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Some of the following information is from
The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture
Located in northern Oklahoma, Kay County is surrounded by Harper County, Sumner County and Cowley County in Kansas to the north, Osage County to the east, Noble County to the south, and Grant County to the west. Kay County lies within the Red Bed Plains and encompasses 945.12 square miles of land and water. Three streams, the Chikaskia River, the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, and the Arkansas River, flow through the county.
Kay County was originally part of the
Cherokee Outlet. Following the
Civil War the Cherokee agreed to allow the federal government to place other
tribes in the outlet as part of the terms of the Reconstruction Treaties in
1866. In June 1873 the Kansa (Kaw) arrived from Kansas and settled on a
reservation in present northeastern Kay County. In 1877 the Ponca were
removed from Nebraska and located on a reservation situated partially in
present Kay and Noble counties.
Two years later the Nez Perce were brought from the Pacific Northwest to a reservation near present Tonkawa. The Nez Perce returned to their homeland in 1885, and the Tonkawa and Lipan Apache then occupied the former's reservation.
The Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, a federally sponsored boarding school, opened in 1884.
In 1884, David L. Payne (leader of the Boomer Movement) established a colony of settlers at Rock Falls, near present day Braman. Although Rock Falls was situated in the Cherokee Outlet, Payne published the Oklahoma War Chief newspaper from that location to inform the public about the Unassigned Lands and his efforts to open them to non-Indian settlers. The Unassigned Lands were opened in the Land Run of 1889.
In preparation for opening the Cherokee Outlet to non-Indian settlers the Tonkawa received their land allotments in 1891. When the Cherokee Outlet was opened on September 16, 1893, towns such as Ponca City and Blackwell sprang into existence.
The Ponca and Kansa land allotments occurred in 1904 and 1906, respectively. Their reservations were not opened to non-Indian settlers.
Kay County's economy has been based on agriculture and the oil and gas industry. Principal crops included wheat, corn, oats, and alfalfa. By 1908 the county had 600,533 acres in farm lands. In 1929 Bert Tredway and L. H. Wentz operated large vineyards. In 1930 Kay County had 2,849 farms consisting of 606,384 acres. Several large ranches, the 101 Ranch and the Big V, were located in Kay County. At the turn of the twenty-first century there were 929 farms with 469,493 acres in farm land, and wheat was the dominant crop.
The oil and gas industry stimulated an economic boom in the early 1900s. As early as 1894 gas had been discovered on the Marcus McClaskey farm, southeast of Newkirk. However, he kept the discovery a secret until he could prove up his land claim. By 1902 approximately six gas wells had been drilled northeast of Blackwell. In 1910 Ernest W. Marland, founder of the 101 Ranch Oil Company, drilled seven gas wells on the Millers' 101 Ranch. However, the great oil boom in Kay County was precipitated by the discovery of oil by Marland on the Ponca allotment of Willie Cries(Crys)-for-War in June 1911. Louis H. Wentz soon entered the foray to locate oil in Kay County. The oil boom and bust created temporary peaks in population and several ghost towns, such as Mervine, Dilworth, and Three Sands.
Before the establishment of trails, travelers followed the waterways. American Indians, cattlemen, the military, and boomers such as David L. Payne, created numerous trails. By 1869 cattlemen had abandoned the West Shawnee Trail, which passed near present Ponca City, in favor of the Chisholm Trail. Stagecoach and mail services through present Kay County followed the Arkansas City-Reno Road established in 1879. In 1899 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway built their line from Kansas into present Kay County, and the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway (later the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway) reached Blackwell. At the turn of the twenty-first century travelers used Interstate 35 and U.S. Highways 60, 77, and 177.
Kay County's population peaked at 51,042 in 1960, surpassing the 1930 population by 856. Numbers declined to 49,852 by 1980. Leading industries were manufacturing, retail trade, and health care. Blackwell, Braman, Kaw City, Kildare, Newkirk, Ponca city, and Tonkawa are incorporated towns.
Kay County is
home to no less than eight museums. The seeds of modern movie making were
sewn here. A world class oil company (Marland Oils grew to become Conoco) has its beginnings here.
traveled to California on the Mother Road, Route 66. A surprising number of
people all over the U.S. have their roots in Kay County.
Kay County in modern day Oklahoma was mapped before the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893. Originally all the perspective counties were given a letter name. Newkirk was designated the county seat. Several other towns were planned before the run. Some exist to this day while others have disappeared. The best example was the town of Cross. It was suppose to be the railhead and postal stop for "K" county. But an enterprising gentleman by the name of B.S. Barnes found a spot south and east of Cross that was closer to a natural river crossing, a fresh water spring and within earshot of the railroad. So he set about surveying home lots and pre-selling them to those headed for the Cherokee Strip. He would call his city Ponca after the local Indian tribe who had been settled just to the south. A community that is now known as White Eagle. The rivalry between Cross and Ponca City was intense for many years. One night the leaders of Ponca City stole the train depot (a temporary structure on wooden skids) from Cross and established itself as the railhead. B.S. Barnes attracted businesses and employment and before long the citizens of Cross were coming to Ponca City for work.
Today the town site of Cross is a part of Ponca City but only the locals can show you where it was. Ponca City has become the principle town in Kay County. It is also the place that E.W. Marland chose to make his home and fortunes. E.W. Marland discovered oil and opened a refinery. Marland Oils grew to become Conoco with its world offices in Ponca City. Long after E. W.'s death in 1941 his main competitor Phillips Petroleum gained control. ConocoPhillips still has the refinery in Ponca City but has moved the main offices to Bartlesville in Osage County, Oklahoma. The history is in Ponca City. Marland built two homes here. The best known is his "Palace on the Prairie" a 55 room mansion in the European style. The 22 room Grand Home was built and lived in for twelve years before that. The Pioneer Woman Statue by the well known artist Bryant Baker and dedicated by Will Rogers on April 22, 1930 stands at the corner of 14th and Lake Road.
The world famous Miller Brothers 101 Ranch was nine miles southwest of Ponca City. At its peak the working ranch was 110,000 acres across four counties and employed thousands. The ranch hands and entertainers of the Real Wild West Show often found their way to town. Cowboy movie stars like Tom Mix, Art Accord, Hoot Gibson and Buck Jones started out at the 101 Ranch. Anyone who has heard of bulldogging or steer wrestling knows of Bill Pickett the black cowboy who invented the modern day rodeo sport. Ponca City in Kay County was established in 1893 and was full grown by the time Oklahoma changed from Indian Territory to the 46th state of the United States on November 16, 1907.
Prominent politicians who were born in Kay County include:
U.S. Sen. Donald L. Nickles
Oklahoma Gov. and U.S. Sen. Henry L. Bellmon.
In addition other well-known county residents include:
Ernest W. Marland
Louis H. Wentz,
William "Bill" Pickett
Miller brothers, Joseph, Zack, and George.
Kay County is the location of:
The 101 Ranch site
The Marland Mansion
The Pioneer Woman Statue and Museum
The Chilocco Indian Agricultural School
Visitors and residents have enjoyed outdoor recreation at Kaw Lake and Lake Ponca.
Among the listings in the National Register of Historic Places are:
Kaw City Depot,
Kaw Indian Agency Building, the
Marland-Paris House, and the
E. W. Marland Mansion
Listed in the National Historic Landmarks:
Deer Creek Site,
The Marland Mansion, and
The 101 Ranch Historic District.
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