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Autograph Rock’s Historical Record

77 Counties



Imagine That Route 66 Was Reclaimed By The Prairie, And That I-40 Ran Not Parallel With The Old Highway But Instead Had Been Built Miles Away. Aside from the occasional rut, imagine there was no evidence that the road had once been the busiest route of its day. Imagine there was only one vestige of the travelers who had come before: the grafittied names of those who had passed by.

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That is the tale of Autograph Rock, on the northwestern edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle. The names carved into its surface are the only clue this corner of Cimarron County was once a key stop on the famed Santa Fe Trail, which snaked nearly 900 miles from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, capital of the northern Mexican provinces. From 1821 to 1880, when the tracks were completed on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, the trail was the gateway to the American West.

Today, the sandstone slab – about 20 feet tall and 700 feet long – bears the names of more than 300 pioneers, soldiers, traders, gold-seekers and adventurers from the Santa Fe Trail. Hundreds of additional inscriptions have been found around Cold Spring Creek and nearby at the lesser-known Signature Rock.

The Santa Fe Trail was cobbled together in 1821 by William Alexander Becknell of Missouri, who had been jailed for debt and released on bond with a deadline to pay what he owed. The Virginia-born son of an American Revolutionary War veteran, a determined Becknell set out with a party of six and enough mules to haul $300 in goods. He arrived in trade-hungry Santa Fe in 77 days, just after Mexico had won its independence from Spain, and headed back to Missouri with $6,000 in silver coins from buyers so eager for goods they would pay $3 for a yard of calico.

Bucknell’s second trip used a shorter route – which came to be called the Cimarron Cutoff – and took 48 days, earning $91,000 from $3,000 worth of goods. The shortcut shaved 200 miles and 10 days off the longer mountain crossing through Colorado’s Raton pass. The trade off: fewer water sources and more attacks from Indians unhappy by continued encroachment on their territory. Over time, however, the Cimarron Cutoff would carry three out of four Santa Fe travelers. All of them would pause for a drink or a rest at the natural springs and sandstone ledges of Autograph Rock.

Tens of thousands made the trek. Kit Carson, who operated Fort Nichols outside modern-day Wheeless in the year after the Civil War, liked to wait until 500 wagons had arrived at the Rock before he allowed them to continue, four abreast, as protection against Comanche and Kiowa raids. The caravans would stretch across the frontier, sometimes in lines more than three miles long.

While resting and waiting, some travelers scratched their mark into the soft sandstone. In addition to names and initials, there are crosses, hearts, a five-pointed star, cattle brands, a double-pointed arrow, a reference to the American Expeditionary Force, Masonic and Odd Fellow emblems and an elaborate carving left unfinished. Some of the names belong to characters well known in their day. Most of the stories, however, are lost to time.

Today, about 2,000 people each year travel the long, windy road on the Sharp family ranch to the site. Admission is free, but visitors must pass muster at the Cimarron Heritage Center & Museum in Boise City to be entrusted with directions.

They see that the very softness that made the ancient stone so appealing to carvers has led to the fading of many inscriptions. Nearly two centuries of erosion from sun and rain and wind and ice have erased the oldest etchings. Some are already unreadable.

It is easy to imagine a time when the curious might pay a pilgrimage to this remote outcropping, its surface worn smooth and inscriptions long melted into oblivion, and wonder how in the world it ever became known as Autograph Rock.

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Editor’s Note: This installment is part of author M.J. Alexander’s “77 Counties” series, chronicling her travels across Oklahoma. The full series is available at sliceok.com/travel/

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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
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This year will mark the eighth time the John F. Kennedy Awards have been celebrated, honoring individuals making a significant contribution to Oklahoma, its communities and its people, while paying...

Cost: $300

Where:
Skirvin Hilton Hotel
1 Park Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Santa Fe Family Life Center
Telephone: 405-840-1817
Contact Name: James Timberlake
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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
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Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
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Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
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Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
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A fabulous art auction to raise money to help support Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO.

Cost: $100

Where:
CHK|Central Boathouse
732 Riversport Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
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Sponsor: Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO
Telephone: 405.974.3791
Contact Name: Heather Bryant
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The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
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Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
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Join supporters in communities across the nation for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This family-friendly event raises funds to support the...

Cost: $10 for adults or children six and older

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S. Lake Hefner Drive
Oklahoma City , OK  73116
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Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
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Let’s end childhood cancer. Together! This September, supporters across the country will unite to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, an exciting, family-friendly...

Cost: $10 for Registration

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: ALSAC St. Jude Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

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