Enid, the county seat of Garfield County, is located approximately ninety miles north of Oklahoma City on U.S. Highway 81 at its intersection with U.S. Highway 412. The city's 2000 population stood at 47,045. Located on the former Chisholm Trail, the town site was born a few weeks prior to the opening of the Cherokee Outlet, popularly (but erroneously) known as the Cherokee Strip, by land run on September 16, 1893. A post office was established on August 25, 1893. The town had one of four U.S. Land Offices located in Oklahoma Territory. On the day of the land run Enid's only permanent structure was the newly constructed land office. By sundown an estimated ten thousand people inhabited the new town.
Enid was the name first given to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway's (CRI&P) station located three miles north of the present town of Enid. There are several versions of the origin of the town's name, but the most plausible attributes it to M. A. Low, a CRI&P official. When visiting the construction site in the summer of 1889, he asked the name of its local station. When told it was called Skeleton Station, he proclaimed that that name would never do; nobody would want to live in a town named Skeleton. He named the station Enid after a character in Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which he had read on his trip to the area.
Enid, the rail station, was originally designated the governmental town site. It was relocated three miles south just weeks before the land run by government officials after prospective settlers protested that tribal allotments had been selected adjacent to the North Enid site. The railroad company refused to recognize the relocated town site, which was poorly situated at the confluence of Old Boggy and North Boggy creeks. By refusing to allow the train to stop at "South Enid," the company hoped the new settlers would decide to locate at "North Enid." The resulting town feud led to violence in summer 1894 when a south town mob sawed through the bridge trestle and crashed a cattle train near South Enid. To avoid conflict the U.S. Congress passed legislation forcing the railroad to schedule a stop at South Enid. The Enid railroad war ended in celebration on September 16, 1894, the first anniversary of the Cherokee Outlet land run.
After the land opening in September 1893 approximately two thousand residents remained to begin building the town. The first three years were drought years, and Enid grew slowly. When the drought broke, the town began to prosper, its fortunes tied to the surrounding agricultural community. The town was selected as the county seat when Garfield County was initially organized as O County in 1893. The present courthouse, constructed in 1934, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 84003018).
Successful in attracting railroads Enid became a major rail hub in Oklahoma Territory by 1903. The first of these railroads was the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway (later owned by the CRI&P), which constructed a line in 1889-90 from the Kansas border to Minco in Grady County. Other CRI&P subsidiaries built lines from Enid to Billings and to Greenfield Junction. In the early 1900s the Denver, Enid and Gulf Railroad (later the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad) connected Enid with Guthrie and Hillsdale. Between 1900 and 1904 St. Louis and San Francisco Railway subsidiaries gave Enid access to markets in Tulsa, Blackwell, and other towns.
The town fathers achieved a major feat in 1906 when they convinced Dr. Ely V. Zollars and the Disciples of Christ denomination to locate the Oklahoma Christian College in Enid. Later renamed Phillips University, Zollars and his successor, Dr. Isaac Newton McCash, advanced Phillips into an influential liberal arts educational institution and Bible college. The university strongly influenced Enid's cultural texture, giving birth to the Enid Symphony Orchestra and the Tri-State Band Festival, both of which continue today.
Bolstered by a decade of good weather and crop harvests, Enid and Garfield County prospered. Having established itself as a regional trade center and rail hub by 1907 statehood, the town had grown to a population of 10,087, the fourth largest in Oklahoma. Enid encompassed beautiful parks, many wholesale houses, an electric trolley system, and "over 100 automobiles." Settled predominantly by farmers from midwestern states and Kansas, Garfield County and Enid quickly developed regional characteristics. Politically, they leaned heavily toward the Republican Party, but Populist Party support was strong in rural areas, making Enid politically influential in territorial politics. Enid's Frank Frantz was the last territorial governor, appointed by a fellow Rough Rider, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. William O. Cromwell of Enid was the last territorial attorney general. Enid's political influence diminished after statehood with the emergence of the Democratic Party's control of state government.
During the next decade Enid continued to grow as an agricultural trade center. Located in the heart of wheat country and served by a large rail hub, Enid established itself as the largest grain market in Oklahoma and one of the largest poultry markets in the United States. During this period Garfield County also developed as a major producer of purebred livestock, and Enid was its distribution market. Its population grew to 16,576 by 1920.
The discovery of the Garber-Covington Field east of town in 1916 was Enid's next milestone. What distinguished this event from scores of other similar community oil booms was the influence of Herbert H. Champlin and his Champlin Refining Company. An early-day Enid entrepreneur and banker, he entered the oil industry at age forty-eight. Applying a banker's approach, rather than a wildcatter's approach, to the oil business, he realized that finding crude oil was only profitable long term if it could be refined and then sold. He quickly established a pipeline from the Garber and area fields to Enid, purchased a newly built refinery to process the crude oil, and used the rail system to get his product to the midwestern retail markets. Prior to the sale of the company in 1954, Champlin Refining Company had grown to one of the nation's largest privately owned, integrated oil companies.
The Great Depression gripped Enid during the 1930s. Extremely depressed wheat and oil prices and a severe drought crippled the basic economy, but the industrial base and trade center status stayed intact. Champlin Refinery continued at near capacity, and the Pillsbury's flour mill, which had been built a few years before the economy plunged, continued to employ a core work force, albeit with low wages. George Failing patented his portable drilling rig, birthing a new industry for Enid, and cooperative marketing efforts were embraced by farmers laying the seed bed for future development of Enid's terminal grain elevator industry.
Many local businesses fell victim to the Depression, and Enid lost three banks in 1930 and 1931. Herbert H. Champlin symbolized the community's tenacity when he refused to close his First National Bank when Gov. William H. Murray ordered a statewide banking holiday in 1933. Champlin's defiance forced Murray to call out the Oklahoma National Guard to close the bank, an unprecedented action in banking history.
With the advent of World War II the U.S. Army located one of its basic flying schools at Enid. Constructed in wheat pastures south of town, the Air Corps Basic Flying School of Enid, Oklahoma, opened in November 1941. Mothballed shortly after war's end, decommissioning was fortunately delayed. When hostilities began to surface on the Korean peninsula in 1948, the military (now under U.S. Air Force command) reopened the base. In 1949 the base was renamed Vance Air Force Base to honor local Medal of Honor recipient Leon R. Vance, Jr., who died in 1944. Vance Air Force Base remained in operation and at the beginning of the twenty-first century was Enid's largest employer.
The post-World War II years brought modest but steady growth to Enid. Town population grew to 38,859 by 1960, spurred by expanding oil and gas activity, the emergence as a major inland grain storage terminal center, and the success of the portable drilling rig manufacturing industry. Steady growth continued in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a result of Oklahoma's oil boom. In the early 1980s Enid suffered a second economic decline with the oil bust. Farm land prices became depressed and farm credit weakened. During this period many of Enid's financial institutions were closed, including the Champlin family's First National Bank.
The 1980s brought challenging economic times. Phillips University, despite high academic ratings, encountered a severe financial crisis in 1987. Community leaders organized a creative sale/lease-back financial bailout designed to shore up the struggling university, then Enid's only higher education institution. The strategy helped Phillips survive for an additional eleven years, but it finally succumbed in the summer of 1998. Fortunately, the economic development plan initiated in 1987 allowed Enid to establish a University Center, which later evolved into a branch campus of Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Northern Oklahoma College acquired the Phillips campus in 1999 to house its Enid branch campus.
Enid's traditional trade-center role continued into the twenty-first century. The economic base has broadened to include regional medical services, food processing, light manufacturing, and financial services. Enid is the corporate headquarters of Advance Food Company, Groendyke Transport (trucking), Atwoods (hardware, lawn and garden stores), and Johnston Enterprises (grain elevators). Vance Air Force Base, the city's largest employer, survived the Department of Defense base realignment and closure review in 2005 and was targeted to receive additional personnel. City amenities include Leonardo's Discovery Warehouse, Enid Symphony Hall, Railroad Museum of Oklahoma, David Allen Memorial Ballpark, Southern Heights Heritage Center, Government Springs Park, and the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. At the turn of the twenty-first century Enid had a council-manager form of town government.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Berlin B. Chapman, "'The Enid Railroad Wars': An Archival Study," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 43 (Summer 1965). Robert N. Gray, The Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma (Enid, Okla.: Dougherty Press, Inc., 1992). Marquis James, The Cherokee Strip: A Tale of an Oklahoma Boyhood (New York: Viking Press, 1945). Velma Jayne and Stella Rockwell, O County Faces and Places: A Collection of Cherokee Strip Photos and Stories (Enid, Okla.: N.p., 1968). George Rainey, The Cherokee Strip (Guthrie, Okla.: Cooperative Publishing Co., 1933). Stella Campbell Rockwell, ed., Garfield County, Oklahoma, 1893-1982, 2 vols. ([Enid, Okla.]: Garfield County Historical Society, 1982).
Gary L. Brown
© Oklahoma Historical Society