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Saying Happy Birthday
[to Ira Terrill]

April 7, 2004

Historian's Notes

Ooh boy, Ira Terrill, what a character. And that's about all I have to say on that subject!

You can get a much more detailed account of Terrill's life, antics and exploits by looking at Dr. Worth Robert Miller's book Oklahoma Populism, or Dr. Steven Knoche Kite's masters thesis entitled Coal, Convicts, and Kansas. Both scholars have done extensive research on Terrill and his role in early day Oklahoma politics.

Resources

Miller, Worth Robert (1987). Oklahoma Populism: a history of the People's Party in the Oklahoma Territory. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Kite, Steven Knoche (1993). Coal, Convicts, and Kansas. Emporia, KS: Emporia State University Master's Thesis.

Almanac Transcript

Saying happy birthday this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

It can be safely stated that not all troublemakers are interesting people, and not all interesting people are troublemakers; however, the subject of this week's Almanac fits nicely into both categories. Ira Terrill, or Terrel as he is sometimes called, came into this world in this week of April 1853 in Illinois. As a young man, Terrill became interested in the push to open the unassigned lands in what is now Oklahoma and joined the Boomer movement. In 1884 Terrill was among the group of Boomers settling in what is now Stillwater.

Up to this point Terrill led a fairly normal life, other than his penchant for illegally entering government lands, he worked as a geologist and author in Wichita. In 1889 Terrill made the land run settling south west of Stillwater on the banks of the Cimarron. He was an active member of the Farmer's Alliance and the Populist Party and served in the first territorial legislature. It was at this time that Terrill's life began to take some odd turns. He was described by various members of the legislature as wild, wild-eyed, and a crazy anarchist, and a mad-man. In at least one instance he brandished a pistol in order to be formerly recognized by the speaker. Terrill has been accused of turning the first legislative session into a circus and he definitely damaged the reputation of the Populist Party, but he managed some good as well.

He was important in securing Oklahoma A & M for Payne County and he pushed through the legislature the homicide bill making murder a crime punishable by death or life in prison even if the act was committed in times of rage or delirium. Ironically, Terrill himself was the first person in the territory to be tried and found guilty of his new homicide bill. Terrill shot a man in Guthrie who made the accusation that Terrill was a Sooner and didn't legally own his land. Oklahoma had no prisons, and so under the provisions of his bill, Terrill began serving his life sentence in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. There Terrill, the convict, was declared insane and released.

After his stay in Kansas, Terrill began a lifelong crusade for prison reform, he authoring a book about his years in the penitentiary. He made public appearances and spoke in parks and on street corner. He authored several children's books as well as a play about his experiences in the land run entitled, A Purgatory Made of a Paradise. Terrill, still considered quite mad by some, managed to marry and move to Texas continuing his crusade for reform until his death in 1921. Ira Terrill, an interesting figure in the history of Oklahoma born this week in 1854.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio and the Oklahoma State University Library.

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