  The McAlester-Krebs coalfield stretched for several miles and drove the development of both communities. McAlester eventually became the Pittsburgh County seat, but Krebs gradually declined after the coal ran out. At least three of the Otterson brothers worked Mine No. 7 of the Osage Coal and Mining Company, just outside Krebs,

Where, during this time, were father Joseph and mother Sarah, and their other son, Joseph, known as “Joe?” No record has been found of them until the 1900 census, in which Joseph is recorded as a widower in his 70s, living in his own mortgage-free home in Krebs, along with son Joseph, 36, and his married daughter, Jennie, and her family. Exactly when and where Sarah died is still to be discovered, but it seems that old Joseph never moved away from Krebs after their relocation from Kentucky.


Son, Joseph married late. He was 43 when he married a widower, Fanny Brooks, in 1907, the same year that Oklahoma became a state. He stayed in Krebs for the rest of his life life, and was buried at McAlester in 1843, his 80th year. They had no children.


By the time of the 1910 census, the historical record provides a clear example of how the fortunes of a single generation had improved dramatically. George has now moved to Wilburton in Latimer County where he is the manager of one of the mines there - a substantial and responsible job. Of his three children, Anna is a saleswoman at the dry goods store, Loella is a teacher at the district school and son John G. Otterson is an agent for the express company. Interestingly, on the day of the census, April 28, 1910, old father Joseph was listed in the household. He was only visiting, however. Two days later, when the census takers reached  Krebs, Joseph was back in his own home, where he lives alone. He would have taken the train - Nellie as it was known - to carry him the 30 miles between the two towns. The spur rail line had opened in the late 1880s from Krebs to Wilburton as coal mining there boomed.


It is Tom, however, the youngest of the first American generation of Ottersons, about whom we know the most.  He was intelligent and enterprising, and the various historical records that note parts of his life have been supplemented by the fact that his grandson, Tom Crowl, still lives in Krebs - aged 80 in 2010.


Tom was tall - 6ft 2in - slender, a handsome man with blue eyes and hair parted in the middle. His first names, Thomas Parker Otterson, were given in memory of his aunt Elizabeth Otterson’s first husband, Tom Parker, who died in Kentucky before she moved to Wisconsin. He was married in 1898 to the pretty, petite Elizabeth Clarke, who had come to the United States as a girl.


In 1911 and again in 1913, Tom was elected mayor of Krebs. This followed a period of intense union activity involving the area’s coal miners, although his exact role, if any, at that time is not yet known. This is a highly probable area for further research, however, because the battles between miners and unions are well documented at the time, and newspapers of the day are in historical archives. This website will devote a page to this period under “The Times” section as more is learned.


While he was mayor, Tom and Elizabeth and their four children lived in a house at the corner of Washington Avenue and 6th Street in Krebs. The house no longer exists. Today, the site is occupied by a convenience store and gas station.


In 1918, when World War 1 was at an end, the third US federal draft registration required any man born between 1872 and  1900 to register. Tom registered but never served in the military. The card confirms his physical description.

Above: The Nellie, the train that ran on the spur line from Krebs to Wilburton, at the Krebs rail depot. This is one of the oldest photographs of Krebs. The building on the far left is the Osage Mining Company’s business office (Courtesy, Krebs Heritage Museum). The Ottersons would have used this train to travel between Wilburton and Krebs.

Right: Thomas Parker Otterson, mayor of Krebs when it was a town of about 3,000, being elected in 1911, 1913 and again in 1927. At the time of writing (2010), a picture of him, and another with his bride on their wedding day and their framed marriage certificate, hang on the wall of the Krebs Heritage Museum at 85 South main Street, the same place where the Osage Mining Company payroll book can be found.

Below right: The mayor’s house stood on the corner of Washington Avenue and 6th Street, now occupied by a gas station and convenience store. Tom Otterson’s newspaper obituary describes him as pioneer of Krebs.

In fact, Tom’s hearing deteriorated markedly in later life. While at the mine, he had worked with the equipment that pushed air into the mine shafts, and that ran the cars on the rails, and he attributed that constant noise to his hearing loss. Later, he worked at the Union Iron Works at nearby McAlester as a machinist, and continued there during World War 2 when the US military turned the place into a huge munitions factory.


Tom was elected mayor of Krebs once more in 1927, which meant that his term ended just days after the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, triggered the Great Depression. Tom Crowl, his grandson who still lives in Krebs, describes him in the 1930s as “a stately man, silent and respected.”


“Grandfather Otterson didn’t say much in those years because he couldn’t hear,” Tom said in a 2010 interview. “He got one of the first hearing aids, and that helped a little but not much.”


Thomas Parker Otterson lived until October 1952. He died age 78. His wife, Elizabeth, outlived him by another 12 years.

The next generations

Unidentified picture from Mary Carrillo Otterson’s collection, which she believes might be Joseph Otterson’s son, John W., with his first two children, Ruby and John Joseph.

Below:

John Joseph Otterson and his widow Molly Parks Otterson. John was the only son of John Joseph, and the great grandson of the original English Otterson immigrants from England. He served in the US Air Force and was a funeral director in Wilburton, where Molly still lives. She describes him as “an extremely kind man.”

John’s grave in Wilburton City Cemetery is shown at the left. The three adjacent Otterson graves belong to his parents and grandfather.

More information will be added to this page on the Otterson and related lines as they are researched.