The Big Piney/ My Heritage


a mill

On January 16, 1852 Zeno Merritt Cox Sr. was born in Illinois. As a young adult he set out for the “Big Piney” which is what Arkansas was called back before statehood. Huge pines lined the banks of the Big Piney River. He dug in and built and operated a water wheel lumber mill in a spot where the trees were the densest. Over the next few years he developed mills all along the river. As a middle aged man he sold his mills and settled in Estella, Oklahoma.

Estella is a small rural community half way between Vinita and Nowata. Accurately 21.9 miles northwest of Vinita on Highway 60. Estella then was predominantly Indian with the Cherokees holding the majority populace. There was a small black community there and heirs of German and Irish immigrants rounded out the makings of the community. Zeno was predominately English and had not 1 prejudice bone in his body. His wife Emma Jane Beck-Cox was a Cherokee medicine woman who went into the countryside with a pail and a trowel and returned with roots and bark capable of treating everything from warts to pneumonia.

Zeno built a rural grocery store and became the local postmaster. His store had gas pumps and a sweet water well. It housed the local voting precinct and general delivery mail drop. He built the most beautiful wooden post office box cabinet ever seen. He was gone before I came into the world as the youngest daughter of one of his 5 sons. I grew up in that store and was afforded life experience that I could never have received elsewhere.

There was a large coal excavation site with many employees close by so one of the things we did was provide breakfast and lunch, beside offering the best variety of fresh lunch meats and Wisconsin barrel cheeses. My mom and both grandmothers cooked. Dad paid to have electricity ran out from Vinita so we were set. We had water coolers, television and indoor plumbing. The rural water lines weren’t established yet but dad and grandpa ran water for washing up from the ponds through hundreds of feet of buried charcoal filled pipe. Drinking water came from a well witched by Grandpa Reiter (mom’s father) with a peach tree bough just a few feet behind the house.

The circus came from Nowata on its way to Vinita right in front of the store stopping to water animals and I had a 1st hand view of the elephants and lions. Every July fourth it was dad’s habit to take customers and a couple dozen eggs to the highway right out front, after it had been paved where he put on a 1 man display of how the pavement was hot enough to fry eggs. People driving by would stop and watch in awe. A six foot tall (from the English side) Cherokee man bent over scrambling inedible eggs as a hobby.

Of course, really nothing unusual there….after all it was Oklahoma.

a mill

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