As we look to wind up our two-turned-into-two-and-a-half-year road trip in October of this year, we are now paying more attention to routes, remaining national parks (16 at the time of this post), missing states (five) and figuring out how to efficiently get to all of our remaining sites before turning Charley back to the Midwest and calling our trip “complete.” It was with this in mind that we pointed north to Oklahoma. Being in Texas, we were close, and we weren’t sure how we’d loop back to this area in these next several months if we didn’t do it now. So with that we drew up our plans to visit Oklahoma, our 46th state. [Our remaining states now include only Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and North Dakota.]
We took in all three of the national park units in Oklahoma during our time there, each being very different in place and purpose.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area — Located in the town of Sulpher in Southern Oklahoma, this NRA preserves natural mineral springs and nearly 10,000 acres of forest land and recreational lakes. Initially preserved as Platt National Park, it is today Chickasaw NRA in honor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation and in recognition that the lake as a recreation area serving northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.
As with many old national park units, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a hand in building many of the picnic shelters, campgrounds, dams, and bridges here. It is, indeed, a beautiful area — from the town’s public art that honors the rich Native American history to the Travertine Nature Center built over Travertine Creek to the hiking trails, springs and lakes. We are, once again, grateful that many saw fit to protect this special place.
Oklahoma City National Memorial — This solemn place remembers April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a bomb in the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. One-hundred sixty-eight people were killed in the attack and now 168 chairs sit empty next to the reflecting pool representing those who died. The memorial also remembers the survivors, the rescue workers, and all those who have been forever changed by this event. A survivor wall, memorial fence, children’s area, and old elm tree that survived the blast also sit on what is now sacred soil and make up this memorial.
Written on one of the twin Gates of Time, “We have come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.” Amen.
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site — The word ‘battlefield’ should be removed from the official title of this national park unit; this was a massacre, not a battle, of an Indian village full of defenseless women and children by the U.S. Army who was directed to make war on the Cheyenne people.
In the mid-1800s, decades of conflict had been playing out across the southern plains that are now Oklahoma. In the name of Manifest Destiny, early settlers moved westward though these lands, assisted by the newly-laid railroad lines that brought more and more people through the area. Feeling threatened by the Native Americans who were protecting the land that rightfully belonged to them, tensions increased as fundamentally different cultures clashed over who should live on these lands and how they should be used. As the U.S. government attempted to force Native American tribes to reservations, inter-tribal battles took place as did rebellions by revenge-seeking young Native warriors avenging the attacks against their ways of life.
While the exact events of the morning have been debated, it is a fact that peace-inclined Chief Black Kettle, his wife, and scores of Cheyenne woman and children were killed in a surprise attack at dawn’s early light on November 27, 1868 at the hands of Lt. Col. George A. Custer and his men. In a particularly brutal move, Custer also ordered the slaughter of some 800 Indian horses and mules, a move which crippled the remaining Cheyenne communities. Washita NHS protects this sacred site, and while it is not a busy park unit, it is a very important place for reflecting on the price of progress and the cost of peace….
For a more in-depth accounting of this tragedy, read here.