“You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.” –Joan Didion
…but I believe sometimes those places pick you.
I never knew Oklahoma would be the place I didn’t walk away from. I have always wanted to “get out.” Since I was young I’ve had more ambition than I’ve had plans. I’ve wanted to be and see and do everything this life offered. I think a young realization that life is so short and there is so much world to live in and see really took a toll on me as a young girl. The most challenging aspect of my life has been to pin down what it is I want so I can singularly work towards that one thing so I’m not scattered to the wind, floating between goals that I can’t ever seem to accomplish.
I spent the majority of my undergraduate career at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I went there cold-turkey, to pursue one of my many lofty goals. Coming from the rodeo and horse background I do, Stillwater felt like a long lost friend. The AG college and the rodeo team were people I didn’t know, but I felt as though I had known them forever.
My final year in Stillwater I had one of my favorite classes—Non-Fiction Literature. I wasn’t really excited to take it because I didn’t like the idea of reading essays and biographies. I was a poet, after all, and a budding fiction writer. Oh, how little I knew.
I fell in love with the class as I realized the most interesting stories are those which are true; I realized the talent and skill it takes to craft memories and experiences into prose and literature all while avoiding sentiment and detaching yourself emotionally from your memories.
For a final project in non-fiction, we were able to do anything that reflected what we had learned. Writing an essay, painting a picture, drawing, crafting: all of these were fair game. The one thing I took away from that class was a defined sense of place. I had come from SE Oklahoma, not as an Oklahoma native but as a transplant. My father and all of my family, except my mother, still lived in Arkansas. Every branch of my family (save for the random minuscule Native blood) had come from the south. They first came to America pre-Revolutionary war, to Virginia, and moved to Georgia, then later Mississippi, and finally settling in South Central Arkansas. Only in the last 50 years had both branches of my family, the Arnolds and Burlingstons (technically Ross’ but that’s another essay I have yet to tackle) moved to west central Arkansas making the river bottoms around Kibler and Alma their homes.
I grew up in a southern family with southern Baptists, southern cooks, southern slang, southern folktales and lore, and to this day I still get asked about my “twangy” accent; the Okies know I’m not truly “one of them.”
I discovered the difference between my heritage and the place I felt as home, which was Arkansas, versus the place I spent the last three years of my life. I’ve written much on Oklahoma and what I take from the state every time is the vast expansion of skies, mountains, and prairies. Crossing into Oklahoma from Arkansas feels like you’re leaving the security of a well-protected life to venture into the unknown. And historically, that’s exactly what Oklahoma was before it became a state—Indian Territory where the laws weren’t enforced and outlaws ran rampant.
So, for my project I set out on a small road trip from Stillwater to try to capture this sense of place through photography, another art form that speaks to me. I went southwest and ended up in an old ghost town called Shamrock, along the famous Route 66, not far from Drumright. The pictures that follow are the ones I captured in Shamrock, Oklahoma and Drumright, Oklahoma in April of 2010.
Seven years later, I’m back.
There’s something about a ghost town. The memories, the energy, the feel, the history of the place…and since a series of events have brought me back to Oklahoma where I’ll probably live for a good long while, I’m always looking for the next best ghost town. This is when I happened upon Silver City, Oklahoma, not far from my house in Mannford, Oklahoma.
“Silver City was a prospering farming and ranching community located half way between Tulsa and Stillwater Oklahoma. The rich black soil and rolling hay meadows made it an ideal place to raise horses and cattle. It was said that the best bootleg whiskey ever tasted came from a clear spring on the edge of Rocky Canyon two miles east of Silver City. Bounded by the Cimarron River on the north and west, it had ample water available year round and several apple and peach orchards were operated there for many years. It is said that the Doolin’ Boys were once holed up overnight by the Law in a small cave high up the bluff of the rocky east bank of the Cimarron River just south of the present day bridge on New Highway 51. The next morning they were gone, only access being a cedar tree hung up on a rock in the river below. In the late 1950’s the State moved Highway 51 one mile north of Silver City and built the new Cimarron River bridge. This spelled doom for the quiet rural community as it slowly sinks away into the ever shifting sands of time.” –Douglas Fisher www.ghosttowns.com
7 years later and just 17 miles northeast of Shamrock, Oklahoma I found my next sense of place in Silver City, Ok. The following were taken April 20, 2017 in Silver City.
My son, Canyon Wyatt Quimby, will be born in July of 2017 and he will be an Okie. His father’s family still lives in and around Silver City, in a community called Olive, and they have lived in this area of Northern Oklahoma since before the civil war. They were some of the first large land owners of Northern Oklahoma, at one time holding over 15,000 acres of fenced land in the Pawhuska area. The great patriarch of the family in the 1800s, Brazil Quimby, was an upstanding citizen in the community and known for his colorful friendships with the Doolin’ Boys, the Dalton Gang, and Jesse James.
On the other hand, my family, were wild-whisky-drinking-moonshine-runners from the south. My great-grandma, for example, could be found running moonshine during prohibition, from Arkansas to the farthest southern states she could get to which included Georgia.
I never saw myself living this far north in Oklahoma—I always said it was a fun place to visit and a nice place to rodeo if you could handle all the clay and budding black land for a harder hard pan than the sand I was used to farther south. And the culture is just somewhat different from what I’m used to as well. They eat more cottage cheese up here, something called tabouli seems to be everywhere, and not every restaurant has sweet tea.
Yet, here I am, and I love it here. It feels like home more than Texas did (where I lived for 7 months), and honestly more than Arkansas or southeast Oklahoma did. My roots and goals in life are in horses and rodeo, and this is ideal for that. I think there’s more people who rodeo in Creek Co Oklahoma than there were in Decatur, Texas. I love that my son will be born in this part of Oklahoma and his roots and family ties will be in the area he will grow up in. Although, I can’t wait to take him back to Arkansas and remind him he’s half southerner too and that his great grandma cooked the best fried chicken and purple-hull peas around; his great aunt makes the best sweet potato casserole, and his grandma makes the best biscuits and gravy from scratch. I’m sure he’ll end up liking tabouli and cottage cheese with everything too, I just hope I can get him to eat Tabasco in his beans…