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
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
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
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.