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“Skedee is not or will ever be a ghost town,” reads an excerpt from an article published in 1977 by the Perkins Journal in Perkins, Okla. It seems the relevance of the community was in question even then, 37 years ago. Today, if you didn’t know exactly where it was, you might never know it existed.


N


athan Bilyeu should be hired as the United Nation’s Ambassador to Skedee. He has spent most of his years here fishing, operating several businesses, telling stories and is a living encyclopedia of all people and things related to Skedean history. “This place brings a lot of memories to me,”


he says during a visit, “but I think it’s quite gone now.” He moves slowly these days, slightly stooped and neatly dressed as he passes a collection of burned out buildings on the south side of Market Street where he used to operate a Texaco station. Though Bilyeu is “getting on in years” as one Skedee resident puts it—he’ll be 96 on Christmas Day—his mind is tack sharp and can conjure up stories of old friends, town drunks, Gypsies from Egypt and hobo rail-riders, at almost every corner.


“Gypsies would come through in the ‘30s in wagons and would stop at farms to visit with families while the kids would go around back and steal their chick- ens,” Bilyeu remembers. “There were lots of tramps too that came in on the cattle cars and momma would always invite them in for something to eat.”


The Long Summer of George Adams


“Gents, this here will be a waterin’ stop of no goddanged small value, an’ someday a prosperous city will occupy this here valley.” These are the opening lines from the popular 1961 book “The Long Summer of George Adams,” written by Weldon Hill, describing the beginning of a fictional Oklahoma rail town before statehood. The book continues, “…and in the beginning the place was known simply as Suffering Creek…and the town that sprang up south of the creek was called Sumac.” The description of the setting, history, characters and struggles of fictional Sumac, Okla., is eerily similar to those of the tiny, tucked-away, real-life Oklahoma town of Skedee—and with good reason. Author Weldon Hill was born William “Bill” Scott in Skedee during the spring of 1918 and based much of the story on actual places and people in the town. “Bill always said he didn’t write the book about Skedee, but if you were from town and read the book you knew it was Skedee,” says Bilyeu, who was also born in Skedee in 1918 and was a onetime friend of Scott’s. And so it began. On the south bank of Crystal Creek, in January of 1902, the Eastern Oklahoma Townsite Company started selling empty lots of pristine prairie a few miles south of the Arkansas River and six miles east of Pawnee. By February of the same year a post office had been established and in 1907, at the time of statehood, Skedee (pronounced SKEE-dee) tallied a population of 277 residents—it did prosper.


In early years, Skedee was an agricultural center and a rail stop having two


A Monumental Day Crowds gathered around downtown on April 22, 1926, as Colonel Ellsworth


Walters would forever put Skedee on the world’s map with the dedication of an 18 ½-foot-tall concrete statue erected at the intersection of Market and 2nd Streets. The event was widely publicized in Oklahoma attracting notable politi- cians, oilmen, Native American tribal members, writers and curious members of the general public. The monument depicts the “Bond of Friendship” be- tween Walters and Osage tribal head, Chief Bacon Rind, with the two clasping hands in an expression of the mutual friendship between the two races. Chief Bacon Rind, whose birth name was Wah-she-hah or “Star That Travels”


in the Osage language, was believed to be the world’s most-photographed Indian. In 1916 Bacon Rind hired Walters to handle the leasing of minerals within the Osage oil fields. It proved to be a good move by the Osage as Walters would auction off millions of dollars worth of oil rights to the likes of Frank Phillips, Ernest Marland and William Skelly, making some members of the Osage tribe the richest men in America at the time. Colonel Walters held no military rank, Colonel being his given name, and during the heyday of the Osage oil lease auctions billed himself as being “The World’s Champion Auctioneer.” Walters made his home in Skedee on South


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A street scene from 1911 looking west down today’s Market Street in Skedee, Okla.


sets of tracks for freight and a passenger service, with the gentle waters of Crystal Creek used to cool the engines of coal-powered locomotives. Skedee became a main stopover for shipping cattle from as far away as the King Ranch in south Texas and from Mexico, into the vast grasslands of the Osage for spring grazing. The trains would unload cattle at the yards on the north end of town to be watered in the creek. Cattle, hogs, turkeys, chickens and any other marketable animals would be driven down Market Street from farms in the area to be loaded on trains bound for northern markets. Though Skedee never posted a large popula- tion, reaching its peak of 289 in 1910, it pro- gressed in the usual manner of the day, reporting such businesses as banks, black- smiths, hotels, several cafes, a lumber yard and


later, gasoline stations, multiple produce markets and grocery stores. At the time of the 1940 census Skedee recorded 235 residents. 1945 began to see the first electric light bulbs turned on in homes, businesses and farms in the area with electric services coming from the newly incorporated Indian Electric Cooperative, based in nearby Cleveland, Okla. The Rural Electric Cooperative Act, approved in 1939 by the state senate, made it possible for rural Oklahoma towns and farms to gain electricity by becoming members of small, non-profit, independent electric cooperatives.


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