TO THE OZARKS AND BEYOND: Biography of Richard Calhoun Fain

By Herbert Olan Fain


Herbert Olan Fain


The words heading this true narrative were allegedly spoken to a friend by Horace Greeley (founder of the New York Tribune in 1841) more than a hundred years ago. This advice may have been very well directed, that is so far as the one addressed was concerned. But already many thousands had "jumped the gun” on Greeley and had set sail for the golden west, and still other thousands at that moment stood poised and ready to hie themselves to the same sunset regions. This westward urge seemed always to be a type of fever that could only be allayed by plunging ever deeper into the desolate solitariness of the great west.

Robert B. Puryear


1850: Pulls Southern Stakes, Heads to Missouri

My maternal grandfather (R. B. Puryear, 1829-1915), along with others of his immediate family, were smitten with the germ of this eruptive fever (abolitionism) sometime around the year of 1850. Pulling stakes at their mountain home in east Tennessee, they set their course toward the promised land of south central Missouri.

This part of Missouri was near Springfield, and was report­edly drawing many settlers who leaned toward the cause of abolition. It seemed that my grandfather did not see eye to eye with those who sought to suppress slavery. Hence there was much-heated debates and arguments both public and private concerning this smouldering and explosive question of granting the Negro his freedom.

Moves to Webster County, Arkansas

So Grandfather served notice that he would forthwith take his leave from among those whom would so audaciously attempt to cram abolition down his southern throat. Hence he moved to just south of the Missouri line, into the raw and primitive wilderness of Boone County (then Webster County), Arkansas. There he homesteaded, married and raised a family. At his death in 1916 he (Robert B. Puryear) was buried on the homestead.

William Hollen Fain


1870: From Georgia to the Arkansas Ozarks

The Civil War found my paternal grandfather (William Hollen Fain, 1816-1887) living on a homestead in north Georgia (Walker County), some 15 miles (south) from where the battle of Chickamauga was fought. For reasons unknown, neither Grandfather nor any of his six sons were forced to bear arms for the Confederate cause.

Many times I have thrilled and exulted as my father (Richard Calhoun Fain, 1860-1939) would bring his family up to date on the episodes that related to the movement and clash of armies that were locked in this life-and-death struggle between the (United) States.

 Especially interesting to me was how my father described the awesome sight of the Union Cavalry that raced (northward) for two days and nights (in September 1863) past their Georgia farm home, in order to reach and to participate in the carnage and battle of Chickamauga.

Leaves Walker County, Georgia

In 1871 (1870), some six or seven years after the defeat and surrender of the Confederate forces, the westward fever seemed to strike my grandfather (Fain) with considerable force. He closed out all of his holdings in (Walker County) Georgia and set his bearings toward the same Boone County of north Arkansas that had shortly before this become the permanent home of my maternal grandfather (Robert Puryear).

The trek from Georgia westward to Arkansas was made by (mule) team and covered wagon, the popular and about the only mode of travel in those days. My father many times described the Ozark region as a "bawling wilderness." Also Father often remarked that it had been a life-long puzzle to him as to why my grandfather (Hollen Fain) had chosen to leave the comforts and conveniences of their well-improved Georgia home, and cast his lot in a land (Boone County, Arkansas) offering nothing but privation and hardship.


Photo taken at Taney County, Missouri, 1892.

Given Names, left to right (from top to bottom) are:

James Guy, 11; Robert Hollen, 12.

Richard Calhoun, 32; Madge L., 4; Mary, 32.

Herbert Olan, 2; Oscar Simpson, 1.

Arnola, 7.



1885: From Boone County to Missouri

But Father (Cal Fain) did not seem to reckon with the burning fever that was out to conquer the unconquered west. And by no means could he think of himself as one stricken and intoxicated with the same virus that had put the westward urge into the blood stream of those who were only one generation removed from him.

The years that followed proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Father could outstrip all comers when the westward push was at stake. By the time that Father was of age and married [in 1878, to Mary Puryear (1860-1943) of Boone County], there was but little homestead land left in the state of Arkansas.  But just (northward) over the state line in Taney County, Missouri, was still government land to be filed on. So his homestead right was used to secure 160 acres of even-worse wilderness land than had been confronted by him in Arkansas.

Here he built a log cabin, cleared-off a few acres of brush and stumps and set about to make a home for his family. It was here in the Taney County log cabin that this author (Herbert Olan Fain) was born (in February 1890).

After five years of blighted hopes and disappointment on the Missouri rock pile my father (Cal Fain), like many before him, turned his face toward the wilds and unknown of the legend­ary old Indian Territory (once Arkansas & Missouri Territory, now part of Oklahoma state)

1890: Off to Choctaw Indian Nation

Selling his farm for a pittance, and disposing of other meager assets, Father took off in May of 1890 with a team of mules, a covered wagon, a wife and five children. It required brave hearts, strong wills and iron con­stitutions for them to face life in those raw pioneer days; for no aid was to be had from Washington at that time.

Faith and Hope

Still the west was calling, and there was always the seed of faith and hope in the pioneer heart that fortunes could be redeemed and recouped out toward the setting sun. On arriving in what was known as the Choctaw Indian Country within The Indian Territory, the mules and a covered wagon, a wife and five children plus 25 cents in change was the sum and total of worldly goods that my father could call his own. But having put his hand to the plow, he was not one to look back.

A Crop of Cotton

Work was scarce and money was hard to come by. Father took a job of splitting rails, working from sunup to sundown for 50 cents per day, and taking his pay in fat pork and molasses. Eventually a farm was rented and the mules and all able hands went to work to produce a crop of cotton plus a few acres of corn.


Richard Calhoun Fain and his cotton pickers pause for a picture 

in his field of cotton. Cal is the tall fellow to the left of center. 

A blue mark has been drawn at the top of his hat.


1892: Next Destination, Creek Indian Nation

Two years on these rented acres found Father looking again toward the west. Leaving the Choctaws behind, we migrated over to the land of the Creeks (Creek Indian Nation in Indian Territory). Here more land was rented and those old enough set about at raising more crops. It was here in the Creek Country that the malaria (or ague) overtook us, and most of the family was alternately chilling and running a temperature every other day. Doctors were scarce in these parts, so we took lots of quinine (a bitter tonic) and kept busy at our never-ending task of keeping the wolf from the door.

Indian Medicine

An Indian medicine man came by one day, and somehow made my father understand that he could cure chills and fever by whispering his pagan prayers and then blowing said prayers into a pail of water through a hollow pumpkin stem, which water was then to be doused upon any stark-naked member of the family that needed it most.

A brother just younger than me (Oscar Simpson Fain, 1891-1945) was chosen as the guinea pig to receive the water.  So stripping him and standing him on a stump in the backyard, an older brother let drive with the full pail of cold fetish water. But the youngster went right on chilling and running a fever.


Indian squaw with papoose surveys merchandise

Creek-Nation Varmints

Mosquitoes, varmints and snakes were the bane of life in this region. Mosquito netting was a must for every bed, otherwise there was no sleep. Serpents of every type and hue abounded everywhere. One day a younger brother came around the house with a two-foot rattler in his hand and calling “Bugger! Bugger!”  My mother ran and knocked the snake out of the brother’s hand and finished said rattler off with a few hefty strokes from a horse collar, the only thing at hand that could be seized quickly.

Beyond Call of Redemption

In this Creek Country the populace was predominantly Indian. In our section was only one white neighbor, and it seemed that the character and principle of this man was below even that of the Indians and mixed breeds. One day this neighbor came by driving a team of oxen and stopped to have a few words with my father. He went on to say that he often had given serious thought to bringing some type of reformation to his way and manner of life. But said he, "by the time I drive these steers to Oklahoma City and back I'll be far past the last call of redemption."

1894-1901: Shawnee, Oklahoma Territory

Two years among the Creeks, and Father was ready to pull stakes again. So ere long we were heading west by northwest to the land of the Shawnees in Pottawatomie County in Oklahoma Territory. (Oklahoma: From Choctaw ‘okla humma,’ or red man.) Here Father rented land within three miles of the county-seat town of Tecumseh, from a full-blood Shawnee whose Indian name was Dave Wildcat.

By this time the (President) Grover Cleveland financial collapse (1893) had hit the entire nation like a giant steam hammer. So between spells of farming, Father cast about for some means to make a few dollars for current expenses. Somehow he fell upon the proposition of becoming an itinerant peddler (traveling) among the Indians. Thus loading his wagon with odds and ends of what he imagined would sell to the "Redskins" (Okla Hummas), he set forth to try his fortune in that field of endeavor.

Most all money was silver at that time, and a pocket full of glittering coins looked much like a young fortune. Not a great time had elapsed until Father was sporting quite a display of the very scarce “medium of exchange.” Almost at once Father noticed that three or four suspicious looking Seminoles were on hand whenever and wherever it was necessary for him to expose his silver reserves in order to make change for a legitimate customer. The thought came to him that these devils were up to no good, and that they might undertake to rob him or to even do him bodily harm.

It was not long after this until Father’s intuition paid off and he was forced to display his will to fight. For these hooligans did lay for him in a deserted area of the countryside and would surely have robbed him, or even have killed him, had not Father been well-armed and had he not shown unmistak­ably that he had nerve enough to use his (fire-) arms.


Cal Fain & sons on Farm in Butler, Custer Co., Oklahoma


1901: Next Stand in Custer County:

We were here on the Shawnee Indian lease for some six or eight years, which was some kind of a record. For we had not thus far stopped at any one location for even half that length of time.

However, the year of 1901 found us making early spring preparations to again go west (to Butler, Oklahoma Territory). We were considered at this time to be fairly prosperous "Okies,” for we drove proudly out with two covered wagons and seven head of horses, plus a few hundred dollars in the family bag. Yet the big dilemma at this time was that we did not know where we were going, but at least we were on our way.

We made no effort to hurry the trip along but more or less looked western Oklahoma (Territory) over as we went. And all the while Father was casting about for good land that could be rented for a nominal sum.

Finally we rolled into Custer County, which lies near the extreme western boundary of the (present) state (east of and below No Man’s Land, which is known as the Panhandle). After traversing almost the full 30-mile length of the county, Father heard of a man who held a lease on 320 acres of good Indian land, and who was chafing to sell his lease. Within no time at all father had bought this lease, and had made proper arrangements with the Indian Agent at Hammon to move onto the land.

The south half of the farm belonged to a full blood Cheyenne squaw by name of Maggie Darlington, and the north half belonged to another tribal squaw by name of Little Sioux Woman. This land had not a sign of a house for the family, neither a barn for the animals, but where the will is present, a way cannot be far off. We built a brush arbor for our kitchen and dining quarters, and pitched a 10xl4 tent for the beds where the entire family slept, and we drank water from the stream (Panther Creek) that ran mid-way through the farm. Not quite six years was spent on this valuable and prod­uctive Indian lease, during which time we built houses and barns, and dug wells and cisterns.  Again we prospered financially, even more than on any other of the many places that had been home to us during the recent years.


Old Fain Family Farm in Custer County, Oklahoma

No Man’s Land:

But now father again looks toward the wide open spaces of the west, and without consulting the family, as was his usual custom, he impulsively began to make ready for a fateful plunge to the region once known as "No Mans Land", which consists of a narrow pan-handle strip of land between Kansas and Texas in extreme northwest Oklahoma.

Some of the family called this region "the jumping off place". For the most part, people here lived in dens, caves and holes, much like the native moles, badgers and coyotes.  A few were able to erect sod houses, these were not much to look at, yet were quite warm and comfortable during the extreme winters of that region, as well as cool in the overly hot summers that could always be expected. Here we were 45 miles from the nearest railroad terminal, and there were no fast trucks and paved freeways, but everything used by man was hauled in by slow team and wagon over rough, muddy and rutty roads. Three days was always required to make the round trip to the railroad center and back.

Strange as it may seem, after moving and changing farms several times in this region, father seemed to better than on the verge of prosperity. He owned the best teams in the neighborhood, and had accumulated many head of other types of stock, and had even felt his economic oats to such a degree that he had purchased a new Ford Model T Automobile. Yet he just could not ever seem to gain mas­tery over the thought that he was made for the tough spots of the west.

Richard Calhoun Fain in Ford Model T, circa 1915.

 Wife Mary and Daughter Madge are in the back seat.


Off to Colorado – And a Return to Oklahoma

So in the year of 1918 he made his last westward move and purchased land in the dust bowl region of eastern (Prowers County) Colorado. Here he tried desperately to hold his own, but both time and elements closed in fast upon him. Old age had taken its toll, and the soil of his farm was literally blown out from under him.

So salvaging what he could, both father and mother moved back to Oklahoma City, OK, and this was the end of the trail. Here they lived out their re­maining years in peace and quiet, and now they rest side by side in beautiful Rose Hill Cemetery. 


R. C. Fain at his Real Estate Office near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma  - circa 1928



Richard Calhoun Fain & wife Mary Rebecca Puryear Fain

Written by:

Herbert Olan Fain

This story was written by Herbert about his father, Richard Calhoun Fain, and was sent to Readers Digest Magazine by Herbert sometime before 1965, but was not published.  I received the biography along with a box containing all of the photographs seen above from my Grand-Uncle Loyd Myers, son of Arnola (Fain) Myers.  I forwarded this information to fellow Fain researcher Dean Thomas, who was kind enough to edit the story, and incorporate the photographs. Richard Calhoun Fain and Mary Rebecca Puryear were my GG-Grandparents.....Mike Meyer

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Page added August 12, 2003