Benjamin Duke Cooksey

A picture of a street scene of Cheyenne, from between 1907 and 1911, has intrigued me for quite some time. I have always desired to know the exact location of these buildings and to place them in relation to the buildings that exist today.  The other thing that has aroused my curiosity is the name that appears on one of the buildings, that is B. D. Cooksey.  Who was B. D. Cooksey, who were his relatives and did any of them live in Cheyenne and did he leave any relatives in Cheyenne?

To answer the first of these questions, “Where were these buildings?” I have gone to issues of the old Cheyenne Star and searched for little tid-bits, articles and ads that might give some clue.  One ad from 1907, the year that Cooksey established his drug store, states that Cooksey housed his goods in the Post Office building.  Today, this sounds odd that such would be the case, but at the turn of the century and shortly following, it was a common practice in small towns on the western frontier, for a business to operate in conjunction with the local Post Office.  At times, the postmaster would be the proprietor of the business.  I do not believe this was the case for Cooksey, for in my study of Cheyenne’s history, I have not seen that Cooksey was ever the Postmaster of Cheyenne.

Shortly following the settlement of Cheyenne, the Post Office was operated from a building owned by Scotty Falconer.  He was also the postmaster, perhaps from the time of construction of the building, but certainly later on. The deed records at the county court house show Falconer’s lot and therefore that building to be located in the open space between The Santa Fe Salon and the now [2008] vacant building owned by the county where the Nation Park Service most recently had their office.  The Cheyenne City Office now occupies that building.  In the photo one can see on one of the buildings, the end of the word ‘exchange” and the word “bank”.  This would have been the “Cotton Exchange Bank”, which was located adjacent to the B. D. Cooksey  Drug Store, this also being the Post Office.  I feel that this fairly well establishes the location of the Cooksey store in one picture.  Also in support of this theory is the fact that the June 12, 1903 issue of the Cheyenne Star states that Ben Cooksey was filling prescriptions at Scotty’s Drug Store.  It is documented that Scotty Falconer owned a drug store even though he was not a druggist.  He apparently hired Ben Cooksey to run the pharmacy for him.

In the other picture, I have not determined if the Cooksey store is still in the same location or if Cooksey has moved to a new location.  It is believed that by 1917 that the Cooksey Drug Store was at another location because an ad of that year states that the Owl Drug is now located in the Post Office Building. I will do some more investigating as to the location of the pictured Southern Hotel.  I have found that when the Cooksey family left Cheyenne that Cooksey sold his drug store to a trio of local businessmen.  A search of the county records might disclose this transaction and give a description of the lot.

B. D. Cooksey was born in Louisiana near Homer in Claiborne Parish, which is northeast of Shreveport.  His parents were both born in Georgia and they had moved to Louisiana before their first child, Lee was born in 1870.  It is only conjecture, but it is my supposition that the move to Louisiana was the result of the outcome of the Civil War.   There was a whole clan of Cookseys located in Claiborne Parish in the 1870s.  I would not be surprised to find that they are all related.  I found one instance where there were two Cooksey families living in adjacent households, all having been born in Georgia, but one family was black and the other was white.  It is quite clear that these two families are not genetically related.  Evidently when the white family moved they took the black family with them as laborers.  The white family had property and the black family did not, although both heads of households listed farming as an occupation. This was less than five years following the end of the Civil War.

The father of B. D. was William C Cooksey, b.1843 and his mother was Mary Francis [surname unknown], who was called Fannie, b.1846.  William listed his occupation as a farmer.  This couple had five children.  Robert Lee b. 1870, Willie P. b. 1872, Mattie, b. 1877, Benjamin Duke, b. 1878, and Irma W. b. 1884.  By the time of the 1900 census William C. Cooksey had died, or at least was no longer listed with the rest of the family.  The family was all still living together at Homer, Louisiana, Fannie being the senior member but with Lee, the oldest son, as head of the household.

By the time of the1910 census Benjamin had married and was living in Cheyenne, Oklahoma with his wife Sally Ray Fields b.1885 and their year and half old son, Benjamin Duke Jr.  They had married in Cheyenne on Wednesday June 22, 1907 at 8:30 pm at the Methodist Church with Rev. Matthews doing the honors.  Another member of the local genealogy society will research the Fields family and a report will be given in a separate paper.  It should be noted that the Fields family came to Cheyenne in 1899 and that the father of the Fields children, Fletcher Brown Fields, died June 1, 1899 shortly following their arrival.  The mother, Isabelle [Standifer] Fields, along with her children continued to live north of Cheyenne for a period of time before moving into Cheyenne.   Sally Ray Fields would have been 14 years old at the time of her father’s death.

Exactly when and under what circumstances Benjamin Duke Cooksey made his way to Cheyenne is not clear.  He was a graduate of the Atlanta College of Pharmacy and registered as a pharmacist in the states of Georgia and Louisiana as well as Oklahoma.  Possibly, he still had ties to family in the two prior mentioned states and felt the need to register there.  It could be that he had practiced pharmacy in one or both of those states before coming to Oklahoma.  As noted above, he came here sometime before June of 1903 but after the 1900 census.

It appears that Ben had come to Oklahoma before 1903, stayed for a period and then moved to Magnolia Grove in Louisiana.  The Cheyenne Star reported that he returned to Cheyenne in December of 1905.  I assume Magnolia Grove was somewhere near Homer, Louisiana but it is not found on modern maps.

Following his marriage to Sally Ray, Ben must have felt secure enough in himself to take another step and go into business ownership.  Less than three weeks later, Ben publishes a notice in the Cheyenne Star that the following week he will open a drug store with a complete line of pure drugs, patent medicines, perfume, toilet articles and everything carried in a first-class drug store.  It is assumed that he had purchased the drug business owned by Scotty Falconer. The store continued to be located in the Post Office.

Ben was 29 years old and Ray, as she was known, was 21 years old when they got married.  One picture of their extended family shows Ben to be a slightly built man who wore glasses and his wife, Ray appears to be taller than he.  Ben always had trouble with his eyes and suffered with glaucoma in his later years.

Ben evidently was a believer in advertising because he ran a boxed ad in the Cheyenne Star almost continuously from the time he became the owner of the store until he sold out in 1924.

He advertised Christmas goods for the children as well as the older set of patrons.  In addition to these items, there were cigars, brushes, combs, jewelry, toilet powders, soaps, schoolbooks and supplies, candy, magazines, cameras and film, baseball goods and Sherwin-Williams paints. Later he put in a soda fountain and sold soft drinks. In the other community newspaper, The Cheyenne Sunbeam, Ben did not advertise as heavily as he did in the Cheyenne Star.  Here he used one-liner or one sentence advertising to keep his business name before the public.

The Cooksey couple seemed to be active in the civic and social affairs of the community and had many friends and extended family members with which they associated.  Shortly following their marriage, he was initiated into the Masonic organization, with Ben being elected to the office of Steward and Master Mason in 1908.   Ray was on the program of the county Sunday School Convention in 1907 and was initiated into the Eastern Star in May of 1908.  Ray Cooksey volunteered for the Red Cross room where she did sewing and knitting.  She was active in “Hen Day” where volunteers canvassed the city for monetary donations to the Red Cross equal to the price of one hen.  When Cheyenne undertook the building of the Cheyenne Short Line Railroad in 1917, B. D. Cooksey was among the men who helped with the planning and building of the rail line.

The first child of Ben and Ray was Ben Duke, Jr.  He was born on 22 Oct. 1908.  Sadly, this child did not live long as he died less than two years later on 6 Aug. 1910 while the family was in Colorado. The cause of death is not revealed.  His body was returned by rail to Sayre, and taken by team to Cheyenne. The funeral was preached by Reverend Brown at the Methodist Church on 9 Aug 1910.  He is buried in the Cheyenne cemetery.

The next child born to the Cookseys was a daughter, Donnalita, born 5 Dec. 1911.  Their last child was Buford F Cooksey, born 1914.  The Buford name is a surname from several generations back on the Fields side of the family.  The name is used extensively throughout the family.  Among several of the cousins of Buford F who were living in Cheyenne, was Buford “Boots” Fields, who lived at Cheyenne in his younger days.

In the 1920 census, Ben’s household consisted of he and Ray and their two children along with Ray’s mother, Isabelle Fields, who was 60 years old at the time.

The Cookseys lived on the town lots where Sylvia Moad lives today.[2010]  Ben owned 3 lots at that location, this being the Southeast ¼ of the block.  Ben and Ray built a home on these lots and later built an addition to their home.  It is reported that the Cooksey’s home burned not too long before they left Cheyenne   Sometime following the fire, Ben sold the lots to John and Daisy Dunn, who built their home there when they moved from the ranch to Cheyenne.

In September of 1924, the Cheyenne Star contained an article stateing that “Ben Cooksey, pioneer druggist, has sold his drug store in Cheyenne to Dr. J. N. Cross, A. C. Cross and Lisle Boggs. The new ownership will operate the drug store as The Cheyenne Drug Co.  Ben has purchased a one-half interest in a drug store in Seagraves, Texas.  He and the family plan to move as soon as some final arrangements are made.  Ben Cooksey has been in business in Cheyenne for a little over 20 years.  He has become known as Cheyenne’s “Leading Druggist”.  The article went on to state that “Ben has been active in the up-building of the city and has always stood on the side of progress and advancement.  The Cooksey family played an important part in the social life of the town and their friends regret to see them leave. As an expression of the esteem in which this family is held in our city, their last week was made a continuous round of entertainment.  The various organizations of which they were members each entertained in some manner in their honor.”  Ben held a strong attachment to Cheyenne as he continued to pay his lodge dues in Cheyenne until 1946.

The same issue of the Cheyenne Star contained a huge list of delinquent taxpayers.  This may have indicated that Roger Mills County was going through some tough times and this may have initiated the move to Seagraves.  This, along with the fact that the Cookseys had just lost their house in a fire, may have been enough to cause Ben to look for greener pastures.

After moving to Seagraves, Texas, the two teenage children finished high school there.    At the time of the move, Donnalita was 13 years of age and Buford was 10.

Ben continued to be active in civic affairs after the move to Seagraves.  He served as president of the Rotary Club of Seagraves at one time and was elected as mayor of the town for a few years.  He was a Gaines County Justice of the Peace when he died at his office in Seagraves on a Saturday night, November 1, 1958.  He was 80 years old.  His services were held in the First Presbyterian Church where he was a member.  Ray continued to live in Seagraves until she moved to a rest home at Seminole, Texas where she died on November 5, 1975 at age 90.

Donnalita never married.  Little is known of her life, except that in1939 she was working as an operator for Western Union at Abilene, Texas.  Buford attended college and became an industrial engineer.

By April of 1941, some seven months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Buford had moved to New Mexico where he enlisted in the army at Santa Fe.  His stature was given as being 5’9” tall and weighing 138 lbs.  He was single at the time.  By December of 1941 he was sent to the Philippine Islands as a member of the Coast Artillery Corps with the specific duty of planting amphibious mines.  At the beginning of the war the Japanese quickly over ran the Philippines and all U.S. and Philippine fighting personnel were soon pushed to the island of Corregidor where they held off the Japanese for several weeks before a shortage of food and supplies dictated their surrender.  The prisoners were subjected to the notorious “Bataan Death March”.  Buford survived the “death march” and was held in a prison camp in the Philippines until November of 1942.  He was among 400 prisoners taken to Japan from Manila aboard a “Hell Ship”, Nagato Maru, arriving on November 27, 1942.  Twenty of those on board died while in route. The following account of their ordeal is recorded by one of the survivors of this event.

“We marched into Tanagawa at nightfall.  There were five new barracks very flimsily constructed with dirt floors and paper-thin walls coming to six inches off the floor.  The barracks  were very cold.  There were two decks of bunks with a ladder going up every twenty feet to the second deck which was 8 to 10 feet off the ground.  Shoes had to be taken off at the foot of the ladder.  At the foot of each bunk were five synthetic blankets made out of peanut shell fiber and a rigid pillow in the shape of a small cylinder packed with rice husks.  The barracks had no heat and with temperatures falling below freezing, the conditions were pretty tough.  After coming from the tropics, this was quite a shock to your system.”

The prisoners from the Tanagawa POW Camp were forced to manually tear down a mountain side to build a breakwater for a primitive dry-dock and submarine base.  The camp was noted for its severe malnutrition and excessive death rate.  A sample days rations were as follows.  Breakfast:  Rice and soup.  Lunch: [carried by the POWs to work] Rice, sometimes bread and seaweed.  Dinner:  Rice and soup, fish every 10 days, meat once or twice a month; vegetables [one kind each night] onions, potatoes and some others.

Fortunately Buford Cooksey did not have to endure these conditions for very long.  He died on December 1, 1942, of cardiac beri beri, four days after his arrival at the new prison camp.    Following the war his body was returned to the Philippines and was reburied at the military cemetery at Fort William McKinley in Manila.

The Cooksey family suffered many heartbreaks and financial difficulties but they always managed to give more to the community than they took.  Neither of their sons lived long enough to have children and their daughter never married.  Thus the Cookseys never had any grandchildren to carry on the family lineage.

However, Mrs. Ray Cooksey did have relatives who populated Western Oklahoma from its early days.  Her mother was a daughter of a Dr. Standifer, a well known and highly respected pioneer medical doctor of Cheyenne and Elk City.  He had a brother and a son who also were esteemed doctors in Roger Mills and Beckham Counties.  Many were the pioneer families who received care by the Standifer doctors. Their names were much respected by the generation just past.  Ray had a sister Ruth who married William T. [Bill] Bonner.  Another sister married Leo D Beaty, they being the parents of Albert Fields “Chink” Beaty.  Ray Fields Cooksey also had two brothers who settled in early day Cheyenne and played a leading role in its development.  They were Buford “Boots” Fields and Bonaparte “Boney” Fields. One of Ben’s relatives said of him “He was a really nice man”






Chink and Lila Murl Beaty

Cheyenne Star 1903-1924

Cheyenne Sunbeam 1903-1908