Andy Payne

Christopher Nick

In 1928, Andy Payne was a young Cherokee man with three goals: save his family’s farm, get an education, and marry his sweetheart. When he heard about the First Annual International Trans-Continental Foot Race and its $25,000 prize, he knew he had to enter.

The race was the invention of promoter C.C. Pyle, designed to celebrate the nearly complete Route 66, and put money in Pyle’s pocket. He charged each entrant $25, plus a $100 “deposit” – travel fare if a runner had to quit the race. In addition, he negotiated product sponsorships and collected fees from communities along the route to become overnight stops. Nicknamed the “Bunion Derby,” the race also featured a carnival complete with celebrities, vaudeville acts, a radio station and food booths.

The race started on March 4, 1928, at the Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles with 199 competitors. When the runners reached the Oklahoma border on April 13, (the 41st day) Payne was in the lead. Proud of their native son, Oklahomans came out in drove to support Payne, but actually slowed him down, causing him to fall back. However, by the time he reached his hometown, he had regained the lead. This is the scene depicted in this piece by artist Christopher Nick. “He’s running through downtown Foyil.” Nick used models and photographs of Payne to build the painting. Payne maintained his lead and was congratulated by Will Rogers when he reached Claremore.

Payne had competed in high school track meets and knew the race was more about endurance than speed. He paced himself, changed his socks every day and made sure he got a good night’s sleep at every stop. His strategy worked and he crossed the Madison Square Garden finish line first on May 26. In all, the race covered 3,422 miles in 84 days. Payne ran it in 573 hours, averaging six miles per hour. With his winnings, he paid off his family’s mortgage, married Vivian Shaddox and later enrolled in law school at Oklahoma City University.

Winning the race garnered Payne a certain amount of fame, which he parlayed into political capital to be elected as Clerk of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. While Payne served in the Army during World War II, Vivian served as Clerk for two years until her husband returned. The Paynes’ granddaughter, Oklahoma City attorney Teresa Collett, shared two aspects of her grandfather’s tenure well-known to members of the Bar at that time. He had a “practice of bringing the Court’s seal home with him to accept after-hours filings by lawyers who, for good cause, could not file necessary documents during office hours” and he was also know for the perennial card game of “pitch” hosted in the file room of the Clerk’s office. Payne won reelection to nine consecutive four-year terms as Clerk. After the reorganization of the Court system in 1969, Governor Bartlett asked that Payne continue to serve as Clerk. He did so until he retired in 1973.

This painting was a gift of Senator Sean Burrage and the Andy Payne Family, originally commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund in 2009. Artist Christopher Nick received his formal art training at the Atelier LeSueuer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, then followed up with an apprenticeship under Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer.

In 2001, Nick was selected by First Lady Kathy Keating to paint the official Oklahoma Governor’s Christmas card and the original oil is now part of the Governor’s Mansion collection. He has also illustrated children’s books and his images have been published as figurines, textiles, puzzles, ceramics, calendars, greeting cards and in magazines. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and is included in both public and private collections.

Source: “The Bunion Derby,” Oklahoma Today, May – June, 1998, p.38-45; Oklahoma State Senate Press Release, March 17, 2009; Interview with Andy Payne granddaughter Teresa Collett, July 2012; Personal interview, April 2013.

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