On September 15, 1893, hopeful land runner Jim Mansfield wrote a letter to his wife about his attempt to obtain a certificate to stake a homestead claim in the largest land run in American history:
We reached Arkansas City Sunday evening and I stayed all night… And this morning at three o’clock, we was up and started at half past four to the Booths and stood in line all day… I did not get a certificate today… There is over fifty thousand home seekers on the Kansas Line but I am going to stay and fight for a claim. It is pretty hard to [stay] all day in line when the dust is so thick you can’t see your hand three feet from you. I have to pay 5 cents for a drink of water on the line. It is very dry here but a nice country. So write me soon.
On the next morning, September 16, 1893, Mansfield was one of over 100,000 land seekers who gathered on the borders of the Cherokee Outlet, a long thin strip of six million acres running across the northern border with Kansas, to race for their dream of land ownership.
Sitting on part of the historic Chisholm Trail, Enid’s newly renovated, 24,000-squarefoot Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center is making sure that stories like the Mansfield’s are kept alive. The 28 interactive exhibits support the center’s mission “to tell the extraordinary stories of settling the Cherokee Strip and share the inspiring lessons of leadership with future generations.”
“Part of our mission,” says Andi Holland, the Center’s director, “is to inspire future generations.” This mission is evident in how the Center is laid out and highlights the region’s community leaders, past and present, whose perseverance helped them settle untamed land and establish thriving areas of commerce.
The Outlet gallery, a visual and written history of the Cherokee Strip, greets visitors. A small theater projects a 13-minute film documenting one settler family’s experience. In The Land and the People Gallery, visitors can literally listen to settlers’ oral stories from interviews taken years ago and preserved on tape.
One of the state’s most comprehensive natural resource galleries is featured in the Dave Donaldson Oil and Gas gallery. The oil and gas businesses established by early settlers are impressive and their stories are highlighted.
The Allen Enid gallery teaches the history of northwest Oklahoma towns. Many are no longer in existence. However, Enid survived and thrived. “Roads and railroads were centered in Enid,” Holland explains, giving Enid an “advantage and opportunity to become a major center of commerce.”
Those who attended Phillips University, the first private university in the state, will appreciate the Thelma Gungoll Phillips University gallery. Artifacts from the school’s heyday are on display, depicting the university’s role in shaping the area’s culture.
Other features of the new Center are worth a visit in and of themselves:
- The Research Center is an asset to the center’s visitors and surrounding communities. “We are trying to develop resources [to support] the smaller, outlying communities,” Holland explains. “A lot of little towns don’t have ways to preserve their materials.” The Research Center provides a resource for these towns to preserve their history. Aaron Preston, the research center’s archivist, is instrumental in documenting the items and aiding visitors with research. Collection, preservation and education are the center’s goals, according to Preston. The basementlevel research area and vault is designed to keep the historic materials from being destroyed in the event of disaster. Reference books, access to ancestry.com, microfilm, and cassette interviews are available to visitors.
- The Humphrey Heritage Village is a quaint and authentic grouping of preserved, early buildings located on the center’s grounds that include an old school house, church, home, and the only surviving U.S. Land Office from 1893.
- The Plaza, an outdoor patio overlooking the beautiful Government Springs Park, can be rented for events. The park’s pond was an original watering hole for cattle driven on the Chisholm Trail.
- The Gift Shop is a must for purchasing an area souvenir.
Only an hour and a half drive from the northern Oklahoma City metro limits, the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center is an educational, hands-on historical destination, perfect for families or school field trips. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am-5:00pm and Sunday 1:00-5:00pm.
For more information call 580-237-1907 or visit www.csrhc.org. A lot is going on in Enid. Staff of the newly-formed Enid Convention and Visitors Bureau would love to help you plan your visit. For more information on Enid, call them at 580-233-3643 or visit the bureau’s website at www.visitenid.org.
Karen Mitchell, a lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, lives in Edmond with her husband, Mark, teenage son, Ryan, and one spoiled Welsh Corgi. Daughter, Megan, attends OSU in Stillwater.