Claude Christopher Largent: Teacher in Early Oklahoma

Claude Christopher Largent, July 2, 1888-July 25, 1975.

claude as young man

Claude Largent was born to George Washington Largent and Mary Lue Smith in Booneville, Arkansas, on July 2, 1888. George Washington (GW) was a farmer and Mary Lue, who was half Indian (tribe unknown) was his third wife. She and GW had thirteen children, of which Claude was the first. His siblings were: George (November, 1889-December, 1889), Norris (Narcissie) A. (1892-1952), (Mary E, 1893-infant), Mary L. (Bettie), (1894-1960), William, (1896-1896), Evert (1898-1899), Sarah E. (1900- ?), Tommy (1902-1907), Mattie (1904-?) May (1906-?), Viola M. (1907-?,) Georgia Naoma (1909-?).

For many years Claude’s children and relations believed he was born in 1889, and indeed the 1900 U. S. Census claims as much. However, George Washington II was born in November, 1889, and died the following month. Hence what Claude recorded on his 1917 draft registration, that he was born in 1888, was true. (Strangely, however, in his 1942 draft registration, Claude listed his birth erroneously at 1889.) Claude was born a few weeks before GW, aged about 32, and Mary L, aged 17, were married. So Claude was an illegitimate, firstborn son. Perhaps the illegitimacy haunted him and he did not receive some of the benefits of the second living son, Norris.

Claude’s early life was undoubtedly a struggle, in part because he was illegitimate and ¼ Indian, he was not well educated, though he sometimes attended school (his parents were both illiterate). A family tradition has it that Mary Lue stood up to GW in support of Claude when he wanted to attend school. Of Claude’s many siblings, only two appeared to have survived childhood; hence Mary Lue was pregnant a lot and the babies and infants died regularly—death was a frequent visitor to the Largent household.

In the 1900 federal census, he was listed as 10 years old, born in July, 1889, which was an unfortunate error. Claude’s father George W. was born August, 1860, in Illinois, as were his parents, and Claude’s mother Mary L., born Oct. 1871 in Arkansas. Her father, about whom little is known, was born in Missouri, and her mother, otherwise unknown, was born in Arkansas. GW in 1900 owned his own farm, and had no mortgage. Mary was mother of 7 children, 4 living. Their place of residence was Washburn, Logan Co., Arkansas.

Claude’s draft registration in 1917 reveals that he was a self-employed farmer, was married with two children under 12. He lists himself as Caucasian. He was medium height, slender, brown eyes, black hair in June 5, 1917.

Claude married Bessie Lura Amos on Dec. 3, 1911. They lived in Booneville, Arkansas, and had four children, three daughters and one son.

In the 1920 federal census, Claude and Bessie and three children—Marie, Amos, and Joyce—were living in Center Haskell, Oklahoma. Claude was a farmer who owned his own home with a mortgage.

Claude was ambitious enough to educate himself so that he could eventually serve as a school teacher. His daughter June recalled that “the folks talked about several towns where they lived and Dad taught. I believe Pawnee, Shawnee, and towns around Seminole were some. Dad taught in Oklahoma and Arkansas. I remember them talking about him teaching “up on the mountain” in Arkansas.”

In 1928, they were living in Booneville, Arkansas, where GW lived. GW allowed Claude and family to live in a small shack on his land. June recalls that “Mother talked like she didn’t like him; I don’t remember why. Of course, he didn’t leave Dad anything, and I think he had a lot of land. He also had a lot of kids.”

house where Claude and Bess lived and June born

The 1930 census shows Claude and Bessie living in Seminole County, Econtuchka township, Oklahoma. It reveals that they did not own a farm, rather rented. Claude was a school teacher in Econtuchka, which was a small town near the North Canadian River that divided the lands of the Seminole and Pottawatomie Indian tribes.

During the Depression, according to family tradition, “Claude taught school for some $40.00 per month. Walked 10 miles to teach singing lessons during the summer. Sold newspapers in Wewoka. . . . Was not easy, but they made it.” Wewoka is 35 miles from Econtuchka, so either Claude drove an auto to sell newspapers, or the family lived in Wewoka for a time.

Claude moved his family to Stigler in 1934. The 1940 census reveals that the family continued to live in Stigler. They rented a home and did not farm. Claude had completed the second year of college, attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. His son George Amos had completed the third year of college. Claude taught music in a Works Progress Administration school. Claude and Marie were a singing duo in local Stigler churches. The Largent family were Methodists.

In 1942, they were living in Stigler, Oklahoma; Claude was employed by Claud Frix, who was the proprietor of a retail dry goods store. But that same year Claude, Bess, and June, their youngest child, made the trek of the Okies to California to look for work. They lived in San Diego in 1942, then moved to Santa Monica in 1943, living there until 1944. Claude worked in the aircraft industry and in a lumber yard. June attended Santa Monica schools. They returned to Stigler in 1945, and Claude worked as an elementary school custodian.

The family moved to Tulsa in 1945. Claude worked for the Tulsa Public Schools, Irving and Mark Twain schools, as a custodian. He also worked for a church in Tulsa. They purchased a house in West Tulsa in 1946 with a Teacher’s Credit Union loan.

Claude retired in 1959 from Tulsa Public Schools and spent his time working in a large garden in the backyard where he grew all sorts of vegetables.

His grandson, Rusty, remembers him as very old, thin, cross-eyed, yet quiet, possibly thoughtful. He wore sun-glasses, even inside, perhaps because of his cross-eyes. Rusty would sometimes join his grandfather in the vegetable garden. Claude said little, but walked about gathering the vegetables and pruning branches; Rusty followed, watching. One time, Claude gave Rusty some books without comment. The books were a two-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandberg. The books appeared well-used, so clearly his grandfather had read them again and again. They must have been his favorite books, and now he was giving them to Rusty—perhaps his grandfather’s wisdom and Carl Sandberg’s wisdom and Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom would combine to provide the sixteen-year-old inquisitor with wisdom itself. And so, despite the fact that most of the books he read were about sports, Rusty began to read. Sandberg’s portrayal of Lincoln was of a humorous, shy, witty, thoughtful, caring, empathetic man who became President of the United States. Rusty’s grandfather had the same body-type, the same apparent demeanor, as Abraham Lincoln, though as far as Rusty knew his grandfather had only been a custodian for his working years. Sandberg’s Lincoln cared for people, for all people of whatever color, and for this care he became a martyr, a sacrifice to the principles of equality and freedom.

Sandberg’s Lincoln by means of a Claude’s gift opened up a new world for Rusty. It was a world of thought, of stories, of people, of the past. It was a world of the distant and not-so-distant past, which was huge, vast, so vast as to be unknowable. Only a few things about the past could be known. Most past experiences were not known, would never be known. But the possibilities inherent in the past, the countless lives and experiences, were simply too tempting to turn away from. And so Rusty began a quest to know, to read. He was not a gifted intellectual, merely an average student, but he had a desire to know. He began to read science fiction, much of which was based on past human experiences. He read philosophy. The summer after his senior year in high school, as he prepared to go to the university, he read Plato’s Republic—and didn’t understand much. But the whole idea of being able to read the great thoughts of a philosopher from over two thousand years ago, to wallow in the wisdom of the past, was irresistible, and he continued to try to read great books. He particularly enjoyed reading Greek mythology. He read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and not only did he understand these works, but he loved them. He loved the stories of battle, of heroes, of gods and goddesses, of monsters, of revenge, all set in the distant past in a distant land.

By this time in his life, when he turned eighteen and was preparing for the experience of the university, Rusty enjoyed thinking that the mind could elevate him above all the cares and questions of life. It sometimes worked. When in July, 1975, his grandfather Claude became terribly ill, and Rusty went to the hospital to visit the old man, he found him in his bed, partially clothed, senseless, thrashing about in convulsions. It was deeply disturbing, but to a rational, logical person, acceptable as the consequence of life, and Rusty left the hospital as emotionless as possible, as would a philosopher.

Claude Christopher Largent, a kind, quiet man, died in Tulsa on July 21, 1975.

claude largent 1967

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
This entry was posted in History and Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Claude Christopher Largent: Teacher in Early Oklahoma

  1. Clint says:

    My grandpa!

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