Oklahoma City, Friday April 28
Two Tragedies. Not the most positive way to start drawing our trip to a close but the travel geography dictated our stops during our drive today.
We left Amarillo Texas and drove into Oklahoma. Most of today’s journey continued on two lane state roads; speeds around 70-75 mph on roads with no shoulders and narrow traffic lanes. We never exactly left oil country but instead of well pumps, we observed tanks and pipelines. The sight of railroad traffic returned as a portion of our journey paralleled the main tracks of the BNSF Railway. Scrub brush gave way, usually, to fields dedicated to growing wheat and cotton. Grain elevators started to appear. Large cattle ranching operations were more obvious. I am guessing, but I believe the better quality grass here allows for more concentration of cattle ranching than in the lower rainfall, desert area we just left.
We saw more wind turbines today than we had in all of our trip prior to this. Texas is the largest producer of wind power, much of that generated in West Texas. Evidently though, the four largest wind farms in Texas are in an area east of Odessa, a part of Texas we did not drive through. However, Iowa is the state with the highest percentage of its electricity produced by wind power.
As we left Texas and drove into the western section of Oklahoma, the countryside seemed greener. The land was less endlessly flat with rolling hills. The Washita River flows through this section of Oklahoma and we stopped at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.
In November 1868, the camp of Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle along the Washita River was attacked in the early morning hours by the 7th U.S.Cavalry under the direction of Lt. Col. George Custer. When the battle was over, 30-60 Cheyenne, including women and children, were dead. Another 53 women and children were taken into captivity. Over 800 horses were slaughtered. Most of the Indian braves were elsewhere; this camp was the winter home of primarily the women, children and elderly.
This incident was an almost unavoidable result of the western expansion of settlers, the taking of Indian land, the rapid extension of the railroads, the hostility and lack of trust between the Indians and the U.S., the string of broken treaties, and continued hostilities by Indian braves who were enraged by the Sand Creek massacre in Colorado four years before. The U.S. Army had adopted the policy of total warfare to drive the remaining Indians onto reservations. Ironically, Black Kettle was one of the chiefs who was cooperating and trying to convince his people to accept the inevitable. The result of capturing and killing women and children and slaughtering horses and burning possessions was a recognition by the Southern Plains Indians that they had no choice but to accept reservation life.
Eventually, even driving the Indians onto reservations did not satisfy the settlers. Surviving Indians from all over the country were forced into Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. But settlers were not satisfied and the Indians were forced onto small, individually owned parcels of land. The balance of the reservation was then sold or given to settlers, most notably during the Oklahoma Land Rush of April 22, 1989. The Oklahoma nickname “Sooners” stems from settler who disobeyed the law and entered the “Unassigned Lands” prior to the official entry time in order to claim prime land.
From Washita Battlefield we drove to Oklahoma City. We stopped at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. On April 19, 1995, the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was torn apart by a truck bomb that killed 168 people and more than 650 people were injured. Until 9/11, this was the worst case of terrorism in the U.S. The bomb blast was executed by an American with right-wing extreme hatred of the U.S. government. He set the federal building bombing for the two-year anniversary of the Branch Davidian compound inferno near Waco Texas.
The memorial has several parts. The location of the federal building is now a grassy site with 168 chairs representing the people who died; the children who died (they had been in a nursery program) are represented by smaller chairs.
There are two entry gates at each end of what had been Fifth Street in front of the building. At one end is recorded 9:01, at the other end 9:03. The bomb went off at 9:02, the gates represent the innocence before the attack and the healing after the attack. Fifth street is now a shallow reflecting pool with gently flowing waters.
Across the street from the building had been an American Elm tree. After the bomb blast, only a portion of the trunk remained. It grew back and now is a full-size tree surrounded by a brick promontory wall. There is an orchard of new trees to represent the emergency responders enhanced by a wall of representative hand-painted tiles sent by children from around the world.
A chain link fence is still outside a portion of the site. Originally put up to keep people from encroaching on the crime scene, people left mementoes on the fence and it has been continually used for that purpose ever since. Finally, a small wall was the only remaining portion of the Murrah Building and has been retained with the names of survivors from the blast.
Ed and Chris.