Southwest Oklahomans grew up listening to stories that have become legends. When the stories are retold generation after generation, the details shift and the legend or myth lives anew.
One such story is how Medicine Bluff on Medicine Creek on Fort Sill got its name. The story goes that Geronimo, a prominent leader and medicine man from the Apache tribe, was being pursued by soldiers. It was said that he yelled his own name “Geronimoooooo” in defiance as he made the jump with his horse off the cliffs. Along with this story it is also said that a hawk or eagle was the only thing seen when the soldiers approached the edge of the bluffs looking for Geronimo. It’s alleged to be the reason why US Paratroopers yell out the same when jumping out of airplanes. A tradition that has been around for a long time.
Many remember hearing stories of the Wichita Mountains bringing great wealth to people in the early 1900s. This was the location of one of the last gold rushes in the United States. It began in August 1901, but by 1904 the lure of a successful strike ended. During the rush some 20,000 miners flocked to the range, searching for fortune. Abandoned and decaying mining equipment still scatters the Wichita Mountains, commemorating that exciting period. Between 1901 and 1904 the Meers Gold Mining District reigned as the area’s most extensive gold-mining locality. Meers, named for mine operator Andrew J. Meers, at its pinnacle claimed to have 500 residents, but at the end of the 20th century only four people remained in the town.
The Wichita Mountains have long been known by miners as rich in minerals. According to Spanish records, Father Gilbert, with 100 men, led an expedition into the Wichita Mountains as early as 1657, and sunk a shaft to the depth of 100 feet about 9 miles northwest of Mount Scott. About the year 1738 another expedition was led to the mountains, and work was begun toward developing a mine in Devil’s Canyon. The members of the second expedition were mostly Mexican peons. They were attacked by the Kiowas, who massacred all but three of the party, who escaped to Mexico. There they made a map of the mines, which was finally secured by a Mexican miner who returned to the mountains many years later and unearthed the old mines, finding many relics of the former possessors. Whether he found any of the treasure ever discovered by the first party is not known, as he did not return to the mountains from a second visit to Mexico. The old mine is on the North fork of the Red River, and is at the extreme northwest corner of the range of mountains. It had long been called the Haunted Canyon by the Indians, but is now known as Devil’s Canyon.
No doubt you have heard the story about how the Lawton Fort Sill area is protected from tornadoes by the Wichita Mountains. The legend says that many, many years ago the Native Americans who lived on the Plains believed that the mountain range that borders Lawton Fort Sill has powers of protection. With this protection comes safety from any direct hit from tornadoes. It is believed that Native Americans have the ability to turn or reroute storms away from people in their path. This legend was questioned when in April of 1979, a tornado touched down in the industrial section of Lawton. Often referred to as “Terrible Tuesday,” this F-3 tornado took three lives that day and caused $14 million dollars in damages. Because the damage was focused on a small area of South Lawton, many didn’t consider this a “direct hit” and still believe the region is protected by the Wichita Mountains.
Southwest Oklahoma is rich in culture, arts and history but to some, these legends make for fun exploration and great story telling.
Lee Baxter is a former commanding general of Fort Sill.