Route 66 - The Great Indian Uprising of 1959

Leaving Clinton, Oklahoma, continuing west on Route 66, we passed by Foss, an official ghost town in spite of several people who still live there, and Canute, a ghost town in the making. After a nice drive of about 30 miles, we slowed down for Elk City. In 1901, the first lots were sold and Elk City became a town. As far as we could tell, even though there are almost 12,000 people who call it home, nothing much has happened there since. And then we came to Sayre, a small town of just 4,000 happy souls, but the place of several stops we wanted to make.

Downtown Sayre on a busy weekday.
 In 1901, a new rail line was built from Weatherford, Oklahoma to Texola, Oklahoma. When the railroad crossed the North Fork of the Red River, the town of Sayre sprung up. A year later, the town had almost 1,000 citizens and that's the way it stayed until the 1930's when Route 66 came through and gave the town new growth serving the travelers of The Mother Road. In the 1970's, Sayre would benefit from the natural gas and oil development in the Panhandle-Hugoton field, the largest volume gas field in the United States and the world's largest known source of helium. Between 1973 and 1993, it produced over 8-trillion cubic feet of gas.

Sayre does have one somewhat famous native son, balloonist Maxie Anderson. Maxie, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon, the Double Eagle, in 1978. But this sleepy little town may be best known for an incident that happened in 1959.

Site of the Great Indian Uprising of 1959
The Great Indian Uprising of 1959 took place at the Route 66 bridge on the edge of town. The bridge itself had suffered fire damage during a brush fire so it had been barricaded off by the highway department and a detour route marked for getting around the damaged structure. With Route 66 being the major highway through town, there were numerous out-of-state cars full of tourists on the road that Saturday. As each car bearing out-of-state license plates slowed down for the detour, a group of the local high school kids would rush up and excitedly tell the naive tourists to roll up their windows and head west as fast as possible because Indians had burned the bridge and were on the warpath! For almost an entire day, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol had its hands full stopping all of the speeding cars headed west to safety from all of those rampaging Indians.

The only Red Uprising at the bridge nowadays
are the numerous Red Ant beds beside the
roadway. DO NOT mess with these things!
Like Elk City a few miles away, not much has happened here except for the high drama of the Indian uprising over 50 years ago. Oh, there were 2 days of excitement in 1939 when John Ford filmed a part of his movie, "The Grapes of Wrath" here. In the movie, there is a 30-second appearance of a courthouse. Most folks think it is the capitol in Oklahoma City, but it's not. It is instead, the Beckham County Courthouse right here in Sayre, but since few people know this, there's no tourism from it. Sleepy, quiet Sayre - an opportunity for a little bit of fame passed on by. But maybe that's exactly how the friendly citizens of this Small Town America want it. After spending a little time in this nice, clean little community, I sure can't say I blame them.

The Beckham County Courthouse, famous for
being in the movie, "The Grapes of Wrath."

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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