A city of a horse

The decade the author spent living in Oklahoma took her back in time at least fifteen years.

It was a unique little town. There was no law enforcement in Freedom, Oklahoma; no police, no judge, and no jail. It seemed that the citizens who lived there made their own laws. Neighbors watched themselves, resentful of any law that came too close to their town. Word spread quickly among residents when one of them spotted a state police or sheriff’s vehicle parked on a nearby road.

Most of the people who lived in and around Freedom were farmers or ranchers who became frustrated and angry when their hard work and efforts in farming and ranching continually failed. Even when they had a good wheat harvest, it did not mean that they would receive a fair price for their time and effort. Much of the financial success of the farmer in Freedom, Oklahoma, depended on how high the government valued the price of wheat that season.

Mother Nature continually took a heavy toll on local farmers who forever faced drought, wind, rain, and insects that occasionally, vindictively, destroyed their crops. The obstacles that people seemed to face in their daily lives sometimes destroyed the souls of those with little hope or faith. Most farmers in northwestern Oklahoma lived on a prayer and a shoelace. New farm equipment was extremely expensive and only available to a select few. Many of the farmers could barely afford the seed needed to plant their crops, let alone replace their outdated equipment. They depended on loans from local banks and government assistance to make a living.

There was an extreme difference in the lifestyles of the people. Local politicians and thieves owned acres and acres of land and the best farm equipment money could buy; however, the poorest sharecropping farmers had little chance of making a living from farming.

There was a shortage of water to irrigate crops and most farmers did not have an irrigation system. They relied on Mother Nature for the occasional thunderstorm and torrential rain. Things hadn’t gotten much better around Freedom since the 1920s and 1930s.

Farmers seemed limited in the crops they planted. The land was normally sown with wheat or grass and used for grazing cattle. Year after year farmers planted wheat, sometimes they had a decent crop and many times, depending on the elements, they had no crop at all. Still, as the years and seasons passed, the farmers repeated their efforts over and over again; as if it was the only way they knew.

The author’s favorite time of year in Freedom was early spring, when the rolling green wheat fields looked like sprawling golf courses. From the road, the green fields of wheat stretched on forever. He imagined that farming families prayed that their crops would be kept safe from the elements so that they would have a successful wheat harvest each year, and she prayed too.

Some concerned farmers occasionally drank too many beers at the Freedom Saloon, as if seeking a release from the stress and anxiety of their everyday farming lives. It was rumored that from time to time they would bar the door and beat each other up just to ease their frustrations with the world around them. “What didn’t kill you in Freedom only made you stronger!”

Gossip quickly spread throughout the small town; there were no secrets. In the old days, gossip was spread by nosy, bored citizens listening in on their neighbors’ phone conversations through the old party lines. One family may have one ring and the other may have two, they always knew when their neighbors were on the line. Many hours were spent quietly listening to each other’s conversations through crank phones from the confines of country house living rooms.

Most of the people who lived in and around Freedom, Oklahoma seemed to be generous, honest, and hard-working survivors who appreciated their old-fashioned way of life. They honored their neighbors and valued their family traditions.

The vagrants who passed through Freedom from time to time in the hope of settling there finally left. It didn’t take long for an outsider to find out who made the rules. To survive in Freedom, a person needed to be rough, tough, and irritable, and open to the possibility of being taken advantage of.

There was clear competition between families living north of the CimarrĂ³n and those living south of the lazy river. The attitude of the northern people had the potential and power to destroy men, damage families and reputations.

God forbid if you need to borrow money from the local bank to keep your farm and family alive. If you didn’t come from one of the more affluent families in Freedom, you might be looked down upon and the town thugs proceeded to treat you accordingly.

Freedom had a cooperative where farmers bought their feed and seeds at very high prices. The owner of the local hardware store could get you everything you need and have it delivered to you in two days, if you were willing to pay his price. The corner grocery store sold gas and groceries; at such high prices, a person would have been better off driving 30 miles to Woodward to shop.

There were no traffic lights in the city of a horse. There was a school with grades one through twelve, a town hall, a post office, a legion hall, a small western museum, a sewing shop, two country cafes, a rodeo arena, a bank, and a saloon.

Tumbleweeds flew down Freedom’s dusty main street. The town could easily have been mistaken for a ghost town on a movie set, but it wasn’t, it was all very real.

Webster’s Dictionary defined the word “freedom” in part as: “The quality or state of being free; and, the absence of necessity, coercion, or restraint in choice or action; and, freedom from bondage or restraint or from the power of another; and, the quality or state of being generally exempt or released from something onerous; and, the quality of being frank, open, or forthright”.

The author understood the definition in Webster’s dictionary, but imagined that those who visited Freedom, Oklahoma, would find their own definition.

Freedom is a small, quaint, secluded town in northwestern Oklahoma; instead, some flee in search of their own personal freedom.

The city is situated in a beautiful green valley nestled along the Cimarron River in northwestern Oklahoma. He is somehow protected by an unknown divine source. Freedom is located in the middle of Tornado Alley; however, very few tornadoes are rumored to have touched down there. The population is made up primarily of veterans whose families settled in and around Freedom after the land rush of 1893.

Few young people stay when they finish high school. Most of them move to bigger cities or towns to explore bigger opportunities than Freedom offers. Most high school seniors go off to college, and few return except for an occasional vacation visit or to attend a class or family reunion.

Freedom residents welcome tourists to their town on the third weekend of August each year, when thousands of rodeo fans arrive to attend their annual rodeo. The tradition of the Freedom Rodeo has been maintained in the small town for more than seventy-five years.

The city of Freedom was established eight years after the Cherokee Outlet Land Run of 1893. The US government originally purchased the land in 1891 from the Cherokee Indians, and Freedom was established as a city in 1901. The Santa Fe Railroad Company built a rail line between Waynoka and Buffalo, Oklahoma. Its lines run close to the town of Libertad.

In 1928 the city prospered. Freight trains made daily stops there. Several new businesses developed as a result of the railroad, and soon they had a grocery store, auto repair shop, pharmacy, barber shop, lumber yard, butcher shop, hardware store, farm supply store, yard grocery store, a cafeteria, a hotel and a bank.

In 1928 the population of Libertad was two hundred and fifty-one. When the author arrived in 1996 the population was two hundred and eighty-one.

Old West Town’s main street features wooden store fronts and sidewalks and the town has great potential to be a popular Oklahoma tourist destination. However, many of the older citizens seem content with the status quo. They are not interested in putting up with tourists or strangers in general.

Freedom has many meanings, the author’s definition is: “It’s a great place to visit if you don’t intend to stay too long!”

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