The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 7, 2013

A big link in collection chain

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — One of the most important pieces in the collection chain Cherokee Strip Heritage Center officials did not have was ... well, a chain used to measure length.

That problem has been solved, with the long-term loan of a surveyors’ measuring chain. The Heritage Center recently received the piece, which has been authenticated, on long-term loan from Northern Oklahoma College. It is part of the Heritage Center’s permanent gallery and now may be seen by the public.

The chain dates back to the 1880s and was used to measure the Cherokee Outlet.

“This survey chain is a significant addition to our collection and a fundamental artifact of Cherokee Strip history,” said David Kennedy, curator of collections. “The Heritage Center did not have a survey chain in its collection, so this addition fills an important gap in our collections plan.”

Museum Executive Director Andi Holland said the chain is 66 feet long. All 2 million acres of the Cherokee Outlet were measured 66 feet at a time with such a chain.

“A lot of these chains — to use an expression — were ridden hard and put away wet,” Kennedy said. “A survey chain is an important tool from the past, in that it was used to lay out any sort of land, specifically the Cherokee Strip.

The chain is broken into 100 links just short of eight inches each. Ten links total 6 feet, 8 inches and all 100 totaled 66 feet, he said. The length system dates back to 1600s-era Britain, when the decimal system was being developed, Kennedy said. It is an ancestor of Gunter’s Chain, a system developed by British clergyman and mathematician Edmund Gunter. The chain helped reconcile the old British survey methods with its use of lengths.

The chain was held in a historical collection at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa. Cheryl Evans, NOC president, was on the Heritage Center board and realized the value of the chain. She realized it was something the Heritage Center night be interested in, Kennedy said.

“It helped us out by being able to set up the exhibit,” he said.

Since the Heritage Center reopened in 2011, museum officials have known there were several questions they wanted to answer in their displays. Every time a question is answered, a new one appears, and Kennedy said people whose ancestors helped settle the Cherokee Strip wanted to know how the land sites were found.

“By using the chain, we can explain surveying at a rudimentary level. We can explain it in ways the 21st century can understand,” Kennedy said.

The survey process took more than 50 years, he said. From the time the Treaty of New Echota established the Cherokee Outlet as a possession of the Cherokee Tribe in 1836, the U.S. government surveyed the borders and surveyed where it met Kansas and Texas. Eventually, all section lines were surveyed, along with all townsites shortly before the Land Run of 1893.

The new survey exhibit is near the entrance of the Ward & Meibergen Exhibition Hall. It features the survey chain and information on how such chains were used.

Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. Admission is free for active-duty military, veterans and children 5 and under.