September 16, 1995
Today our city celebrates its 102nd birthday. It seems only yesterday when all of us were working so hard to get ready for the Centennial observance, way back there in 1993. Now we're rolling into the 21st century with all its promise of breathtaking new ideas and things to give us a better life. It seems inevitable that you and I will have to give in someday and install a modem, computer update and Windows 95 software, plus whatever else it takes to send and receive information in that bright new era of electronic technology just ahead of us
But, since this is the 16th of September, the actual date of that historic run in 1893 when the Cherokee Outlet was opened to non-Indian settlers, I want to reflect back on that event and the folks who made it possible, in one way or another, for all of us to be here today.
The run has been romanticized many times in literature, the theater, in the movies and other media, but somehow I feel that the definitive story has not yet been told. Perhaps it never will. I gave it my best shot a few years ago with my book, " The First Generation", but despite months of research, dozens of interviews and reviewing hundreds of historic photos, I never had any illusions that my efforts were the last word. Authentic, yes, and accurate as far as I could ascertain. But I knew then, as I know now, the story of that event was so sweeping, so epic, that it scarcely could be conveyed on the printed page. The experience merely whetted my appetite for learning as much as possible about that period of our country's development.
Today there are no survivors of the run who were adults in 1893, and it was from them that we learned much of what we know about that era. It was passed along to us by word of mouth, from one generation to the next. Now all of those who made the run are gone. We can only hope that what we have heard since then is correct, for certainly it was a story unlike anything that ever happened anywhere else in the world, before that time or since.
Two years ago director Ron Howard gave us a first-class movie version, "Far and Away," starring the film idol Tom Cruise. It came out just in time for the Centennial observance of the land run, and it was nice to look at but deficient in many ways. Events and locations were lumped together with dramatic license with the result that thousands who saw the movie came away with a slightly skewed version of the run. Ask a visitor to this area today what he/she knows about the event and you are not likely to receive a lucid response. Even many of us who have lived here all our lives are unclear on many significant points concerning the historic day.
Several years ago Edna Ferber wrote an epic novel, "Cimarron, a sweeping story which has twice been made into a movie. The first version starred granite jawed Richard Dix in the leading role, a newspaperman and adventurer named Yancey Cravatt, and it was distributed when I was a callow youth. The remake, following years later, starred Glenn Ford in the lead role, and although it was in color I thought it lacked some of the original's dramatic impact. I have both of them on tape and I will compare them again one of these days. Most of the action in Ferber's novel took place in a mythical Oklahoma town which was settled in a land run, and it was a lot like Perry, or Guthrie, or any of the other Oklahoma towns settled by land runs. It was a generic telling of the tale.
A few years ago, Jeff Denton, now of Ponca City, wrote the script for a melodrama, `The Saga of the Sweaty Stallion," which was performed by Stagecoach Community Theatre. It was based on a true incident from the time of the Strip opening right here in Noble county. Although farcical, it dealt with a slice-of-life incident that helps acquaint us with the temper of those times.
Little first-hand information is available to help us understand the many perspectives of that age -- the cattle barons who grazed their herds here en route to northern markets, the Indians who had been promised the land earlier, the flotsam and jetsam of humanity who came here hungry for a homestead, along with the upright and eager men and their brave women and children who looked undaunted to the Cherokee Strip in hopes of making a little home on the prairie. What a great mixture of people and circumstances! What marvelous possibilities for a story of almost boundless plot lines!
Truly it is a shame that we do not have a time machine with the capability of transporting us back to that hot, drought-plagued summer of 1893, when the U.S. was battling a depression and searching for ever more space to house its mushrooming population. If the electronic revolution continues, perhaps someday we will be able to do just that. What questions would you ask of the principal players if you could meet them?
We may never have the answers to questions such as these, but we can get the sense of the level of determination achieved by those heroic pioneers as we gaze at what has been accomplished here in just over 100 years. The bald prairie has been converted into a veritable oasis, when it rains, and a modicum of civilization has been brought to a formerly wild land. All of that which has been done is not necessarily good, but laying a judgment of that aside, it is clear that a mighty transformation has taken place through a process of selfless dedication by a largely God-fearing people, and it is a story of such great dimensions that our finite minds may never be able to comprehend it.