Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Corsets Arrested

This story takes place in Muskogee, which was located in what was then referred to as Indian Territory. This was four months before it officially became the state of Oklahoma.

The 1802 Indian Nonintercourse Act and its various amendments, made it illegal to sell or offer to sell alcohol anywhere within Indian Territory or to Native Americans themselves. Without going into the rationale for and the exact details of the Indian Nonintercourse Act, it did carve out exceptions for white men. Alcohol could be sold and consumed in white communities.

One of these towns was Keystone, a rough and tumble saloon town about 17 miles (28 km) northeast of Tulsa. The town no longer exists, having been drowned by the waters of the Arkansas river in 1962 with the construction of the Keystone Lake reservoir.

Approximate location of the former town of Keystone, Oklahoma.
Approximate location of the former town of Keystone, Oklahoma. The pink area was submerged after the building of the dam downstream.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Oklahoma was the largest oil-producing state in the United States. That brought in a lot of men to work in the oil fields. And, naturally, that also meant a large demand for alcohol. Since the Indian Nonintercourse Act forbids the sale of alcohol outside of white communities, all of these workers were expected to hop on their horses and make the long journey to wet towns like Keystone to make a purchase. 

It wasn’t long before some saw an opportunity to make some money here. If the workers didn’t wish to make the long haul to towns like Keystone, these smugglers would bring the alcohol down the Keystone trail to the workers.

As with any illegal trade, it wasn’t long before hijacking and robbery became common and the government decided to crack down on the smugglers. But, no matter how hard they tried, alcohol continued to get through somehow.

On July 13, 1907, Deputy Marshal Dan Parker began talking with two “handsome” women who had been driving a wagon along the Keystone trail. He didn’t suspect anything until one of the women asked him if he wanted to buy some whiskey. He stated that he did, and when she showed him the goods, Parker immediately placed the two women under arrest, happy that he had uncovered one of the methods the smugglers had been using to get their goods to the oil fields.

The women were cooperative but told Parker that they needed to change their clothes before they went into town with him. Parker allowed them to do so, and ever the gentlemen, he gave them some privacy by going into a dense stand of bushes. The women then proceeded to change their dresses behind the wagon.

But the women were taking far too long to change. Parker got an uneasy feeling and decided to check on the women, only to find that they had taken to the brush and escaped.

Parker took the immediate steps to legally “arrest” – what we could call a seizure today – the corsets, petticoats, lingerie, alcohol, and everything else that they had left behind. He then hopped aboard their wagon and headed for Muskogee. His prisoners may have gotten away, but Parker managed to uncover a smuggling technique that no one had suspected before – the use of women to transport the goods – plus he made the national newspapers for having “Arrested Corsets.”

Jenyns Patent Corset advertisement.
Jenyns Patent Corset advertisement. Flickr image.

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