Wednesday, February 14, 2007

History of Place

I've been feeling quite unconnected here in our new community...and at least part of the feeling is because I knew so little about the history of the land and the town. For example, one question that has been haunting me is where the name "Clearwater" originated.

So yesterday I went in to the Clearwater Public Library and did a little research. Along the way, I met an extremely helpful woman, Jackie, who turned out to be the past director of the Clearwater Historical Museum. She was full of great information and wonderful stories.

Apparently this was Osage Indian territory before the European settlers came. The nearest river to us is called the Ninnescah River - "Ninnescah" meaning sweet water or clear water in Osage. "Ninnescah"...."Clear Water"...."Clearwater" - and the genesis of the town name is as simple as that.

In 1865, Jesse Chisholm, an Indian trader, laid out a new trail for trade between Wichita and Oklahoma City (and parts beyond?). The trail crossed the Ninnescah River at the best ford he could find, a spot just a little east of the current site of the town of Clearwater.

In 1867, the railroad finally reached Abilene, Kansas, and the first successful cattle drives from south of the Red River in Texas to Abilene occurred over the Chisholm Trail. Cattle drives on the Trail peaked in 1871, with over 600,000 head coming north.

(Did you know that the optimum size for a cattle herd on the Trail was 3000 head? It would often take cattle from several ranches to make the appropriately sized herd, so the cattle would be branded with a special drive brand, as well as with their original ranch/owner's brand. A herd of this size required the services of one trail boss, one chuckwagon, one horse wrangler, and about 8 drovers (cowboys). Each cowboy would have 3 horses: the regular one for daytime, a quiet nighttime horse, and one horse for backup. The cattle could only move about 10-12 miles/day and if they'd moved several days without a rest, they would need a couple days on pasture with water to recuperate. With herds of +/- 3000 head, the Chisholm Trail was actually as much as 1/2 mile wide, and when herds were resting, they might be pastured 3-5 miles away from the trail itself.)

The last large herd of bison were seen in the area during 1873. By 1874, farmers had started fencing land along the Chisholm Trail and the use of the Trail basically ended. So the Chisholm Trail, famous in legend and song, lasted less than 10 years. Amazing, isn't it?

Anyway, the original settlement of Clearwater grew up around the ford across the Ninnescah and the trading post on its north banks that soon developed. It was the only town to actually form because of the Chisholm Trail. After the trail declined, so did the least until a new railroad line was brought in to connect Wichita to the town of Kiowa to the southwest. The railroad company built a depot about 1 1/2 miles to the northwest of the old Clearwater settlement.

Being resourceful people who disliked unnecessary work, the remaining settlers packed up and recreated their town by the new railroad depot. The first train came through on July 4, 1884. By April 1885, there were 700 people in town, and by September 1885 there were over 2000! The town incorporated on September 1, 1885. Over the next 5 years, a drought occurred (1887) and the Oklahoma territory opened up (1889). Many people packed up and left town for "greener pastures," abandoning their houses or literally picking them up and moving them elsewhere. By 1900, there were only 304 inhabitants left in Clearwater.

The town currently has 2000+ inhabitants again. It's a pleasant, friendly little town with miniature windmills for street signs. At first glance, it seems to be a combination of a farming community and a bedroom community for Wichita. I'm looking forward to getting to know it better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a wonderful, wonderful post.

I can't help but thinking if you got just little bit more into politics, you'd make a great dailykos diarist.

Different, yes, but this is exactly the sort of research that can be useful for that, just as it is nurturing to know what is the history of your place.