WEWOKA, OKLAHOMA — A picture of the Wewoka train depot now and a picture from 100 years ago look a lot alike except for the number of people.
A museum image from the early 20th century shows a crowd on the platform watching Senator William Jennings Bryan deliver a speech from the back of a steam train.
Wewoka was a pretty quiet place though, until wildcatters hit pay dirt on the Betsy Foster farm in 1923.
“On St. Patrick’s Day,” says Seminole Nation Museum Director Richard Elwanger, “the Betsy Foster Number 1 came in.
It was an oil well just outside Wewoka and that opened up the boom times here.”
Elwanger has studied the boom years that swept up Wewoka and the rest of Seminole County in the ‘Roaring 20’s’.
The town population grew from 1,500 to 20,000 almost overnight.
“There were railroad cars all along the sidings here,” says Elwanger on a tour of the old depot yard.
The little Rock Island train depot was overwhelmed with the shipments that came pouring in to feed roughnecks, build shelter, and help them drill for more oil.
Elwanger says, “Merchandise sitting in these side cars along the tracks and people would come searching for their merchandise, the things they needed to drill wells and build homes for the crews coming in, and they couldn’t find these things.”
Losing items in Wewoka became so common the Rock Island company issued its own stamp that directed employees to search for missing freight at the Wewoka switch before searching anywhere else.
Railroad employees started using the term loosely.
For a while, most people knew that if you were lost or in a bad place, “Then you were caught in a Wewoka Switch,” continues Richard.
The boom times eventually ended. Harry Truman made a campaign whistle-stop in 1948, but Rock Island eventually closed the depot.
It was moved off site for years until city leaders moved it back close to its original site.
The Wewoka Chamber of Commerce had offices there now.
Trains no longer make stops.
The sidings where freight would back up are gone too.
Only the saying is left, now caught in its own kind of Wewoka Switch, buried along the sidings of an ever-changing, and colorful, English language.