September 26, 1995
Don Brengle retired from the Air Force a few years ago and decided to move back to Perry. Before returning to his roots here, he lived in Dover, Delaware, and one of his friends from that period was Jim Schmidt, an editorial employee of the Dover Post newspaper, who himself is now a retiree. Jim spent a few days here with Don this summer and got acquainted with Perry. He now writes a column for the Post (imagine someone doing that), and he used his visit here as the basis for a recent offering in the Post. Don shared it with me and I thought you might be interested in some observations of a first-time Perry visitor. Here's what he had to say, leading off with a "PERRY, Okla." dateline:
"I have now seen in real life that big white courthouse that was seen around the world when Timothy McVeigh, the first suspect in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, was ushered down its steps surrounded by a host of federal lawmen.
"That picture of McVeigh, dressed in orange prison overalls, was all the TV networks had to show for many days, and it was probably shown thousands of times.
"But I really didn't come to Perry to see its famous courthouse. I came for a brief visit with my friend Don Brengle, a retired Air Force man who was a resident of the Dover area for a number of years. Don is a native of Perry and he moved 'back home' a couple of years ago.
"We found Don enjoying a relaxed retirement in a neat bungalow-style house that was built by his grandfather in 1915. His book jammed living room made it obvious what he spends lots of his time doing. He also confided that he has taken a passing interest in local political affairs, which could mean that Perry politics may never be the same again.
"In Delaware, Don always downgraded his hometown, jokingly referring to it as 'two stores and cotton gin,' or maybe just 'a wide place in the road between Oklahoma City and Topeka, Kansas.' Actually, it is neither of those.
"Guided by Don, who is well grounded in local history, we made a quick tour of a small city of 5,000 that struck me as being a place where a lot of ordinary folks enjoy life. The town also has a fascinating background.
"It is in the Cherokee Strip, which is a huge expanse of land which honest Uncle Sam once promised by formal treaty would always belong to the Indian tribes which had been driven across the country by white settlers. The government reneged on its promise under pressure of settlers who wanted free land.
"That resulted in the famous 'land rush' that has been often depicted in motion pictures and works of Western art. Thousands of would-be settlers lined up on the border of the area and were turned loose in a mad rush to claim land in August 1893. (Note: Mr. Schmidt made a slip here; the month was September.)
"We visited the Cherokee Strip Museum where Don showed me his grandfather's name which was written on the section of the land he claimed.
"It was true, as Don has recounted, that some early settlers raised cotton and there was a cotton gin in Perry. But such things as growing cotton were shoved aside in the 1920s when oil was discovered under much of the area -- oil that was a bare 300 to 400 feet underground.
"Perry became a boom town, and its population rose to more than 20,000. (Note: That inflated figure is simply the result of a misunderstanding; we were only close to being that big on the first night after the run.) In the museum was a picture of a veritable forest of oil derricks just north of town.
"Today the oil boom is gone although there are still some active wells in the area. Cattle ranching has become a bigger and more lucrative business.
"We lunched at a restaurant called the 'Shady Lady' which was an incongruous name for a family-type place that served no alcohol and was closed on Sundays. It just served good food which, I guess is what I should have expected in a town which seemed to have a plethora of churches.
"The Old West ain't as wild as it used to be."
I didn't get to meet Mr. Schmidt during his brief stay here, but I thank him for his kind words about our city. As you see, we have had more than our 15 minutes of fame because of Trooper Charlie Hanger's arrest of Timothy McVeigh last April. I'm certainly glad the arrest was made, but I hope that someday in the future folks will remember us for a more positive reason.