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WELEETKA, INDIAN TERRITORY.
BY THOS. F. MILLARD.

 

I am prompted to write the history of Weleetka because it illustrates as well, if not better, than any other I have encountered, the wonderful development which is with almost inconceivable rapidity converting the Indian Territory into a center of modern civilization. Readers of the Frisco Syctem Magazine are fully aware that such development is going on. Things are happening in this country. Important events in a steady progress so press upon one another that they seem to lose importance, and become commonplace. In this atmosphere it requires a striking performance to command attention. The story of Weleetka is one of such. Even in a country where people habitually "do things," it stands out as a type of aggressive strenuosity.

The story of Weleetka is not a long one—indeed, its history dates but a few months back—but there is plenty to tell about it. Early in the present year—1902—it occurred to two young men that the new and almost unscratched region that had been made accessible by the Red River division of the Frisco system could support another town besides those that had already sprung up along the route. Having the idea, they proceeded to act upon it, and began to look for a location. After a few weeks spent in looking over the country, they selected a point on the north fork of the Canadian river. There the river makes a great loop to the southward, and after zig-zaging around for a long distance, returns to within a short distance of where the loop began. It is over 30 miles around the "boot," as the loop is locally termed, and it is but little over two miles across the neck. The railroad enters the neck at its top, and crosses the river at the southern extremity of the "boot."

Another element of advantage suggested this location. The survey of a new railroad the Fort Smith & Western, had been commenced. This road, it was understood, was to be built between Fort Smith, Ark., and Guthrie, Okla. While the exact course of the road was not, of course, known even to the engineers commissioned to select it, it was generally surmised that it would pass through Muskogee and thence westward across the Creek Nation to the Oklahoma line. It required no unusual foresight to realize that a town of some importance would be likely to spring up at the point where the new road crossed the Frisco, and speculation was rife as to where this crossing would be made. Efforts were naturally made to bring the crossing to one of the towns already established on the Frisco System, notably Okmulgee, which seemed to lie almost in a direct route between Muskogee and Guthrie. Okmulgee is the capital of the Creek Nation, is a thriving town and her enterprising citizens realized the desirability of additional railroad facilities.

Such was the situation when Lake Moore and J. F. Clark, the men who had a scheme for the establishment of a new town in mind, set to work. Whether they got a "straight tip" or not is a matter of speculation, but the consensus of opinion is that they simply exercised their own intelligence. At any rate, after a careful examination of the surrounding country, they decided to their own satisfaction that the Fort Smith & Western would be practically compelled, by the nature of the territory, to cross the Frisco System just where it enters the "boot" of the Canadian River. Here, then, they decided to found their town. But their difficulties had only commenced. All attempts to secure permission of the government to create a townsite at that point failed completely. Not in the least daunted, they managed to secure anticipatory leases on a tract of land sufficiently extensive for their purpose. Of course, they had to take a chance on the validity of the word of honor of the Indians to whom the land had been alloted. But this is generally a pretty certain proposition with an Indian, and they did not hesitate to take the chance. It illustrates the load progress is now compelled to carry in the Territory, and it is saying much for its vitality to remark that it carries it, all right.

A townsite was surveyed and given the name of Weleetka, which in the Creek language means "running water." The clear, swift-running Canadian, which washes the limits of the townsite, gave the place its poetic name. Then came the struggle to "make good," as they say in the Territory. The town was laid out in March, 1902. It consisted at chat time of a tiny log cabin and a cotton field, occupying a small clearing on an elevation overlooking the river. The Frisco System tracks skirt the hill, along the river bottom, but there was no station. There was a station and switch two miles below, called Alabama. As soon as it was definitely settled that the Fort Smith & Western would cross at that point—and it did cross there—Moore and Clark set to work to have the station at Alabama moved up to Weleetka. This they succeeded in doing. The station house was placed on a flat car, and taken to Weleetka. A further arrangement was affected, by which the Fort Smith & Western should use the same station house, thus making a joint terminal.

Thus was Weleetka born. Seven months ago the first house was built. Today the town has a population of 1,500, and more are corning every day. More than 40 people got off the train by which I left the town. Of course, all these do not come to stay. A majority are "prospecting;" that is, looking for a place to locate. Thousands of "prospectors" are now in the Territory. One encounters them at every step. Many remain. Others return home, having probably selected a place to locate, with the intention of coming here as soon as allotment makes land available under secure title tenure.

While the railroad terminals lie in the bottom, the town has an admirable location on heights which command a view of the country for miles in all directions. A very little investigation demonstrates the wisdom displayed in the selection of the site. Crooked about and almost circling the townsite is Alabama creek, a lively little stream, of sufficient volume and current to make it an ideal drainage canal. This creek, fortunately, does not empty into the river for several miles below the town, an advantage to be appreciated when the matter of waterworks comes up.

Waterworks? A town not yet out of it swaddling clothes talking about waterworks? Yes, indeed. And in a short time it will have them, too. You, perhaps, are living in a long-settled community, and do not know how they do things in the strenuous southwest. Though only months, as yet, are required to number its age, Weleetka is a corporation, with a full set of municipal officers, and propositions for waterworks and an electric lighting plant are already maturing. There is already a good telephone system, with long distance connections in all directions. Weleetka feels the necessity of preparing for its future population. Six months ago its population numbered three. Today it is 1,500. Next year it will be 2,500, and in three years it will be disappointed if fully 5,000 people do not call it home.

Are such expectations unwarranted? Let its consider. Owing to the great "boot," fully 60 miles of river bottom averaging two miles in width and not subject to overflow, are within ten miles of the town. It inadequately describes this land to say that probably no finer farming country is to be found in the world. The bulk of this land is virgin soil, less than ten per cent being in cultivation at the present time. Even the uplands are exceedingly fertile. Contrary to popular opinion, this country cannot be regarded as a prairie land. In this locality fully 60 per cent of the land is timbered, in the bottoms heavily. Weleetka is built in the woods. This comes as a relief after the flat monotony of the prairie towns, which stand out in all their crude nakedness. It will never become necessary to plant shade trees in Weleetka. At this writing the streets are plentifully dotted with stumps, even in the business part of town, while in the residence sections trees by the hundred are still standing. Anyone who will take out the stumps is permitted, nay, encouraged, to cut all the firewood or timber he wants, provided he confines his operations to the streets. In this way broad avenues are rapidly opening through the woods in all directions. It requires no very vivid imagination to see, on a day soon to be here, a remarkably attractive little city in this fine natural grove.

Fifty a week is the average rate at which investors have come to Weleetka during the past few months, and there are at present no indications of a cessation of the influx. A great majority are farmers, who are looking for a chance to locate on the vacant lands. As soon as the Indians secure their deeds, all the land will be occupied by men whose purpose will be to raise something on it. Cotton and corn are the two best products, and a majority of the farmers seeking locations come from the cotton raising parts of Texas and Louisiana. Land just cleared and used for the first time this season has produced a bale of cotton to the acre. The timber is very valuable, and a plant to manufacture staves, tool handles and ties has already been established at Weleetka. The prairies, while not so rich as the bottoms, afford excellent farming and grazing land. Small fruits do especially well on the slopes of the hills and this culture offers a promising field. There is no reason why this should be a one-crop country, as small grains thrive on the ridges and up-lands. On the whole, the agriculturist could scarcely desire a prettier piece of virgin soil in which to pitch his habitation. While it at present seems destined to be chiefly an agricultural region, other natural resources are not lacking. Providence, so prodigal in its gifts to the Territory everywhere, has placed coal and oil fields at Henryetta, only 11 miles north of Weleetka. The mines at Henryetta are already placing a considerable output on the market, although it is not two years since operations were begun, and insecure tenure has there, as everywhere in this country, retarded development.

It is interesting to note the progress of one of these quick-growth towns. Three phases usually manifest themselves—tent, hut and cottage. All three phases are in evidence in Weleetka now. Although the town contains three large lumber companies it is impossible to erect houses fast enough to supply the demand. The town is not being built by the townsite company. All improvements are the result of individual enterprise. Investors are erecting habitations as rapidly as possible, but hundreds will be compelled to spend the coming winter in tents. The town contains two banks, two hotels, a score or so of business houses, two factories and a cotton gin which turned out 1,000 bales this season. This gin is doubling its capacity, and two other gins will be in operation by next year, prepared to care for the anticipated crop. By that time it is expected that an oil mill will be prepared to handle the cotton seed. And all this has been accomplished without the accelerating influence of the Fort Smith & Western railway, which has not yet reached the town. But its coming will not be long now. The grading of the roadbed is completed, and the day I was at Weleetka a large force of men were unloading steel and cross-ties, preparatory to laying the track. The bridge work is finished, and trains will probably be running in a few months. As Weleetka is equidistant from Fort Smith and Guthrie, it is regarded as the natural location for the freight division of the new road, and, by the erection of a large and expensive pumping station and the laying out of extensive yards, the company indicates a purpose to place it here.

Not all the residents of Weleetka are living in tents and temporary structures, though such habitations at present predominate. The time has been short, but it has sufficed for the erection of a number of substantial brick and stone business blocks, and many residences, which in both external and internal appointments would be a credit to long-established communities. A two-storied public school building is about finished. It will be provided with four large class rooms, equipped with all modern appliances. One church is completed and others in course of construction. In the main business street, a curious contrast, emphasizing the rapid growth of the town, is presented. The First National Bank occupies a tiny, one-room hut, while adjoining its cramped quarters is a handsome stone structure nearing completion, soon to be the new home of the institution. It is the spirit of the southwest at a glance, and, thinking of what it all means, one forgets the rawness of it all in profound wonderment.

Situated as it is, in the neck of the "boot" of the Canadian and washed on one side by the river the town is scarcely two miles from the other edge of the loop. This peculiar condition has given life to a somewhat pretentious project. Between these two points, but two miles apart, the river bed has a fall of over 100 feet. A plan has been advanced to connect the two points by cutting across the neck, and thus secure an immense water power. The plan is perfectly feasible from an engineering point of view, and only needs capital to carry it out. If the population that is pouring into the country comes to realize the importance and far-reaching possibilities embodied in the project, they will undoubtedly subscribe the necessary funds. Such a movement has already gained considerable headway. The power thus developed would provide for unlimited manufacturing facilities.

Weleetka is a familiar name to the Indian residents of this part of the Creek Nation. Just in the edge of the present townsite is the long-used religious camping ground of "Running Water." For half a century, or ever since their removal into this region, have the Creeks assembled once a year at this praying place for the purpose of religious communion. These assemblies were almost identical and were probably modeled after the old-fashioned camp meeting of our forefathers. The camping ground lies in a pretty grove near the river bank. There are rough shelters for the people scattered about, under which they sleep and eat and seek protection from inclement weather. The only building is a small hut for cooking and the storing of provisions. Here in the wilderness—for it was a literal wilderness only yesterday—they came and, for weeks at a time, listened to the exhortations of their preachers or humbled themselves in prayer. Since the railroad came, three years ago, the annual meetings have been abandoned, and the structures are rapidly falling into decay.

Here, as elsewhere, the past is giving way to the present. In another year the old camping ground will probably be cut up into factory sites or town lots. Weleetka—the new—latest representative of the marvelous growth of the southwest, will claim her own, and her claims are urged with an insistence that, judging from her brief but strenuous past, are not to be denied.


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