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Roosevelt: Going for a Ride


One of two bank buildings in Roosevelt. This one is closed, but the other one is now occupied by City Hall. I classify Roosevelt as a "not a ghost, but almost" town because while it sits on a main road and is fairly well occupied, the town is a shadow of what it used to be.

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Along US 183, between Snyder and Hobart in Kiowa County, sits a small town named after Teddy Roosevelt. "Small" is relative, though, as its size seems to be much bigger than its census of below 300. Because when this town boomed in the mid-20th century, it had over twice the population. Now, it sports the infrastructure but not the people. It also has disproportionately more cars than it does humans, but the cars are what keep the humans in Roosevelt. Roosevelt is one of those haunting towns that are "not a ghost, but almost."

Roosevelt was developed by the Parkersburg Development Company, which received permission to plat towns in southwestern Oklahoma Territory after lawmakers created, under much native protest, the Kiowa and Apache Reservation in 1901. In this scheme, communally owned Kiowa and Apache reservation lands were subdivided into individual allotments, although prior treaties had promised that would not happen. The Kiowas and Apaches sued for this breech, but the Supreme Court decided against them in Lone Wolf v.Hitchcock (1903). The US government, the court opined, had the right to assign Indian lands however it wanted to.

So Roosevelt, like many other towns in southwestern Oklahoma, was founded during this land-grab. Homesteaders from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and other places flocked to the town to grow cotton, corn, and wheat. They did a booming business, too, especially when the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway laid their tracks through town. Trains still run  and stop at Roosevelt - it's now under the Grainbelt Corporation - to pick up agricultural product. Another, very modern business has taken over the town, though, and it's auto salvage.

Roosevelt is where cars go to die. Actually, it's where dead cars are butchered. Several auto salvage companies have set up shop throughout the town, most notably in the southern section. The lots in and surrounding the old hotel is chock-full of cars to be parted out, as are huge spaces to the west of the railroad tracks. Large trucks rumble in and out of Roosevelt all the time, either delivering derelict automobiles or picking up crates of alternators, gas tanks, transmissions, and engines. It's a booming business, albeit not a very pretty one.

Roosevelt is one of those towns that must be visited to be believed. It may not be the most picturesque (although the Wichita Mountains and Great Plains State Park are close by), but it is definitely an eerie place with plenty of photo opportunities for people who like urban exploration. Just watch where you park your car... you don't want to suddenly see it on the scrap heap.

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