By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
It’s amazing what you can learn from the hide of a bison.
Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center Curator David Kennedy said Wednesday was an exciting day, as he inspected an old bison hide that has been in the museum collection for many years.
“Today was kind of a kid-in-a-candy-store moment for me,” Kennedy said.
The animal Americans typically refer to as buffalo actually is an American bison. Actual buffalo live in Africa and Asia, and are “sort of” a cousin to the bison, but not the same animal, Kennedy said.
The hide bears the names of members of the Cherokee Strip Cowpunchers Association, which was composed of cowboys who worked on Cherokee Outlet ranches prior to 1893. It was those cowboys who stayed after the land run and made the area their home.
The hide measures 10 feet by 11 feet and is from the 1930s. Kennedy said it probably came from one of the bison in the herd at the 101 Ranch.
“It’s been part of the collection since the 1940s. It was on display several times, originally at the state Capitol, then at the Oklahoma History Museum, then moved to Enid prior to the Centennial in 1993,” he said.
“The primary reason it was brought out is, it hasn’t been looked at in six to eight years. We didn’t have good photos of it. The only pictures I know of are old black and whites,” Kennedy said.
Several good photographs showing the details of the hide were taken Wednesday, and Heritage Center staff made sure it still is in good condition and not beginning to deteriorate. They also verified the information on it. The names of members of the Cherokee Strip Cowpunchers Association are branded in the hide, along with a number of decorations. It was decorated and presented to the association by Zack Miller, one of the Miller Brothers who operated the 101 Ranch. Miller presented it to the association just before the 1934 meeting, Kennedy said.
“The names are all those of cowboys who worked in the area prior to 1893,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy obtained much of his information from Al Stehno, who co-wrote a book about the association and who visited the museum Wednesday. Kennedy said the bison hide is important to the collection in a different way than the surveyor’s chain, which is now on display. The chain signifies the everyday life of the Cherokee Outlet, Kennedy said, and the bison hide refers more to the social and civic life of the people in the Cherokee Strip.
“If the cowboys who worked those grazing leases hadn’t stayed after the leases expired, some of the families wouldn’t be here today,” Kennedy said.
Those cowboys could have left and returned to Kansas or Texas to work, but a surprising number of them remained and established their homes in the Cherokee Strip, Kennedy said. The organization started about 1920, when most of those cowboys were becoming elderly. They gathered annually to relive old times, he said.
“It’s kind of like businessmen have the Rotary Club, or the Masons or fraternal organizations, except these were guys who rode a saddle all their lives,” Kennedy said. “They didn’t own the ranches, they worked on them.”
Kennedy knew two of the names branded into the hide. Will Rogers was the only honorary member, and Pawnee Bill was a member. Pawnee Bill was a cowboy before he became associated with Buffalo Bill.
“These were the people they knew and respected. This generation’s grandchildren fought in World War II,” Kennedy said. “I knew it would be cool, but I didn’t know how cool it was.”