Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 1
EARLY HISTORY OF NOBLE COUNTY
Allen D. Fitchett1
Noble County, Oklahoma is located in the north central part of the State of Oklahoma, in the second tier of counties south
of the State of Kansas. It is bounded on the north by Kay and Osage Counties, on the east by Osage and Pawnee Counties, on
the south by Payne and Logan Counties, and on the west by Garfield County.
It has an area of 734 square miles, an altitude of 1,001 feet, and an average annual rainfall of approximately thirty inches.
In 1900 the population was 14,015; in 1907, 14,198; in 1910, 14,945; in 1920, 13,560; and in 1930, 15,139. In 1933 the total
valuation was $11,759,372.00.
In 1682 when La Salle sailed down the Mississippi River to its mouth; and proclaimed all the land drained by it, for France,
what is now Noble County became nominally the property of a foreign power by right of that claim. In 1763 at the close of
the French and Indian War, this vast area was ceded to Spain; but in 1800, by a secret treaty, this same territory with a
somewhat indefinite boundary on the west was receded to France by Spain.
In 1803, the same territory, with the same indefinite western boundary, was purchased from France by the United States for
$15,000,000, being a trifle less than two and one-half cents an acre. The territory was known as Louisiana and has since been
historically referred to as the Louisiana purchase.
Probably the first white man to touch what is now Noble County, was James Wilkinson, who with a small party descended
the Arkansas River in small canoes in 1806 and thus passed along the northeastern boundary of the present county.
In 1812 the State of Louisiana was admitted to the Union, and the remaining part of the Old Louisiana Country was designated
as the Territory of Missouri. What is now the entire state of Oklahoma with the exception of the three counties of the panhandle,
was claimed by two tribes of Indians, the Osages and the Quapaws, with the South Canadian River as their dividing line to
its junction with the Arkansas River. From that point east to the present western line of Arkansas, the Arkansas River was
the dividing line. The Osages relinquished their title to the land north of the South Canadian to the United States in 1825.
In 1833 a portion of this land was ceded by the United States to the Cherokee Tribe of Indians. This strip of land was fifty-eight
miles wide and was given to the Cherokees as an outlet over which to travel to the Rocky Mountains to hunt. They never used
it and later other tribes of Indians were assigned reservations in the area.
In 1834 Congress passed an act creating Indian Territory. Fifty-nine years later by the provisions of the Organic Act, the
entire Cherokee Strip or Outlet was added to Oklahoma Territory by presidential proclamation.
The first land survey in Oklahoma was that of the southern boundary of the Cherokee Strip. The contract for the survey of
the boundaries of the Strip was undertaken by the Reverend Isaac McCoy, the noted Baptist missionary, who devoted a large
part of his active life to labor among the Indian Tribes. The work of surveying the boundaries of the Cherokee Strip was performed
by his son John C. McCoy, in 1837.2
The land comprising Noble County together with all the Cherokee Outlet, was surveyed by the United States in 1866.
The north and south meridian from which the survey of the lands of the Cherokee Strip was made is known as the Indian
Meridian and passes through the "Strip" a short distance east of the towns of Perry and Blackwell.3
In the Indian appropriation bill of August 15, 1876, the Secretary of the Interior was authorized to remove the Ponca Indians
to the Indian Territory and provide a home therein. They first located near the Quapaw agency, where the land was worth several
dollars per acre; but they complained of it because it was poor soil, badly watered, and they were sickly. In the Indian appropriation
bill of May 27, 1878, a provision was made to move them to the Cherokee land west of the Kaws. These were among the best lands
of the six million and a half acres; but by executive order, another and still more valuable tract was picked by inspector
General McNeill and two Ponca Chiefs. They selected a tract on the west bank of the Arkansas River, which covers both banks
of the Salt Fork at its junction with the Arkansas. The land was admirable in quality, well wooded and watered. It was not
taken under the sixteenth article of the treaty of 1866. The Cherokees were neither informed nor consulted. The law authorizing
their location was violated. The separate tract was never appraised; and no title was passed, nor was there authority for
passing it on to the Poncas.4
The Ponca Tribe is of the Dhegiha group of Siouan stock, closely related to the Osages, Kaw, Quapaw, and Omaha Tribes. They
originally came from Nebraska before permanently settling in what is now Kay and Noble Counties.
White Eagle was chief when the Poncas were moved from Nebraska to northeastern Oklahoma and then to their present reservation.
He served as chief for approximately fifty years, and, just prior to his death, resigned in favor of Horse Chief Eagle, his
son. During the lifetime of White Eagle, he led the Poncas in their last war with the Sioux and was the last war chieftain
of the Ponca Tribe.5 He died February 1, 1914, at the age of ninety-
seven years. A few hundred yards east of the highway, at the northern edge of Marland, stands a statue in his memory.6
The Poncas are a thriving tribe and many of their number have become wealthy by the handling of cattle and horses. The Ponca
Indian schools have done much toward bringing this tribe to the front in the ranks of civilization. At present there are business
men of all kinds among them and, as a whole, they are a prosperous people along all lines.7
The Secretary of the Interior in June, 1881, placed the Otoe and Missouri Indians in a fine valley and timbered tract of the
Cherokee land by an executive order. This land was also not taken under the provisions of the sixteenth article of the treaty
of 1866, nor was it ever appraised as a separate tract. They occupied and used the land, cut timber, and made homes. All these
tracts taken were near the eastern end of the "Strip." They were not taken in compact form but were in straggling, picked
The Otoe and Missouri Indians were two small confederated tribes of the Chiwere branch of Siouan stock, closely related also
to the Iowas. The meaning of the name Otoe is unknown. The word Missouri is from an Algonquian term signifying "great muddy."
The Otoe and Missouri Indians originally lived side by side, north of the Missouri River in the state of Missouri. They first
came to the notice of the white men in Marquette's time. The French began trading with these tribes soon after the first explorations
of the Mississippi Valley. The two tribes suffered greatly from smallpox epidemics. In 1789, during a war with the Sac and
Fox, they were driven westward across the Missouri River, after which they continued to live in northeastern Kansas and southeastern
Nebraska. In 1823 the Otoe and Missouri Indians were united as one tribe. Both tribes spoke the same language. They were among
the least progressive Indians in Oklahoma, making practically no effort at self-support, but depending en-
tirely upon annuities and money received from the rental of lands.9
The Ponca Tribe originally occupied three townships in Noble County: Buffalo, East Bressie, and West Bressie. The Otoe and
Missouri Indians were located in Santa Fe, Missouri, Carson, and Otoe Townships.
In 1879 there were 530 full blood Poncas. In 1907 there were 578 Poncas and 390 Otoe and Missouri Indians. At the present
time agency figures show 161 Poncas and 286 of the Otoe and Missouri Tribe in Noble County. This of course dose not include
the many people with a large percentage of Indian blood. An Indian as defined by the Indian Service, includes any person of
Indian blood who through wardships, treaty, or inheritance has acquired certain rights.
There was once an Indian trail which led up the north side of Red Rock Creek. This creek was called "Pawnee No-Washie-Cow-haw
Shing-gah," which, in English, would mean Poor Pawnee Creek. The Osages once found a lost Pawnee on this creek who was almost
starved to death when they found him. They killed and scalped him.10
The dance was the dominant feature of the Ponca's life. He was born, baptized, married and died amid the jumble of shuffling
feet, gyrating bodies, and the beating of tom-toms. The dance expressed joy, and it was the symbol of grief and bereavement.
It was the expression of momentous exploits, and the concomitant of routine duties.11
The peculiar custom know as the Sun Dance was perhaps one of the most popular ceremonies practiced among the Indians. The
Poncas as well as many other tribes practiced this until stopped by the government.
When a young Indian became old enough to become a warrior, he was put through the cermonies of the Sun Dance to test his mettle.
These dances were held during the hottest part of the summer. A tall pole or post was set in the ground, out on the hot prairie,
away from any timber, and to this post long arms or cross pieces were fastened. When everything was ready, the Indian who
was to be the dancer was prepared for the ordeal by making two small incisions in his shoulder or the upper part of his back,
each about an inch long and about an inch apart. Then a stout thong, or cord was passed from one incision to the other, underneath
the skin, and securely tied. The other end of the cord was then tied to one of the cross pieces above. The sun dancer would
then look at the sun continually and dance and tug at the cord until the skin in the loop or the cord gave way. Sometimes
it would require hours of effort before the skin would break or wear out. Sometimes the dancer would faint from gazing at
the sun so long, but, after a while, would get up and go on with the dance. Those who fainted but finally broke loose were
considered good warriors; however, those who broke loose without fainting were considered better.12
After the passing of most of the wild game and the establishment of the agencies, every Saturday was called "issue day," at
the agency and, on this day the Poncas were issued twelve beeves along with their other rations. During the first two or three
years, they killed these cattle as they used to kill the buffalo. The cattle were turned loose on the prairie, and there were
several Indians with guns, mounted on their best horses, ready to kill the cattle. Nearly every one at the agency would turn
out to see the fun, as it was exciting sport. As soon as the cattle were turned loose, the Indians would begin to shoot, and,
as the animals were wild range stock, they were easily scared and away they would go with the Indians after them, every one
yelling and cheering them on. Some of the cattle would be killed close by but others would run a mile or more, with three
or four Indians after each animal. For the time that it lasted, the killing of the cattle was more exciting
than the Sun Dance. At last, however, the government sent orders to stop the killing of cattle in that way as it was thought
to be barbarous. A large corral had been built just south of the agency and the cattle were driven into this corral and shot
only in the head.13
In 1866 about 600,000 cattle were driven across the Cherokee Strip. A branch of the old Hunnewell Trail crossed what is now
Noble County. During the seventies the Cherokee Strip, once the home of the buffalo and the wild mustang, became a favored
grazing ground for the many cattlemen in this new country.
As grazing in the lands of the "Outlet" or "Strip" increased, the authorities of the Cherokee Nation at last determined that
it should be made to yield some revenue. In 1879 the Cherokees sent out one of their citizens to collect a grazing tax from
all men pasturing herds there. The amount collected the first year was small but the following year Major E. W. Lipe, treasurer
of the Cherokee Nation came out and collected nearly eight thousand dollars. The rate was forty cents a head for grown cattle
and twenty-five cents a head for all those under two years old. A receipt was given in the form of a grazier's license which
stated the owner was permitted to pasture a certain number of head for a specified time. In spite of the fact that the Cherokee
treasurer opened an office at Caldwell and used his best efforts in collecting this tax, he was never able to secure full
payment for all of the cattle that grazed on the "Outlet" lands. Men who were ranching in southern Kansas sometimes drove
their herds into the Cherokee Outlet to avoid payment of property taxes on them in Kansas and then drove them back home to
avoid paying the grazing tax to the Cherokees. In 1881 the Cherokees collected $21,555.64 in grazing fees and in 1882, $41,233.81.14
The cattlemen in the "Strip" next conceived the idea of enclosing their land permits within fences, in order to keep their
cattle from mingling with those of their neighbors, and with the "drift" cattle from Kansas, and the "pilgrim" cattle from
Texas. Of this the Cherokees heartily approved, believing they could collect with less difficulty. These fences were constructed
under the names of individual Cherokees, who, it is said, received large sums of money for the use of their names.15
When the first wire fence was built in the "Strip," in 1880, to enclose an extensive pasturage, it was Colonel George Miller,
father of the Miller Brothers of "101 Ranch" fame, who built it.17 father of the Miller Brothers of "101 Ranch" fame, who built it.16
The fact that some of the ranchmen failed to pay the Indians for pasturing caused some of the cattle "barons" to fear that
the Indians might cancel the right entirely for grazing in the "Strip."
A plan was suggested that the cattlemen lease the land from the Indians for a period of five years and a meeting was called
at Caldwell, Kansas, in 1883 to discuss the proposition. At this meeting an association was formed, called the Cherokee Strip
Livestock Association. On May 19, 1883, the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association was granted, by the Cherokee Council in session,
a lease of the entire "Outlet" for a period of five years, for the sum of $100,000 per year, payable semi-annually in advance.
Members of the association agreed that they would erect no permanent buildings in the "Outlet" and that all temporary improvements
should go to the Cherokees upon the expiration of the lease. They would cut no timber except for fencing and temporary structures.
No person not a member of the association should be permitted to graze stock upon the "Outlet." Failure to make payment promptly
to the Cherokee Nation constituted a forfeiture of the lease. According to Major Gordon W. Lillie (Pawnee Bill), large sums
of money were used to bribe members of the Cherokee Council into passing this act, although a senate committee failed to produce
sufficient evidence that money had been used, except
in legitimate expenses. The Indians wanted their first payment in silver and Mr. Bennett, the treasurer of the association
took $50,000 in silver from Caldwell, Kansas to Tahlequah, Indian Territory.17
The Cherokee Strip Livestock Association was one of the greatest organizations ever in existence engaged in the livestock
industry, and its influence upon the history of Oklahoma was very great. It showed the ability of the American pioneer to
organize a huge concern in a region without courts, to function well, and to afford adequate protection to extensive economic
The first cattlemen to establish a ranch in what is now Noble County, were the Estiss Brothers in 1875 through an arrangement
with the government. The next big ranch was started by Frank Weatherspoon who came from Texas in the early eighties. He leased
all of the Otoe and Ponca reservation country and handled as many as 60,000 head of cattle at a time. The 101 Ranch came next.
It took over practically all of the Weatherspoon layout.19
According to a survey of the ranges in 1883, the following cattle companies grazed their cattle on parts of the land which
now constitutes Noble County; McClellan Cattle Company, Wyeth Cattle Company, Wiley and Dean, D. A. Constable, George Miller,
Cobb and Hutton, T. J. Sullivan, and the Dean and Broderick Pasture Company.20
About 1889 Colonel Zack Mulhall had a ranch where the City of Perry now stands. It extended north to Black Bear Creek, east
to the Pawnee County line, west to the Garfield line, and south to the Logan County line.21
It made no difference in what part of the Cherokee Strip you happened to be at night, the yip-yip-yi-wah-who-ees of the coyotes
and the long howl of the big gray wolves could be heard.
The Cherokee Strip Livestock Association paid out several thousand dollars for wolf pelts, but they saved much more in livestock
by paying the bounty.22
Wild horses were common in the Strip but they were wilder than the antelope. They had two ranges, one on the Cimarron River
and the other on Black Bear Creek. Different outfits of cowboys had tried to catch these wild horses in 1880 and 1881, but
failed. There was a bay stallion with them. After the men had run them for an hour or two, this stallion would always get
in behind the wild horses and run them so fast that the men could not keep in sight of them. At one time, a party of Pawnees
tried to catch these wild horses. They ran them nearly all day and, late in the evening, one Pawnee who was mounted on a fresh
horse, took a near cut and rode right among the wild horses. He threw his rope and caught one and held it for a while but,
when the other Pawnees came up, the wild horse got so badly scared that he jerked his captor's horse down and in the mix-up,
the Pawnee's neck was broken.23
During the period when the Strip was the grazing area of the cattle barons, it was also the hideout of the outlaw, the rustler,
and the common thief. Owners of ranches could not refuse to take them in as they could do much damage to grass by setting
The last few months of the Cherokee Strip lease, many things disappeared. Miles of fencing were removed during the night and
later were used to enclose some claim. Wire was one thing that could not be identified.24
The lease to the Strip expired October 1, 1888 and the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association wanted to renew it. There were
other offers. Major Gordon W. Lillie (Pawnee Bill) and P. B. Scott were sent by a syndicate from Wichita and Arkansas City
with an offer of a million and a half for the title to the outfit. This was the first attempt to buy the land outright. They
did not expect to get it but to see if the Cherokees could sell the Outlet. Another syndicate offered $18,000,000 but congress
Congress on March 2, 1889, provided a commission authorized to offer one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre to the Cherokees
for the Strip lands. Late in the fall of 1886, a syndicate of cattlemen had offered to buy the Strip lands from the Cherokees
at three dollars an acre more than that proposed by Congress, which amounted in the aggregate to a difference of more than
$10,000,000. Under these conditions it was impossible for the commission to make any headway in the negotiations. Moreover
the Indians were now receiving a handsome sum annually for their grass and were just entering upon a new five-year period
at a price double that obtained under the first lease.26
The Government's effort to buy the Cherokee lands was declined upon the ground that the Cherokee Constitution forbade its
consideration. The principal obstructing cause in preventing the success of negotiations between the Cherokee Commission and
the Indians was stated by President Harrison in his message in December 1889.27
The Attorney General rendered a decision denying the right of the Indian tribes to lease their lands without permission of
the government. President Benjamin Harrison, by his proclamation of February 17, 1890, ordered all cattlemen to vacate the
"Strip," and thus summarily cut off the income of the Cherokees, amounting, it is said, to several thousand dollars a year.
The measure, together with the urgent demands made by the would-be settlers then encamped in the borders of the "Strip," forced
the Cherokees to terms and a second proposition for the cession of the "Strip" was finally accepted by the national council
on January 4, 1892. The consideration was nearly $8,300,000 or about $1.25 an acre.28
In the treaty of March 3, 1893, the Cherokees had ceded all rights in that portion of land known as the Cherokee Strip, to
the United States. Agitation of the public mind had forced the matter this far, and now it grew intense. The new domain had
to be opened at once.29
Return to top
Electronic Publishing Center |
OSU Home |
Search this Site