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Down the Washita: Chickasaw artist traverses Oklahoma by kayak

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Chickasha, Oklahoma -- He started his river journey May 5th with more supplies and confidence than he had at the half-way point.

"Like anyone else," he says, "I started with this mind-set of the perfect beach and going down the river and everything was going to be jolly."

"I'm laughing about it now but it was pure misery."

A couple of years ago Richard Thomas had the idea of taking a canoe or kayak from west to east, downstream on the Washita River from near the Texas border all the way to Tishomingo, Oklahoma.

He says, "I was going to go with my son down the river. I wanted to show him that not everything in life is easy."

He hoped to start at the Washita Battlefield National Park but river obstructions, man-made and natural, removed any such possibility.

"I don't know how I did it," says Thomas of the first part of his trip in western Oklahoma. "It must have been adrenaline."

Barbed wire stretched across the river put several holes in his craft forcing him to spend a night or two off the river for repairs.

His reasons for this epic 322 mile trip, to honor the Cheyenne leaders and tribal members killed at what many Native Americans refer to as the 'Washita Massacre' 149 years ago, and to provide a record of this Oklahoma river.

"I wanted to experience this deliberately and that's exactly what I'm doing," he states.

He pushed off again late on a Wednesday morning having made close to 40 river miles on his latest day of travel.

With luck, a trip he thought would take ten days might take only seven.

He is a member of the Chickasaw Nation by birth.

Thomas makes a living as a furniture refinisher, restorer and artist.

While on the Washita River he takes only pictures, water samples, and many lasting memories.

"This is a once in a lifetime deal," he says. "I probably won't do this again."

At the half-way point north of Chickasha Thomas estimated 3 more days of kayaking to get to the Chickasaw Nation capitol of Tishomingo in the south central part of the state.