Limestone mining on Longhorn Mountain, northwest of Lawton, could start anytime. The company that leases the land on the western side has a permit to mine, and just needs to put up some bond money with the state Department of Mines to get started.
This is a surprise to the Kiowa Tribe, which has used Longhorn Mountain for hundreds of years as a temple where tribe members pray, have vision quests and retrieve sacred cedar used in many rituals.
But the mining shouldn’t come as a surprise. Cushing, Okla.-based Material Service Corporation — and President Larry Stewart — has had a permit for a 370-acre mine on the site for almost 10 years. It’s up to the company to decide when and whether to go forward with the project.
Company attorney Elizabeth Nichols says when and whether to go forward with the project is a business decision.
“We’ve had the authority from the Department of Mines since 2004 to go ahead and mine,” Nichols says. “We were considering and entertaining the process of going forward on mining that property, and there’s no definitive date set for going forward.”
While the prospect of mining on Longhorn Mountain shocked the Kiowas, Material Service was itself shocked to hear the land was sacred.
“We leased it from the landowners, and at no time were we told of any utilization of it by the tribe,” Nichols says.
The story of Longhorn Mountain is full of surprises.
There are five landowners on Longhorn Mountain — two on the east side, two on the west, and one in the middle — and none of them are members of the Kiowa Tribe. The landowners on the eastern side have always allowed Kiowas onto their property to pick cedar and pray.
Tribal historian Phil “Joe-Fish” Dupoint emphasizes the cultural importance of the mountain, and the cedars that grow here.
“It has a unique scent of its own. It makes you feel good spiritually,” Dupoint says. “The old people used to come here, and they used to pray. God guided them here. God guided the Kiowas here. This particular mountain here, God gave it to them. And what grows here, God gave it to them.”
He describes the mountain as a temple, and the tribe hasn’t always needed permission to visit it.
In the mid-1800s, the mountain was made part of a Kiowa reservation. Later it was broken up into lots and given to individual tribe members. When the Great Depression hit, the Kiowa owners sold.
Fast-forward to the early 2000s, when landowners on the western side of the mountain agreed to lease their land to Material Service of Oklahoma and President Larry Stewart. The legally required announcement was made at that time, but unless you’re an avid reader of the Hobart Democrat-Chief, you probably missed it. Kiowa Tribal Museum Director Amie Tah-Bone sure did.
“The definite time that we learned about it was in May,” Tah-Bone says.
That’s when she heard Material Service was looking to hire workers for a new limestone mine.
While the mine would be confined to the western side of the mountain, and there’s nothing threatening to keep Kiowa tribe members from gathering cedar on the east side, it would pretty much completely devastate the western side — which is also sacred. And the tribe worries about the impact of dust and noise pollution on the eastern side.
UNDER THE RADAR
The formal announcement of the permit application ran in the Hobart newspaper for four weeks in 2004, and asked residents and businesses within one mile of the proposed mine to write letters to the Department of Mines if they wanted to protest and be granted a hearing.
Pete Fischer and his family live and farm near the western side of Longhorn Mountain, and were the only ones to write a protest letter.
“That south wind, it’s gonna cover my house up, and the dynamiting of it’s gonna tear the house up. We’ll have to move,” Fischer says.
But if protesters want a hearing, the law requires they ask for one. The letter from the Fischer family didn’t specifically ask for a hearing, so there wasn’t one, and the permit process continued.
The Department of Mines sent a letter back explaining the law, but Fischer is adamant that they never received it.
“Supposedly, they sent us a letter back to meet with them, but I know they didn’t, because I’d have responded,” Fischer says. “Something like that — I’d have thought they’d send it registered, certified, something so they know we got it.”
It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Minerals Division Director Bret Sholar has been with the Department of Mines since 2002, and the division’s director since July 2012. He says the agency isn’t in the business of outright denying permits.
“I can’t recall, myself, when we have done it. Not in my time here,” Sholar says.
All the proper forms were completed and the requirements met, and that’s all it takes.
“We can’t impose anything extra on them that we don’t on anybody else,” Sholar says.
It seems the only one who could stop the mine is Larry Stewart. Stewart didn’t return StateImpact’s calls for comment. Amie Tah-Bone says she spoke to him once, not long after learning about the mine.
“He said he wasn’t going to stop the project,” Tah-Bone says. “He said it would be like stopping a moving train, or something to that effect.”
Company attorney Elizabeth Nichols says she reached out to a representative from the Kiowa Tribe in early August, but has yet to hear back about setting up a meeting to discuss its concerns and come to a compromise.