Tag Archives: western Oklahoma

Traditional Freedoms: EPTOM ~ Seiling, OK

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 7.52.46 PMA quick retrieval of information from Wikipedia provides this about the setting for our recent stories:

Dewey County was founded in 1892 as “County D.” Six years later, the official county name was changed to “Dewey” in honor of Admiral George Dewey, the only person in U.S. history ever to be awarded the rank of “Admiral of the Navy.” His Congressional appointment further specified that this position was equal to “Admiral of the Fleet” in the British Royal Navy.

What you won’t find on your Wiki screen, however, are the large and small pieces of history — some oral, some recounted from texts — that locals shared in almost every conversation we had over the course of our two and one-half days in that area.

Stories of people who disappeared and were never found. The tale of two cowboys so highly conflicted that when they finally killed each other in a gun fight, the locals buried them together as payback for the havoc wreaked upon their community. Skeletons found on the wild tundras. Tough times on massive cattle ranches. Outlaws. Historical robberies and shootouts with the culprit finally found by tracking his blood drops across the snow-covered spaces.

The people of Dewey county imbue rugged resilience, friendliness to strangers, and gifts of time for those who choose to trek into their territorial turf.  It’s as if the auras of those who lived in their niche during the turn of the century continued to transfer to the next generation, and the next. So if the Putnam or Taloga or Vici or Leedey or Camargo or Fay or Seiling humanity had updated historically…the personas — somehow — had not so much.

Chism Sander of Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.
Chism Sander of Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.

Chism Sander was one of these folks who graciously offered his time…time enough to allow us to take in his articulate vernacular. Time enough to share familial anecdotes about his family’s fireworks business.  Time enough to actually talk about guns and gun ownership, a topic that others in our project have avoided rigorously.

On a personal note, it is this gift of time Chism extended to us in July of last year that made me want to return that gift to him.  A little over a month ago, the Sanders lost a family member.  During that same time, I was ready to publish this work. But I just couldn’t. I felt that even though our team had only spent 45 minutes in the hot summer sun with Chism, it was appropriate that we somehow wait; somehow honor their family’s loss.  We strangers who were given this moment in the Sander fireworks stand paid our respects from afar.

Sander fireworks stand, Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.
Sander fireworks stand, Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.

I will never be able to quantify what it means to intersect with the life of a stranger. Of being given permission to sit with them and to touch the edge of their life’s boundary and those included in their stories.  But one way I would approach attempting to quantify the encounter we had with Chism is this: when I have thought of Seiling, Oklahoma during this past year, I didn’t associate any of those thoughts with Gary England.

Rather, I associated what I had learned about the autumn foliage as viewed from a creek bed during hunting season. As fish being pulled from the local ponds and cooked in fryers or pans at night. And, I associate Seiling with Chism Sander, a man who seems to be as comfortable selling fireworks to his town-folk as he does waxing poetic about the sense of community knitting him, and them, together.


Land Tales: Taloga, OK ~ EPOTM Dewey County Run

Dewey County was proving to be a run that felt more personal to me than most. Case in point: second stop, Taloga, OK. Enter, Mel Jean “Jeannie” Weber.

Jeannie Weber, owner/manager of the Dewey County Abstract Company.

Having been referred to her from a downtown bystander, our team waited patiently in the front room theatre seating of the Dewey County Abstract Company. Jeannie was attending to customers who had questions. And stories.

Rachel Apple, our team photographer, hanging out in the front area of Dewey County Abstract Company.

Perhaps it’s because I am the mother of two daughters. Perhaps it’s because I grew up as a female child in a universe that historically deemed first-born males with magical powers and hereditary rights.

Perhaps it’s because I’m writing this post the day after Hillary Clinton has effectively won her party’s nomination for the Democratic presidential candidate.  This, in a country that began with women who couldn’t vote, own property, or use their voice without public sanctions.

Very early history of the business Jeannie runs.

Perhaps…it’s because Jeannie demonstrated a keen sense of social equity, a strong sense of self, a perspective of the journey women in Oklahoma – including her mother – have taken and where they might be going.  A sense of understanding male physical strength as a unique skill for some vocations but where intelligence and critical thinking provide equal footing in others.  Perhaps it’s because she can comically joke about an area brothel going out of business, and in the same breath pledge her allegiance to the place where she was born, raised, and will most likely die.

Whatever the reasons, and most likely “all of the above,” today I have one thought on my mind: Jeannie Weber for President!

Jeannie and our videographer, April. Coordinated outfits, yes?




Red Dirt Rambler: Western Oklahoma, Ho!

On Tuesday afternoon, August the 2nd, I had reached my physical limit of everything: all the days I could work in a row, all the advising sessions I was able to think through with students, all the assignments I could possibly grade and all the hours I could sit in my office chair moving through task after task of summer responsibilities.  And while I’m sure I could have mustered the energy to grade one more paper if someone were holding Pistol Pete hostage on the university lawn screaming over a bull-horn, “We will NOT let Pete go until you grade one paper past your perceived limit!” I’m truly glad I didn’t have to.

I was done and just needed to get away.  This happens to me every Spring or Summer and is becoming a tradition.  Mick knows the power of my “I’m leaving for a couple of days, I’ll call you and let you know where I am, I’ll be safe, goodbye” message.  In fact, he now tells this to people on the phone.  I’ve heard him.

“Oh, she just has to get away for a few days.  A full school year has passed and she just needs to roam.  She’ll be back in a day or two.”

In Australia they call it “going walkabout.”  In Oklahoma, I call it “time to explore.” Or maybe, Relief. Release. Defragging. Breathing. Running Away.  One or perhaps all those descriptions work.

The problem this year, however, was that I knew wherever I chose to go I would be met with the same thing: insufferable heat, evidence of drought and swimming pools crammed with too many people trying to cool off.  So my exploration decision had nothing to do with getting away from the heat.  This time, it had everything to do with going toward the heat.  I wanted to see how bad things really were.

For weeks I had been monitoring the “OK Fires” Twitter feeds, watching as new fires were daily being reported in southwestern and western Oklahoma.  I had also monitored “#agchat” which is a weekly conversation among farmers about current issues.  They were suffering.  I don’t know why I so desperately needed to see the suffering up close and personally, but I did.  Although I haven’t lived on a farm since I left my childhood home, I still feel like an Oklahoma farmer in many ways.  I feel comfortable around farm life and people, I like to learn about agricultural issues, and I empathize when “my people” are hurting.  I made two phone calls, found a Bed and Breakfast in Elk City, booked my room and headed west early Wednesday morning.  My colleague had warned me to “Pack a water jug, Kelly.  If you break down, it could be the difference between surviving and dying.”  She’s a smart woman.  I packed a large water jug, two changes of casual clothes, sunscreen, my sunglasses and headed out the door. Continue reading Red Dirt Rambler: Western Oklahoma, Ho!