Well, for Pete’s sake! What are you doing here? Let me guess, you Googled “red dirt road” hoping for a close encounter with Brooks & Dunn, but instead found yourself meandering down a narrow lane just off the information highway. May I kindly suggest that you tune in your favorite music player to a round of Kix & Ronnie? Crank it up and let it provide the background music for this little trip down a red dirt road in Jackson County, Oklahoma.
Southwestern Oklahoma is home to farmers and ranchers, air force pilots and army generals, city folks and country folks, the Quartz Mountains and the Wichita Mountains, lakes and rivers, and yes, four-lane divided highways and a few red dirt roads. Nestled between the Quartz Mountains and Wichita Mountains are a lesser known range, the Navajo Mountains, located in eastern Jackson County, north of US 62 about 3 miles and east of Altus about 6 miles.
Seeking a good dose of red dirt therapy, I recently set out on a drive down the red dirt road that ends at the western base of the Navajo Mountains. For Pete’s sake, I stopped at the Navajoe Cemetery. My cousin Jacquie told me about the town of Navajoe, and my other cousin, Jackie, told me about the cemetery. There is also the Navajo School, but I’ll save that for another story. Both had mentioned the historical marker located in the cemetery that documents the town of Navajoe. The vertical marker is made of red granite, similar to the that of the surrounding mountains. Navajoe the town fell by the wayside years ago when the railroad went thru Headrick instead of Navajoe. The cemetery and memories are all that remain of the town.
Before climbing out of the car that bright sunny morning, I surveyed the area surrounding the cemetery. The Navajo Mountains provide a magnificent backdrop to this serene country cemetery. Farm and ranch land, parched by a long, hard drought surround the cemetery. Shade trees and chain-link fencing mark the borders, with a large gate and archway to welcome all who come to visit. I walked to the historical marker and discovered it had a story on two sides. One side listed many names of early pioneers of the area, the other side was engraved with a map of the town of Navajoe. My fingers traced the map, taking note of the markings for each business and many of the homes located there. They came to a rest on building # 21, Pete Asque Residence. Though the name was misspelled, I had finally found my earliest connection to Southwestern Oklahoma. William P. “Uncle Pete” Askew, farmer and the proprietor of the Navajoe general store came to Oklahoma around December of 1897 from Mississippi, via Texas. Shortly after arriving, he staked a claim on 160 acres of land near the Navajoe community.
Uncle Pete is Jacquie’s father, and my great-grandmother’s brother. My other cousin, Jackie, and I are both descended from this great-grandmother. Recognizing the abundant opportunities available in this new frontier, Uncle Pete encouraged his parents, William D. & Melissa Askew, and sister and brother-in-law, Mollie and H.D. Ellis, to move out west from their homes near Lauderdale, Mississippi. They did finally take Uncle Pete’s advice, with the men and boys arriving around 1907, followed the next year by the women and daughters. The men came first to survey the area, stake a claim to homestead some land, and build a half dugout for the families to reside in until stick and frame homes could be built. Uncle Pete’s foresight set in motion the chain of events that led to my birth in SW Oklahoma and my deep fondness for the red dirt roads of home.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add one more tidbit to this story, so here goes. I don’t use a GPS, just my eyes, sense of direction, and occasionally a map. The trip to the Navajoe Cemetery actually took two tries. The first, by myself, I missed the cemetery by a country mile. On the second trip a few days later, I took along my sister-in-law, Denice, who had been there before. Being the good genealogist that she is, she also brought along the book, Cemetery Records of Jackson County by Claudine Dollar. After perusing the listing of graves, we started walking the cemetery to find the one grave that might be an ancestor or distant cousin. As we walked along, I happened across a beautiful angel statue that was guarding a child’s grave. I called over to Denice to take a look. Just as she looked up, I put my hand on the back of the angel’s wing. Out fluttered an angry Mama Bird, scaring the beejeevies out of me! I jumped up and back, Denice yelled out “watch for snakes!” It took a few moments for both of us to recover. Finally, I did step to the other side of the angel, and tucked inside her wing was a beautiful nest full of eggs. Even statues of angels can make great guardians of God’s smallest creatures. We did find the relative grave, but haven’t quite figured out yet her branch on the family tree.
Thank you for joining me today on this trip down a red dirt road in Southwestern Oklahoma. Please feel free to leave comments and questions. I look forward to another dose of red dirt therapy next month! Hope you’ll tag along, too.
~ Southwest Sara
Dates and Family Names:
Jacquie Askew Cervin, Jackie Graves Rutledge, Denice Osborne Sadler, Randy Sadler
Askew Family Information, collected by Jacquie Askew Cervin and stored at the Museum of the Western Prairie, located in Altus, OK.
“Town of Navajoe, Greer County, Texas, 1887” – the historical marker located on the grounds of the Navajo Cemetery, Jackson County, Oklahoma.