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September 15, 1998

This special little portion of north-central Oklahoma is celebrating its 105th birthday this week and that's a good enough excuse to pause for a reflective backward look at how we made it this far and perhaps a little speculation on what the future is likely to bring for Perry and Noble county. When the dust settled after the spectacular Cherokee Strip run of September 16, 1893, this particular patch of the prairie was swarming with humanity and Perry's prospects looked bright indeed. Newspapers of the day called this "The queen city of the Cherokee Strip." That label still is appropriate. Some 40,000 people made this area their target in the run and spent the first night after the opening camped out on the drought-stricken land making up Noble county. Not all of them stayed long enough to carve out a future here, but those who did were a unique breed.

Life was cruel for those early settlers, desperately so. Hardships were commonplace, the rule, not the exception. They knew beforehand that they would have to battle primitive living conditions on the frontier, and that included evil men who schemed to take what little they had from them. Their mettle was tested over and over by extremes in the weather and deprivations of many kinds. Those "free" homesteads came with a steep price.

Many of them left soon after the opening, convinced that this was not going to be the life for them. They were not necessarily weaker than those who remained, but other horizons beckoned for a variety of reasons. Perhaps in their exodus they cursed the tides of fortune that first brought them here and then quickly persuaded them to move on. But those who stayed behind and persisted in the battle left a proud legacy of much more than just a piece of real estate. Each of them must have been born with character genes that endowed them with exceptional tenacity and gave them the strength to clasp misfortune to their breast so tightly that it squeezed out the bad and left only a residue of goodness. They were the pioneers of the Perry and Noble county community who made it possible for the rest of us to live in a truly blessed land. Through the years, others of kindred spirit have followed them. Thank God for every one of them.

In the century that followed the run, the Perry area has established a stable base of population. Census figures show mostly minor adjustments through the years but a bar graph would be close to a flat line. Leaders in every area of community life have risen up with successive generations because men and women have taken their responsibilities seriously and have done what had to be done when challenges and opportunities faced them. I think they were the true heirs of the hardy pioneers who settled the Cherokee Strip. They were positive people who loved this land enough to take risks, to stand up against overwhelming odds. They looked after each other. If misfortune befell a neighbor, help was forthcoming from near and far. That's still the way things are done in this part of the country.

Perry will continue to deal with perplexing problems in the future but the strength of character willed to us by those early-day settlers, and those who succeeded them, will provide the endurance we need while looking for the answers. Human nature being what it is, there will always be stumbling blocks along the path. Thanks to those brave people who survived the great run of 1893 and to the generations that followed, our community will continue to thrive here on the prairie. Our task today is to keep those "Hopes and Dreams" alive while looking confidently into the future. We owe that to those daring predecessors who led the way for us. We are the beneficiaries of their bold risktaking in 1893 and beyond. We are the remnants of that hardy, independent band of mostly youthful homesteaders who braved the elements and the unknown. Now we are creating a legacy for our own children and all those who come after us. Let's make them proud, just as we are proud of those long-ago pioneers of the Cherokee Strip land opening on that historic September afternoon in 1893.