Being concerned about the environment is not something new for Northwest Oklahomans. They witnessed with their own eyes in the 1930s the devastating effect the coming of the white man in 1893 had on the land.

In the mid 1920s Henry H. Reynolds, who made the 1893 race for land in the Cherokee Outlet, wrote in a journal he kept how wildlife and the sea of native grasses that covered this area had disappeared, and how the bubbling springs that at one time watered huge herds of longhorns on the Chisholm Trail, as well as other travelers over the Trail, had disappeared, or been severely diminished.

He feared the area would be turned into a desert by the white man's farming practices. His fears were almost realized in the 1930s when towering clouds of dust ripped up from the bone-dry plowed farmland turned day into night all across this part of the country.

Reynolds noted in 1926 the spring that used to flow steadily most of the year on Frank Gray's farm on the south edge of Enid, had dried up.

He also noted that the springs at Government Springs Park no longer furnished the volume of water they once did. He described another good spring that had been up a little stream somewhere near the former Odd Fellows Hall on South Grand Avenue. It had disappeared. That would have been in the vicinity of the present Pastimes Restaurant and the David Allen Memorial ball park.

Old cowboys said that in the days of the cattle drives through Enid - before the coming of the raised Rock Island railroad tracks - the water in Government Springs Park, which at that time was little more than a low marshy ravine, extended all the way to the southeast corner of what is now Enid's downtown Square.

There were also camping places up and down the trail that were supplied with cool water by constantly flowing springs. Reynolds said one of the camping places was at the springs on the east side of North Enid. Water was also found along Wild Horse Creek, which was fed by springs near the head of the creek.

The next watering place going north was the round pond on Pond Creek, south of Jefferson.

As early as 1926, the springs were already diminishing at Buffalo Springs, near Bison, south of Enid. At that time, Reynolds said that only traces remained of the campgrounds that they had used in moving from Kingfisher to Enid.

At one time there was a stagecoach stop at Buffalo Springs with buildings to house travelers and a stable dug into the bank of a little stream.

In 1926 the only evidence remaining of the station were a few rocks where the house had stood, and an excavation where the stable had been. The well, which was gone too, had been only a few feet deep. A rope and bucket were used to draw water for cooking and drinking.

We really don't need springs as part of our 21st century life, at least they are not as important to sustaining life as they were 1893. But, I hope that the aggressive soil conservation policies, and new farming methods initiated during the past few decades will be enough to prevent a repeat of the dust bowl days of the 1930s, and the once-predicted ÒSahara Desert-likeÓ conditions.

Preserving our prairie home seems to have slipped between the cracks, between our concerns over the current recession, energy conservation, health care for all, and social security reform. In this case, we need to keep our eyes on the ground.

* * *

ÒMr. GrayÓ has been a sometimes guest at our house in recent weeks. He is sort of like ÒThe Man Who Came to DinnerÓ - sort of - occasionally. He showed up one bitterly cold day in December handsomely attired in his heavy gray coat and white scarf - all puffed out against the cold.

He's like ÒThe Man Who Came to DinnerÓ because that is the only reason he comes - for dinner, and occasionally for breakfast and maybe lunch too.

ÒMr. GrayÓ is well mannered, very polite, and I would bet next month's food stamps (which is what we are going to be on if he continues as our guest) that ÒMr. GrayÓ lives somewhere in our neighborhood.

People who know him are probably wondering why he is putting on weight. Should we send him to Jenny Craig?

I have a strong hunch that when he is not ÒguestingÓ with us he is imposing his charm on someone else in the vicinity. Sometimes he fails to show up for 24-48 hours. Maybe he has a girl friend - maybe several.

ÒMr. GrayÓ is a big, handsome, gentle, tomcat who sure knows how to push our buttons.

Brown is a former managing editor of the Enid Morning News.

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