Monday, March 18, 2013


The first owner of record of this land was the Union Pacific Railroad, which bought up wooded tracts from the U.S. government in the 19th century. The government had resettled the Lenape people nearby, then forced them to relocate to Oklahoma and merge with the Cherokee. As far as I can tell, this spot would have been part of the Lenape hunting runs and probably hunting territory for the Osage and the Kanza before that. None of these groups are my ancestors of blood.

By the time the Lenape came to this part of the country, they had been shoved halfway across the continent, converted to Christianity and renamed the Delaware, for the main river near their original home. The river was also renamed for an English governor of Virginia, Lord De La Warr. Our township is named for a chief of the Turtle Clan of the Lenape, John Sarcoxie, who farmed the Delaware Commons with his band on the banks of the Kaw River, south of here. One name seems a small survival, compared to all that has been lost.

Delaware Indians who participated in negotiations in Washington, D.C., in 1867. Seated (Left to Right): James Ketchum, James Conner, John Conner (Principal Chief), Charles Journeycake, Isaac Journeycake, John Sarcoxie, Sr. Standing (Left to Right): James McDaniel, a Cherokee present at the discussions, Black Beaver, Henry Tiblow (interpreter), John Gill Pratt (U.S. Indian Agent), Charles Armstrong, John Young. The identifications are made in Weslager,  The Delaware Indians: A HistoryThe photograph can be found in the Western History Section, University of Oklahoma and at the Bartlesville Public Library.

Along the north face of the hill a small stretch of older oaks and hickories still stands despite the railroad and its logging. The rest of the land runs more to black walnut, honey locust, elm, hedge, redbud and hackberry now, with Eastern red cedars taking over wherever they can. The steep north slope ends in a ravine running beside the road. A deer trail follows the contour of the hill near the top, taking advantage of a small ledge above the drop-off.

This corner of the land was considered too rough for farming. A previous owner ran cattle below the hill, after putting up barbed wire to keep them from tumbling down into the gulley. The hilltop and the north and west slopes seem to have been left alone.

I recently heard the original inhabitants of a place referred to as “ancestors of bone.” The ancestors of this place were transients: Kanza, Osage and Lenape hunters, French trappers who married into the Kanza, railroad loggers. They left nothing here, not even bone. I can’t actually be certain that anyone hunted or camped here or stood near the hilltop to watch the sun set over the creek.

The deer still walk here, although the hunters have vanished. Today I walked the deer trail and left an offering of tobacco near an old oak, in thanks for the gift of one small survival of wilderness.