History & Tall Tales

Have you ever been to Dirty Shame? Slapout? Cutthroat Gap? Pie Flat? What about Dead Indian Lake? These are just a few of the funny, tragic or controversial Oklahoma place names and their origin that local and award winning author, Jim Marion Etter has included in his latest book, What a Dirty Shame: 100 Unforgettable Place Names of Oklahoma.

Etter is a seventy-four year-old, self-proclaimed, "nostalgic soul" and fan of all things in the Western genre. "I love to bring up memories and write about them," he explained. He's the author of several books and a well-seasoned freelance writer.

Funny and touching stories of the almost forgotten days of the Oklahoma frontier spring to life on the pages of his books. Others you may be familiar with include Ghost-Town Tales of Oklahoma, Thunder in the Heartland and Between Me & You & The Gatepost.

He found his niche while covering seven counties in eastern Oklahoma when he worked for the Muskogee Phoenix newspaper early on in his writing career. "I wrote about rural people and really found my calling."

He explained that even if people grew up in cities like Oklahoma City and Tulsa, many could trace their history back to farms or the land run. "Many are part American Indian. And it's still a frontier type state and that comes out when you talk to rural people," said Etter.

Etter grew up in the small eastern Oklahoma town of Oktaha. According to Etter, the population was a mere "couple hundred people." He graduated from Northeastern State University with a B.A. in Journalism.

As a beginning writer, he paid his dues. "I really wanted to work for a newspaper and learn my trade. So I started in the advertising department at the Muskogee Phoenix and primarily serviced used car dealers, selling them classified jobs. It was a piddly little job that I was thrilled to have."

After working in advertising, he landed his first serious journalism job at a small newspaper in Laredo, Texas, where he was the editor on a three-person staff. He also worked for a local television station in Laredo, where he wrote news and sold advertising.

Eventually he became a staff reporter for The Daily Oklahoman newspaper, reporting on all of Oklahoma. He retired after twenty years. Soon after, he finished his first book, Ghost-Town Tales of Oklahoma, a collection of Oklahoma legends. "It's about places that are gone or almost gone and unusual things that have happened in those places," explained Etter.

One such story that stands out to Etter as being forgotten happened in 1759 on the Red River. The Spaniards moved north and raided the Wichita Indians. A bloody battle took place. "The Wichitas whipped the Spaniards. There are legends how they won the great battle," he said.

"I wanted to write another book like Ghost-Town Tales, but more extensive." What a Dirty Shame: 100 Unforgettable Place Names of Oklahoma is the book he finished last September that came out just in time for the Oklahoma centennial.

A funny and interesting fact in this book is about the Cimarron River. "Cimarron is one of my favorite names. It's a beautiful name that everyone seems to like in Oklahoma. The name started years ago, a Spanish word, and has a funny story behind it. There were cowboys in the Panhandle who took water from the river and tried to boil a pot of beans and it wouldn't simmer and one of them looked at it and said, 'Simmer on beans!'"

As well as writing books, Etter's articles have appeared in magazines including American Cowboy, Western Horseman, Permisson Hill, Desert Exposure, True West, Route 66 and many others. He is a member of the Oklahoma Writers' Federation and Western Writers of America.

Etter has come a long way since his days of working in advertising with so many books and articles to boot. With all his accomplishments, he has even more writing aspirations.

Along with being a gifted storyteller, Etter also travels throughout Oklahoma offering speaking engagements and book signings. For more information visit his Web site at www.jimetter.com.

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