My ‘Hometown’ Apache Oklahoma

Apache was my ‘hometown’ for a year in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student.

My 1973 Apache memories are recorded here.

Former Apache resident Rebekah Cooksey lived there for twelve years or more about ten to twenty years after me. She wrote “Top Ten Things Heard This Weekend in Apache, Oklahoma” after a return visit to her hometown. Her blog now seems to have disappeared, but I got these extracts from it.

Here’s Rebekah:

Small town Oklahoma defined my early life. My hometown was Apache. Population: 1500. Our school was so small we had no class electives; My class pictures between kindergarten and 12th grade included all the same people, generally in the same position.

I am the youngest of seven kids; Dad was a minister, Mom was a nurse. I think at one point we were actually below the poverty level but I have such great selective memory that period is all kind of blurry. I do remember being laughed at because of my clothes and wishing that we could live in a mobile home because some of my friends lived in them, and their homes were nicer than ours. While I had good friends (whom I still keep in touch with), I always knew I would move away because there really wasn’t anything there for me.

Those of you who actually read my blog (thanks, Mom!) know that my family and I went to Apache Oklahoma this past weekend to attend the annual Apache Fair. Going to Apache is always a bittersweet event for me. Growing up in this small town of 1500 people was mostly a frustrating experience, and I spent my junior high and high school years plotting my escape. But even after almost twenty years of being away, I am tied to this place by my memories, my values, and my dreams for my own children — because the kind of town I ran from is exactly the kind of town I’d like to raise them in, but hopefully with a larger population by a factor of ten!

Why bittersweet? Going back reminds me of the many wonderful things about being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, where the same families have farmed the same land for generation after generation, where the values are so traditional that Home Economics is a required course for girls and Ag Shop (agricultural workshop – welding, woodworking, leather tooling) is a required course for boys. But, it also makes me sad, because many of the store fronts are boarded up, the family-owned businesses have been replaced by Sonic and Dollar General, and the landscape is dotted with barns falling into themselves, rusted cars and vans, and, in general, signs of the struggle of the lower-middle class.

The best way to describe it, I’ve decided, is Mayberry meets Sanford & Son, with a Native American twist.

So, in a lighthearted way, I’m going to attempt to share with you some of the highlights of the weekend. Again, while this may appear like I’m poking fun – well OK, it will be poking fun but remember, I grew up here, so I’m allowed to. I’m laughing with my fellow Apacheans, not at them.

# Do you feel that breeze?

apache-wind-farm

There was a lot of controversy over the installation of 150 wind turbines southwest of Apache because of the blight on the landscape. Not surprising: when you have been living with an unobstructed view of the Wichita Mountains for years, and suddenly someone proposes to build wind turbines across the horizon, that’s bound to put a bee in your bonnet. But the Slick Hills (as the foothills of the Wichitas are known) supposedly have some of the best wind in the USA. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm now produces the energy equivalent of powering 60,000 cars on the road, so with the gas price hovering just under $4 a gallon, I don’t think the residents mind so much anymore.

# We’ll have to wait our turn to get on the bridge.

apache-bridge

We actually didn’t stay in Apache for the weekend; instead, we rented a cabin in Medicine Park, a tiny tourist village about half an hour away just outside the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. If you can desensitize yourself to an over-abundance of junked out cars, scrap heaps, and crumbling mobile homes, Medicine Park is quite a cute destination and the natural beauty is astounding. Definitely worth a weekend trip from Dallas-Fort Worth. But my mention here is just about the one-lane bridge that goes across the river in Medicine Park and joins East Lake Drive with West Lake Drive. You don’t see many of these anymore.

# Look, it’s Tow-mater!

In Medicine Park we found what must be the actual model for Tow-Mater from the animated movie Cars.

# Wow! Look at the view from the wastewater treatment plant!

Apache Medicine bluff

The fact that the most beautiful real estate in the area is used by a waste water treatment plant is astounding to me. With a view of the Wichita Mountains, Lake Lawtonka and the surrounding hills, this plot would be turned into million dollar homes (or, adjusted for Oklahoman prices, maybe $250K homes). Seriously, it made my heart sad to see the $32.5m sewage facility sitting smack dab on top of the best view.

Wichita Wildlife Refuge

Wichita Bison

# Hey, Look! The stoplight is working!

apache-stoplight

I remember when the blinking red stoplight was installed at the main intersection when I was in junior high in the early 80′s. It seemed like no time at all had passed before the light burned out. No one seemed to notice, really, and it took years before it was replaced. Clearly progress has been made because the town’s only stoplight was blinking when we drove through town.

# The Apache Rattlesnake Festival drew 60,000 people last year.

apache-rattlesnake-festival

Our little town of Apache is host to one of the largest Rattlesnake Festivals in the USA. The Apache Rattlesnake Festival was created by some local townspeople (one of whom was my high school best friend’s Dad) back in 1986, and features guided snake hunts, contests for the longest/heaviest/ugliest rattlesnake, an ever-growing flea market/craft fair, and a carnival. Last year, they had 60,000 people come through for the 3-day event, and Discovery America was there to film it. Pretty good for this small hometown.

# Mooooo!

Livestock fairs

One of the big attractions of the Fair is livestock judging. Most FFA students have animals that they show at fairs such as this for prize money and bragging rights. This night was cattle judging night, so Jack and Luke got plenty of opportunity to see cows. I think this was the first real “Moo” they had ever heard, poor things. Usually it’s me trying to sound like a cow when I sing Old MacDonald.

Thanks, Rebekah Cooksey for sharing those memories!

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Glimpses into Me — By Rebekah Cooksey from her blog: MyKindOfMom on August 20, 2008

Apache School 2014

Apache Co-Op

Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief

Quanah Parker: Son of Cynthia Ann Parker and the Last Comanche Chief to Surrender.

I learnt a bit about him in Apache and Fort Sill, Oklahoma back in 1973. Here I learnt more, thanks to Darla Sue Dollman of wildwesthistory.blogspot.co.za (edited version).

Cynthia Ann Parker. Photo taken after she was recaptured and returned to her white family in 1881, shortly before she starved herself to death, mourning the death of her daughter. 
Quanah Parker’s story is a complicated saga that begins in May of 1836 when a nine year-old girl living in a Texas settlement with her family was abducted during a Comanche raid. Her father was killed during the raid, but her uncle, a nearby rancher, soldier, and state legislator, Isaac Parker, adored Cynthia Ann and insisted the family continue to search for the child no matter how long it took to have her returned. In fact, it took twenty five years.
Cynthia Ann Parker: Quanah Parker’s Mother
Nine years after she was captured, Cynthia Ann Parker was chosen as the bride to Comanche Chief Peta Nocona. The couple had three children together: Quanah, Pecos, and a young daughter, Topasannah, or “Prairie Flower.” Cynthia Ann Parker was by all accounts a loving wife and good mother, caring for her children at the camp while her husband and the rest of the tribesmen raided Parker County Texas, named after her uncle.
In 1860, Nocona’s tribe was camped near the Pease River. The Texas Rangers raided the camp. Peta Nocona and his two sons escaped into the nearby prairie. Cynthia Ann, who wore her hair cropped short, was also wearing robes at the time of the raid and was almost shot by soldiers, but she held up her child to show she was a mother. When the soldiers questioned her they noticed her blue eyes and began to suspect she might be the long lost niece of Isaac Parker.
Cynthia was returned to her family, but twenty five years had passed and she appeared to be unable to speak English. In a moment of frustration, one of her relatives said, “This can’t possibly be Cynthia Ann” and Cynthia replied, “Me, Cynthia.”
The family gave her a home and some acreage where she could raise her daughter and support herself, but Cynthia was desperate to return to the only family she knew – husband Peta Nocona and sons Quanah and Pecos. She even stole horses in an attempt to return to her husband, but was captured again by her white family who were now her captors. Four years later, little Topsannah died of a fever in her mother’s arms. Cynthia Ann was devastated. Topsannah was the only family she had left. She starved herself to death, mourning the loss of her beloved daughter and her family.
Quanah Parker of the Quahadi band of Comanche
 
It is uncertain when or how Peta Nocona died. It is known, though, that when his oldest son Quanah was 15 he was introduced into the Destanyuka band, where Kobe (Wild Horse) raised him.
His first name, Quanah, means fragrant, and he was teased by his fellow braves when he was younger. As his mother had named him, he fiercely defended his name and his friends learned not to tease or taunt young Quanah, who grew to be a fierce warrior,
Quanah Parker, Texas State Library.
respected by his people who made him a subchief of the Quahadi (Antelope Eaters) band of Comanche. His anger over the loss of his mother never subsided and it is believed this is why he kept her surname, Parker, for the rest of his life. Prior to his life on the reservation, Quanah fiercely rejected any attempts toward peace made by white politicians.
When he reached his early 20s, Quanah started leading raiding parties on his own. When he was 26, Quanah led a daring night raid into the Cavalry encampment of Colonel Ronald Mackenzie, who was actually on a special assignment to hunt Quanah down.
Quanah and his men captured many Calvary horses and sent the rest stampeding through the camp. Quanah’s name was now well-known throughout Texas and he continued to lead raids into pioneer settlements, generally driving off the cattle and horses and taking whatever he pleased from the homes of the white settlers.
In the spring of 1874, the Southern Plains Indians (Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Arapaho) recognizing that Adobe Wells post and the buffalo hunters operating from there were the major threats to their way of life on the plains. The held a sun dance seeking guidance. According to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Comanche Medicine Man Isa-tai promised victory to the warriors who agreed to fight the enemy–the hunters.
Quanah Parker
On June 27, 1874, Quanah Parker led 700 Indians from combined tribes to attack the post. At that time, there was 28 men and one woman at the post, but they somehow managed to kill 70 of the Indians, who were forced into retreat. It was considered a spiritual defeat for the Indians, and a lesson to the traders as well. In 1848, the traders destroyed the post because they realized its location made it impossible to protect. To the U.S. Army, it was the last straw, prompting actions to defeat the remaining tribes and end the ongoing Plains War.
Quanah’s anger could not be appeased. He would have continued to fight to his death, but the Comanche population was dwindling due to disease and war losses, and a low birth rate. One by one, the Comanche tribes agreed to live on reservations. However, the Kwahadi Comanche had never signed a treaty with white men. In fact, they refused to attend the Great Treaty Conference held at Medicine Lodge. They did not trust any treaties proposed by the white men, and rightly so. In the past, just about every treaty signed by the white government was broken by the white government.
Quanah refused to surrender and continued to lead his small band of warriors on periodic raids through the white settlements. The U.S. Army used a technique they often used when attempting to subdue the Native American Indian tribes during the Indian Wars–they stole or killed their horses and destroyed all food sources.
It was September, 1874. The Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne were camped in Palo Duro Canyon on the banks of the Red River. This was viewed as a refuge for local tribes. They had seen soldiers nearby and sensed something was in the works, but they were somewhat unprepared for the attack.
When Mackenzie and his men rode through the camps, the members of the three tribes chose to retreat, and Mackenzie responded as predicted–he burned their lodges and food supplies and drove off 1400 horses and mules.
Then Mackenzie reconsidered the horse situation and came up with an even more brutal solution. Knowing the loyalty between Indians and their horses–the Comanche referred to their horses as “God Dogs,”–he decided to have the horses and mules rounded up in Tule Canyon and shot. It was an act of cruelty that understandably caused the Comanche intense pain and sorrow. In 1875, Quanah and what was left of his warriors rode into a nearby reservation and surrendered.
 
Surprisingly, in spite of his reluctance to surrender Quanah thrived on the reservation.
Quanah Parker
For the next 25 years, Quanah was the leader of the Comanche, and true to his reputation and life example, promoted self-sufficiency and self-reliance among his people. He encouraged the construction of schools and educating Indian children to assimilate with the white culture surrounding them. These actions were not always acceptable to his fellow Comanche, but Quanah could be very persuasive.
Quanah thrived in other ways, as well. He promoted ranching on the reservation and, as always, did so by providing an example. He became friends with wealthy cattle ranchers and spent time with his mother’s relatives, the Parker family, to learn successful ranching techniques. He encouraged the signing of agreements with white ranchers to allow their cattle to graze on Comanche land, yet another controversial move, but he pushed this through by using basic logic–the white ranchers were already using Comanche land and the written agreement showed the Comanche had power and authority.
Quanah encouraged the Comanche to build homes resembling their white neighbors, and to plant crops. Unlike the Navajo, the Comanche were traditionally a roaming tribe, following the buffalo, but the buffalo were gone and Quanah recognized the need to change in order to survive. He even approved the establishment of a Comanche police force, yet another wise move that enabled the Comanche to “manage their own affairs”.
Quanah was sometimes criticized by Comanche for dressing like the white men and assimilating into their culture, but he also surprised the white men with his success. He owned $40,000 in stock in the Quanah, Acme and Pacific Railway and is believed to have been the wealthiest Indian in America in his time. Quanah’s wealth made him popular in white social circles and a popular subject for magazine articles. He was also friends with Theodore Roosevelt.
Eventually, Quanah built a two-story eight bedroom house called Star House. He had separate bedrooms for each of his seven wives and his own bedroom. He had 25 children by his eight wives. One of his close friends, cattle rancher Samuel Burk Burnett, helped him pay for it. The house was moved out of the Fort Sill grounds to the nearby town of Cache in an effort to preserve it.
Quanah rejected orthodox Christianity, but adopted elements of it in founding the Native American Church movement.
Quanah Parker in ceremonial regalia. Photo taken in 1892.
Quanah practiced the “half-moon” style of peyote ceremony. He is credited with saying “The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his tipi and talks with Jesus.” Quanah and John Wilson, a Caddo-Delaware religious leader are believed to be the reason most Native American and Canadian tribes adopted the Native American Church and Christianity.
Quanah Parker was named deputy sheriff of Lawton, Oklahoma in 1902. In 1911 he became very sick at the Cheyenne Reservation from an unknown illness and died shortly after returning home on February 23, 1911. He was buried in his Comanche regalia, beside his mother Cynthia Ann Parker and his sister Topasannah, in Post Oak Mission Cemetery in Cache, Oklahoma. In 1957, the United States expanded a missile base in Oklahoma and moved the graves of Quanah, Cynthia Ann and Topsannah to Fort Sill Post Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma. On August 9, 1957, Quanah was once again re-buried in the same cemetery, in a section known as Chief’s Knoll, with full military honors.
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Old Selfies

Found some old pics from Apache Oklahoma back in 1973.

Dragging Main with my Olympus camera
Dragging Main with my Olympus camera
ApacheOK73 (8)
Self portrait at the Swandas (original “selfie”??) – my last hosts in Oklahoma – Their farm was called “The Swanderosa”(kidding!!).

Oklahoman Honeymoon

As I settled in the seat of the Delta Air plane en route to Texas and the Gulf I read in the newspaper that the one thing I did NOT want to be doing was flying over Easter.

When is Easter? I asked the stewardess. “Tomorrow” she chirped brightly.

Change of plan Aitch, I announced: We’re going to Oklahoma instead of the Gulf. I explained and showed her the newspaper (airport congestion, overbooked flights – us on a cheap Delta pass). Aitch had been dreading going to Apache: “They’ll all know you and I won’t know anyone and I’ll feel left out and . . ”

But now she had to face her fears. As soon as we landed at Dallas-Fort Worth we booked the next flight to Lawton OK, heading back north instead of carrying on south. There was just enough time if we scurried. Aitch decided she’d skip the loo and go once we were airborne. Mistake.

It was a little narrow plane like this, two seats a side, a narrow aisle, no airhostess, no loo. Ooh!

delta-small-plane

We landed in Lawton after dark and she made it. We set off further north for Apache in a rental car. Apache: My hometown for a year as a Rotary exchange student in 1973. Arriving on the Patterson’s farm outside town we saw a huge (or ‘yuge’) SA flag waving from the flagpole! Jim had borrowed an oversize flag to welcome us!

Jim & Katie Patterson, the loveliest couple in the whole of the USA were just the same as ever!

Apache Patterson Lunch (1) Apache Patterson Ranch_cr

They got it from the SA consulate in Houston!
They got it from the SA consulate in Houston!

They welcomed us with open arms in to their beautiful and comfortable ranch house and it was as though we hadn’t been apart for fifteen years (during which time I had received exactly two letters from them. “Well, Peter” said Jim with his crooked grin and twinkling eyes, “We didn’t want to flood you with correspondence”).

ApachePattersonRanch (11)

Katie took Aitch on a night drive in the pickup looking for owls. Both girls were suitably lubricated plus they took extra stocks of their tipple. They had the windows down and were hooting weird owl calls and hosing themselves. When they returned they were laughing uncontrollably, leaning against each other for support. They had seen a possum snuffling around and Aitch was fascinated – she always LOVED the little night creatures. Katie followed it offroad into the fields, keeping it in the headlights. When it stopped she manouevred so it could best be seen and whispered to Aitch “Shall I kill it?” She was surprised at Aitch’s distraught look of horror. She twigged: “No, no, not the possum! I meant the engine!” They collapsed laughing when they both “saw it” and were still laughing helplessly when they got back home where Jim and I were watching ‘the ballgame’ – Basketball I think; OU I think.

…………..

Jay Wood & Robbie Swanda come for a barbecue; Robbie wears my Optometry rugby jersey (that I gave him in 1984, then regretted doing so! My only one!)
Jay Wood & Robbie Swanda come for a barbecue Robbie wears my Optometry rugby jersey, number 8
Jim unwraps the winter covers - Early for Aitch
Jim unwraps the winter covers early for Aitch

Jim even unwrapped the Caddy convertible from its winter covering weeks earlier than usual and presented her with the keys.

Almost, but still not quite . .

All I got was this old tractor that I had driven for Jim back in ’73 (OK, in fairness, he also gave me the keys to the Chevy Suburban).

Here's what I get to drive (memories of 1973)
Here’s what I get to drive (memories of 1973)

Well, our five day trip to Apache stretched to a week. Wherever we went all I got was an elbow in the ribs as the local inhabitants shoved me aside and crowded around Aitch. Every now and then one would mutter over his shoulder at me: “Now you look after this gal, boy! Y’hear?”

After ten days I sat Aitch down and said “Now listen girl, we still have things to do, places to go and people to meet. We can’t stay in Apache forever!” She was having a ball, revelling in the attention and she and Katie were getting on like a house on fire (I suspect on all their jaunts when they would breeze off in the Lincoln saying “Ya’ll stay home and watch the ballgame, y’hear?” that Katie was teaching her how to manage me and telling her how she managed Jim. Aitch obviously soaked up the lessons!). It was Katie who had asked me as a seventeen year old back in 1973: “Peter, who do you think chooses the marriage partner?” Following my confident (wrong) answer she put me straight, telling me how, when Jim arrived for his first day of work at the bank she had turned to her friend and announced “I’m going to marry that man!”).

So it was very reluctantly that Aitch agreed that I could book for the next leg of our extended honeymoon. On to Ohio to see Larry.

My Life as a Cowboy

We sweated in the dust, mopping our brows with dirty red bandanas. The bull calves didn’t like what we were doing, but we had to do it. We wrestled them to the ground, us wranglers, hog-tying their feet before de-horning them and branding them in a cloud of smoke. Burnt flesh smells filled the air. Then it was out with a sharp, clean knife and off with their nuts, deftly. Yep, we castrated ’em. Lastly we injected them, and then we untied ’em.
They didn’t like it. They stood shakily, wondering what the HELL had happened (if you tell anyone I wrote about a bull calf’s feelings I’ll deny it. Us cowboys don’t do emotion, but I’m setting it down for the record, see). Earlier that day they had been romping in the pastures without a care in the world, and now WHAM! No horns, no nuts, and pain in three places!
That evening we gathered in the barn out near the Hrbacek’s place (near Boone, I think) for a mountain oyster fry. Copious amounts of beer washed down the delicious deep-fried and battered ‘oystures’, round, oval and all sizes from marble-sized to about a No. 8 pool ball size. Those last calves had obviously been born early – well before the roundup.
At least we were discreet. In Texas the sign where a church was holding a mountain oyster fry shouted: “COME HAVE A BALL WITH JESUS” !

A mountain oysture fry
A mountain oysture fry

‘My’ Oklahoman Tornado

In Apache Oklahoma in 1973 I lived with the charismatic funeral home owner, fire chief, ambulance driver, hearse driver and tornado alert man, Robert L Crews III. In the funeral home. While I was there we sounded the siren for tornadoes twice and watched them approach. Once we even went down into the basement as it came so close. But both times it went back up into the clouds – didn’t touch ground. The clouds that day:

ApacheOK73 (7).JPG

In May we heard of the Union City disaster. We drove there to look-see. The image that stuck the most in my mind was the main street with many buildings completely gone. One shop had some shelves still standing – with product on the shelves – but the roof and walls were gone.

I found this recently:
Union City Tornado Makes History
NSSL revisits its past as it celebrates 40 years with NOAA – by Rachel Shortt

Tornado Union City 1973   Tornado Union City 1973 Path 17km path

On May 24, 1973, a tornado rated F4 struck the Union City area and was the first tornado widely documented by science as part of storm chasing field research. NSSL out of Norman, Oklahoma placed numerous storm chasers around it to capture the life cycle on film. As the devastating tornado tore through the small town of Union City, no one knew the tremendous impact it would have on the development of weather radar. Researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory now look back on that day as a significant event in the history of severe weather research and forecasting.

And I was (sorta) there!

For a human interest story, see the New York Times article written on the 20th anniversary (1993):
http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/27/us/tornado-veterans-wait-for-next-one.html

Football Turnaround – So Glad You Could Leave!

Played football in Apache Oklahoma in ’73 for the Apache Warriors. The coaches did their best to bring this African up to speed on the rules and objectives of gridiron. We played two pre-season warm-up games followed by five league games. And lost all seven encounters! Myself I was kinda lost on the field, what without me specs! So here’s me: Myopically peering between the bars of the unfamiliar helmet at the glare of the night-time spotlights! Hello-o! Occasionally forgetting that I could be tackled even if the ball was way on the other side of the field!
At that point I thought: Five more weeks in America, five more games in the season, football practice four days a week, game nights on Fridays. I wanted out! There was so much I still wanted to do in Oklahoma and in preparing for the trip home. I went up to Coach with trepidation and told him I wanted to quit football. Well, he wasn’t pleased, but he was gracious. We were a small team and needed every available man, how would they manage without me?
By winning every single one of the last remaining five games, that’s how!!
Coach Hulett won the Most Improved Coach Award and the team ended up with one of their best seasons for years!
I like to think the turnaround was in some small way helped by the way I cheered my former team-mates on from the sideline at the remaining Friday night games!

Apache Football after me