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September 9, 1997

When we speak of pioneers, most of us usually think of those strong, daring men who made the run and settled this area at the time of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet on September 16, 1893. We picture cowboys and dashing figures like the Irish immigrant (Tom Cruise) in the movie "Far and Away" or the romantics (Richard Nix/Glenn Ford) such as Yancey Cravat in Edna Ferber's novel "Cimarron." Or perhaps some others who were more familiar to early-day Perryans -- Orlando Walkling, James Lobsitz and Clement Tasmania Taliaferro. In so doing we deny the honor due to some who also staked homesteads in this area at the time of that historic mad dash for land. Many of them were women.

Yes, females were among those courageous thousands who lined up for the opening of this part of Oklahoma Terriotry, but our tendency is to think of them only, as the wives and daughters of the men who came here. Even the Pioneer Woman statue at Ponca City celebrates the fortitude of the frontier mothers, not necessarily those who made the run. It's time we correct that oversight and pay our respects to the women who rode into the Cherokee Strip on horseback or in wagons more than a century ago and planted a stake to mark their claim on 160 acres of choice farm land.

This is not to diminish the role played by any of the others who participated in the run. All of them merit our respect and admiration just for having been a participant in such a turbulent event. That required a special kind of character that few men or women possessed, then or now. But where on earth did a lone female figure in that late-Victorian era gather the resolve needed to risk everything for a chance to ride into history and carve a home out of the wilderness? Some of them were drawn to Perry and Noble county at the opening.

If you want to learn more about these women, pick up the latest issue of "The Chronicles of Oklahoma," the quarterly publication issued by the Oklahoma Historical Society. (It's actually the Spring 1997 edition, but they've had some printing problems so don't be surprised by that. It's still the latest edition.) The article, by Debbie Kindt Michalke, is "Unattached Outlet Women," and it is fascinating reading: The writer points out that single women took part in all the Oklahoma land runs but more were attracted to the Cherokee Outlet than to any other opening. Ms. Michalke focuses on Laura Crews, a school teacher, in her article, but also tells about the widowed mother of George A. Newton of Perry (her given name is not told, but she was a nurse here in the early days); and Three Sands school teacher Jennie Collier, whose two brothers both claimed land.

This interesting piece also discloses that of the 1,921 settlers, in Noble county, 188 were women. An accompanying map shows the number of men and women who settled in each Noble county township. Some homesteaders arrived after the run and filed on abandoned land. Among these were the widow Margaret E. Casebier Winkler in Rock township. Previous articles in this column have dealt with the fabled Bathsheba, supposedly an all-female community which started between Enid and Perry at the time of the run. The Chronicles piece does not mention that place by name but it does tell about a group of 14 women who pooled their money and offered memberships to a townsite. Two hundred men paid their way to join. One thousand members were needed, but the final outcome of this project is not disclosed.

The Noble County Genealogical Society's "History of Noble County" provided a reference source for Ms. Michalke's article, and of course it contains many individual family histories of those men -- and women -- who helped to create a friendly environment in this prairie community. As we salute our pioneer heritage this month, let's be sure to remember ALL of them!