Ooooo---klahoma!
Washita battleground today
Leaving Bucklin, I drove farther south and crossed into Oklahoma. As something of a student of western military history and the Indian Wars (apologies to my brother Steve), I couldn’t resist visiting old Fort Supply, staging place for George Custer’s Seventh Calvary's engagement with Chief Black Kettle and his followers seventy miles south on the Washita River. Some refer to it as a battle, others call it a massacre. In any case, the photograph of Black Kettle lying dead in the snow with one frozen arm reaching into the air as if trying to grab the sky to help Washita battle drawinghim up is indelibly burned into our collective American consciousness.

Interesting side note: the site of old Fort Supply now finds itself on the grounds of a state prison. On the chilly fall day that I was there, the Red Ranger was the only vehicle in the visitor’s parking lot. Men in identical gray shirts and pants strolled past, some glancing at me, most ignoring my existence. Emblazoned in big white letters across their backs was the word: INMATE. Disconcerting? Yes. Dangerous? No. I bet Custer would have laughed.

It was late afternoon when I pulled into a parking space in downtown Guthrie, Oklahoma. Stepping out of the truck, I was immediately struck by the century old buildings that lined the whole of the main street, their regal brick facades beautifully renovated to their original state. It was like standing in a time warp. But as architecturally interesting as it was, I was there for music.

Byron BerlineSteve Barger had told me that Byron Berline, a well-known fiddle player who had moved from LA back to his home state of Oklahoma, owned a music store in Guthrie. Stepping out of my truck, I looked up and – voila – there it was: the Double Stop Fiddle Shop. I walked in the shop and – voila – there he was! The luck and timing couldn’t have been better.

We struck up a conversation, discovering mutual musical acquaintances, then got down to business. When I mentioned that I had been playing some swing as of late, Byron disappeared into the back and re-emerged with a 1953 Gibson Super 400 guitar he had recently purchased from a local. My eyes lit up. When I started comping some jazz chords and he realized that I could actually play, Byron pulled out his fiddle and by Jove if we didn’t jam out for an hour or so. The few folks who wandered into the store gathered to listen. It was one of those spontaneous musical moments that I will never forget. As I was leaving, Byron remarked that I should move to Guthrie and play music. I was flattered. And am still tempted!

National Cowboy MuseumThat night I motelled it in Edmond, Oklahoma, then rose the next morning and lit out for the National Cowboy Museum and Rodeo Hall of Fame just down the road in Oklahoma City. But a simple mistake on a highway exit turned into an "Oklahoma Toll Way Nightmare" as I had to go twenty-five miles in the wrong direction before finding an exit, turning around, paying yet more toll, then driving the same twenty-five miles back to site of my original mistake. From there, the museum was just up the road. What should have taken five minutes took over an hour. I want that hour back! (There, now I’ve vented.)

Jack Bowles, a guest at The Home Ranch and a member of the museum, had kindly set up an introduction for me with the program director there. We had a nice chat and I gave her my CD. I reckon that if I ever settle in the area, I could perform there in some capacity.

The museum was impressive, similar to the Autry Museum in Los Angeles but even bigger. I spent the next five hours touring the museum, barely enough time to even just glance at the displays of great art, artifacts, gear and more. They even had a full-on frontier town street built inside another building. I could have easily spent the whole day there, but saved a couple of daylight hours to visit the memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing.

OK Memorial ChairsOK Memorial WallThe first thing you see when arriving at the Memorial site is a lawn with rows of identical chairs sculpted of brass and glass. 125 schoolroom chairs, one for each victim, facing a long reflecting pool bookended by two monolithic black walls. On one wall are the numbers "9:01," on the other, "9:03." The bomb exploded at 9:02. A tragic tick in time that changed so much for so many people. Like the image of Black Kettle, the overhead photograph of the bomb-ravaged building is burned in our memories.

But most moving was the cyclone fence along one boundary of the site that was completely covered with photos and drawings and stuffed animals that remembered the victims, so many of whom were young children. Memorials are sad but necessary. Lest we forget. I think back on my visits to other memorials: the Texas Book Depository in Dallas; the Shiloh Battlefield in southern Tennessee; the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington DC. Next comes the World Trade Center. Will it ever end?

It was dusk when the Red Ranger and I once again edged onto the dreaded Turner Turnpike, scene of my previous wrong turn, and headed out across eastern Oklahoma. With no time, unfortunately, to visit the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, I crossed into northern Arkansas (a big howdy to Bill & Hillary) and drove for hours along a narrow, winding "highway" before turning north on 65 and finally reaching my destination: Branson, Missouri.

Next: Show biz in the Ozarks…


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