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The Story of Devil's Den

by
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Pennington Creek in Johnston County runs through Tishomingo, OK. Devil’s Den, a tourist attraction that dates back to the 19th Century, is part of Pennington Creek between Pennington Creek Park on the north and Tishomingo on the south. Two huge, granite boulders called Granite Canyon became the namesake of Devil’s Den, but many more fantastic rocks lie strewn around. The Oklahoman newspaper considers Devil’s Den one of Oklahoma’s seven wonders (1). Devil’s Den made it into the 1970, September, issue of Rocks and Minerals via a memory of Florence Stalfa Braun (1907-1995) (2). Taylor and Francis recently published her account online.


Since many people who would love to visit Devil’s Den cannot do so and will never see its magnificent, natural works of art, including me, I will let Florence give her description of the now defunct public park :


“It (Devil’s Den) lies in a privately owned park two and one half miles north of Tishomingo, Oklahoma, on State Highway 99 and two miles west over a secondary road (Devil’s Den Road), which leads up to gate adjacent to a house, where a sign indicates admittance to the park by fee (now a house sits 50 feet from the sign). Thereafter, a mile-long rustic road leads through fields of untouched native blue-stem grass and scattered granite abutments, and up to the scenic spot on Pennington Creek.


A few of these boulders are shaped like mammals. As time and elements have turned their pink coloring into a tawny brown, a touch of realism exists. These stones become apparitions of a large herd of prehistoric animals, huddled together in a dormant state, awaiting some definite signal from nature to pick up their way of life and again walk the earth (3).”


Devil’s Den Park grew in time as an outdoor venue where people hosted their yearly family reunions and boy and girl scout type of clubs learned outdoor skills during their summer breaks. It was a special place where people married and spent their honeymoons.


An unknown producer filmed a movie named Chasing the Devil Out of the Den at the park in 1911, and premiered it at the Oklahoma State Fair that year (4). No other information that we know of at this time about that movie exists. Back in the day, the owners of the original Devil’s Den Park printed postcards and flyers. I found an old eBay listing of Devil’s Den, Oklahoma, postcards that sold for 50 cents each in 2013 (5).


Exact dates do not appear in archives at this time, but Cody Reynolds and the Chickasaw Bank Museum staff in Tishomingo relayed much of this information to me and stated that Devil’s Den Park opened sometime in the 1930s and closed in the 1980s when the property sold to new private owners (6). You can no longer see the monstrous rocks of Devil’s Den Park’s namesake unless you kayak through Devil’s Den.


When the water is high, you may kayak through Devil’s Den, but americanwhitewater.org lists this trip as a difficult one which requires experienced kayaking skills. In years with little and regular rates of rainfall, kayakers find it hard to paddle through the shallow waters of Devil’s Den. If you kayak through Devil’s Den, you may not let your kayak or yourself touch any land on the sides of the bank because you risk breaking an Oklahoma trespassing law.


An avid kayaker named Kevin Blackwood took real advantage of our 2015 floods and kayaked from the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery to Tishomingo on Pennington Creek. You can read his Pennington Creek kayak journals and see the maps that show where to launch kayaks on Pennington Creek here:


Kevin's short account
Kevin's detailed account
Detailed map


Kevin wrote an extremely detailed account about all of the launching areas on this nine-mile stretch of Pennington Creek and where to get out of the creek so that you do not trespass. No businesses rent kayaks in the area, so it is BYOB or bring your own boat.


The Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery informed me that wire fencing was strung across Pennington Creek north of Devil’s Den for awhile, but Kevin kayaked all the way through it last year (6). He warned people about the trespassing law in his accounts, and he reported no fencing. People can launch kayaks on the fish hatchery property and in Pennington Creek Park which the City of Tishomingo operates (7).


Local residents and tourists became terribly, emotionally upset for at least a decade after Devil’s Den Park closed its gate to the public. Very few pictures of Devil’s Den Park exist online. Please do not confuse Oklahoma’s Devil’s Den with Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas on the web. The Chickasaw Bank Museum in Tishomingo houses tons of photos of Devil’s Den (4). Western outlaws of the 19th century were purported to have called Devil’s Den home. Historical rumors tell of a little cabin where Belle Star once lived in Devil’s Den Park and that the James and Younger gangs also hid out there (8).


One more interesting fact about Devil’s Den involves a species of the seaside alder plant, found only in three geographically separate regions in the U.S., Devil’s Den, Oklahoma, Georgia, and a large area in Maryland and Delaware. In spite of its name, this plant flourishes in fresh water. See more information and a picture of seaside alder here:


http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/2013-71-2-the-strange-range-of-seaside-alder.pdf


Sadly, when I discovered Devil’s Den ten years ago, I found out that the owners of the entrance to Devil’s Den will not tolerate any human traffic or trespassing through their property. Back then, I had hoped that someday, some property owner near Devil’s Den would allow visitors once again. No one can blame the owners for guarding their property, especially if they don’t want to operate a mini Turner Falls, but the situation begs this question: How and why did the State of Oklahoma allow this to happen in the 1980s? The Arbuckle formations are known as one of the oldest mountain ranges in the U.S. and date back 1.4 billion years.


Below are a few pictures I was able to capture from Devil’s Den’s glory days, and the research links. I have opened all of the photos and zoomed them out with OK results in Cyber Link Photo Director and Microsoft Picture Manager. Some look better in Photo Director and others look better in Picture Manager.


1. http://newsok.com/article/3849585


2. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=78043706


3. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00357529.1970.11767243


4. http://chickasawcountry.com/history-culture/chickasaw-bank-museum


5.http://www.ebay.com/itm/oklahoma-tishomingo-pennington-creek-pyramid-rocks-devils-den-park-postcard-old-/360770166344


6. https://www.fws.gov/southwest/fisheries/tishomingo/


7. http://www.travelok.com/listings/view.profile/id.5819


8. http://www.sermonillustrator.org/illustrator/sermon14/devils_den_memories.htm







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