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R.S. Saunders

Telling the history of Claremore…one story at a time


Published in Explore Claremore History July 2022, by Christa A. Rice.

Though “Seventy-six Trombones” did not march into Claremore in 1903, the city did acquire its very own Music Man when Prof. R.S. Saunders arrived and leased the McDaniel’s rock business building, on the north side of Will Rogers Boulevard (about where Mainstreet Mercantile is now located), and opened his new music store (Claremore Progress, 2-21-1903). R.S. Saunders & Co. provided customers with “the finest line of musical instruments ever shown in the Indian Territory” (Claremore Messenger, 3-20-1903).

Once established, Prof. Saunders revealed another noteworthy plan. “A meeting was held this week by several of our citizens for the organization of a brass band. Considerable interest is being shown in the matter and the prospects are bright for the forming of such an organization. A committee was appointed to solicit funds to buy a few instruments for those who have no instruments or do not care to buy and own instruments… Prof. Saunders has generously offered to give the boys their first month’s instructions free. Never did Claremore have a better opportunity to have a band, and we hope each of our citizens will do the right thing by the committee when they call for contributions” (CP, 4-4-1903).

The Claremore community jumped on the bandwagon, investing in this venture. Donations totaled $140.25. Several band members purchased their own instruments. “It is thought by the promoters that enough money can be raised to give Claremore the best band in the Territory” (CM, 4-24-1903).

Striking a major chord, Claremore had its Military Band by May 1903.

“The instruments ordered for the band boys have arrived,” enthused the Claremore Messenger. “These instruments were purchased with the money so kindly donated by the various citizens of Claremore as mentioned in a previous paper, for which the band boys offered a vote of thanks. The boys have rented a part of the old opera house and will use it as a band room. They have had two good rehearsals this week and Prof. Saunders is delighted with the progress made… The following is a list of the members: A.A. Bessey, M. Haas, Holtzclaw, Noel Matheson, (T.R. Begg) – ‘clarionets.’ Prof. R.S. Saunders (bandmaster), J.M. LaHay, Homer Wilson, Denny Lane, Joe Chambers, Gale VanSandt – Cornets. Claud Burrows, M. Sangster, L. Wilson – Eb Altos (E flat). Dr. Kaho, Bert Nance, H. Martin – Trombones. J.M. York – Baritone. Mr. Cleveland, Mr. Taylor – Eb Bass (E flat). G. Leibfried, Mr. Reaves – Drums” (CM, 5-15-1903; CP, 5-30-1903).

Saunders’ Military Band’s Memorial Day debut was well received. Called to order at Woodlawn Cemetery by Mayor J.M. LaHay, exercises consisted of prayers, singing, music by Saunders’ Military Band, and decoration of graves by Old Soldiers of Blue and Gray. The final songs, “Shall We Gather at the River,” and “Taps” followed. Saunders’ Military Band enhanced Claremore’s heart-felt, patriotic tribute.

Thereafter, performances were held at local picnics, boxed suppers, Fourth of July celebrations, and open air concerts throughout the summer.

Yet, every melody concludes with a final note. In April 1904, a year after its inception, Saunders’ Military Band dis-‘band’-ed making “provisions for turning over to the Mayor the instruments belonging to the city” (CP, 4-9-1904).

Prof. Saunders continued to orchestrate music in Claremore, tuning pianos (CM, 6-24-1904), playing music for special occasions with M. Haas, Jr. (CP, 7-2-1904), traveling out of town to perform (CP, 12-31-1904), and playing in town for young people’s dances (CP, 4-1-1905).

February 1915, R.S. Saunders surprised the Claremore community, selling his business, R.S. Saunders & Co., and moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma (CP, 2-4-1915). In doing so, R.S. Saunders, Claremore’s Music Man, took a final bow leaving Claremore’s musical measures for someone else to direct (CM, 2-12-1915).

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