Drive seven-and-a-half miles north of Int. Hwy. 40 on Dwight
Mission Rd., near a town called Marble City, and you will find an old
log cabin on what looks like a small college campus.
It's the old Dwight Presbyterian Mission, started in 1829 by Rev.
Cephas Washburn, and it's now used as a conference center. The log
cabin is a small museum with one of the first printing presses in
In South Coffeyville, on U.S. 169, bootleggers used to move liquor
out the back door and a few yards across the Kansas line when they
saw U.S. marshals coming. Out in the Panhandle, near U.S. Hwy. 64,
you can find a burial ground of dinosaurs and a prehistoric
Mulhall, on U.S. 77, was named for Uncle Zack Mulhall, a showman
who came to Oklahoma in 1889 as a livestock agent for the Santa Fe
Railway. Out of Mulhall's rodeo came his own daughter Lucille, who
started as the world's first "cowgirl," and another fellow.
You guessed him: Will Rogers.
These are just samples of an immense collection of history, legend
and folklore of Oklahoma towns and cities in what must be called a
new-old book, "The WPA Guide to 1930s Oklahoma," published by the
University Press of Kansas. It has a new introduction by Anne Hodges
Morgan, president of the Robert S. and Grayce B. Kerr Foundation Inc.
The tales and descriptions are included in a series of 16 tours,
primarily across the U.S. Highways as they were in the 1930s, before
the interstate highway system was planned, much less built.
It is Oklahoma frozen in time more than four decades ago.
Most of the book was first published in 1941 as part of the
American Guide series. It was produced as a Federal Writers Project
of the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal project to combat
unemployement. The title was "Oklahoma: A Guide to the Sooner
It has been reproduced with a restored essay by Angie Debo on the
history of Oklahoma, which was supposed to be part of the first
publication. It was Morgan's idea to acquire that essay for the
Despite the major changes in Oklahoma since 1941, with people
moving to the cities and some towns even disappearing, The WPA Guide
remains a significant guide to those who want to rediscover Oklahoma.
It is ideal for leaving the interstates and wondering down the old
highways and roads to understand the flavor and culture of towns,
hamlets and historic sites.
"This is a book about the tone and character and sense of place,"
said Hodges in her introduction. "It spoke initially to a generation
who had grown up on the land, who treasured it, and who had ideas
about man's relationship to the earth."
In addition to the 16 guides and Debo's history, it includes
chapters and photos on general subjects, such as the cities,
industry, labor, agriculture, recreation, education, literature,
architecture, music and even folklore of Oklahoma as it was in 1941.
The folklore chapter is delightful, with a description of tall
tale-telling as country diversion - a method of "codding" a naive
younster or newcomer.
My favorite is about a "crowbar hole" used to test wind velocity.
If a crowbar was thrust through the hole to the outside and it bent,
it was safe to go out. If the bar was broken, it was better tostay
The 1941 description of Oklahoma City would jog some memories.
It includes "two of the nation's finest hotels (the Skirvin and
the Huckins or Biltmore?), a fabulously rich oil field with
drill-rigs reaching up out of the back yards of many fine homes,
scores of parks and parkways, an excellent medical school, a splendid
new Civic Center, packing, manufacturing and wholesale districts..."
It also includes "wide ares of homes that, whatever their
pretentiousness, are as Oklahoman as the rows of native elms that
shade the streets."
However, it's the 16 tours of the state that really comprise the
heart of the WPA Guide. …