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Ghost Towns of Oklahoma

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As you travel along the Oklahoma Adventure Trail in northern Oklahoma, be sure and take a one mile detour north to visit the United Methodist Church in the ghost town of Jefferson, Oklahoma. Built in 1895, the church is still in use today and worth the visit.

The town itself has an interesting history. According to “Ghost Towns of Oklahoma” by John W. Morris, it was established in 1866 by James R. Mead as a trading station at what was then called Round Pond Creek on the Chisholm Trail in the Cherokee Outlet. Jefferson is located on the low divide between Osage and Pond Creeks and is about a mile from the confluence of the two streams. Therein lies one of the principal causes of the demise of Jefferson – the area is subject to heavy flooding.

Mead recalled “Mr. Chisholm’s teams and my own were the first which ever passed over the route and marked out what afterward became known as the Chisholm Trail.” There, at Round Pond, the cattle route crossed an old Indian warpath, Black Dog Trail, named for an Osage chief. In November, 1879, a post office named Pond was located at this place. The station and post office were closed in 1887. The Cherokee Outlet was opened for settlement in 1893. In 1894 the town of Jefferson came into existence.

Jefferson, surrounded by some of the best agricultural land in Oklahoma, soon became a growing farm center. Within ten years some twenty stores and shops plus two banks and two hotels had located in the town. In addition, there were two produce houses, an agricultural implement dealer, a wheelwright, three black-smith shops, three elevators, and a feed mill. Better-than-average medical care was available, for three medical doctors and three osteopaths had established offices. A weekly newspaper advertised the virtues of Jefferson throughout the area. The town also had its saloon keepers and liquor dealers who had moved in fast “to quench the thirst of the newly located settlers, townsmen, and others.”

Two churches were soon started. The First Methodist Church, which still stands, was built in 1895 of rock quarried along the Oklahoma-Kansas border and brought to Jefferson in wagons pulled by teams. A school system was also organized. In the early 1900’s a two-story frame opera house was constructed. Performances by touring theatrical companies and musical organizations were given on the first floor, and dances were held in the upper story. The building also served as town hall for local meetings.

Jefferson reached its peak about 1915, when it had an estimated population of about six hundred persons. After that there was a gradual decline until 1944. At that time the first big flood in fifty years hit the town. Most homes and businesses were inundated. On October 10-11, 1973, Jefferson had its biggest flood. It was reported that fifteen inches of rain fell in five hours. “After that mess several families moved out.” Again, in 1974 there was another great flood and more families moved. During these last two floods water covered the lower floors of homes, store buildings, and churches.

Currently about eighteen families live in Jefferson. Two churches remain open, but all stores and the school are closed. An elevator continues to serve the farmers of the area. There is evidence of repair to homes in some places, but more evidence of flood damage and decay. Boggy places in and about the town can be seen, and in many places driftwood left by the receding waters remains.

Below is a map showing the location of the church in town. You can download a GPX file by clicking the link below:

The United Methodist Church in Jefferson was built in 1895 and is still operational today.
The United Methodist Church in Jefferson was built in 1895 and is still operational today.

Cloud Chief – Oklahoma Ghost Town

Tacola Cloud Chief school closed in 1960 and has been abandoned for many years. The town is nearly empty and the school buildings are used for storage and horse stalls.
Tacola Cloud Chief school closed in 1960 and has been abandoned for many years. The town is nearly empty and the school buildings are used for storage and horse stalls.

Cruising down Oklahoma State Highway 152 in western Oklahoma on my BMW enduro bike, a dot popped up on my Garmin GPS indicating one of my earlier marked Oklahoma ghost towns was nearby.  I was on my way to the annual Mangum Rattlesnake Roundup but decided to make the slight detour and explore this long lost Oklahoma ghost town myself.

As I rolled into former town I first noticed the historical marker placed along the road by the Oklahoma Historical Society.  I love these granite markers. They provide a near permanent record of the history of the location.  There were a couple of homes nearby, but for the most part the former “town” seemed deserted. The old school building still stood nearby, and after a few pics of the granite monument, I wheeled my beemer through an open gate to the former school’s front steps.

There to greet me was an old graying donkey and a calico barn cat.  It was a nice spring day with temperatures in the mid 60’s and not a breath of wind stirring – an oddity for western Oklahoma. As I swung my leg off the bike Mrs. Calico Kitty meowed nearby, coming over to see what the commotion was. It was obvious that she was feeding a brood of wild kittens.  I am assuming there was a Mr Calico but he may have ran off to chase other momma cats.  Mr. Donkey just stood there, looking at me like I was an idiot to be out here in nowheresville, Oklahoma.

After pulling off my helmet and grabbing my camera, I coaxed Mrs. Calico over with the universal cat call sign “here kitty, kitty, kitty”.  Seems she knew exactly what that meant, and ran right over and started rubbing against my leg, looking for someone to scratch her back and ears, which I was happy to oblige.  I have a soft spot for barn cats and in this lonely place I figured she was a real mouser since she had to find her own food to feed those kittens.

The school had obviously been abandoned for many years, and now was used more as a storage shed.  The gymnasium’s roof was still intact, and the inside was being used as shade from the sun by a couple of horses.

I could picture kids running in and out of the gym, hanging out on the front steps of the school, the boys playing marbles while the girls skipped rope and talked about the boys.  Multiple chimneys indicated the fairly large school was heated by wood or coal in years past.  I wondered how this school had survived the dust bowl. It wasn’t shuttered until 1960.

Mr. Donkey didn’t move or respond to my coaxing, and as I approached to scratch his ears, I discovered why.  He had obviously foundered sometime in the past and his hooves were overgrown into circular curls like some ladies do their nails – yet the gals don’t have to walk on their fingernails like the donkey.  He could barely hobble around and it was obvious he had seen better days.  I scratched his ears while Mrs Calico made a pest of herself, rubbing my legs, tripping me has I tried to walk, begging for attention from a stranger.

After snapping a few photos and sharing some snacks with my 4-legged friends, I mounted up and pushed on, marking another Oklahoma Ghost Town off my list.

If you get a chance to visit Cloud Chief, bring a metal detector.  The school buildings are still mostly intact and since it is quite a ways off the beaten path, I am betting a good detective could find a bit of old treasure in the school yard.

The Oklahoma Historical Society places granite monuments at many historical points around Oklahoma. This one at the old Cloud Chief school provides information on this former Oklahoma Ghost Town.
The Oklahoma Historical Society places granite monuments at many historical points around Oklahoma. This one at the old Cloud Chief school provides information on this former Oklahoma Ghost Town.
Not much is left of Cloud Chief. It doesn't look like this community center has been used in a few years.
Not much is left of Cloud Chief. It doesn’t look like this community center has been used in a few years.
Mrs. Calico Kitty kept rubbing my feet and being a pest. I couldn't even push her far enough away long enough to get a decent picture!
Mrs. Calico Kitty kept rubbing my feet and being a pest. I couldn’t even push her far enough away long enough to get a decent picture!
Mr. Donkey wasn't moving around to quickly. He had obviously foundered at some point in the past and now his hooves curl up like some women's fingernails, making it hard for him to walk.
Mr. Donkey wasn’t moving around to quickly. He had obviously foundered at some point in the past and now his hooves curl up like some women’s fingernails, making it hard for him to walk.
The inside of the old Cloud Chief school gymnasium was being used by a couple of horses to get in out of the sun.
The inside of the old Cloud Chief school gymnasium was being used by a couple of horses to get in out of the sun.

 

Excerpt from Ghost Towns of Oklahoma, by John W. Morris published by OU Press:

Cloud Chief, originally called Tacola, was born with a rush when the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation was opened by run in 1892. Because the place had been designated the county seat of H County, it was laid out with streets, blocks, and lots before the opening. For the purpose of establishing claims within the 320-acre townsite, a second race, which had to be made on foot, was started at 1:00 pm on the same day the reservation was opened. Within a two-hour period a tent city with saloons, gambling establishments, and grocery stores was started. During the following few weeks the population jumped to over three thousand, and the number of businesses increased to about fifty. All the businesses and homes were housed in tents.

Many settlers left almost immediately after their claims were legally staked and recorded, since they had six months from the time they filed to the time they had to settle on the claim. Also, as some merchants sold out their stocks of goods they would strike their tents and leave town. Within a few months the population had decreased to only a few hundred persons. The primary reason for the decline was the lack of transportation facilities. All goods coming to Cloud Chief were dependent on irregular stage for freight lines from El Reno or Minco. One year after its founding the town had only four saloons and two stores.

In 1893 a small sawmill was started about two miles south of town to supply cottonwood lumber for the building of a courthouse and a hotel. With these additions the population began to increase. Some of the buildings constructed in the town were unique. The courthouse was a twenty foot by thirty foot, one story structure made of badly warped cottonwood lumber. There were no partitions, but it housed the sheriff, county judge, county clerk, and county superintendent of schools, each being provided a chair and a desk.

 

To download GPS for Cloud Chief, click the download button below:

Ghost Towns of Oklahoma cover imageIf you like going back in time and traveling to out-of-the-way places, buy the book Ghost Towns of Oklahoma written by John W. Morris and published by the University of Oklahoma Press, load up these GPS waypoints and hit the road.

The book was originally written way back in the 1970’s, well before GPS navigation was commonly available. Morris used township/range notation to provide readers with the approximate location of the town site. Unless you are a landman or Realtor or county assessor, it is difficult to convert these township/range notations to any computer map commonly available. So one slow winter weekend I went through this book and used a combination of Google Maps, a web site that converted township range to GPS coordinates, and reading the book and came up with my best estimate of where these towns were located. Township/range gave me a mile section of where the town was located. To get a closer waypoint, I looked on Google Earth to try and find any remains of the town. Most of them I could find where the town was situated, but some of them are guesses. So you might have to hunt around to find the remains of these towns, although there may be no indication a town ever existed.

Go buy the book, download these waypoints to your GPS, and go explore. Many of these can be found with a street bike, although you may have to ride some gravel roads to find them. If you are like me, just jump on a dual sport bike and have fun.