Tonkawa, Oklahoma History


"This information was gathered from various sites throughout the Internet. The numbers behind the sentences correspond to the web page I got the information from during my research. It is a conglomeration of information that has it's resources on the corresponding webpages. Please visit those web pages as the people there have done hard work in making history more available to all of us.

Paul Reeves

At the bottom of the page are 'Places of Interest' where I have captured some of the history of the local area.

Tonkawa is a city in Kay County, Oklahoma, along the Salt Fork Arkansas River. It is about 11 miles to the west of Ponca City on US 60 and is the home of Northern Oklahoma College. Located in southwestern Kay County and along the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, Tonkawa is situated one mile east and south of the junction of Interstate 35 and U.S. Highways 77/177 and fourteen miles west of Ponca City.

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Between 1879 and 1885 the Nez Perce inhabited this area. In 1885, after the Nez Perce returned to their northern home, the Tonkawa and Lipan Apache were placed on the former reservation in Indian Territory.[2] Named after the Tonkawa tribe, the city of Tonkawa was founded following the opening of hte Cherokee Outlet, by Eli V. Blake and Wiley William Gregory. Blake and Gregory, originally from Kansas, claimed the land that would become Tonkawa in the Land Run of 1893. Prior to the land run, from 1879 to 1885, this area was home to the Nez Perce. Tonkawa was granted a Post Office on March 9, 1894. The city was quite isolated from the rest of Kay County until 1895 when a bridge was built across the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River that allowed people to pass to other parts of the county.[1] Early newspapers included the Salt Fork Valley News, the Tonkawa Register, and the Tonkawa Weekly.[2]

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In 1899 the Blackwell and Southern Railway (later purchased by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway) completed their line through the town, greatly stimulating its growth. In 1901 the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature approved the establishment of the University Preparatory School (now Northern Oklahoma College) in Tonkawa. At 1907 statehood the population stood at 1,238 and in 1910 at 1,776. By 1911 the prosperous agricultural trade center had a school, three banks, and five churches. An oil boom in the 1920s created a temporary population of approximately fifteen thousand, a number that leveled to 3,311 by 1930. In 1941 a National Youth Administration radio-training   program was established in Tonkawa. The program was initially started to train                       radio engineers; however, instruction was soon offered to U.S. Navy recruits during World War II.[2]

Interestingly, the Masonic Lodge Building in downtown Tokawa has a date of 1900 on it, however the nine is backwards. Traditionally the Masons held their meetings on the second floor and rented out the bottom floor of their buildings to businesses. The Tonkawa Masonic Lodge was one of the leaders in the maintenance of law and order in the community during its oil boom town era.[1]

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In September 1942 one of Oklahoma's eight prisoner of war base camps was built at Tonkawa. During World War II, Tonkawa was home to Camp Tonkawa, a Prisoner of War camp. Camp Tonkawa remained in operation from Aug. 30, 1943 to September 1, 1945. Built between October and December 1942, the 160 acre site contained more than 180 wooden structures for 3,000 German POW's as well as 500 U.S. Army guard troops, service personnel and civilian employees. The first prisoners, consisting of German troops from the Afrika Corps arrived in August 1943. During their internment, prisoners labored at local farms and ranches. In November 1943, a prison riot caused the death of a German soldier, Johannes Kunze. Eight prisoners briefly escaped, only to be recaptured.

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Henry Bellmon was born in Tonkawa, Oklahoma and graduated from Billings High School in Billings, Oklahoma. He graduated from Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State University) in 1942 with a Bachelors Degree in agriculture. He was a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946. He was a tank platoon leader in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He took part in four amphibious landings on Pacific islands, including Iwo Jima. For his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and a Silver Star. After the war he returned to farming and took up politics.

A. D Buck Museum of Science and History is a museum in Tonkawa, Oklahoma located on the campus of Northern Oklahoma College. Originally called the Yellow Bull Museum after a Nez Perce chief, the museum was renamed in 1966 to honor its long-time director, A.D. Buck, who served from the 1930s until 1966. It was founded in 1913 by C. E. Johnson who was a biology instructor at the college. Johnson's taxidermy course led to many of the early specimens in the museum. The museum was originally housed in Wilkin Hall before the building burnt down in 1914. The museum remained in North/Harold Hall until 1968 when it was given its own building.

Northern Oklahoma College was founded on March 1, 1901 by James Wilkin via passage of an appropriation bill by Oklahoma's sixth Territorial Legislature. NOC, then called University Preparatory School at Tonkawa, prepared high school students to enter the University of Oklahoma. Classes began on September 8, 1902 with a beginning enrollment of 217 students and 7 faculty. World War I caused a school closure from 1917 to September 2, 1919. In 1921, the school added a college curriculum, and continued to instruct high school students until 1951. The North Central Association of Colleges and Universities accredited the school in 1948, and in 1965 the school was renamed Northern Oklahoma College.

Points of Interest:


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