Exploring Oklahoma

Heavener Runestone Park, Heavener, Oklahoma

For my 50th birthday, my two daughters arranged a tandem paragliding flight for me in Oklahoma.  This is something I have been wanting to do for quite sometime.  And it is a gift which I will always remember.

Heavener Runestone Park

Heavener Runestone Park, Oklahoma.
Photo by TravelOK.com

We took flight off Poteau (pronounced po-toe) Mountain which is located just outside the city limits of Heavener and which provides a wonderful view across the Arkansas border.  (Watch the video in full screen to view the scenery!)

This area from which we took flight is an interesting place to visit as it is also the location of Heavener Runestone Park, a beautiful state park which sits on the edge of the Ouachita Mountains.  The park has mysterious ancient stone carvings which many believe to be evidence of Vikings traveling through the area in the 1700’s, or perhaps even earlier.  Some people, however, doubt this to be true and question the authenticity of these carvings.   A well-established trail leads hikers down into a wooded canyon surrounded with steep rock walls and which provides a close examination of the runic stones.  A beautiful place to visit, and a place to be enjoyed by both the young and the old.

Gravestone: “Murdered By Human Wolves”

Katherine Cross In Violet Springs Cemetery near Konawa, Oklahoma, sits a 1917 gravestone with an epitaph that reads, “Murdered by human wolves”.  This is the grave site of an 18-year-old woman named Katherine Cross who died while under the care of Dr. A. H. Yates.   Dr. Yates was charged with performing a “criminal operation” on the young woman who was expecting a child.  Dr. Yates was a married man and father of four.

Miss Cross was Dr. Yates second victim, as a woman named Elise Stone (also 18-years-old) died at the hands of Dr. Yates just two months prior.  Dr. Yates claimed that Elise’s death was due to a “congestive chill.”  But an investigation by the Attorney General (as was requested by suspicious citizens) resulted in a court order being obtained to have the body exhumed and an autopsy performed.  It then became known that Elise’s death was the result of a “criminal operation.”   Dr. Yates was arrested for the death of Elise.  Also arrested for Elise’s death was a man named Fred O’Neil.   O’Neil was a teacher in his 30’s, married man, and father of three who had (it is believed) impregnated Miss Stone.  Yates performed an abortion, with O’Neil as his assistant, in an attempt to keep the pregnancy from becoming public.   Although news reports are hard to find, it appears as though Dr. Yates and Fred O’Neil were both acquitted.

This story had been forgotten over the years, and the epitaph on Katherine Cross’s stone would lead local legends to arise claiming that the young Katherine Cross was killed by werewolves (among other stories).  However, news reports printed at the time indicate that both Miss Cross and Miss Stone were the victims of botched abortions performed by a local doctor and a teacher.  Miss Cross is buried next to her grandmother, and her accused killer (who died years later) is buried only a short distance away in the same cemetery.  The words carved on Katherine’s gravestone were requested by her grieving parents.

Katherine Cross

Remains Of Sacred Heart Mission Near Konawa, Oklahoma

Bakery

Bakery house built in late 1800’s.

“May 12, 1877, three strangers descended a bald hill in the then Pottawatomie Nation, Indian Territory, and took possession of what was to be the future Sacred Heart Mission.” (The Indian Advocate, June 01, 1902.)  This Mission would become a monastery which would be the center for Catholicism in the Indian territory.

The Mission consisted of a church, a boarding school for Indian boys, a convent for the Sisters, a school for girls, and a college which trained students for seminary.  A beautiful self-sustaining community, it had a farm with orchards, gardens, vineyards, herds of animals, and agriculture to supply food for the institution.  It had its own bakery (pictured above) wherein the Sisters baked 500 French loaves of bread each day.  The Mission had its own publication (The Indian Advocate) which was a quarterly review printed in the bakery house.  In addition, it had stables, a tool house, a carpenter shop, and a blacksmith shop.

Two-story log cabin.

Two-story log cabin.

But on the night of January 15, 1901, fire broke out and destroyed Sacred Heart Mission.  The Indian Advocate reported that the fire began in the dinning room of the boy’s school and then spread first to the chapel, then to the monastery, and finally the college.  No lives were lost.  The light from the blaze could be seen 60 miles away.  The community that took nearly 25 years to build was destroyed in just three hours.

This weekend I went on a guided tour of the remains of Sacred Heart Mission.  Leading the tour was a member of Oklahoma Outlaws Lawmen History Association who had a wealth of knowledge to share.  While a church was rebuilt atop the hill, only two of the original buildings remain standing today — the bakery and a two-story log cabin — which are in excellent condition.  Also still in existence next to the Mission is a cemetery for the Priests and Brothers and a cemetery for the Sisters of Mercy which contains an old crucifix of Jesus.  While I found Sacred Heart Mission to be a beautiful place, I also found it to be quite grim.

 

The priests cemetery.

The priests cemetery.

 “Dear old Sacred Heart!  Where art thou?  What has become of thee?  If these crumbling walls could speak, they would tell us what they have witnessed of holy prayers, self denial and hard labor, during the lapse of twenty-five years.  . . .  If the courageous and noble hearted pioneer, Rt. Rev. I. Robot, whose remains rest in peace near the sad ruins, would stand up and speak, he would tell us many a thrilling story of the early days of what fatigues and hardships ‘Sacred Heart Mission’ cost him.”   

(The Indian Advocate, March 01, 1901.)

Crucifix in Sisters of Mercy cemetery.

Crucifix in Sisters of Mercy cemetery.