Noble County - Perry
Perry was generally considered to be the "queen city of the Cherokee Strip" after the great land rush of 1893 which opened a choice area of the future state of Oklahoma to non-Indian settlers. The event attracted nation-wide interest. It lured to this area a marvelous mixture of humanity. Some were adventurous and recklessly daring; some were professional people and entrepreneurs looking for a new start; some were just hungry for a piece of land to call their own.
Perry emerged from the 1893 land rush into a post-run period of building homes, farmsteads, businesses, schools and churches, attracting still more newcomers as others learned about the frenzied development here. The new community also lost some who quickly tried primitive frontier life. It was a time of get-rich-quick for land speculators and a few others, but most of the homesteaders had to learn to accept daily agonies and deprivations.
The post-run period was followed by a time of great development as some farms and ranches consolidated, businesses became more stable and "up to date" after the early days, municipal governments carried out their responsibilities and local politics began emerging.
Oil reserves were discovered and pumped from the ground, strong individuals from rural and urban communities began shaping the area's destiny.
As the decade of the 1920s approached, Perry joined hands with the rest of America to do its part in the War to End All Wars, sending dozens of its strong young men into military service. Some who answered the call paid the supreme sacrifice on European battlefields, but most returned to the little prairie city after the Armistice was signed in 1918. They brought with them a renewed vigor and vison that enable the pattern of growth to be resumed.
The nation's economy, strengthened by wartime industrial development, quickly surged to unprecedented heights, and Perry joyously shared in the momentous growth -- and the disastrous crash which signaled its demise at the end of the decade.
The 1930s dawned and depression gripped the U.S., along with virtually the entire world. Perry knew hard times again. Banks struggled and some floundered. Foreclosures drove many farmers and businessmen away. Unprecedented drought created an epic Dust Bowl that rendered cropland useless and relentless prairie winds compounded the misery.
It was a time of darkness, despair and doubt, trying men's souls, but a few bright rays emerged through the gloom. Toward the end of the decade Perry was awarded a political plum -- a State Highway Department division office, one of only eight in all of Oklahoma. It assured the area of a major employer.
During the same period, a new U.S. Post Office was built on the courthouse square and the city became the beneficiary of federal largess through such depression-spawned agencies as the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA (Works Project Administration). Among other things, Perry received a fine new park (still called the CCC Park), several school buildings, a large armory and the Perry school stadium, regarded as the state's finest at the time it was completed in 1939.
The economy was showing positive signs of recovery as that decade ended, but the war in Europe grew more ominous daily. In 1940, the 45th National Guard division was mobilized for federal service and dozens of young Perry area men were shipped in Fort Sill for active duty.
The massive war effort required those on the home front to deal with shortages of just about everything. Still the community continued the process of surviving and evolving, eventually coming to grips with preparations for growing and rebuilding in the post-World War II era.
In more recent decades Perry has continued to prove itself a survivor. Perry has two outstanding banks and a stable, though reconfigured, retail business community. Shining brightest of all, however, and unquestionably the reason Perry has endured, is the Charles Machine Works, Inc., manufacturer of Ditch Witch products, an internationally marketed line of medium construction equipment.
Given the character of those sturdy early settlers and those who came after them as a base to build on, it is clear that this small prairie city is still learning how to grow.
Note: Not all of the photographs contained in this exhibit are available at the Cherokee Strip Museum. Photographs may have been edited for presentation on the web site.
Beers, Fred G. The First Generation, A Half Century of Pioneering in Perry, Oklahoma. Perry, OK: The Charles Machine Works, Inc., 1991.