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September 19, 1997

Dennis Flynn was one of the authentic heroes of the Cherokee Strip. Not for his derring-do in the run itself, but for his achievements in the U.S. Congress before Oklahoma was granted statehood in 1907. His accomplishments as a territorial delegate to Congress earned him the everlasting love and adulation of the men and women who made the run on September 16th, 1893, and gave them something to celebrate for years after the run. Yet today many folks know virtually nothing of the man who led the crusade in Congress for "free homes" in the land that made up the fabled Cherokee Outlet. Have you heard of him? Are you aware that Perry's Flynn Street is named in his honor?

You won't find information about him in the major encyclopedias because what he accomplished was focused primarily on a rather narrow segment of the U.S. population in the late nineteenth century. Still, there is a way we can learn about him today. Check Oklahoma history books at the Carnegie Library and our own Cherokee Strip Museum out on West Fir Avenue. Thanks to the late Gladys Swearingen, a Morrison-born author, the museum has in its files considerable interesting data about Dennis T. Flynn. Ms. Swearingen's parents were Charles and Eve Swearingen, pioneer settlers in the Morrison community.

Before Oklahoma became a state, it was Oklahoma Territory. As such, the members of its delegation in the lower house of Congress were called "delegates," not representatives. Mr. Flynn was first elected a delegate in 1892 and began serving in 1893. He remained in office through four terms, until 1902, and could have served longer but declined to run again. Ms. Swearingen wrote: "He it was who introduced the Free Homes Bill which provided the granting of the Indian reservation lands free to settlers. He continued to work for congressional approval until final victory." As a result, residents of this area were relieved of an indebtedness estimated at $15 million. No wonder his efforts were so wildly acclaimed.

Sources for Ms. Swearingen's thesis, which was presented to the museum here in 1976, included many of the early-day newspapers of this area. Among them were the Noble County Sentinel, the Perry Enterprise Times and the Perry Republican. In the rich, colorful language of the day, these papers told the story of Mr. Flynn's struggle to gain approval of his bill in, first, the House of Representatives, and then looking on while the U.S. Senate debated the measure. On January 14, 1897, he sent a telegram to the Perry Enterprise Times: "Free Homes bill passed Senate by twenty-four majority (35 to 11)."

"Like a prairie fire the news spread," Ms. Swearingen wrote. "Wild excitement prevailed in Perry. Shouts of joy, reports of hundreds of firearms from every part of the city and screams of steam whistles of the various factories gave expression of the gladness of our people." The front page of that day's Perry newspaper proclaimed in blazoning red type in triple headlines: "Flynn Triumphant, "Shadow of Hovering Defeat Dispelled by Sunlight of Victory," and "Free Homes," followed by articles of jubilation.

Lack of space precludes more of this story here, but I recommend that you look at the whole piece at the museum and do even more research at the library. Among other things, you will learn that Mr. Flynn became vice president of the Noble County Bank, which later became the First National Bank (now the First Bank & Trust Co.). In 1902, Mr. Flynn hired an architect named Joseph Foucart to design a two-story brick building for the bank. The building today is still standing at the southeast corner of the square and is known as "the Foucart building." All this is a vital part of the early story of Perry and the Cherokee Strip and you'll feel amply rewarded for taking the time to refresh your memory or getting to know the facts for the first time.