Superintendent's Report, 1915

The National Parks Conference of 1915 took place one year before the establishment of the National park Service. At the time, the Department of the Interior employed Mark Daniels as general superintendent and landscape engineer of National Parks. This excerpt from the proceedings of the conference consists of Mr. Daniel's introduction of the park superintendent, a summary report delivered by the superintendent, and Mr. Daniel's follow-up comments.

It is Superintendent Sneeds report on Platt National Park at this conference that Horace Albright, later the second Director of the National Park Service, described as, "It really tested my concentration to stay awake when [Sneed] gave interminable talks on areas that were far below standards for National parks."


 

Mr. Daniels.

We have another park in which there are medicinal waters, and during my visit there I met some 60 or 70 people. This was at Sulphur, in Oklahoma, and Col. Sneed, who is superintendent of that park, suggested that I ask these visitors who were congregated in a room at the hotel why they came to Sulphur, Okla. I found that out of the sixty and odd that there were only eight who had not come there either to die or with the hope possibly of getting well. I never saw a huskier crowd of men in my life. The medicinal qualities of the Platt National park springs have not been published and there are not many people in the country that know about them, but Col. Sneed is here, and I believe he has a little paper or at least can give us a little talk on the subject. Have you anything you can give us, Colonel!

Col. Sneed.

Ladies and gentlemen, my trip since I left Platt Park has been a wonderfully pleasant one and a liberal education. I have enjoyed the different talks and papers that have been read before this conference. I have learned something about our national parks that I never dreamed of before.

Platt National Park, at Sulphur, in Murray County, Okla., meets many conditions of national character. The waters are varied and bounteous. The landscape is characterized by a conglomerate rock formation of rare occurrence and immense masses of late Travertine formation.

Historically Platt Park is a monument to the amicable relations which the Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes maintain with the white people among them.

Provision for the segregation of the area included in Platt National Park was first made in the agreement between the Federal Government and the Indians of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations for the allotment in severalty of the lands which these tribes had held jointly and in common. This agreement was a voluntary concession by the Indians of this tract for public uses, in which the white people of their country might share. The agreement was submitted by act of Congress of July 1, 1902, to a vote of the Indian tribes and was ratified by them on September 25, 1902. The original area was 629.33 acres. An additional 218.89 acres was granted by act of Congress of April 21, 1904. The original designation of "The Sulphur Springs Reservation" was changed to "Platt National Park" by joint resolution of Congress of June 29, 1906, in commemoration of Senator Orville H. Platt, of Connecticut, who had interested himself greatly in its establishment.

The Sulphur Springs of Platt National Park have been a favorite resort for the Indians since their migration westward, and their old Council Rock is a notable feature of the park.

There is not a shadow of race antipathy between the white people of Oklahoma and the Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes. These Indians are excellent people, intelligent, manly, and independent, and are frequent visitors to the park. The Platt Park congressional district until recently was represented by one of these Indians, and another one now is United States Senator from Oklahoma. The retiring governor of Oklahoma, who is a Kentucky gentleman of the best type, is an intermarried citizen of the Choctaw Nation.

Within the Platt Park are many mineral and three nonmineral springs. The waters are highly medicinal, especially the outflow of the Bromide and Medicine Springs, which are in constant demand for nervous affections and disorders of the stomach. Extreme care is required in the conservation of the Bromide and Medicine waters, but the flow from the other springs is abundant. The Antelope and Buffalo Springs, which are nonmineral, approximate a discharge of 5,000,000 gallons daily, although once in the history of the park and once before in the memory of the old Indians the flow entirely ceased for n short period. These springs are the head of Travertine Creek, which is fed continuously along its course from other springs hidden in the bed of the creek. It would be possible to develop several of these springs into distinctive features. Medicine Spring and Cold Spring have been developed in this way since the park was established.

The elevation above sea level at the Bromide Spring is 929 feet, at Antelope it is 1,080 feet, and at Buffalo Springs it is 1,078 feet. Travertine Creek courses 2½ miles wholly within the park from its head springs to Rock Creek, and in the immediate vicinity of its mouth are the principal sulphur springs. It is a beautiful brook walled with and flowing over travertine rocks and bordered by narrow vales heavily timbered with native trees. It has a fall of approximately 150 feet and does not overflow its banks. More than a dozen cascades and as many shining pools have been deemed worthy of particular designation, and have been photographed by thousands of visitors.

Rock Creek is much larger than Travertine, and is subject to periodical overflows. Until the numerous flowing wells in the city of Sulphur were developed Rock Creek did not flow steadily above the mouth of Travertine Creek. There are now 20 of these flowing wells which show no sign of abatement after six years, and the flow of the springs does not seem to be affected by them. All but one of these wells within the city limits are now capped, but three outside of the city are flowing without restraint. It is hoped the State authorities will assist in regulating them also.

The general altitude of the Platt National Park is about 1,000 feet above sea level, but it has several hills which rise 200 feet and more higher. One of these hills, from beneath which Bromide and Medicine Springs emerge, faces Rock Creek with a towering wooded bluff about 250 feet high. Alongside this bluff, about midway of its face, a trail has been hewn which looks out to the north across a broad, rolling prairie. This trail was one of the earliest improvements made in the park, and it continues to be one of the most popular.

In the beginning of the park its resources were principally applied to developing and protecting the sources of water supply and making roadways for public travel.

During the administration of the second superintendent about 40 young trees were planted. One half of them had died by May 1, 1909, and but few of them are now living. During the next administration 178 young trees, including elm, oak, walnut, pecan, and box elder, were planted and about one-fourth of them are now living. Already during this administration, which began February 14, 1914, 180 young trees have been planted and all of them are in thrifty condition.

From July 1, 1913, until October 25, 1913, Platt Park was without an appropriation for maintenance, but out of the previous year's appropriations the four superintendents had laid out, graded, and macadamized 1,525 linear feet of new driveway along Travertine Creek, with six culverts, and on June 30, 1914, there was a total of 10,337½ linear feet of similarly macadamized driveways and 23,062 linear feet of other graded roads. At the end of the new macadam road along Travertine Creek a new spring of pure water was developed and improved, and designated "Cold Spring." About 50 acres of wooded dell adjacent to Cold Spring were cleared of underbrush and a picnic ground established with benches and tables for the accommodation of picnic parties. Forty-eight new benches were placed elsewhere in the park, and the work of eradicating the Canadian thistle was prosecuted vigorously. All general work toward the maintenance and improvement of the park was suspended after June 30, 1913, until a new superintendent was appointed in February, 1914, but in the meantime a sanitary sewer was constructed by contract under the direction of Mr. E. A. Keys as supervising engineer, at a total cost of $20,238.13, which was paid for jointly by the Federal Government and the city of Sulphur. The total length of the main line of this sewer through the park is 7,900 feet, and it has four branch lines aggregating 4,700 feet in length. The main line crosses Rock Creek by means of a siphon which involved serious engineering problems, but which is a pronounced success. One of the branch lines has a siphon across Travertine Creek to reach the administration buildings of the park. This sewer will accommodate a population of 16,000 persons.

After the completion of this sewer, Mr. Keys and his assistant, Mr. R. R. Hornor, upon the request and recommendation of the present superintendent, remained for several weeks and completed an extension of the macadamized driveway along Travertine Creek

for a distance of 11,715 feet from Cold Spring to the head of the creek, including a loop which encircles the Buffalo Springs. This extension cost $3,483.99 from the park appropriation for that current year, and the completed road is 13,240 feet in length. It has 28 cement culverts. The grade between ditches is 18 feet wide, and the macadamized surface is 14 feet wide with 6 inches of gravel. The road material is found in the park and is of excellent quality and when placed upon the roadbeds becomes cemented and solid. It has been pronounced by expert engineers as the best for road-making purposes. The driveway follows closely the windings of Travertine Creek and crosses it frequently. It is well shaded through the summer for the whole distance and the pleasing prospect and soothing sound of the running water in the shaded dells which it traverses are very restful and attractive to the wearied visitors who frequent it.

No attempt has been made to alter the rustic features of Travertine Creek, but the willow growth in Rock Creek had become so dense that the beauty of that watercourse was obscured, and much of that growth was cut away in the spring of 1914. No other permanent improvements were made in the past two years, but maintenance work has been carefully kept up, and 48 additional benches for visitors were added this year for use in the several parks, and the little fields of alfalfa have been carefully conserved. All of the spring houses and pavilions in the park and the superintendent's residence were repainted and the residence renovated. Much attention has been given to the propagation of such rare plants as were available, and some of the flower gardens are very attractive. Red, white, and Japan clover has been started at various places, and it is hoped to demonstrate the utility of these grasses in future plans for the park. A total of $242.81 was realized from the surplus crop grown in the park in 1913. The surplus hay crop of 1914 is not yet all sold. For the present year the pasturage on certain undeveloped areas has been contracted, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, for an additional $120 rental.

The birds and wild flowers of the Platt National Park deserve the attention of every visitor and of the department. Every month during the spring, summer, and autumn brings a distinct variety of blooms. One student has identified 52 species, and the classification of countless others has not been determined. Another student reports that in the month of January, 1914, he had recognized 30 distinct varieties of birds, some of which he had never seen listed so far north at that season, and one, the painted bunting, which is very rare in this section of the country. The mocking bird is at home in the Platt Park the year round, and during the breeding season sings all through the night. Quail, plover, and squirrels are especially protected and are very numerous and, with the blue jays, are almost domesticated, as are also the cardinals.

The winter climate of Platt Park is mild, the district is free from malaria, and all the year round the park has it quota of seekers after health and recreation. A record of visitors to the Bromide Spring is constantly maintained and shows a daily attendance ranging from less than 50 on some days to over 2,000 on others. The whole number of visitors to the park during 1914 probably exceeded 30,000. At any rate, the attendance is greater than to any other national park except Hot Springs Reservation. This is uniformly true despite the fact that there are no amusement features of any kind at or near the park, which is very much deplored and detracts from the popularity that this beauty spot should enjoy, It is patronized wholly for health and rest and recreation, and it is the only spot in Oklahoma, Texas, or Kansas designated or especially suited for such joint use. Turnstile registers at all pathways entering the park have been suggested and ought to be installed. The wagon roads through the park are regularly used for local travel, and it would be difficult to register visitors by automobiles and carriages.

The discipline of the park has never been a serious problem, and the general character of the visitors is well shown by the fact that no rangers or other character of police supervision is maintained by the present administration, and none is necessary. Visitors are not permitted in the park after 11 p. m., nor on the trails after sundown. Fishing with hook and line is permitted, except during the legally closed season, and both Rock Creek and Travertine Creek are well adapted to bass and trout, although no effort has been made to stock them.

Platt Park is conveniently accessible to a well-developed agricultural country which is rapidly growing, and it can readily and easily be made self-sustaining. Its medicinal springs are almost useless without bathhouses and hospital accommodations. Its streams of running water might easily be converted into fish preserves, swimming pools, and boating courses. Rock Creek from the mouth of Travertine Creek to the park limits, about 1 mile of distance, has a fall of 194 feet and has good banks. Excellent grounds are available for golf courses, and Oklahoma is badly in need of an athletic field and stadium for scholastic meets and similar gatherings, and tourists by auto are more and more frequent every year. Licenses for summer cottages would find ready sale at a good ground rent. A public camp ground away from the city is now provided and is well patronized, but no public conveniences of any kind are provided for such visitors. Another camp ground accessible to uptown conveniences has become a necessity for a great many people who want to spend their summers in the open and do not want to be burdened with housekeeping cares. Frequent applications have been made to license amusement pavilions in the park, and new and ample pavilions are badly needed at the principal springs, and such pavilions would afford opportunities for the sale of concessions.

The problem most perplexing in the administration of Platt Park is to conserve its mineral waters and bring them into more general use. The nature and properties of these waters have been carefully studied and are well understood, but their origin and extent have not been scientifically studied. No survey of the underground waters has been undertaken. None of the wells in the vicinity flow above the thousand-foot level, and the Mystic Cave, about 8 miles distant from the park, gives access to an underground river of considerable volume which flows at about the same level. About 30 miles distant to the north, the south, and the west are natural gas fields of considerable extent. Exposure to the air soon deprives the sulphur water of all indications of mineral character and it is frequently suggested that natural gas is the characteristic of these waters. Several wells in the immediate vicinity have shown some gas in strata near sea level.

The conglomerate rock with its associate sandstones are the only rock measures in Platt Park, except the late travertine deposits. Together the conglomerate and travertine rocks form the most pleasing features of the landscape, and the conglomerate is particularly puzzling. Loads of it have been transported for landscape embellishment, and competent engineers have pronounced it an exceedingly rare formation. It is several hundred feet thick and is persistent throughout the park. It is necessary to blast holes for tree planting to get satisfactory results where it lies near the surface. The Bromide Bluff and the Council Rock are the most notable occurrences of the conglomerate.

Platt Park is not in the arid belt and its natural vegetation is luxuriant, but the climate is subject to extended droughts and it would add enormously to the natural advantages if a system of irrigation was adopted for the available areas, which are extensive. With such assistance admirable effects could be secured in floriculture, horticulture, and arboriculture. An effort to propagate the Eucalyptus tree in that region would be particularly desirable. All flowers, shrubs, and trees of the Temperate Zone are indigenous to the soil in Platt Park. Excellent opportunities are also available for the preservation of rare animals, and the establishment of a bird refuge would be a charming feature and ought not involve much expense.

The superintendent and supervisors of all of the parks ought to have the counsel and cooperation of a competent engineer and expert landscape gardener. If all the superintendents and supervisors were supervised by the same counsel the work could be correlated and some degree of unity maintained in the national system. Platt Park particularly shows the effect of constant changes in plans for its development. When our national parks are reduced to a system and brought into immediate relation one to another it will be easier to make their advantages known and bring the public to appreciate them as they deserve. Then, and not until then, will Americans appreciate the natural beauties and advantages of our own country.

Platt Park is accessible to the main lines of the St. Louis and San Francisco and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroads by branch lines, which are so operated as to meet all main-line trains, and an interstate highway from Wichita, Kans., 225 miles north, to Dallas, Tex., 115 miles south, passing through Platt Park, has been carefully logged and provided for. The section through Murray County is now practically completed. Another highway connecting the Hot Springs Reservation, Platt Park, and the Fort Sill Reservation and Forest Reserve has been suggested as an experiment in national highways, and would certainly be justified. There is enough local interest along that route to assure adequate cooperation. Platt Park is about 75 miles due east of Fort Sill and about 225 miles due west of Hot Springs. The Indian base line passes through Platt Park and Hot Springs and 6 miles south of Fort Sill.

The policy of the present administration to exploit the move to "see America first" is a step in the right direction, and should be commended by the American public to the extent that they will make it their duty as well as their pleasure to assist in this patriotic movement.

Mr. Daniels.

In addition to the beauty spring, which brings out a divine complexion, there is the sulphur spring, which aids digestion to such an extent that it is almost impossible to find anybody in the town of Sulphur who has bad digestion. Then there is the bromide spring, which is a sleep producer equal to Jack Johnson's right hook.

Prior to my last visit to Platt National Park in my ardent pursuit of official duties, after having been interrupted by smallpox, which I contracted on my way from one of the parks, I contracted an attack of a form of insomnia which stayed with me for some time. I had been suffering from that for about 10 days before I reached Sulphur. Col. Sneed suggested that I drink several gallons of that bromide water, but I thought that if there was any efficacy in that bromide water, I could get it out of a quart. I took it skeptically and at Col. Sneed's urgent request, but I had not the slightest idea that there would be any beneficial results. When I retired that evening I did so anticipating no results, and with the thought that I would occupy the night figuring out how long it would take me to get to the next place, where I would be called upon by some of the department heads to answer questions that no answers could be given to. I was surprised when I awoke nine hours later and found that it was considerably after breakfast time. I am convinced now that that good night's sleep was produced in me by the bromide water in Platt Park.

 

Excerpt from the Proceedings of the National Park Conference Held at Berkeley, California March 11, 12, 13, 1915. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing office, 1915), pages 90-99.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

901 W. 1st Street
Sulphur, OK 73086

Phone:

(580) 622-7234

Contact Us