The first survey for the location of the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway through Shawnee after the decision was made to locate in the city, showed it more feasible to be located north of the Farrall Street group of stores. This would avoid costly road bed fills further south. Henry G. Beard had given 120 acres and his brother John W. Beard gave 100 acres to the railroad as a concession for them to re-route through Shawnee instead of Tecumseh, as originally planned, but only after a court battle that Tecumseh lost.

The first survey for the location of the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway through Shawnee after the decision was made to locate in the city, showed it more feasible to be located north of the Farrall Street group of stores. This would avoid costly road bed fills further south. Henry G. Beard had given 120 acres and his brother John W. Beard gave 100 acres to the railroad as a concession for them to re-route through Shawnee instead of Tecumseh, as originally planned, but only after a court battle that Tecumseh lost.

The opening run of the first Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway train to arrive in Shawnee was on July 4, 1895. The construction train came first from the west, crossing the last track laid down, with James McNerney as the engineer and Bill Martin was the fireman stoking the boiler. Following it was the excursion train with 15 open cars loaded to capacity with Shawnee people and free beer. The engineer was Al Dietrich and the fireman was John Rutty. The arrival was followed by an all-day Fourth of July picnic and celebration.

On Independence Day, 1895, Shawnee became a major transportation hub. The completion of the track between Oklahoma City and Shawnee was completed by the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad. With the work finished just before 10 a.m., a work train steamed into Shawnee. It was followed at noon by the first passenger train ever to reach the “Forest City.”

“If our original town fathers had not been aggressive in pursuing the railroad; and gave the railroad the land for free, we might not be here today,” said Pottawatomie County Historical Society Museum Director Ken Landry.

Tensions were high at the time between many citizens of Shawnee and its neighbor Tecumseh to the south. It was illustrated by businessmen from Tecumseh pleading with shop owners, through the local newspaper to stay and not make a move toward the bustling town of Shawnee.

The emotions were running so high at the time that several newspapers reported that vandals attempted to sabotage the Choctaw Railway from making it to Shawnee by the Fourth of July. The papers reported of damage to the tracks prior to this time.

As the train drew near the Kickapoo line the interest was greatly increased by learning that a culvert had been blown out by dynamite on the night before, and an attempt had been made to burn the bridge across the North Canadian River. The feud between Shawnee and Tecumseh was evident when the investigation showed some of the incendiary materials found were from a Tecumseh business. Piles were soaked in oil and set on fire.

However, the construction was finished on time and the railroad made it to Shawnee on the Fourth, but several precautions were taken to ensure the train’s safe arrival. Every bridge and culvert was guarded by a man with a Winchester.

For a few days prior to the Fourth, interested parties from all over Oklahoma and Indian territories gathered at the new town of Shawnee for the celebration of the national holiday and the arrival of the first trains. It was reported that more than 400 Kickapoo Indians pitched their tents on the townsite, adjoining Woodland Park, in anticipation of the big barbecue feed during the festivities. Almost 300 Seminoles were reported present at Shawnee to participate in the exercises. Every residence and business in the new city was reported to have decorated for the holiday, in expectation of the thousands of people who were flocking the scene.

Records show that around 800 people were willing to pay the one-dollar fare and travel by train on its maiden trip from Oklahoma City to Shawnee to attend the activities. Although the rail cars were not up to standard and the temperature of the July weather was balmy, the people were happy to endure the circumstances for the occasion.

Early in the morning the boom of the cannons began. The procession formed on west Main Street and marched down to Union Street, then to Broadway and then on to Woodland Park.

The parade was headed by Col. William Regan and C.N. Points, who was the chairman of the arrangements committee. They were followed by the famous Sunflower Band of Winfield, Kansas, and thousands of more people. When they arrived at the Park, the program of the day began.

Rev. Lahr welcomed the visitors to the city. Judge Pitzer of El Reno was introduced and made what was described as an elegant address. Rev. Dr. Riley and Dr. Bass followed with short talks. Chief Ooh-ke-nockeg of the Kickapoo tribe made a short speech. He was interpreted by the Hon. Joseph Whipple.

Carrie Rockefeller followed with the reading of the Declaration of Independence. After the announcement of dinner, a regular stampede for barbecue beef occurred.

At noon, the passenger train came to a stop in what is now downtown Shawnee. The stop was located near Main and Rawson streets. The latter avenue no longer exists, but was near present Beard Street. Witnesses described the scene as very impressive. The people all shouted, while anvils boomed and engine whistles blasted. Years later, residence said that this event marked the real step of progress and assured the city would become an important commercial center.

Historians of the city say that the railroad was less than a mile away from the city the day before the holiday. The work crews were offered a variety of bonuses if they would make it to the city by the deadline. They were informed that they would have all the free beer they could drink if they made it on time.

The afternoon was spent in all kinds of amusements. “Those who loved the light fantastic toe,” were cared for by the band boys. The dance continued until midnight.

News all over the two territories reported that the whole affair was a huge success. Renown persons from Oklahoma and Indian territories were present to voice their opinions and perspectives about what this event would mean in the history of the area. To break the routine of countless speeches, local musical groups entertained the audiences. The Tecumseh newspaper reported later that there were about 5,000 people present.

Once the track was completed and the celebrations were over, business took off almost immediately. Large shipments began to flow into and out of the city. Cars full of livestock and thousands of bales of cotton were shipped from the terminal of the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf in the city.

In point of rivalry and turmoil, the celebration was great. Kegs of beer were rolled out of the tent saloons and the town people were free to help themselves. Comments from the early settlers were that most everyone became intoxicated to a greater or lesser degree and considerable fighting and shooting followed, but without any disastrous results.

Soon afterwards, a branch line owned by individuals and called the “Dummy Line” was extended from Shawnee to Tecumseh. And later, when the Choctaw railroad sold its interest to the Rock Island, the line was extended to Asher and was commonly called the Asher branch.

(Clyde Wooldridge is a local historian and the author of a few other local histories. Look for this story and many others in the coming exhaustive history of the city of Shawnee, “The Redbud City,” in 2018.)