County Seat: Cordell, OK 73632
Wikipedia: Washita County, Oklahoma
National Register of Historic Places for Washita County, Oklahoma
Located in western Oklahoma, Washita County is directly south of Custer County and north of Kiowa County, with Caddo County on the east and Beckham County on the west. The Washita River drains most of the county, but the southwestern corner has tributaries that flow into the North Fork of the Red River. The county encompasses a total of 1,009.7 square miles of land and water area. Located in the Osage Plains, mostly in the Western Redbed Plains subregion, Washita County's landscape of rolling prairies is ideal for farming and ranching. The county has fewer than six square miles of surface water.
A hunting ground for many precontact American Indian groups, the area had abundant bison, deer, antelope, turkey, and other game. The Duncan Archaeological Site provides an example of a Coalesced Villagers/Nomadic Communal Hunter culture immediately prior to or around the time of European contact. This village contains evidence of a palisaded wall to protect the residents, who were probably a part of the Wichita culture. The location may have been used seasonally during bison hunts. Later, Spanish travelers traversed the area on the Great Spanish Trail, which may have cut through the county's southwestern corner. In 1849 Randolph Marcy blazed the California Road and probably navigated through Washita County's northern edge. In 1869 both the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes arrived in present Oklahoma to reside on their reservation, which included present Washita County.
In 1874 John Lytle established the Great Western Cattle Trail that traversed Washita County. Although ranchers had been grazing their cattle on the reservation, illegally or through informal agreements, in 1883 Indian Agent John Miles leased three million acres of Cheyenne and Arapaho land to seven cattlemen. After turmoil ensued between ranchers and portions of the tribes, in 1885 the federal government terminated all leases in the reservation and ordered the removal of stock. During this period John Seger worked for the cattle interests, building a three-hundred-mile fence and overseeing a ranch near present Colony. In 1886 Seger convinced 120 Cheyenne and Arapaho to move to Cobb Creek, the site of the old ranch headquarters, and farm. This "Seger's Colony" was one of four that agency officials hoped would teach these tribes agricultural methods prior to the forced allotment of tribal land. The site later housed the Seger Indian School and Mennonite and Dutch Reformed Church missions.
On April 19, 1892, the federal government introduced non-Indian settlement into this region in a land run known as the Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening. This expanded Oklahoma Territory, and officials designated most of present Washita County as County H. The secretary of the interior allocated Tacola, which soon became Cloud Chief, as the county seat. The day after the run Tacola had an estimated population of three thousand to four thousand. Although a wide range of ethnic groups made the run, numerous German and Russian immigrants migrated a few years later, primarily from Kansas. Later towns, such as Corn and Bessie, had large German and German-Russian populations, which supported Mennonite churches, German-language newspapers, and other culturally specific enterprises. After settlement the county took the name Washita, for the river.
Towns such as Colony, Cloud Chief, and Cordell were founded on the day of or soon after the land opening. Other communities coalesced later, either by large Mennonite migration, consolidation of school districts, or townsite promotions by the incoming railroads. The latter proved the most frequent scenario. In 1902 the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern Railroad, later acquired by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, commonly known as the Frisco, built through the county from north to south. East to west in the county's northeastern corner the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway, affiliated with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway, penetrated Washita County. In 1908 the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway, bought by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, completed construction on a north-south line through the county. In 2000 there were ten incorporated towns: Bessie, Burns Flat, Canute, Colony, Cordell, Corn, Dill City, Foss, Rocky, and Sentinel.