By ALVIN RUCKER
Where is the most important place in Oklahoma? Each person is entitled to one guess. Each guess is wrong, because the most important place in Oklahoma is not the guesser’s home or place of business. The most important place in Oklahoma is also one of the most obscure and most seldom visited, and beyond question, one of the least known spots in the state.
Gather around, mates, and let’s listen to a real bedtime story told by encyclopedists, historians, surveyors and soldiers. The most important place in Oklahoma is a point on the boundary line between Murray and Garvin counties. It is a short distance from the place known in history as Fort Arbuckle. From that point every foot of land in an immense area, including all of Oklahoma, except Texas, Cimarron and Beaver counties, is described in legal documents. The area includes Kansas and Nebraska. The highly important point is called the "initial point," suggestive of its importance. It is referred to more often than any other place in Oklahoma. Not an inch of land in the state of Oklahoma, the three Panhandle counties excepted, can be located without reference to that little known, seldom visited spot. The reference, direct or indirect, is in every deed or lease ever written to describe Oklahoma real estate, and will continue to appear, directly or indirectly, in every deed or lease, as long a, civilization, as now constituted, endures in Oklahoma.
The history of the initial point’s origin is covered with mental dust deeper than the physical obscurity that surrounds the place. Even the latter-day mapmakers have ceased to place the point on the maps. Most of the maps being made to-day are road maps, and the average road mapmaker doubtless has never heard of the comparatively few initial points on the surface of the globe. When the average property owner reads a document describing Oklahoma real estate, he is mystified by the reference to a point from which the property
is described as being so many ranges north or south and so many townships east or west.
In 1675, England was becoming a maritime nation, and to aid the sailors, England established the royal observatory in Greenwich Park, near London. The man in charge was called the royal astronomer and it was his business to determine high noon each day. He found the time by determining the exact instant when the sun passed an imaginary line running around the world, through Greenwich. The sailors set their chronometers by the royal astronomer’s chronometer. A chronomenter is a highly accurate time-piece. Out on the seas, the sailors determined high noon by observing when the sun passed overhead. By looking at the chronometer set by Greenwich time, the sailors could tell exactly the difference. If the difference was, say, two hours, the sailors knew exactly that they were two hours away from Greenwich. The world is approximately 25,000 miles in circumference, and it makes a trip around the sun once every 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46.5 seconds. As fractions are bothersome as well as vulgar, the navigators had the good sense to drop them and call the trip around the sun a 365-day journey. Astronomers and navigators then divided the surface of the globe into 360 equal parts, 180 equal parts on each side of the imaginary line running north and south through Greenwich, England. They assumed the world to be round, which was a very practical assumption, and established another imaginary line, known as the equator; north and south of the equator, they divided the globe into 360 equal strips, 180 on each side of the equator. If the globe is 25,000 miles in circumference, each of the 360 strips contains sixty-nine and two-fifths of a mile. Each of those strips is called a degree, the strips extending east and west from the Greenwich line being called parallels of longitude and the strips extending north and south being called parallels of latitude. The navigator, by knowing that he was two degrees away from London, was able to tell exactly that he was 138 4-5 miles east or west of the Greenwich meridian. The navigator, by using the sextant and determining the sun’s angle with reference to the equator, determining definitely how far north or south of the equator he was, and the point where the two lines crossed was his definite place on the surface of the globe.
As England became the dominating nation on the planet, other nations gradually adopted the Greenwich line as the meridian and the equator as the base line. Owners of real estate were quick to see the advantage of the scheme for describing points on the surface of the earth. As there had to be a unit of land measurement, a square mile was taken as the unit and it was found to contain 640 acres. For convenience, the square mile was called a section of land. The compilers of the table known as "surveyors’ measure" long ago decreed that six miles square of land should constitute a township.
When Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States, he undertook to set aside the land west of the Mississippi River as a permanent home for the Indians of the United States. In 1817, the area now known as North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma was known as the "Indian territory," being inhabited almost entirely by Indians, many of whom had never seen a white person. In the eastern part of Oklahoma, there is a place referred to as "Three Forks." It is the confluence of the Verdigris, Grand and Arkansas rivers. A mission worker and several Indian traders located at Three Forks in 1819 to come in contact with the Osages, Cherokees, Choctaws, Caddoes and other tribes. War broke out among the Indians, the alignment being the Osages against all the other Indians. In 1824, Col. Matthew Arbuckle, with five companies of the Seventh infantry, was sent to maintain peace, and he established Fort Gibson, near what is now Muskogee, Oklahoma. As the traders, hunters and other whites pushed into the Indian country, other forts were established—Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1827; Fort Coffee, Indian Territory, in 1834; Fort Washita, Indian Territory, in 1842; Fort Arbuckle, in 1851. The Cherokees were quartered in the northeastern part of Oklahoma and in 1837 they complained to the government that they could not reach the buffalo hunting grounds farther west without coming in contact with their warlike neighbors, the Osages. The federal government employed Rev. Isaac McCoy, Baptist missionary, to survey a corridor extending west from the Cherokee nation, across the northern part of what has since become known as Okla-
homa. The actual work of surveying the corridor was done in 1837 by John McCoy, son of Reverend McCoy. That corridor has become known as the Cherokee Strip, and the surveying of the southern boundary of the strip was the first survey ever made in what is now Oklahoma. No more surveying was done until 1851-2, when the line was resurveyed. In 1857, the ninety-eighth meridian, that is, the ninety-eighth strip, called degree, west of the Greenwich, England, meridian, and the one hundredth strip, or degree, were surveyed, the ninety-eighth extending from Red River to the Canadian River, the one hundredth extending from Red River to the western end of the Cherokee Outlet. The Kansas-Oklahoma boundary line was surveyed in 1857, and two years later the one hundredth meridian was surveyed from Red River north to 36 degrees, 30 minutes, and then west to the 103d meridian. Those early surveys, however, were detached and have nothing to do with the initial point in Oklahoma
In 1866, the federal government acquired from the Indians, by treaties, a large area of land in Indian territory and prepared to subdivide it into townships and sections, foreseeing the time when the whites would settle the land. Indian territory was so remote from established base lines and meridians that the surveyors decided to establish a fictitious base line and a fictitious meridian, the meridian to be known as the Indian Meridian, from which townships would be numbered east and west; the base line to be known as the Indian base line, from which ranges would be numbered north and south. Ranges and townships are similar areas, six miles wide.
A point near Fort Arbuckle was selected as the initial point, and a line surveyed north and south from that point, and the line was named the "Indian Meridian." It is about twelve miles, two townships west of the ninety-seventh meridian west of the Greenwich meridian. The base line is about thirty-six miles north of the thirty-fourth parallel of longitude, and the intersection of those two lines is called the initial point in Oklahoma. Neither of the lines falls upon a 360th division of the globe, based upon the Greenwich meridian and the equator, for the obvious reason that the Greenwich meridian and the equator are too remote to be handily used in describing townships and similar areas in Oklahoma. The
Indian meridian is recognized as far north as South Dakota, there being several towns named Meridian because the towns are close to the Indian Meridian.
The official description of the arbitrary point, taken from the surveyor’s, field notes is:
"Initial monument at point between two small streams both having a northerly course, making a junction about twenty chains