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Osage Nation wins former railroad land lawsuit in state court

Thirty-one acres south of Main Street in Pawhuska are now Osage Nation property after an Osage County District Court land case ended in the Nation’s favor.

The 31.05 acres at issue once served as a railroad right of way until railroad use ended in the 1960s. Afterward, the land went through a variety of uses by area residents and businesses, which included storage and even dumping purposes. In December 2013, the Nation – through a real estate attorney – filed a quiet title petition in court against 30-plus defendants who were all known to inhabit the right of way land at some point.   

After three-plus years of court filings and negotiations, the Nation is declared “the record owner of the fee title” for the land, according to a June 22 ruling issued by District Judge John Kane. The ruling came after a protest period expired and none of the defendants contested the petition.

Defendants in this case included: Allen Brothers Feed & Supply, Formby Oil & Propane, Acadia Family Medical Clinic, Loftis Construction Company, Oklahoma Natural Gas, Benson Lumber Company and Osage Building Material Co, which burned down in a July 2013 fire.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said he is pleased with the decision, noting the efforts to reclaim the land dates back to the 1970s when he worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Realty department. At that time, Standing Bear took a break from law school and his BIA job included identifying the rights of way for the railroad.

“It’s an issue that’s finally been resolved, we’ve been able to do it under our new government and new Constitution,” Standing Bear said. “It took all the powers of the Osage to acquire that land.”

In 2013, then-Attorney General Jeff Jones started working with Tulsa real estate attorney William Eagleton to file the quiet title petition. After the defendants were served, negotiations started with those who hired attorneys, Jones said, adding some of the other defendants were already deceased and some defaulted on responses.

During the negotiations, Jones (now an Assistant AG for the Nation) said one defendant argued he bought some of the land at issue but ended up learning his land deed was written incorrectly. Another defendant was surprised to learn he bought some of the land from another individual who didn’t own the land in the first place, so he was scammed, Jones said.

As far as the City of Pawhuska, Jones said city officials disclaimed any interest in the land but asked that rights of way for existing roads and utilities be kept open and running.

The 31.05 acres of land covers an area that formally served as a depot area for the railroad and even stretches east to Bird Creek where the trains were taken for turn-around purposes and water refills for steam engines, Jones said.

Standing Bear said “we don’t see any environmental problems, but we see opportunity” to develop the land for future uses. So far, there are no definite plans for the land, but Standing Bear said he’s instructed executive staff to look at development costs for a sports complex for community use. Another idea includes building a parking lot that would alleviate traffic snarls downtown, he said.

Pawhuska is experiencing increases in daytime vehicle traffic due to increases in visitors and tourism with most of the crowd coming to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile owned by Food Network star Ann Marie “Ree” Drummond who opened the deli/ bakery/ store in October 2016. Since then, the traffic situation triggered several debates, complaints and conversations on social media due to the shortage of parking spaces in front of businesses and other entities near “The Merc.”

Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn said: “Our long-term goal is to link the new Eco-Park (near Bird Creek) and the railroad property, creating a walking and biking trail that links directly to the downtown area. Some city property is involved, and we are working cooperatively with the City of Pawhuska to resolve those issues.”      

Red Corn said funding for a feasibility use study on the land will likely come through the ON Congress since the property is a capital asset.

“Engineering work has started on the Eco-Park and funding to complete those trails is secured through the Osage Nation Roads program,” Red Corn said. “We believe the railroad property represents a vital link between downtown and the Eco-Park, making careful study of its potential that much more important.”


Benny Polacca

Original Publish Date: 2017-08-04 00:00:00


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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.

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