THE FAUNA OF PLATT NATIONAL PARK
The flora (plants) and fauna (animals) of Platt National Park have been an evolving project since the inception of the Reservation in 1902.
Many people living in the area imported exotic plants that were not native to the area. Some may not be aware of the citrus tree that still grows near Lincoln Bridge.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, in the 1930's, planted tens of thousands of Eastern Red Cedar in the Park and now they are being thinned back to allow for the resurgence of the native hardwoods and the conservation of ground water. They eventually planted over 104,000 cedars.
Almost immediately after the Reservation became a viable entity, people from across the state and country wanted to sell or give exotic animals to the Park. Many early offers of deer were rejected simply because there was no place to keep them. Unlike today, the sight of a deer in the Park was a rare sight. Early area pioneers had hunted the deer to near extinction as a source of food.
We have previously discussed the buffalo and elk herds but thought that you might like to know exactly what else was kept at the Park. As you know, recently the CNRA was required to divest itself of the poisonous snakes kept at the Nature Center because of NPS regulations. This is nothing new and the rules have been changing for years.
As far back as the 1930's the National Park Service (NPS) was re-evaluating its policy in the keeping of animals in a national Park. It was decided then that only indigenous animals were to be kept. In the early days, Platt kept animals that in addition to the fact they were not native to Oklahoma, some were not native to the Western Hemisphere.
The following is excerpted from the column called "Platt Park News" published in the Sulphur Times-Democrat in January 1935. The facts depicted in this story closely parallel the facts we have read in the official Park records. Here is the story:
"When Platt National Park recently disposed of its elk, the public naturally wondered why this was done and perhaps was prompted to wonder what the present and future policy will be with reference to all animals, birds, fishes, or other fauna within its confines.
To understand the present and future policy of Platt National Park with reference to its fauna, it is well to understand what the Park's past policy has been regarding this matter.
During the early history of Platt, a zoological collection was established. This collection included prairie dogs, badgers, elk, deer, buffalo, Chinese geese, eagles, ostriches, and peafowl. There were repeated efforts to secure ostrich eggs and hatch them within the Park. The baby ostriches suffered from some unfavorable condition and died.
The eagles were kept by Park personnel and kept busy hunting rabbits and other game to satisfy the predacious proclivities of these birds. The six pea fowl, in keeping with their pompous and conceited natures, not only displayed their magnificent plumage but their vociferous voices both to Park visitors and the citizens of Sulphur. Indeed these watch dogs which usually roosted on the roof of the superintendents residence, were alert night or day in announcing to the general public the approach of anything within the range of their vision.
After several years of patient suffering from the people of Sulphur, the Park administration decided that the peacocks gave more pain to the ear than pleasure to the eye. About that time the national Park service inaugurated a general policy to discontinue in all national Park's such exhibition as peafowl and smaller fauna affording menagerie features. Since that time the policy of the national Park service is to maintain in paddock only the larger species of fauna native to the respective national Park.
So, because of their size, the prairie dogs, badgers, and eagles were eliminated from exhibition of Platt, notwithstanding the Park is within the natural range of these fauna. The Chinese geese, ostriches and peafowl were eliminated from the Park because the reservation is outside of their habitat.
Approximately 15 years ago three elk were sent to Platt from Yellowstone National Park. From these three, about 30 elk descended. The herd was confined to in a five-acre paddock near the administration building until the present buffalo paddock was completed. Because the elk herd had degenerated in size chiefly as a result of inbreeding and close confinement outside their natural habitat, the present Park administration decided to dispose of the herd.
Disposition of the herd of elk began about two months ago and was completed just recently. They were eliminated from the Park by contributing them as follows: One to Murray Agricultural College at Tishomingo for mounting; two to Oklahoma A. & M. college at Stillwater for mounting; one to Platt National Park American Legion Post for barbeque; three to the Oklahoma game preserve at Durant for breeding; and six to F.E.R.A. of Murray County for distribution as food to the needy.
During 1916, [an Oklahoma City business man] donated 16 deer, which were kept adjacent to the buffalo paddock. The fence for the deer was dilapidated and worthless for holding these animals. Dogs were molesting the deer to such an extent and the fence did not afford any protection.
The fence failing therefore in its purpose and also being a blemish on the landscape was removed about three years (1932) ago and then the deer were released from any semblance of captivity. While it is thought that ten of these deer left the Park, it is known that six, in pairs, have remained in different Parts of the Park behaving as in their wild state.
About six months ago the new buffalo paddock consisting of approximately 91 acres was completed. This with its artificial lake stocked with fish and other suitable topographic characteristics is designed to make the bison feel at home. It is surrounded by a 48" high stock-proof fence with 4 strands of superposed barbed wire, in all about 7' tall supported by 3" steel post, 12' apart.
Fifteen years ago (about 1920) one bull and two cow buffalo were brought to the Park from the Wichita National Forest (actually, the refuge near Lawton). Since that time there has been the natural increase and the herd has been augmented by the further importations from the Wichita National Forest. The herd now consists of four bulls and eight cows and will be increased until the herd reaches the number of 25.
(NOTE: The old elk paddock was west of the Pavilion Springs while the old buffalo paddock was east of the Pavilion Springs.)
It was more than amusing several months ago when the Park authorities determined to transfer the buffalo from the old 8-acre paddock to the new paddock. In spite of the assistance of several cowboys and a large force of men, one old bull decided that he did not want to be transferred from his old home where he had been born and raised.
Therefore, when a lane of hog wire was built to lead him with the others from his old home to his new one, the bull decided to give some Sulphurites a free rodeo by wrecking the fence and routing those who would dare molest him. Although after two days of strenuous efforts, the Park officials were able to induce the obstinate beast into his new home. It must be admitted that the bull moved at his own peculiar ideas and not in accordance with any perceived plan of Park officials.
The only other wild fauna besides buffalo that the Park plans to introduce into the large and strong paddock will be deer. It is now possible from a certain point on Bromide Hill to see the buffalo.
For several years back, thousands of fish have been planted in the creeks of the Park. During 1925, forty thousand crappie and twenty thousand bass were released into these streams. At various times the streams have also been stocked with great quantities of bream and catfish.
After a test in 1932 of Travertine Creek, its water was found to be sufficiently cold to sustain rainbow trout. The trout fingerling size when planted in the creek after fourteen months had grown to twelve inches in length.
In 1934, another shipment of rainbow trout was secured from a Neosho, MO hatchery consisting of several hundred pounds of trout with each trout weighing from one-half to one pound. It should be noted that these trout were placed in Travertine Creek for exhibition and not to be caught. During the almost unprecedented drought of the recent summer when Travertine Creek became very low the rainbow trout were lifted from the creek and placed in Lowrance Lake, but will be returned to the creek when its waters become replenished.
According to old fishermen, the Park streams now contain the following species: bass, crappie, blue gills, goggle eye perch, rock bass, blue catfish, channel catfish, Appaloosa catfish, yellow catfish, bullhead catfish, eel, sunfish, carp, buffalo and sucker.
Also native to these waters is the Gambousha minnow (mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis), a small fish that gives birth to its young instead of nesting, and is very useful in destroying mosquitoes.
The Superintendent, whose policy has been to observe the state fish laws, regulates fishing in Platt.
Where and when permitted, fishing in the Park does not require a license. In recent years, it has been prohibited to fish in Travertine Creek, but permitted with little or no restriction in Rock Creek. To some of the old time fishermen living in Sulphur, it is regrettable that through illegal fishing, good catches within the Park are no longer possible.
They yearn for the good old days when they frequently caught, within the Park, catfish weighing not less than 15 pounds each.
The reptiles represented within the Park represented by the following snakes are: black, king, chicken, green, rattle, water moccasin, cottonmouth, and copperhead. Also the Park has the bullfrog, common toad, with various lizards as the horned toad, tree frog, mountain boomer, and the variegated types. Then too there are five different species of turtles: snapper, box, leatherback, land, and Blanding turtles.
Other small animals in the Park are: cottontail rabbit, jack rabbit, opossum, skunk, civet cat, muskrat, raccoon, mink, otter, bobcat, wolf, coyote, deer, fox, mole, chipmunk; squirrels; red, fox, gray and flying.
On several occasions, hundreds of quail have been released in the Park for breeding purposes. These, with those already present in the Park have multiplied until now there are several large coveys. Most of them have become quite tame and can be seen in the back yards of employee's residences."
This is the end of the newspaper article. The last paragraph noted that Sulphur residents Brian Lattimore and J. I. Young assisted the Park superintendent with the article.
© by Dennis Muncrief - 2006