Oklahoma City's '89er Trail' to tell story of city's birth

Markers planned to guide the way for an historic tour of downtown area
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: April 19, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: April 19, 2014

Stories to be told will likely include the chaos and squabbles that emerged during efforts to create a city, the emergence of “Hell’s Half Acre” at what is now the site of the Cox Convention Center, and the failed attempt to build a “grand canal.”

Sites, meanwhile, will likely include the Santa Fe Train Station, which was built in 1930 on the site of the original Oklahoma Station that greeted settlers when they arrived on April 22, 1889.

It’s a story, Wiggin notes, that leads to yet another story – the murder of the city’s first mayor.

A forgotten story

“The Santa Fe Railroad was here before the settlers came,” Wiggin said. “People were here legally working, for the railroad at the station, but the (April 22, 1889 land opening) proclamation stated they had to be gone three days before the run. But many of them stayed.”

One of the three original townsite companies plotted the city’s grid from the station, setting out west by 90 degrees.

One of those working with the railroad was William L. Couch.

“It’s hard not to ignore the story of the Couch family,” Wiggin said. “William L. Couch was a boomer, meaning he was part of a group that came early. He was a lobbyist in Washington who tried to get the lands opened. When April 22 rolled around, he was employed by the railroad. But he didn’t bother to leave three days early, he was here and watched the surveyors go out and lay out the town.”

Couch, who already had a home at Reno and Walker Avenues, used his advantage to set himself up with a homestead, with surrounding properties staked by five brothers and their father. Couch was then elected as the city’s first mayor.

Couch, however, faced several rival homesteaders who protested his claims.

“In April 1890, a man in a dispute with him came with a rifle and shot him in the leg,” Wiggin said. “Two weeks later Mayor Couch was dead from gangrene. I don’t think most people know about this, and I think they will once we get the 89er Trail out on the ground.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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