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Jim's story - Page 7

Written by James Needham Groom (b.1911-)

When one drives east on state highway #33 near Canadian, the scenery is a vast, sweeping range land, dotted with ranch homes, crisscrossed with cottonwood lined creeks and draws. There are very few acres of cultivated land, mostly in flat meadows along the creeks. It is nearly like it was when the Comanchies roamed over it, until you come to the Oklahoma state line. There the scene changes to old abandoned fields, eroded and cut by gullies, over grown by Shinnery. It is such a contrast that it doesn’t seem reasonable that so great a change could be in such a short distance. I’ll try to explain this change, since I was a part of the cause of it.

Before the Civil war, as far back as any one can trace it, the plains between Kansas City, Missouri to the Rocky Mountains, east and west, and the Canadian border to the Gulf of north and south Mexico was inhabited by the various plains Indian Tribes, Cheyenne’s, Arapahos, Sioux, Otoes, etc. They lived by following the vast herds of Buffalo, eating buffalo, deer, antelope, wild plums, snakes, roots of various kinds, snaring rabbits, chipmunks, gophers and other small rodents. I don’t know the exact number, but it probably took several thousand acres to sustain one Indian. When the Indians’ population outgrew the food supply, they starved, thus everything was kept in balance for centuries. The "White Eyes" came and took up some of the land and killed the buffalo and started busting the sod to plant crops. Since the Indians needed all of the land, including even the least wild plum thicket to live, there ensued a conflict of life styles to such an extent that a compromise was impossible. Throughout all of history, when the nomad conflicted with the herdsman and farmer, the nomad always lost, in the end. The Spaniards solved their Indian problem in South American and Mexico by slitting their throats, but the USA being more humane, in their own eyes, gave the Indians the Oklahoma territory. This solved nothing for the Indians, as the Buffalo and wild game were all gone, so with all the Plains Indians crowded into western Oklahoma, the U.S. government had to issue rations to the Indians or watch them starve. Someone came up with the idea to give each adult Indian 160 acres and let the whites homestead all the land left over. Thus, all the hilly red clay and deep sandy land in western Oklahoma was settled by white farmers who had a dream of owning their own land and being their own boss.

This is were I came into the picture. My father was a Baptist preacher and he came into the Big Bend of the Canadian River near the Twin and Antelope Hills, 40 miles east of Canadian, Texas, and 30 miles north west of Cheyenne, Oklahoma. He preached two Sundays a month, each at two small country Baptist churches, and farmed a few acres during the week. As the ground was first plowed, the grass turned under gave the land enough organic matter that the first few crops were good, but nothing being added to the soil year after year, plowing straight up and down the slopes, the land quickly grew too poor to produce crops, and in a few years washed into gullies with most of the top soil gone. The horses and cows kept the grass clipped off short so it couldn’t compete with the Shinnery, which took over the pastures. As each year passed, a few families gave up and sold out to a neighbor or the bank foreclosed. Gradually, the land reverted to cattle ranches, with enough damage done to the land that nature will need thousands of years to repair the soil abuse, if indeed it ever does.

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