September 6, 2015

Jeff Provine a Product of the Land Run



Oklahoma is one of the few places in the world settled by a land run. At the sound of a noon cannon-shot in 1889, thousands of settlers charged out on horseback, piled into trains, even rode bicycles or ran on foot at the sound of a noon cannon-shot in hopes of staking a claim on 160 acres. In something of the epitome of late nineteenth century senses of Progressivism (including ignoring the negative effects of appropriating land and potential claim-jumping at gunpoint), the principle was simple: the rewards go to the ablest.

I’m a product of the land run. My parents still live on the claim my great-great-grandfather proved up south of the Salt Fork River. I learned the thrill of the run from emulating it in fourth grade as part of statehood celebrations, but lately I’ve taken in a great deal more fact about it as I’ve been delving into state history research for my collections of local ghost legends. My latest, Haunted Guthrie, Oklahoma, goes all the way back to the beginning for a stunning take on a town that surged, peaked, and fell into slumber in less than two decades.

The land runs in Oklahoma gave us boomtowns like no other. While many places in the West had spontaneously erupting civilization, Oklahoma blossomed through rigorous planning of men and women knowing that a new land would suddenly appear, a slate for anything to be drawn upon. Most had one destination in mind: Guthrie.

Guthrie went from a population of a handful of workers at a railroad watering station to over ten thousand in just twenty-four hours. Within weeks, the city began laying streets, installing gas and electric lighting, and putting up buildings. In just a few short years, it had a blocks-long downtown that stood out like a brick-colored Victorian gem on the prairie. Guthrie had nine competing newspapers within seven months; the first, the Oklahoma State Capital, was founded even before there was a territory, let alone a state!
Fulfilling prophecy, Guthrie was the territorial capital and the first state capital, though some sneaky politics stole that title down the road to Oklahoma City. Suddenly out of steam, Guthrie began a decline that closed its many factories and left much of the town empty. Yet this proved to be a blessing in disguise when interest in the past reawakened with the national bicentennial. Guthrie was a pristine town out of time, and its Victorian downtown became a National Historic Landmark.

Today Guthrie welcomes thousands of visitors to its museums, rodeos, bluegrass festival, and the famous Victorian Walk where everyone dresses as if the 1890s never ended. Some believe many of the original settlers still linger. The Guthrie Ghost Walk takes curious guests through downtown, and tours by the Oklahoma Paranormal Association go inside haunted buildings seeking to record evidence of Guthrians long passed. In addition to its Christmastime fame, Guthrie is quickly becoming a must-visit for Halloween.

Jeff Provine, a farm kid turned writer always asking "What If?" He also serves as a professor, lecturing on Composition, Comics, and Mythology. www.jeffprovine.com, author of Campus Ghosts of Norman and Haunted Norman, Oklahoma. His third collection, Haunted Guthrie, releases August 24, 2015.

With your comment, you'll be eligible to win a copy of Haunted Guthrie Oklahoma direct from the author.  Leave a comment and email info and Jeff will draw a winner. Good Luck!  

6 comments:

Linda Swift said...

I enjoyed your blog immensely, Jeff. My grandfather went to Oklahoma as a young man and stayed twenty years, returning to KY to marry his best friend's baby whom he had jokingly promised to marry when he returned if she would wait for him. She did. Another relative on mine lived in Oklahoma Territory and wrote the book Oklahombre which is still available on Amazon. Linda Swift LSwiftR@aol.com

Ken Weene said...

I love a good ghost story, be it about a person or a town. Of course, Oklahoma is itself built on another ghost, the believe that Native Americans could have a place of their own in this world. But that's another story and one that leads me to a painful question: How much of the Oklahoman view of the world is rooted in the denial of the underlying genocidal assumptions of the state's founding. Sure, I know that today there are many Native Americans living and prospering in Oklahoma, but that initial historical moment when the Euro-Americans decided to do away with the promise of a separate Indian Nation and arrogate the land be it for farming, ranching, building cities, or whatever—how does that decision resonate? Perhaps it is that unfinished sin that keeps so many ghosts trapped in this side of eternity.

Mary Deal said...

You've focused so well on your town that I wish to go there. I see it now as a place with an incredible past, present and future. I would love to go on the ghost walk, or just be in your town and soak up the vibes. A maternal aunt lived many years in and around Tulsa and we visited once, but I was only 14 and we didn't get to see much of the state. We did, however, go somewhere - I don't remember - and see the two buildings that my mother's large family grew up in. Have always had a sort of connection of Oklahoma and thought if I traveled through the states, this one would not be missed. Thanks for your lively descriptions. Sounds like a wonderful place to live.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

My Grandpa had a general store in Yukon, OK before statehood, but after the land runs. I have visited Guthrie and gee--you're right--very interesting!

jrlindermuth said...

I've never been to Oklahoma, but you sounds as though your roots are sunk deep and it's a place with many happy memories for you. Like Ken Weene, my feelings about the state are tainted by its early history as a place to isolate people we didn't want in our own backyards.

Fiona McGier said...

I love a good ghost story. I didn't believe in them much until husband and I lived in a house with a "spirit" of some kind who never bothered us much, just wanted to be acknowledged. The house next to ours now has "voices" in it, so much so that the man who lives there alone now, has every light in the house on every night...including in the basement. Having heard the voices once, when the former owners let me use their dryer when they were out shopping, I can understand why!

Never been to Oklahoma. Sounds like a great place to camp!
fiona (dot) mcgier (at) gmail (dot) com