Platt National Park
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In southern Oklahoma not far from the Texas boundary, a group of thirty healing springs, these of cold sparkling water, were set apart by Congress in 1904 under the title of the Platt National Park. Most of them are sulphur springs; others are impregnated with bromides and other mineral salts. Many thou-sands visit yearly the prosperous bordering city of Sulphur to drink these waters; many camp in or near the reservation; the bottled waters bring relief to thousands at home.
Through the national park, from its source in the east to its entry into Rock Creek, winds Travertine Creek, the outlet of most of these springs. Rock Creek outlines the park's western boundary, and on its farther bank lies the city. Springs of importance within the park pour their waters directly into its current. All these Platt springs, like those of Hot Springs, Arkansas, were known to the Indians for their curative properties for many generations before the coming of the white settler.
The park is the centre of a region of novelty and charm for the visitor from the North and East. The intimate communion of prairie and rich forested valley, the sophistication of the bustling little city in contrast with the rough life of the outlying ranches, the mingling in common intercourse of such differing human elements as the Eastern tourist, the free and easy Western townsman, the cowboy and the Indian, give rare spice to a visit long enough to impart the spirit of a country of so many kinds of appeal. The climate, too, contributes to enjoyment. The long spring lasts from February to June. During the short summer, social life is at its height. The fall lingers to the holidays before it gives way to a short winter, which the Arbuckle Mountains soften by diverting the colder winds.
The pleasures are those of prairie and valley. It is a great land for riding. There is swimming, rowing, and excellent black-bass fishing in the larger lakes.
It is a region of deer and many birds. Its altitude is about a thousand feet.
The rolling Oklahoma plateau attains in this neighborhood its pleasantest outline and variety. Broad plains of grazing-land alternate with bare rocky heights and low mountains. The creeks and rivers which accumulate the waters of the springs scattered widely among these prairie hills are outlined by winding forested belts and flowered thickets of brush. Great areas of thin prairie yield here and there to rounded hills, some of which bear upon their summits columns of flat rocks heaped one upon the other high enough to be seen for miles against the low horizon.
These, which are known as the Chimney Hills, for many years have been a cause of speculation among the settlers who have nearly replaced the Indians since the State of Oklahoma replaced the Indian Territory with which we became familiar in the geographies of earlier days. Who were the builders of these chimneys and what was their purpose?
"At a hearing in Ardmore a few years ago before a United States court taking testimony upon some ancient Indian depredation claims," writes Colonel R. A. Sneed, for years the superintendent of the Platt National Park, "practically all the residents of the Chickasaw Nation, Indian and negro, whose memories of that country extend back fifty years or more, were in attendance. In recounting his recollections of a Comanche raid in which his master's horses were stolen, one old negro incidentally gave a solution of the Chimney Hills which is the only one the writer ever heard, and which probably accounts for all of them.
"He said that his master lived at Big Sulphur Springs, farthest west of any of the Chickasaws; that the Kiowas and Comanches raided the country every summer and drove out horses or cattle wherever they could find them unprotected; that he had often gone with his master to find these stolen cattle; that these forages were so frequent that the Chickasaws had never undertaken to occupy any of their lands west of Rock Creek, north of Big Sulphur Springs, nor west of the Washita River south of the springs; that the country west of Sulphur Springs was dry, and water was hard to find unless one knew just where to look; and that the Comanches had a custom of marking all the springs they could find by building rock chimneys on the hills nearest to the springs. Only one chimney would be built if the spring flowed from beneath the same hill, but if the spring was distant from the hill two chimneys would be built, either upon the same hill or upon two distant hills, and a sight along the two chimneys would indicate a course toward the spring.
"The old man said that every hill in their pasture had a Comanche chimney on it and that his master would not disturb them because he did not want to make the wild Indians mad. There never was open war between the Chickasaws and the Comanches, but individual Chickasaws often had trouble with Comanche hunting-parties.
"The Big Sulphur Springs on Rock Creek in the Chickasaw Nation afterward became the centre around which the city of Sulphur was built, and after the town was grown to a population of two thousand or more it was removed bodily to make room for the Platt National Park, around which has been built the new city of Sulphur, which now has a population of fortyfive hundred.
"Many of the Comanche monuments are extant and the great bluff above the Bromide Springs of the national park looks out toward the north and west over a prairie that extends to the Rocky Mountains; the monument that stood on the brow of that bluff must have been visible for many miles to the keen vision of the Comanche who knew how to look for it."
The Indian Territory became the State of Oklahoma in 1907; the story of the white man's peaceful invasion is one of absorbing interest; the human spectacle of to-day is complex, even kaleidoscopic. In the thirties and forties the government had established in the territory the five civilized Indian nations, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, each with its allotted boundaries, its native government, its legislatures, and its courts. In many respects these were foreign nations within our boundaries. Besides them, the Osage Indians had their reservation in the north, and fragments of no less than seventeen other tribes lived on assigned territory.
Gradually white men invaded the land, purchased holdings from the Indian nations, built cities, established businesses of many kinds, ran railroads in all directions. In time, the nations were abolished and their remaining lands were divided up among the individuals composing them; the Indians of these nations became American citizens; their negro slaves, for they had been large slaveholders, received each his portion of the divided land. Then came Oklahoma.
Today there is only one Indian reservation in the State, that of the Osages. Oil has been found on their land and they are the wealthiest people in the world to-day, the average cash income of each exceeding five thousand dollars a year. In a state with a total population of two and a quarter millions live 336,000 Indians representing twenty-three tribes and 100,000 negroes descended from slaves. There has been much intermarrying between Indians and whites, and some between Indians and blacks. Here is a mixture of races to baffle the keenest eye.
Elsewhere than in the Osage Reservation, wealth also has come to the Indians. Many have very large incomes, large even for the rich of our Eastern cities. Asphalt also has enriched many. Cotton is raised extensively in the southern counties. Grazing on a large scale has proved profitable. Many Indians own costly and luxurious homes, ride in automobiles, and enter importantly into business, politics, and the professions; these usually have more or less white blood. Many full-bloods who have grown rich without effort possess finely furnished bedrooms, and sleep on the floor in blankets; elaborate dining-rooms with costly table equipments, and eat cross-legged on the kitchen floor; gas-ranges, and cook over chip fires out-of-doors; automobiles, and ride blanketed ponies. Many wealthy men are deeply in debt because of useless luxuries which they have been persuaded to buy.
Platt National Park lies about the centre of what was once the Chickasaw nation. It is a grazing and a cotton country. There are thousands of Indians, many of them substantial citizens, some men of local influence. Native dress is seldom seen.
Quoting again from my correspondence with Colonel Sneed, here is the legend of the last of the Delawares :
"Along about 184o, a very few years after the Chickasaws and Choctaws had arrived in Indian Territory, a small band of about sixty Delaware Indians arrived in the Territory, having roved from Alabama through Mississippi and Missouri, and through the northwest portion of Arkansas. Being a small band, they decided to link their fortunes with those of some other tribe of Indians, and they first pitched their tepees with those of the Cherokees. But the Cherokee Chief and old Chief Wahpanucka of the Delawares did not agree. So the little band of Delawares continued rambling until they reached the Choctaw Nation, where they again tried to make terms with the Chief of the tribe. Evidently no agreement was reached between that Chief and Wahpanucka, for the Delawares continued their roving until they reached the Chickasaw Nation, where they remained.
"Old Chief Wahpanucka had a beautiful daughter whose name was Deerface; two of the Delaware braves were much in love with her, but Deerface could not decide which one of these warriors she should take to become Chief after the death of Wahpanucka.
"Chief Wahpanucka called the two warriors be-fore him and a powwow was agreed upon. The council was held around the Council Rocks (which is now a point of interest within the Platt National Park), and a decision was reached to the effect that at a certain designated time the Delawares should all assemble on the top of the Bromide Cliff, at the foot of which flow the now famous Bromide and Medicine Springs, and that the two braves should ride their Indian ponies to the edge of the cliff, which was at that time known as Medicine Bluff, and jump off to the bed of the creek about two hundred feet below. The one who survived was to marry Deerface, and succeed Wahpanucka as Chief of the Delawares.
"The race was run and both Indian braves made the jump from the bluff, but both were killed. When Deerface saw this she threw herself from the bluff and died at the foot of the cliff where her lovers had met their death. To-day her image may be seen indelibly fixed on one of the rocks of the cliff where she fell, and the water of the Medicine Spring is sup-posed to be the briny tears of the old Chief when he saw the havoc his decision had wrought. These tears, filtering down through the cliff where the old Chief stood, are credited with being so purified that the water of the spring which they form is possessed with remedial qualities which make it a cure for all human ailments."