The Travel Oklahoma series runs the first Wednesday of each
month in the Today section. Topics range from quick jaunts
to longer journeys, from easy-to-reach places to the real
back roads. Oklahoma's scenery and history are rich, and
we invite you to sample them.
The Cherokee Outlet is among the strongest and most colorful
threads in Oklahoma's history fabric.
But we seldom call it by its correct name. It usually is
termed the Cherokee Strip, which was a different bit of
real estate. Even state museums in the Outlet area are more
likely to be called "Cherokee Strip."
When the Cherokee Indians were relocated to what is now
Oklahoma in the 1800s, they were given the northeastern
corner of the state as a homeland.
To provide them extra hunting room, especially access to
the great buffalo herds of the prairie, the government added
the Outlet, some seven million acres.
It extended 58 miles south from the Kansas border and more
than 200 miles east-west. The southern border went west
from a point on the 96th degree of longitude just northwest
of present-day Tulsa's downtown to the 100th degree, where
Oklahoma meets the Texas Panhandle.
The Cherokee Strip, just 2 1/2 miles deep from the Missouri
border to the 100th degree, was held in trust for the tribe.
Some say its origin came from disagreements over survey
The Cherokees eventually sold it to the U.S. government,
which ceded it to Kansas to form that state's southern boundary.
But the Outlet remained a key player in Oklahoma's story.
The eastern end ultimately was sold to the Osages. Today
the Osage Nation also is Osage County, Oklahoma's largest.
Much smaller areas were sold to the Kaws, Pawnees, Poncas,
Otoes and Missouris and to the Nez Perces. When the latter
returned to their Idaho roots, they sold their tract to
The much larger western portion of the Outlet long had drawn
the attention of cattlemen. It was crossed by trails over
which Texas longhorns were driven to Kansas railheads.
Lands leased for grazing
Eventually ranchers formed the Cherokee Strip Livestock
Association and leased the Cherokees' lands for grazing.
The price: $100,000 a year initially, later $200,000.
But there were far more would-be settlers than cattlemen.
They demanded the Cherokee lands be bought from the tribe
and opened to homesteading.
Some accounts say the lands were surplus to the tribe. Others
say the Cherokees were forced to sell as punishment because
some tribesmen supported the Confederacy during the Civil
Whatever, in 1891 the Cherokees sold the majority of the
old Outlet to the government for more than $8.5 million.
On Sept. 16, 1893, the greatest of the five Oklahoma land
runs took place as at least 100,000 persons dashed into
northern Oklahoma in search of 40,000 claims. Cities such
as Enid, Perry, Ponca City, Blackwell, Alva and Woodward
grew from this run.
Conditions must have been chaotic. E.W. Jones, writing about
a place called Hell's Half Acre in his "Early Day History
of Perry," said:
"Could there ever again be such a mass incongruous, heterogeneous
and conglomerate humanity gathered together as there was
in that block?"
Rainfall patterns known
Someone knew Oklahoma's rainfall patterns when prices for
land were established. Settlers had to pay only $1 an acre
in the more arid lands west of 98 1/2 degrees, $2.50 in the
moister area east of 97 1/2 and $1.50 within the middle degree
Oklahoma has 77 counties. Eleven rest entirely within the
area of the old Outlet - Harper, Woodward, Woods, Major,
Alfalfa, Grant, Garfield, Kay, Noble, Pawnee and Osage -
plus the north half of Ellis and a bit of Payne.
Counties in those days often were given only a letter name.
One - K - retained it, but changed the spelling to Kay.
The old Cherokee Outlet, running from Tulsa's doorstep to
the High Plains and the Panhandle, has much to show the
visitor. And it has museums to tell its history and that
of the pioneers who populated it.
Four Cherokee Outlet museums - all free - can be visited
on an easy loop from Tulsa or while traveling to New Mexico,
Colorado or Kansas.
Museum of the Cherokee Strip
507 S. 4th St.
(on Owen Garriott, Oklahoma 15)
Open Tue.-Fri. 9-5, Sat.-Sun. 2-5.
Closed Mondays and holidays.
Information on cattle holdings and trails through the Outlet
and how land was opened to settlers.
Toys, clothing of pioneer days, including Wild West show
Displays showing kitchen, parlor and bedroom of 1895 and
1905 periods, with good collection of furnishings and "modern
Information on the railroad war, where Rock Island tracks
were dynamited and trestles destroyed in fights over location
of railroad depots so vital to towns.
Special display on astronaut Owen K. Garriott, who flew
in the Skylab program and is an Enid native.
Immediately behind the main museum is a building with a
good collection of farm implements, from scythes to ox yokes,
wooden thresher to blacksmith and carpentry tools. A 1926
Model T Ford and old glass-sided gasoline pump are other
highlights. Some venerable farm equipment is on the adjacent
Cherokee Strip Museum
1/4-mile east of I-35 on West First
Open Tue.-Fri. 9-5, Sat.-Sun. 2-5.
Closed Mondays and holidays.
Good display of how Cherokees moved west and map of the
Pictures of land run, of homesteaders and early Perry and
a map showing the towns - still existing or long gone -
of Noble County.
Former Gov. Henry S. Johnston's law office in Perry, including
his ornate chair and early-day maps.
Memorabilia of Gov. Henry Bellmon's days as governor and
senator from Oklahoma. Both Johnston and Bellmon come from
Clothing displays and an old doctor's office.
In back of the museum are a deer pen, a well-labeled selection
of farm implements, including a buggy and wagon, old Kaw
City jail cells and various equipment.
Of special note is the Rose Hill school, most of it dating
to 1895. Moved from a country location several miles from
Perry, it has been at the museum since 1971. It is used
Tuesdays through Fridays during the school term as a working
museum for modern-day fourth-graders, who visit it for classes,
sit at its aged desks and write their lessons on slate.
Cherokee Outlet Museum
303 S. Main
Open 1-5 Mon.-Sat.
Closed Sundays and holidays.
This museum, run by the Top of Oklahoma Historical Society,
is less structured than the other museums, which are run
by the state. But it has a wealth of interesting material.
A collection of 75 years of Blackwell history through old
newspaper photos and clips, plus many pictures of the devastating
tornadoes of 1949 and 1955.
Many pictures of life in Blackwell and nearby areas, ranging
from early-day town bands to the forest of rigs in the Three
Sands oil field.
A large collection of old clothing, including dresses, children's
shoes and women's hats.
Turn-of-the-century kitchen, bedroom and parlor, with dressers,
chest, telephones, a bell-shaped crank gramophone, a tall
Edison Victrola, floor-pedal sewing machine, churns, lard
press and wood and coal-oil stoves.
A room includes a history of Blackwell High School, including
pictures of football, baseball and basketball players in
uniforms long outdated.
Among the many interesting odds-and-ends are a 1910 calendar
for Dr. Thacher's Liver and Blood Syrup and a box of cards
listing Ku Klux Klan memberships in the 1920s.
The building itself is a museum piece. The Blackwell Electric
Park Pavilion, complete with dome, was begun in 1912. The
structure needs substantial repair and there is debate as
to whether to tear it down.
Pioneer Woman Museum
U.S. 77 and Highland
Open 9-5 Wed.-Sat. (November-March); 9-5 Tue.-Sat. (April-October);
1-5 Sun. year-round.
Closed Mondays (except when summer holiday falls on Monday),
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's.
Across the street from the museum is the famed 17-foot bronze
statue of the Pioneer Woman and her son, a memorial to the
women who braved frontier hardships.
On museum grounds is a marker noting the original plans
for the Interstate Oil Compact Commission were drawn up
in December 1934 at the nearby mansion of E.W. Marland;
the mansion now is a museum.
The Pioneer Woman museum includes:
A fine collection of dozens of old pressing irons, including
some radical designs and ideas for easing that drudgery.
Two looms in working order.
Two highly contrasting displays, one of Oklahoma's three
Miss Americas, the other "Black Women Against the Odds,"
telling of their struggles in the land.
A wonderfully ornate Garland Stove plus a kitchen with many
period appliances and utensils.
A display and pictures of the 101 Ranch, once the first
name in rodeo.
An elaborate wreath of human hair, and machines with dangling
wires and clamps once used to give women permanents.
There is much more to these museums than can be listed here.
All tell stories of pioneer life in a pioneer land. They
have memories for folks 80, and eye-openers for folks 8.
They link us to our heritage.