In honor of tonight’s NCAA Men’s basketball final between Louisville and Michigan, don’t you think it’s about time to revisit Southwestern Oklahoma – home to some of the best small school basketball teams – and make sure we know how to pronounce those town names? Just in case you’re wondering how to pronounce the capital of Kentucky, it is pronounced, “FRANK-fort”.
Red Dirt Kelly gave birth to the Red Dirt Chronicles just a few short years ago. Since that time she has posted Red Dirt trivia questions on Facebook about all things related to Oklahoma. My favorite trivia questions are the ones that focus on Oklahoma places. When it comes to Oklahoma place names, the trivia can include more than just location, it might even pull out the old “how do you pronounce . . .” routine. As Jeff Foxworthy might say: “You might be from Oklahoma if you know how to say ‘Gotebo’, ‘Hobart’, ‘Eufaula’, Oologah, or Skiatook.”
Southwestern Oklahoma has its fair share of names that make you either grin or raise an eyebrow before attempting to say them. Go pack a snack now, and a tall glass of sweet iced tea, and we’ll take us a little road trip around Southwestern Oklahoma and discover some of these places. Leave your GPS devices at home for this trip – just pick up a copy of the free map of Oklahoma that the tourism department provides. It’ll save you a hundred bucks or so, and give you a better idea of where you are going.
Driving along US 62, halfway between Altus and Lawton, there is that sign that says “Gotebo –>”. Gotebo is one of those place names that exposes the non-Oklahoma roots of weather reporters. Very few know that it sounds just the way it is spelled, “go-tee-bo” with all long vowels. Gotebo is located in Kiowa County, at the junction of State Highways 9 and 54. It was founded around 1901 and has a current population of 226.
Northwest of Gotebo is Retrop. Some may wonder where this strange name came from, but it is quite simple, really. Spell it backwards and you have the surname of the first family to settle in Retrop. When the town applied for a post office, they discovered there was a town in Indian Territory named “Porter”. When word came back to Retrop about Porter, the forefathers said, “Let’s just spell it backwards.” Retrop is located on the Washita/Beckham county line, along State Highway 6, not too far down the road from Sentinel.
Up the road a ways from Retrop are two towns located a few miles apart on either side of State Highway 54, and nearly always paired together on the highway signs. Corn and Colony are their names. I’m not sure if they grow corn in Corn, or if any colonists remain in Colony, but I do know that one has family ties to John Denver. An Indiana neighbor of mine, Karen, who lives just across the cornfield, once asked if I knew were Corn was. She was shocked to learn that yes indeed I knew where the town was. I was shocked to learn that she had actually been there! Turns out, one of her college roommates was a Corn native.
Bouncing around the southwest quadrant of Oklahoma, pick up a baseball bat and strike up a conversation about Binger. If you are old enough to have caught a Binger high school game in the mid 1960s, then chances are you saw a future MLB Hall-of-Famer running the bases, back before he hit the majors. Binger, located between Hinton and Anardarko, at the intersection of State Hwy 152 and US Hwy 281 is of course, the proud home of retired Cincinnati Reds catcher, Johnny Bench.
Meander on south, and maybe a tad back west, and you will find yourself in the heart of the Big Pasture country, Loveland, population 13. Loveland is a farming community in Tillman County, between Grandfield and Frederick. As you might have guessed, the Loveland post office was a major attraction for many years due to heart-shaped hand-cancelled postmark. The post office closed due to federal postal budget cuts. Many a sweetheart sent their Valentine cards to Loveland to be hand-cancelled on February 14. Brides-to-be kept the postal clerks stamping up a storm the rest of the year, due to their desire for their wedding invitations to be sent from “Loveland”.
Head west and slightly back north, and we will take in three dots on the map in Jackson County, around Altus. The first stop is at Ozark, now a ghost town along US Hwy 62, seven miles east of Altus. There’s not much left of this former bustling little burg on the prairie, just south of the Navajo Mountain. The general store is grown up in weeds and the school long-since burned down. Across the highway sits a new grain elevator, complete with side track from the main railroad line. Two ironies surround Ozark – one, it is nowhere near the Ozark Mountains of Northeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, and two, for those who’ve traveled along I-40 in Arkansas – you know there is also an Altus & Ozark, Arkansas. In Arkansas, however, Altus is the small town and Ozark the big town.
Northwest of Ozark is Friendship, a farming community full of friendly folks, located a short distance from Altus Air Force Base. While tractors, combines, and cotton strippers are a common site on the ground – a skyward glance reveals close up views of US Air Force cargo jets being flown by pilots in training. Friendship has one Baptist church (the first church I ever attended!) and a Volunteer Fire Department.
The third dot in Jackson County is Victory, west of Altus, and north of US Hwy 62. Once the founding fathers were able to secure a post office for their village, they declared it a victory, and named the town accordingly. Victory was also the site of a children’s home for many years.
The last stop on our tour-de-Southwest Oklahoma is Granite. Why would anyone name a prairie town “Granite”? The answer is simple. At the north end of town sits a granite mountain, part of the Quartz Mountain chain. This mountain (or hill by Webster’s standard) stands like a sentinel, guarding the friendly little town at its base. The mountain has also provided the granite for many a memorial stone, bust, and granite-carved picture. You will also find a much-larger-than life likeness of Will Rogers, made from the granite located there. The original plan was to include Mr. Rogers, Sequoyah, and Jim Thorpe, but that dream was never fully realized.
Thank you for taking a trip across the Great Plains with me. See you next time on a red dirt road!
For more information on some of the towns mentioned above, follow these links: