SAND SPRINGS, Okla. — It was 180 years ago when Washington Irving embarked on a quest to discover the American West in Indian Territory.
The author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” left Fort Gibson on horseback, accompanied by U.S. Army Rangers, an Indian agent, some Creek Indians and a “count” from Switzerland.
With the Arkansas River as their guide, the party arrived northwest of today’s Sand Springs on Oct. 15, 1832, and made camp.
Irving wrote of his experience in “A Tour on the Prairies.” Although the party’s dream of hunting buffalo with the Osage Indians didn’t pan out, its members did experience the ruggedness of the cross timbers forest.
As part of the yearlong celebration of Sand Springs’ centennial, the encampment will be re-created Oct. 6 with history experts portraying Irving and his group.
The event, dubbed “A Day With Washington Irving,” will be held in that same forest, which is now recognized and appreciated ecologically as the Keystone Ancient Forest.
“We always wanted to do a Washington Irving encampment, and this forest shows pretty much how it looked when Irving was here. It’s just a few hundred yards from his actual camp,” said scriptwriter Whit Edwards, a former special programs director at the Oklahoma Historical Society who is now with the Texas Historical Commission in Marshall, Texas.
Although many of the post oaks in the forest are 300 to 500 years old, they are not large. There are low-hanging limbs and abundant brush.
It was so thick that the party went through it single-file, with the lead person hacking his way through, Edwards said.
“Everything just slows down out here,” Sand Springs Parks Department Director Grant Gerondale said. “The forest is still very much the way it was 100 years ago.”
Edwards said Irving’s trip was arduous.