ENID, Okla. — Enid native and historian Bob Klemme is being remembered as an icon of Northwest Oklahoma history after he died Tuesday, June 26, 2019, at the age of 93.
Klemme was known for marking Oklahoma’s portion of the Chisholm Trail with hundreds of signposts, an endeavor that took seven years to complete and required sifting through government records more than a century old.
Attorney Gary Brown, who worked with Klemme on several local history projects, was able to tag along with him while he was marking some of the trail.
Enid native Bob Klemme, the man who marked the Chisholm Trail and pushed to have that part of Plains history designated nationally, saw his quest come close to being finalized just before his death.
“My favorite memories were just going with him to go spot the trail,” Brown said. “We just talked about a lot of projects that needed to get done in the area of regional history, and through the years most of them have gotten accomplished — either through his efforts through the Chisholm Trail for sure or through the local groups that have done a lot of renovation of history.”
Klemme also worked for nearly 20 years to get the Chisholm and Great Western trails designated as National Historic Trails, and last week the National Park Service finally determined they met that criteria. Now that the trails have been designated by NPS, Congress can enact legislation to officially designate the trails while ensuring the protection of private property rights, according to a press release.
“He would be absolutely delighted. I think he was pretty aware that was going to happen before he passed away,” Brown said.
Starting in 1990, Klemme erected 400 200-pound markers to illustrate where a trail crossed a section line, finally finishing the project in 1997. Klemme also aided the City of Enid Public Works Department and Visit Enid in painting hoof prints along the portion of the trail that aligned with Enid’s streets for its 150th anniversary in 2017.
“Through his efforts, he really opened people's eyes of all the different historical things and how they fit in to the natural history of the western expansion,” Brown said. “I think he was very instrumental in getting information and books written… he was a champion for developing that history and getting that out into the public.”
For this work on the trail and his advocacy in attempting to get Chisholm named a National Historic Trail, in 2011 Klemme was named Cultural Traveler Trailblazer of the Year by U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Marketing Council. He also was honored in 2016 for his historical contributions with the dedication of "The Trail" metal mural depicting life on the Chisholm Trail, which debuted in downtown Enid on his 91st birthday and features his likeness as a rider on the trail.
“He was a great guy, and I really enjoyed the time I spent with him,” Brown said. “He was truly a leader in developing the regional history of Northwest Oklahoma.”
Klemme's funeral will be 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, 2019, at Central Christian Church. Arrangements are with Henninger~Hinson Funeral Home.