Forbidden Oklahoma – Nobody is Allowed into the Deer Creek Site
There is a site in Northcentral Oklahoma that remains explicitly off-limits to visitors due to the nature of its history. Mainly a history that experts seek to find out one day.
The two most popular beliefs are that this area is either the remnants of an early Native American settlement or that it was once a sprawling French fur trapping trading post.
Only a full-scale archeologist dig can provide the answers, but the federal government isn't showing any leniency on anyone trying to get in without permission.
The Deer Creek Site in Northcentral Oklahoma is a curious place. In historical documents, it's a remarkably well-traveled area of the state.
They can trace a lineage as far back as Spanish Conquistadors passing through in the 1540s while searching the Lost City of Gold, but the true history may be much older.
A short history.
The farmer that owned the land at that time, Joseph Thoburn, actually plowed up a few artifacts that drew a fair amount of attention around 1914. He mounted his own dig by 1917, but there's nothing in the history books about what he discovered.
Being an amateur well out of his depth, the site was turned over to Oklahoma oil baron E. W. Marland by the mid-1920s, but the millionaire-funded crew was only allowed to look around, they weren't allowed to dig. As you can imagine, no new discoveries were made in this fashion.
Realizing that his little piece of history could ultimately cost him to lose his land to bureaucratic red tape, Thoburn worked extra hard to find an answer. He found a map that listed the settlement as Fernandina and claimed it was once a white settlement.
The map was from 1860, so it may not have been wrong, but there was no covering up Deer Creek at that point.
Why is it off-limits?
As you can imagine, along with anything that has a tendency to sensationalize a story, there are plenty of people looking to get their piece of it. Whether it's the experience of visiting the site, or more likely those looking to take a keep-sake home with them to sell off to the highest bidder.
Treasure seekers were a plague on the Deer Creek site for decades until the federal government purchased the land and fenced it off while constructing a dam on the Arkansas River, but even after the dam was completed in the mid-70s, Deer Creek remained federally protected pending scientific studies.
While the 'No Trespassing' signs intended to protect the area, they weren't enough to keep out rebellious kids and treasure hunters alike. There was a time my own group of friends stood there looking at a big gap in the fence thinking we should go in, but we were all too chicken to do it.
Not one site, but two.
Archeologists did finally get a chance to access the area in 2016, but the study is still ongoing. Not only are they inspecting the Deer Creek site, but another was found just upriver, now called the Bryson-Paddock site.
Even though six or seven years of study seems adequate, it'll likely be another decade before the full report on these areas comes out.
What we know thus far.
Deer Creek and Bryson-Paddock are believed to be early native settlements of the Wichita tribe. While the Wichita are more known for their Southern Oklahoma history, there is enough evidence at Deer Creek and B-P to suggest they also once settled there.
It's a pretty fascinating and very long other story... so to keep it short, the belief is the Wichita fled these settlements after having issues and often deadly confrontations with their neighbors, the Osage.
What about the French?
At the time, the land would have been part of the French claim of the Louisiana Territory. Oklahoma's river system is no stranger to the French fur trade, and it has been really well documented how well the French and Native Americans got along for the purposes of trade.
It's only natural that we would find French fur tools and such at these river-side sites.
What they've unearthed so far are artifacts that range from bone tools to steel hide scrapers. Literally hundreds of linear years of technology all in the same piles of dirt. It's remarkable.
In French history, there are several instances of trade in the area of Deer Creek and Bryson-Paddock. The belief is that the Wichita people lived here and traded with the French. There are also stories of death and botched negotiations, but the Wichita tribe is never singled out, but shared in title alongside the Osage of the same general area.
How old are the settlements?
That's a fair question that only archeologists will be able to answer one day. For now, the best guesses place it somewhere between 300-600 years old, but they argue these dates all the time.
Some experts insist the Deer Creek and B-P sites date back to the 1300-1400s, which wouldn't be out of the ordinary. The Spiro Mississippians settled and existed in modern-day Eastern Oklahoma between 800-1600 AD/CE.
Still, other experts suggest these settlements are from the mid-1700s, and nobody can agree and neither side will budge.
Time will eventually tell, but if there's one thing a well-funded archeologist doesn't do, it's completing the work they're being paid to do.