The early settlers were hard-working folks, many of them recent immigrants like my great-grandfather who came to America from Germany at age 17. His few possessions fit in a wooden trunk. He worked as a cowhand and a rancher on his way to Kansas City where he signed on to build railroads through the South.
Settlers found the game plentiful. Deer, prairie dogs, buffalo, elk, bear and wolves once roamed our county. The Arbuckle Trail brought Texas cattle to Kansas markets. A highway sign hidden among trees near State Highway 9 and 48th Avenue SE talks of the Dave Blue Trading Post, undeniably the county’s first convenience store.
The trains brought settlers, soldiers and students to Norman. Today, the Amtrak Heartland Flyer takes on southbound passengers much as passenger trains did a century ago.
The battle to open the Unassigned Lands pitted cattlemen and Indians versus the railroads and the settlers. We all know who won. Besides those trains, covered wagons, oxen teams and horses brought settlers — Sooners and Boomers — to the territory on opening day in 1889.
My clan staked out a quarter section of unforgiving dirt in the southeast corner of the county. It is flanked by small creeks and stone outcroppings. The meadows come to life about this time each spring with orange and yellow wildflowers. There were frustrations in the early days. The Canadian River was about like it is today: too thin to plow and too thick to drink. But thankfully they saw only opportunities in those red dirt fields.
Editor’s note: This column is republished in honor of Tuesday’s anniversary of the April 22, 1889 land run.
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