When we were driving into Criner the only thing my mom had been able to find out about the town from a quick LexisNexis search was that they had a Superfund site, and that there was a lady who got in an argument with her neighbors because her goats were…ahem, fornicating in her front yard and the neighbors didn’t much care to see this particular act of nature. So heading into town we were sort of hoping to talk to goat lady because we thought that story was hilarious, but as it happens we found someone else in town to tell us her story.
Usually (I say usually, but we’ve only done ten towns. I don’t really know how often you have to do something to justify using the word “usually.”) when we enter a town we scope it out before trying to track down someone who is willing to talk to us while we’re lugging around equipment, asking a billion questions, and also being complete strangers. We like to drive down whatever the main street seems to be, look for interesting architecture, count the churches along the main street, and then look for a place that might have someone interesting and willing to talk.
So as we drove into Criner we passed a house with a gate and some sort of signage that said something about goats so we got excited and said “Hey! We maybe found goat lady! Let’s come back to her if something else doesn’t come up.” Then we went and found the Superfund site, met a few friendly dogs that wanted to come along for the ride, and then drove by a cute fence that had an “Eggs for Sale” sign.
We then had a debate about if we wanted to go find out about egg lady or goat lady, mams (mams is what I call my mom who you probably know as Red Dirt Kelly, Kelly Marie, or Dr. Kelly M Roberts with some extra letters that I haven’t committed to memory) finally asked who I wanted to talk to since she had chosen in Dibble. Well I wanted to see the chickens and love farms eggs, so I chose “Egg Lady.”
Egg Lady turned out to be Kaye Bilyeu, and Kaye had an awesome porch and tons of chickens and roosters. Part of the awesomeness of her porch was that it was the original concrete slab of the Criner Cotton Gin, and the gin office building is now her home. Kaye told us a lot of stories about her kids, how she’s writing a cookbook, her opinions on raw milk vs store milk, and the types of chickens she raises. I, however, was most struck by her story about when she and her husband owned a dairy in the last 80s. A really awful ice storm hit, and they lost electricity, had to hand milk over 100 cows, drive the tractor 15 miles to pick up a friend’s generator, and also had to put down a cow. She tells it best, so I’ll let her pick it up from here.
~ Rachel J. Apple
For more information on the Criner Superfund site, go here. Here’s a photo of a Criner bridge published in the Daily Oklahoman in the 70s. Here is a Lexington, OK newspaper printed in 1915 with a story of a man living in Criner who was ordered to get his mules dipped.
For photos of Kaye, her chickens and her historical porch, scroll below. Also below are two photos of the Superfund site just down the road from Kaye, and the dogs that were hanging out there.