Lot Certificates and City Ordinances

Only three days after they assumed office, Mayor Couch and his administration passed Oklahoma City’s first ordinance. Not surprisingly, Ordinance Number 1, approved by the mayor on May 4 under the unambiguous title, “An Ordinance to Prevent and Punish Persons Squatting on Lots and the Obstruction of Streets and Alleys,” addressed the vexing problem of lot-jumping. Specifically, the ordinance prohibited people from entering, occupying, or improving a city lot on which somebody else resided or evidenced a claim. Violators were subject to a fine of $100 plus court costs. Anyone short of cash could expect to work on city streets to pay off their obligations. In addition to discouraging people from stealing lots, Ordinance Number 1 served to validate the Seminole sooner claims.

Additional laws enacted by the Seminole-backed administration included Ordinance Number 3, providing that everyone with a townsite claim had to procure a certificate of title from the Seminole Town and Improvement Company; Ordinance Number 4, making it a misdemeanor to question the validity of a certificate holder’s title or attempt to occupy a lot without a certificate from the Seminole Town and Improvement Company; Ordinance Number 8, providing that Seminole certificates were equal as evidence of ownership to those granted by the city recorder and that persons holding neither certificate could be ejected; and Ordinance Number 14, which made it a misdemeanor even to claim adverse possession against the holder of a Seminole certificate. Kickapoo grumbling and editorials lambasting the mayor and city council did little to dissuade Police Judge O. H. Violet from fining citizens and throwing them in “the calaboose,” secure in the knowledge that Captain D. F. Stiles and the soldiers under his command could be counted on to keep the peace. According to pioneer journalist Angelo C. Scott, “this particular piece of injustice brought the indignation of the Kickapoos to the boiling point.” Thereafter they began to clamor for a new city charter – to overhaul the entire city government.

Having no reliable source of revenue, the city council soon passed an occupation tax ordinance aimed at collecting taxes from everyone who plied some sort of trade within the city limits. This ordinance stepped on Kickapoo and Seminole toes alike. Enough money was collected to pay councilmen $2 for attendance at each meeting and to appropriate $300 for a jail. Kickapoos were enraged to when word hit the streets that the cost of the jail, hewn from native cottonwood trees, exceeded the appropriation in the amount of $12. “Who got the payoff?” roared the indignant Kickapoos. Located in the cottonwood grove at the southeast corner of Broadway and Grand Avenue, the rude structure became known as the “Cottonwood de Bastille.”

Desperate for relief, a coterie of lawyers made a cross-country trek to Muskogee, where Federal Judge J. G. Foster issued a restraining order to prevent Judge Violet from collecting the tax. Nevertheless, outraged citizens had all the evidence they needed to convince themselves that Mayor Couch and the city council were more concerned with lining their pockets than serving the needs of their fellow pioneers.

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