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Great State: A Tale of Two Okie Towns

DUKE, OKLAHOMA — They gathered on a Monday afternoon on an empty lot. Even the kids wore period clothing.

Everyone came for a unique, outdoor history lesson about their town. “It truly was a tale of two cities,” announced one narrator over a wind distorted sound system.

The speakers began unreeling a long tale about how Duke actually used to be two places, East Duke and West Duke, separated by a few hundred yards and miles of hard feelings.

Longtime resident Mary Green was a phone operator and used to eavesdrop on the old stories. “There was a feud,” she said. “I know you won’t believe this but there were two men who didn’t get along. Usually it’s the women who don’t get along but this time it was the men.”

For a period of 5 years these two business owners and their respective followers fought to see who would become the real Duke. Their stores, schools, and dozens of homesteads rode in the balance.

Jon Darby’s grandfather was right in the middle of it. Darby’s furniture is located, officially, in East Duke, which is just plain old Duke now.

The feud ended with a unique ceremony in 1912. “The main thing was that it got solved,” he said. “The hatchet got buried.”

Poor West Duke was located on a flood plain. Finally, on a warm Summer day in 1912 both communities gathered and they really did bury a bloody hatchet which still lies beneath Highway 62.

95 year old Cleo Bearden grew up with all the old stories too. “I think it worked,” she said of the original ceremony. “There isn’t anything left of West Duke now.”

Current town leaders commemorated the original hatchet burial with another funeral on a Monday in late September.

They performed the ceremony twice that day in front of the old Methodist church. They celebrated a century of peace and progress. The hatchet, now a unique symbol instead of a weapon of choice.