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February 27, 2001

A few days ago, I wrote about an inquiry from a former Perry lady, Jo Wollard Garten, now of Ponca City. She is wondering if Will Little, the pioneer environmentalist who planted those beautiful elm trees in our courthouse park, also planted the attractive pine trees that once enhanced the grounds at Grace Hill Cemetery. I have no answer to that, except to say that he could have done so and it would not be unreasonable to assume that he did, given his record of accomplishments here in the early days. I was hoping that someone who knew about the pine trees would step forward with verification.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that we have reached a point in time far distant from the opening of the Cherokee Strip on September 16, 1893, when Mr. Little and others like him were laying the groundwork for future residents of this area. Those farsighted folks no longer receive the recognition they deserve. Their names are scarcely known to many of today’s Perry and Noble county residents. It seems to me that we are not doing enough to perpetuate and laud their contributions. Today’s young people are for the most part unaware of some things that happened to convert this bald prairie into a mirror of the civilization that many of those hardy pioneers left behind when they came here. That’s a shame.

Before the great land run, the U.S. government reserved a five-acre tract in the downtown Perry area and called it Central Park. The site was distinguished by a treeless buffalo wallow on the east front. A one-story frame building was placed in the park to serve as a land office, where settlers could register their claims. The Strip had been plagued by a drought and the summer air on the day of the run was clogged with swirling red dust kicked up by a frenzy of men, horses and carriages. In the years that followed, the park also became the location of the Perry post office, the Noble county courthouse and the Carnegie Library, and it became a thing of beauty.

But in the meantime, the so-called park in the heart of Perry was, in a word, a mess. Spring rains turned it into a virtual bog, and then seasonal gusts of hot Oklahoma wind filled the air with more red dirt. This went on until a crop of alfalfa was planted to hold the soil. The alfalfa was harvested before it managed to overrun the land office and post office. All of this challenged Mr. Little to devise a solution and take appropriate action. He planted hundreds of elm saplings in the park and they in time became noble shade trees. The original park bore no resemblance to the lovely green, restful oasis we see today, but Mr. Little and those who worked with him could envision the possibilities. Other urgent priorities, however, took precedence over its development. Still Mr. Little was restless to start something in the way of improvement.

According to material published in 1931 by the late historian, attorney and newspaper editor, E.W. Jones, Mr. Little was challenged by the wind-swept “park” that he beheld in those early years. How he approached the problem and the solution he offered will be the subjects of a future Northwest Corner.