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Grants from Park Service, National Park Foundation aid projects to enhance three Oklahoma historical sites

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Date: March 11, 2011
Contact: Tom Keohan, 303-969-2897

Projects that will enrich understanding and appreciation of three historic Oklahoma landmarks – the 101 Ranch near Ponca City, the Boley Historic District east of Oklahoma City, and Fort Washita near Lake Texoma –have been awarded grants from the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation, official charity of America's national parks.

The 101 Ranch National Historic Landmark, site of a once-vast cattle operation in north-central Oklahoma, received a total of $11,700 from NPS and the foundation for improvements to a roadside memorial and to the historic ranch headquarters. Fort Washita National Historic Landmark, a mid-19th century frontier outpost in the unorganized "Indian Territory" that later became Oklahoma, received $5,000 from the Park Service for stabilization of fort ruins. Boley Historic District National Historic Landmark, where an all-black community was established in an early-20th-century era of segregation, received $500 from NPS for work to preserve the town library. (For more details about each project, see bulleted descriptions, below.)

As National Historic Landmarks, all three were designated by the Secretary of the Interior as nationally significant places of exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States. Fewer than 2,500 historic locations bear this distinction. Fort Washita became a national landmark in 1965. The 101 Ranch and Boley both became national landmarks in 1975. The National Park Service, a bureau of the Department of the Interior, manages the National Historic Landmark program.

"Although we at the Park Service oversee the national landmarks program, much of the work of protecting and improving them is done by others, including local organizations and state, tribal and local governments," said John Wessels, director of NPS's eight-state Intermountain Region, which includes Oklahoma. "For these local friends, each historic place is a precious gem. We are happy to be the conduit for these needed funds, including the National Park Foundation's generous grant. All these funds further the passionate efforts of our partners at each landmark to preserve America's heritage."

 ·   The 101 Ranch National Historic Landmark (Kay County)

Named for its cattle branch, the 101 Ranch once sprawled across 110,000 acres and became famous as an early-20th-century hub of "wild West" entertainment and movie westerns of the silent-film era. The National Park Foundation, chartered by Congress as the national charitable partner of NPS, awarded a 2010 Impact grant of $7,500 to improve public access to and appreciation of a roadside memorial to the ranch, its Ponca Indian neighbors, and a legendary black cowboy who worked there for three decades.

 The grant was made, via the Intermountain Regional Office of NPS, to the 101 Ranch Old Timers Association, which has worked for more than four decades to preserve the history of the ranch. "The Impact Grant program has become an incredibly effective tool for the National Park Foundation to meet the needs within the national parks," said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the foundation. "Through this unique program, we are seeing extraordinary results born from great need, creativity, and ingenuity."

The funds will help the 101 Ranch Old Timers finish building a paved interpretive pull-out on Monument Hill along State Highway 156 – also known as the 101 Ranch Memorial Road – so visitors can safely enjoy a grassy hilltop site rich with ranch history. The site memorializes the friendship of Ponca Tribe Chief White Eagle and the family of Col. George Washington Miller, who established the 101 Ranch in the late 19th century. In 1927, Miller's sons erected a 14-foot stone cairn, topped with a white eagle of painted concrete, on the hill to honor the Ponca chief and his people. The location also is the gravesite of Bill Pickett, the famed African American cowboy from Texas who worked on the 101 Ranch as a cowhand. Pickett, who invented the rodeo sport of steer wrestling (originally known as bulldogging), also starred in the ranch's world-renowned "Real Wild West Show."

The project includes an informative sign and stone monument to interpret Monument Hill's convergence of Native-American, African-American and European-American culture and friendship, a relationship unique for the early 20th century.

"It is doubtful we could have moved forward on our Monument Hill construction project without both local and National Park Foundation interest in our efforts," said Al Ritter, vice president of the 101 Ranch Old Timers Association. "Our interpretive roadside pull-off will give us the ability to share western history and honor minority involvement in it by featuring the Ponca Indian Tribe, its pioneer leader, Chief White Eagle, and African American 101 Ranch cowboy Bill Pickett. Support from the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service helped turn our vision into a reality."

The 101 Ranch also received $4,200 in NPS funds for the design, construction and installation of four more podium-style interpretive signs at the ranch headquarters site along the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River. The signs will help visitors better understand the headquarters layout and the history of the ranch silos and power house. They also will help explain the stories of the 101 Ranch Company Store and the exotic animals that were once part of the site, which today features a restored bear den and alligator pit.

·   Fort Washita National Historic Landmark (Bryan County)

This landmark recognizes the establishment of Fort Washita in 1842 to protect the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians who had recently immigrated to the Oklahoma Territory. The fort also served as a way station for travelers on the Southern Overland Trail. It is now managed as a historic site by the Oklahoma Historical Society. NPS is providing $5,000 to the society for engineering plans to stabilize the fort's west barracks ruins. 

·   Boley Historic District National Historic Landmark (Okfuskee County)

This landmark recognizes the town of Boley, which had its origins in 1903 as a camp for African-American railroad workers. The community eventually grew to be the largest Oklahoma town established to provide African Americans the opportunity for self-government at a time when segregation and racism made that a rare prospect. The NPS is providing $500 to the Coltrane Group/History in Progress for a structural needs assessment of the public library within the historic district. The district was established in 1975.

The three landmarks are among more than 230 National Historic Landmarks in the NPS Intermountain Region, whose states also contain more than 11,000 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Did You Know?

President Theodore Roosevelt

Platt National Park [the present-day Platt Historic District in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area] was the fifth National Park established by President Theodore Roosevelt. More...