City History

EARLY HISTORY OF PERRY, OKLAHOMA

by Rev. Fred R. Belk

At one minute of 12 o'clock noon on September 16, 1893, a tense silence broken only by the occasional nervous whinny of a horse or braying of a mule, fell along the line of the entry of the Cherokee Outlet (Strip). Then, a single pistol shot rang out and one of the most exciting runs' in the history of the United States began. The silence of the treeless plains were suddenly filled with screaming men, thundering wagons, cracking whips, plunging animals and yapping dogs, and the tidal wave of humanity, surrounded by a cloud of dust, swept towards Perry and its adjoining countryside. They came from all classes, from all directions; afoot, horseback, on lumber wagons, carriages and by railroad. They were honest men and thieves, bankers and paupers, adventurers and homesteaders, all wanting some of the virgin land that made the "outlet" famous.

By nightfall, a city of canvas with well over 40,000 population had risen. Estimates are that over 100,000 men, women, and children took part all along the run. The "Strip" as it was later called was 57 miles wide, stretching from the Kansas border to Orlando, and 200 miles long extending to the Texas line and compromising 1/5 of the present state of Oklahoma. Osage, Pawnee, Kay, Noble, Grant, Alfalfa, Major, Woods, Woodward, Harper, and Ellis counties were involved in the "run" and "bread basket" Oklahoma was born.

Those desiring to make the run and stake a claim were required to register a few days before the deadline. Land in tracts of 160 acres each became the property of the person who first laid claim to it. This was accomplished by "staking" the land, and then filing an official notice of the claim at the land office. The Cherokee Strip consisted of 5,698,140 acres of what proved to be some of the richest land the U.S. Government ever offered to ambitious and enterprising settlers. Some had penetrated the border line before the designated time and hidden in heavily wooded areas and creek bottoms until the land run officially started. They were the "Sooners". (those who made the run were called "Boomers", as they waited for the sound of the starting gun). Now all residents of Oklahoma are proudly referred to as "Sooners". Dust was so thick in the moustaches and beards of the men that no one could tell the color of a man's skin; for all races and creeds participated in the "run".

The south boundary of the Cherokee Strip was immediately north of Orlando. The "record" run was by Jack Tearney, formerly of Guthrie, who started at the county line and reached Perry in 31 minutes and had the "Blue Bell" saloon operating at 4 o'clock! That first day beer sold at $1.00 a bottle, due to the scarcity of water, and 38,000 glasses were sold.

The original town was bounded by A & F streets and 1st and 9th streets and "Hell's Half Acre" with its many saloons was set up 1/2 block east of the east side of the now existing square. Some 110 saloons and gambling houses were in operation.

Wharton, the first name used to refer to Perry, was a train station located 1 mile south of the present city. Perry received its name from the J.A. Perry, one of the township location commissioners. County "P" as Noble County was then known, was named after the Honorable John W. Noble of St. Louis, the secretary of the Interior in President Harrisons cabinet.

Among those within the boundary of the Strip prior to the opening, were the notorious Bill Doolin gang. A Santa Fe train was robbed at Wharton before the opening, and the gang escaped into Osage County. U.S. Marshall E.D. Nix and 100 deputies were commissioned to police the area and keep order.

Rev. S.P. Meyers, a missionary to Oklahoma Territory, and the dean of the ministry in Noble County, made the run from the Orlando line and settled on a good quarter section southwest of Perry. Meyers delivered the first sermon in Perry, holding the meeting in an unfinished hardware building of J.O. Young on the north side of the square. Beer kegs, from the record consumption of the preceding day, and boards from the building materials were used for the seating of the congregation. Funds were raised to buy a tent to be used as a church.

LATTER DAY HISTORY OF PERRY, OKLAHOMA

By Fred Beers

Perry is the home of the Charles Machine Works, Inc., maker of Ditch Witch equipment, the world's largest selling line of trenchers and other mechanized tools used in underground construction. The company began in 1902 as a blacksmith shop located on the downtown courthouse square. The present CEO, Ed Malzahn, is a grandson of the founder. Today the company's products are marketed and used throughout the free world. Annual sales total more than $100 million. Ditch Witch (the company's popular name) employs some 1,000 people; all live in Perry or the surrounding area. All marketing employees, including those who travel abroad, make their home in Perry and travel out of here. The company has its own in-house travel agency and two corporate airplanes.

As of 2004, The Perry Maroon wrestling team has won 32 state championships, a national record. Danny Hodge, OU graduate from Perry, is generally regarded as one of the greatest (and strongest) collegiate wrestlers of all time. He was a Sports Illustrated coverboy. Later he won the U.S. Golden Gloves boxing heavyweight championship. He still lives in Perry.

Perry is the smallest city in Oklahoma with a daily newspaper, The Perry Daily Journal.

Perry is the smallest city in the U.S. with a full-service YMCA, including an indoor heated swimming pool.

Perry Memorial Hospital has just been named one of the top 100 medical care centers in the U.S. by a nationally distributed professional magazine. The only other Oklahoma hospital chosen was Mercy Health Center in Oklahoma City.

Perry Carnegie Library was established in 1910 with a $10,000 grant from the late Andrew Carnegie. The original building is still in use but was expanded and completely renovated with some $475,000 contributed totally by Perry citizens.

A statue in the Noble county courthouse park in downtown Perry was created by local sculptor Bill Bennett and placed there on a massive granite pedestal as a Cherokee Strip Centennial memorial costing approximately $250,000, all subscribed by Noble countyans and former residents who contributed all funds needed for the project. The statue, entitled "Hopes and Dreams," portrays an early-day couple coming to the newly opened western frontier.

Henry Bellmon, who lives in the Billings community north of Perry, is once again a Noble county farmer after retiring from government service - - two term as governor of Oklahoma and two terms as a U.S. senator. He was the first republican elected governor of this state.

His wife, Shirley, operates the "First Lady" doll factory in Billings. It is a regular stop for tour buses traveling through this part of the state.

The Perry High School band, directed by PHS alum (Mrs.) Sandy Hentges, is a consistent trophy winner in marching, concert playing and sight reading. The band was invited to march in President Nixon's 1976 inaugural parade.

Perry worshipers can choose from among 23 different churches each week. All mainline denominations are represented.

Stagecoach Community Theatre, now in its 20th year, provides Perry area residents with wholesome family stage entertainment.