The county seat of Blaine County, Watonga is located within the former Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation, opened for non-Indian settlement in the land run on April 19, 1892.  Developed at that time from a tent city, the town was named for Arapaho Chief Wa-ton-gha, whose name meant Black Coyote.  A post office was established in 1892.  In 1901-02, the Enid and Anadarko Railway (later the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway) built a line from Guthrie sixty miles west through Watonga.  Constructed in 1906, the Blaine County Courthouse is one of several that predate statehood.

In October 1892, Thompson B. Ferguson arrived in Watonga and established the Watonga Republican newspaper.  In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as the 6th territorial governor of Oklahoma Territory.  According to legend, Roosevelt asked if there was one honest man in the entire territory that he could depend on to do the job, and Ferguson’s name was presented for consideration.  Ferguson wrote The Jayhawkers and Men on the Border.

His wife, Elva, authored They Carried the Torch: The Story of Oklahoma’s Pioneer Newspapers (1937) and also helped establish the Watonga Public Library. Elva Ferguson’s story of pioneer life and newspapers was the basis for Edna Ferber’s novel, Cimarron (1929).

At 1907 statehood Watonga’s local economy depended on the surrounding wheat-producing area.  Rural residents and town dwellers supported an opera house, a bottling works, four banks, three hotels, nine doctors, and more than a hundred other service providers.  Electric light service and city water system operated.  The presence of three elevators, a creamery, and two wagon yards indicated the importance of agribusiness

By 1920, the population numbered 1,678, reduced slightly because of the post-World War I agricultural depression and migration of residents to larger cities.

A new post office, completed in 1937, was selected to receive a mural as part of the New Deal art project.  Commissioned artist Edith Mahier painted the controversial mural depicting Chief Roman Nose and other Cheyenne on the day of the land run of 1892.

In 1940 the Watonga Cheese Factory was established in a building formerly occupied by an ice and electric plant.  The community continues to host the annual Cheese Festival each year since 1976.

In addition to the Watonga Republican newspaper, other businesses that continued to impact the community included United States Gypsum plant (established in 1905), Abstract & Guaranty of Blaine County (est. 1892), and Wheeler Brothers Grain (est. 1907).

Watonga is home to a culturally diverse population with an American Indian 8.6%, African American 15% and Hispanic 11.8% (2000 census).

Buildings included on the National Register of Historic Places include the Watonga National Guard Armory, the Blaine County Courthouse, the Noble Hotel, the Thompson Benton Ferguson House, the Cronkhite Ranch House, the United States Post Office and the J. H. Wagner House.

 Watonga’s notable citizens include Theresa Hunt Tyler, the town’s first dentist at a time when few women practiced that profession.  Native son Clarence Nash provided the voice of Walt Disney’s cartoon character Donald Duck.  Authors with local ties include Earnest Hoberecht, war correspondent and author of Asia is My Beat (1961) and Tokyo Romance (1947), William Cunningham, director of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Oklahoma Federal Writer’s Project and author of The Green Corn Rebellion (1935), Sidney Stewart who wrote Give Us This Day (1956), an autobiographical account of being a World War II prisoner of war and Leslie McRill, Oklahoma’s Poet Laureate in 1970. The most recently published author with Watonga ties is Kaci Cronkhite, author of Finding Pax.

Sources consulted:

  • Centennial History of the Watonga Area: 1892-1992
  • “Theresa Hunt-Tyler: Watonga’s First Resident Dentist” Oklahoma Dental Association Journal
  • This Old House
  • The Chronicles of Oklahoma
  • Watonga Republican

Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture