The Secretary of the Interior authorized the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp #808 on April 20, 1933. On May 1, the Park was visited and Brigadier General Cruikshank, Captains Evans, Bradley, Adams and Superintendent Branch selected the campsite.
Camp NP-1, established in Platt National Park, was the first national park in the 8th Corp area (Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona) on April 20, 1933.
The camp was known unofficially as "Camp Branch", named after the Park Superintendent W. E. Branch.
Applicants were screened for physical defects and no enrollee with a suspended prison sentence or who had served a prison sentence was accepted.
The first location was at the south entrance of the park in what was called "The Ten Acre Lot" near Wilson Springs. The original tent city camp was located close to a dairy and there was a problem with flies. The camp was moved November 5, 1933 to the area south of Black Sulphur Springs known as Walnut Grove. This area is where the "Monkey Tree" is now located.
The first contingent of fifty men arrived on May 16, 1933. On May 24th the camp reached its full strength of 169 men. All the men selected were Oklahoma boys. This fact helps greatly with morale since most of the young men could spend the weekends with their families. By mid summer of the next year, the enrollment would reach 254 men.
The original camp was in charge of Captain Fred W. Adams, 29th Infantry, U. S. Army. Captain Robert Bradley, Engineers Reserve and Lt. Joseph E. Bain, Medical Officer assisted Adams.
The early equipment included six trucks, one 1933 Model T tractor, five drag scrapers and twenty horses.
The first problem encountered was the lack of a development plan. The CCC Camp had been so quickly assembled that it was up and running before a comprehensive development plan could be organized from the San Francisco office. Fortunately there was the ability to keep a "local flavor" in each of the parks development.
Park Supt. William Branch, Camp Supt. W. L. Scott Sr., landscape architects Walter Popham and Charles Ritchey, and engineers Ira Stinson and Sam Whittelson held weekly meetings to closely coordinate the work and refine their programs to fit Platt's own needs and problems.
There were many calls from the locals for use of the enlisted men to help with projects outside the park. In most cases, the Park Superintendent refused this favor. However, there were a few projects that were accepted.
In August of 1933, the boys were used to install new asphalt on the drive at the Veteran's Hospital. In October, they were again engaged to help grade and finish the City athletic field. In November they were again called upon to help. This time it was men and trucks helping move a new 15-ton safe from the railroad depot to the new post office. The boys also helped build several stone dams along Wilson creek to help prevent erosion along the banks of the stream.
Things got off to a rocky start at the tent city camp. In the first week, some frozen meat was sent in from Ft. Sill. The meat was contaminated and forty-three of the fifty enrollees came down with food poisoning.
The CCC had a recreational program where teams were formed and games played with neighboring towns. Their record in baseball was 4 -1; football, 1 - 0; basketball, 10 - 4. A recreational hall was provided with a reading room, pool hall, canteen and educational movies. Dances were also held at the camp.
The first task for the CCC boys was to clear the entire Park (848 acres) of all dead trees, brush and rubbish, cleaning up road and trails of debris and cleaning up the banks of Rock Creek of all flood debris.
Their next task was constructing 3 miles of trails through the Park. Reforestation was also a primary concern in the development plan for the Park. The CCC planted thousands of trees with over 100,000 of them being the Eastern Red Cedar.
Most of the CCC boys were from Oklahoma and the local area. Many went home on the weekend. Superintendent Branch stressed the value of vocational training and many of the boys went on to very good paying jobs as a result of their training in the CCC.
Landscape architect Walter Popham was astonished at the way the boys rapidly learned the art of tree surgery and reforestation. Superintendent praised the boys with their workman like accomplishments as well as their respectfulness towards their superiors.
The boys of the CCC made great strides in rejuvenating the Platt Park. The February 8, 1934 issue of the Times-Democrat noted that " the CCC men billeted nearby, have cut the underbrush, built miles of beautiful paths, trimmed the trees, and dotted the smooth old hills with fireplaces for the picnickers that will swarm in with May . . ."
It further stated that there was only one drawback to exploring the Park and that was the- red bug (chigger). It noted that if the CCC could come up with a method of ridding the Park of this menace, they would go down in history.
In the first year of the Park's existence, there was barely enough money appropriated to meet bare necessities. In 1924, the appropriation was only $7,500 per year. With the coming of the CCC, the monies for improvements increased dramatically. By 1934, the annual budget was increased to $76,400. Most of the credit for this goes to 5th District Congressman F. B. Swank who became know as the "Guardian of the Park" in Congress.
Congressman Swank was also responsible for getting other reforestation CCC camps located in Murray County. He was instrumental in getting one camp located at Turner Falls and two others located at Price's Falls. By March of 1934, there were 5,600 men enrolled in the state's 28 CCC camps.
For the most part, the relations between the CCC camp and the citizens of Sulphur were amicable. But, on the evening of June 27, 1934, tempers, mixed equally with alcohol, made for a situation ready to boil over.
On Wednesday evening, a dance was being held at the Artesian Hotel at which local boys and CCC boys were in attendance. There were a total of about 300 people in attendance. At about 11:00 P. M. a scuffle ensued between a local and a CCC boy. The fight quickly spread until the entire group was involved in the melee.
Police officers were called to quell the disturbance, but to no avail. CCC officials were called to the scene but they could not get their boys to stop fighting. It was finally decided by both sets of officials to let them "fight it out". The officials and police stood back and sort of "refereed" the event. The fight lasted from 11:00 P. M. to 1:00 A. M.
The next day, the Times-Democrat blazoned the headline "Many Participate In Street Rioting - CCC Men and Local Residents Engage in Bloody Brawls, Gang Fights". In actuality, there were no serious injuries at all in the fight. There were the customary bruises and cuts, but that was about all. It was just some boys who needed to blow off a little steam.
The CCC constructed miles of trails and roads through the park. They built miles of water and sewer lines connecting the campgrounds, North Side and South Side utilities, and thousands of feet of storm drains and culverts throughout the park. Although most of the work could not be seen, it would have been impossible to manage the heavy tourist traffic without the lowly amenities as water, storm and sewer lines.
© by Dennis Muncrief - 2006