Author Bruce Howell Brings Grand Lake Area History Alive

Special To From Lady Shutterbug and The Grand Laker:

Author Bruce Howell recently released his book “1806”, “The exploration and settlement of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory”.

Two book signings have already taken place, with the third scheduled in the Cherokee Yacht Club dining room lobby, September 5, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and another at Janet’s Accents & Gift Shop in Vinita on September 12, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

The books are available for purchase in Vinita at Clanton’s Cafe, Western Trail Museum and Janet’s Gifts.

In Langley the books are available at the South Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce office, located in the GRDA building, and Langley Tag Agency.

In Grove the books can be purchased at Sissy’s Book Store.

And the book is also available on Amazon.


Many may be familiar with Howell’s writing from his two previous publications, “Echoes From the Past”, relating to the history of Northeastern Oklahoma.  

Bruce Howell has been a long time educator. He started teaching in a one room country school, in Southwest Iowa, when he was only 18 years-old. 

“I had 19 kids, kindergarten through eighth grade,” said Howell. “I had had one year of college and was home at Easter when one of the board members from this little country school stopped by the house and asked if I would like to teach at their school, for the fabulous sum of $1,800 a year. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for my second year of college so I thought, well, I’ll teach and maybe save money and go back. Saving money never materialised, but finally, 16 years later I had a Doctorate. I was still trying to save money and still haven’t saved any!  Those were good days. I can remember the names of most of the kids. We had a great time. I always wore a suit and a tie. I guess that way if some parent walked in the door they could distinguish me from the kids.

“I never taught history, except as part of the curriculum itself. It’s tragic, but true, that you can almost walk across campus in an education college and get a certificate from the state to teach history. You practically have to have no background to be certified to teach history. I think that’s part of the reason that people don’t find it interesting. They don’t, or didn’t have interesting teachers. Students find it boring. Teachers are about a chapter ahead of the students in the book.

“I think as a practical matter we’re reaping partly that product now when you look at the fact that less than 40% of the people even vote. There’s no practical Civics taught in schools. Young generations, 18 to 24 year olds, practically won’t show up to at the polls at all, because they have really no understanding of the history and background of the United States. So they have no interest in it. 

Dr. Bruce Howell

“When I came to Oklahoma in 1969 Jenkin Lloyd Jones was publisher and editor at the Tulsa Tribune. He gave a presentation in some downtown auditorium. I wish I could express myself like that guy could. He was fascinating what he told. He gave a little snip of Oklahoma history in about a 30 minute presentation, which made an impression on me.

“I kind of got busy with other things for about 25 to 30 years, but I always remembered Jenk’s presentation. I thought to myself if I had a chance to write something that people would read, not history, names, dates and places like it is so many times presented, but try and present it in an interesting fashion and talk a little bit about the human characteristics of these people that it would make interesting reading.”

After being Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools twice and being Dean at the College of Education at the University of Tulsa, Howell finally retired in ’93 after his wife had passed in 1992.

Bruce started coming to Grand Lake in 1994, where he purchased his famous Pink Panther 30’ wood cruiser.

He had an apartment in Tulsa, but found himself staying more on the boat than at the apartment.

“I also had an office in a bank building in Tulsa and since I could bring my computer with me to the lake, it got to the point that I was visiting my office and my apartment in Tulsa,” laughs Bruce.

I finally moved up here in 1997 full time. I moved into a townhouse located in The Coves. Kay and I got married in 2000 and built a house in The Coves. And, as the saying goes, “We lived happily ever after”.”

Bruce never forgot about the presentation he had heard from Jenkin Lloyd Jones.

Though he had put it on the back burner for several years, he now had the time to full fill his dream of writing history in a way that it would come alive for his readers.

“About six or seven years ago I started writing articles called “Echoes of the Past”. They were just little snapshots of things that were kind of interesting and intriguing, like the Barker family. The Barkers of course ripped and roared across in the 1930’s, kidnapping, robbing banks and all that and I thought it was ironic that they ended up buried six miles east of Welch, Oklahoma. I go into detail as to how that happened. That was one story.  There are so many things. There is the Military Road and a fort called Ft. Snelling, which was built in St. Paul, Minnesota in the 1820’s. It happened to be anchored at the north end of Military Road. The point is, the Military Road runs right through here; through Cabin Creek and on down to Ft. Gibson, etc. It’s just all so interesting. There are particular pioneers, soldiers, officers who were stationed at Ft. Gibson and had connections there. Jefferson Davis, confederate president was a lieutenant at Ft. Gibson for awhile.

“Oklahoma’s heritage is rich in culture. It can lay claim to so many famous people like Stand Watie, Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and Cherokee chief; Maria Tall chief, first American prima ballerina, Joseph J. Clark, Admiral in the U.S. Navy and member of the Cherokee Nation; Louis L’Amour, western novelist; Woody Crumbo, artist; Will Rogers, humorist.

“Then you have the Infamous Oklahomans like Cattle Annie, female bandit of the American Old West; Pretty Boy Floyd, depression era gangster; Belle Starr, queen of the outlaws.

“In sports the names are also endless: Mickey Mantle, Baseball Hall of Famer; Louise Brough, Hall of Fame tennis player; Steve Largent, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver, Pro Football Hall of Famer and politician; Steve Owens, Oklahoma Sooners football player and 1969 Heisman Trophy winner; Bob Tway, professional golfer and PGA Championship winner in 1986; Wayman Tisdale, professional basketball player and jazz musician.

“In music there is Roy Clark, Leon Russell, Woody Guthrie, Leona Mitchell, African -American soprano; member, Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. That’s just to name a few. The list just goes on and on. Movies have even been made about Oklahoma.

“Grant Foreman, in my opinion, is the foremost historian in Oklahoma. He wrote and died in Muskogee in ’54. He wrote that Three Forks was the cradle of Oklahoma and it certainly was. I guess when I came to Oklahoma and thought of the history I became surprised that the focus in the grade schools seems to be on the Land Run. The Land Run occurred in 1889, roughly 80 years after this part of the country was settled and civilized.

“Our first settlers came here in January, 1807. Joseph Bogey had set up a trading camp at Three Forks, the confluence of the Grand River with the Arkansas and Verdigris, and from then on it just developed. The Western Cherokees were here by 1820, or ’25. They kind of edged the Osage out who hunted here originally. The Cherokees just kind of overwhelmed the Osage with numbers. Then the white settlers started mixing with the Indians. I just find it really interesting that there are Antebellum houses down around Tahlequah and Park Hill in the 1830’s. A fair percentage of these Cherokees were more native Scotsmen or some other European mix than they were Cherokee. They started intermixing back in the 1700’s. John Ross was 1/6th Cherokee and he was the Cherokee Chief for over 40 years. So when they talk about Cherokees integrating into white society they did that 150 years before a good number of the other tribes ever began.  

“I read at one time, and want to go back and read again, that someone wrote a great deal about gun fighters. Said there were more gunfights within 50 miles of Muskogee than all the rest of the wild. It was a rough country. He went on to explain that gunfighters often didn’t even have holsters. They kept their guns in their hip pocket or in their belt. They certainly didn’t ever fan a gun, because you could never shoot straight. One of the most famous of the gunfighters made a remark, ‘You take aim at the guy’s belly, because that’s the widest part of his body. You don’t try to shoot his hat off!’  

“I’ve been interested in the history of Oklahoma for years. Now living here I’ve uncovered how exciting and interesting this part of the country was while there were still teepees in what is now downtown Oklahoma City.  

“Historians do the research. They dig into the archives and all that. I just sit and read four or five hours every day and come across interesting stories and report what I find. To some degree the book “1806” is comprised of these interesting stories. I tried to keep it light and interesting so that it would be interesting to people who are just marginal interested in history. I tried to make it human.

“For some reason the other night I was thinking about socks. Somewhere in the background of history the word teenager came into being. The word teenager comes from the word tweenager. It was created by Banlon Socks in 1930, because they had all these odd size socks they couldn’t sell and so they started advertising them for tweenagers. The word teenager came out of that. That led me to the point that these settlers didn’t wear socks. Just little minor trivia like that. It just might capture a kids imagination. Except for wearing flip flops we wouldn’t think of going without socks.” He laughs, “I’m easily intrigued.”

When Bruce isn’t reading, writing or sleeping, he’s out walking two-and-a-half miles every day with his dog, along with doing yard work.

His day starts about 2:30 or 3:00 a.m., when he starts tossing as his creative juices start kicking in.

Though he lives at The Coves, he is not a golfer. He quit golf when he was on top, after winning a tournament with a single golf club. “I reached the apex. That was enough for me,” laughs Bruce. “I started playing golf with three balls and had the same three balls when I turned in my club.” In case you doubt this story, Bruce still has his trophy.

Bruce and his wife Kay make quite a nice duo, as Kay’s expertise lies in sales.

“1806” is in her corner now, as Bruce is on to writing his next book, “Path Finders of NE Oklahoma”. “It’s a brief biography of about 40 settlers,” said Bruce.

We will be looking forward to the completion of “Path Finders of NE Oklahoma”, which should be finished in about a year, or year-and-a-half.

In the meantime, pick up Bruce Howell’s latest release, “1806”, and experience “The exploration and settlement of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory”.


2 responses to “Author Bruce Howell Brings Grand Lake Area History Alive”

  1. […] November 7, from 10am to noon on Saturday morning only, local author Bruce Howell will be speaking about and signing his newest book, “1806, The exploration and settlement of the […]

  2. Catherine Berry Avatar

    Dr Howell,
    What I have read so far I am very impressed of your knowledge of history. Got to read book 1880. I started out doing paintings and illustrations of the Cherokees and the Myths. Loved working with Rabbit, Jacobs, J. Tiger, knew R Conley all mentors in my beginnings. Then had to move.

    Can you please contact me. I have designed a map of Osage Indians History in Osage County, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.

    Would like your opinion and suggestions. Joe Tillman recommended you as a Historian. Not many left none really for the Osage you would call Historians.

    I once did a map of Grand Lake too, but it was for advertisements. Not silly in design though.

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