Cloud Chief – Oklahoma Ghost Town
Cruising down Oklahoma State Highway 152 in western Oklahoma on my BMW enduro bike, a dot popped up on my Garmin GPS indicating one of my earlier marked Oklahoma ghost towns was nearby. I was on my way to the annual Mangum Rattlesnake Roundup but decided to make the slight detour and explore this long lost Oklahoma ghost town myself.
As I rolled into former town I first noticed the historical marker placed along the road by the Oklahoma Historical Society. I love these granite markers. They provide a near permanent record of the history of the location. There were a couple of homes nearby, but for the most part the former “town” seemed deserted. The old school building still stood nearby, and after a few pics of the granite monument, I wheeled my beemer through an open gate to the former school’s front steps.
There to greet me was an old graying donkey and a calico barn cat. It was a nice spring day with temperatures in the mid 60’s and not a breath of wind stiring – an oddity for western Oklahoma. As I swung my leg off the bike Mrs. Calico Kitty meowed nearby, coming over to see what the commotion was. It was obvious that she was feeding a brood of wild kittens. I am assuming there was a Mr Calico but he may have ran off to chase other momma cats. Mr. Donkey just stood there, looking at me like I was an idiot to be out here in nowheresville, Oklahoma.
After pulling off my helmet and grabbing my camera, I coaxed Mrs. Calico over with the universal cat call sign “here kitty, kitty, kitty”. Seems she knew exactly what that meant, and ran right over and started rubbing against my leg, looking for someone to scratch her back and ears, which I was happy to oblige. I have a soft spot for barn cats and in this lonely place I figured she was a real mouser since she had to find her own food to feed those kittens.
The school had obviously been abandoned for many years, and now was used more as a storage shed. The gymnasium’s roof was still intact, and the inside was being used as shade from the sun by a couple of horses.
I could picture kids running in and out of the gym, hanging out on the front steps of the school, the boys playing marbles while the girls skipped rope and talked about the boys. Multiple chimneys indicated the fairly large school was heated by wood or coal in years past. I wondered how this school had survived the dust bowl. It wasn’t shuttered until 1960.
Mr. Donkey didn’t move or respond to my coaxing, and as I approached to scratch his ears, I discovered why. He had obviously foundered sometime in the past and his hooves were overgrown into circular curls like some ladies do their nails – yet the gals don’t have to walk on their fingernails like the donkey. He could barely hobble around and it was obvious he had seen better days. I scratched his ears while Mrs Calico made a pest of herself, rubbing my legs, tripping me has I tried to walk, begging for attention from a stranger.
After snapping a few photos and sharing some snacks with my 4-legged friends, I mounted up and pushed on, marking another Oklahoma Ghost Town off my list.
If you get a chance to visit Cloud Chief, bring a metal detector. The school buildings are still mostly intact and since it is quite a ways off the beaten path, I am betting a good detective could find a bit of old treasure in the school yard.
Excerpt from Ghost Towns of Oklahoma, by John W. Morris published by OU Press:
Cloud Chief, originally called Tacola, was born with a rush when the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation was opened by run in 1892. Because the place had been designated the county seat of H County, it was laid out with streets, blocks, and lots before the opening. For the purpose of establishing claims within the 320-acre townsite, a second race, which had to be made on foot, was started at 1:00 pm on the same day the reservation was opened. Within a two-hour period a tent city with saloons, gambling establishments, and grocery stores was started. During the following few weeks the population jumped to over three thousand, and the number of businesses increased to about fifty. All the businesses and homes were housed in tents.
Many settlers left almost immediately after their claims were legally staked and recorded, since they had six months from the time they filed to the time they had to settle on the claim. Also, as some merchants sold out their stocks of goods they would strike their tents and leave town. Within a few months the population had decreased to only a few hundred persons. The primary reason for the decline was the lack of transportation facilities. All goods coming to Cloud Chief were dependent on irregular stage for freight lines from El Reno or Minco. One year after its founding the town had only four saloons and two stores.
In 1893 a small sawmill was started about two miles south of town to supply cottonwood lumber for the building of a courthouse and a hotel. With these additions the population began to increase. Some of the buildings constructed in the town were unique. The courthouse was a twenty foot by thirty foot, one story structure made of badly warped cottonwood lumber. There were no partitions, but it housed the sheriff, county judge, county clerk, and county superintendent of schools, each being provided a chair and a desk.