Mr. Lee Briix:  Keeper of History

By Sara Jane Richter

Lee Briix, originally from Lacey, Oklahoma, loves history and always has; his affection for this liberal art field prompted him to become a history major at Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma, in Edmond.  After nearly four decades of teaching history in high school classrooms, he still keeps the study as a central part of his life and retirement activities.

After beginning his public school career in Watonga and Cushing, Briix arrived in Hennessey in the fall of 1969.  He enjoyed his 35 years in the classroom, but doesn’t miss it as much as he misses watching his students grow, prosper, and mature and enjoying the camaraderie of his fellow faculty members.  He and his wife Marva who is from Enid both taught history in Hennessey.  He served as senior class sponsor several years, and under his suggestion, seniors began the tradition of giving their mothers roses and creating slide shows for viewing at graduation exercises.

Since retirement, Briix has penned several history books, including The Hennessey Book, a book of Hennessey’s history which is available for checkout and also for purchase at the Hennessey public library.  He did extensive research at the Hennessey library in the microfilm boxes to glean as much information about his community as he could.  Some of Mrs. Marjorie Henkell Anderson’s students with their hometown assignment research informed some of Briix’s history book too.  In addition, he’s written eight books of family genealogy and has been happy to help his children and his children’s children come to know their family stories and history.

He got hooked on Hennessey history when he wrote an article about the “marrying tree”—the big, old cottonwood north of Hennessey on Highway 51 that stands at the Kingfisher County and Garfield County border.  Apparently, in days gone by, engaged couples had to marry in the same county where they received their marriage licenses.  If they, for instance, had secured their licenses in Garfield County, but wanted to marry in their hometowns of Dover or Kingfisher or Hennessey or Lacey, they couldn’t; they could only be married in Kingfisher County.  Therefore, the closest spot to tie the knot was at the border of the two counties—at the old cottonwood tree, forever recalled as the “marrying tree.”  This report, Briix’s first effort at capturing Kingfisher County history, was published by the Oklahoma Today magazine.  He’d been bitten by the researcher/writer bug, and he’s never found a cure.

He also researched the life of John Wilkes Booth, the apparent assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, for Booth supposedly lived in Hennessey for a few years before relocating to Enid.  Too, Briix has investigated the life of Pat Hennessey and of Roy V. Cashion, the first Hennessey citizen and the first Oklahoman to fall in the Spanish-American War as he charged up San Juan Hill following Teddy Roosevelt’s lead.  (Cashion graduated with Hennessey’s first graduation class.)  A statue dedicated to Cashion stands in the Hennessey park on north Main Street.  The plaque that commemorates Cashion also lists all Hennessey-born soldiers who died in World War I and in World War II.  Briix played an instrumental role in getting Edward Goucher’s name added to that monument; Goucher lost his life on a battlefield in Vietnam.  

Briix believes that Hennessey has a couple of locations that deserve recognition on the National Register of Historic Places, namely the elevators, the old high school, the original First National Bank building, and the old Farmers and Merchants Bank building.  He’ll see what he can do to have these local locations receive the honor they deserve in the future.  

The Briixes left Hennessey several years ago to be closer to their grandchildren and currently live in Oklahoma City.  Just because they no longer live in Hennessey does not mean that they have lost interest in the town or its people—or its history.  Mr. Briix will continue to research and write about his hometown, for after all, he’s a historian and knows how history keeps a community alive and well and vital.  Kudos to Mr. Briix, a recorder of history and a chronicler of yesterday, for his life-long effort at keeping people informed of their pasts.