This week, Betty Bolles Feezel continues her remembrances of Carter Oil Co.’s Williams Camp north of St. Elmo.
The Move to Williams Camp
“We moved to Williams camp in 1939,” Feezel said. “My dad had a house built in Williams camp, which was nothing but a farm field.
“The company leased the land and made out streets. Every street had a wide, concrete sidewalk on each side and an alley. We had a ton of fun skating on the sidewalks,” she said.
“I think all the families there were from Oklahoma. Of course, Oklahoma has tornadoes something fierce, and people were so frightened of them.
“All the years I was growing up, when we were going to bed, if there was a cloud in the sky, my dad would say, ‘Put your shoes where you can find them,’ because we would have to run to the storm cellar.
“Because the people were so gunny about storms, the company built three storm cellars, like bunkers, that were solid concrete, with double doors for safety and steps going down.
“There was an escape hatch at the other end, in case the door was blocked. They were wonderful places to play,” she said.
“We had electricity, water and gas, provided by the company. We didn’t have to pay bills.”
The big brick school still remains, now a private residence.
“The school was a beautiful building,” Feezel said. “It had a full basement with a furnace, bathrooms and it had a folding screen to divide the two school rooms. When it was unfolded, we had an auditorium where we had plays, traveling performers and politicians to speak,” she said.
The company also provided a playground, just across the street from the Bolles home.
Williams Camp also had community hall in which square dances, employee meetings and other major activities were held. However, its most common use was for Domino games, which were held nightly, if not crowded out by another event.
Nearby were picnic tables under shade trees and a barbecue pit. A well, S.Williams #3, was located in the center of the camp.
The camp had a country store, Eldridge Store. The Eldridge family had two sons, Ray and Kay. The family sold the store and went to Decatur, where they opened a small jewelry store. Feezel said she had been told several times that the little store was the beginning of the well-known K’s Merchandise Mart, named for Kay.
The post office was initially inside the store. The Pruett Post Office building was later built. The postman’s name was Pruett, and the community was named after him. Pruett also had a filling station.
And the People…
Feezel said they were like one big family. “The boys in the camp were like brothers. No one locked their doors,” she said.
“Even when we went on vacation (always to Oklahoma), we never locked our doors. There was no need for policemen. It was such a good place to grow up in,” she said.
“The company was there for us – free medical care, retirement. Lots of the young men, when they were old enough, worked for the oil company. Some became geologists, chemists, etc. A lot of the kids did go on into that industry.
“This was during World War II,” she said. “When planes flew over, we would all run outside, because practically every house had a young man in the service.
“My brother was in the service and he almost starved to death, flying over the Himalayan Mountains taking gasoline to the Flying Tigers,” she said.
She pointed out another house in the photograph and said, “This house had a boy killed in the war. They brought him home and took him on to Oklahoma.
“His mother was killed on the way to the funeral. That was the Fisher family.”
She added that another son, Brock Fisher, married a Williams Camp resident, Madelon Hart, and they lived in Brownstown until just recently.
She indicated the house of another family, whose son was a chaplain in the military, and pointed out the home of the Broaddus twins, Gene and Jim, who played basketball. Later, one became her brother-in-law.
The Beginning of the End
“When the major bulk of it (oil) started, then the men could bid out to (go to) Kansas and other places, according to seniority and qualifications, and people began to move,” Feezel said.
“My dad worked there until he retired, and then they still lived there for a while. They finally moved back to the same area in Oklahoma. Many of the people did go back to Oklahoma.”
Meanwhile, Feezel had attended college and became a teacher.
She admitted that it was heartbreaking to see the houses sold and moved to various locations. The only evidence of the close community – the ideal living conditions, the happy childhood she enjoyed, in the safe cocoon of caring people – is the brick building that served so well as their school, Sunday school and entertainment theater.
Betty Flo Feezel retired after teaching first grade for 31 years and subbing for eight years afterward. It was an occupation she loved, and cherishes those memories also. She is still interested in education and hopes for future consolidation of the schools.
Her home companions are a little Yorkie, “Sarge” (for Sergeant York), and a large tiger cat, “Louie” who gets along well with “Sarge.”
She had one brother, Ortez, who is deceased, and two sisters, Olene and Oleta. Orlene is deceased, and Oleta now lives in Chicago.
Still very alert and active, a very pleasant and attractive lady, Betty Bolles Feezel is a good representative of the historical Williams Camp.