March 6, 2001
I never had the privilege of meeting Will T. Little, the gentleman who first planted elm trees in our much-admired courthouse park, but I have heard stories about his environmentalist interests all my life. He was a dreamer. When he staked a claim in the Black Bear district at the opening of the Cherokee Strip on September 16, 1893, he saw nothing but a bald prairie and that distressed him, for he loved trees. His response was to plant elm saplings and other trees, hundreds of them, in public areas throughout Perry and Noble county. He did not wait for someone else to tackle the problem. Like most of the pioneering, resolute men and women of that era, he devised a solution and carried it out. Today we enjoy and largely take for granted the fruit of their endeavors. Mr. Little must have been an interesting man with diverse talents. Wish I had known him.
Elizabeth Treeman Willems, whose family has deep pioneer roots in Perry, shares my enthusiasm for the accomplishments credited to Mr. Little. She and I both remember the lady who became his widow, Maude Little Long. Mrs. Long lived in my neighborhood on Elm street for several years. Elizabeth also knew her daughter, Sallie, who married Dr. Joseph Brandt, a scholar who became president of the University of Oklahoma. But that’s another story.
Mrs. Long took great pride in telling friends about Mr. Little’s avid interest in the environment. You have undoubtedly heard that he planted those saplings in the desolate five-acre area that had been designated before the run as “Government Park.” When settlers were permitted to make the run into the Cherokee Strip, the five-acre tract was occupied by squatters who had been misled and did not know that it was a public reservation, so deemed by the U.S. government. According to the editor and Perry historian, E.W. Jones, who came here in those early days, hundreds of businessmen located on the four sides facing the streets and for a month thereafter until they were driven off by armed troops. The angry settlers thought they were locating in the heart of the new tented city’s commercial district. But, that also is another story. It is one of many interesting twists and turns in the genesis of this community
For at least a year after the opening the square (which actually is not square, but oblong) remained windswept and dusty. The only buildings in the public reserve were a small frame Perry post office on the northwest corner and the land office nearby, where claims were registered. In the spring of 1895, the ground was plowed and alfalfa was planted to avoid further erosion and to keep down the suffocating cloud of dust and sand. In 1896, Mr. Little presented his plans to the Perry city council.
The next step forward came on September 19, 1898. This is how it is recorded in the official minutes book of the city council: “Will T. Little was present and addressed the council on the matter of planting trees in the seven parks of the city. On motion, Mayor Wade appointed committeemen Faulds, Larsh, Ellis and Beaulan to confer with Mr. Little in regard to the matter.” This next part does not relate to the trees but is interesting historically. The minutes reported: “On motion, a phone was ordered in the Mayor’s office on the north side of the square. Mr. Cooper addressed the council on the matter of an arc light at the corner of D and 8th streets.” No action was reported as the meeting adjourned. We’ll have more on this topic very soon. Stay tuned.