Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bathsheba (or Bethsheba), Oklahoma

Garfield County, Oklahoma (1895)
Bathsheba, Oklahoma (also known as Bethsheba, Oklahoma)

Location: Said to have been located somewhere in Garfield County between Enid (Garfield County) and Perry (Noble County), Oklahoma, USA. Also described as a "three hour horse ride west of Stillwater."

Opened: September 16, 1893 or thereabouts

Closed: About 12 weeks after it started--if it ever started at all

Bathsheba (or Bethsheba) is reportedly a women's ghost town, its exact location a mystery. At least Dr. John W. Morris was unable to determine its whereabouts in his book, Ghost Towns of Oklahoma (1977). As a result, he did not include a separate entry on the town he called Bethsheba, though he did observe the following (p. 19):

Bethsheba, probably the most peculiar of all ghosts towns in Oklahoma, was not written about because its specific location between Enid and Perry is not known. (Bethsheba was settled by women and exclusively for women. No males of any species--roosters, bulls, male horses, or men--were admitted to the settlement. It is said to have had a population of thirty-three, but twelve deserted after the first week. The remaining members disappeared one night and Bethsheba became a female ghost.

A slew of AP articles also ran on Bathsheba in 1981. See these examples in the Gadsden Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

In 2006, at the Cherokee Strip Museum site, it was reported that a local woman named Ronda Stucks was writing a book about the "all-woman community of Bathsheba," but I can find no evidence that this book was ever published. However, the following information about Bathsheba is dutifully conveyed:

Research at the Cherokee Strip Museum here discloses several interesting facts. The museum has copies of detailed articles about Bathsheba. One is from a 1982 edition of the Stillwater NewsPress and the other is an unattributed reproduction which appears to be from the Oklahoma Historical Society's Oklahoma Chronicles. The latter piece is signed by the late Robert E. Cunningham of Stillwater, the author of Perry, Pride of the Prairie, published in the late 1960s and now out of print. There is no byline on the newspaper article but it probably is based largely on Bob Cunningham's account.

Both of the above documents use the spelling "Bethsheba," not "Bathsheba," and no explanation is given. "As the name would indicate," Mr. Cunningham wrote, "it was a town of women, where male horses, male chickens and male hogs were excluded, along with the male of their own specie. This unusual town sprang up on the prairie in the Cherokee Strip a few days after the opening on September 16, 1893. Towns had a habit of appearing and disappearing on the Oklahoma prairie in those days, just like mirages, and Bethsheba lasted just about as long as mirages do.

"An early day news reporter from Kansas fixed the location of this town as midway between Perry and Enid," the article continues. "In its boom days Bethsheba had a mayor, a police chief and a city council. The principal duty of the police chief was to chase men away from the town. The village originally consisted of 33 members, but 12 of them deserted after the first week, and one was expelled when it was learned she had a razor in her possession, the reporter learned. The local court held that masculine implements were subversive to the vital principles of the community."

Visiting the town, the reporter recognized the mayor. She was a former Kansas woman who, when well beyond the bloom of youth, married a drummer, as traveling salesmen were called in those days. It later turned out that the drummer had a wife and seven children in another state. No wonder the mayor was bitter.

The reporter wrapped up his story with a flourish of rhetoric: "Let us waive the throes of blighted affection, and the pangs of a heart without an affinity, which must have driven them (the town's female settlers) to this extremity. Let us be practical. These women have renounced the opposite sex; they have banished it from their heart-stones. But hold! Is not the primal object of every community perpetuity? Can this retreat of women have a continued existence, and a value in the world, under this one-sided single sex system? In a word, can there be a cackle without a crow? We wot (know) not."

The reporter's managing editor was not satisfied with the story and ordered the uncomfortable writer to return to Bathsheba in search of names and former addresses. Bob Cunningham describes that journey like this:

"After almost three hours in the saddle, (the reporter) arrived in the general area of the town he sought, but he saw no tents, no wagons or gaunt horses searching the prairie for a nibble of dry grass. He looked around for landmarks to make certain he had traveled in the right direction, and found his navigation had been correct. Bathsheba was gone.

P. J. Lassek in Oklahoma Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff (2008) openly speculates whether Bethsheba ever existed at all:

Oklahoma's Own Sappho

It's hard to know whether the settlement of Bethsheba really existed or was just a feminine figment of someone's imagination. Maybe it was a tale concocted and passed down through generations to discourage women from considering a life free of male influence and dominance. While there is no documentation that verifies it existed briefly in 1893 somewhere in Garfield County between Enid and Perry, there are a few unattributed accounts with interesting facts about the town at the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry and a few theories floating around.

It is reported that the all-female commune barred all males--humans and animals alike. There were absolutely no men, no stallions, no boars, no bulls, no roosters, or even tomcats allowed. The settlement was supposedly formed by a group of disgruntled women that were anti-men. Because reporters at the time were male, those who attempted to write about Bethsheba were forced to do it from afar using binoculars and assumptions. Of course, in those days when land runs drew single women willing to stake land without a husband, and settlement came and went as often as the winds shifted, who would know whether Bethsheba was fact or fiction?

Abandoned house in Potter Community,
Garfield County, Oklahoma

Garfield County, Oklahoma
Regarding the accounts by the unnamed Kansas reporter, Lassek reveals that the reporter's so-called facts about the disappearance of the town were contradictory. One account stated that he returned to find abandoned equipment and empty dwellings. Another stated he returned to find nothing, no tents, wagons, or even livestock.

It is also suggested that male violence (not just feminine fears and loneliness for men) may have played a role in the settlement's demise--IF it ever existed. Lassek also offers another rather silly theory--and with no particular evidence to back it up:

The town had just disappeared. Some say the women vanished in the middle of the night and were either ambushed by a pack of men or lonely for the security of men. I'd like to think that if there was a Bethsheba its demise came because the women realized that strength and independence came from within and not necessarily at the price of isolation.

The one element in the Kansas reporter's account that makes me think this might be just one big yarn is his strange "greeting" by the denizens of Bathsheba, and their presumably "druidistic" destruction of a rooster. Maybe just a little bit over the top? Something about it just doesn't ring true for me. See here for a fuller account:

As I moved closer the woman raised the gun once more, while the remainder of the population held their hands over their ears. Some averted their faces, presumable dreading to see the death throes of another human being, even though he happened to be a man.

I heard a loud report, and a cloud of black smoke billowed out of the gun barrel. Since the gun was pointed in my general direction, obviously the shot was for me. I felt no pain, and saw no blood darkening my once white shirt. My presumption, nurtured by hope, was right. Annie Oakley did not live in the village.

The woman dropped the gun as soon as she discharged it, and all raced toward their tents and disappeared. The chief, gathering her long skirt up around her hips, outran all the rest….

Some miles further on I met a farmer. He told me the village was made up entirely of women, who abjured the masculine sex completely. In proof of this he said that some of his chickens strayed into the settlement, and among the chickens was a rooster. The women killed this unlucky fowl with druidistic rites.

"A neighbor, who had managed to chisel a dugout out of the hard ground a mile away, said the women disappeared one night because, they told his wife, they were lonely and afraid, and that dissension had blighted their expected happiness. They went back to the land of men."

One note to add here. A caller advises me that the all-female town was located south of Garber in Garfield county. Otherwise, I have nothing else to contribute.

This article by Emily Jerman in the Oklahoma Gazette (dated June 4, 2009) also provides additional detail on "Bethsheba" as well as the umarried (white) women who participated in the 1893 Northwest Oklahoma/Cherokee Outlet land run--which was made possible, by the way, because of the forced removal of the Cherokee from the land that had been promised to them.

One of the major controversies in Bathsheba scholarship is whether a woman named Annette Daisey (or Daisy) and her "Daisey Colonists" were behind "Bethsheba"--or whether they led ANOTHER effort to establish all-woman settlement a few miles west of Ponca, Oklahoma, which apparently had no name. The Daisey colonists allegedly settled on 480 acres, and eventually developed a settlement which included two houses and four shelters by December 1893. While the stories of Bethsheba and the Daisey colony are similar, we're also told that both Bethsheba and Daisey's name fail to show up in any Garfield County records of the period.

Bathsheba has inspired at least one work of fiction, a novel by Barbara D. Devault called A Gentle Breed (1997).


  1. Always fascinating.
    I looked up a map, and the halfway point between Enid and Perry would be Covington at the junction of 164 & 74. Garber is further north on 74, but couldn't be described as halfway between. On 74, halfway between Covington and Perry is a little place called Lucien, and I wonder if that is it. All the streets have birds' names, which makes it rather interesting.

    The reports of the settlement entirely disappearing could be a case of looking in entirely the wrong place.

    Places like this have to be stealth, because male raiding parties or interference are commonplace.

  2. I think you're on to something, Davina. I can see the value of deliberating putting out "disinformation" as to the town's location. For all the reasons you cited.

  3. The modern population stats for Lucien, puts it at just under 150 with 76 households (I only counted about 20-25 houses, so it may include outlying areas in the stats). Another website gives the population as 88, which looks more accurate.

    No google streetmap in the 'town'. The township is laid out spaciously, like little farmlets. The main town is divided into 7-8 plots. Population is now 51-52% female.

    It is about 20 miles northwest of Stillwater. So maybe a three hour horseride?

    I am liking it for a likely suspect. Particularly with the birdnamed streets.

  4. Could be. Though I'm also wondering whatever happened to the Daisy Colony near Ponca City, Oklahoma--which seems to be better documented.


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