Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lake Watonga

After leaving American Horse Lake, the only remaining option was to stop at Roman Nose State Park and launch Buddy in Lake Watonga. At only 55 acres and 6 miles of shoreline, it is a really small lake, but sufficient to get the feel for how Buddy handles. Both the lake and nearby town bear the name Watonga, having been named after Arapaho Chief Watonga, whose name meant “Black Coyote.”

Chief Henry Roman Nose and his wife.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
An interesting part of any trip to this state park is the history of its namesake, Chief Henry Caruthers Roman Nose, chief of the Southern Cheyenne. He was born in 1856, and given the name Woquini, meaning Hook Nose. As a young man, he grew up in the turbulent period of war between the whites and Native Americans. He was a warrior in many Cheyenne raiding parties, and participated in the Red River War. He was captured, arrested, and sent to Fort Marion, in St. Augustine, FL. While there, he learned to read, speak, and write English. (For anyone who has visited St. Augustine, Fort Marion was the Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos. The name was changed in honor of Gen. Francis Marion, of Revolutionary War fame, and later changed back to its original name. The fort was used to imprison Native Americans from Cheyenne, Caddo, Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, undoubtedly other tribes, and of course the Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo.)

Castillo de San Marcos, or Fort Marion, Florida.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
After release from incarceration, he was sent first to the Hampton Institute in Virginia, and then was sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a boarding school in Pennsylvania, where he was taught tinsmithing. The Carlisle Institute was the model for off-reservation schools across the country intended to “assimilate” Indians into white society. (If you have any interest in history, you owe it to yourself to find and rent the movie “The Education of Little Tree. “ ) When he became a Christian, he took a new ‘white’ name at his baptism. He chose the name Henry for Richard Henry Pratt, the commander of the fort at St. Augustine, and Caruthers for Mrs. Horace Caruthers, his teacher and friend in Florida.

Entrance to the park from the east.

When he returned to Oklahoma 1881, he found that during his six year absence, traditional Indian culture had nearly become nonexistent. He became disillusioned, and accepted a 600-acre plot of land that had been part of the Cheyenne wintering grounds. On a flat area, near a creek, and well below the rim of the surrounding hills and gypsum buttes, the tribe’s tepees were sheltered to some degree from the strong winter winds.

The wintering grounds today, where tepees can be rented for camping.
In 1887, Chief Roman Nose moved to his allotted land with his wife, and remained until his death in 1917. Both he and his wife are buried at the Indian Cemetery, just west of the Watonga airport. The chief’s 600-acre tract was one of the original seven tracts set aside as Oklahoma State Parks in 1937.


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