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 oneindeed, its history
dates but a few months backbut there is plenty to tell about
it. Early in the present year1902it 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 pointand it did cross thereMoore 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
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 themselvestent, 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 wildernessfor
it was a literal wilderness only yesterdaythey 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. Weleetkathe newlatest
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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