More About Lawton, OK and Fort Sill

Welcome back. Although Lawton, Oklahoma has come and gone for me way too quickly, I’m for sure coming back to see more of this town. From last week’s column you learned that Geronimo is buried here and I discovered that he is not the only Indian chief in the cemetery in Lawton. The Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, Kiowa Chief Santana and several others are also buried here, some under the Henry Post Army Airfield but that my friends is for another story.

If you’re not a regular reader you may wonder where I get my information and in Lawton I found that there are three museums which are a great resource for local history. The Museum of the Great Plains is all about the early days of the town and its settlements. The Fort Sill Museum is a must see as well and sits right where the original fort was. The old guardhouse and barracks along with many of the other old buildings are all listed as National Historic Landmarks. The Comanche National Museum is of course all about the Comanche tribe, past and present. In addition to their own collections, the museum frequently hosts traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Trust me, all three museums are well worth your time.

When I had a little time to tour the town I found that Lawton’s park system is quite a deal and from what I saw a real thing of beauty. They have eighty-yes eighty- parks and recreational areas within the city limits. There are also three big lakes close by all of which offer boating, swimming, fishing and camping. Over 94,000 people live in the Lawton area and they support three newspapers, a half dozen radio stations, three major TV stations and a monthly magazine.

Numerous prominent people have come from Lawton including a fellow I was lucky enough to meet a few years ago, the late Comanche code talker Charlie Chibity. The famous actress Joan Crawford and NBA basketball great Stacy King are also from here. Want to learn more about the Plains Indian wars or maybe see the graves of Geronimo and Quanah Parker or take a tour of old Fort Sill? It’s all in Lawton and if you can’t tell, I definitely recommend a visit.

AS for me, this week and next I’ll be deep in the Sangre de Christo Mountains where now that hunting season is mostly over I hope to get a chance to spot more wildlife. Bear, mountain lion, elk and deer all live here and so will I. Not to hunt but to write another true story which I hope you will find as interesting as my last book. With no TV or internet and just limited radio reception, this place in February isn’t for everyone but for my purposes its perfect and the people I do see love it here in the clean high altitude mountain air. Next week, more on my location, a weather report, local skiing conditions and wildlife sightings.

Till then, I’ll see ya down the road……

Discovering Lawton, OK and Fort Sill

So many places to go and so much to learn….

Welcome back. A big trade show at the Tulsa Fairgrounds brought me home for the weekend and I’m here to tell you that on Saturday the parking lot there which is massive was full. Shows of every kind filled the buildings and with the big boat and travel going on this week I expect they’ll have another huge crowd. As for me, I’m headed down to southwest Oklahoma to check out some history in the town of Lawton.

I’m sure many of you know that Lawton is home to Fort Sill but it is really the other way around. This old fort was first established back in 1869 when all the land was still known as Indian Territory and it was built by General Phillip Sheridan for protection from hostile Indian tribes who were resisting the westward expansion of settlements. After it was completed the fort became an important base for military operations. Six cavalry regiments and a bunch of early frontier scouts with names that everyone recognizes led the way. Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok and the 10th Cavalry, who were also called buffalo soldiers, all stayed at Fort Sill and played a major role in settling the west. The 10th Cavalry was led by Henry O. Flipper who was the first black man to graduate from West Point.

In 1894 the famous Apache warrior Geronimo was captured and housed outside of the fort along with three hundred and forty members of his tribe. A few years later Geronimo would go on tour with Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show traveling coast to coast. Geronimo died at Fort Sill in 1909 and is buried in the cemetery there. I hope to bring you more on Geronimo, the day he met President Theodore Roosevelt, the bloody Ghost Dance uprising and more after my stay.

The history that I’ve read so far tells me that the town of Lawton was founded on August 6, 1901 many years after the fort was completed. By this time the Indian tribes had been settled on reservations and the fort, which at one time was close to being abandoned, had become a field artillery base. Through the years the fort has served as an officer training school, an air service training school and nowadays is also an aviation center.
Fort Sill’s important role in aviation began in 1917 when an airfield was built housing the first Balloon Squadron that was stationed there. During World War I balloon squadrons were sent to Europe where they were used to observe enemy activities. From what I’ve found out, the balloons were tethered to trucks and towed with the men inside them. It is worth noting that the commander of the unit from Fort Sill was General Banksdale Hawlett, Jr. who would later play a key role during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a part of President Kennedy’s advisory team. As an aviation base the fort continues to play a role in the protection of our country today.

This time next week I’ll also be taking you on the road to another historical place in the southwest corner of Oklahoma where I seldom travel and then I’ll be going up to I-40 west into New Mexico. Through the motel town of Tucumcari to Santa Rosa, followed by Cline’s Corner and then north. Its remote out there with plenty of antelope and you know the early travelers to the area had it rough. I love reading about those early day travelers and plan to bring you some of their history as well next week.

Till then, I’ll see ya down the road……

Travels in the Enchanted Circle of New Mexico…

Welcome back. It’s called New Mexico Highway 38 and it runs through the small community of Eagle Nest which sits outside of Angel Fire and then 38 goes on to the village of Red River. Named after the stream that runs through town, Red River was a mining town back in the 1870s when gold strikes were plentiful in this region. There was also money to be made mining silver and copper but by 1905 most of the minerals were all gone.

Today the area depends on tourism. Instead of miners looking to strike it rich, locals depend on visitors looking to ski in the winter and hunt and fish in the spring and fall. Summer brings lots of hikers and campers to the mountains as well. At 8,750 feet, a person can enjoy the scenery at any time of the year and many people come just for the views. The 484 people who live in Red River full time know what pays their bills and friends when you visit their town it’s all about you. They offer skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the winter and hiking, fishing and horseback riding in the summer. Good food is plentiful of course and watching deer and elk walking right down the middle of Main Street is a favorite pastime of mine and I’ve seen lots of them.

It’s well known that the Plains and Pueblo Indians were the first to cross this land looking for buffalo. Reading up on local history, I found that there were many Indian trails and passes through this part of the Sangre de Christo mountain range. According to local history, the old Kiowa and Taos trails were intended for horse and foot travel. Wagons, usually full of supplies, took the Cimarron Trail which ran along what is now US Route 68. I know it may be hard to comprehend reading all this but when you see the rough terrain people had to cross just to get here you know they had to be both tough and skilled at handling teams of horses. You can’t go to Angel Fire and Red River without visiting the town where the cult film Easy Rider was shot.

As you may have already guessed, I’m now hanging my hat in a town the natives call “the place of red willows” which nowadays is better known as Taos, New Mexico. Home of the famous Taos Pueblo which has been inhabited since somewhere between 1000 and 1450 AD, today it’s said there are around 150 people living in the Pueblo. The Pueblo is a very special place for sure but there are also three art museums and over 80 art galleries in Taos. The town also hosts community arts events, numerous musical performances and even shamanic rituals. Yes, Taos is an artistic town but there is more. The golf, fishing, rafting and hiking here is rated as some of the best in the country. And if they can get some snow don’t forget the top-notch skiing. If you go to Taos, Angel Fire, Red River or any of the small towns along the Enchanted Circle plan on a long stay because there is just so much to see here.

Here’s a personal snow report as of Sunday January 21st. There’s still no snow in most of the ski areas throughout northern New Mexico and if the weather trend continues this year will mark the least snowfall in modern day history with millions of dollars in lost revenue .It’s still as beautiful place, snow or no snow.

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

My first visit in 2018 to one of my favorite places in the world….

Welcome back. According to the dictionary altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen at high altitudes and it takes three forms, the most severe of which can cause death. Altitude sickness also causes confusion and I must have had a dose of that last week when I said I was writing from Cimarron, New Mexico at 65,000 feet. As I’m sure many of you know Cimarron sits at about 6,500 feet.

That was last week and I’ve moved on. Now I’m close to Aqua Fria Peak which has an altitude of 11,078 feet. Agua Fria Peak sits next to the ski area at Angel Fire Resort and my friends I can tell you from my own experience this is a real family oriented place. In my younger days I taught my daughter Loretta to ski here and there were always kids of all ages on the slopes. There are no motels in the area but plenty of condos offering short terms rentals as well as a fantastic lodge for nightly stays. Most of these accommodations are pretty much ski in, ski out and I have to mention that the rates are very reasonable. The resort is in a beautiful valley in the Sangre Christo Mountains in Colfax County which sits in northern New Mexico.

The Moache Ute Indians get most of the credit for naming the area Angel Fire in the early seventeen hundreds. Legend has it that in the 1780s the Utes used the valley for a gathering place and while they were there a strange series of lights appeared. It lasted a long time with splashes of red and orange dancing across the sky all coming from what we now call Aqua Fria Peak. Back then the Utes named the mountain “Fire of the Gods’ and it was later called “Fire of the Angels” by Franciscan monks who settled in the valley. Just a legend you readers may say but the well-known frontiersman Kit Carson documented that he too had seen all the flashing colors of the “fire of the gods.”

Moving forward 238 years, today people familiar with the mountain say the colors are caused by sunlight reflecting off the icy frost on the branches of trees on the mountain. I’ve also been told by locals that this is the time of year when cattle mutilations occur. Whether it is a natural phenomenon or a spaceship from another world, I’ll hear and keep you up to date.

With the beautiful mountain range at its doorstep, Angel Fire is also a popular summer destination for tourists and two years ago the resort added a fancy RV park to attract more summer travelers. Their gondola takes you to the top of the mountain all year around and sitting in the mountaintop restaurant with its million dollar view you can’t beat it, snow or not.

That brings me to the snow report from here and I’m sad to say that so far there is minimal natural snow. Angel Fire does have the best snow making machinery available and it’s been running 24 hours a day. There are several runs open but officials tell me its turning out to be one of the driest years on record which also means millions of dollars in lost revenue. If you like to ski don’t give up hope, I’m predicting a big snow before winter’s over. Follow the Angel Fire website for all the skinny on both winter and summer activities.
Next week I’m going mining for gold in the Moreno Valley along the Red River. It’s what was happening here in the 1800s.

Till then I’ll see ya down the road….

Waite Phillips Legacy at the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch

Welcome back. Once again I’m taking you back in time this week to January 27, 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson was President; the Beatles had a hit song in the U.S. with I Want To Hold Your Hand, Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a bestselling book and it was also the last day in the life of a great philanthropist. You might say it all started a few days earlier when Waite Phillips sent his son Chope to check out the Philmont Scout Ranch for him. By then Waite had already given the Boy Scout organization well over one hundred thousand acres of land. He had also established an endowment to support the upkeep of the ranch and any needed building projects.

Waite’s birthday was coming up on January 19th and at 81 he wanted to be assured that the Boy Scout Ranch would be secure in the future. During the preceding few months his health had been deteriorating and after suffering a couple of heart attacks he had a nurse on call twenty-four hours a day. In his book Beyond the Hills: The Journey of Waite Phillips author Michael Wallis describes Waite’s last four months on earth. According to Wallace, Waite enjoyed remembering his youth and the days of making millions with his brothers Frank and L.E.. As most people around here know, the Phillips brothers came from Iowa and went on to establish one of the biggest independent oil companies in the world. Waite eventually split off from his brothers and formed his own successful company. When he eventually sold that company he became one of the richest men in the country.

In 1964 all that was years in the past for Waite but his love for the scout ranch that was now named Philmont was on his mind. He had already laid out his will giving thousands of dollars to his grandchildren and other relatives. He’d also left money to his staff and several friends. The University of Southern California would receive a three million dollar gift and another seven million would go to other colleges and charities. Among several hospitals Bartlesville’s Jane Phillips Hospital received $200,000. Waite’s wife would be left millions in property, along with personal possessions and cash. He also provided additional salary for his long term employees.

As January 27th approached Waite knew everything was in order and after receiving a good report from his son Chope who had just returned from a four day stay at Philmont, he felt happy and rejuvenated enough to take a walk. At 1:30 AM on January 27th, the farm boy from Iowa who had built an empire in both oil and real estate and then given most of his wealth away, died.

I’ve written about this great man in the past and honoring the anniversary of his death only seems right. If you get a chance to read it, the local library has Wallis’ book Beyond the Hills or even better take a trip like me to Waite’s favorite place in the world, Philmont. It is open all year round for tours but I warn you that at sixty-five hundred feet it can be quite cold in the winter.

Till next time, from sixty-five hundred feet I’ll see ya down the road……………
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A Legendary Land Auction in Oklahoma

Welcome back. January16th come rain or shine the sale catalog says. Conducted by Winchester-Shults Real Estate Auction Co of Enid, Oklahoma. Inspection and transportation along with air charter service will all be available. This my friends is going to be the largest auction of prime Oklahoma and Kansas land in modern day history.

Thousands of acres of land, some located in the remote Flint Hills, others close to towns. The showcase of the auction will be the Bird Creek Ranch located just northwest of the Pawhuska city limits. Encompassing close to fifteen thousand acres, Bird Creek includes a large owner’s house, barns, covered scales for weighing cattle and all the pens and corrals you could need. The ranch also offers10 miles of shoreline along Bluestem Lake, dozens of ponds and excellent hunting. On the back side of the property there are two other ranch houses for cowboys to stay in as well as more barns and corrals. Bird Creek Ranch is tract #1 in the sale.

#2 is the Little Chief Ranch over by Fairfax, Oklahoma. With over ten thousand acres, this ranch has everything required for a successful ranching operation. There is a good main house along with several others for cowboys to live in. Little Chief Ranch also has barns, corrals and all the other stuff you would need on a working ranch along with something special: grassland. Many in Osage County call this area the heart of the tallgrass prairie which is considered some of the finest grazing in the country. In addition, this ranch has good highway access and again, the hunting is superb.

Tract #3 is called the “Big Annie Farm” and this property is also located near Fairfax, about fifteen miles outside of town. The Big Annie is comprised of hundreds of acres of farmland along the Arkansas River bottom. Perfect for growing crops like alfalfa and soybeans, this tract also has a house and barns for storing equipment.

Tract #4 is not a large ranch but rather parcels of land in several towns. Lots in Pawhuska, Hulah and Bigheart Oklahoma consist of hundreds of pieces of land, some with blacktop access and others more remote.

Tract #5 is a big chunk of land near Walco, Oklahoma with no improvements. Tracts #6, 7 and 8 are also unimproved land, all close to Avant, Oklahoma.

Yes, on January 16th at the Osage County Fairgrounds, a county twice the size of Rhode Island will be hosting an auction of land that’s about as big as a state. But if you are thinking about buying some of this prime Oklahoma land you are about forty-five years late. This sale was held on January 16th all right but the year was 1973. I’ll have more on this piece of true Oklahoma history on another date.

Here’s a follow up to Monday’s heartbreaking game loss to Georgia. Yes, producer Mike Henry has confirmed that Coach Barry Switzer and Thomas Lott will be doing the Coach’s Cabana again next year. I’ll have more on this fun event next football season so till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….
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The Dead Man Switch Part 3

Welcome back. Merry Christmas to all and here’s hoping for a Happy New Year! After coming down with what the doctors told me was some sort of infection I learned that about 1/3 of the people in this part of the country have had it. I’ve been laid up for several days so maybe now would be a good time to remind you folks that the number one recommended way to stay safe from colds and flu is to use hand sanitizer which you can find just about everywhere you go nowadays. I’m on the mend but I can testify to the fact that you don’t want what I had.

Continuing from last week, although I’m still a little fuzzy from the medications I have been on and these events took place forty-seven years ago, over the last few weeks I’ve had time to recall the Christmas tale from a time long ago in my life that I only remember as “the dead man switch”. It was Christmas week and all the mansion’s Christmas lights were up and on. It had taken the grounds keepers several weeks to hang them all and meanwhile I still hadn’t heard if maybe I would get the day off. There was some kind of Christmas Eve dinner being planned for the twenty-five or so staff members but it looked like for Diana and me it would be work as usual on Christmas.

Diana was stone cold dedicated to the two triplet boys I’d met and nothing interfered with work, not birthdays, weddings or Christmas. She worked seven days a week and as for me it had been twenty-two days straight when Christmas Eve came around and I asked about time off. Diana was flying in on the company plane from New York with the two brothers. My job was to pick them up at the airport and take them wherever they wanted. While I was waiting for the plane which was something of a regular thing, I picked up a newspaper to read. It was then that I remembered where I’d seen the two brothers’ faces but it wasn’t them it was the third brother who was written about in the papers every year.

The third brother was credited with saving the lives of several hundred people on a special train ride into the mountains on Christmas Eve forty years earlier. I got so caught reading about the near disaster I didn’t notice the plane come in and leave again nor did I notice Diana walk right up behind me. In a rare display of emotion she sat down beside me and told me the part of the story that was left out of the papers. As young men the triplets had all been different. The fancy dresser I had met had loved the book work involved with running a company while the first one was a builder. He enjoyed the whole process from the first shovel of dirt to putting the roof on. The third brother planned to be the engineer in the outfit. He also was fascinated by trains and the way they operated and it was a train accident she tearfully told me that killed him. Diana confessed that they had planned to be married later on that same train but he had been riding up front with the engineer in the locomotive when they saw another train speeding right towards them.

By this time in the story Diana was crying so hard that all I could get out of her was that the third brother had pulled what every train engine has, a “dead man switch” which stopped the train in its tracks. Unfortunately it wasn’t fast enough for the brother and the engineer who were both killed but the pair was given credit saving the lives of everyone else on both trains.
Brokenhearted, since that day forty years ago, Diana and the other two brothers had thrown themselves into their work. She said there were no days off, no vacations, just work and then she said she didn’t think I needed the money that badly. She was right and I gave her my notice one year later on a snowy New Year’s Day I left their employment but I’ll never forget the job or the story of the dead man switch.

Have a Happy New Year and till next time I’ll see ya down the road…..

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