Monday, September 26, 2011


Located just east of Roosevelt are the remains of the community of Cooperton, Oklahoma.  Planned by Confederate Officer George Cooper,  the town grew to almost 200 residents when the land was first opened for settlement.    Today some geologists believe that the town site sits atop the the line that delineates the very edge of North America's ancient Ice Age.  Parallel lines cut into the earth's surface in the area, combined with deforested hills on one side of Cooperton's valley and the heavily forested Wichita mountains on the other side are thought to be evidence of receding ice masses in prehistoric times.   In addition, during the 1960s a local resident found the fossilized skeletal remains of a prehistoric mammoth at the Cooperton Mammoth site.

A different "Longhorn" -  the Mammoth

But the dream of developing the town of Cooperton has now virtually "died."  The population has declined to a total of merely 18 residents (as of 2009), and it is sometimes listed as one of the state's "ghost towns".   A website dedicated to documenting many abandoned places in the state of Oklahoma  ( has preserved  some haunting images of  dreams that have been lost in Cooperton, shown below.

The remains of a Cooperton farm:

 The Cooperton town Bank office:
The Bank in Cooperton

And, an empty farm house:

Abandoned Home 

But the area around Cooperton was not only on the edge of the prehistoric Ice Age, it also sat near the edge of the site of a notorious camping site where Kiowa people would  gather fruit, fish and set out on Buffalo hunts.   It was near the place in Kiowa County where  Rainy Mountain Creek joins the Washita River.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Odd Stuff

Because I live far away I am taking this trip on Oklahoma's Highway 183 via the internet.  I sometimes resort to the maps at or to get down to the street level and look around.  While doing this in the town of Roosevelt I came upon what appears to be an abandoned building that caught my eye:
Although it sits right on Highway 183 - the main route through town - this building, like many others located in the small towns of the area, shows all the signs of neglect and desertion.  It has broken and boarded-up windows and doors and is framed by an empty sidewalk growing weeds from disuse.   This particular building, however, has something a little unusual:  the letters I O O F bricked into the facade.

This building, it turns out, must have been the Grand Lodge for the town's Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  I have heard of the Odd Fellows before but really knew very little about the organization.    I have learned that the North American IOOF,  founded in Baltimore, Maryland in the early 1800s, was based on the Oddfellows service organization established in England.  Some people believe the organization is rooted in the trade guilds of the Middle Ages: the Odd Fellows being an organization for the "odd" trades that didn't belong with the major trade groups.   The IOOF website, however,  says the name came from the "oddity" of the idea that a fraternal guild would form for the purpose of charitable activities toward those in need rather than in support of a specific trade or work skill.

The IOOF in America is a fraternal organization dedicated to service to others in need and to character development of its members.   It was the first major men's social organization the nation to also admit women (known as Daughters of Rebekah).  According to the IOOF website the organization is non-political and non-sectarian.  They say it is based on a belief in God and universal brotherhood, and supports a number of worthy causes in the United States, such as the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, the Rose Parade, and the Arthritis Foundation, among others.  They also make an annual pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Continuing on our drive south, we would have reached the town of Roosevelt, Oklahoma.  Although now only about 250 people live there, at the time we passed through the population would have totalled almost 700.   A town founder, Charley Hunter, had been one of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war.  
Rough Riders with Theodore Roosevelt on San Juan Hill 
 Originally called Parkersburg, the name was found to be a duplicate of a nearby town, so when the post office was established in 1901 Hunter offered the name "Roosevelt" in honor of his leader in the Rough Riders, Theodore Roosevelt .   Incredibly, the local farmers each donated 40 acres of their own land allotments to the townsite company to encourage development of the town center.  (I can't imagine people donating their own land to a company today).  

Roosevelt became a trading center for the local cotton farmers and a gin was soon built in town.    Cotton may have given way to other businesses, however, since now there are advertisements for "tourists" to spend their afternoons at a local winery (Windmill Winery) and, of course, ranchers continue to raise cattle on the local prairie lands.   I particulary enjoyed seeing a recent  advertisement by the local 4 Star Ranch for their longhorn "Buttermilk".   

Isn't she adorable?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More Schoolin'

 Prairie Schools

Schools were important to the early settlers in Oklahoma Territory.   In fact, establishing a school site was one of the first decisions each new community made when the land was opened up to claims or lotteries. School was held whereever a place could be found until a permanent schoolhouse was built.  C. Sharp, a settler from Tennessee remembered:  "We sent our children to school in a dugout;  they sat on benches made out of poles and held their slate and pencil in their hands. We had a three months' term of school."  

My great-grandfather was John Bell Tracy.  (Born in Tennessee in 1859, it seems to me he was most likely named after the popular Tennessee politician that ran against Abraham Lincoln in the hotly contested Presidential election of 1860.)  He brought his family westward by covered wagon and established his life in present day Roger Mills county.   He worked as a school teacher in Oklahoma, as did his daughter, my grandmother, when she came of age.   

I recently found this picture of my great-grandfather with his students one year at their one-room school house :

It was interesting for me to find this picture after learning about the Babbs Switch schoolhouse fire.  This image looks so similar to me:   a one-room schoolhouse with heavy wire mesh attached to protect the windows from prairie winds and weather.    I can only imagine that this school building may have also had a single entry door that opened dangerously inward.  These were the features that were later condemned nationwide after the tragic Babbs Switch fire in December, 1924.  (See my post Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust on June 30th.)  I also find it interesting to look at the students, their prairie clothing styles and the clear disparity in their ages.  The little boy in the center front row is particularly interesting.   Because he is dressed in a peasant-style shirt,  he looks as if he might be from one of the many Russian families that immigrated to Oklahoma.  The girls' hair is also well styled.  It seems that wearing enormous bows in their hair was quite the fashion.   I wonder if these students stayed and built their lives in Oklahoma,  and if so, if  they survived the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl devastation that had such an impact on the people of that state.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Rainy Mountain Boarding School

Indian Schools

Beginning in the colonial era of the United States, people and religious groups attempted to assimilate  Native Americans into the white man's culture through schools and education.   The Indians themselves, particularly the Five Civilized Tribes, often valued education of their own members as a defensive measure to navigate successfully in the expanding white man's world.  (Thankfully, there were also groups that fought hard to maintain their native cultures).   Indian Schools became an important part of federal policy, particularly in Oklahoma where there were not only a large number of Indians that had been relocated there, but also many distinct  tribes.   There were specific stipulations put into treaties made with the Plains tribes relocated to Oklahoma in the 1860s.  These treaties required the federal government to build schools and provide teachers for at least 20 years.  

Rainy Mountain Indian School

The Kiowas participated in the treaty signed at Medicine Lodge Creek in 1867 where they gave up more than 60,000 square miles of hunting grounds in exchange for a 3 million acre reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.  They did not get their promised school, however, until 1893 (more than 25 years later) when the Rainy Mountain Indian School opened up.   There were typically two types of Indian schools: Day Schools, which were mostly operated by religious missions; and Boarding Schools, which were operated by both religious organizations and the government.  Rainy Mountain was a government boarding school for the Kiowas built on their reservation lands.   The school operated until 1920 when it  was closed down and abandoned.

Students at Rainy Mountain School: courtesy

Unlike some of the well known schools, such as Carlisle or Phoenix, where students were taken far away from their reservation lands, Rainy Mountain Boarding School was close by and therefore mostly had the support of the Kiowa people.   The federal goal for the Indian Schools was to assimilate Indian people into the white man's world by separating their children from  their native customs, their native language and their native families while giving them a rudimentary education and teaching them practical skills in the white man's ways.   Rainy Mountain, like most schools, had a very strict environment.    Boys and girls were kept almost totally separated.   Hair cuts were forced upon arrival (removing traditional long braids), uniforms were provided, new English names were assigned and the Kiowa language was strictly forbidden at all times.  

Students, interviewed long after their years at Rainy Mountain School, remember a strict, almost military style, regimen of chores half of each day combined with classroom experiences the remainder of each day.  The children were provided clothes to wear and food to eat and classroom time, but they were also expected to work hard around the school much of the time cooking, sewing, gardening, etc.   The students were punished severely if caught speaking in their native language.  They attended church services on Sundays and every other Saturday they walked to town as a group.  Clyde Ellis has written a book about the school: To Change Them Forever: Indian Education at the Rainy Mountain Boarding School, 1893-1920.   He takes the title from a quote of school's superintendent, "Our purpose is to change them forever."   While it did not make the Kiowas "white men", the  experience did change them, and left the Kiowas petitioning the government for better and fair access to schools and education long after the school was closed down in 1920.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rainy Mountain

It was Kiowa Land

Back in the car after our inspection of the Babbs Switch memorial site, my family would have continued on our drive south from Sentinel on Highway 183.    Looking east over the vast expanse of flat prairie and farm lands,  our eyes would have been drawn to the low rise from the earth's surface of Rainy Mountain.   With an elevation of just 1,540 feet it is hardly a "mountain" as compared to those in other regions of the western  U.S., but it is, nevertheless, a distinct landform for this area of southwestern Oklahoma. 

Rainy Mountain has been significant in the lives of  many Native Americans, particularly recent generations of the Kiowa nation.  According to, "Rainy Mountain is a powerful symbol to the Kiowa.  It symbolizes their sacred homeland, their final destination."   Kiowa ancestors migrated from their original home in western Montana to adopt a plains existence of hunting bison on horseback in the Dakota territory.   They later moved south to the central plains of the Kansas area.   Wars and treaties eventually relocated them to reservation lands near Rainy Mountain in Oklahoma Territory.  M. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa, has brought awareness of the mountain's significance to the rest of us in his much praised poetic book about the Kiowas, The Way to Rainy Mountain.   

Writing about  his trek to the top of Rainy Mountain, Tom Isern wrote :  

So the climbing of Rainy Mountain is not freighted with awesome religious consequence, as is, say, Devil’s Tower, or Uluru. Instead it is a matter of many smaller, stiller, personal significances.  The slopes, steep only near the top, are chert-littered and sparsely vegetated. Succulent and prickly things abound–yucca, hen-and-chicks, prickly pear–so watch where you sit. Watch where you step, too, for spaced here and there on the summit are little cairns and prayer circles of stone, markers of personal pilgrimage.  (   

He goes on to describe peering down the mountain slope to see the scattered ruins, foundations and walls of another school.

It was the Rainy Mountain Indian School.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Back from a Long Break

It has been quite a while since I have posted here.  My vacation was hard to give up this year, especially with our "baby girl" home from college.   So this blog took a 'back seat', if you will.

While on our trip to visit family this summer I was able to find some boxes of old family photos and memorabilia that I had not seen before.   I have been spending quite a bit of time going through the items lately, and find myself wishing my parents were still here to tell me the significance of the things I am looking at.

Until I can get back into the groove of posting I have decided to post a couple of the photos I have found that relate to my blog.  This photo, taken in 1899, stood out among the papers I was going through :

It is a picture of my Grandmother, (standing in the white dress),  and her family about a year after they traveled in a covered wagon from Tennessee to settle in Oklahoma Territory.  At this time their home may have still been an earthen dugout.  (See my post on June 15th, Dugout - No Diamond. )   Seeing this photo makes it even harder for me to imagine this group thriving under those circumstances.

This second photo is also particularly interesting to me:

It is an old newspaper clipping that shows my Grandmother's Uncle (her father's brother) and his children on their Oklahoma Territory claim near present day Cheyenne in the year 1898 - the year my Grandmother arrived.   You can make out their  dugout rooftops in the distance.  My Grandmother grew up on a nearby farm, so this picture helps me envision what her life may have been like while living "underground".