Monday, May 30, 2011

Burns Flat and the Military

Just north of Sentinel on Highway 44 is town of Burns Flat, Oklahoma. Established in 1929, it is one of the newer communities in Washita County, and took the latter half of its name from the extensive flat farmland in the area.  During World War II, the military saw the flat terrain as an advantage and created Naval Air Station Clinton in 1942.  They built temporary housing, hangars and four 6,000 foot runways to train naval aviators for war operations.  The Naval Air Station was shut down when the war ended and became a parking lot for old planes.

In 1954 the area was reopened as Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base.  A runway was extended to 13,500 feet, which made it one of the longest in the world (and was apparently one the places considered later as an alternate Space Shuttle landing site).

This shows the old runways and the extended 13,500 foot runway:


The base was expanded to train pilots and develop specialized aircraft in the  '50s.  B-52s and KC-135s conducted strategic bombardment training and air refueling maneuvers.   The base, however, was closed again in 1969.

Now the area is being promoted as the Oklahoma Spaceport.  The FAA has apparently given approval to the site as a launching port for future space tourism flights.  So "Go! Virgin Galactic" and good luck to all the other space tourism innovators out there!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


 This activity of blogging is going to be much harder for me than I anticipated.  I am not a writer.  I decided to get my degree in mathematics (a long time ago) in part because no term papers were required!   Anyway,   information on the town of Sentinel is proving hard to come by.  

So, in the meantime,  I followed the state road 55 west to the community of Retrop in the southwest corner of Washita County.   


Apparently the community was first settled in 1896.   A settler from Iowa, Ira J. Porter applied to have a post office established in town in his name.  The Postmaster General approved the application.  There was, however,  already a station named Porter over in Indian Territory.  So, in the interest of time, the Post Office Department reversed the spelling and sent back the approval for a post office named "Retrop".  The community kept the name and the post office operated there from 1900 to 1908.  There is apparently not much left in old Retrop today.  The community held on through the dust bowl years, but most folks moved on or to a newer community nearby.  

This is a picture of the old Retrop general store:


Now, in the farm land at the intersection of highway 55 and highway 6 there is a permanent reminder of the community set up on the roadside:  

The Retrop Marker:

                       "Dedicated to the pioneers who settled this community..."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Beginning

The Beginning...

Since I have finally decided to try my hand at blogging I thought it would be appropriate to start at the beginning - my beginning, of course.

Sentinel, Oklahoma

 I was born in the '50s in Sentinel,  a small town in rural Washita County, Oklahoma.   I was only about a year old when my family moved away, so I  have only vague memories of a later drive-through family visit to the town when I was in elementary school intermingled with a few memories and stories my parents repeated to my siblings and I as we were growing up.   I couldn't tell you what it looked like, but I remember driving by the house we had lived in and being told that the town's hospital where I was born had been closed down.   I also remember my parents remarking that the town was not the same and appeared to be dying.  They pointed to the town's red traffic light at the main intersection having been converted to flashing yellow as evidence of the town's demise.  

Although I only lived in the state about a year, I have always thought of Oklahoma as my home state, and have generally accepted its cultural heritage as my own.  I never learned the actual history of my birthplace, however, before now.

Washita County, Oklahoma

Washita County is comprised of about 1,000 square miles of rolling prairie land suitable for ranching and farming in western Oklahoma.  The land, originally open to wandering tribes of Native Americans  (most likely Comanche and Apache) was assigned to the Creek and Seminole peoples relocated to this area during the 1820s and 1830s with the creation of Indian Country.  They were replaced, however, when more than 5 thousand square miles of western Oklahoma was designated reservation land for the Cheyenne and Arapaho relocated from Colorado in 1869.    There was pressure from cattle ranchers for access to the land as well.  In fact, the route of the Great Western Cattle Trail where thousands of Texas Longhorns were driven through on their way to Dodge City, Kansas went through Washita County lands. 
Courtesy: E Taylor;
In 1892 the Cheyenne-Arapaho Territory was finally opened to non-Indian land runners for settlement.  (The first Oklahoma Territory land runs were opened in 1889).  Many ethnic groups settled in the county including a large number of  German Mennonites from Russia who created crimean wheat farming colonies primarily in the North Eastern quadrant.  Wheat, cotton and cattle continue to form the economic base of the county to this day.  For a brief time during and after World War II the military operated the Clinton-Sherman Air Station in Burns Flat.  

Sentinel, Oklahoma

My hometown covers only about .6 square miles on land in southwest Washita County.  It sits at the intersection of state highways 44 and 55.  As of the 2010 census there were 901 people living in Sentinel. 

In 1899 a Post Office was established as Sentinel, Oklahoma Territory.  (The town took its name from that of a nearby town's newspaper - the Herald-Sentinel!)  A couple of years later the town's location was selected as one of the townsites for the new railway route and was named Barton on the rail company paperwork.  After a local vote the name was officially designated Sentinel in 1907 and at the time of Oklahoma's statehood that same year the town listed 351 residents.  By 1910, when the train tracks for the Atcheson, Topeca & Santa Fe line were complete the population had more than doubled to 857 people.  In 1935 a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was built just west of town which boosted the population, however the number fell below 1,000 again by 1970.