Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stealing Tracks and Trees

While taking this trip on the internet I have been reminded how pivotal the railroads were in the development of many parts of the western U.S.   Being selected as a station location gave a town key economic advantages.  Mountain Park, the community my family would have entered next on our trip down U.S. Highway 183,  provides an example of this influence of the rail lines.   The town, which has a population of just over 400 people now, started out as a trading post for the cowboys and Indians in the area.

At the turn of the century Oklahoma City & Western Railroad made plans to bring their track through Mountain Park.   They were building the Oklahoma portion of the rail line that would go from Oklahoma City to Quanah, Texas.    A resident, Sol Bracken, was offered a deal for his property.  The OC&WR offered to pay him $6,000 for the rights to a portion of his land in Mountain Park.   They had envisioned constructing a depot in this spot.  There were already 48 businesses operating in the town which would help make the depot profitable right away.   Mr Bracken, unfortunately, saw an opportunity for himself to profit, and decided to hold out for more money for his strip of land.  The Railroad didn't hesitate.  They  immediately changed their plans and and decided to bypass Mountain Park altogether.   Instead, they moved the track line a few miles south of Mountain Park and then built their depot in the nearby community of Snyder.

Snyder Train Depot

It is clear Mr. Bracken's greed was not very popular in town: all but 7 of the businesses packed up, left town and moved their operations to Snyder instead.  The first business to set up in the new town was a saloon.  According to E. Taylor (rebelcherokee.labdiva.com) the people of Mountain Park became so upset at the mass migration they actually burned the bridge that was on the road to Snyder.   

Although the town of Snyder flourished, its early fortune was not all positive.   Businesses boomed and the population grew, but in 1905 the town was hit by a devastating tornado.    Newspapers reported that 113 people were killed by the twister.  Additionally, about a year later Snyder was razed again by the first of two massive fires that attacked the town.  Businesses in town were rebuilt with fire-resistant brick after the 1909 fire.

Mr. D. Thomas homesteaded on land west of Mountain Park and Snyder.  His interview in the University of Oklahoma's Western History Collections (#4479) tells of the handicaps and hardships he and his fellow homesteaders encountered at the turn of the century due to the scarcity of fuel.   Because wood was so hard to find he confessed he would steal it from the Indians.   "Practically every pioneer has been guilty of stealing wood at one time or another whether he is willing to admit it or not," he said.   He went on to describe something he had posted in a newspaper years later: "I made certain remarks about certain rabbit eating, wood stealing pioneers and their early day escapades..." He continued, "I was surprised when the phone rang and an old lady informed me that she had just read the article and was offended at the remarks concerning her husband.  She screamed, "What will our children think when they read that we used to steal wood?  The trouble is that it's---it's so!"  He went on to reflect, "How else could this country have been settled up?"

H.F. Farny:  Toilers of the plains


Rob From Amersfoort said...

A few months ago I barely knew where Oklahoma was located, and now I’m learning a lot about this part of the US! I googled Mountain Park and Snyder, it appears that Snyder was established by the president of the railroad (in 1902) after the dispute with Mountain Park. The town was named for Bryan Snyder, a railroad official.

mary said...

Rob, I am learning a lot about the area as well! Some day I hope to go back and visit to see it for myself.

Joanna Jenkins said...

What an interesting post. I learned something new-- And I'm not all that surprised that at such a difficult time things were stolen to rebuild.
Cheers, jj

Nate Maas said...

Mary, thanks for another great post. You're one of my best sources for OK history!