The St. Louis Arch and Other Points East

               Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

 Welcome back. The trip from the far northeast corner of Oklahoma along highway 44 to St. Louis and the internationally known structure known as the “Gateway to the West” or the “Arch of St. Louis” takes six hours. Along the way you pass beautiful mountain scenery, the famous resort town of Branson, Missouri and Six Flags amusement park. Then you see the striking monument that was built in 1963 to celebrate the westward expansion of the United States.  At 630 feet this gleaming stainless steel structure is the tallest man made monument in the country.

From the Arch going north, highway 44 becomes highway 70 and the mountainous terrain turns to farmland. The exit ramps lead to small rural communities and mostly $60 a night and up motels for the weary travel until you hit Terre Haute, Indiana, the home of a major federal penitentiary. The prison was constructed in 1938 by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was responding to the request of the local Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. At the time, during the Great Depression, the prison was seen as an important source of jobs and other economic stimulus. Since then the prison has grown to become a multi-purpose facility. It includes a rehabilitation wing devoted to improving inmates’ reading, writing and math skills along with a trade school. There is a level three care unit which provides medical services to seriously ill prisoners, some of whom are transferred from other parts of the country to be cared for in Terre Haute. Another area of the prison houses “lifers”, who are the inmates who will never be released. And then there is death row.

Due to its central location, in 1993 the federal government designated United States Prison (USP) Terre Haute as the facility that would house and ultimately execute those prisoners who have received a death sentence in federal court. There are currently58 inmates in what the government called the “Special Confinement Unit” on death row.

You may have heard of a few of the notorious men who drew their last breath here. Timothy McVeigh who was convicted in 1997 for planning and carrying out the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people is one example. McVeigh was executed in 2001.

Also executed in 2001 was drug king pin Juan Raul Garza. Garza was convicted of numerous murders and for importing thousands of pounds of marijuana into the United States.

Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. was put to death in 2003 for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of an enlisted woman at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. As you can see the list goes on as the men awaiting execution includes a wide range of convicted drug dealers, sex offenders, murderers and terrorists. Although there’s plenty of hotels in this area right off I-70 in Terre Haute, Indianapolis is just an hour and a half away and I usually go on.

The Indianapolis area is rich in history from many eras. This was once the home of the Delaware tribe until they were displaced by the government and relocated to other lands. The city was chosen to be the state capital in 1820.

According to the 2010 census, Indianapolis is now the 12th largest city in the country with a thriving arts and sports scene. The Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 400 and Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball tournaments all take place here along with concerts, exhibitions and a variety of cultural festivals. Definitely a place where I would like to sped more time.

Richmond is the last major town before you leave Indiana as I-70 rolls across the American heartland into Ohio. The next stop for me was Columbus, Ohio which at one point in time was governed by the French. Back in the early 1750s George Washington conducted a survey of the area and that survey led to a struggle for control of the region, sparking the seven year French-Indian war.

From Columbus, I travel on through Wheeling, West Virginia and on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Then I take a turn north toward I-80 and Lake Erie of Great Lakes fame. I-80 cuts across Pennsylvania and this is where I stopped for my second night on the road.

The vast terrain of Pennsylvania is nothing less than spectacular and well worth a closer look but I’ve got business in New York City and on the streets of Manhattan where I’ll be reporting from next time. Till then, I’ll see ya down the road….




The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

A unique travel destination in Oklahoma………….

Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

 Welcome back.  On Saturday morning while checking out the local farmer’s market I had the good fortune to visit with two local experts about the workings and management of the different ecosystems in Oklahoma, particularly the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. By now many of you in this area may be familiar with this Nature Conservancy preserve outside of Pawhuska with its large herd of free ranging bison

The Nature Conservancy purchased the original Barnard Ranch to start the Preserve. The ranch had been part of the Chapman-Barnard ranch which extended over 100,000 acres (400 km2). The foreman of the Chapman-Barnard ranch, Ben Johnson, Sr. was a rodeo champion. His son Ben Johnson, Jr. also worked at the ranch before heading out to Hollywood and becoming a big star. Since the initial purchase in 1989 the Preserve has grown to 45,000 acres. The focus of the Conservancy’s work has been to restore all of the native plant and animal species that would have been found in the area before it was ranched. The Preserve also serves as living laboratory for scientists and ranchers to learn more about Conservation based land management techniques and the restoration of biodiversity across the landscape.

According to the Nature Conservancy’s web page for Oklahoma (

“The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Originally spanning portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have left less than 10% of this magnificent American landscape. Since 1989, the Conservancy has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison and a “patch-burn” model approach to prescribed burning.

The “patch burn” approach utilizes prescribed burning on roughly 1/3rd of productive rangeland each year, leaving the remaining portions undisturbed by fire. Early research by Oklahoma State University indicates that the complex and mosaic plant communities produced by this “patchy” approach offers huge rewards for biodiversity. Approximately three dozen prescribed burns are conducted each year totaling 15,000 – 20,000 acres. In addition Conservancy staff have helped neighboring ranches burn 170,000 acres and helped them suppress 50 wildfires.”

Simply put, what the Conservancy is doing now will offer conservation-minded ranchers an alternative to traditional grazing practices. The fellows tell me conservancy staff have already conducted several “patch-burn” workshops with area cattle ranchers to illustrate the potential rewards of embracing this wildlife-friendly method of land management, while continuing to meet the bottom line for their cattle production operations.

The Preserve is truly a hidden treasure right outside our back door and it is a great adventure to visit if you are interested in science, ranching history or just love nature. The preserve is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk with no charge for admittance and can be accessed via county roads. You’ll have the opportunity to see the bison herd and many other birds and animals.  In addition to the bison, the Tallgrass Prairie is currently host to over 200 species of birds, 671 types of native plants and grasses and 41 different mammals, including bobcat, mountain lion and feral pig. Not to mention all the butterflies, moths, reptiles and fish! The Preserve also offers many amenities for visitors including scenic turnouts with spectacular vistas, hiking trails, a picnic area and public restrooms at the historic ranch headquarters. There is also a visitor information center and gift shop and several educational displays about the prairie ecosystem. Trust me there’s a lot to see, not the least is the awe inspiring land itself, so aptly called a “sea of grass”.

Many thanks to Bob Hamilton, Director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, and Steve Forsythe, retired ecologist, for sharing this information with me.

Up next, its eighteen hundred miles in three days. Till then, I’ll see ya down the road….



Frank Phillips and the New Osage Chief


           Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

 Welcome back.  It is an honor and a privilege to be a witness to history in the making and last Wednesday was one of those times when I was invited by his family to attend the inauguration of Geoffrey Standing Bear as Principal Chief of the Osage Tribe. The ceremony was held in the new Osage Casino and Hotel in Ponca City and when I arrived the first thing I noticed was the cleanliness of the facility. It is obvious that the Osage tribe takes great pride in their operations and everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. During my brief tour I found that with just 48 rooms this is not a giant place which intentionally or not gives the hotel a cozy feeling. The layout of the pool and spa area is very inviting and well situated at the center of the building. The pool is climate controlled and features underwater speakers with piped in music. If I ever have the money I’d like to use this pool designer myself. The restaurants in the Osage casinos are earning a great reputation in the area for their delicious food and if the grub they served after the inauguration is any indication they deserve a five star rating.

Tim Tall Chief was the emcee for the inauguration ceremony itself which began with the presentation of colors by the American Legion and the Lord’s Prayer. Representative Tom Cole gave the Keynote Address which was followed by a stirring musical performance. The oaths of office for the Principal Chief and other officials of the tribe were administered by Osage Supreme Court justice Meredith Drent and Trial Judge Marvin Stepson. Principal Chief Standing Bear gave his inaugural address and then several key members of the tribe were recognized for their service, The ceremony ended with a prayer spoken in both English and Osage and then there was lots of hand shaking and congratulations all around. It was a rare opportunity for a non-tribal member to see the working of the Osage tribe’s government up close and also to meet so many important Osage leaders. I felt lucky to be there.

I had the opportunity to speak with the new chief before the event started and he was, of course, quite up to date on the history of the tribe, even giving me a quick lesson on Frank Phillips’ relationship with the Osage. After doing a little research on my own I discovered that of all the honors and awards he received in his lifetime, Frank Phillips was most proud of being adopted as an honorary member of the Osage tribe. The tribe called him “Hulah Kihe-kah” which translates as “Eagle Chief” and Frank Phillips was the only white man to ever receive this tribute. A big party was held a Woolaroc to mark the occasion and Zack Miller from the 101 Ranch presented Frank with an inscribed buffalo hide that still hangs in the museum.

Since 1925 after Frank Phillips had completed the lodge, Woolaroc has been hosting a lot of great parties like this. Businessmen from New York City and friends of the Phillips from around the world came to experience life in the west and see the fabulous collection of art, animals and archaeological artifacts in the special place that Frank called Woolaroc.

Nowadays Frank would be happy to know that his ranch is hosting more guests than ever with big parties like the annual Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion, weddings, family gatherings and regular daily visitors. The beautiful backdrop of Clyde Lake is also the setting for special events such as OK Mozart’s popular outdoor concert every June. This same Clyde Lake is going to be the place to be on September 12th when a new event will be held where so much history has taken place. Music? you may ask. Yes, three bands. Food? Yes, a big spread starting with appetizers and drinks. There will be prizes and more, all benefiting a worthy not-for-profit. I think you will all be happy to say you were there for the very first one. So mark September 12th on your calendar and I will be giving you more information as the date draws closer.

Next week it’s on the highway for three days and then on location in New York City for something you may find interesting. Till then I’ll see ya down the road…..





Robbery and Cattle Rustling in Oklahoma

As cattle prices rise, the theft of livestock is a growing problem in Oklahoma…

Welcome back.  It was Valentine’s Day in 1866 when just after 2 p.m. the bank was robbed in Liberty, Missouri. An estimated sixty thousand dollars was stolen and a nineteen year old innocent bystander named George Wymore was murdered. In addition to being the first bank robbery during operating hours ever recorded in the United States, this was also the first bank robbery committed by Frank and Jesse James. According to Time/Life’s The Gunfigters the brothers went on to rob twelve more banks, seven trains and five stage coaches in eleven states and territories across the country.

On April 3, 1882 Jesse James’ career as an outlaw came to an end when he was killed by Bob Ford. James thought Ford was his friend but when he turned his back, Ford shot him in the head to collect reward money. That same year his brother Frank surrendered to the Governor of Missouri and the James gang was finished.

The younger of the Dalton brothers had ridden with the James gang but he managed to get away when most of the gang was killed or jailed. The Daltons formed their own gang then and successfully robbed several banks in 1892. Then they tried what no other bank robber had ever done, robbing two banks at the same time in the same town. Their plan to rob two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas ended up with everyone in the gang being killed except Emmett Dalton. Emmett was wounded and served fifteen years in prison.

Bill Doolin was a protégé of the Daltons and he became the next big outlaw in Indian Territory. Then in 1895 he met the same fate as his mentors when he was killed by a shotgun blast from legendary deputy Heck Thomas.

The last of the great train robbers were Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. Their American crime story came to an end in 1890 when detectives from the Pinkerton Agency were so hot on the gang’s trail that Butch and his partner in crime Harry Longbaugh (aka the Sundance Kid) fled to South America where they continued to rob banks and trains for ten years. Contrary to the deadly end portrayed in the movie, the ultimate fate of the two outlaws is still unknown although reliable reports indicated that they both lived to be old men.

Now you might as well know where I’m going with all these old outlaw tales so here’s the real story:

Oklahoma is the fifth largest cattle producing state in the union and in 2013 cattle theft hit an all time high right here. One thousand head of cattle were reported stolen in the state last year and with cattle prices high and predicted to rise even further the economic impact is enormous.

All seventy-seven counties in Oklahoma have been impacted by thefts and according to Col. Jerry Flowers, Chief Detective of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s Food and Forestry division, there is one common denominator in all of these thefts which is the use of methamphetamines by the crooks. Flowers says it is easy to steal cows and easy to sell them for quick cash which these thieves use to buy drugs. The cops do catch some of the thieves as 290 felony charges were filed last year for cattle theft but many more get away. However, history tells us that this situation won’t last for long. Col Flowers and special agents like Bart Perrier of the Southwest Cattlemen’s Association are relentless in their pursuit but they need our help. Unfortunately crime is a part of life so if you spot any suspicious activity call a cop. Its our duty as citizens and residents of this great state and country.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road………….