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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Ripley, located on the Cimarron River in southeastern Payne County, is eight miles east of Stillwater on State Highway 51 and seven miles south on State Highway 108. The Santa Fe railroad initiated the development of Ripley, which was named after the railroad's president. Lots were sold at auction on January 13, 1900. Three months later the Ripley Times reported that the town was bustling with one thousand dwellers.

The Santa Fe depot was the hub of the town, with several passenger trains arriving daily. The depot's restaurant, often referred to as a Harvey House, served lunch to passengers. When the first wagon bridge across the Cimarron was completed on July 31, 1900, the town celebrated until 1:30 in the morning. North of the river was Ghost Hollow, which, according to legend, was haunted by the spirits of American Indians and outlaws. It was also a favorite haunt of Ripley's young folks.

In addition to the railroad, agriculture was the community's primary source of income. Through the 1920s a nearby large farm known as the Morehead plantation, owned by Brian Morehead, hired many African American laborers to grow cotton. In the teens and twenties, oil fields near Cushing, Ingalls, Clayton, and Mehan raised hopes for Ripley, and Ripley's Mul-Berry Oil, headed by Thomas N. Berry, successfully drilled wells in the area. After the stock market crash of 1929 reduced oil activity, the onset of the Great Depression sent the town into an economic decline. When a 1957 flood washed out the railroad bridge, Ripley's chances for economic development were greatly reduced.

Ripley's most famous resident was Billy McGinty (1871–1961), a Roosevelt Rough Rider and a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. On May 7, 1925, Billy McGinty's Cowboy Band, from Ripley, played over KFRU radio in Bristow. This was the nation's first radio broadcast by a Western string band. McGinty also served as the last president of the Roosevelt Rough Riders Association.

At 1907 statehood Ripley's population was 346. It continued to rise to 406 in 1920 and peaked at 487 in 1930. Numbers declined to 292 and 263 in 1950 and 1960, respectively. The 1980 census reported 451 citizens, and the 1990, 376. By 2000 none of Ripley's original downtown businesses remained, but the town's 444 residents had schools, churches, a post office, a convenience store, and an enduring community spirit. Ripley had 403 citizens in 2010.

Carla S. Chlouber


Alvan Mitchell and Veneta Berry Arrington, Little Tom and Fats (Stillwater, Okla.: Forum Press, 1983).

D. Earl Newsom, The Story of Exciting Payne County (Stillwater, Okla.: New Forums Press, 1997).

Pat Skaggs et al., Cimarron Family Legends, 2 vols. (Perkins, Okla.: Evans Publications, 1978).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Carla S. Chlouber, “Ripley,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=RI010.

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