Lawmaker wants to house controversial statues in home district

Two Confederate monuments are lifted by crane and removed from the Cherokee Nation Capitol Square in Tahlequah. (CNHI News Oklahoma)

WAUKOMIS, Okla. — With help from local and state historians, an Oklahoma state legislator wants to make a new home in Garfield County for statues of historical figures that had been removed over the last year and a half around the United States.

Plans are not yet set in stone for the so-called “Patriot Park,” which has been put on hold likely until next spring, said Oklahoma author and historian John Dwyer, who’s been working on the project for the last year.

Dwyer said the Red River Institute of History board, which he reports to, decided to postpone proceeding on the park until after Dwyer’s next commissioned book, his second volume of “The Oklahomans,” is released next April.

“So on the one hand, there’s nothing definite at this point, but on the other hand, there’s still an interest in a lot of people,” he said last week.

To be located on privately donated land in Waukomis, the park would include statues, monuments or markers — often of Confederate leaders or figures related to Indigenous mistreatment such as Christopher Columbus — that had been removed or destroyed following protests during the summer of 2020.

Stonewall Jackson removed from Richmond's Monument Avenue

Work crews remove the statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson, Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has ordered the immediate removal of all Confederate statues in the city, saying he was using his emergency powers to speed up the healing process for the former capital of the Confederacy amid weeks of protests over police brutality and racial injustice.

“Then along the way, some people said, ‘How about making our own duplicates of statues?’” Dwyer said, including ones of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, Will Rogers, Kate Barnard and other state figures. “Where you have a park that’s representative of Oklahoma, representative of America.”

The Oklahoma weekly newspaper Southwest Ledger reported earlier this year that Edmond couple Richard and Mo Anderson, both Waukomis natives who still own property there, said they were open to donating land — if “other pieces came into play,” Dwyer added.

However, he said it hasn’t gotten to a point of asking local officials for approval, whether that be in Waukomis or elsewhere in the Garfield County area.

Difficulties have arisen over the last year — Dwyer himself got busy finishing the book up until a few weeks ago when it went to press, and Bob Blackburn, former director of Oklahoma Historical Society, retired last fall after offering his interest.

The state senator with the initial idea for the park said he hadn’t spoken to Dwyer since last spring, having gotten busy with three committee assignments this summer.

Republican state Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, also said statues in the United States have been hard to come by since being removed and placed into storage.

Murdock, a self-professed history buff, had sent out a press release in summer 2020 offering a place in his Senate District 27 to preserve any statues for historical and educational purposes, based solely on private donations.

“Whether it’s good or bad, those statues are a part of our history,” he said Tuesday. “I think we have to remember history so it doesn’t repeat itself. … We have to keep the conversation of our history.”

Murdock

Sen. Casey Murdock

Murdock said he soon started reaching out every time he saw a community removed a statue, asking if they could donate it or loan it to what he said would be called Patriot Park.

He said many people in the Northwest Oklahoma district started contacting him offering to donate acreage for a potential site and that a trucking company had offered to transport any monuments, too. Plans changed when Dwyer contacted Murdock about putting the park on land in the Waukomis area.

“That was my initial idea that’s kind of grown,” he said. “Because I’m sure 100 years from now, (after) we get this thing up and get it built … it is going to be a statue of the history of the United States in the summer of 2020.

“And to make it a walking park or even a driving park, it would be a reason to come to Waukomis to look at America’s history.”

Nearly 100 specifically Confederate statues were taken down in 2020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Last summer in Tahlequah, the Cherokee Nation removed two monuments that’d been dedicated to Confederate soldiers. In January, Oklahoma City Community College removed a monument of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 and placed it in storage.

“We have always agreed with those who felt the monument was offensive and had no place on our campus,” OCCC interim President Jeremy Thomas then said in a statement. “It does not accurately represent history, and it does not accurately reflect the respect, empathy and admiration we have for the true pioneers of this land: the Indigenous people of this country. As soon as we were in a position to take it down, we did.”

Murdock said the decision fired him up a little bit again last winter, calling the president’s statement “uncalled for.”

“You look at people in Waukomis, Enid or Guymon. Those families were in that Land Run. You’re talking about my grandfather, my great-grandfather,” he said. “It was an opportunity for those people to start a new life, to start a new dream. They weren’t oppressors.”

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Ewald is copy editor and city/education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Send an email to aewald@enidnews.com.

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