By: Duane Blankenship | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: December 2007
Betty Calley proudly displays a photo of the Sapulpa Centennial Bison, “Guardian of the Plains,” taken in sculptor Jim Gilmore’s studio.
Aside from the bald eagle, not many animals represent the United States like the bison of the American plains. Unfortunately, as early European settlers moved westward across the continent, the bison was recklessly hunted to near extinction. Not just the bison were destroyed; Native Americans who relied on the bison for survival also fell victim to settlers. It is now our responsibility to ensure both the native people and noble animal receive the respect and honor they deserve.
Sapulpa’s contribution to the 2007 Oklahoma Centennial projects, a bronze bison sculpture, was bestowed on November 16, Statehood Day. The Sapulpa Centennial Bison, called “Guardian of the Plains,” measures 18 feet long, five feet wide and 12 feet tall. It will permanently stand guard near Interstate 44 at 1245 New Sapulpa Road.
More than 400 people were invited to the dedication ceremony, including Sapulpa and Creek County officials and Oklahoma Senators Brian Bingman and Ted Fisher.
In 2001, the Pride in Sapulpa Committee conceived the idea for the twice life-sized bronze bison sculpture. Russell Crosby, committee member, sketched the bison to be submitted to the Oklahoma Centennial Commission for approval. The concept was then commissioned to sculptor Jim Gilmore of Alamosa, Colorado. Gilmore has created statues for Riverparks and Natureworks, both in Tulsa, in the past. Fundraising for the $250,000 project was accomplished by contributions from local businesses and individuals, in addition to a grant of $75,000 by the Centennial Commission.
Sapulpa’s contribution to the 2007 Oklahoma Centennial projects, a 12-foot tall bison, stands guard on New Sapulpa Road near Interstate 44.
Helping make the project a reality were Russell Crosby of TSU Railroad and Rick Engleman of American Heritage Bank. “Russell and Rick adopted the project and ran with it,” says Betty Calley, executive director of the Sapulpa Chamber of Commerce. “I can’t give them enough credit for all they were able to accomplish.” Additionally, Calley praised the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority for all their assistance and cooperation involving the project. Engleman even traveled to Alamosa to visit sculptor Jim Gilmore at his studio while the giant bison was being created.
The first phase of the project has included the selection of the site for the Sapulpa Centennial Bison, fundraising, as well as placement of “Guardian of the Plains” on a 15-foot mound across from the Sapulpa Cinema 8 movie theater. Phase two will include the paving of a parking area and a walking trail near the sculpture, in addition to the planting of evergreens. It is hoped that the 6,000-pound, bronze bison will reflect the rich heritage and culture of Oklahoma’s history.
Blankenship graduated from the University of Oklahoma and has enjoyed a lifetime career in advertising. He started his own advertising business in 1993 and enjoys creating graphic art and writing. Hobbies include hunting, fishing and pencil drawings. Duane and his wife, Janice, have been married over 50 years and are active in their church and community. He has been a contributing writer for Value News/Values Magazine since 2005.