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An empty shed stands alone on the north end of town in Cardin, Okla.


A panoramic view of Cardin from above, circa 1920. Photo courtesy Fredas Cook.


A couch lies abandoned in an empty lot where homes once stood at the northern end of Cardin, Okla.


“I lived there all my life and it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, we were just a community of hardworking people. The people are what made Cardin, Cardin.”


- Susie Jo Stone J


ust north of Commerce, Okla., where Mickey Mantle Boulevard leans north and U.S. Highway 69 makes a sweeping turn to the east, stands a small, rusty iron sign on the west side of the road. The sign can’t be read from the road and points you in the direc-


tion of something that doesn’t exist. “FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH CARDIN, ONE MILE.” Follow that sign and you won’t fi nd a church. You won’t fi nd much of any- thing. What you will fi nd is a landscape riddled with memories for those who once called this place home. Imagine a moonscape, scattered with Roman ruins, set in post-apocalyptic small town America. This is Cardin, Okla., today.


And that’s when the questions start. That’s when an out-of-towner or a regu-


lar Joe or a passerby would start to wonder, “What is this place? What was this place? What happened?”


Rise and Fall Cardin was wild early. It was an often dusty, often muddy and occasionally


bloody, lead and zinc mining camp in far northeast Oklahoma, a few miles north of Miami and two miles south of Kansas. McConnell Mines got it start in 1913 upon the discovery of lead and zinc ore by O.J. McConnell from neighboring Miami. McConnell quickly set up a mine near the banks of the now infamous Tar Creek and the boom was on. It was big, but it was short-lived. In 1918 the restless young town was incorporated as Cardin with a popula- tion of 1,200 residents. As mines were drilled and more miners arrived, Cardin posted a residency of 2,640 in 1920. By 1926 the town saw its maximum popu- lation reach over 10,000, boasting several lumberyards, theaters, cafés, amateur baseball clubs and even a police force. During the 1920s Cardin was in its heyday. Along with other neighboring, and now defunct, Ottawa County towns like Hockerville, Whitebird, Douthat and, most famously, Picher, it led the world in the production of lead and zinc ore. One unverifi ed claim even stated that during the ‘20s, more money was made in Ottawa County from mining alone than from any other business endeavor in all of Oklahoma’s other 76 counties combined. “Dust was a big problem in the early days when all this was new. There would


be dust inside the light bulbs,” says Fredas Cook, a former Cardin resident and founder of www.cardinkids.com, a website devoted to keeping the memory of Cardin and its folks alive. “It wasn’t always a peaceful place to live, all the trains and trucks and noises all day long.” The story of Cardin is not unlike that of other mining towns in the area. It rapidly prospered and the population swelled overnight when the lead and zinc were as abundant and endless as the open prairie that surrounded the town. But as Depression neared and the rest of the country was facing its most dif- fi cult economic times, Cardin too saw a fast decline. The U.S. Census of 1930 reported a total population of 436 and, in 1938, with only 125 residents, Cardin was de-incorporated. The onset of World War II would bring a small boost to the town. The U.S. Army needed a steady supply of lead for bullets and they looked to Cardin and the Tar Creek mining area to supply those ammunition needs. After the war, U.S.-mined lead and zinc became too expensive as overseas supplies became more abundant and cheap. By 1970 all the mines, mills and smelters had closed along with the majority of the businesses supported by them. Cardin, as well as the other mining towns in the area, began to rely on close-knit community support to keep the few remaining businesses, churches and parks alive. It soon became a forgotten wide-spot on today’s East 30 Road—until recently when the words “superfund” and “government buyout” became regular points of discussion around the town, across the state.


In 1982 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put the entire Tar Creek


area, including Cardin and neighboring Picher, into what is known as a Superfund site—an effort to “clean-up” an area the U.S. government once called the most contaminated place in the country. Attempts to restore the land were mostly visible in the removal of the massive “chat” piles that tower over the communities in the area. Chat is a seemingly local term that describes the leftover fragments, or tailings, of rock of which the contents can contain con- centrated levels of contaminants. These efforts went largely unnoticed by out- siders for years as there were few residents left in any of the towns to cause much of a stir.


Continued on Page 38 MARCH 2014 35


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