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A quiet cemetery is all that remains of Violet Springs

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
The sign welcoming visitors to the Violet Springs Cemetery, one mile west of Konawa, Oklahoma.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Instead of a "Small Town Matters" post this month, we have opted for a special "Ghost Town Matters" post. Let us know what you think!

KONAWA, Okla. – Approximately one mile west of here, on State Highway 39, right on the Pottawatomie/Seminole county line, are two cemeteries of interest to Red Dirt Report writers and readers. The first is the larger, Konawa Cemetery, which has received some notoriety of late for stories on the eerie tombstone of the late Katherine Ann Cross.

This is the where Cross was buried in October 1917, at only the age of 18. The inscription on the tombstone reads “Murdered by human wolves.”

Both Roxann Perkins Yates in 2014 and Shane Smith, just last month, wrote about the curious tombstone with the unsettling inscription. And in Smith’s article, he notes that the tombstone was stolen – yet again. It is believed the teenaged girl was pregnant and possibly killed during a botched abortion. Although it’s not entirely clear.

So, I was already quite familiar with Konawa Cemetery, on the Seminole County side of the line. But I was not familiar with it’s Pottawatomie County side neighbor, the Violet Springs Cemetery.

At least I wasn’t until I recently read John W. Morris’s fascinating 1978 book Ghost Towns of Oklahoma, which I picked up at the Oklahoma History Museum earlier this year.

In his entry of Violet Springs, the author noted that Violet Springs was founded in the early 1890’s and “flourished as a saloon town,” it being located just a half-mile from the boundary between Oklahoma Territory and the Seminole Nation.

Continuing, one wonders why an “n” wasn’t added to the name of the town, making it “Violent Springs,” as Morris notes that “(o)ne former resident reported that a killing was not at all uncommon, and as many as eight men had been killed in a single day.”

With its five stores and eight saloons, Violet Springs’ three doctors were “kept very busy much of the time” as there was a “steady influx of Indians and ‘wild men’ from the surrounding territory” who would drink and get violent. Gunfire was seemingly a normal part of life in this borderlands area.

Morris notes that at its highest population between 1895 and 1905, Violet Springs (which had its own post office) had 600 souls, a blacksmith shop, two cotton gins, a sawmill, a one-room schoolhouse and a saddle shop. And while Violet Springs never had a church, Morris writes that “(o)n a few occasions circuit riders held services in the schoolhouse.”

In addition to the general lawlessness of Violet Springs, and a devastating fire in 1899, the future was no longer bright for the community, particularly when the Oklahoma City-Ada-Atoka Railroad decided to route their railroad east of town, through the Seminole Nation. It was in 1904 when Konawa sprouted into a town and Violet Springs’ days were numbered, particularly as statehood approached and saloons of the sort that Violet Springs had would not be allowed in the new, “dry” state. Morris writes that “saloon keepers either closed up shop or moved to another state.”

And while all of the structures that made up Violet Springs disappeared a century ago, the Violet Springs Cemetery remains.

So, walking through the cemetery on a recent autumn afternoon, I was struck by how quiet it was, even with an occasional vehicle zipping by on Highway 39.

It seemed as though the name “Berry” was common in Violet Springs, as many people with that last name were buried in Violet Springs Cemetery. Adjacent to this cemetery, we noted, was the Bates Cemetery. They Bates family were well known in these parts, we were told.

And then there was the sad and curious burial sites of three newborn infants, born to Buster and Tina Sharp in 1920, 1923 and 1926. All three children were born and died the same day and are buried near one another. This was nearly two decades after the decline and demise of Violet Springs, but the Sharp’s must have lived in the area. Were the infants stillborn? Again, we just don’t know.

Photos by Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report

The Sharp gravesites were mentioned to longtime Konawa resident June Neal, who is now 81 and grew up a half-mile south of the Violet Springs Cemetery, inside the Pottawatomie County line.

“We weren’t allowed to play in the cemetery,” Neal says with a chuckle.

Asked more about her memories of the Violet Springs Cemetery or any history related to it, she admits her recollections are hazy.

Said Neal: “Some of them were killed in gunfights … and there’s one place, on the east side (of the cemetery), where there’s a wall and there’s supposedly a body underneath it. A wall was built over the grave …”

Neal suggested a trip to the Konawa Library, which is located in the town’s school. Additional historical information would be there, she said.

Wandering over to Konawa City Hall, we talked to City Manager Eric Kuykendall. And while he was new in town – from Durant – he was only familiar with the Konawa Cemetery and the missing Cross tombstone. He told Red Dirt Report that a memorial marker maker in the Tulsa area had offered to replace it, but he had not heard any more about it.

Kuykendall suggested we talk to Konawa Mayor Frank Shirley, who is a fount of information about the area’s history. However, he could not be reached for comment.

Shauna Farmer is Konawa’s city clerk. When folks want to donate funds to help with the maintenance of the Konawa and/or Violet Springs cemeteries, they can send a check to her office.

“We sometimes get donations, usually from older people,” Farmer said. While at the Violet Springs Cemetery, most of the tombstones were from 100 years ago, although a few were more recent, within the past five years.

Farmer said she and others in Konawa participate in mowing the grass and maintaining both the Konawa and Violet Springs cemeteries.

Farmer added that the previous city clerk was more familiar with Konawa’s history. 

Meanwhile, back at the Violet Springs Cemetery, a brisk, autumn wind blew over the quiet landscape. The souls of those departed so long ago seemed close, somehow.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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