ENID, Okla. — As a teenager, Dr. Michael Rickman’s grandmother made history along with hundreds of thousands of others on Sept. 16, 1893, in what was then the Cherokee Outlet.
She traveled with her mother, Rickman’s great-grandmother, to make the biggest run for land in American history in what would eventually be known as Northwest Oklahoma.
“It was just the two of them,” Rickman said, explaining that his great-grandfather had died previously.
The two of them not only ran it, they made it, claiming on a piece of land near Cherokee, Rickman said, and his great-grandmother rode hard all the way to Alva to get it certified at the land office, which was pretty much the guarantee that the claim would hold up legally.
“She left my grandmother sitting on a rock with an over-and-under shotgun,” Rickman said, “to say this was our land.”
When asked about “an over and under,” he smiled and replied it was a stacked barrel shotgun, and “if the over one don’t get you the under one did.”
“She was a very strong person,” Rickman said of his grandmother, “and that’s what it took to be here.”
Rickman retired after a 38-year career in internal medicine in Enid, and now he volunteers with the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, preserving the very history of his great-grandmother and his grandmother — and his grandfather, as well, the young homesteader who made the run and found land next to them that September day in 1893.
“It’s the girl who married the boy next door,” Rickman said.
Those people, and the thousands of other stories that are out there to tell, are the reason that Rickman volunteers at the Heritage Center, most recently on Saturday during History Alive, at which costumed interpreters explain, often in character, about life in the pioneer days of the Outlet, also known as the Cherokee Strip.
History Alive is held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every first and third Saturday of the month. Saturday’s event was not the first of the year, but it did have the most volunteers it has had since before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jake Krumwiede, CSRHC director. He said there were 60 to 80 visitors who attended Saturday to learn about the area’s history from the staff and volunteers.
Two of them were Sharon and Dawn Schwenke, both from Minnesota. They decided to check out the Heritage Center while visiting family.
“The inside of the museum is excellent,” Sharon Schwenke said, adding the entire History Alive event opened up the history of the area to them.
A small group of elementary girls from Garber dressed in period clothing walked the sidewalks of the Humphrey Heritage Village — a grouping of buildings historical to Northwest Oklahoma next to the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center — where History Alive was being held, as the event wound to a close.
The mother of one of the girls explained that they were disappointed when COVID-19 precautions canceled their fourth-grade field trip to the Turkey Creek School at the Heritage Center. The classes, of which only a handful were held this past pandemic year, are a time for children to dress in period clothes and learn how school was taught at the turn of the 20th Century, Krumwiede said.
Neal Matherne, director of education at the museum, was taking those students on a tour during the History Alive event to make up for the lost field trip.
They entered the home of the Glidewells, which was donated to the museum and moved to the Village during the 100th year anniversary of the land run in 1993. Mrs. Glidewell, portrayed by 1977 Enid graduate Nancy Traylor Burgett, told the girls what it took to run a pioneer household, especially as a young newlywed who married only two days before the Land Run of 1893.
Burgett, like Rickman, had family who made the run: her great-grandfather, whose farm still remains in the family to this day.
“Just imagine a 20-year-old being on a horse and making the run,” she said. “That needs to be kept alive historically.”
“I think it’s an important story to tell,” Rickman added. “There are a lot of people here who have been here all their life and they may not know what the Cherokee Strip land run is all about.”
Out of every 10 people who made the land run, 10 years later there were only two remaining, Rickman said.
“It just took moxie,” Burgett added.
“If you read about it,” Rickman said, “you had to be desperate, or a little bit crazy, to do this.”
Krumwiede put it in perspective, saying the land run was in the fall of 1893, following the panic of 1893 in the spring. The railroads were failing, many businesses were as well, and it became a domino effect. People were desperate for new opportunities. Many were immigrants that were looking for their own place in America.
Those are the stories they tell, and while Rickman and Burgett have some ties to the area’s past, it doesn’t take those roots to help bring the history to life.
“Many people have the roots, but the main thing is they like history. That’s what matters,” Rickman said.
Krumwiede added that they can te ach the volunteers the rest and help provide the costumes, too.
Another reason Burgett decided to volunteer five years ago upon returning to Enid, she said, was to meet new people and make friends.
Her neighbor was the museum director at the time, so she found out that getting involved was as easy as asking.
Anyone interested in helping volunteer can call the museum — (580) 237-1907 — and ask for Krumwiede or Matherne.
The volunteers are the backbone of the museum, Krumwiede said, and he hopes to see the number of volunteers swell so that events like Saturday’s History Alive can happen every Saturday.
“History matters,” Krumwiede said. “There are good stories and there are bad stories.”
He said he views it as important not just to document but as a cornerstone to where we are as a society today and will be in the future.
“We’re building a better world,” he said. “That’s what we’re about.”