History of Black Mesa, Oklahoma

[Published in Apex to Zenith #51 – Fourth Quarter 2000]
By: Jean Trousdale

In the next seven issues of the Newsletter, I am going to tell you a little about Oklahoma, specifically the Panhandle, aka No Man’s Land, the most western area being Cimarron County, home of the Black Mesa.  As we get closer to Convention time, I will of course give you Convention specifics. I also want to introduce you to our committee members, so you will have some idea of who you are talking to when you spot one of us at the Convention. We will be wearing Co-host tee-shirts bearing the Convention logo and our name tags, and we will all welcome questions and suggestions – even criticism, if it’s nicely put….

First our committee: Many of you know Allan Griggs, who runs the Kenton Mercantile.  Kenton is a fairly small town (population 35) near the Black Mesa.  Kenton has many claims to fame in addition to Allan, for instance it is the only town in the state of Oklahoma that is in the Mountain Time Zone rather than the Central Time Zone.  Allan will be on hand at the Merc almost non-stop during the Convention, as the Merc will be the registration site for the Convention, as well as the only place in the world to have one of Allan’s fine dinosaur burgers. If you haven’t yet met him, he will be featured in a 30-minute video that you can view at the site of the Highpointers Mercantile in the Swallow Falls State Park Campground at Convention Maryland – 2001.

With a few additions and a little updating, I have borrowed liberally from an article in the 2nd quarter 1990 newsletter by Mike Brewer to tell you a bit about the area. Mike’s article is far more comprehensive than my overview, and I recommend it to you as well worth reading in its entirety. At Convention OK – 2000, Norma Gene Young, noted Panhandle historian, will be on hand Friday evening with some of her historically accurate and entertaining tales of the area.

Had history been different, the Black Mesa would probably never have become a state highpoint at all.  This prominent eroded lava landform rises some 600 feet above the surrounding terrain, and just barely manages to poke far enough into the Oklahoma to take honors as the state highpoint.  It is a basalt-capped plateau, about 45 miles long which runs from Colorado to New Mexico, just barely running through the northwest tip of the Oklahoma panhandle. The Black in Black Mesa is just that – the soil takes its color from the volcanic uprising that formed this mesa.  While most of Cimarron County exceeds 4000 feet in elevation, the great Black Mesa rises to 4973 feet.  Cimarron is the only county in the entire United States that borders on four states, namely, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Kansas.  Jack Parsell will be on hand at the convention Thursday evening to tell us about Friday’s available excursions to the three state tri-points.

Pre-historically, dating back 25,000 to 4500 years, there is evidence of Indian habitation in the form of Folsom and Clovis style stone points and mummies, as well as skeletal remains of mammoth, dinosaurs and other extinct creatures.  Archeological finds in the caves around Kenton shed light on the people who inhabited the region some 4-5000 years ago.  During the period 500-800 A.D., the area was inhabited by Anasazi Indians, and in later centuries by Kiowa,  Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho.  These early people were crop-growers as well as buffalo hunters; at that time great herds of buffalo roamed the area.

Later, the Spanish expanded north from Mexico, blazing what is now the Cimarron-Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. The original Santa Fe Trail ran through the mountains of Colorado, and while the Cut-off was quite dangerous in the early days – the Plains Indians weren’t overly friendly to the white men encroaching on their land – the Cimarron-Cut-off became the primary route from the Mississippi to the West.  Parts of this old rutted wagon road are quite visable today, and we are planning an excursion from the Convention Center to Autograph Rock on the Santa Fe Trail.  Autograph Rock takes its name from the fact that Santa Fe Trail travelers carved their names and the dates of their stop-over into a cliff as they passed through the area, a regular overnight stop.

Early white settlers came to the high plains of the Oklahoma Panhandle after the Civil War.  The climatic conditions were not idea, the weather often brutal, and the Panhandle was the heart of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  Many small farmers and ranchers were forced off the lands due to the drought; those who fled to California were the original “Okies”, chronicled by John Steinbeck in his 1939 book, The Grapes of Wrath.

That’s all for now–look for my next installment of OK – 2000 in the 1st Quarter Newsletter, 2001.

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