Castles in Oklahoma: Tucker Tower at Majestic Lake Murray
Perched high atop a twisted strand of rock, Tucker Tower juts out of the cliff like an ancient fortress of old. Protected on three sides by a massive lake, the tower stands like a lone sentinel against the vestiges of time.
Despite its appearance, Tucker Tower is not as ancient as it may appear. But though it was only built in the early 1930s, the tower and the lands that surround it have an unusual history that stretches back centuries.
While much of the history surrounding the site of Tucker Tower is lost, it is known that the rocks were once home to the Kichai Tribe of the Wichita Indian. In later years, when the area was part of the Indian Territory, the wild and desolate areas surrounding the precipitous outcrop known as the Devil’s Kitchen Conglomerate proved to be a secure safe haven for outlaws and bandits. Legend has it that there was once a cave at the base of the mountain that has been inhabited by both the early Native Americans in the region as well numerous later day outlaws.
As Oklahoma achieved statehood and progressed into a new century so did the face of the Devil’s Kitchen Conglomerate. The days of the Indian had long passed, as did the wild frontier of the outlaw. It was in 1933 that the strength and conviction of one man, who may have been considered a special type of outlaw himself, that forever changed this ragged outcropping of rock.
Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray: Oklahoma’s Most Colorful Politician
William Murray spent most of his early life working in Texas as a farmhand, which was typical in those days. It was the knowledge from those farming days that would eventually earn him the nickname “Alfalfa Bill” in days to come.
As “Alfalfa Bill” Murray grew older, he came to realize that working on a farm was not the life he had envisioned for himself. He took a job working in an attorney’s office and quickly found that the work suited him. Through self-study and experience gained working at the office, Murray earned his license to practice law. After gaining his license, he went to work in Tishomingo in the Chickasaw Nation of the Indian Territories. He quickly gained a solid reputation as a lawyer who could plead any case so convincingly that his client was set free.
He was a lively, opinionated, and down-to-earth character, well liked and respected by everyone he met. During this time, he gained so much support that he was elected to congress in 1914. His first venture into politics showed promise, but that was not to last. He ran again in 1918 and lost to J. B. A. Robertson.
After losing the election, “Alfalfa Bill” Murray decided that it was time for a break. He left Indian Territory and traveled to Bolivia. Seeing the potential of the underdeveloped country, he decided to try to make a fresh start there.
For ten years, Murray lived and worked in Bolivia. His time there was chartered with progress and many great triumphs, but once again, this venture was not to last. It seemed as if fickle fate had once again turned a blind eye towards Murray. All of his achievements essentially mounted to nothing as the government of the country crumbled around him. Murray returned to Oklahoma in 1929, broke and despondent.
It was during this time that the nation was suffering from the Great Depression. Murray quickly assessed the economic situation, and after much consideration, decided to return to politics.
In 1930, William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray ran for the Democratic Party nomination for governor. He was a shrewd politician, and he used his economic program to boost him ahead of his opponent, Frank Buttram.
Buttram was an Oklahoman millionaire, a station much despised by the common man during those times. Murray, outsmarting his opponent, did his best to create a persona of the poor man. It wasn’t unusual to see him walking around with a shaggy beard and an old woolen scarf around his neck. Instead of attending political banquets, he would sit on the curb and eat cheese and crackers out of paper bags. People flocked to this image, and William Murray easily won the Democratic nomination in the summer of 1930.
Murray’s time acting as Governor was marred with accusations. Still, through the hard times, Murray was a man of action. He helped bring Oklahoma out of the depression and established many precedents that continue to affect the state today.
Governor William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray was truly one of Oklahoma’s more lively politicians. He was well known for his excessive use of executive orders, martial law, and his opposition to New Deal programs established to offset the Great Depression. Murray was vehemently opposed to federal control. Still, while he spent a great deal of time trying to thwart many of the New Deal programs, he left alone the one that allowed for the construction of Tucker Tower and the lake that surrounds it.
In truth, had it not been for former Governor William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray, Oklahoma tourism would have lost two of it's most popular Oklahoma Attractions: Lake Murray State Park and Tucker Tower.
Tucker Tower: A Medieval Stronghold or the Governor's Private Retreat?
While it’s never been conformed, the old stories say that the tower was originally designed as the governor’s secret summer retreat. Many believe that this famous Oklahoma attraction and the state park created around it were brought about in appreciation for Murray’s efforts to get the lake located in southern Oklahoma. Whatever the reasons may be, the two Oklahoma attractions, the state park and the tower, are both treasures of Oklahoma tourism that visitors can cherish for years to come.
Built in 1933, this legendary "Oklahoma castle" was based on pictures of European castles taken by World War One veteran and then local legislator Fred Tucker. Located prominently on a rocky crag off the south shore of Lake Murray, Tucker Tower seems to soar over the clear waters. It remains one of the most fascinating places to go in Oklahoma.
The tower is 65 feet tall and is roughly shaped like a truncated obelisk, resembling the form of an ancient castle stronghold. It was built by WPA crews from the hand-quarried bluish-gray limestone found in the Ardmore Basin where the lake now lies. For many years after its construction, the tower stood for many years lonely and uninhabited atop its cliff.
In 1950, Tucker Tower, the "Oklahoma castle", was opened as a state natural history and geological museum. Since then, the Tower and surrounding structures have been restored to the way that Governor William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray first envisioned it. Visitors to the state can get a glimpse into what life was like during the hectic 1930s at this amazing Oklahoma attraction.
Fire from Heaven: The Lake Murray Meteorite
Tucked away inside the majestic Tucker Tower lays a hidden gem from another world. During the construction of the lake and the tower, workers discovered a rather large meteorite.
Weighing over 500 pounds, it is the largest meteorite of its kind and the fifth largest in the world. The massive rock that fell from the heavens is a ninety-million-year-old granular hexahedrite meteorite. After it was discovered, it was sent to the Institute of Meteorites in New Mexico, where scientists sliced it in half. This discovery led to a rare glimpse into its core, and solved many unanswered questions about the formation of meteorites.
It is speculated that there are more fragments of this meteorite under the man-made lake, but recovering these fragments would be too costly even to consider. For astronomers, geologists, and the curious, this Oklahoma attraction is hard to resist. Each day, the site is inundated with people waiting to get a glimpse of the Lake Murray Meteorite.
Lake Murray State Park
One of the more popular Oklahoma Attractions, Lake Murray, named for Governor William H. Murray, is a manmade lake that stretches just under 6,000 acres. It is situated completely within Lake Murray State Park. Lake Murray State Park is Oklahoma’s largest state park, containing over 12,500 acres of wild and rugged wilderness.
On the west shore of the lake, a state-operated lodge and resort serves as a base for Oklahoma tourism in the area. Numerous cabin and campground facilities line the shores of the lake. Nearby, a nature center features many displays of area plants and wildlife. The lake and resort are popular for both fishing and recreational activities, drawing in visitors from as far away as Dallas and Oklahoma City.
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© 2010 Eric Standridge