Chamber Chatter - June 6, 2019

by Debbe Ridley, Marlow Chamber of Commerce

Working our way through this continuing pattern of destructive weather in the forecast, more of our Oklahoma neighbors than we can count are dealing with loss and devastation. How did our families and communities face those same challenges before there was any warning – or assistance – at all? As is often the case when a look at our past can put things in perspective, a visit to the Federal Government’s Indian Pioneer Papers seemed in order.

You will recall, that project was completed in 1938, as a part of the “made work” of the Great Depression. Searching the site for “cyclone,” it was clear our present weather is no new phenomenon. Dozens of interviews showed up as having referenced “cyclone” or “tornado.” In fact, the interview of Winifred M. Clark, given on October 13, 1938 devoted half of the oral account to the subject.

From the interview: “One incident occurred that caused much amusement. Two men were sitting on the ground leaning against the board wall of the livery stable. The whole livery stable building vanished from behind them with no injury to them or the horses. When they recovered from their astonishment they each found the other drenched with bluing. “

“One night Jessie Keeler and I were in my room on the second floor. The window was partly open toward the east. Suddenly I said: ‘Listen, is there a railroad east of us?’ She said: ‘No, but that sounds like a heavy train of freight cars moving fast.’ It was reported, the next morning, that Maude had been swept away by one of the worst cyclones. The Indians told us that cyclones had never visited that region before the white folks came.”

“When I attended the University of Oklahoma I lived with the Hefley family. They told me some incidents that happened when the cyclone swept the country around Norman. At one farm nearly all buildings were demolished. Many of the people from Norman went out there as soon as the storm ceased, supposing that all of the family had been swept away. They investigated a slough that looked peculiar and found the family and hogs covered over with mud. They worked fast to dig them out and save them.”

“There was an old grandmother who was afraid of storms. When she saw the cloud she took the baby and sat on the feather bed. The bed, with the grandmother and baby, was lifted through the roof and they were found safely perched in the top of a tree.”

“Two women who lived there did not trust the house, so they ran to the fence of posts, that had no wire, and lay on the ground holding to a post and each other. They said that the wind sucked their bodies up and down and left them bald, taking every bit of their long hair which had been held by steel hairpins.”

Again, we have this peek into the past through a Federal Works Project, the Indian-Pioneer Papers. This oral history collection touches on histories from 1861 to 1936, and includes typescripts of interviews conducted during the 1930's by government workers with thousands of Oklahomans about the settlement of Oklahoma and Indian Territories. The repository is the “Western History Collection, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.” You can search the Indian-Pioneer papers with a time-traveling trip to http://digital.libraries.ou.edu/whc/pioneer

As we are reminded to often -- you can’t tell where you are going unless you know where you have been.