Monday, February 17, 2014

Pushing Spring

Perry Lake still covered by ice.
We decided to get out of the house yesterday. It was both just to feel alive again, and with an ulterior motive of checking out a couple lakes to see if the recent warm weather has opened up the ice. We saw a lot of other folks out pushing spring as well. So it’s not just me. Stores that had been nearly empty looked like Christmas shopping had returned. Everyone decided to hit the streets at the same time. We saw one young man jogging in shorts and a tee-shirt who a couple weeks ago would have been in the hospital from exposure. Another rode a motorcycle in his shirt sleeves. There were a lot of motorcycles out yesterday, but most riders were appropriately attired for the wind chill.

We rode through Perry, OK, simply because we’d never been there before. Perry was originally called Wharton. It was named after an Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad train station built in 1886 a mile south of the current town. With the opening of the Cherokee Strip to white settlement in 1893, the U.S. Government opened a land office a mile north of the train station, and assigned J. A. Perry to lay out the town plot and manage the land office.

The first sun we had seen in weeks would soon be
obscured by a thick layer of clouds.
When the gun fired at noon on September 16, 1893, to start the land rush (one of several), 100,000 men, women, and children rushed into the Cherokee territory, and by nightfall, 40,000 had erected tents in Perry. One man, Jack Tearney, set up a tent and added a sign calling it the Blue Bell Saloon. With the scarcity of water, he was able to sell beer for $1.00 a bottle. Checking the inflation calculator, we see each bottle would now be worth $26.32, and he sold 38,000 of them.

The town clock and library.
Two years previously, while it was still Wharton, the Dalton Gang rode in to rob the train, from which they gained $1745. Charlie Bryant, one of the gang members, became ill after the robbery, and was taken to the doctor. Deputy Marshall Ed Short spotted him and made the arrest, but during an escape attempt, Short and Bryant shot and killed each other.

In the late-1940’s, the Charles Machine Works Company was founded, and began making equipment now called Ditch Witch, and still a mainstay of the town. .

On April 19, 1995, a State Trooper spotted a 1977 Mercury Marquis just outside of town without a tag. He stopped the car and arrested the driver for carrying a loaded firearm. He was to later find that the driver, Timothy McVeigh, was fleeing after having bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City when he was stopped.

After crossing McVeigh’s tire tracks, we drove out to Perry Lake, also just outside of town. Perry Lake was built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It has 567 surface acres and a 13-mile long shoreline. It’s still early enough in the year that we shared the recreation area with only one other vehicle. While the ice has opened in the middle of the lake, the branches and shoreline are still blocked by thin, rotting ice. The morning sun had been blocked by a thickening layer of cirrus clouds that returned a flat, drab wintry-looking sky.

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