Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Baptist Mission

Old Indian Baptist Mission
Originally uploaded by DKROB4

This 1888 church is on the site of the mission established by the Reverend Jess Bushyhead in 1839. The Cherokee Messenger, the first newspaper in Oklahoma was published at the mission. Bushyhead died in 1844 and was buried in the Mission cemetery. His grave is marked by a 15 foot tall monument and is, as the only extant site associated with him, is listed on the National register of Historic places.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cooper Bison Kill Site

Twelve thousand years ago, along the Beaver River in what is now Harper County, some people were hunting Bison. Bison are big animals, and they travel in herds. They are a formidable challenge to hunt when your best weapon is a sharpened stone tied to a stick. These hunters, had a plan, though. They would stampede the Bison into gully. Hunters would be waiting on the lips to kill the trapped beasts with spears thrown from above. The entire group would then butcher the carcasses right where they were killed.

Jump forward to the 1993. Another man is hunting along the Beaver River. He notices a bed of large bones eroding out of the bank. It's likely that he's not the first person to notice them, but he tells someone. Soon archeologists from the University of Oklahoma are taking a look. The bones turned out to be from Bison antiquus, the ancestor of the modern bison. B. antiquus went extinct about 10,000 years ago. A preliminary survey of the material already eroded from the bank turned up a Folsom point; the site quickly became a full scale archeological dig.

The site told the story of three separate bison hunts, with three to five years between each hunt. These hunters returned to successful hunting sites. All of the hunts seemed to have been in late summer or early fall. The bones show clear marks of the bison being butchered where they fell. The evidence also shows that there were probably multiple discrete groups involved in these hunts. Stone tools made from two separate sources, the Edwards Plateau in central Texas and the Alibates quarries in the Texas panhandle, were found. Unlike some other Folsom sites, the bison were not completely butchered, but rather selected cuts of meat were cut from the carcasses. There is no evidence of permanent camp at the site.

If the information presented above were all that was gleaned from the site, it would still be an important site, but one mainly of interest to professionals. There, however, was one additional, spectacular find. Before the second hunt, a skull was disinterred from the first hunt. A red zigzag "lightening bolt" was painted on it with hematite and it was placed at the entrance of the gully. This is the oldest known painted object in North America. It gives an important clue to the ritual life of these hunters. Hunting was not merely a means of acquiring food but was bound with rituals, traditions and taboos.

The Cooper Bison Kill Site is in the Cooper Wildlife Management Are, but its exact location has not been revealed. Even if its location were known, it would be of little interest, as the site was returned to its original state after the archeological dig was completed. It is unlikely that any significant archeological remains. Most of the material recovered from the sight, including the painted skull is in the collection of the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The skull is usually on public display.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shawnee Santa Fe Depot

There are at least twenty-five railroad depots in Oklahoma on the National Register of Historic Places. The Santa Fe Depot is easily the most architecturally impressive. An impressive Richardsonian Romanesque castle , it seems oddly out of place on the prairie. It was built in 1902-03 and features a steeply gabled roof, a Romanesque colonnade, and an impressive tower with crenelations. The interior features include a high vaulted ceiling and impressive wooodwork. Other Santa Fe depots were built in this style across the Southwest, but this is the single surviving example. In the early 1970s it was in danger of being razed and replaced by a much smaller building. It was saved by the Pottawatomie County Historical Society, who bought it from the railroad, renovated it and moved the county historical museum into it.

The museum itself is fairly typical of county historical museums. Collections include artifacts from early settlement of the county, railroad memorabilia, artifacts and manuscripts from the Sac and Fox, and Shawnee tribes, including a leather wedding dress and a translation of the four Gospels into the Shawnee language. Also on the grounds is the Beard Cabin, the first building built in the county after the 1891 land run. The cabin long stood in its original location in nearby Woodland park until it was damaged in a wind storm in 1999, when it was moved to the depot. The Beard Cabin, in its original location, has its own listing on the National Register of Historical Places.

The depot is located at 614 E. Main Street, in Shawnee. It is open 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday through Friday, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM Saturday and Sunday. It is closed Mondays and holidays. There is a suggested donation of $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children and students.

Santa Fe Depot website.

Image from Wikipedia, originally uploaded by Pagansmurf

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

There's not a lot to do at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. That's part of the point. There is the obligatory gift shop, of course, which, incidentally, stocks one of the best collections of nature books around. There's a picnic area, a short (3 mile) trail, and a couple dozen miles of county roads. Add in a historic bunkhouse, which is almost always locked up, and that's about it. Oh, and of course there's the prairie and the buffalo. Which is quite enough.

The Tallgrass Prairie once stretched from Texas to Manitoba, 140 million acres. That vast expanse is gone, plowed under to turn the Great Plains into the breadbasket of the nation; less than 10% of it remains. The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, north of Pawhuska is the largest remaining swath, almost 40,000 acres. Hiking the trail and driving the roads of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve allows one a small glimpse of what that primordial prairie was like. Sit and listen to the wind shake the grass, and there comes a sense of both the loneliness and the grandeur that defined the prairie over a century ago.

Once part of the Osage Indian reservation, this land was never plowed. Ranchers raised cattle on the land for decades until 1989, when it was purchased by the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy brought back the two critical elements of the original ecosystem; bison and fire. A herd of about 2500 bison range over the preserve, while the Conservancy practices a "patch burn" management system. Every year about a third of the persevere is burned in a series of about three dozen controlled burn. This creates a "patchy mosaic" of plant communities as each patch progresses from freshly burnt to mature prairie. This leads to a healthy biodiversity. Over 300 plant species flower on the Preserve. There are over 250 regularly occurring bird species in the area, including the greater Prairie Chicken.

The bison herd at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is not wild in the sense that the Yellowstone herd is wild. These bison are fenced within the preserve, and are rounded-up once a year, but they are not ranched in the way other bison herds in the area are. Within the very broad confines of the preserve, they are free to wander and breed as they will. Driving the county roads through the preserve, including the Bison Loop to the west of the preserve Headquarters will usually yield bison sightings. The herd, however, is free to wander the 21,000 acre Bison Unit, and much of it is away from the roads. There are no fences between the road and the range though, so you may find yourself sharing the roads with the bison. The bison are attracted to recently burnt areas, so if you don't see any bison on the way into the headquarters, ask where recently burnt areas are. When you do find the bison, stay in you car, as the they are very large, and can be quite dangerous.

The Preserve Headquarters has a small gift shop / information center. It is staffed by volunteer docents who are quite knowledgeable and understandably eager to share their enthusiasm. The Headquarters preserve also has the historic Barnard Ranch bunkhouse (listed on the National Register of Historic Places). The Bunkhouse is usually not open to the public, although the breezeway is a delightful place to sit and rest. To the west of the headquarters is are the nature trails, the smaller, 1 mile loop, runs through the Sand Creek bottoms and up into the prairie. The longer, 2 mile loop, runs through the prairie. Neither are within the "buffalo zone".

The Tallgrass Prairie preserve is most easily reached from Pawhuska. Take Grandview Avenue north from downtown Pawhuska. Grandview will turn into County Road 4201. The entrance to the Preserve is about 7 miles north of town. The Headquarters another 10 miles beyond. The gift shop, staffed by volunteer docents, is open from March through mid-Novmber from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The trail and picnic areas are open from dawn to dusk. The county roads can be driven at anytime. Although there is not much wildlife to be seen at night, northern Osage County is one of the darkest spots in the state, which makes the Prairie Preserve, especially the north end a great place for star-gazing. There are restrooms at the headquarters that are open year round. There is no camping available on the preserve. The nearest hotels are in Pawhuska and Bartlesville.

Nature Conservancy page.

First image from Wikipedia, uploaded by DBinfo. Second image originally uploaded to Flickr by by and by.