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James R. Knight. A former member of the Oklahoma Legislature, a farmer and real estate dealer at Ida, James R. Knight is a man whose experiences in detail would make almost a complete picture of the historical development in Southeastern Oklahoma during the last two or three decades. Mr. Knight has been a merchant, farmer, stockman, clerk, newspaper editor and officeholder. As much as any other individual he has been responsible for ridding the district in Southeastern Oklahoma, in which the Kiamichi Mountains are situated, from the lawless element that formerly infested it.
It has been pointed out that the Kiamichi Mountains for a number of years were too isolated to afford a favorite rendezvous for many of the noted outlaws who operated through the territory and adjacent states. The mountains furnished for decades a famous hunting ground for Indians, professional wanderers, trappers and others of nomadic habits. But the criminal element was confined to those minor offenders against the majesty of law and order.
Statehood in 1907 brought a rapid transformation of this region. On the northern, western and southern borders of the mountains grew somewhat magically several towns, including Smithville. The Village of Ida and Broken Bow, the last becoming the seat of one of the largest sawmills in the Southwest. This development was in the nature of an invitation to the major class of outlaws. Horse and cattle thieving became rampant and thoroughly systematized. Large herds were gathered in the night and precipitately transported over the Arkansas line and shipped to market. Horses were stolen by the wholesale. The establishment of county government resulted in the election of constables and town marshals and the appointment of deputy sheriffs, but these officials seemed only to encourage a bolder and more flagrant violation of law.
James R. Knight, later a newspaper editor in Idabel, established himself on a little farm and ranch in the mountains near Ida, and was given a commission as deputy sheriff. The very night that he received his commission the post office and store owned by that true and tried pioneer, Dan J. Griffin, was robbed and wrecked and Knight immediately organized a posse and started pursuit. He was soon threatened with death by the outlaw gang. More than once he barely was without the range of an assassin’s bullet. He proceeded to do some detective work and learned many facts about the organization of thieves. They not only stole cattle and horses but committed burglary of stores and residences and highway robbery. It was unsafe for strangers to traverse the mountains. The region was overrun with bad men.
This condition was reported to the sheriff of McCurtain County and the sheriffs of adjoining counties, both in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Posses organized by the sheriffs of four counties hurried into the mountains and mobilized. The little army consisted of about fifty men. It searched the recesses of the mountains and the country surrounding the principal ranches and towns. It was an arduous, exciting and dangerous campaign. Every day a few suspects were arrested until about thirty were held. One pitched battle occurred in which a robber was killed, and another battle was fought in a storm on the mountain in which a posseman was killed by mistake. Two posses, blinded by the storm, mistook each other for outlaws. At another time the officers ran upon the robbers in a rock fort in a canyon and the robbers shot and killed four horses belonging to the officers. The robbers were entrenched in an impregnable position, but the officers captured six horses in the encounter. The expedition lasted four weeks, and it brought to a summary end the burglarizing of stores and post offices. though not until a store in Smithville had been four times robbed of money and goods. There was not sufficient evidence to convict any of the suspects arrested, but their detention served a good purpose.
While lawlessness has not entirely decreased in the Kiamichi country, it is no longer conducted on a systematic and organized basis. The lending cattlemen have become members of the Texas Cattle Raisers Association, and this association has furnished those of the Kiamichi region a brand of detectives whose activities have brought about many arrests and several convictions.
With the preceding facts in mind there must be considerable interest in the career of James R. Knight. He was born in Rienzi, Mississippi, in 1868, a son of R. K. and Violetta (Aughey) Knight. His father gave forty seven years to the vocation of teacher, and the last few years of his career were spent in the schools at Caddo, Oklahoma. Among his pupils there was Boone Williams, later a member of the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention, and Felix Phillips, a big merchant of Lehigh, Oklahoma. R. K. Knight came to Indian Territory in 1885, and died ten years later at Caddo, where his body was buried, and his mother was buried beside him in the winter of 1915. She came to Memphis, Tennessee, and taught school, and she and every member of her father’s family married in the South and were southerners at heart. Mr. Knight’s mother was descended from the family of Lord Hillsborough of Ireland. The story goes that a daughter of Lord Hillsborough eloped with John Aughey, her father’s gardener. They came to America, settling at Utica, New York. Another member of the Aughey family was the Rev. John H. Aughey, a Presbyterian minister, whose ministry embraced a part of Oklahoma Territory during the three years following 1890. Rev. Mr. Aughey was erroneously supposed to be a northern sympathizer during the Civil war and wrote several books in favor of the Union and against secession, among these being “The Iron Furnace,” but some of these books were revised after the war in pursuance of the author’s change of belief on subjects relating to the war. Reverend Aughey is a relative of Attorney William S. Paden of Broken Bow, Oklahoma.
Mr. James R. Knight attended the public schools of Mississippi and the Male Classical Institute of Corinth in that state. He came to Indian Territory at the age of sixteen and began his career as clerk in a general store in Atoka. This store was one of only three brick business houses in existence in Indian Territory. Associated with him as clerk was J. D. Lankford, who has for several years been bank commissioner of Oklahoma. At that time the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad was the only line through the territory. Twelve years ago Mr. Knight located at Valliant, now one of the leading towns of McCurtain County, and a little later he bought the Beacon-Times at Idabel, one of the oldest papers of the Kiamichi region.
His varied associations with the Kiamichi country and his full knowledge of conditions there made him a valuable member of the Third State Legislature. While in this Legislature he sought unsuccessfully to procure the enactment of a law that would raise the state reward for the arrest of horse thieves from $50 to $500. His idea was that the reward would be sufficient to warrant an officer camping on the trails of thieves until they were exterminated. Mr. Knight’s experiences also inspired him to attempt the project of a measure to provide for the building of iron bridges on all railroads, but he failed in this. His wide knowledge of conditions in the Kiamichi region caused him to be made chairman of the House Committee on the Protection of Birds, Fish and Game, and here again he attempted to use his good offices, though without result, to obtain the passage of a bill placing the enforcement of game laws in the hands of the sheriffs and thus abolishing the office of deputy state game wardens. He also sought the passage of a law providing; for the gauging of mountain streams and the location of county roads across the streams.
In 1905 at Wheelock Academy, Mr. Knight married Miss Agnes Beatrice Battiest, an Indian girl of French extraction, whose father was for a number of years judge of Nashoba County in the Choctaw Nation. Mrs. Knight died January 5, 1911, leaving one child, Mary Violetta, five years old, who now lives at Ada with her father’s sister.
Mr. Knight has served as clerk of one of the mountain townships of McCurtain County and alderman in the towns of Valliant and Idabel. He was a member of the Democratic Central Committee of Idabel two terms, and once by acclamation was elected president of the Democratic Club of Idabel.
He has four sisters and one brother: Miss Kate K. Knight, who formerly was a teacher in Wheelock Academy, and now a member of the faculty of the East Central State Normal at Ada; Miss Elizabeth S. Knight, who for twenty years has been principal of a school in Wichita, Kansas. D. T. Knight, a general merchant and truck farmer in Florida; Mrs. Emma Knight Mims, of Memphis, Tennessee; and Mrs. Mamie Shafer, who was married in Caddo, Oklahoma, and died a few years later in Waco, Texas. Mr. Knight is affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Modern Woodmen of America and was the organizer in Idabel of the local chapter of the A. H. T. A. He is always wide awake and active in the development and uplift of the country and through the great love for his wife and little girl is a true friend, heart and soul, for the Indians, and is also broad minded and liberal for all races and all people, an advocate of the brotherhood of man and the disseminator of the milk of human kindness.
It is the heart’s desire of Mr. Knight that the old mountain farm in the bend of the West Fork of the Glover River at Ida will be the most picturesque, remunerative and independent place in the world. It is the home of four generations of his wife’s family–first, Rev. Gaines Battiest, Choctaw, preacher, farmer, blacksmith and bear hunter; next, his son, Judge Byington Battiest; then of Mrs. Agnes Battiest Knight; and last, little Mary Violetta Knight. This place is an ideal quarter section of land, with some hill land but mostly creek bottom, threaded by the silvery Glover Creek, skirted by high pine-fringed bluffs on one side and fringed by oak, holly, walnut and cedar on the other, and tall forest parks and a half dozen cabins, with the necessary barns, stables and gardens in connection, many wells and springs and spring branches on the place. A forty-year-old Indian seedling peach orchard, a twenty-year-old improved variety and a three-year-old peach orchard on the place, and many native bearing black walnut trees, a few English and Japanese walnut trees, with rich gardens, fringed with mint, sage, asparagus and rhubarb, give the place an air of beauty, comfort and independence beyond comparison. In addition to this a high wire suspension foot-bridge and a smooth sandy ford, through clear running water, add to the beauty of the scene.
While all of this is at the present writing forty miles from the railroad, it has a daily mail, a long-distance and local telephone on the place and the hum of the cotton gin and the grist mill, the saw mill and the planer is near at hand and gives the impression that they are in nature’s own wonderland in the heart of the mountains. It is the wish of James R. Knight that his little daughter, Mary Violetta Knight, now ten years of age, in whose veins flows the best blood of the noble Choctaw Indians as well as the Irish, Scotch, English, French and Dutch, shall keep and continue to improve this place and hand it down from generation to generation, as it has already passed through four generations, and may God in His infinite wisdom help him to make this spot an oasis in the desert of human tribulation, so that the wayfaring man may find cheer and comfort on his way, and depart again, with a greater faith in all that is good.