An audience member’s question at a recent civic club talk on Norman’s history intrigued me: Why did the Santa Fe railroad come through central Oklahoma 20 years before statehood? There were few towns and residents.
The answer, of course, was cattle, commerce and future customers.
Farmers and cattle ranchers wanted a way to move their goods to market without cattle drives and horse-drawn wagons. Prior to the railroad, cattle were driven on trails toward railheads in southern Kansas. The Arbuckle branch of the Chisholm Trail crossed the eastern side of Norman before eventually heading northwest to merge in the main trail near Kingfisher.
As a child, I was always intrigued by a small historical trail marker just west of 12th Avenue NE, north of Rock Creek Road. The marker is long gone, but a park in the Wildwood Green addition is named Chisholm Cattle Trail Park.
The Arbuckle entered the current city limits at about 48th Avenue SE and Post Oak Road and veered north toward what is now Alameda Avenue between 12th Avenue SE and 24th Avenue SE. Along the way, cattlemen often stopped for provisions at the popular Dave Blue Trading Post, easily Norman’s first convenience store.
Ranchers to the east and southwest of Norman could bring their cattle to a railhead, pre-pay for the shipment and await a check from a Kansas stockyard.
The late Norman historian John Womack, writing in “Norman, An Early History,” says the Arbuckle Trail never accommodated the number of cattle that came up the famous Chisholm Trail, but served as a significant feeder trail.
The railroad’s opening in 1887 made the cattle trail, which was used since the end of the Civil War, no longer needed.
The Santa Fe likely chose the path through central Indian Territory’s unassigned lands after federal legislation was signed in 1884. They envisioned the land being opened to non-Indian settlers at a future date.
Womack reports Congress granted the railroad a 100-foot right-of-way and land for station grounds for every ten miles of track.
The government survey, headed by Abner Norman, had been completed thirteen years earlier. Norman’s survey team camped near a spring behind what is now the U-Haul store on Lindsey and Classen. A signed carved into an elm tree reportedly read, “Norman’s Camp.” Another historical marker is long gone from the spot.
The railroad crews, including some of my German ancestors, began laying track in Kansas in the fall of 1886. Another team started in Gainesville, Texas and made its way north through Indian Territory. They met in Purcell and the final piece of track was completed on April 26, 1887.
On May 2, in preparation for train service, the railway company assigned the name Norman to the station here. Womack reports the first passenger train passed through Norman Station northbound at about 1 p.m. June 18, 1887.