If you ask me, it’s required reading for all of us. Have you read “Boom Town, the fantastical saga of Oklahoma City, its chaotic founding, its apocalyptic weather, its purloined basketball team, and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis?” Yes, that is the entire book title. Hard to remember the thesis-statement sized title, but it gives you an idea of what the book is about. For short, we call Sam Anderson’s book, Boom Town.
Anderson is the award winning journalist who writes for the New York Times Magazine and other big league publications who was sent here to cover the Thunder when the NBA came to town. He ended up finding a subject for the big book he always wanted to write. His debut biography was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 and named one of the best books of the year by NPR, Chicago Tribute, San Francisco Chronicle, The Economist and Deadspin.
Our story captivated him. Oklahoma has a fantastical saga, but when the book first came out in 2018, I ignored the hype. For one thing, I had my head down in Luther, everything Luther and Luther Register and Luther Pecan Festival and the Farmstead Cafe. There was no time for pleasure book reading, especially about the Thunder. I had been breaking up emotionally with the team bit by bit anyway, starting when the beard left us. Besides, I had other stuff to love and obsess over – stuff closer to me where we could make a difference – like my own kids and your kids playing on the hardwoods, and building an online news source for a news desert. But eventually I picked up someone’s copy of the book and began reading the prologue.
Red Kelly was the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James.”
And that’s all it took for me. After all, I was the mom who dragged my little kids in our minivan to a property for sale in SW Oklahoma that the realtor claimed included a little “mountain” where Jesse James hid out. That was during our quest to switch urban OKC life to country life that eventually brought us to our home in Luther in 2010. No regrets. But wouldn’t that have been cool? That property, incidentally, was also close to that freaky line roughly along I-44 where tornadoes like to travel between Lawton and OKC, so no thank you.
When I got my copy of the book, I dove in past Red Kelly, and all of the wild, sad, hopeful and incredulous stories, including the ones about William Couch, leader of the Boomer Movement, first mayor of Oklahoma City, and ancestor to the Couch family in Luther. We all know varying amounts of Oklahoma history, but my guess is many of us didn’t learn in that one semester of Oklahoma history from high school what Anderson uncovered for us. (A similar outcome happens when you read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann).
Occasionally Anderson comes back to Boom Town. A speaking engagement brought him back last weekend. And a breakfast appointment to Luther on a Saturday morning with Dr. Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma’s historian and executive director of the Oklahoma History Center. The two met up during Anderson’s resesarch. Blackburn, himself a prolific author on Oklahoma history, said they used to run together and talk. They traded the running for biscuits and gravy for this meetup. In Boom Town’s book acknowledgments, Anderson wrote: “Bob Blackburn and his wonderful team at the Oklahoma History Center …have devoted their lives to keeping the past alive; we should all give them money.”
Anderson came close to Luther in the chapter “All Your Bad Days Will End.” As part of his research, he drove to where it began at the Pott Line boundary of the Land Run in 1889. He was south of Luther in Choctaw where he walked back to the heart of Oklahoma City.
Today the Pott Line is nothing. It runs, unmarked, through a small country town called Choctaw, which sits just outside the reach of modern Oklahoma City’s massive gravitational pull. I drove down Choctaw’s abbreviated Main Street and parked behind a Baptist church. I tried to imagine what the scene would have looked like 124 years earlier. There would have been no church, of course, no asphalt. A ranch. Primordial trees uncut. Prairie grass up to my knees. I would have stood jockeying for starting position in the middle of a thousand competitors – men on horses, on wagons, on foot. “Oklahoma or Bust,” some of the settlers would have scrawled on their wagons, ignoring the fact that those options were not mutually exclusive. We would have smelled terrible, waiting there, like many lifetimes of non-showers, and we would have exuded the unsettling buzz of mass desperation – that very Oklahoman, very American feeling that everything was right about to change forever, for the better. Most of us would have been wrong.”
On Luther’s Main Street last Saturday morning, he found another small town, where residents feel the magnetic pull to come back home when we are too long in the big city. While chatting with other guests at the Farmstead Cafe, the topic of donkey milk came up, and that always leads to a fun and inspiring conversation.
We told Anderson and Blackburn that Luther is home to one of the nation’s only donkey dairies Dulce de Donke. Then serendipity happened. As they were about to check out the shops on Main Street, Dulce de Donke Founder Saundra Traywick drove up to confirm our story.
Anderson found her Dulce de Donke soap for retail at Urban 66 at its new location on the east side of the street next to Beth’s Baubles and Bits at the corner of Main and Second. Then Blackburn and Beth LaFave swapped Luther history stories about her store’s building, and the recently unearthed brick sidewalk that you see under the new Bob Palmer mural. Blackburn offered to come back out to Luther for a story telling event. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Blackburn’s own connection to Luther reaches back to his early days as an historian when he helped get the old Engel’s Store on the Historic Register. We know that store is now Rustic Farm, Blackburn and new owner of the building Pam Simmons swapped stories and looked at the original sign that hangs in her antique and gift market.
I didn’t stalk (annoy) Anderson and Blackburn for their entire trip to Luther. But we mentioned they might head out to see the Threatt Filling Station, or the site of the Booker T Washington High School, and maybe wind their way back to the city on Highway 66. There’s plenty of inspiration in our part of the country for another book. You never know.