Bixby, Oklahoma Ford dealer's quick thinking saved Shorty Lowman's leg: 1920
Shelton R. Lowman is pictured with a bull on his farm south of Bixby circa 1940. Lowman was kicked by a bull in 1941, and died of pneumonia a few days later, according to his great-grandson, Joseph Michael Lowman. Lowman family photo
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Fifty-six year old Shelton Riley (Shorty) Lowman, water superintendent for Bixby, Oklahoma, might have lost his leg – or even his life – if it weren’t for the quick action of the town’s Ford dealer, Wilson W. Brown, at Bixby’s pump station on Monday morning, May 31, 1920.
While trying to start the water works’ new Bessemer gas engine that morning, Lowman placed his foot on the fly wheel in order to pull it back against the compression. The Bixby Bulletin explained what happened next:
“… all of a sudden, it started forward, catching his foot, which slipped through the wheel and carried it up against the engine block.”
It was the quick action of Wilson Brown that prevented a catastrophe.
Familiar with the unit, Wilson shut it down, and then attended to Lowman.
Summoned to the scene was the F.C. Leonard Undertaking Co.’s “motor ambulance,” which transported Lowman from Bixby, along the newly designated (yet primarily unpaved) Albert Pike highway, to Tulsa where he was initially treated at Morningside Hospital.
“At first it was thought that the limb would have to be amputated, but after dressing the wound and setting the broken bones, this idea was given up, and it was the belief of the doctors that the limb could be saved.”
Shelton R. Lowman – who moved to Bixby in 1905 prior the town’s incorporation and even before Oklahoma’s statehood – contributed his many skills and a strong work ethic to the development of the fledgling original government townsite, platted in 1900, as well as to the subsequent Midland Addition, platted circa 1904.
Lowman wore many hats during those early years in Bixby, from lumber yard manager to farmer, from mayor to hardware salesman. By 1919, Lowman’s reputation was solid as a community leader and businessman.
When town voters passed a bond issue in 1919 to bring running water and sanitary sewers to Bixby, Lowman’s vast knowledge and experience made him a logical choice for the role of the town’s first water superintendent.
It was an honor to be entrusted in this post, but it also came with heavy responsibility.
Bixby’s first water system – completed in 1920 – consisted of water pumped from 10 sand points, which were sunk into water-bearing sand.
A “Deming single action triplex” pump was powered with a 25-horsepower Bessemer gas engine, direct connected to the pump. The city installed a 50,000 gallon steel tank, which was elevated 80 feet on a steel tower, located next to Water – or Cabaniss - Street, three blocks west of the main business district. The pump’s capacity was 260 gallons per minute.
In terms that the citizens could appreciate, the Bixby Bulletin offered the following argument in favor of the water works bond issue on Jan. 24, 1919, prior to the water/sewer election:
“In the event water works are installed, people who so desire may have the convenience of baths. Baths in a five cent wash pan, or in a zinc wash tub are mighty good as far as they go, but when compared to the conveniences a properly installed system of water works will bring they are, indeed, a bit light.”
Lowman first came to Bixby O.T., during June 1905, in a management role with the Cragin Lumber Yard, the office of which was located on the corner of Montgomery Street and Breckenridge Avenue, adjacent to the railroad tracks. Having previously worked for the Cragin Lumber Company for some 15 months in Tonkawa, Lowman was familiar with the business that he was to manage in this fledgling town, but unfamiliar with its people and customs.
He needn’t have worried, however. Shorty fit right in, managing the Cragin business so efficiently that 15 months later, when the company was purchased by the Rock Island Lumber and Coal Company, Lowman would continue in management of the Bixby facility.
Shelton’s wife, Carrie Lowman, stayed on at Tonkawa – their previous residence - for the remainder of 1905, where their two children were attending school. Mrs. Lowman made a visit to Bixby over the Christmas holidays in 1905, while the children were visiting relatives in Sedgwick, Kansas.
Then, in early 1906, satisfied that the town was a right fit, Lowman’s family officially moved to town. The town’s population at the time was around 400, with roughly 30 businesses, including a newspaper: the Bixby Bulletin. Access across the Arkansas River to the north was serviced by a ferry.
First mayor of
A year later, Shelton Lowman had gained such a respect by his colleagues, that when the town was incorporated in February 1907, the town council selected him as mayor. The Bixby Bulletin responded:
“We are informed that the dear council elected a mayor for the town at its meeting Monday night. Now who do you suppose the dear council put into this ‘job’? You’d never guess it of course, so we will tell you: S.R. Lowman. Now will you be good? Shorty’s name doesn’t even appear on the tax book much less is he charged with owning a foot of Bixby real estate; however he is one of the ‘bunch’ and that is all that is apparently required to make a suitable official for poor little Bixby.
“We salute you Mr. Mayor and ‘wish you much joy, and every year a girl or a boy.’ Spiel on.”
A month later, in Bixby’s first official election, Fred Farr was chosen by the town’s populace to fill the official mayor’s role. Lowman was not a candidate.
The Midland Addition to Bixby began its growth after the completion of the Midland Railroad tracks between Muskogee and Tulsa in 1904, and the subsequent placement of a depot at Bixby.
Frame buildings were relocated from Old Town to Midland Addition so that businesses could be near the new depot, and new buildings were constructed, fueling the demand for lumber. The business district effectively moved during this time from Main street in Old Town to intersecting Armstrong and Dawes streets in Midland Addition.
Gus Chambers, an enterprising businessman, set in action a plan to facilitate the movement. “Let me move your house,” he advertised in the April 14, 1905 edition of the Bixby Bulletin. “I have all of the necessary equipment and invite you to call on me and talk business.”
One of the buildings that Chambers moved was the City Hotel, which had been located on Main Street in Old Town. On Feb. 24 and March 10, 1905, the Bixby Bulletin reported that D.M. Phillips, the hotel’s proprietor, had the structure relocated to the southwest corner of Armstrong and Needles streets, in the new Midland Addition.
In the spring of 1910 - Lowman himself had a house moved onto lots just opposite of the new school house. Carpenters fixed the house up, and it became a home for Lowman’s daughter, Miss Lana Lowman, described by the newspaper as a talented and popular school teacher.
In January 1912, according to the Bixby Bulletin, W.L. Gilcrease had moved a 25x80-foot one-story stone business building via rail from Wealaka, with plans to erect it on lots 13 and 14, block 27, in Bixby. (The location is the southeast corner of Armstrong and Dawes streets. The building remains in place today.)
After his injury at the water works plant in 1920, Lowman was a hospital patient for six weeks, before returning home on Wednesday, June 30, for extended recuperation.
It wasn’t until more than four months later, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 1920, that Lowman finally felt fit enough to leave his house to go “uptown” in order to go the polls on election day.
That November Warren G. Harding was elected president, and historically the election was particularly significant, because it was the first time women had been allowed to vote in a presidential election.
(In April of 1920, the town’s lone polling place was the office of the Bixby Bulletin newspaper.)
Shelton Lowman died in 1941 at the age of 77. He developed pneumonia a few days after he was kicked by a bull on his farm. His wife, Carrie, died in 1950 at the age of 82. They are buried at Bixby Cemetery.
Resources: Newspaper information was collected via Newspapers.com, Chroniclingamerica.com and Genealogybank.com. Genealogy information was obtained via Ancestry.com
Research assistance was provided by Victoria Oltman of the Bixby Historical Society, and Joseph Michael Lowman, Shelton Lowman’s great-grandson. Information was also referenced from the Bixby Historical Society’s centennial book, “A History of the Bixby Area.” Water plant information was taken from the 1920 Sanborn Fire Prevention Map of Bixby, Oklahoma.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014, and moved to Tulsa in May 2019. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
Floyd Leonard advertised his new “motor ambulance” in the April 16, 1920 edition of the Bixby Bulletin. A little more than a month later, Shelton R. Lowman was transported in this ambulance to a hospital at Tulsa, after he was injured at the pump station in Bixby, Oklahoma. Newspapers.com
Carrie Hipple Lowman and Shelton R. Lowman of Bixby, Oklahoma, are pictured at their home. Shelton first came to Bixby in June 1905 as manager of the Cragin Lumber Company. He and his wife called the Bixby area home until their respective deaths in 1941 and 1950. They are buried at Bixby Cemetery. Lowman family photo