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OKARCHE

Okarche is located in Canadian and Kingfisher counties on U.S. Highway 81, sixteen miles north of Interstate 40 and approximately fourteen miles north of El Reno. Originally within the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation, the town originated with the construction of a depot by the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway, which built its Kansas-Texas line through the area in 1890 (after 1891 owned by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific system). The name of the community was derived by using the first letters of Oklahoma, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. Laura M. Speer established the Okarche post office in 1890 between the main and branch line tracks. With the 1892 opening of the Cheyenne-Arapaho lands to non-Indian settlement, the townsite was swamped with eager settlers. At the same time, the boundary between Canadian and Kingfisher counties was moved six miles south, with the result that the town straddled the county lines.

The surrounding farming community provided Okarche's economic mainstay throughout its history. By 1899 four elevators, a flour mill, a creamery, and a cotton gin operated there. Around this time, a large German-speaking population moved into Okarche. They became dominant, so that by 1902 German was the official language in four local churches and a mutual insurance society. In the 1920s the town boasted the largest local organization of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers in the state. Poultry farming was also a sizeable industry in the area for many years. In about 1927 U.S. Highway 81 was realigned to extend directly through the town. Twenty years later the twenty-six-mile Northwest Highway from U.S. 81 to Oklahoma City opened two miles south of Okarche. Developments in the North Okarche Field in the 1960s resulted in the construction of a Pan American gas plant three and one-half miles north of Okarche in 1962, further diversifying the local economy.

Incorporated in 1905, Okarche had 414 residents at 1907 statehood. Three years later, the population was down slightly to 402, but it began to climb again, so that 449 persons called the town home by 1920. At the end of the Roaring Twenties, 482 citizens resided there. A small drop brought the population to 453 in 1940. Reversing this trend, the 1950 population stood at 532 , and an additional fifty-plus inhabitants raised the 1960 total to 584. Connected to the gas well developments, the population jumped to 826 by 1970. In 1980 the number of Okarche residents topped 1,000 for the first time. The population peaked in 1990 at 1,160 and lost only fifty over the ensuing decade, to bring the 2000 census count to 1,110.

Only two newspapers have served the town over the years. The Okarche Times began publication in 1893 and ceased in 1942. The Okarche Chieftain, a continuation of the Calumet Chieftain, started operations in Okarche in 1943 and continued to publish in 2005. The town utilizes a commission form of government.

SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: El Reno (Oklahoma) American, 22 March 1928. History of Canadian County, Oklahoma (El Reno, Okla.: Canadian County History Book Association, 1991). Richard C. Rohrs, The Germans in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). W. A. Willibrand, "German in Okarche, 1892-1902," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 28 (Autumn 1950). W. A. Willibrand, "In Bilingual Old Okarche," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 29 (Autumn 1951).

Cynthia Savage

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