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180 The Ghost Springs of Sycamore Creek Sycamore Creek rises from a series of springs a few miles east of the Osage village of Grayhorse. Several forks join to flow southwest to the Arkansas River, draining rolling prairie and then dense post oak– blackjack oak forest near the border with the river. It’s a clear, clean little stream, flowing a dozen feet wide on average over limestone and sandstone bedrock and cobble. Judging from the mortar holes ground into slab rock and the lithic scatter left over from flint knapping around the headwater springs, the area must have earned a four-star rating from campers long ago, people who left prehistoric villages along nearby Hominy Creek and the Arkansas River to hunt buffalo on the high prairie to the northwest. Mixed hardwood forests bordering the streams provided walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, and pecans to grind in the smooth holes worn into bedrock. The water was sweet and good, the campsites shaded. These temporary hunting camps were well used, judging from the depth of the grinding holes and the amount of debris left from the fashioning of stone tools and projectile points. When the Osage Indians sold their reservation in Kansas in 1870 and relocated south across the state line in what is now Osage County, one branch of the tribe settled a few miles west of the Sycamore Creek 181 The Ghost Springs of Sycamore Creek headwaters, establishing a village they called Grayhorse. A few years later, Catholic missionaries built a school for Indian boys along Hominy Creek, a few miles northeast of the Sycamore Creek springs. When the reservation was dissolved in 1907 upon Oklahoma statehood, the springs were included in what is now Bluestem Ranch, owned over the next hundred years by the daughter of one of the region’s pioneer cowboys , by descendants of the locally famous Drummond ranching family , and by a billionaire from Atlanta who made a fortune in the cable news industry. Seasonal cattle grazing on native grass range was until recently a pastoral, mostly environmentally benign pursuit. However, a harsher, more brutal industry invaded the area early in the twentieth century when vast petroleum reserves were discovered in Osage County. By midcentury a small community serving the Texas (Texaco) Company ’s Naval Reserve oil field consisted of maybe fifty families, a gas station , a grocery store, two churches, and an office building. Owned by the Texas Company and built on land leased from local ranchers, the houses, barely livable by modern standards and rented to employees for around fifteen dollars a month, were scattered across the prairie. Ranchers in Osage County owned the grass but not the oil or any other subsurface minerals. Following statehood, the Osages managed to retain the mineral rights to their former reservation. As a result, oil companies including Texaco, Phillips, and Conoco worked directly with the tribe when brokering leases, negotiating drilling rights, and paying royalties. Surface landowners were reimbursed for actual physical damages, but other than that they were basically ignored by the petroleum industry. The region around the headwaters of Sycamore Creek had a rough edge to it when my family moved there in 1947. My father found a job with the Texas Company when he returned home from Germany after World War II. I was three months old when we moved to the Naval Reserve oil camp, arriving to find my family had been provided with a three-room wood frame house with a tin roof, no insulation, no electricity, and no running water. My first bath in that house was in a washtub filled with water carried uphill in buckets by my older brother, each bucket provided by the spring flowing clear and cold some fifty yards below the house. Over the months that followed, my dad managed to add an extra room by enclosing a porch, wire the house for electricity, and lay enough pipe to provide running water 182 The Ghost Springs of Sycamore Creek in the kitchen, eliminating what my brother recalled as the seemingly endless trips to the spring for water, each bucketful hauled in a little red wagon that kids at the time coveted as much as they do video games today. The spring yielded good water, a cool blessing from the damp dark earth that welled up in the shade of a black willow tree. Total strangers arrived at our house, jugs in hand, inquiring if they could “fetch a little water from that nice spring.” They...


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MARC Record
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