Lake Eufaula, Barry Switzer and Me

Welcome back. From last week’s column you learned that my travels are once again taking me out west but first I had a few stops to make along the way.

In 1964 the Army Corps of Engineer completed what was, and still is with 600 miles of shoreline, the largest lake in Oklahoma. Located on the Canadian River, Lake Eufaula is a destination for fisherman and with two state parks and numerous marinas and campgrounds is a family friendly lake as well. My reason for a regrettably short visit was a screening of my film Footprints in the Dew: The Last Ten Tapes at the Eufaula Memorial Library. The library is situated right in the middle of town, surrounded by interesting shops and it is just the type of place I enjoy checking out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time but as General McArthur once said “I will return.” This is a beautiful part of Oklahoma and well worth a trip.

My next stop was at a house in Norman that sits on the corner of Chautauqua Avenue and Timber Dell Road. A large house made of cut stone and two stories high, it dwarfs the homes which border it to the south and to the north just across the street is the University of Oklahoma. Yes friends, this is the home of Barry Switzer, a man who coached the Oklahoma Sooners for sixteen years and who has the distinction of holding one of the highest winning percentages of any college football coach in history. He also coached the Dallas Cowboys to their Super Bowl XXX win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and received the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award.

I have been invited to attend the Coach’s Cabana live TV broadcast during all the OU games this year which has given me the opportunity to hang out a little with Coach Switzer and I can tell you he’s a nice guy who particularly likes kids. He is always ready to shake a kid’s hand or pose for a picture with him or her which makes their day but I can tell Barry enjoys the kids just as much as they enjoy him.
If you have read Barry’s book Bootlegger’s Boy you know that “Coach” as his former players call him, had a tragic childhood. With a mother who committed suicide and a father who was murdered by a jealous lover, Barry could easily have gone in another direction in life if not for football. He is something special for sure and after reading his story I think you will agree.

My last stop was at Saturday night’s big shindig celebrating 150 years of the Chisholm Trail which was held in a barn of course and the celebrities and politicians were thick. People running for Governor, the House and Senate and even County Commissioner were all in attendance. Two time Governor George Nigh was also there and gave a great talk about Oklahoma History as did Dr. Bob Blackburn the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Celebrity wise one of my favorites, the former stunt man to the stars Dean Smith was a guest along with Bob Funk who will soon be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. I also heard through the grapevine that Tom Selleck will be Bob’s presenter and I am definitely hoping to get a ticket to that event.
Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road……………..
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Exploring New Mexico

Welcome back. I’ll be traveling the old Chisholm Trail this weekend starting on Friday night in Yukon, OK with what’s anticipated to be over 150 riders. The event will go on for two days with food, live entertainment and plenty of western hospitality I’m sure. The cattle trail was named after Jesse Chisholm and he also passed through the Osage Kansas grasslands in 1867 on his way to Abilene where trains would ship cattle to the east coast. For me the weekend is all going to be a history lesson and I’ll give you a report on any interesting findings.

This trip won’t end on the Chisholm Trail though, as I’m off on another trail which was not traveled by cattle but by people and supplies. This trail and many of the towns it crossed was made famous by dozens of books and movies. Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking you with me to places like Raton, New Mexico which is the highest point on the Amtrak rail line and was a major trading center along what you may have already guessed was the Santa Fe Trail. Situated at what seems like the top of the Sangre de Christo mountains, the first Europeans to travel through the area were the French and Spaniards, followed by American settlers. The history lesson here is the perseverance of those settlers in what had to be tough living conditions in those early days. I’ll also be traveling to Springer, New Mexico, another place where Spaniards and early day traders and trappers did business. Another stop will be Capulin, New Mexico where 10 million years ago volcanos erupted and the landscape still shows the impact of those eruptions.

Little towns like Des Moxes and Folsom, the town named after President Grover Cleveland’s soon to be wife are on my destination list and I’ll be taking a couple of side trips into Colorado as well, exploring towns like Gardner where Apache Indians along with Comanche and Utes had their own trails. A stage coach stop in the 1850s, nowadays Gardner is well known as a counter culture center or a “hippie town” as it was known to the 1960s generation. Once a year the town celebrates with Hippie Days and although I’ll miss the festival this year, being 66 I’m anxious to check out the town. Other stops include Walsenburg which was settled in 1852 and La Veta for a visit to the Francisco Fort Museum. In the middle of all these towns, many of which are along the Santa Fe Trail I’ll be staying in the same place where these early travelers rested.

It was the only real hotel along the Santa Fe Trail and it is still open to the public today. Being strategically located for my research, the St. James Hotel will be my home for several days and why not. Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley all stayed here, some longer than others by all accounts. Even though there were 27 killings at the hotel it was still the nicest lodging on the Santa Fe trail.

A three-week journey into the great American west is coming up and I hope you enjoy the trip.
Till next time partner I’ll see ya down the road….
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Buffalo Bill

One of the fascinating characters from the old west….

Welcome back. While traveling in southern Oklahoma this week I learned of a celebration coming up on October 21st to mark an event that time has forgotten. This event started 150 years ago when as you can imagine things were quite a bit different. Up north on the 13th of May a band of rogue Indians called Dog Soldiers were fighting the U.S. Calvary at a place called Elephant Rock, Kansas. It turned into a running chase that covered over 200 miles till they caught up with the band at Summit Springs.

The Civil War was over and a growing demand for good steaks on the east coast would help tame the Wild West. Texas longhorns were being driven by the thousands along trails that led to the stockyards in Kansas and one of the most legendary was the Chisholm Trail. From Kansas the railroads would haul the cattle east. This journey made folks like Jesse Chisholm famous and folks it’s the history of the Chisholm Trail that will honored on October 21st right alongside a portion of the original trail. I plan on attending several of the festivities in Yukon, Oklahoma during that week and will bring you a full report.

There’s another story from the same era that we should all remember as well. Born on February 26, 1845 on an Iowa farm the boy spent seven years there before moving with his family to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. According to his authorized biography, he was already proficient in riding and he had an overwhelming drive to go into the far regions of what was then a new part of our country. As a boy he crossed the plains by wagon train to California not once but twice. He worked for people like the renowned Will Bill Hickok and Kit Carson before becoming a scout for the Calvary himself. He hunted buffalo when they roamed the plains in herds of thousands and when he saw that they were coming close to extinction he created a sanctuary to preserve them. He also herded cattle up the same trails that Oklahomans will be celebrating in two weeks, sometimes leading wagon trains west along those trails. A pony express rider, an Army scout and even a gold prospector during the gold rush, eventually he became an actor and a showman. In his later years he had his own Wild West Show and toured the world. In his day he was extremely famous for a battle with the Indian leader “Yellow Hand” and several movies were made about their encounter.

He died in 1917 and according to his wishes his body was buried on Lookout Mountain which sits just thirty minutes outside of Denver, Colorado. I recently returned from that area and seeing his grave along with the museum that is on the same property gives you an idea of how important he was., Yes the life of William F. Cody, or Buffalo Bill as he is commonly known, is an important piece of history we should never forget.

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

The Drummond Family and the Pioneer Woman

Welcome back. Two blocks off highway 60 in Hominy sits a piece of Oklahoma history that dates back to 1903 when a Scotsman who had come to America moved to Hominy and started a trading company. Originally called the Price Mercantile Company, when Fred Drummond bought it he changed the name to the Hominy Trading Company. According to a brochure I found last week at the Fred Drummond Home it came to be “one of the most successful trading and ranching organizations in Oklahoma.”

Fred died in 1913 but before he passed he built a three story Victorian style for his family, became President of Farmer’s State Bank and was in the process of buying his son his first ranch. Quite an achievement for a man who thirteen years earlier had been selling dry goods and working for wages. Fred’s house had to have been the finest in town at the time and friends it’s pretty special now.

The exterior of the first floor is native sandstone which is unusual and the second and third floors are wood framed with painted green shingles on the outside. A gas generator in the basement gave Fred and his family electricity and water was delivered with an air pressure system. Today the Fred Drummond house is owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society and in 1981 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is fully furnished inside with period furniture laid out just like when the Drummonds lived there. You can take a tour Wednesday through Sunday for a small admission fee of three bucks which in my opinion is way too cheap for a couple of hours spent with Fred and his wife Addie.

Although there are no Drummonds living in the original house today, Fred’s three sons and their children went on to become very successful themselves, buying up land before World War I through World War II and their heirs continue acquiring land to this day. I’ve done some research and according to several books and magazines, if all the Drummond holdings were combined, the family would rank among the top twenty landowners in the country.
Then of course if you add Ree Drummond into the mix, who married Ladd Drummond and started the wildly successful Pioneer Woman business, the family might just jump up a notch or two. A great family whose hard work through the generations helped to make Oklahoma a leader in the ranching industry. Once again, if you want to learn more about the Drummond clan or any other Oklahoma ranching family visit your local library, it’s a great place for research.

My travels this past week took me not only to Hominy but also to Pawhuska where I can tell you that at 11:30 AM there was a line a block long waiting to get into the Pioneer Woman Mercantile as the restaurant and the store were both already full. I also noticed two new stores in town that caught my eye. A book store! Yes a book store has opened on the main street of Pawhuska. Just the fact that a book store opens is news nowadays but in Pawhuska it’s quite a deal. The store is called the Book Burrow and the next time you’re over at Ree’s waiting in line you might check ‘em out.
The other new business is located in the same building as the Mercantile and actually sits right next door. Lorec Ranch is a big home furnishings store in Oklahoma City specializing in western stuff of course. Run by Kari Lopez, it’s been around for years and if you want cowboy décor Kari has it. Apparently Ree and Kari are friends and with the addition of Lorec Ranch along with a real book store, I’m wondering what could be coming next over there.

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

Frank Phillips’ Woolaroc

One of my favorite places too..

Welcome back. The year was 1925 and the Governor of Oklahoma was Martin L. Trapp who presided over a booming but sometimes lawless state. In Osage County, The Osage tribe was making national headlines with their new-found oil wealth but this was also the period of the so-called “reign of terror” when a series of Osage murders took place. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society thirty oil boomtowns were founded between 1906 and 1928, attracting not only workers but bootleggers, prostitutes, thieves and violent criminals, In addition to the Osage, the oil boom was making millionaires out of many people who came to the area to try their luck.

Griff Graham was driving out in the remote Osage County Hills southwest of Bartlesville with his close friend Frank Phillips who was one of those newly minted millionaires. Graham had been the first Washington County sheriff and had retired in 1918. Phillips had several oil leases going in the area at the time and lot 185 was one of them. He had purchased the lot a few years earlier and there was a rough log cabin on the property overlooking a small lake called Rock Creek. No one knew who had built the crude structure which had been used occasionally by some of Frank’s work crews but was mostly unoccupied and Frank loved it.

Construction of a new road to the cabin through the rough Osage Hills was accomplished by hand along with the clearing of the blackjack oak trees that covered the landscape. Six horse teams dragged the ground as men with axes and shovels cleared a path to what would become a world class art museum and tourist destination.

By now you may have guessed that I’m talking about Woolaroc but back then it was quite different. A simple cabin with two rock towers that supported an iron gate at the entrance was the humble beginning of what would be Phillips’ ranch. Near the cabin was a windmill which provided water not only for people but also for the horses that many still rode.

There were also a lot of outlaws roaming the area where Phillips built his retreat so he hired Griff Graham to protect what he called his “favorite place in the whole world.” Over time hundreds of men were hired to construct Woolaroc including neighbors, townspeople and even Phillips Petroleum Company staff. Everyone contributed to the project and as a thank you in 1927 a tradition was born. The thank you party was a big success and the next year this picnic that Frank Phillips had thought up to reward his workers grew to include celebrities and outlaws. Frank issued a promise that if no trouble was started no one would be arrested during the event even if they had outstanding warrants.

Oklahoma’s business and civic leaders as well as Phillips’ employees and their families rubbed shoulders with folks like Pawnee Bill, Osage Chief Bacon Rind and bank robber Henry Wells. They all came to see the exotic animals that Phillips was raising on the ranch and eat BBQwhile being entertained by some of the best musicians in the area. Over the years Zack Miller of the 101 Ranch, Will Rogers, Presidents and movie stars would all be among the guests at the ranch. Nowadays the tradition of the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion has become a major fundraiser for support of Woolaroc and friends the event is coming up this Saturday so this is a great chance to take a trip back in time to Frank Phillips’ country home. If you want to learn more about Woolaroc I would highly recommend that you check out Gale Kane’s book Frank’s Fancy which is available in the museum gift shop.

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