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February 6, 2013

Ninnekah has vibrant heritage

NINNEKAH — It has been about 15 years since the last Ninnekah Heritage Day, an event that celebrates the small town's big history.

At 5:30, on Feb. 15 in the Ninnekah school cafeteria, the community is invited to share their ideas for planning this event, Shelby Ross, Ninnekah Historical Society President, said.

Plans for the celebration may include a town-wide garage sale and flea market and possibly a street dance.

In the past, the celebration has had awards for members of the community including a Mr. and Mrs. Ninnekah, a pioneer award and a citizen's award.

The date for Heritage Day is tentatively set for May 25 to coordinate with the May 24 all-schools reunion in Ninnekah, which takes place about every three years.

Ross said the Ninnekah Historical Society hopes by scheduling Heritage Day right before the school reunion, Ninnekah Schools alumni from out of town will be drawn to the event.

The Ninnekah Museum will be open and there will be a tour of the Muncrief Cemetery.

Ross said the Muncrief Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the area. Originally a trading post owned by William Muncrief. The first occupant of the cemetery was William's own son, Robert Muncrief, who was laid to rest on the grounds before it officially became a cemetery.

Muncrief has been a part of Ninnekah's history since the mid-1800s. As such, many of the headstones are worn from age. Some have been marked "Unknown" because the stones could not be read.

However, with the help and carpentry know-how of Lexington Prison inmates, some of these grave sites got an upgrade. The inmates at Lexington built wooden headstones with the person's name and cause of death carved upon it, Ross said. The headstones are painted white with the lettering painted red.

One reads: "1890, Wm. "Bill" Carey, Robbed of $68 then shot to death by robber in JH Carey Gen. Store."

Some of Ross' own family are buried in the Muncrief Cemetery, including her great-great-grandmother. At the time she was buried, the cemetery was so overgrown that the pall bearers had to carry the casket to the burial ground rather than in the hearse, Ross said.

One of the first teachers at Ninnekah, James (Bud) Gibbs, is also buried in Muncrief. He was known for wearing his six shooter to class, Ross said.

Another point of interest in the cemetery is the burial plot occupied by five cattle rustlers (thieves) who were killed in a gun battle near the Little Washita. What is interesting about this, according to Ross, is the famous outlaw, John Wesley Hardin was known to have killed five criminals in the same area at around the same time. Ross said there is no concrete evidence that these are the same men shot by Hardin, but it is quite a coincidence.

The cemetery's history is a big interest of Ross', who said in the future, she would like to have a historical reenactment similar to the Rose Hill Cemetery Tour in Chickasha, where people buried in the cemetery are played by actors who tell about that person's life.

The Ninnekah Museum is the home of many historical Ninnekah artifacts donated mostly by members of the community. Old yearbooks, pictures, artifacts, a replica of the old hotel and other buildings, period clothing, books, farm equipment and more are on display. Ross said that the historical society hopes to expand on the museum.

Ross said the museum has plans to document the stories of Ninnekah's older citizens on film as another way to preserve the history of Ninnekah.

The museum is also the home of the veteran's monument, which stands in front of the museum. The newest addition to the concrete memorial was Ninnekah graduate, Mychal Prince, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.

The walkway to the museum is a brick sidewalk. For a contribution of $30, families can have their name etched on one of the bricks.

Ross said the museum building has two back stories. It was either part of the Ninnekah hotel that burned down years ago or Ninnekah's oldest house.

The Ninnekah Historical Society releases a newsletter every month or two about Ninnekah news and a bit of history. The newsletter runs a photo of a historic artifact for readers to guess what it is. At the end of the year, the person who guesses the most objects correctly is declared "Ninnekah's Smartest Person." The newsletter also features "Ninnekah Confessions," where readers can add a funny observation anonymously.

Ross said she hopes members of the Ninnekah community will come to the meeting with ideas for Heritage Day, such as different contests and booths they would like to see. These ideas will be presented to the city council.

Ross said it's important to her and the Ninnekah Historical Society that the community be involved in the planning process of Heritage Day.

"It's about the community," she said. "Everyone in town has made it what it is."

Those who have further questions about the meeting or who would like to see the museum (which is shown by appointment) should call Ross at 405-278-1896, Vice President Tom E. Lewis at 405-574-2385 or Secretary/Treasurer Kristina Brown at 405-274-4157 or by emailing ninnekahhistoricalsociety@yahoo.com.

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