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Dead-of-Night "Seal-napping" Part of Colorful Capital Fight

J.E. McReynolds Published: April 24, 1994
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Oh, what a story. If only it were true.

The story was that Oklahoma's first post-territorial governor stole the state seal in the dead of night, drove from Guthrie to Oklahoma City, stashed the seal under his hotel bed and collapsed from exhaustion.

Legends surround the removal of the seal in 1910, and the truth - not nearly as colorful - has been washed by the passage of time.

So nobody really knows exactly how Oklahoma City became the state capital a bit earlier, shall we say, than expected.

Dirty laundry is how one source says it happened. Dirty tricks is how Guthrie partisans saw it.

W.B. Anthony, who was Gov. Charles Haskell's secretary in the days when men were secretaries and women did the wash, said he smuggled the seal out of Guthrie's interim capitol building in a bundle of clothing.

This was in the wee hours of June 12, 1910. Anthony later told an historian that he drove to Guthrie in a car rented for the purpose by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

Arriving at 3 a.m., Anthony told a guard he needed to retrieve some laundry in an office. The seal had earlier been concealed in the clothing. The drive back to the new capital city took three hours, owing as one history book puts it to "rutted, red dirt roads through the blackjacks. "

Stolen Seal Finds Home The trip north had actually taken longer because of a flat tire at Seward. Back in Oklahoma City by 7 a.m., Anthony met Gov. Haskell, who arrived that Sunday morning by train from his home in Muskogee.

Haskell declared the capital was now Oklahoma City, and the seat of government was planted in the Lee-Huckins Hotel pending erection of a capitol building.

The fight continued, though, between boosters for Oklahoma City and Guthrie even as the winning city had to referee a debate on where the Capitol should go.

"No incident in Oklahoma history," wrote historian Irvin Hurst, "is more befogged by legend and distortions than the removal of the capital ... When it reached a dramatic climax in the spectacular pre-dawn flight of W.B. Anthony with the great seal of the state, it was difficult to tell which was the more surprised, Guthrie, hurt and seething over the 'stolen' capital, or Oklahoma City, jubilant but unprepared for the sudden transfer. " The Oklahoman, whose young business manager, E.K. Gaylord, had been one of the strongest partisans for Oklahoma City as capital, seemed caught off guard by the sudden transfer. He put out an extra and later opined in an editorial that the newspaper "rather regrets that this situation has arisen. " Guthrie's newspaper editors expressed more than regrets. "Czar Charles Issues His Imperial Ukase at New State 'Capital,' " went a red-lettered headline in the Oklahoma State Capital, a suddenly misnamed newspaper.

For you youngsters under age 80, a "ukase" is an edict issued by an emperor.

Legislators Lead Capital Fight Removal of the seal capped a colorful era in Oklahoma politics as the young state's Legislature obsessed over which city got what state money. Sound familiar?

The controversy had begun as far back as May 1, 1890, with approval in Congress of legislation establishing a government for the Oklahoma Territory. The law simply said Guthrie would be the place the first territorial Legislature met.

That first Legislature spent 100 days debating the matter of what city would be the capital. Legislators spent 10 days on the rest of the public's business.

All told, this battle spanned 20 years - even before the courts got involved.

The forerunner of the Oklahoma State Senate voted 14 to 12 for the Oklahoma City plan, but angry Guthrie boosters swarmed the halls where the territorial solons were sitting. Reportedly, an Oklahoma County representative was forced to flee through a back window and hide in a nearby meat market.

Territorial Gov. George W. Steele vetoed the measure. Guthrie partisans were instrumental in getting Congress to block the capital change every two years from 1892-98, Hurst wrote in his 1957 book, "The 46th Star. " "Thus Congress maintained the status quo until 1906," Hurst wrote, "when Bird McGuire of Pawnee, then the delegate in Congress, again came to Guthrie's rescue with a proviso in the Enabling Act that the capital should remain in Guthrie until 1913. " The Enabling Act led to statehood in 1907. At the resultant constitutional convention, the capital question came up again but Haskell, one of the leaders, shut it down. Delegates turned down an invitation from Oklahoma City boosters to take a chartered train to the future capital for a banquet in their honor.

No record exists of a group of Oklahoma politicos ever again rejecting a junket.

The New Jerusalem Later, William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray proposed buying a township for the capital. He proposed selling lots around the capitol building and said the chosen place should have "good drainage and a picturesque grandeur. " This and similar plans became known as the "new Jerusalem" approach to the capital - creating an entirely new city on the prairie with construction of the Capitol funded by the platting and selling of lots.

On Nov. 3, 1908, an election was held on a state question calling for the acquisition of a capital site and the selling of lots to finance construction of the Capitol. Although more voters than not approved the measure, it did not pass by the necessary majority.

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