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2013 Year in Review: Fires, murder among hot topics

Fires were hot topics for discussion in and around Pawhuska during 2013, with high-impact blazes making headlines in the PJC throughout the year.

On Jan. 9, Pawhuska firefighters saved the day by dousing an early-morning blaze at the Osage County Historical Society Museum. Their rapid response kept the fire from destroying priceless collections housed in the museum, which is located in a former train depot. Repair of the fire damage brought about some much-needed improvements at the site. After re-locating for much of the year, the expanded museum facility re-opened during the summer.

High-profile fires cast destruction, and even death, in 2013. In late January, a house fire on 13th Street claimed the life of a 47-year-old Pawhuska man.

In July, a fiery inferno torched a local lumber yard and adjoining structures on former railroad right-of-way in the central part of town. Major losses were reported at the building materials site from the fire that originated in a hay-storage area — possibly was caused by combustion. Elsewhere in Osage County, a Wynona church was badly damaged by a fire that was believed to have been set to cover up a burglary. A short time later, a break-in at the Avant Fire Station led to the theft and destruction of the main truck used by the volunteer department.

Another fire recovery story broke closer to home, where The Bronze Horse art gallery produced its first piece since a December 2012 blaze destroyed the company foundry south of town.

Trials, tribulations

One story that occupied local headlines throughout 2013 was the criminal prosecution of a pair of admitted murderers, Rusty Boyd Petty, 42, and Trysta Shaffer, 29.

They were charged with the August 2012 robbery-related slaying of a 61-year-old Bartlesville man, Timothy Allen Hauser. When the year began, the victim’s body had just been found in rural Osage County. Following legal juxtapositioning and a July preliminary hearing, both defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in December to serve 25 years of 35-year prison terms.

Also capturing headlines in 2013 was the intra-tribal squabble involving Osage Nation Chief John D. Red Eagle. As the year ended, a removal trial was about to begin in the tribal Congress for Red Eagle, who was elected in 2010. (He filed for re-election in December). The principal chief had been investigated during the summer on allegations of malfeasance and abuse of power. A congressional committee recommended his removal from office based on its findings involving six of the charges. The Osage Congress voted 12-0 to conduct the unprecedented trial.

A financial scandal was at the heart of another year-long court case which involved a number of Osage County residents. The ongoing Focus Group case revolved around former Barnsdall music minister Larry Joe Dearman and a Bartlesville businesswoman, Marya Gray. It started with a civil lawsuit filed by an Osage County victim in late 2012 and grew to include more than a dozen suits. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission estimated that more than $3 million was involved in various schemes. In November, the Washington County District Attorney’s office filed state criminal charges against Gray and Dearman.

In September, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal government owed an accounting to Osage Headright holders — breathing new life into the decade old Fletcher v. United States case.

Community Improvements

City-wide cleanup efforts, downtown development projects and a master plan for parks were underway in Pawhuska during 2013 — paving the way for a better and brighter future.

New additions sparked the downtown business area, where the Constantine Theatre continued to re-emerge as a key focal point. The Pawhuska Business Development Center also was becoming a key for the growth of the local economy.

The Osage Nation Congress launched the initial phase of a $23 million Campus Master Plan involving major construction and improvements to ON facilities near downtown.

Local school improvements included stadium renovations and improvements to athletic facilities, which were funded largely through tribal grants.

Energy Spent on Energy

Announcement that the Flanagan South Pipeline would cross Osage County promised boosts for local employment and the economy, with major optimism tinged by the threat of dangerous spills involving the controversial dilbit sludge.

First-ever discussions were held between federal officials and landowners as part of planned revisions of oil-and-gas drilling regulations for Osage County. Negotiations with U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs brought a call for changes by area cattlemen and other property owners. As the year came to a close, the discussions continued and some issues remained largely unresolved.

Plans for the development of a large-scale wind energy facility west of town continued to draw controversy, although construction has still not started on the project that was initially approved three years ago. In 2013, the permit for the 94-turbine wind farm was transferred from one company to another. Also, the developer’s application for an “eagle-take” permit drew united opposition from Osage Nation and other Native American organizations, as well as from nature conservation and wildlife groups.

Some Notable Passings

Maria Tallchief, the Fairfax-born prima ballerina of the Osage, died in May. She was 88…Osage County rancher John Hughes passed away in June. He was 80…In September, former Osage Principal Chief George Tall Chief died at age 96.

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