The Chisholm Trail Museum is proud to announce a new exhibit focusing on the illustrious history of a small but influential college, entitled: “Kingfisher College: Institution of the Highest Order.” Through artifacts, original photographs, oral histories, and narrative, the exhibit reveals the story of how the small college on a hill established just five years after the Land Rush of 1889 (1894) in the small prairie town of Kingfisher, Oklahoma with a population of approximately 4,000, would perpetuate excellence of the highest standards, taking its place among the ranks of fellow institutions also founded by the Congregational Church, such as Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth. Although Kingfisher College only existed in Kingfisher for 28 years (1894-1922), and graduated only 117 students throughout those years, the school’s standards for excellence were second to none. Those standards were illuminated like the shining light of the sun to the town, state, nation and the world, as the small group of 117 Kingfisher College graduates would literally utilize their Kingfisher College education and contribute their hard earned expertise towards some of the most important achievements of the 20th century.
For example, Harriet Parker Camden, graduate of Kingfisher College and daughter of the founder of Kingfisher College, Reverend Joseph Homer Parker, would influence the state of Oklahoma by composing the first state song: “Oklahoma a Toast” which was signed into law by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1935. The original sheet music will be on display. Others who greatly contributed to the state’s and nation’s prominence were Charles D. Mahaffie, William Claude Vogt, and Ray Lange. These three Kingfisher College graduates all passed the rigorous Rhodes Scholarship examination and were accepted into the most prestigious works of study at Oxford University in the early 20th century. Charles Mahaffie of Kingfisher College was the first Oklahoma based collegiate student to earn the scholarship and accept appointment into this, the most prestigious scholarship in the world. They were the first three of five individuals to earn the scholarship and appointment in Oklahoma’s history.
Charles D. Mahaffie would go on to utilize his Kingfisher College and Oxford educations by first, serving as instructor in jurisprudence at Princeton University under Woodrow Wilson, then president of the university. In 1916, then president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson called Mahaffie to Washington D.C. where he served as solicitor for the department of interior. Mahaffie would go on to serve either under or beside U.S. presidents in several capacities through 1958.
Ray Lange, the third of three Kingfisher College Rhodes Scholars not only distinguished himself academically, but also physically. Lange was a standout athlete at Kingfisher College and continued that trend while studying at Oxford in England. Lange proved this by qualifying for and participating in the 1912 Olympics, alongside fellow Oklahoma native, Jim Thorpe. Although Lange did not medal in the Olympics, he is, to this day, only one of three dozen Oxford representatives to ever qualify for and participate in the Olympics in its one hundred plus year history.
Ernest Burgess, another Kingfisher College graduate would go on to study at the University of Chicago and later lay ground breaking work in the field of sociology, including introducing a sociological method named after him, called the Burgess Method of unit-weighed regression.
Continuing in this line of great achievements, Joyce Stearns, of Kingfisher College later became a physicist and an administrator of the Manhattan Project (the development of the atomic bomb during WWII), developing the metallurgical aspects of the atom bomb from 1944-1945.
In addition to higher academia illuminating from Kingfisher College graduates, there were several who served their country heroically. One in particular was George Norris. Mr. Norris temporarily dropped out of school in 1898 to serve his country during the Spanish American War. Mr. Norris was one of very few to serve with Theodore Roosevelt and the famed Rough Riders during this time. Mr. Norris later returned to complete his studies and was accepted to Harvard for Graduate School. Mr. Norris later became a teacher and coach at Guthrie High School.
Kingfisher College also illuminated athletes. The University of Oklahoma benefited from two particular athletes who previously played football for Kingfisher College. In a letter to the Kingfisher College board, then University of Oklahoma Football coach, Bennie Owen spoke highly of Bill Cross (OU quarterback in 1907) and Charlie Armstrong (OU fullback in 1909). He stated that each served the team with the highest of standards serving as captains. Bill Cross, in particular, showed this during the 1907 season when coach Bennie Owen was forced to miss two games after having his arm amputated. Mr. Cross coached and lead his team to victories during the coach’s absence.
By 1922, Kingfisher College closed its doors for good as a result of the college board’s investment in the town’s flour mill during World War I, which dropped as a result of the conclusion of the war. However, the Kingfisher College endowment was soon transferred to the University of Oklahoma as were all of the college’s official academic records and holdings from the library. Although Kingfisher College no longer exists in the town of Kingfisher, it is still alive at the University of Oklahoma through the Philosophy Department where the University chairs the Kingfisher College chair of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. The exceptional standards originally set by the original Kingfisher College are the same at the University of Oklahoma as they were at Kingfisher College 122 years ago. “The education offered by Kingfisher College was unique, even among those under private and religious auspices. It exemplified in the fullest degree the education values that can be derived from attendance at the smallest colleges. In this day of mass enrollments of tens of thousands of students who have distant, impersonal relationships with the faculty, it is refreshing to look back to the kind of education students were privileged to enjoy at Kingfisher College.”
Kingfisher College offered a second to none education to students who wished to progress in the ranks of Masters and Doctorate Degrees. Many more students would go on to earn Masters and Doctorates in various fields of study and would serve with the utmost standards in their respective fields.
605 Zellers Avenue Chisholm Trail Museum- Kingfisher, OK Phone 405-375-5176 Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am- 5 pm *closed on major holidays