No story of my dad’s life would be complete without a large part devoted to Fay, Oklahoma. There’s no way that I can do justice to this remarkable little community, but I’ll have to try.
Don’s home was Enid, Oklahoma, where my grandfather worked as a barber, but Grandmother was from Fay, and most of her family still lived there. She visited as often as she could, and of course when she went she took her sons along with her. I was raised on stories about Fay, about my dad’s aunts, uncles and cousins. After Don got out of grade school he spent his summers in Fay, working for one of his uncles, on the farm or in town at the filling station.
Fay would seem to be just an ordinary farming community, inhabited by hard working men and women trying to make a living and raise their families, but it had a fascination for my dad that made it seem almost magical, and he transmitted that feeling to me.
When I was in college at the University of Oklahoma, Bud, one of my cousins from Fay, was also in school there studying engineering. He was a year or two ahead of me and I’ll never forget a conversation I had with him just before his graduation. He told me that he couldn’t go on in engineering, because he’d have to move away from his home and his family, so after going all the way through the engineering school, he changed his major to education, and went back home to work as a teacher in Thomas, just a short distance from his father’s farm. He became principal of the junior high school there, and that’s where he lives today.
The other kids from Fay were the same way. My uncle Boyd, who spent his summers in Fay like my dad, worked for the University of Oklahoma, and it was a standing joke that he couldn’t get any one from Fay to go to OU. They all went to Southwestern, a junior college closer to Fay. Actually Bud was the first to attend OU, but now you know how that turned out.
Boyd in Fay Band (standing between two drummers), about 1925
My mother also understood the virtues of farm life. I recently ran across a paper she wrote while she was in College in the school of social work. The paper is about Garvin County, the community where she was raised. In it she describes how farm families have a low divorce rate. She concluded that it was because everyone on a farm has to pitch in and work together, and this makes their conflicts seem less important. I think there must be something to that.
Still, there has always been something special about Fay, and the Boyd family. I know a little bit about the Fay’s history, both from what Don told me, and from a book written in 1994, on the occasion of Fay’s centennial celebration.
The area around Fay, north of the Canadian River, was first settled by white men during the land run of 1892. The town wasn’t named until a federal post office was placed there in 1894. When the railroad was built in 1903, it only came within one and a quarter miles of the town so the town was moved. Some of the buildings were torn down and reassembled and others were pulled by teams of horses over bridge pilings laid end to end.
Back then Fay was a bustling town with several hotels, cafes, bars, a grocery and dry goods store, a blacksmith shop, livery, bank, cotton gin, stockyards, a telegraph office and three newspapers. My great grandparents, Grant and Laura Boyd, came from St. Joseph, Mo. In 1893 or 4 and bought their farm west of Fay for $35, the price of a train ticket home for the man who had unsuccessfully homesteaded there after the run. They also ran a hotel. (see my post of Jan. 13, 2013)
Fay during the early 1900’s.
Probably Fay’s earliest claim to fame was Joe Gillespie, who won a 1000 mile horse race in 1893. Joe was working as a cowboy breaking horses in Nebraska when some businessmen decided to organize a horse race from Chadron, Nebraska, to Chicago, Illinois, where Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was scheduled to perform. Doc Middleton, a Nebraska horse thief, wanted to enter the race, and he asked Joe to be his guide since Joe knew the Nebraska countryside.
After a few days, Doc fell behind from spending too much time in bars along the way, and so Joe Gillespie decided to finish the race on his own. He had two horses, Billy Shaffer and Billy Mack. Someone gave Billy Mack an extra bucket of oats along the way and foundered him, so Joe had to go on with only Billy Shaffer. Joe was six feet tall and 180 pounds, bigger than most of the other riders, so he would get off and run to give the horse some relief. When he got too tired to run, he held onto Billy Shaffer’s tail and slid along on his feet until his boot soles wore through. Joe won the race and the prize of a Colt 44 six-shooter, a new saddle and two hundred dollars. Joe and his wife stayed with Buffalo Bill’s show until it left the country to tour Europe. They decided not to travel overseas, and to move to Oklahoma where they settled in Fay.
Billy Shaffer was always spoken of like one of the family, and Joe’s grandson, Harold Comer, who recorded his grandfather’s story, said that he was six or seven years old before he found out that Billy Shaffer was actually a horse. Billy is buried near Fay.