A History Of Lake Murray
by Robert. W. Allen
Lake Murray is located two miles east of US Highway 77 and four miles south of Ardmore in southern Carter and northern Love Coutnies, Oklahoma. The major arms of the lake occupy the deep valleys of the West and East Anadarche Creeks as well as the eastern tributary of Fourche Maline Creek (see maps immediately below). Lake Murray's deep blue waters have none of the sediment-laden murkiness of nearby river-fed Lake Texoma. Its setting amid hills forested by blackjack and post oak provides a beautifully scenic panorama.
Ardmore is located 15 miles south of the Arbuckle Mountains, five miles south of the Caddo anticline, and five miles northeast of the Criner Hills. The outcrops in these nearby, outstanding, surface geologic features range in age from Cambrian through Permian. The entire stratigraphic section of sedimentary rock units is represented in this area.
The thousands of people who enjoy Lake Murray each year should know and remember the names of Charles Weldon Tomlinson, Charles A. Milner, Jr., and W. Morris Guthrey. These men were trained geologists, whose work and efforts were responsible for creating Lake Murray.
History and Geology of the Lake Murray Area
The Lake Murray area was a good hunting ground for prehistoric man. Artifacts indicate that Paleo-Indians hunted the valleys now occupied by Lake Murray from 12,000 B.C. to 7000 B.C., long before the arrival of white men. Their game included such now extinct animals as the mammoth and the mastodon, as well as the larger ancestors of our present-day bison. By 6000 B.C., seasonal encampments dotted the general area; there is evidence of an increasing number of campsites from that time until about A.D. 500. In the period A.D. 500 to A.D. 1600, the area reverted to a hunting ground, and most nearby Indian campsites were along Hickory Creek to the south.
During recent historical time, hunting continued in the area, as the discovery of the occasional muzzle-loading-rifle ball has shown. Beneath the site of Tucker Tower, there was a rocky alcover (now covered deeply by water) that is said to have been used regularly by Comanche Indians to hide horses stolen in forays against settlers in northern Texas. Even as late as the 1930's, the area was so unfrequented that geologists who started mapping there found no fewer than five illegal wiskey stills in operation.
Geologically, Lake Murray is located in the Ardmore basin. This is a deep sedimentary basin filled with rocks of Precambrian to Permian ages; the basin has been intensely compressed between two mountain ranges. The outcropping strata in the lake area are of Pennsylvanian age and dip at angles up to 90 degrees; some of the beds are overturned. These strata crop out in the vicinity of Lake Murray as long, linear, forested ridges. Many of these beds produce oil just to the west of the Lake Murray area; thus, it was important geologically to correlate the outcropping of rock units with those in the subsurface.
Starting in 1928, the Gypsy Oil Company (later Gulf Oil) initiated a research program directed to this problem of correlation. The program was under the direction of Charles A. Milner, Jr. The work of Dr. White, a micropaleontologist, focused mainly on the idetification of the fusulinids (fossils shaped like grains of wheat) found in the various members of Pennsylvanian formations. Guthrey and Milner mapped these beds by plane table and meticulously searched each bed for fusulinids. (A plane table is a surveying instrument for graphically plotting the lines of a survey directly from field observations.) This research continued in 1932 and 1933 under the supervision of Dr. C.W. Tomlinson. For the geologists involved, it was a very exciting time since some of the Lower Pennsylvanian section exposed in the Ardmore basin crops out nowhere else in the world, and a number of hitherto unknown fossils were found. The attention of the paleontologic world was on the Ardmore basin. Such famous paleontologists as J.J. Galloway and Raymond C. Moore paid regular visits to Ardmore to study the new fossil discoveries.
Dr. Tomlinson, along with Mr. Milner and Mr. Guthrey, continued to map this part of the Ardmore basin. One topographic feature that met their trained geologic eyes was the Devil's Kitchen Conglomerate, a massive bed of sand and chert that stands as an almost vertical wall; several creeks joined and made one channel through this rock outcrop. They recognized that this feature could be adapted suitable for use as a dam to form a lake. Starting in 1932, these geologists put forth every effort toward getting such a dam built. It wasn't easy. No continuously flowing streams fed these valleys, and the valleys were full of trees. If a dam were built, would the valleys behind it fill with water? This unknown was a major obstacle for some people. Dr. Tomlinson and his professional crew insisted that there would be a lake and that it would fill with water in an estimated 10 years. They based their estimate on the average yearly rainfall in the drainage area for the potential lake, and on measurements of the volume of water that ran off the land and through the 600-foot notch in the Devils Kitchen Conglomerate. The evaporation rate of the lake water in the hot Oklahoma summer sun was also considered. Dr. Tomlinson made evaporation-rate measurements on several large ponds in the area in order to know how much to deduct for this evaporation. This painstaking work of making measurements continued over several years.
The dream of a lake, later to be known as Lake Murray, had been created, but it was only a dream. Dreams without follow-through are just that, dreams. Projects can remain in the file folders for a lifetime, and that is all they are, just projects. Tomlinson, Milner, and Guthrey did not let this potential project remain only a dream. They got both the State and Federal governments involved, and brought them to Carter and Love Counties.
They called former State Senator (1912-20) Fred Tucker, an oil man from Ardmore, and explained the idea of the lake to him. State Senator (1933-35) Louis Fischl of Ardmore authored Senate bill 382, which gave the State Board of Affairs authority to condemn and buy the land for Oklahoma's first state park. The bill was supported in the Oklahoma House of Representatives by Floor Leader of the 14th Legislature, Representative (1931-33) John Steel Batson, of Marietta. The bill was passed in 1933 and the land (with minerals) was purchased for $90,000. Governor (1931-35) William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray, a brilliant man, was not in favor of this project. Later, however, when the name was changed from Arbuckle Lake to Lake Murray, he agreed to lend his support to the construction plan.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States. The country was in a deep economic depression. Very few people had any money, and there were no jobs to be found. Bread lines literally were miles long. Dr. Tomlinson and his team agreed that something must be done to help the unemployed in Oklahoma.
The federal government had formed the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA (Work Projects Administration). These government agencies employed people to perform useful work on building projects in communities. The Lake Murray project seemed ideal for these programs and was submitted for federal evaluation. Approval was granted, and work on the lake began in July 1933. Members of the CCC cleared the trees and the area; members of the WPA built the dam. There was no power equipment, only teams, wagons, and hand tools.
A total of 10,000 men who had been on relief shared the jobs. Each man worked five days, for $1.80 per day. The wages for one day of work provided food for a work week. The balance was enough to feed a man's family for about one month. A group of approximately 1,000 men would work for a week, and then another group would relieve them. A federal relief fund of $20,000 per month ($5,000 per month, each, from Carter, Lover, Johnston, and Marshall Counties) kept 2,200 families from starving. Progress was made.
A dam, 600 feet long and 150 feet high, was built, but a part of that dam sloughed off before the lake filled. The locations, near the lake's shore, of the lodge and all the youth camps had been planned before the original dam failed. When the dam was rebuilt, the lake's water level was 12 feet lower than originally planned. Thus, the lodge and the youth camps, when completed, were up the hill and away from the shoreline.
By the time World War II began on December 7, 1941, with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the lake had been built and was full of water. The Armed Forces took the laboreres. Progress slowed. After the war, there was a lodge to be built. But how? Prosperity was beginning to return, but there still was not enough money to build a lodge.
Lloyd Judd, President of the First National Bank and Trust Company of Ardmore, made a suggestions to State Senator (1943-47) Fred Chapman, and to State Representatives Wilson Wallace (1937-39; 1945-47), and Rhys Evans (1943-79), both of Ardmore. Mr Judd suggested self-liquidating bonds. The bonds would be sold, and they would be paid back with money from rent derived from the property. The idea was approved by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, and it was a first for the State of Oklahoma and a second for the entire nation. Self-liquidating bonds had been sold only once before in the U.S., for a toll road in Pennsylvania. The bonds were sold, Lake Murray Lodge was built, and the bonds were repaid. The plan was a huge success. (For years, Lake Murray supported most of the other state parks.)
The lodge was dedicated in 1949. At that time, Roy J. Turner was Governor and Lloyd Judd was a member of the Oklahoma Planning and Resources Board. (Judd died on May 1, 1949.) Others involved in the offering of the self-liquidating bonds, Fred Chapman, Wilson Wallace, and Rhys Evans, were not asked to attend the dedication ceremony.
Not long ago (1978), another outstanding Ardmore geologist and oil man, John L. Hoard, had the oil and gas leases on Lake Murray put up for bid. The leases were sold, and more than $2,000,000 was put into the State treasury as a result of the sale. The money was spent, but it did not stay at Lake Murray. The oil industry was directly responsible for generating this $2,000,000 windfall; it was not tax-generated money.
Present Status of Lake Murray
Lake Murray is a 6,000-acre body of water; at the time it was dammed, it was the largest body of water in the State. At the main-made dam, the water is 130 feet deep; eight miles from this dam, the water depth averages 25 feet. The park includes 21,000 acres of land.
For two miles, the Devils Kitchen Conglomerate can be seen rising from the lake at a 60 degree angle. A boat trip along this ledge--from Tucker Tower past the lake spillway and the man-made dam, then southeast to the Marietta Landing campground--allows a good view of this enormous, natural dam of solid rock. The spillway is cut through this rock, and allows excess water to spill downstream to Hickory Creek and Lake Texoma. Halfway between the dam and the spillway there is a valve control tower. In the original design of the dam, it was to be used to drain sediment off the bottom of the lake. However, the valves rusted shut and could never be used. Lake Murray actually filled in seven years instead of in the predicted ten, and water goes over the spillway almost every year. During a period of drought in the 1950's, the lake level went down about six feet; in a few years, however, the lake was full again.
Tucker Tower, named for Senator Fred Tucker, originally was built as a retreat for Governor Murray. It now houses Tucker Tower Nature Center, a fine museum of natural history managed by the Lake Murray State Park. Allen Graham of Ardmore prepared the first exhibits and was the first curator.
The lake's design is a continuing tribute to C.W. Tomlinson's ability to correctly predict the lake's performance over many years. Lake Murray will be an enjoyable recreation site, perhaps for centuries. It is fed by water from springs, runoff, and three small creeks. No rivers or major streams flow into it; thus, very little silt or fill is entering the lake. In contrast, Lake Texoma is fed by the Washita and Red Rivers. They carry much sand and silt, which rapidly are filling Lake Texoma.
Lake Murray is one of the premier tourist and sporting attractions in the State of Oklahoma, and its history, too, deserves attention. Perhaps one day there will be a monument of Oklahoma red granite at the lake to honor Charles Weldon Tomlinson, Charles Albert Milner, Jr., and W. Morris Guthrey for their dream and for their dedicated efforts to make Lake Murray a reality.
This history was written after I had an opportunity to visit, and/or correspond, with many people. The information and ideas that they shared with me contributed significantly to this article. I gratefully acknowledge W. Morris Guthrey (Geologist), C.E. ("Ed") Hannum (Geologist), Dr. Kenneth S. Johnson (Oklahoma Geological Survey), Mrs. Waylan D. Morris, George H. Ramsey (Petroleum Engineer), and R.P. Wilkinson (Petroleum Geologist).
Daily Oklahoman, October 29, 1933.
Lang, R.C.; and Parker, E.C., 1966, Pennsylvanian of the Ardmore basin field conference:Ardmore Geological Society, 50 p.
U.S. Geological Survey, 1964 [photorevised, 1978], Lake Murray quadrangle, Oklahoma:U.S. Geological Survey 7.5-minute series topographic map, scale 1:24,000.
Wilson Wallace videotape, July 27, 1933. On file at the Greater Southwest History Museum 35 Sunset Dr., Ardmore, Oklahoma 73401; phone (405) 226-3857.