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THE FOUNDING OF PONCA CITY


The following exerts are taken from "Chronicles of Oklahoma",
The Founding of Ponca City, by Louis Seymour Barnes.

On March 3, 1893, Congress authorized the opening of the Cherokee Outlet or Cherokee Strip as it has since come to be called. It extended from the Arkansas River on the east, two counties, wide, west along the north border of Oklahoma and was the strip of territory that had been reserved by the Government earlier in the century as a pathway for the Cherokees from their lands in Eastern Oklahoma to the western hunting grounds. On August 19, 1893, President Grover Cleveland issued a proclamation that the land would be opened for settlement on September 16, 1893, by run from both the north border and the south border.

Burton Seymour Barnes, my father, had been in the furniture manufacturing business in Adrian, Michigan, but the depression of 1892 caused him to sell that business, and he was interested in finding a new venture. He read of the opening of the Cherokee Strip and in June 1893 went to Arkansas City to look over the new land. It was his idea to found a city. The more he thought of it, the more he became imbued with the idea. He bought a surrey and two fine black horses to drive over the Strip to find the best place to establish a city.

There was nothing at any of the railroad stops in the Strip except frame stations and small houses in which the railroad agents lived. Enid looked like a good location; but the Government owned the townsite, and Mr. Barnes did not think it would be profitable to start a city where the Government owned all the property. He drove east along a trail to Perry. There were no roads, no fences, and no bridges-merely trails winding between the railroad stops. Perry was also a Government town, and one of the Government Land Offices was located there. He did not think it would be possible to profit from real estate development at this Government city so he drove north along a trail and crossed creeks through the Otoe and Ponca Indian Reservations.

After leaving the Ponca Indian Reservation, the trail led to a spring at the present site of 13th Street and South Avenue in Ponca City. The trail went on from this point to the B & M Ford across the Arkansas River, which was located at the present site of the big bridge across the Arkansas River. Why it was named B & M Ford, I have never heard. The banks of the River were low and wide at this point, and this meant that since the water was shallow, it was easy to enter and cross the River. This Ford was used for about three years after the Strip opening, at which time the citizens of Ponca City raised a fund by contributions and built a wooden bridge at approximately the same site as the present bridge.

Mr. Barnes stopped at the spring, watered the horses, and filled his jug with the cool water and put the corncob stopper back into the jug. He was sipping a cup of the cool water when he saw a Santa Fe freight train go by less than a mile away. He exclaimed.
"This is the site for a new city. With such good water and a location on the Railroad near the River crossing, it is an ideal site for a city!"

In driving over the land between the spring and the railroad, he found it to be rolling but for the most part level. He was more than ever convinced that this was an ideal site for a new city. Passing along near the railroad, he came to Cross, a railroad stop one mile north. On making inquiry, he found that in drilling for water at Cross it was found to be reasonably good on the east side of the railroad, but on the west side, it was mostly" gyp" water. This fact led to him to believe that Cross could not grow into a large city and that the location a mile south was the ideal spot.

When he returned to Arkansas City, Mr. Barnes made a talk at the Opera House boasting of the new city. One man in the audience asked the question, "Will the trains stop at the new city?”

Mr. Barnes replied, "The trains will stop just the same as at Chicago.”

And Mr. Barnes replied, "There is a good spring of long use at the southeast corner of the city, and I believe that there is a large sheet of water underneath the entire city. This large expanse of underground water destines this location to grow into a large city.”

Consequently, he organized the Ponca Townsite Company and sold 2,300 certificates at $2 each. This banded together a large number of people, all of whom wanted to take part in starting a city. The certificate entitled the holder only to first call on the lots when the owners of the property put them up for sale. The money was to be used as a nucleus of city funds to be used for surveying cross stakes on all blocks for grading and for employment of a city marshall. It was known that it would be necessary to have a provisional city government for two or three months until a city charter could be obtained and a legal election held.

At high noon on Saturday, September 16, 1893, the starting guns then boomed! The race into the Cherokee Outlet was on as planned. The crowd surged forward through the dust and ashes of burned grass. By horseback, wagon, buckboard, train, and on foot they traveled. Claim stakes were driven on choice land. Then the race continued to Perry to file the formal claims. It was a hectic, exciting, even dangerous time!

On Thursday morning, September 21, the drawing for lots was held as promised. .A platform was erected in the middle of the block on the south side of what is now Grand Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets. The names of the certificate holders were placed in one box and the lot descriptions were placed in another box. It was understood that only one lot number would be placed on a card for business lots and two lot numbers placed on cards for residence lots. Two little girls were called upon to draw the cards from the boxes. The boxes were placed on a. high table above their heads to eliminate any chance of favoritism. The cards were shaken up in the boxes and the drawing began. One girl would draw a card with a name and the other girl would draw a card with the description and four secretaries entered the results in duplicate books. The drawing continued most of the day.

That same Thursday night hundreds of the new citizens gathered at a level spot about half a mile northwest of the wonderful spring which meant so much to the City. The group elected Mr. Barnes as Mayor of the new town and immediately he ordered the surveyors to work and employed a town marshall to keep order. Tents sprang up in many locations. The surveyors worked continuously for two days. The city officers elected that night were:

  • B. S. Barnes, Mayor
  • J. W. Dalton, Treasurer
  • W. G. Cronkright, Clerk

Councilmen: J. J. McManus, P. I. Brown, C. M. Flora, A. C. Fay, James S. Hutchins, Edward Grady.

All the claimants on three quarter sections agreed to participate in tile land division, but the claimants on the Northeast quarter refused, although they would have realized a substantial profit from the increase in value of their lots not assigned to certificate holders. It was known that it would probably take from six months to two years to determine who the rightful owners of these quarter sections would be and before valid deeds could be obtained. However, the certificate holders began immediately to build on the lots allotted to them in the drawing, hoping that satisfactory deeds would be issued when the patents were issued.

Within a week after the drawing, frame business structures began to appear up and down the street known as Grand Avenue. Grand Avenue was one block north of the center line of the section, but it was selected as the principal street because the terrain ran smoother and with fewer dips than the street a block south on the half section line.

 
 

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Photos used throughout this are courtesy of Ponca City News.

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