of Salt Plains NWR
1811, Sans Orielle, an Osage Indian, with others of his tribe,
guided Major George C. Sibley, Indian Agent from Fort Osage, Missouri,
and his party to Salt Plains. They are thought to have been the
first American men to see the plains.
called the area the Grand Saline and described it as "glistening
like a brilliant field of snow in the summer sun" and estimated
600-800 buffalo were wandering about the salt flats. He also noted
that "it has the effect of looming as the sailors called
to the unpracticed eye much delusion" (objects look closer
than they are).
The Salt Fork
of the Arkansas River, flowing around the plain, was known to
the Osages as Nescatunga (big salt water).
day explorer to see the plains was Captain Nathan Boone, who headed
a government expedition from Fort Gibson into what is now central
Kansas in 1843.
The salt flats
lay within a crossroads of Indian movement; they were not dominated
by any particular tribe. As a crossroads, the Great Salt Plains
have been the scene of many Indian Councils, both of war and peace.
In drafting the treaty which defined the territory to become the
so-called permanent home of the Cherokees in 1828, the U.S. government
withheld the Salt Plains area with the provision that, "The
right is reserved to the U. S. to allow other tribes of red men
to get salt on the Great Salt Plains in common with the Cherokee
Tribe". While the Cherokee tribe did lease the area to ranchers
needing grazing land, they did not move to NorthWest Oklahoma
to occupy the land themselves. In 1890, the Cherokees sold the
Salt Plains back to the U.S. government.
1893, the area was opened up to settlers in the famous "land
run". Claims were never staked on the Great Salt Plains and
it remained a public domain until 1930 when it became part of
the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.
Brant from 1 Flock" - Dated Winter 1913
Photo courtesy of Tom Evans
|In the earliest
of the settlement of the Indian territory, western Kansas and Texas
cattlemen sent wagons to the plains to haul away great loads of
The value of the plains lay not in it's salt alone,
but in the rich hunting afforded by the animals migrating there
for the salt supply. Possession of this area is said to have been
the cause of many Indian battles.
history, the marshes and uplands of the area have been important
hunting and fishing areas. Deer and buffalo were the big game
that brought Indians and settlers to the Salt Plains.
addition to big game, the Salt Plains' marshes have always been
an important stop-over for migratory waterfowl. Hunters used live
decoys and traditional duck blinds with great success.
With marshes, uplands and grasslands, the Salt
Plains have provided habitat to a variety of animals.
World War 2, the salt flats were used as a bombing and strafing
range by the war department. Bombers were sent from Oklahoma City
and Enid, OK and Pratt and Dodge City, KS bases for target practice.
The salt flats
have always been a tourist attraction because they are so unusual.
The flat expanse of white salt-covered sand combined with the
rich American history of the area draws thousands of people, annually,
to the area.
the refuge has shown that the flats are
trip to the Salt Flats - Dated Summer 1922
Photo Courtesy of Georgia Rathgeber
for shorebirds such as the endangered Interior Least Tern and the
threatened Snowy Plover. The refuge manages the salt flats to keep
visitors atleast 500 feet from these shorebird nests to prevent
parental abandonment of the nests.
The addition of the Great Salt Plains Lake in
1940 created Ralstin Island which is now an important heron, egret
and ibis rookery.
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July 30, 2007
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