The wind has turned cold and the skies to a steel grey. Fog creeps into the hollows every morning, and the coon hounds can be heard running every night. The leaves are teasing that they might reveal their vibrant color any moment, or with a hard frost will go straight to dull brown. It is the beginning of autumn in northeast Oklahoma, and the October festival season is upon us. In small towns and cities across the state, everything from heritage and tradition to music and beer will be celebrated. People will come out for the food, music, parades, and people watching. Princesses and Queens will be crowned, and traditions will continue to give people a sense of community and joy.
Yesterday (Oct. 11, 2014), I went back to my hometown, Salina, OK, to enjoy our annual Chouteau Day festivities. Salina was founded in the late 1700's by French trader Jean Pierre Chouteau. He chose the location of his trading post to be close to the river and Saline Creek. It is believed to be the oldest European town in Oklahoma. It now sits between the rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains and Lake Hudson and has long been proud of it's hunting, fishing and agricultural background with the mix of strong Cherokee heritage.
The Chouteau Day festivities consist of your standard fare of corn dogs, funnel cakes, and Indian tacos. They have plenty activities for kids and kids at heart ranging from burlap sack and stick horse races to 3D archery and BB gun shootouts. The phenomenal talents of Lost on Utica and Travis Kidd are blasted the length of main street thanks to support of Backward Audio. Between the music talent they sneak in a costume contest for the kids and the crowning of the Chouteau Day Princess, Jessi Jordan. The crowning is done by the reigning Chouteau Day Princess Chloe Stewart. She is then handed her official portrait, shot by Watt Design Photography. Travis Kidd takes the stage and then it is time for the parade.
Main Street is lined shoulder to shoulder with people, kids eagerly waiting out front to get candy as the floats come by. The cops shut down the bridge and highway and a squad car leads the parade down the street. The squad car is followed by the flag bearers from local VFW, and every hat is removed and every heart covered. The Chouteau Princess, Cherokee ambassador, a smorgasbord of floats, football homecoming royalty, the Shriners in their mini cars, and a score of other oddities stream by during the 20 minute parade. The kids go home with a pocketful of candy and the adults stuffed with their favorite festival food.
New memories are crafted, friendships expanded and a community strengthened. It is days like this that our princess will reminisce and tell her future grandchildren about. It is moments and traditions like this that the children will cherish when they are old and wise. It is the pure, simple joy of a small town festival with their locally crafted goods and their love of their neighbors that add a sense of belonging to the town. No matter how far they go, who they become, or how much of their roots they forget, they will never stop remembering the fun of riding a float in parade, chasing candy, riding a pony, or even a camel, in the carefree days of small town festivals.
More images from Chouteau Day 2014 are available at http://www.wattdesignphotography.com/p641904833