Category Archives: Oklahoma culture

EPOTM: Wyandotte, OK ~ Cassie Pearl and the Cool Rock House

Quietly, I watched Cassie Pearl Browning name each relative who lived within a couple of miles of her new home, the lease signed only two weeks before we visited her. She was in her element, surrounded – literally – by family members who had settled in Wyandotte generations ago.

I live on the corner of this mile section – I’m the only one on THIS mile section.

The mile section directly south of us – I have some distant cousins just on this corner across from me.

And the mile section directly east of us, on the corner, the 40 acres was owned by my great-great grandparents.

And, the corner – my great-aunt had built her and her husband’s house whenever they got married – they moved in there.  We sold it when she passed away, and it went to another family member, which happens to be my landlord’s mother.

And then on the back side of that 40 acres is my aunt…my mother’s sister…and then half-way down that road is my second cousins from Dallas – they moved up here in 98 and built a house, and if you go travel north on that same mile section – you go half a mile and my parents live down there.

But before you get there, my other aunt and uncle live down here.

And, if you go on the mile section that’s cattycornered from us – my brother lives on the opposite side of it – south side of it – facing that section…and, uh,..that’s all of us…maybe…

Cassie was raised in Miami until she was twelve, when her parents bought their 40 acres in Wyandotte. She’s so attached to the land and the area that she moved back into her parents home for a year after graduating from college, waiting for property in the area to become available.

Just as she was about to give up and “move into town,” her landlord’s son took a preaching job.  So, she’s now living in the home her great-great and possible one more great-uncle built.

In the video, Cassie mentions the rocks with which her great-times-three uncle covered the home. They had been retrieved from the Picher mines, and when you peer close, tiny worlds of crystallized quartz and other formations can be seen.


_DSC0022Cassie Pearl Browning was surrounded by history, and completely comfortable with those surroundings.

She feels at home in her “new-old” home, as did we on that drizzly day while sitting on her porch.

Happy housewarming, Cassie Pearl.




Rachel J Apple, photographer and EPOTM partner.
Rachel J Apple, photographer and EPOTM partner.

EPOTM Visits NonDoc in Essay Over Truths


When you glance left, then downward just a bit on our Red Dirt Chronicles homepage, you’ll notice a small section we’ve entitled: “RDC Recommends.”  And, we do.

We choose our recommendations carefully, sharing those we feel not only fit with our mission, but provide a quality read.

One site listed is on our minds especially today.  NonDoc, a site and mission dedicated to quality journalism and “the public good,” launched a series today highlighting broader themes collected through our Every Point on the Map project.

In the kick-off essay entitled “Oklahoma Blog Seeks Beauty from Every Town in the State,” I’ve written about how both food AND wine provide moments of Truth with our discussants (in vino et cibo veritas).

I do hope you’ll take a moment to visit NonDoc, read our essay, and think about where it is you find your Truths.


Abbey Brave and Tall: EPOTM – Peoria, OK

One of the most unjust things I could ever imagine would be to decide whether Abbey or Carolyn Rollins has more grit.
Carolyn, having been in the periphery of baby Abbey’s community life over nine years ago, took her in…first as a foster child, but soon to adoption court.  Although the State had been grateful for her foster parent status, she was denied her petition to adopt because of her age.

But Carolyn didn’t accept that answer.  She appealed, and was eventually granted permission to become Abbey’s mother.


Abbey’s high school-level vocabulary and tender heart are a product of her educational deep dive into her studies at Quapaw schools, mixed with being socialized by a mother who volunteers at their local church food pantry every week.

The day we rolled into Peoria was as gray as clouds could bear. Rain dripped from the rooftops, dogs barked as we cruised by aging houses with bars on their windows.


But as we sat in the wood paneled living room of Carolyn’s trailer, the view was transcendent. Carolyn rocked in her recliner, Abbey sat on the arm rest, and they held hands all the while we were there.

Of this I’m certain: they needed each other, and they are better because of each other. Bless everything about you, Carolyn and Abbey Rollins.


_DSC0043 _DSC0077 _DSC0081

Cigar Philosophy in the Warr Room: EPOTM ~ Yukon, OK

Kyle Warr’s grandfather and father developed much of what is now known as Warr Acres, Oklahoma. Kyle is a business person who lives in Yukon with his family. Get to know a little about him, his cigar shop and music business during this Every Point OK conversation in this video. Continue reading Cigar Philosophy in the Warr Room: EPOTM ~ Yukon, OK

“Surviving Just Right” – EPOTM: Little Axe, OK


Mike and Michelle Silsby were the first Every Point participants who fed us.

They were also the first couple to witness us being approached by a Lake Thunderbird ranger who asked us for a park entry fee because we stepped out of our vehicle.

And, they’re the last stop for our Highway 9 series.

Peace, Silsby family. It was good to meet you.

~the EPOTM Team

NOTE: Thank you to Sherree Chamberlain for permission to use her music, “Summer Heat,” as the soundtrack to this video.

Continue reading “Surviving Just Right” – EPOTM: Little Axe, OK

Covered Wagons, Dugouts, and Snakes: An Oklahoma Land Run Narrative

by Atlanta B Crouch, 1890

Long ago during the days, on the lonely westerns plains of covered wagons, dugouts and snakes, we – my husband and I – began house keeping on a farm seven miles west of Ashland, Clark County, Kansas in 1890, April 17, in a dugout; and I soon learned that I had a man who liked good things to eat. So consequently, we often had company.

It was on one of these occasions when the diners were seated at the table that I turned around to refill someone’s glass with water that we discovered there was an extra guest.

I said, “Will you just look who’s come!” Continue reading Covered Wagons, Dugouts, and Snakes: An Oklahoma Land Run Narrative

Kim Kidder, Kidderville, and McKiddeyville: EPOTM…somewhere…

The following account contain facts of my best recollection regarding our search for McKiddeyville, Oklahoma:

We had just completed our discussion with Ray Newton on his small porch in Lexington and were packing up for our next stop. Destination: McKiddeyville.

Unfortunately, our GPS system kept telling us McKiddeyville was about one block off the downtown Lexington proper.  We got out our map and realized McKiddeyville didn’t even exist on the official EPOTM map, but it had been specially requested by a donor. So, we forged onward.

My frequent solution to glean information about a wide variety of small town topics is to visit the local police or fire departments, the court, or some other community institution.  And, we spied the police department first, located in an old street-front office that could have been a drug store or barbershop 100 years earlier.

As I entered their domain, four sets of police officer eyes locked with mine. Continue reading Kim Kidder, Kidderville, and McKiddeyville: EPOTM…somewhere…

Every Point Podcast #1: Ray Newton of Lexington on His History with Racism in Oklahoma

Today’s podcast features a man we met drinking coffee on his porch one Sunday morning named Ray Newton. Ray starts his story by sharing how it was that he decided to enter the Air Force and about fighting in the 1968 Tet Offensive. Most of his narrative, however, centers around his history with racism in Oklahoma, and how he has reconciled what he experienced with what he now knows.

This podcast is comprised of almost our complete discussion with Ray, edited only for wind noises or non-relevant banter. As you listen, we hope you can picture yourself sitting on Ray’s porch with us and enjoying his morning chat.

“Better to Say He Ran Away Than to Say There He Lay'” ~ EPOTM: Lexington, OK

On a clear Sunday morning, our Every Point OK team took a right turn somewhere off Main Street in Lexington. Two blocks later we cruised by a small, white home and spied Ray Newton on his porch drinking coffee. Bright sunlight washed over his serene repose. Continue reading “Better to Say He Ran Away Than to Say There He Lay’” ~ EPOTM: Lexington, OK

EPOTM: Fay, OK – “Unincorporated Community Pulls Off Annual Christmas Miracle”

We pulled into the Fay school parking lot just as some of the last cars were leaving; a few people lingered, “to go” meals in their hands, in order to finish their conversations before saying goodbye.  Lunch was over, and as we entered the double doors we could hear Senior Citizens Center volunteers in the kitchen cleaning up.

There are at least five and possibly six separate stories we could write over our stop in the southeast corner of Dewey County. Legend, verified by some facts and newspaper articles, tells of a young bank robber who killed at least two people in the town grocery store while trying to escape; he was eventually captured because those in pursuit followed his trail of blood drops across the snow. Continue reading EPOTM: Fay, OK – “Unincorporated Community Pulls Off Annual Christmas Miracle”

EPOTM: A Real Santa Claus in Cache, OK

‘Lil Mama’s Cafe was warm.

With red walls and trim, a printed Christmas scene curtain hanging on a rod, and a decorated spruce surrounded with Angel Tree gifts donated by community members…the setting was a stark contrast to the wild, open drive across the Wichita National Park we had just completed. Rachel and I talked quietly, eating oatmeal and planning our day.

However, fate had taken care of the planning for us.

Already full of Christmas Spirit from our previous evening in Medicine Park, we discovered that Santa was drinking coffee at the table next to ours!  And, after a brief bout of cajoling from our waitress and the Cafe’s owner who was also his daughter, we sat with Mike Carrick and learned three things: 1) Santa is real; 2) Santa serves many functions for children, depending upon their situation or needs; and, 3) being Santa is a higher calling that I had imagined.

Merry Oklahoma Christmas to you and yours…

Kelly Roberts and Rachel Apple ~Every Point on the Map project


EPOTM “Ten Percent Show” Reception at H&8th Sept. 25th!

The Oklahoma City weather forecast is calling for a beautiful 74 degrees at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25th…perfectly suited for a magical family and pet-friendly H&8th Event.

Dinner and street art, music and other festivities will offer a relaxing start to your evening. And, our Every Point on the Map (EPOTM) “Ten Percent Show” held at Elemental Coffee will be ready to greet you at 9:00 p.m. to tie a bow on your whole day.

Earlier this month, Elemental art show curator hung our EPOTM portraits in a late-night session. Come see the show, enjoy a few stories and attend new footage screening from 9:00-10:30 p.m. during the Sept. 25th H&8th event!

This month, EPOTM fine art large format portraits have been hanging in Elemental taken by Rachel J. Apple, project photographer.   We’ll take a few moments at 9:00 to feed you if you’re not already full, and feed your soul with the following schedule if you are:

9:00 p.m. Hors d’overes and beverages served; view the show if you’ve not already seen our portraits, take a second look if you have.

9:30 p.m. The EPOTM team will take a moment to thank Elemental, share a few stories from their 18 months of travels thus far, and prepare you for our…

10:00 p.m. Screening of new and selected footage from our stops by April J Kirby, our videographer.

Come celebrate with us as we take a moment to be grateful for completing ten percent of the 594 stops to document a meaningful conversation with Oklahomans in every town. And, thank you in advance for being part of our special night…90% to go!

~ Gratefull, the Every Point team,

Kelly, Rachel and April

Charlie Finds a Family ~ EPOTM: Pink, OK

Two years ago a man who was approximately mid-life-aged married a mid-life aged woman whose self-described “second litter” of children were still in middle school. Not only did they form a new family, but they began a quest to enrich their lives.

David Lindsey sets on his newly constructed stoop, under the canopy constructed over an old farmhouse basement floor. Breezes blow across the porch and melt your worries away.

After searching in Crescent, Luther, and a few other places within a reasonable distance of their home, they received a call from a realtor who was driving to Pink, Oklahoma the next day.  She needed to put her signs up at a newly listed 40-acre section of land and thought it might be just the place they were looking for. Continue reading Charlie Finds a Family ~ EPOTM: Pink, OK

“When in Doubt, Hit the Gas” ~ EPOTM Hwy 9 Run: Tecumseh

Terry’s Laundry oozes retro-vibe. 419 E. Walnut, Tecumseh, OK. All photos by Rachel J Apple.

Note to readers: This post contains moderately detailed descriptions of two graphic themes. We suggest the appropriate reading age is for those over 12 years of age.


I spied Donald on our first pass down the main drag in Tecumseh on an early Sunday morning.  Leaning against the west wall outside Terry’s laundromat, something made me double-take his silouette.

Perhaps it was the care he took with his smoke, the brightly printed bandana tightly securing his blond hair, or maybe the miniscule glimpse of his soulful eyes as we cruised by.  All I know was that the end of main street came quickly, followed by our thousandth U-turn, and we were soon making our way into the overly beige space. Continue reading “When in Doubt, Hit the Gas” ~ EPOTM Hwy 9 Run: Tecumseh

“Alligator” – Sample Sonic ID by Faith Phillips

Faith Phillps during her time in Afrida
Faith Phillps during her time in Africa

Faith Phillips is an author who resides in Proctor, Oklahoma.  An attorney by profession, she left her job and metropolitan life to return home and craft her first novel: Ezekiel’s Wheels (2012).

Faith occasionally pens her thoughts on Facebook and I felt they should be shared with more than her social network.

So there we were, see, one night in a cabin deep in the woods somewhere between Miami and Wyandotte, OK, sitting in the living room recording her anecdotes while the rest of our Every Point team was enjoying the cool night air on the porch.  In the middle of our recording session, a whippoorwill got so close we captured its call and added those haunting sounds to her introduction.

All told, there are about thirty recorded musings and we look forward to hearing them on public radio very soon…or perhaps here too.

Enjoy ~~~ Love always, Red Dirt Kelly

“Legacy Ball”: Every Point Hwy 9 Run – Bethel Acres

There’s just something about a Little League ballpark filled with players in their earliest years. Innocence, mixed with invested family members, mixed with the sounds of 200 voices having at least 100 different conversations…carried by the wind on a warm day across the grass, sand and past the concession stands. Being there made my muscles relax. I began craving Sour Punch Straws.

Tee ball is the epitome of cool.  And so was the family we met at the Bethel Acres ball park on our “Highway 9” Every Point run.


We met Cody Laughlin, his wife and their two boys on the bleachers waiting for their turn to take the field and warm up. They were watching a cousin, “right there – number five…,” finish her softball game as they spoke with us.

The Laughlin family’s life revolves around baseball.

We play baseball…started last weekend, our whole summer is baseball. That’s all they want to do – they just want to play catch and hit balls…


Cody served as the spokesperson for the family and as the coach for the team on which his two sons played.  His wife also served as coach, and several times throughout our conversation he relegated his own role and validated her.

She helps…she makes sure who’s up, make sure they have their bats, gloves, it’s the biggest part.  If they get out of order, they’re out…and I can’t coach.

Is she an assistant coach? No, she’s more than that – She’s probably the most important coach – I can tell them to run all day, but if I didn’t have her in there, I – we couldn’t play baseball.


And if they “couldn’t play baseball,” there might be a fairly large space in their lives. Cody played for Dale High School, his team garnering several championships. His father also played for Dale High school, also bringing home State.

And his two sons? He coaches because he wants them to learn to play the right way. To learn the life lessons that come along with the game. He described his high school coach as tough, scary, a stickler for excellence. But he wants his children to enjoy the game, perhaps with a better balance.

I played too much – I’d play a baseball tournament, come home, get a horse, and go to a rodeo. I did too much as a kid – I don’t want them to have that. I just want them to be a kid.


When talking with Laughlin you can tell this “let a child be a child” philosophy is deeply ingrained. We asked him what he wished people understood about children and baseball.

Different kids have different abilities. You shouldn’t PUSH a kid to play a sport – if they’re not good at it, let them try something else. It’s like the parents try to live through the kid. Let them be a kid; live their own life.

[Parents] don’t understand athletic abilities are different in different kids…there are kids out there that are unhappy, they don’t want to be there.


Cody didn’t mince words. It might have been the first conversation I talked more than our participant.  I asked him if he could share a “funny tee ball” story. He said,

I have a kid that’s four on my team, and he will go out there in the outfield, sit down and pick flowers.

Who’s he give them to?

He throws them in the air…


Do you have a favorite ump?

I don’t like any of them.

While we were still laughing at his umpire stories and all the tee ball rules issues, their field cleared and they began to pack their things.


As we took a different position to watch his team play catch I noticed Cody’s wife quietly set up the dugout.  Under the bench she placed a plastic container with each player’s name.  Inside was their equipment, perhaps a snack, and other items.  By the time we headed to the car the dugout was more organized than my kitchen and ready for the game to begin.

I’m not sure if Cody’s two boys will continue the legacy of another State Championship run at their own school, but I am sure of one thing: their parents will support them, regardless if they like baseball or choose another path.



Field notes – We’re picking up Rachel’s first set of 4×5 large format processed negatives and scans from a shop in Norman next week. Can’t wait to see them. April is living and breathing wedding season videos right now. And Kelly is celebrating the formation of a non-profit corporation…she has hopes of eventually spreading the expenses of this project around to a few other places than just her own checking account.



EPOTM Visits “The OKC Show”

Kelly Roberts, April Kirby and Rachel Apple (l to r) relax in the Oklahoma Talking Co studio prior to taping an OKC Show podcast. Instagram Photo by Jason Baffrey.
Kelly Roberts, April Kirby and Rachel Apple (l to r) relax in the Oklahoma Talking Co studio prior to taping an OKC Show podcast. Instagram Photo by Jason Baffrey.

Just before Independence Day, our Every Point on the Map team headed to Midwest City for a visit with Jason Baffrey on The OKC Show.  The Oklahoma Talking Co. studio was stocked with bottled water and creative people, doing their part to build interesting content for those interested in learning more about Oklahoma-based projects.

Thanks, Jason and Nathan, for being such gracious hosts.  And best wishes to your company as you follow your own creative passions! 

A Sense of Place – EPOTM: Stillwater, OK

Lowell Caneday is a Regents Professor for Leisure Studies at Oklahoma State University. But during our conversation, he was a prophet.  He delivered his personal oracle of The Great Outdoors Education, People and Their Connection to Places over a “Wake Up Breakfast” at Granny’s Kitchen in Stillwater.


The only difference between Caneday (pronounced: can-uh-day) and his wife’s order was the meat: he ordered sausage, she preferred bacon. The atmosphere was so over-the-top American Diner we had trouble with our audio that day. Just when our discussants got to a point they were making, the waitress kindly asked to fill our coffee cups, dishes clanked, or the clatter of flatware against stoneware covered their response.

But the breakfast noise pollution didn’t dampen our conversation.  Caneday and his wife Diane were in their element. Granny’s Kitchen was a comfort zone, so much so that when friends or former students come to town, this was where they are taken to catch up.


The Canedays were so kind, it felt like WE were catching up…and we had just met them. Discussion flowed freely.  And one of Caneday’s most comfortable topics was the science of recreation, parks and how people learn in natural environments.

We didn’t know it at the time because Stillwater was the first stop on our route, but the subject of “how people learn in their natural environments” set the stage for every subsequent location on our “Dam Run” in one way or another.

In Pryor Creek, we learned that Google “came to town” because of the abundant water supply and their local school system has received a windfall because of that change. Larry in Adair reminisced about the disappearing wildlife while our Strang family set the stage for their own “sense of place” by watching the sunsets from a local bridge. The Grand River Dam Authority has a full staff helping assist families in their trek to enjoy the lake, while Russell in Disney rails against the establishment for the right of Oklahoma taxpayers to have access to their State Park lands.  And of course, the view from Sonny’s back porch in Spavinaw looking across the lakes and streams completed our education.


At one point, Caneday mentioned something else we later witnessed: the Great Outdoors levels the playing field for people of all cultures and races.

He told a story of how he and his wife met, sharing the intersection of outdoor leisure education and the need for integration “back in the day”:

I had moved from Minnesota to Texas to go to school; I knew all of her friends, she knew my friends. I didn’t like her friends, she didn’t like my friends. I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me.

My senior project from college was development planning in the Department of Recreation for the city (of Longview). Their idea of recreation was –  boys played sports. Girls were cheerleaders. So I had proposed a very different kind of recreation program for the city – an interracial program. This was two years after the civil rights act was passed. [My proposal] was interracial and inter-gender [focused], boys, girls, it didn’t matter. The city bought the idea. And, I needed to hire a staff.

I was rooming with one of the guys [Diane] knew – because her best friend was dating him. He suggested getting together, so I said ‘Bring her over, I’ll cook dinner.’ We spent that evening together, but that morning I discovered she had applied for one of these staff positions.

I ended up doing exactly what I’m not supposed to do. I ended up dating an employee – – that’s probably as good as indication…how joy happens little by litte. I end up telling my students, ‘I violated most federal laws, because you end up dating your own employee – is that harassment? Is it a power play?’ But, in fact, it worked out very very well. She supervised one of the parks in that program – – they still have that program.

The summer that we were dating they had a bus bombing, because they were going to be busing the kids.

The city of Longview had a swimming pool – – but it was Whites only. When an African American could swim in that pool, the whites quit coming. So they built a pool north of highway 80 that became the whites pool – [and then African Americans needed a pool] so they built another one by Martin Luther King street – so the “mixed pool” was never used.

I was a kid from Minnesota – – I was like “what’s the deal?”

There was a great deal of information wrapped up in that small illustration. Preconceived notions of race, gender and class were broken down by offering opportunities through outdoor, recreational settings by working and playing together.  It’s funny, but because the work was so valuable and enriching, Caneday justified dating an employee he hired – because of love…and love of the outdoors. And it makes perfect sense to me.

Trees don’t discriminate. People can hike, swim, fish, our play outdoors because the birds and grass have their own beautiful diversity.  And in his lifetime, Caneday has mentored approximately 60 doctoral students through their PhD process, each of them studying some element of outdoor and recreational life.  It’s clear he loves his students. Breakfast was filled with illustrations of students stopping at their home when visiting Stillwater.

It’s also clear he loves his wife.

Caneday married someone he met while doing his work. Someone who has struggled with Multiple Sclerosis, who survived an auto accident involving a semi-truck. And who fills in on the phone when Caneday isn’t around to give advice to former students:

Jeff Ziger – Chicago, Jewish, semi-religious – married a German Lutheran. When he was about to make a major decision he would call [me] and say, “Okay, you’re closer to God than I am…help me with this decision.”

“So, one day I wasn’t there, and Diane answered the phone, and Jeff said, well Lowell wouldn’t have married somebody who didn’t have a conduit to God…” so they talked it out.

And at the end of breakfast, it was also clear that – although Lowell Caneday wasn’t born in Oklahoma – he had found his own sense of place here in our state.

Every place has its unique characteristics. Ecologists say, “Oklahoma is the most diverse state in the nation – from a geologic and ecosystems perspective.” “We say – this land is your land – we know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand.”

There’s something about being comfortable in the land. Yeah – you learn. You learn about what’s out there in these parks…the tremendous diversity – from a Beavers Bend to a Black Mesa …but it IS a place to learn.


He gave an example when I asked, “If all the parks could be the professors, what would they teach us?”

I’ll give you one example that was in the news – – Foss Lake Oklahoma. Right about this time last year, a gentleman was out walking and came upon some exposed bones. Turns out it’s a mammoth. So, inside the park OU began a dig.

Sometime in February, park staff was doing something using sonar – getting a sense of the lake depths. They found two objects…they were cars that had been lost in the 1960s.

At that point, Caneday paused and got a far away look in his eyes.

I had my answer, but he was still working on his.



Field notes:

When we began this project, we created a Kickstarter project to fund a small start up.  One of the levels we offered was that if a person donated a fairly substantial amount, they could choose a person in one town in Oklahoma with whom we would document our discussion.  Michael Bradley from Eastern Kentucky University saw our note on Twitter, donated to our project, and identified Lowell Caneday as the person he wanted us to speak with.  Caneday was his major professor at OSU…he was giving back, in a sense, from some of what he had received in his education.

Bradley also asked that if we would consider him suggesting a second person, to speak with Terry Aylward in Pryor Creek.  He had attended Boy Scouts with Aylward’s son.

It’s clear from this information that Michael Bradley learned enough during outdoors recreation that he wanted to pass those lessons along with us, our readers, and the students he teaches now that he’s the professor.  Take care, Michael…we enjoyed exploring your turf during our Dam Run series. ~ The EPOTM Team

Downtown Stillwater during another time and another place.
Downtown Stillwater during another time and another place.
Rachel, our photographer, sitting on a stump by a historical home just down the street from our breakfast stop.
Me. I guess we thought that stump was pretty cool. At this point, I'm wondering where April was. This was her first stop with us, and it's likely she was wondering the same thing: Why is this stump important?
Me. I guess we thought that stump was pretty cool. At this point, I’m wondering where April was. This was her first stop with us, and it’s likely she was wondering the same thing: Why is this stump important?
Out takes…



What is “A Point?” One of Many EPOTM Quandaries

I’ve purchased three maps of Oklahoma since we started our project last year.

The first was my inspiration map. Resting on a rack in a 39th Expressway 7-11 minding its own business, I picked it up, counted the towns, and officially committed to the premise of what we now call “Every Point on the Map.”  I was going to have a meaningful conversation with at least one person in each of Oklahoma’s 594 town or city.

594 was the total count on my 7-11 map. Continue reading What is “A Point?” One of Many EPOTM Quandaries

Stairway to the Moon: EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 6 – Spavinaw, OK

If you dropped a leaf in the Neosho River, it would likely bob and twirl southward, eventually making its way into Lake Hudson.  Depending upon the wind, it might hook a left at some point and float along the south border of Spavinaw and on into Spavinaw Lake, a beautiful body of water that serves as the focal point for Spavinaw State Park.

In late January, fishermen stand shoulder to shoulder, casting off the lookout point, each of them  hoping to pull up a nice sized crappe, grateful the weather is pretty enough to be outdoors once again.


I know about the fishermen because we observed them cast, wait, and occasionally nod to each other as if they were using words sparingly, in a friendly fashion, as they went about their business.

We observed them from our own lookout point on Sonny Hopkins’ porch high above the small town of Spavinaw.  High enough to see smoke from wildfires miles away. High enough to feel closer to the eagles when they circle over the lake seeking their own fish. High enough to watch the incoming mediflight helicopters should one of the weekend bikers take the curves up the hill too quickly. High enough to see the moon, during certain times of the year, touch the lake and make a shimmering light pattern resembling a staircase leading straight to the sky.

And high enough to offer a  perfect setting for fiddling jams several times a year.


Spavivaw lies nestled in a valley at lake level, and as our Every Point team scouted the main street area, our eyes lifted to homes above the town built on the edge of a rock cliff, their back porches overlooking the entire valley area.  When we found the neighborhood road leading to that area, Sonny’s door was the first one we approached. Not only did he welcome us in, but he called his nephew Casey Hardison who lived across the street to join the conversation.

Sonny Hopkins and Casey Hardion, sharing their stories on that beautiful porch.
Sonny Hopkins and Casey Hardion, sharing their stories on that beautiful porch.

Sonny’s wife, Lisa, is an associate professor at Tulsa Community College. Casey still keeps his connections with the Army and is a bartender in the high limit room at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in north Tulsa. And Sonny and Lisa’s son is Zirl “Bubba” Hopkins, a fiddle champion who now lives in Texas.  And occasionally, after a long week at the concrete factory, Sonny drives up the hill to his home and helps Lisa prepare for a night full of fiddling.


Evidently after the American Heritage Music Festival or other area fiddle event, the musicians and their entourage head toward the Hopkins’ home to keep music going through the night.  Lisa is known to keep some pretty incredible food around to feed all those jamming on the the porch, in the house, and wherever they can find a spot to play. Our team smiled as we heard stories of these fiddling parties.  One tale included an RV loaded with people,  headed down to the local American Legion for a beer run, because there isn’t a quick stop or grocery store for several miles.


As we sat on Sonny’s back porch looking over the beautiful lake, Casey shared a story with us that brought our team full circle to the bigger themes of our trip: land and water. As is usually the case with any big project, local interests and large business occasionally come to an impasse.  Such was the case when the Spavinaw Dam and water system project was beginning to take shape in the 1920s in order to expand the supply of water to the growing Tulsa area.


The local cemetery was slated to be moved for this project, and that wasn’t okay with the Thompson’s, a local Cherokee family and grandparents of Sonny’s wife.  Relatives guarded their family graves, standing, or sitting on horseback, until the project managers gave up and agreed to leave those three graves alone.  Casey guided us from the house down to the gravesite and sure enough, there they were, resting in their original location close to a pavilion for visitors to convene in the park.


It was peaceful there. The sky was blue, the air cool, the water clear and still. A good place for a gravesite and a family picnic.

RJA-4Casey frequently kayaks in the area, and his routes are more purposeful than a leaf bobbing on the current. The Hopkins home is more than just a porch on a hill. And the town of Spavinaw is more than just a couple of stories our team collected while there.

Spavinaw is a complex concentration of Oklahoma history populated by interesting people, high quality water, and beautiful land deeply entrenched by the lives of those who surround the area. And we’re grateful, once again, to spend a bit of time with those who are tethered to this place.


Field notes: Kelly liked Spavinaw so much she’s fantasy shopped for a small cabin in the area weekly since their trip.

April is helping her best friend move from one great distance in the U.S. to another right now.

Rachel has several photographs featured in the newest edition of Territory magazine that just dropped.

And, our team is heading out next week to Dewey county…a large piece of land with only 8 towns within the borders.

Can’t wait. ~ KMR