James H. Gernert. One of the vital needs of the State of Oklahoma in its formative period was an improved system of superintending the official activities of guardians of the estates of Indians of the Five Tribes. The record of these activities for a generation contains veiled evidence of the accumulation of wealth by unscrupulous guardians and their associates to the detriment of the financial welfare of many Indians. In nearly every community of these nations one may hear recounted details of fraudulent transactions of this nature that took place during a period of thirty to forty years before statehood. Indian widows have been led to deed their lands to white men under the belief they were either signing some other kind of a document or were getting value received for their allotments, and left destitute. Designing negroes, bearing purported credentials from the United States Government, have worked their wiles on innocent freedmen and robbed them of valuable holdings.
To assist in correcting these evils and to conserve the resources of the dependent Indians became the duty of James H. Gernert shortly before statehood, when he was appointed master in probate for the Twenty-third Recording District of Indian Territory by U. S. Judge Thomas C. Humphrey. His activities constitute an important part of the history of that day, for he developed a system of management and accounting that placed the handling of Indian probate matters on a business basis. Later in his practice Mr. Gernert became attorney for many Indians who had been fraudulently deprived of their property. From a different viewpoint from that obtaining among many old settlers he learned of the needs of Indian citizens and their customs and manner of living, and became acquainted with them over a wide scope of country.
Mr. Gernert was born in Columbia. Pennsylvania, May 26, 1887. He is a son of Charles H. and Hannah Ann (Strong) Gernert, the former of whom is a native of Pennsylvania and for many years a representative merchant of Columbia. Mr. Gernert’s early education was secured in the public schools of Pennsylvania, and later he graduated from the high school at Troy, then pursuing a business course in the Elmira (New York) Business College. In 1900 he received a degree from the State Normal School, at Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. After teaching one term of school, he entered the University of Michigan and graduated two years later, in 1904, with the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He began the practice of his profession at Atoka, in May, 1905, in partnership with James H. Chambers, who afterwards was a member of the. Oklahoma Constitutional Convention and for seven years attorney for the State Board of Land Commissioners. He is a member of the Masonic lodge, affiliating with the Blue Lodge, Chapter and Commandery at Atoka, Bedouin Temple, of the Mystic Shrine at Muskogee, and the Consistory at McAlester.
Mr. Gernert was married in Pennsylvania, March 14, 1906, to Miss Helen L. Burrows, whose father, who died a few years ago at Centrahoma, was a banker at Olney and later a merchant at Centrahoma. They have two children: Hial B., aged eight years; and Anna Christine, aged six. Mr. Gernert is a member of the Coalgate Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Atoka County Bar Association and the Oklahoma Bar Association, the Atoka Hunting and Fishing Club, the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Atoka Club. He has oil and gas holdings in the noted Healdton field of Oklahoma and extensive real estate and agricultural properties in Atoka County.