In 1803 the land that is now Oklahoma became a part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. However, the State of Oklahoma was not created until over a century later on November 16, 1907. By that time Oklahoma was the new home to over thirty relocated Native-American tribes. In fact, the state’s name is a combination of two Choctaw words, “okla” and “humma”, which means “red people”.
Oklahoma also became a favorite settlement area for ranchers who created homesteads on the grasslands that amply fed their cattle. As the 47th state grew in tribal population as well as settler population, it was soon discovered to be rich in oil production. This led to phenomenal growth within the state.
Affectionately known as “Okies”, residents of this state have an equally affectionate name for a particular flower bed surrounding the state capitol building in Oklahoma City. Known as “Petunia Number One”, the flower bed carries not only the hue and aroma of seasonal blooms, but the curious history of being the location of an oil well that produced well over one million barrels of crude for over forty years. So, the state capitol has produced much more than legislation for Oklahoma.
From cultural experiences at a Native American festival, or following the footsteps of historical cattle drives through the prairies, to waterfall views in the wilderness of the Arbuckle Mountains, there is much to see and appreciate in Oklahoma. The state contains some of the oldest protected lands within the United States.
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is the largest protected grassland in the world, 39,000 acres of protected prairie. The largest and oldest national wildlife refuge, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, covers over 59,000 acres of Oklahoma land. The state is also home to the nation’s second largest Native-American population and more than twenty-five tribal tongues are spoken in Oklahoma every day.
And yet, despite the rugged and historical appeal of Oklahoma, it also is a very cosmopolitan destination. Bartlesville hosts the largest classical music festival of the Southern United States, “The Oklahoma Mozart Festival”. The capitol city also has an annual fine arts festival celebrating local talent as well as the work of by-gone masters.
However, having travelled to Oklahoma several times, my favorite place of all is Turner Falls, a park tucked away in the Arbuckle Mountains. And it’s not just the exquisite 77 foot waterfall and clear pools and streams that can be enjoyed that make this a great place to visit. It’s not just the fun and mystery of exploring the numerous caves that makes this place special. For me, it is the history attached to the park and the fact that much of that history is still standing.
Turner Falls is Oklahoma’s oldest park. It was named after the man who originally settled the land where the park lies. Mazeppa Thomas Turner, married to a Chickasaw woman named Laura Johnson, settled in a cozy cabin on Honey Creek which runs through the heart of the park. The 77 foot waterfall was named in honor of Turner because he discovered it. In 1925 the city of Davis, Oklahoma purchased the land from the Turner family.
The city of Davis constructed a “castle” on the park’s grounds which can still be explored. Filled with trails, wildlife and beautiful natural swimming areas, it is a favorite place for naturalists. And I am one of them.