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February 22, 2002

Among the biggest casualties in that recent ice storm were many of the beautiful old trees that graced Perry residential lawns and public places, including the courthouse park. Weighted down by the heavy sheath of ice deposited on them by a vicious winter blast, entire trees and large limbs were broken off, leaving ugly, rough stumps where graceful, leafy branches once grew. Professional tree trimmers did what they could, but, sadly, a lot of their patients were lost. Most were converted to firewood or mulch for spring planting.

The older trees were survivors of other storms, including straight and tornadic winds, along with an array of chewing insects and damaging disease blights, but they were no match for Mother Natureís wintry knockout punch. Those graceful old trees were our friends through the years. Some of them may have dated back to the Cherokee Strip run era, in 1893, but it is more likely that they were planted somewhat later by early-day settlers who disliked the naked prairie of this otherwise lovely land.

Will T. Little is the name most commonly associated with the planting of trees throughout Noble county in the first decade after the Cherokee Strip land run of September 16, 1893. He homesteaded a quarter-section at the time of the run, but in 1896 he planted 8,000 seedling white elm sprouts in the courthouse park. At the time, that five-acre tract was known as Central Park. It was usually covered by a haze of red dust, except for the times when alfalfa was planted there in a futile effort to reduce the swirling dirt cloud. Mr. Little was a newspaperman, a nature lover and an ecologist.

The courthouse park in 1896 was a desolate and barren piece of real estate, a buffalo wallow before the run, until Mr. Little received permission of county commissioners to plant the seedlings. As they matured, he was allowed to thin out the rows and move some of the saplings to parks and school grounds in Perry and elsewhere around the county. Thus, a large part of the treeless, virgin land of this area acquired windbreaks and graceful sentinels that enhanced the landscape for many years. Then came the ice storm of 2002. By then, many of Mr. Littleís trees already were gone, but others have contributed to the growth and variety of trees in this area.

One whose name comes quickly to mind is the late Dr. F.C. Seids. He was a pioneer Perry dentist and a tree lover in his own right. A portion of his personal recollections can be found in Robert Cunninghamís Perry, Pride of the Prairie, a history of this community. The book is now out of print but many local people have copies. Dr. Seids had a great interest in pecan trees and recommended grafting to improve the quality of pecans produced in this area. Dr. Seids was a man of many interests. For one thing, he was a flower lover. The backyard of his home on the southeast corner of Eighth and Ivanhoe was a wonderland of blooming irises and each year he invited the public to tour his garden any time at their convenience. His fascination with pecan trees and grafting eventually led him to file as a candidate for the Oklahoma house of representatives in the 1940s. He won the race, defeating Henry Bellmon of Billings, a Republican, who of course went on to serve two terms as governor of Oklahoma and two terms as a U.S. senator from this state. Dr. Seids, a Democrat, had some issues he wanted to resolve and believed that he could best attack them by serving in the legislature. Mr. Bellmon was the first Republcan governor of this state. Both men were members of the Perry First Presbyterian church.

Many pecan trees were seriously damaged or destroyed in this winterís historic ice storm, and with their loss we say goodbye to visual links to an early era in Perry and Noble county. Itís also a reminder of how much those early residents cared for the new land where they had taken up residence. Now, the rest of us have an opportunity to do something by replanting ornamental shade trees, or perhaps just picking up the trash and removing junk from our yards. Future generations will be grateful.