Tales from the No Man’s Land Museum - Katherine Bemis Blesse, Pioneer Newspaper Woman
From the No Man's Land Museum
Researcher – Sue Weissinger Reporter - J. L. Wells
The No Man’s Land Museum in Goodwell applauds a woman “born at the turn of the 20th Century” who worked in the newspaper business in Cimarron County.
Katherine Bemis Blesse was part of a pioneer family with deep roots in Cimarron County.
In an article in The Old Timers News, July 1977, by Carol David, Katherine related stories of her life. Her parents, Kittie Shugart Bemis and Edward Bemis, were living on the banks of the Cimarron River in 1900. They decided to travel to Texline, Texas so their baby could be delivered by a doctor. They stopped at the DeWilliams Ranch near the Garrett School in Cimarron County to spend the night where a baby girl named Anne Katherine Bemis was born.
As with many pioneer families, tragedy struck in 1902 when Katherine’s mother died after delivering another baby named Madeline. The two little girls went to live with their grandparents, John and Kittie Shugart and the Shugart’s daughter Minnie. (When Minnie was Pioneer Queen in 1963, she recounted that her parents came to No Man’s Land in 1898, two years before Katherine was born, and settled on land bounded on the north by the Cimarron River.) Within a year, the little girls’ father died while working on a ranch near Trinidad, Colorado.
The Garrett School was near their grandparent’s home so the girls were able to walk to school. When Grandmother Shugart’s health suffered, the family moved into Boise City, and Katherine began attending the town school.
While attending school, she started working for Roscoe C. Thomas who owned the Cimarron News. Spending her free time at the newspaper, she learned to set type, feed the presses, fold papers, and eventually learned to type on an Oliver typewriter. Feeding the presses and folding the papers required that she worked around the equipment. To do so, she made some denim pants to wear which were a shock to proper society and repeatedly dismayed her grandfather.
After living with relatives in Colorado and Wyoming, Katherine moved back to Boise in 1917 and began working for Mr. Thomas again. He taught her how to use the linotype machine and paid her $90 a month plus room and board. It was during World War I, and they sold Victory Bonds and saw each group of soldiers off as they boarded the train.
Mr. Thomas sold the newspaper in 1920 and bought into a bank in Roby, Texas. Katherine accompanied them and worked as an assistant cashier. Her love for the newspaper business caused Katherine to move to Sweetwater, Texas and work for another newspaper, The Sweetwater Reporter. While working for the newspaper, she met her future husband Fredrick V. Blesse, Jr. They married in 1922 and moved to a ranch at Dilley, Texas. Their three children were born and raised there. Katherine died in 1978 when she was 77 years old and was buried in the Dilley Cemetery.
Although Katherine left the County at a young adult, her family still has a legacy in Cimarron County. Her Aunt Minnie Shugart came by covered wagon with her family in 1898 where her father later filed on a 160 acre homestead. When she was 17, she carried the mail as a substitute for her father by horse and buggy between Garrett Post Office and Mineral City, a round distance of 44 miles per day. In 1905, she married Julius Kohler, a homesteader from Osterburken, Germany, who lived across the Cimarron River from the Shugart family. They lived in the home Julius built on his land for 58 years until his death. Nine of their ten children lived to adulthood. Their daughter Ruth Kohler Grabeal and her three children died in a tragic accident in 1957. When Minnie was selected Guymon Pioneer Queen in 1963, their four sons, Ewell, Robert, Albert, and Paul, lived on the family ranch. Their daughter, Thelma Kohler Tevebaugh, lived in Cimarron County while daughters, Era, Nell, and Merle lived outside the state. Many of the descendants of the Shugart/Kohler family still reside in Cimarron County.
The No Man’s Land Museum Archive Room affords the opportunity to research many of the early families of the Panhandle. The Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:00 – 12:00 A.M. and 1:00 – 4:00 P.M. It is closed Sunday, Monday, and state holidays. Please consider wearing a mask. Follow the Museum on Facebook@NoMansLandMuseum.