Tuesday, Sept. 15, through Thursday, Sept. 24, 1998
From Conway, Arkansas, to Charokee Landing State Park, Oklahoma.
Woke up in the Knights Inn, Conway, Arkansas, and sat on my glasses...
Stopped in Clarksville and researched the “Arkansas Traveler” at the University of the Ozarks. Van Buren, a national historic district and home of Bob “Bazooka” Burns, the Butterfield Stage once passed through from St. L to S.F. Fort Smith, home of Brig. Gen. William Orlando Darby, leader of Darby’s Rangers, 34 when killed in Italy; Hanging Judge Ike Parker based here from ~1875-1895; also where 1100 wagons left for ‘49 gold rush. Crossed the OK border at 2 P.M. and stopped at the state’s Taj Ma Privy (tourist information center). Headed to the Akins cemetery where Pretty Boy Floyd is buried; a mile or two down the road at Skin Bayou is the 1829 cabin where Sequoyah (1770?-1843), inventor of the Cherokee sylabry, lived after relocating here from Tennessee; he died in Mexico and was buried in an unknown cave. In Sallisaw, ate a chicken-fried steak at Lessley’s Cafe, run by Pretty Boy’s descendants; customer has 1931 clipping but said it’s “falling apart.” Drove through the Cookson Hills, used as a hideout by Pretty Boy, Bonnie and Clyde, and others. Saw a tarantula crossing the road and taken out by a semi; OK also has black widow and brown recluse (fiddleback) spiders.
... and camped at Tenkiller Lake, named for an Indian who went around with that many scalps attached to his belt. Millions of stars.
Location: about 25 miles east of Muskogee, home of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum and the birthplace of jazz greats Don Byas and Jay McShann (not Merle Haggard, who grew up in California).
From Cherokee Landing to Chandler.
Packed up my tent in the dark and headed north to Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation, and ranked 55th best small town in America by Prentice-Hall, then west towards Claremore and Tulsa. Before dawn in tiny Hulbert, a rooster stood crowing in the middle of the road, oblivious to traffic. Stopped in Pryor at Jack and Wanda’s Country Cafe where a full-blooded Cherokee served me sausage and eggs complete with home fries, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. Continuing on 20 to Claremore (“Geared for the Future”), I get my first glimpse of the fabled Route 66; sadly, at the junction is a Carl’s Jr. There are 400 miles of original 66 roadbed in OK. The highway was completed in 1926. According to National Geographic’s David Lamb the highway, running 2,500 miles from the corner of Michigan Avenue and Jackson Boulevard in Chicago to Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica (and “don’t forget Winona”), evokes the era “when life seemed forever and all things were possible.” For diehard fans, 66 has its own museum in Clinton, 100 miles west of OKC. For the record, the Mother Road (as Steinbeck called it), now rendered all but obsolete by faster-moving interstates, once crossed three time zones, eight states, and hundreds of towns. Bobby Troup wrote “Route 66” in 1946 but it was made famous by Nat “King” Cole.
Claremore is the home of Patti Page, who sang “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” and “The Tennessee Waltz,” and of Lynn Riggs, author of Green Grow the Lilacs, which turned into Oklahoma! More importantly, it also the site of the Will Rogers Memorial, a museum honoring the comedian, journalist, and adventurer whom film producer Cecil B. DeMille once described as “the American who least can be spared.” (Could the same be said of, say, Dan Rather?)
Continued west on 66 to Tulsa. Fixed my glasses at Eye Care and saw George Catlin’s Buffaloes at the Thomas Gilcrease Museum, built with oil money (the first oil derrick under the capitol in OKC) and now run by the city. Discussed Woody Guthrie with the receptionist, who is from his hometown of Okemah (due south) -- Smithsonian putting together traveling exhibit about him -- Guthrie Foundation in NY, on 47th? She also told me about OK’s tramp poet Welborn Hope. Jim Thorpe from Yale, due west on State 51.
Heading southwest on 66, passed the School of the Holy Spirit and, a few miles later, the Tulsa Welding School. Through Sapulpa, Bristow, Stroud (where Henry Starr’s gang robbed two banks at the same time), and Davenport (“Welcome to Our City/Not Too Big/But Real Pretty”).
Spent the night in Chandler (“Pecan Capital of the World”) at the 1939-vintage Lincoln Motel (“Your Home Away From Home”). After checking in, inspected the well-preserved old Phillips 66 station, and the antiseptic,neon-lit new one; $11-billion Phillips Petroleum is based in Bartlesville, to the northeast near the Osage reservation.
Location: 70 mis. SW of Tulsa & 30 NE of OKC (130 to Lawton).
From Chandler to Norman.
Ate breakfast at Granny’s Country Kitchen, where a small table of men soon grew to a dozen or more. Browsed through the Lincoln County Historical Museum, in the 1897-vintage Mascho-Murphy building, including a photo of farmers with their mule teams building the 66 roadbed in the 1920s, and another showing 20 men standing in front of a Pickwick bus making a stop in El Reno on its way from St. Louis to Amarillo. Also an exhibit on Bill Tilghman, buffalo hunter, Army scout, and Indian Territory marshall for 21 years who served 21 years as a marshall in the Indian Territory, as well as an Army scout and buffalo hunter. Many of Chandler’s buildings were wiped out by 1897 cyclone.
Head south on 18 towards Seminole, stepping at the Carl Hubbell museum in Meeker. A southpaw known for his screwball, “the Meal Ticket” pitched for the N.Y. Giants in the 1930s. Cooperstown wanted his personal effects, but Hubbell gave them to his hometown instead so that local kids could see them for free. Headline in The Meeker News: “Man Arrested After Allegedly Trying to Run Over His Wife.”
Crossed Interstate 40 to Shawnee’s Santa Fe Depot (circa 1904, now a museum), where the Rock Island, Katy, and two other lines once passed through. Lillian Gish lived here. I bought a piece of roserock which was gathered nearby. It’s supposedly made from the blood of braves and tears of maidens along the Trail of Tears.
Headed southeast on 270 to Seminole, the home of Gusher Days, then south to Bowlegs (a chief’s name) and east to Wewoka (meaning “barking water,” for a creek north of town).
Stopped at the Seminole Nation Museum and read about Florida’s Seminole War, which lasted seven years. Refusing to sign a treaty with the government, Chief Osceola (1804-1838) and 500 others escaped into the Florida swamps -- Seminole means “runaway” -- while the rest of the tribe moved to Oklahoma. Eventually Osceola was captured and died on a fort in South Carolina; a small number of his group’s descendants live on reservations in southern Florida.
In front of the courthouse stands an old pecan (or walnut?) known as the Seminole Nation Whipping Tree where minor offense were punished with 25 lashes across the bare back with a 6-foot hickory switch, 50 for second offense, and death by firing squad for major crimes. Prisoners were not jailed: “their code of honor was such that they always appeared for sentencing.” Nearby is a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty, dedicated by the Boy Scouts in 1950, which bears a striking resemblance to Laura Dern.
Continued south along the Seminole Nation Highway (59) to Sasakwa, dusty and down-at-the-heels, where a young man on horseback rode up to Booger Red’s Snak-Shak and borrowed a pinch of Skoal from a friend.
Drove on 39, west into the sun, thinking about hanging judges and whipping trees. Past the Lake Konawa Recreation Area, smells like gas, electric plant on other side; Vamoosa and Wolf turnoffs; pond with egret; and through Maud, OK, home of rocker Wanda Jackson, who has a boulevard named after her. (“She doesn’t came back very often,” a local woman told me. “She sends a representative.”)
Near Tecumseh (Shawnee chief and OK native?) drove past a baseball game straight out of Norman Rockwell. Stopped at the Thunderbird Entertainment Center, where people were playing Indian bingo, and bought an Absentee Shawnee cap and some hot jerky.
Then to to the big city of Norman, where the convenience store clerk seemed grungy and bitter. Home of the University of Oklahoma, known for its football team, six-time national champs. Hopped a few bars, culminating at Sugar’s, where I saw a coed in a hot pink and green thong strip to the tune of “Monster Magnet.”
Got a room at the Thunderbird Lodge of Norman.
Location: 15 mis. south of Oklahoma City.
From Norman to Lawton.
Browsed books and photos in OU’s Western History Collections. Drove south through Purcell, the “heart” of OK on water tank. Saw my first (OK) longhorns. Through Maysville, home of aviator Wiley Post (town sign with his signature eyepatch), who perished with Rogers in Alaska plane crash. At Antioch, passed Sanford & Son Polled Herefords (no relation to TV sitcom?) and the Love Baptist Church (really, it belongs in Purcell); in Elmore City, First Baptist reassures that “Jesus Christ Is Alive and Well.” On 76 south to Fox: strange sculture garden with totems, gorillas, etc. Pumpjacks working overtime.
The Healdton Oil Museum is ... closed! But I can read the historical plaque outside. OK’s first state-regulated oil field, discovered August 1913. Principal area was Ragtown (now called Wirt). Healdton Oilfield Days held in late August. Lady at antique store said Ragtown used to be pretty rough.
Drove a few miles west to Wirt, named after oilman Wirt Franklin. Once consisted of canvas tents, burned down several times, shotgun houses built in a day. Pumpjacks pumping. Inside of Healdton Feed (only store in Wirt) dates to 1913, same year oil discovered. A giant inflated fireant hangs from ceiling. Cap collection includes “(I Can’t Believe I Ate) Just One Bite Rat & Mouse Bait.” Ragtown still is pretty rough.
Headed west through Ringling, so named because the famous circus once promised to make town its winter camp, but then reneged, to this day it still invites residents to OKC whenever the circus is in town.
Took out some food in Hastings, the counterpart of my N.Y. hometown.
Then I zigzagged towards Geronimo, a small town named after the Apache warrior where a Comanche pow-wow happened to be taking place; the town is mostly white, some Comanche live scattered around on land grants. The tribe is based nearby in Medicine Park, 8 mis. north of Lawton; ten thousand Comanche live in the U.S., 7,000 of them in OK.
Walked through the carnie and frybread area to a large circle of spectators, in the middle was a small circle, the musicians gathered around a single large kettle drum. Spoke with Keith, a Blackfeet/Apache who is married to a Comanche, and to Carol Cizik, a Comanche tribal business committee member, who invited me to stay with her and husband Bernard, “as long as you don’t murder us.”
Invaded the inner circle and left my tape recorder. Later I found out that one of the drummers had introduced each song, giving its title and meaning.
Like the Navajo, the Comanche call themselves “the People.” [Other tribes’ names for them?] Carol joked about the Kiowa and about whites not being clean, she prefers Ten Bears to Quanah Parker, the two most famous Comanche. The tribe’s medicine man is Thomas Blackstar, Lawton. Julia Mehseet (sp.?) is in her nineties and still rides a donkey to check cattle.
The Comanches were “Lords of the Southern Plains.” From birth to death Comanche life was lived on the move. “He is no sooner mounted than he is transformed,” B. Möllhausen observed (1853). Some loved their horses more than their wives. They were obligated to perform heroically and, rescuing their fallen comrades, be the last to leave the field (“go down with the ship”).
After Carol and Bernard went home, Keith and I discussed the Native American Church. During the all-night ceremony they take peyote and sit up all night in a teepee; they use a gourd filled with pebbles gathered from sandhills. It’s not religious but spiritual, they don’t focus on Jesus but talk to God; Keith said the peyote doesn’t make him feel “high.” Whites are not allowed, you need proof of Indian heritage.
Bought a cedar bead necklace -- for good luck -- which promptly broke.
Drove a few miles north to Lawton and checked into the Super 8 Motel/Sandpiper Inn, where I stayed for the next three nights.
Location: 100 mis. southwest of Oklahoma City.
Lawton, home of Ft. Sill, “Best Post in the Army” and Mecca for Field Artillerymen. Early recruiting ad: “Yes-sir-ree MAN! The great open spaces are calling....”
Have arranged to meet Biff Joslin in Waurika at high noon. He is driving up from Fort Worth.
In the morning I went to the museum at Ft. Sill and visited the jail of Geronimo (“There is no path left for us, except the whiteman’s road”). He was brought here as a prisoner-of-war in 1894, and freed by Congress in 1913 [1909?], after which he served as soldier and scout [???].
Life of the frontier soldier: equal parts boredom and hard work. The fort’s early cabins were patterned after Caddoan houses in eastern OK and TX, also the Mexican “jacal.” Logs with charred ends placed upright in trenches and chinked with mud or lime mortar, board roof covered with canvas so as to be weathertight. The fort is enormous, even has its own golf course, as well as three Apache cemeteries, where Geronimo and three chiefs are buried. Pine cones placed on some of the tombstones. Geronimo’s grave: pyramid of round stones, eagle on top, no date, many festive handkerchiefs and feathers hanging from pine tree, large gatherings here on Memorial Day, tents, food, etc.
Native Americans lived in 12 villages, built their own houses, fenced the entire military reserve, dug water tanks, grew crops and raised 10,000 cattle.
Northwest of Ft. Sill is Cutthroat Gap, where in 1833 the Osage attacked the Kiowa, cut off their heads and put them in buckets.
Drive southwest through Comanche to Waurika and the Chisholm Trail Museum. Jesse Chisholm never herded cattle but traded them and ran “chain stores” along the trail named after him. Prior to railroads, cattle that was worth $3 a head in Texas sold for $30-40 in Chicago and New York. The 1,200-mile trip from Brownsville to Abilene, roughly parallel to I-81, took four months. Other trails through OK included the Santa Fe, Shawnee, Great Western, and Jones and Plummer. Trails declined with advent of RR. Quanah Parker traded pecans for beef in Jefferson County along Beaver and Cow Creeks.
Drove west to Duncan to see a sculpture of the trail drive and stopped at the Moneka Antique Mall & Haunted Tea Room in Waurika. Due north of Duncan is Marlowe, home of the Outlaw Days Annual Ambush. The town has a gunfighters association, and the high school football team is known as -- you guessed it -- the Outlaws. It was named for the five Marlow brothers of the late 1800s.
Met Biff and drove back to Lawton. Ate at Lee’s Cafe, “Home of the Navajo Indian Taco,” then headed north towards the Wichita Mountains. Houses built of red rock and mortar, and mesquite fences around groves; cattle “imported” mesquite from Mexico during drives. Had a longhorn burger in Meers, after which we toured the Holy City of the Wichitas. People camp out for two days to see the 2-hour Easter Pageant, dating to 1926. In the wildlife refuge (set aside by McKinley in 1901, it’s the country’s oldest managed preserve), we hiked along a river bed searching for the Forty-Foot Hole, and drove within ten feet of a bison -- so close that I couldn’t fit all of him into the camera’s viewfinder!
At night, went to an Apache Fire Dance in Apache, north of Lawton, where we were the only palefaces. (The tribe is actually based a few miles north, in Anadarko.) An older participant collapsed (heat exhaustion?) but recovered. I bought a sachet of herbs -- Indian perfume, worn behind the shoulder -- and a nickel silver pin, an outstretched hand with star on palm signifying, the vendor nonchalantly explained, that I had killed someone in hand-to-hand combat.
Apache is the Zuni word for “enemy.” In the 14th century, the tribe migrated south from the Pacific Northwest and crossed the Rockies to the Southwestern and plains states.
We returned to the Super 8 in Lawton and drank some whiskey.
Location: 200 mis. south of Woodward, near the Panhandle.
Lawton’s history: Mattie Beal of Wichita, Kansas, applied for a land grant in El Reno, OK, approved 1907, deluged with marriage proposals, chose south Lawton, had timber hauled to site a month before OK became state. Lucky guy was one Charles W. Payne, part owner of a lumber company in Lawton, died in 1931?
Back to Ft. Sill. Geronimo’s jail, stables, etc. Myths about Geronimo’s escape, that he paced to wear down the floor or starved himself to fit through the bars, are thought to be untrue (the latter is based on Coacoochee in Florida). Nor did he wear a coat made of 99 human scalps or commit suicide by jumping off Medicine Bluff.
We visited the fort’s Missile Park, from Fort McHenry’s “rocket’s red glare” through the Multiple Launch Rocket System’s “steel rain (firing 12 rockets, each with 7,728 submunitions, all in less than a minute, with a target area the size of a football field -- now that’s smarts!) The 1983 Pershing III travels 1,118 miles, strikes within 120 feet of its projected target, and prompted the (then) Soviets to sign a nuclear treaty.
Colonels live in old stone houses on fort’s quadrangle, sprinklers working overtime to earn best yard of month of honors, fancy Comache club with red carpet asnd brass railings.
The black “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments built the post guardhouse (aka Geronimo’s guardhouse and Geronimo’s Hotel) in 1872. It once held soldiers, Indian leaders, outlaws, even stray dogs. New facility erected in 1940. Geronimo was confined here twice for drinking whiskey. He lived on a small farm NW of the old post, built in the winter of 1869 by Gen. P.H. Sheridan “to control tribes” of the Southern Plains. It was on the site of a former Wichita Indian village.
Saw Geronimo’s well-worn saddle, his Colt 45 revolver, and the bone-handled dagger he surrendered to Brig. Gen. George Crook in 1886 (G. was 57). He was a warrior and medicine man rather than a chief. His band conducted raids throughout the SW and northern Mexico. After his release from Ft. Sill he served as a private in the 7th Cavalry’s Troop L. Became a celebrity, sold bows and arrows, walking sticks, and autographed photos at Wild West shows (such as Pawnee Bill’s), fairs, and ceremonies. Photo of Quanah Parker wolf-hunting with Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. “Item temporarily removed” where brass camp bucket from Cutthroat Gap Massacre was once displayed.
Drove southeast to Commanche and had a foot-long chili dog at Dave’s Diner (“Just Good Food”), then back to Healdton, “Hub of the Oilfield,” pop. 2,872. South to Leon and the Red River, which runs along the southern border of Oklahoma, trying to find the bridge to Texas. Saw a dust devil. 32 West to Rubbottom and Courtney and across the Taovayas Bridge to the Lone Star State. Biff: “Look how much prettier it is on this side.”
Inspected headquarters of the Spanish Fort Coon Hunters Association. The small town is site of the Taovaya’s 1759 victory over Spain. [Taovaya became Wichita?] Passed by a 100-million-gallon oil field in Montegue (sp.?) County. Through Nocona, famous for its boots.
Back into Oklahoma, dined on catfish and calf fries at Doug’s Peach Orchard in Terral, named for a preacher who laid out the town.
Biff, my co-rambler, chauffeur, and drinking buddy, turns back.
Spent another night in Lawton at the Super 8.
From Lawton to Watonga.
In the morning, spoke with the clerk at Super 8, whose husband retires from military in 2 years, at age 40. They have two kids, have lived in 11 different houses over the past 8 years. “I don’t want to ramble,” she said.
North to Apache. Feed Lot Cafe recommended for rough characters. Styrofoam cup blowing down the street. Graffiti: “Tiger (hearts) Rabbit ‘98.” Continued northeast to Anadarko, “Indian Capital of the World,” where you can “Tour the Only Authentic Indian City U.S.A.” as well as the South Plains Indian Museum and the American Indian Hall of Fame. In August, the town hosts the weeklong American Indian Exposition, the state’s largest tribal gathering. There are six tribal complexes in and around Anadarko: Apache, Caddo, Delaware, Kiowa, Fort Sill Apache, and Wichita. The post office features 16 murals by Kiowa artist Stephen Mopope, and there are over 100 buildings on the National Register for Historic Places. The town was founded in 1901 when the surrounding Indian reservations were opended to white settlement.
Drove through Cyril to Cement, passing more pumpjacks and windmills. Jesse James used Buzzard’s Roost, 2 mis. east of Cement, as a hideout. “It’s been so hot, I think they [the buzzards] died too,” the postmaster said.
Unknown road northeast (?) to Verden, through Mennonite country.
81 north to El Reno. Sat under a shade tree at Cindy’s Country Corner in Pocasset. 37 west to Cogar and Hinton, home of OK’s oldest rodeo, the Little Okie Restaurant, and the Sooner Superette (sign with a covered wagon). Sign on 37: “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates” (are the hitchhikers escaping from inmates or inmates who are escaping?)
Proceeding north on 37, soon after crossing Interstate 40, came to the Canadian River Bridge aka the Pony Bridge, where Grandpa dies in the film version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Four thousand feet long with 38 pony trusses (small girders), completed July 1, 1933. To the east, Bridgeport Hill is so steep that Model A and T drivers had to climb it backwards. (Sallisaw holds its Grapes of Wrath Festival in October.)
To Geary, livestock auctions every Saturday. Nine miles to Jesse Chisholm’s grave site. Highway 81 Great Lakes to Gulf?
High-pressure gas pipeline, farming, and ranching not far from the grave. Gravestone: “Jesse Chilsholm/ Born...1805/ Died March 4, 1868 / No One Left His Home / Cold or Hungry”; west side broken off; speckled stone, pink, white, and black -- quartz?
Chisholm: b. TN of Scottish/Cherokee descent, came to Indian Territory in 1820s, 40yrs. operated trading posts near Asher, Purcell, Watonga, and OKC; also guide, freighter, interpreter, salt works owner, peacemaker; well-known by Indians; part of his freighting route became known as the Chisholm Trail; died after eating bear meat cooked in a copper kettle and buried near Left Hand Spring, on allotment of his old friend Chief Left Hand, NE of Geary.
North on 281 through Greenfield. A nasty storm brewing, lightning, sun obscured by giant grey front. Approaching Watonga, saw family walking out to highway, scanning the sky, children dancing excitedly. Checked into a $28 “luxurious motel room” at the Western Inn (“A Home Away From Home”).
Watonga is named after Arapaho chief Wantanga (Black Coyote) who founded it in 1892. Edna Ferber’s Cimarron was based on her stay at Mrs. T.B. Ferguson’s 1907 home. Thomas Benton Ferguson, b. 1851 in Des Moines, moved to OK in the 1890s, bringing his family anmd a printing press. He published the Watonga Republican until his death in 1921; was appointed sixth territorial governor in 1901 and spearheaded statehood efforts. Also pressed for “herd law” requiring land to be fenced, which was unpopular with ranchers.
The town has the only cheese factory in OK, with an annual festival in October.
Due north is Roman Nose State Park, where the Cheyenne and Arapaho once sought refuge in a canyon. It’s named for Southern CHeyenne chief Henry Caruthers (Roman Nose) who lived there in a teepee from 1887 until his death in 1917, now it has cabins, camping and RV sites, restaurants and stores, fishing dock, boat rentals, swimming pool, miniature golf, tennis, airstrip.
Ate at the McBee Steak House. Tornado warning for Pawnee County, to the NE.
The Gideons Bible in my motel room was opened to Jeremiah 8, a passage which could apply to the Okies: “I will surely consume them, saith the Lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them” (verse 13). From the New Oxford Annotated Bible: “... there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered....”
Watched a documentary on Roger Miller of Erick, OK (due west), who wrote “Walkin’ In the Sunshine,” “Sing a Little Sunshine Song,” “Engine Number Nine,” “Don’t Tear the Honky-Tonks Down” and, last but not least, “King of the Road.”
Location: 100 miles southeast of Oklahoma’s Panhandle.
From Watonga to Boiling Springs.
Humming Ferde Grofe’s “On the Trial” -- now somewhere between the Chisholm and Santa Fe Trails. Due east in Kingfisher, upcoming display of stone tools found in Panhandle. Grain elevators.
Heading northwest on 3, then north on 58 to Eagle City, old depot with peeling paint and tracks leading to ???? “Easy To Go To Heaven/ Easier Not To.” Mennonite Church at Wheatland.
In Canton (pop. 593), Minnie Ha Ha Creek and Pioneer Telephone Co-Op. South of Fairview: LIVING TO PLEASE/ GOD. The Heritage Inn: Clean -- Comfortable -- Quiet. Libby’s Hi-Way Restaurant, buffet, coffee brightener. G-I problem at roadside table north of fairview. Take 8 North over the Cimarron River to Aline, site of the Original Sod House, built by Malcolm McCully in 1894.
Homesteaders viewed dugouts and soddies as temporary shelters, typically lasting 3-8 years. Soddies were lighter, drier, and larger than dugouts. Roof was the weak point, a “constant rain of dirt and bugs.” The ceiling cloths dripped and insects, mice, and snakes hid between the cloth and roof. Old lady at sod house taught me how to excavate at Great Salt Basin, which I bypassed.
412 to Glass (“Gloss”) Mountains, made of mica or Eisen glass, turn right at Orienta, drive six miles, walk around barbed wire fence. “Heaven -- Don’t Miss It For the World.”
This area was once the hunting domain of Plains Indians (Apache, Kiowa, Comanche), later homesteaders, also outlaws and desperdos like Dick Yeager. The mountains were formed by the sea 250 millin years ago. Explorer Thomas James named them the “Shining Mountains” in 1821, the current name dates to 1873. The “glass” is actually selenite, a crystalline form of gypsum which is supposed to wax and wane with the moon. Gypsum, a mineral similar to chalk, is used for dressing soil, making plaster of Paris, etc.
Sign at overlook: “Yet for all man’s busy activities, these mountains continue to keep their silent watch [and] serve as a reminder of the timeless troke of nature’s clock and our own brief passage across this land.”
Continuing west on 412, Mooreland is the home of Troy Ruttman (sp.?), who won the Indy 500 in the early 1950s; the town’s original name was Moorland, as in treeless. A little down the road is Woodward’s Museum of Pioneer History. Buffalo hunters considered this a good, “quicksand-safe” place to cross the North Canadian River. The military road between Camp Supply, 50 miles to the north and Fort Reno, west of OKC, ran through here. It was from Camp Supply that, in 1868, Custer headed south for the Battle of Washita, where Black Kettle the Cheyenne chief was killed. The site lies on what is now a national grassland on western Oklahoma’s border with Texas.
From 1866 to 1888, some 6 million cattle were driven along the Great Western or Dodge City Trail from Texas north to Dodge City. Then the railroads came, the Santa Fe in 1886 followed by the Katy in 1912. Laying tracks was hampered by drifting sands that filled up the cuts and blew out the grades. Sand is a way of life here; eaters of ice cream cones, beware!
Once part of the Cherokee Outlet, the area was opened to non-Indian settlement in 1893. The town’s first two babies were born in a tent and a house made of railroad ties. A 1947 tornado killed 100 residents and destroyed 200 blocks -- half the town’s houses and businesses. Among Woodward’s favorite sons were lawyer/gunfighter Temple Houston and Al Jennings, train robber, evangelist, chicken rancher, and movie celebrity. Teddy Roosevelt pardoned him for a hold-up, and Jennings later ran, unsuccessfully, for governor. He died “with his boots off” at his home in Tarzana, Calif.
Crossed the North Canadian and spotted a Holiday Rambler RV at Boiling Springs State Park. Driving to my campsite I saw my first (live) armadillo browsing and waddling around on the side of the road.
The park takes its name from several sandy-bottomed springs which appeared to “boil” as they were churned with the strong inflow of subsurface water. Current reduced flow may have to do with less water as a result of farm irrigation.
This area offers a range of geologically diverse state parks. Little Sahara near Waynoka features 1,867 acres of huge dunes; ironically the place once known as the “walking hills” is now used primarily by drivers of Off-Road Vehicles. For a more sedate experience, try Great Plains, to the northeast, billed as “a flat expanse of sand and mud, completely devoid of vegetation and covered by a thin layer of salt,” where you can birdwatch or dig for selenite. Alabaster Caverns, between Boiling Springs and Freedom, offers spelunkers a 3/4-mile-long gypsum cave filled with millions of bats, which eat an estimated 10 tons of insects nightly.
From Boiling Springs to Guymon.
Listening to (Texas) ranch dance fiddler Frank McWhorter’s “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” while driving north on 50 to Freedom. “The creaking old mill is still, Maggie....”
At Alabaster Caverns, bats on welcome sign. “Wild caving prohibited without permit.” Bats start hibernating in October, like to leave them in peace.
Article in 1906 Moorehead Leader “The Great Bat Cave.” Also a hiding place for outlaws like Panther Pete, the terror of Cedar Canyon, and Bloody Jack, for whom a $15,000 reward was posted. Used to be a natural bridge but collapsed to floor in 1992.
This cave began forming 200 million years ago. Gypsum is the first stone carved artistically by man, various vessels were buried with King Tut, Cleopatra, and Jesus.
Headed north on 50 and crossed the Cimarron River into the town of Freedom (pop. 250) -- “a large name for a little town” -- with street names like Lasso Lane and Frontier Drive. Freedom was established in 1901, originally 6 miles north (Old Freedom), moved closer to river (New Freedom) in 1919 when Buffalo Northwestern RR built. There were ranches here as early as 1883 when the land was still leased from the Cherokee. The principal crossing of the Cimarron was near Freedom. The Cimarron River brought salt to the surface, then processed by Cargill Inc.’s Solar Salt Plant.
In the town park, a 9,000-pound red granite Cimarron Cowboy Monument commemorates arrival of first cattle herds in area, arrival of the Santa Fe RR in 1886, a killing blizzard the same year, and opening of the Cherokee Outlet for settlement in 1893.
In American Legion Park, a plaque erected in 1949 by the Cimarron Cowboy Association honors folks like J.A. Dalton, who worked for the Childress Bros., and was champion swimmer of the Cimarron (ranch on both sides); J.O. Selman, horse wrangler and camp clown; and Jimmie Fewclothes.
Chimney Rock used to be a tourist destination but it collapsed. The Annual Freedom Rodeo & Old Cowhand Reunion, a 50-year tradition that takes place in August, is billed as the biggest open rodeo in the West.
(In McAlester, south of Tulsa, the state pen’s “behind-the-walls” rodeo, featuring PRCA cowboys as well as inmates, is also worthwhile.)
Main Street merchants, rough red cedar wood storefronts. Great Freedom Bank Robbery shootout on Main. Bank, open since 1919, sends someone to open the museum for me. “We’ll have somebody down there.” The museum’s holdings range from a mammoth tusk and petrified buffalo head to a campfire dress, friendship quilts, and a 1927 high school letter sweater. Also a newspaper ad for the Freedom Picnic, a three-day affair held in September 1919: “Talk about FUN, we’ll have it! Fact is, the People of Freedom are the ones who invented fun. Roping Contests, Riding Contests, Base Ball and RACING OF ALL KINDS. And a Big Band of Indians, Too.” The town was only five months old “but is the biggest little town on the map... fast becoming the wonder town of northwestern Oklahoma.” 20 miles NW of Waynoka on the Buffalo Northwestern Railroad.
Pioneer banker and agronomist C.H. Martin once joked that he dug the Cimarron, a Mexican-Apache word meaning “wanderer,” named after a solitary old Apache who left his tribe to settle at its headwaters. This tribe was famous for marauding and murdering, sometimes colluding with outlaws; they “wandered everywhere and dwelt nowhere.” (According to Cornonado, they lived “like Arabs”).
In the Alva Courier, I read about a couple arrested hours before their nuptual, a case dismissed against a man who killed two trespassing coon hunters.
The Panhandle begins at Freedom or Buffalo, depending on your definition.
I stopped at the Camp Houston Country store at 50 and 64 and asked if I could charge gas. “I don’t even know you,” the clerk replied. So much for “it’s everywhere you are.”
Heading west on 64 towards Buffalo. Daniel Boone’s son Nathan explored this area in 1843. Got into the mood by listening to the Sons of the Pioneers’ “Wind”: “Listen to to the wind/ Wonder what it’s sayin’.”
Buffalo is located along the old Ft. Dodge-Camp Supply road. The Trail Museum there was closed. Two men were painting it and blasting country music from a boombox.
Continued west and stopped at Cimarron Junction, pop. 2. It’s not on the map, but is located where the “mainland” meets the Panhandle, on the border of Harper and Beaver counties; a few miles north is Buttermilk, Kansas. The store there is run by “Smiley” (Edwin) and Johnnie. Smiley obligingly took me on an extended tour of Eileen Day’s ranch, which he looks after. I took pictures of her 250 longhorns (brought by the Spaniards), but later it turned out that there was no film in my camera! Five years ago, he told me, a grass fire consumed 250,000 acres: “The wind was blowing, and there wasn’t no way they could stop it.”
Continuing west to Gate, whose early post office was located where there was a gate in the fence. Pea-green Katy depot. Went through the Gate of the Panhandle Museum. Saw a mastadon tusk found by a local farmer while plowing his wheatfield. In the garage was a Springfield wagon, an old wooden washing machine, corn sheller, cider press, broom-making machine, egg incubators, etc. Also a giant oxen yoke circa 1890s used for making sod.
An older woman was “resting her eyes” and feet when I entered. They don’t get too many visitors, about one per week. Gate is the gateway to the Oklahoma Panhandle, she said, as a black snake slithered across the road.
Past Knowles, the land suddenly became flat. Listened to “Hard Travelin’” by Woody Guthrie of Okemah, which sponsors a folk festival in his honor in mid-July. Fifteen miles farther, 23 leads south to Beaver, home of the Jones and Plummer Trail Museum. The trail started in Texas and ended up in Dodge City. C.E. Jones and Joe Plummer, both from Wisconsin, were in the Army and got kicked out. Early settler Jim Lane built a combination store, saloon, post office, feedyard and hotel here where the trail crosses the Beaver River. The town is the Cow Chip Capital of the World, and sponsors a cow chip throwing contest. In the early day dried dung was burned for fuel. After having some honey-dipped chicken at Ned and Darlene’s Cafe, I headed south on 23 and then west on 412, crossing into Texas County.
This is a real “nowhere road,” dead flat fields of corn and hay rolls. Don’t forget the No-Doz.
Before seeing Guymon, decided to detour 10 miles southwest to Goodwell, home of OK Panhandle State University, where a couple of guys were lassoing. This is the saddlebronc capital of the world. No town here, just a store. There is, however, a No Man’s Land Museum. No Man’s Land (aka the Neutral Strip) was at one time just that -- owned by no one. It has changed hands many times, first controlled by Spain and then Mexico. Law came in 1887 when the area, now comprising three counties (Beaver, Texas, and Cimarron), was organized into the Cimarron Territory. At the museum are 500 carvings of native Oklahoman alabaster made by the Ducketts of Texas County during the first half of the 20th century, and a peace pipe given to a Hooker resident by Blackfoot Chief Two Guns Whitecalf, who was pictured on the buffalo nickel; also the first printing press to cross the Mississippi. Nomadic hunters patrolled this area beginning in 10,000 B.C.
Back to Guymon, welcome sign with silhouettes of three men on horseback, orange sunset in background. This is a big pig-farming area, as evident by the smell.
Checked into the Best Western Townsman Inn, slightly over my budget but worth it after my 8-day trek through Oklahoma.
From Guyman to Eagle Nest, New Mexico.
While packing my car in the morning, a well-dressed middle-aged man approached me and asked if I knew the way to OKC. I started to tell him and then got a map. He started telling me about psychocybernetics and invited me a “hot-tub party” (orgy) being held that night at the motel. He’s a doctor based in the Sacramento area and temporarily working at the local hospital, has some friends flying in for the party, a couple of guys and five girls: nice, fun people, he said, and clean. He added that I’d be required to pee into a cup to get tested. He was articulate and friendly enough, but something about him gave me the creeps. He wore immaculate white pants, contrasting with his brown skin (he said he was part-Jamaican).
Later I searched the Internet and found out that pyschocybernetics, a form of therapy based on “self-actualization,” was invented in the sixties by plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz. I found no references to hot-tub parties, but there were some quotes by Maltz, who believes that opportunity “never knocks.” Rather, “you are opportunity, and you must knock on the door leading to your destiny.” Which for me was the highway west and not the hot tub (the wrong choice, Biff said later).
Cattle trucks rumbled through town. The combined panhandles of OK and TX are known as the “cattle-feeding capital of the world.” Texas County alone has better than half a million head, including seven giant feedlots, each with a 5,000-head capacity. The biggest is Hitch Enterprises of Guymon, which owns 153,000 cows on a ranch 15 miles SE of town. The family settled here in 1884. Its scion, H.C. “Ladd” Hitch, died of a heart attack a few years back while attending an annual meeting of the state cattlemen’s association being hjeld at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. He grew up in the saddle, wrangling horses and mules, riding the range, and working in the fields. Texas County holds its Pioneer Days in late April, attracting more than 600 contestants in the roping and saddle bronc events.
Head west on 412. Now the road has become completely flat on both sides of the highway. Cimarron County is the county in the United States (out of 3,070) that borders four other states (TX, NM, CO, and a smidgeon of KS). It has one “city” and six “towns.” There are less than two people per square mile, and not a single stoplight (though five highways pass through town). Boise City is the only place in America that was bombed during the Second World War. The plane came from an Army base in Dalhart, Texas. This happened at 12:30 AM in July 1943. The navigator thought their B-17 was flying over a firing range. Sheriff Harris “Hook” Powell, who lived on the top floor of the courthouse, promptly called the base, which radioed the pilot to return home -- pronto! Some buildings were damaged but miraculously there were no casualties. Its crew later flew 45 combat missions, shooting down 20 German fighters. There are several theories about how Boise City got its name. The town is 16 miles north of Texas, 18 miles south of Colorado, and 27 miles east of New Mexico. The Santa Fe Daze features a championship post-hole digging contest.
The Cimarron Heritage Center offers a good overview of the Dust Bowl era. Arthur Rothstein’s famous photograph of Black Sunday was taken in this vicinity. The Dirty Thirties featured a climatological melange of blizzards, tornados, floods, droughts, dirt storms, and even a “snuster” in ’38 -- dirt and snow reaching blizzard proportions. What had been a prosperous region in the early 1930s was struck by a record drought from 1934 to 1936. Cattle were fed thistle and soap weed. A heat wave in ’34 killed hundreds in the Plains states. The following April, on “Black Sunday,” many thought that the world was coming to an end. The temperature in Boise City dropped 74 degrees in 18 hours. That year, there were 139 “dirty days.” This was followed by earthquakes and extreme heat -- and floods.
South of Boise City are four national grasslands, some of the hardest hit areas during the Dust Bowl due to poor soil, recurrent drought and other factors. The land, shared by Texas, is used for pastures, bird habitats, and protected watersheds.
The explorer Coronado passed through Cimarron in quest of the Seven Cities of Cibola. Captain William Coe, an outlaw, used Robber’s Roost as his headquarters. At Cedar Bluffs (near the ghost town of Wheeless) lie the remains of Camp Nichols, established by Kit Carson for the protection of travelers along the Santa Fe Trail. To the north is Medicine Lodge, Kansas, site of the 1867 treaty between the Anglos and Plains Indians.
Headed northwest on 325 towards Kenton, the only town in Oklahoma on Mountain Standard Time. The Santa Fe Trail runs through this area, and Autograph Rock was once used as a resting and watering place by “those hardy creatures who sought better lives for themselves by moving on,” including shepherds drifting here from the N.M. Territory. Among the hundreds of names carved into the 35-foot-high and 700-foot-long sandstone outcropping is one written in old Castillian style: “Coronatto, 1541.” The rock is located on Bobby Apple’s ranch, where you can stay for $25 a night (Box 24, Kenton 73946).
This is dinosaur country, and their tracks, made 150 million years ago, are visible in creek beds east of town. In the thirties, several quarries yielded 18 tons worth of bones. Five species have been found here, including one the size of a chicken, an alligator-like phytosaurus, and the 80-foot “bronto” now housed in the Smithsonian. One theory goes that this area, where the eastern ocean met a shallow, brackish one, used to be hot and muggy and that dinosaurs would “vacation” here.
The Santa Fe Trail, originating in Franklin, Missouri, was first blazed in 1821 and remained active for 60 years, until the railroad reached Santa Fe. It took seven or eight weeks to make the trip. Conestoga wagons carried 2-3 tons of merchandise, delivering calico, tools, mirrors, wine, and furniture to New Mexico, and returning east with fur, wool, and silver coins. Among the notables who traveled this “international trade route” between the U.S. and what was then Mexico, were Josiah Gregg, Manuel Armijo, and Gen. Stephen Watts Kearney, in addition to a grab bag of soldiers, military freighters, gold seekers, emigrants, adventurers, mountain men, hunters, Indians, guides, packers, translators, invalids, and reporters. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton notes in 1825 that the trail “runs directly toward the setting sun.” You can still see wagon tracks at Flag Spring.
The Cimarron River runs through northern part of the county. Pumpkin and corn were cultivated here as early as the time of Christ.
Black Mesa, where the foothills of the Rockies begin and the shortgrass prairie ends, doubles as a nature preserve and state park. The mesa itself, a Dakota sandstone base capped with basalt, runs 45 miles into New Mexico and Colorado (in the latter it is known as Mesa de Maya). It formed from a lava flow some 30 million years ago, apparently originating in Colorado’s Piney Mountains. Temperatures range from 30-below to 112 F. At 4,972 feet, it’s the highest elevation in Oklahoma.
Had a “bronto burger” at Kenton Mercantile, piled back into the car, and crossed into New Mexico at 2 P.M.
That night I stayed in Eagle Nest, up in the Rockies, where I almost got shot checking into a room already rented to a couple, who scrambled for cover.
Oklahoma! filmed in Arizona
Frisco RR near Chandler??
After [Will Rogers] died in a plane crash in Alaska, Charlie Chaplin cabled his wife Betty that “your sorrow is universal,” while Cecil B. DeMille described him as “the American who least can be spared.”
sooners people in a hurry to get somewhere and do something
mencken cross bridge before they come to it
Gene Autry, OK -- Autry from OK?
Angie Debo’s OK Footloose and Fancy-Free
Stranger in a strange land
People are strange
Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp
Jesus as shepherd
Black Sunday struck on April 14, 1935
37 tribes? once 67?
the comanche: skilled horsemen and most powerful nomads on the southwestern plains; Chief Ten Bears (speech) and Quanah Parker; tribal office in Lawton; traveled as far as 1,000 miles south, to Bolson de Mapimí, Chihuahua comanche remarkable for numbers, horsemanship, warlike character; 7,000 in 1690; clashes between them and white expeditions or bodies of emigrants; introduced horses to Indians of northern Plains
Coronado : Indians lived “like Arabs”
ned christie, cherokee outlaw
According to Smithsonian, Paleo-Indians walked from Asia to North American, big-game hunters in OK 14,000 years ago if not well before, Clovis spearpoints in Caddo County. Later they foraged, becoming“centrally based” wanderers; they started farming around the time of Christ.
Lawton: nomadic hunters at least 12,000 years ago hunted extinct mammoths and bighorned bison; by 5,000 BC small wandering bands added gathering nuts, seeds, roots, and berries, villages farming by 500 BC bison wander randomly rather than migrating north-south like the calliope hummingbird and fur seal nothing lasts forever except the earth and the mountains, quote at Glass Mountains??