The old town of Meers sprang up during the gold rush days in the Wichita Mountains at the turn of the twentieth century. Gold fever swept the Wichita's during the 1890s fueled by tales of old Spanish mines and such stories as the report of a housewife near Meers who found a gold nugget "as large as No. 8 birdshot" in the claw of a chicken she was preparing for Christmas dinner. However, "Old-timers" in the Meers area say that a mine supply company in Kansas City, found itself with a large inventory of equipment as a result of a slowdown in the mines in Colorado. They purchased a mine in the Meers area, brought in miners from Cripple Creek, Colorado and "salted" the mine with gold nuggets from Colorado. And the rush was on!
On May 23, 1901, a group of miners met at the base of Mt. Sheridan, near where the present cedar grove is located, and organized a mining district. Out of respect for the first prospectors in the area, the miners named their camp Meers after Colonel Andrew Jackson Meers, who in 1989 found mineral rich quartzite outcroppings near the site.
On July 4, 1901, President William McKinley, by proclamation, created the Wichita Forest Reserve from part of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Kiowa-Apache Indian Reservation, which included the Meers site. In 1902, government officials ordered all persons, not actually engaged in mining, out of the Wichita Forest Reserve. Residents had to move their tents, belongings, and the beginnings of their permanent structures out of the Wichita Forest Reserve. A new town site was chosen 1½ miles north along Medicine Creek. The Meers Store was relocated on the ridge north of the creek on the west side of the road. The building was owned by F.C. Davis, a pharmacist, chemist, and assayer, and a Dr. Starbuck who published the "Mt. Sheridan Miner", a weekly newspaper. Dr. Starbuck was also noted for prescribing a locally distilled moonshine whiskey for medical purposes.
The town of Meers prospered for a number of years. During its heyday, Meers flourished with grocery stores, drug stores, a café, three doctors, a smelter, post office, a confectionery, the Mt. Sheridan Miner, and an estimated population of 500 hardy souls.
Mining fever lasted until 1905, when a University of Oklahoma geologist investigated on behalf of the United States Geological Survey and reported that precious minerals found in the ore samples he had collected were not in sufficient quantity to justify extracting them. The geologist was lambasted by promoters and prospectors, but his report put a damper on mining activities, and Meers began to decline. As the years passed, and the population of Meers dwindled, the old building was sold several times. By 1922 when Noel Lilly and his father Dick purchased it from Tom and Tinny Goss, there were about 75 people living in Meers.
The Lilly's promptly dismantled the building and rebuilt it ½ mile north, at its present location, to take advantage of the ever increasing automobile traffic coming to Meers from the east. They operated a print shop, a grocery store, and sold medications. In 1925, the Lilly's sold the store only to re-purchase it in 1932. Noel was postmaster and is family lived in the store. There was no electricity and water had to be hauled from a well north of Jimmy Creek. A gas pump was installed to service automobiles. During the depression years, the Meers Store stocked government issued food. Coffee sold for 15 cents a pound.
Electricity reached the Meers Store in 1939 and brought with it a much better lifestyle for the Lilly family. Noel and his wife Agnes had five children and in 1939 decided to move to Elgin, so their oldest child could attend Elgin High School. The Huddleston family operated the store during the war years.
Lee and Gladys Myers purchased the Meers Store in 1949. Lee enlarged the building to the north and added new living quarters. A well was dug, but the water had an "oily" taste and was not potable, though it was alright for other uses. The "out house" was replaced with a modern indoor "convenience".
Lee purchased a refrigerator display case, a meat grinder, a slicer, and a butcher block. Fresh meats were added to the stores inventory, as well as an expanded grocery line. Meanwhile, Gladys got a new cook stove and griddle for her kitchen. The Meers Store became the headquarters for visitors to the Wildlife Refuge. Picnic and camping supplies as well as groceries and other necessities were available. Refuge visitors purchased everything from paper plates to canned beans, to wieners and freshly ground beef for the day's outing at one the many picnic and campsites then available.
However, Gladys became famous for her cooking. In her new kitchen, Gladys began preparing hamburgers made with Lee's ground beef. She soon added coconut cream and pecan pie, chili, and breakfast featuring her homemade biscuits and gravy. Her fame spread rapidly. Soon she, with the help from neighbors, was preparing 14,000 hamburgers and 1,100 pies annually. Her busiest day was Sunday, when she would cook 225 hamburgers and do all this on a 4-burner stove and a 24" griddle. Lee was often heard to say "slowdown a little Gladys, you are cooking them faster than I can grind this beef."
During the depression years, Civilian Conservation Corps workers built 22 picnic and campsites in the Refuge. These sites were very popular with visitors. They were removed in the early 1970s as a result of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy change which mandated a reduction in human activity in the refuge and that the refuge was created for wildlife preservation, not human recreation. This policy has been modified somewhat. The Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge is unique in that it is a "Big Game" preserve (buffalo, longhorn cattle, elk, and deer). Humans are of little threat to them and the buffalo and longhorn are no longer endangered. There are now three picnic areas and one campsite in the refuge. Hiking and rock climbing are still permitted.
The Myers sold the store in 1969, after operating it for almost 21 years, to Frank and Lucille Sales. The Sale's tenure saw the drastic policy changes take affect in the Wildlife Refuge that caused changes to be made at the Meers Store. Meers was gradually becoming a destination point instead of a stop on the way to the Wildlife Refuge. Grocery sales dwindled. Hamburger sales increased. Rural Water District #1 completed a water line to Meers in 1972.
Frank Sales untimely death in 1974 resulted in the Sales family selling the store to Al Foster in 1976. Al completed the transition from neighborhood grocery store to regional restaurant. He replaced grocery shelves with restaurant tables and chairs for 60 people. He added a 48" griddle to the kitchen. Burgers came out faster, but not fast enough. Local cowboys would order 2 or 3 hamburgers for lunch. Al figured that one large burger would better satisfy these heavy eaters and lessen the pressure in the kitchen. It worked! The Meersburger was born!
Al also added Ribeye steaks to the menu, but with a unique twist. The whole loin was brought to the table. The customer marked the size he wanted with a knife. His steak was cut and weighed, and cooked to his order. The cost was $1.00 per ounce and included a baked potato and salad. Steak sales started at 5:00 PM. Hamburger sales had to end at 5:00. The kitchen was too small to do both at the same time. Besides, Al's limited refrigeration space had room for only 100 pounds of ground beef and that was usually sold out by 5:00 anyway. In 1977, then Oklahoma Governor David Boren signed the proclamation that put the old building on the National Registry of Historic Places
The Meers Store was sold again in May of 1983 to Joe and Margie Maranto. Joe's 33 years experience in the restaurant business, which included the development of the Underwood Bar-B-Q chain, gave the Maranto's a different perspective from the previous owners. First, the menu was expanded to include these ever popular items: Bar-B-Q, Chicken Fried Steak, giant BLT sandwich, homemade Ice Cream and Banana Pudding. The kitchen was made twice as large. Two walk-in refrigerators and a walk-in freezer were built. A new entry area was built which allowed the dining rooms to be expanded to seat 114 people. A new meat grinder that can grind up 60 pounds of beef in less than five minutes was purchased. Joe's goal of having the capacity to have enough equipment and supplies to take care of any demand was finally realized.
Next, Joe's attention turned south to the Wildlife Refuge. How could the Meers Store establish a closer relationship with Refuge? The obvious answer to Joe was to serve Buffalo, but it would require enough buffalo to make 275 buffalo burgers everyday. This could possibly put the buffalo back on the endangered species list. There just was not a large enough source to supply this. Buffalo can at times be hard to handle and are dangerous, so starting a herd for the Meers Store was out of the question. The Texas Longhorn was a different story.
In 1927, the U.S. Forest Service gathered 20 cows and 3 bulls to save the longhorn from extinction and brought them to the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve, as the refuge was known then. There are several hundred thousand Longhorn cattle now. They are as hardy as the buffalo and twice as prolific. They are easy to handle. They are lazy cowman's dream and they were saved from extinction just 1½ miles south of the store. "Meers Longhorns", the Meers Store's own Longhorn herd was established and supplies 50 bulls and 36 steers to the Meers Store annually. The medical community gave the Longhorns a boost when they encouraged a reduced fat diet. The characteristics that made the longhorn undesirable to yesterday's cowman make them desirable today. They are naturally lean, University tests have shown Texas Longhorn beef to be lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than chicken.
In May of 1985, the Oklahoma Geological Survey installed a seismograph in the Meers Store to monitor the Meers fault, a crack in the earth's crust, which is visible from the air for 15 miles. The Meers Store became "MEO - Meers Observatory" and has proven to be one of the most sensitive stations in the country. The Meers Seismograph has recorded earthquakes in the Indian Ocean over 10,300 miles from Meers, Russian nuclear tests, a mine collapse in Michigan, and a natural gas explosion in Brenham, Texas. On April 20, at 5:02:27 am a magnitude 2 trembler occurred 17 miles north of Meers, the first earthquake felt in Oklahoma, in 1997 was recorded. The epicenter, 2 miles west of the old Pine Ridge community, was close enough to Meers to break the pin on the seismograph.
After enjoying your visit to our Meers Store, a visit to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a must. Herds of Buffalo, Longhorn, Elk, and Deer roam the open range. Stop by the new Visitors Center. Visit the Holy City. Drive to the top of Mount Scott. Our spectacular mountains lie in stark contrast to most of the rest of Oklahoma with their rugged peaks and giant boulders.