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Very few people can say that they remember coming to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, lived through the dust bowl days, got arrested for taking their 16 year-old bride across the Kansas state line, helped start the Pioneer Days Parade, been in a TV show, and now will now be living to see 100 years. Joe Eaton, 1998 Parade Marshal, has done all of these things and more.
Eaton will be celebrating his 100th birthday on Sunday, June 24, and friends and family are all welcome to join in on the celebration. His celebration will be on Saturday, June 23, at the Texas County Activity Center. Anyone is welcome to join the family with cake and punch from 2-4 p.m. Admission to the party is to simply bring a birthday card for Joe to help him celebrate.
There will be plenty of cake to eat, plenty of punch to drink, and there will definitely be plenty of stories to hear.
At 100 years old, Joe is still sharp as a tack. Recalling dates, ages, locations, and names, Joe is able to recall stories from the time he was a child, up to what he did yesterday.
Eaton was born June 24, 1912 in Tullahoma, Tenn. and he traveled with his family in a covered wagon when they came to settle in Oklahoma when he was only 8 years old. He went to school through eighth grade in Hooker, then began his rodeo career and horse riding.
Age 15 is when Eaton began his horse jockey days. After many years in this business, Eaton set records and traveled the country. From ages 16-18, Eaton rode bulls in rodeos.
âI rode bulls until I went to Garden City and got hurt,â said Eaton, âand then I quit!â
Eaton also threw some punches in the ring and ended up with a record of 5-4.
Eaton began working for ranchers in the area, and eventually bought a ranch for himself when his boss decided to start selling. During his ranch hand days, while he was searching for missing steers, he caught a glimpse of the young girl that would turn out to be the love of his life.
Helen Whitney was eight years younger than Eaton when they met and soon got married, but not without a bump in the road along the way. Eaton got caught taking Helen across the state line when he got arrested for crossing the line with a minor. Helenâs father had turned Eaton in for kidnapping his daughter, resulting in a night in jail for Eaton. He was later bailed out of jail by Helenâs grandfather.
âThat was the only time I ever got arrested,â said Eaton. âAnd then I took her, and we got married!â
He and Helen married in Hugoton, Kan. in 1936 and were able to keep it a secret for about a week until a family member spilled the beans to her family.
Joe and Helen remained married for 73 years, until her death about a year and a half ago.
Family members say that Helen was the love of his life and that he still talks about her all the time. Together, they had two children, Clarence Eugene Eaton, born in 1939, and Yvonne Wehmeier, born in 1941. He has seven grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren.
Eaton still lives in the house he built 64 years ago. His house did not have electricity until 1962, and did not have any source of plumbing until one or two years later.
Eaton played a role in a TV show called Wide Wide World as one of the lead characters driving a buggy lead by mules. The show represented a land run as it would have been done during the land run days, and when the cannon was shot off, the mules spooked and Eaton recalls having to try for three miles to get them under control.
Eaton has been in every single Pioneer Days Parade except for nine. He has played various roles in the parade from being the flag boy for eight years, to the wagon master. Eaton shows great pride in his wagons, horses, and mules. He even says that he still has one of his mules left out at his house.
He has gone from having to do his farming with horses and mules, having no plumbing or electricity, to seeing the wonders of todayâs world; including cars, TV, electricity and even uses a cell phone. He recalls his very first car, a 1927 Model T and drove a school bus for Guymon ISD for 25 years before retiring in 1976. He and Helen very rarely missed a football game and were great supporters of the community.
The community is welcome to join the family of this true Pioneer of Texas County as he celebrates his 100 years of life. Joe is still young at heart and he and his family would love to have the community at their side in his honor this Saturday.