Day #4 June 21, 2018 A few weeks ago, the book club I belong to read “ Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann. It chronicled the murders of numerous Osage Native Americans and the birth of the FBI. Very interesting read. The setting is in northeastern Oklahoma in Pawhuska, Grey Horse and Fairfax within the Osage Nation Reservation. It inspired me to drive through this area to have a keener sense of the setting that caused so much harm to the Osage. I was enraged yet again about the malicious treatment of the people of this nation — driven from Kansas and given rocky land for their reservation which was not deemed particularly desirable by white settlers until the discovery of oil. In addition to the events in Osage Country I was reminded of Standing Rock which made current news headlines the last couple of years with Native Americans protesting their land being used for a pipeline. Some dynamics seem to never change with the total disregard of the Native American tribal rights and history.
Driving through Oklahoma was pleasurable, using secondary roads and the Indian Nation Turnpike, looping Tulsa and on into Osage County. The landscape was primarily faming — a combination of pastureland and fields of corn, cotton and hay — and dotted with oil and natural gas wells. The area is heavily dependent on oil to drive its economy. I found it fascinating to see the stretches of terrain being used simultaneously for cattle grazing, while dotted with oil wells and wind farms. The downtown was shabby chic in my estimation and I enjoyed walking its main street. I also surprisingly observed many long freight trains of coal.
The town of Pawhuska has a classic main street with crumbing facades, eroding bricks, and peeling paint of buildings that have seen a richer history. I tried to picture Osage Mollie Burkhart, a resident of Grey Horse; Ernest Burkhart, Mollie’s caucasian husband; Ernest’s uncle, William Hale, whose business interests now dominated the county and who was revered as the “King of the Osage Hills” and Tom White was an old-style lawman assigned by the FBI to the murder cases — all walking the streets of this city.
For me, Pahuska is a welcomed break from the cloned environs of so many towns and cities — homogenized by corporate America with chain after chain after chain of carbon-copy stores and eating establishments. Guess I have already harped on this several times already…but I just can’t help myself in this day and age where there is a desire on the part of many to whitewash everything and bury forever the culture and uniqueness of the small town— all for the sake of big corporate profits. Where towns are preserved and have a flavor of days gone by, usually through corporate investment, they becomes trendy and unaffordable (i.e.Jackson Hole). For many I imagine there is a safety in that realm of sameness but I find it somewhat tragic that we have lost so many of the unique mom and pop businesses. I recollect traveling with a Work and Witness Missions Group in the Ukraine and the overwhelming majority of the members voted to eat at McDonalds in Kiev!!! Aargh!
With the day waning, I opted for the LaQuinta in Panco Oklahoma, sandwiched between car dealerships and yet another xeroxed copy of the now classic USA Interstate Exit. To be fair though, I did not get into he city so it may have a traditional main street downtown area. Ponca City is the headquarters of the Ponca Nation. Like the Osage the Ponca tribe was able to lease their land for oil exploration and development – land once deemed as marginal and used for the resettlement of native American tribes. This LaQuinta was quite new and sported their pillow top beds – which are very comfortable. When asked how my stay was I said I only had one suggestion. They needed to provide a step stool for short people like myself to be able to up onto the rather high bed more easily.