Jack Simpson: New role for a Sears 'kit' house



Back in 1895, a fellow named Joseph Boulanger was a member of the Osage Indian Council. A picture of him and the council members can be found today in the tribal museum in Pawhuska, Okla.

One of Joseph's sons, Isaac Boulanger, back in 1918 ordered a Sears Roebuck kit house from Elgin, Kan. He moved the house with a team of horses and reassembled it over a hand-dug basement hear Pawhuska, Okla., in 1918.

Why at this location? Well, it seems the Osage Indians began migrating from Kentucky to Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, way back in the 17th century, and bought their own reservation. They retained the rights to their land and prospered with oil royalties. One of the towns they established on Indian land was Pawhuska. It was here that Isaac Boulanger, a relative of Capt. Keith Crum of the Newton County Sheriff's Office, assembled his house, which stands to this day.

Sears catalog houses were popular between 1908 and 1940. These kits contained all the needed materials for construction except for central heating and indoor plumbing. Over 70,000 units were sold in North America and most were shipped by rail. Elgin probably had the largest collection of Sears homes, and maybe that is why Isaac Boulanger placed his order there. Prices ranged from $650 to $15,000-plus.

Housing codes and construction requirements differed throughout the country and eventually made these homes less desirable.

Why are we suddenly interested in this old Sears kit house? According to Capt. Crum, he was recently reading the April 4 edition of the Osage News and learned that the movie "August: Osage County," starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, is in production and features the old house. Capt. Crum's great-grandfather is Joseph Boulanger and Isaac Boulanger is his great-uncle. Capt. Crum is also a member of the Osage Nation and is a 20-year veteran of the Newton County Sheriff's Office.

He has attended family gatherings on the porch of the old Sears house, where iced tea was the favored beverage. Years ago, ice for the tea was obtained from blocks of ice cut from the river. The ice was preserved buried and covered with straw until spring thaw.

Capt. Crum is proud of his heritage. A missionary named McCoy once described the Osages as uncommonly fierce, courageous, warlike and the finest-looking Indians in the West. Capt. Crum took no issue with this description.

Over the years, the Boulanger house has seen the making of a lot of history. It has changed hands three or four times until being purchased by the movie company for the filming of "August: Osage County."

Capt. Crum is awaiting release of the movie in November. His last visit to the "big house," as it was called by family, was in the 1960s and it was then owned by cousin Bob Boulanger.

Yes, at that time, iced tea was still the favorite beverage served guests. Some progress was made because the old police veteran has no recollection that the ice in his tea contained any straw or that the water used in brewing tasted like it came from the nearby river.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.