One hundred years ago this coming Monday, the Eighth Congressional District of Oklahoma’s new Congressman penned the following: 

“BEWARE! February The 22, 1921 Manuel Herrick Left Today on the 9 O’clock Train To Assume his Duties In Washington D.C. Before Leaving he Stated That all news paper Reporters who are wise and value Their good health while The have got It will Stay away from him Especially Those Representing The Daily Oklahomian and Daily news. — Manuel Herrick. Print this just like I wrote it, capital letters and all, or leave it out of the paper.”

This is the story of Manuel Herrick; of his early boyhood in Oklahoma, of the attempted train robbery, of sanity hearings and his commitment to a mental sanitarium, of court fights with neighbors and of his accidental election to the U.S. Congress in 1921. His antics in Washington and his last days in California add to this most bizarre story.

We must start this journey in 1876 in rural Ohio (near Perry, Ohio — this becomes coincidental later) when Balinda and John Herrick conceived. Balinda became most infatuated with the birth of Jesus and how it was recorded by the prophet Isaiah in the seventh chapter and fourteenth verse, when Isaiah, speaking to the house of David said, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” She had also had much focus on the twenty-third verse of the first chapter of Matthew, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is God with us.” On Sept. 20, 1879 Immanuel (Manuel) Herrick was born and the later nickname “Okie Jesus” that would follow him into Congress.

In 1877 the Herrick family found themselves in Greenwood County, Kansas, the southern part of Kansas, not far from the Cherokee Outlet which in the not-too-distant future would be open to white settlement. During this time the young boy was under the tender care of his mother, for Immanuel was something special. Balinda, believing that her son was Christ never permitted his hair to be cut and as a young man he never shaved.

On April 22, 1889, the “Unassigned Lands” or “Old Oklahoma” was opened to settlement. Sometime between 1889 and 1893 the Herrick family moved into Oklahoma Territory. The exact date of their arrival is not known but apparently the family was living near Norman prior to 1893 because it was on June 30, 1893 that Manuel Herrick made his first appearance in Oklahoma news. The account came from The Daily Oklahoma State Capital, a newspaper that was published in Guthrie, the Capitol of Oklahoma Territory. The newspaper headed an article on June 30, 1893:

“KICKAPOO KID The Bold Bandit who Held Up the Santa Fe Train GLAZIER’S BRAVE DEED An Attempted Train Robbery By a Boy Who is Both Crazy and Dangerous And Who Undoubtedly Went To Do the Job According To the Usual Methods.”

“Telegrams were received yesterday evening stating that the northbound passenger train had been held up at Black Bear bridge by a single individual and that Conductor Glazier had got the best of the man and captured him. The telegram also stated that the man was taken to Wichita, locked in the county jail and will be brought to Guthrie today.

“When the one o’clock train came in this afternoon a large crowd waited at the depot to see the bold train robber. The bandit is a boy about seventeen old and hasn’t even a pinfeather sign of whiskers. He is quite good size but then. He has a small head, narrow forehead, small eyes close together and a weak neck supporting his head. He looks foolish and is absolutely ignorant, but when started on the story of his deed rather loud-voiced and in a kid way, forward and peremptory. He acts in a manner that shows he comprehends the importance, in a romantic kind of way of his deed.”

The conductor and the boy’s accounts of the attempted train robbery are stories in themselves, the boy claiming that he was working on behalf of a gang of men (one named Dalton) and that if he did not rob the train, he would be killed by them. On July 13, 1893, The Daily Oklahoma State Capitol stated, “Immanuel Herrick, the boy train robber who attempted to hold up Conductor Glazier has been adjudged insane at Norman, and was taken by Sheriff Smith, of Cleveland County to Jacksonville, Illinois where (at that time) Oklahoma’s insane are kept.”

Following the opening of the Cherokee Outlet on May 15, 1895 we find the Herrick family, including Manuel (less than two years at the asylum in Illinois) now homesteaded 13 miles southwest of the town of Perry, Oklahoma. For the next 20 plus years the Herricks reside on their homestead in Noble County and seldom left the farm. Though religious, the family rarely attended Sunday school or church anywhere, for Manuel had been know to rise to his feet in the middle of a sermon and in his usual high loud voice tell the whole congregation that the preacher was wrong and then proceed to tell them what they needed to do to “really” be saved; therefore, he was not welcome in any church in Perry.

Manuel Herrick was unpopular in Noble County, but he liked to see his name in newspapers. Soon after statehood he began running for public office: county sheriff, county commissioner, etc. While campaigning he gave away packages of garden seeds with his name on them.

It was also during this time that the Herricks fought in court with neighbors, with Manuel serving as his own attorney, in several cases where Manuel himself was accused of burning the neighbors stacks of oats. Blamed on all of the litigation, the neighbor ended up in the now Oklahoma sanitarium in Norman. Some of these cases went all of the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and future Oklahoma Governor Henry S. Johnston was an attorney in some of the litigation in which Manuel was involved.

By 1918 both of Herrick’s parents had passed, thus Manuel is left alone on the farm. Often during the summer Manuel walked to town barefooted, wearing overalls, and an old felt hat that sat as a dome on his head. He never creased the hat. The little children made fun of him and called him the “backwoods man.” Sometimes they walked behind him and called him names and made faces at him. Occasionally, he rode a horse to town. He kept the horse in the livery stable for three or four days at a time. At night, rather than go home, he slept in the stall with the horse. He often went to grocery stores where he ate out of barrels. He was referred to as the town’s ‘freeloader.” This was Manuel Herrick, soon to be U.S. Congressman Manuel Herrick from Perry, Oklahoma.

When Manuel filed in 1920 as a Republican candidate for Congress, his political notice appeared in The Perry Republican on July 1 exactly as he had written it:

“Voters: Vote for your own Interest once by voting for Manuel Herrick for Congress on august the 3d. He is a farmer that Does not have to have an office to make his living and is not going to spend a lot of Money and sell out his constatutents afterwards.”

Manuel had been interested in running for public office for many years and had tried unsuccessfully on numerous occasions. In 1920 he once again filed for the United State House of Representatives in the Eighth Congressional District on the Republican ticket. No one took him seriously and everyone knew that the would be unable to defeat the greatly admired Congressman Dick T. Morgan who had served that area of Oklahoma since 1909. No other Republican candidates filed against the incumbent. On the last day of the filing period Congressman Morgan suddenly died. The Republicans realizing that their only candidate was the eccentric Manuel Herrick endeavored to get the filing period reopened, but this was not allowed. Therefore, Manuel had no opposition in the primary.

During the campaign Herrick made a trip to Wichita, Kansas; the exact purpose of the visit is not known. But while there he caused such a ruckus that the police were called and he was taken to jail.

The Republican landslide of 1920 sent Manuel Herrick to the halls of Congress, “to make Oklahoma the laughing stock of the nation.” Manuel won the election by a great majority over his Democrat opponent. Herrick received 31,337 votes to his opponent Zach Harris’ 23,218 votes. Manuel set a Congressional record by spending only $300 for his election campaign. Some of the Democrats attempted to have fun at the expense of the Republicans. Whenever people in the East ridiculed Herrick many of the Democrats told them that “out in Oklahoma all of the Republicans were like Herrick and that was the reason they never elected one to Congress.”

A July 1921 Washington Post article shared:

“Manuel Herrick, of the Eighth Oklahoma District, records that his early life was one of hardship and pioneering and that owing to poverty and lack of facilities had never saw the inside of a schoolhouse as a student and was compelled to educate himself as best he could while laboring to support an invalid father and mother. This hardly seems possible in the twentieth century, and yet it happened. And that farm boy, poor and determined like that other farm boy, Abraham Lincoln, seized his destiny’s happy star and did not stop until he won signal honor in the nation’s councils and among the great. Such life stories should be recalled to the young in order that they may know that what their lives become is largely of their own making.”

One of the most interesting episodes that any Congressman ever got involved in was the famous Herrick Beauty Contest. It all started when Manuel introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to prohibit beauty contests. He was against them. Manuel thought them detrimental to the morals of the young women who entered the contests. He had heard stories of young women who, through the publicity which they received from such contests, had been flattered and lured away from their homes and deceived by unscrupulous persons seeking to capitalize upon their beauty.

To prove his point, he initiated a Manuel Herrick Beauty Contest, hoping to show that it was relatively easy to lure young ladies away from their homes. The contest and subsequent developments reflected on his judgement and method he had used to strengthen his case. It also resulted in court actions in which Manuel found himself the defendant. Basically, at the end of end of the beauty contest debacle. Herrick had many suits of breach of financial promises and even one suit of breach of promise of marriage to the Congressman himself.

On August 27, 2921 Congressman Herrick and the people of Oklahoma were taken to task in The New York Times in a most scathing article:

“Whether or not the truly remarkable Manuel Herrick represents Oklahoma in the lower house of Congress is a question which that vivacious state ought to be, and presumably is, able to decide for itself. Undeniably however, he is one of the Oklahoma Representatives there and, if Oklahomans are even a little like other people, they must have been made, by his recent proceedings, to share the wonder of the rest of us as to why they chose such a man to an office that enabled him to render himself visible and audible to the whole country.”

“Mr. Herrick’s private letters raise only problems of motive and, as they never are soluble with any certainty, it is just as well to let them alone and hope for the best as long as possible. In another category comes the strange document which the gentleman from Oklahoma dashed off with his own hand and gave to reporters for publications as soon as he found himself to be an object of the public’s half-astonished, half-amused attention. That document is revelation in a double sense — it shows much as to Mr. Herrick’s qualifications as a lawmaker and not less as to the qualifications of Oklahoma voters for choosing men to send to Washington.”

In the Republican Primary, August 1, 1922, for U.S. Representative of the Eighth District, the incumbent Congressman Manuel Herrick ran a poor third. In the 1922 General Election, seven Democrats were sent to Washington D.C to the House of Representatives and only one Republican, the new Congressman from the Eighth District, Milton Garber. Herrick ran again without success in 1926, 1928, and 1930. Herrick did not run in 1932. Congressman Garber was once again nominated by Republicans but was soundly defeated by E.W. Marland, a future Governor of Oklahoma.

The year 1932 was a landslide for the Democrats in Oklahoma. Based upon the 1930 census Oklahoma gained another representative, making nine in all, and that year all nine were Democrats. It was 1920 (the year Herrick was elected) in reverse.

In the fall of 1933, authorities in Noble County, Oklahoma stated that Manuel Herrick was not “within the State of Oklahoma, but he is a non-resident of the State of Oklahoma, and is at this time in the State of California, but without any fixed Post Office Address, going from place to place each day, in the mountains of said State, and has no place of residence there or any post office address or any place of business. His Oklahoma property taxes had gone unpaid and the property was ordered to be sold by the Sheriff of Noble County."

A brief Saturday March 1, 1952 Tulsa World article seems to be the best place to wrap up this story:

‘Frozen Body Of Ex-Sooner Solon Found- Quincy, Calif., Feb 29(AP) — A searcher today found the frozen body of Manuel Herrick, former Oklahoma congressman and blind pensioner, who lived in a cabin here until he disappeared Jan.12. George Penman said he stumbled onto the body in 2 ½ feet of snow, eight miles east of this northern California town. The body of the 78-year-old Herrick was about 3/4 of a mile from where a companion, George Welch, 78, Colfax, Calif., was found dead earlier this month. The two disappeared as Herrick was showing Welch his mining claim during a snowstorm. Herrick was elected to one term in Congress by Oklahoma’s 8th district in 1920. He had been here 14 years.”

While in California Herrick also ran (unsuccessfully) several times for Congress to represent the Eighth District of California and numerous lawsuits and sanity hearings also transpired in the courts of California.

Two simple granite markers, at the foot of a large pine were placed in the pauper section of the Quincy Cemetery in memory of George Welch and Manuel Herrick. But there was no mention of the fact that Manuel Herrick was the “Okie Jesus Congressman.” 

Trending Video

Recommended for you