TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Not every story of Tahlequah's history is a pleasant one, and some of the scars from the past are still exposed and present today.
When looking at the Bluff Avenue wall, the words "Welcome to Tahlequah" are painted across it. But what some may not notice is the crippled pillar that remains from when a driver died in a fiery crash 71 years ago.
Clyde Ray Fraley was traveling on Choctaw Street when his brakes failed. While traveling down the hill, his vehicle, which was carrying about 40,000 pounds of gasoline, gained speed and 35 to 40 mph before striking the wall.
Tahlequah Fire Department logs report the collision occurred at 9 a.m. on Feb. 19, 1948, just seven years after the bridge was constructed.
The retaining wall has long been called the "viaduct" by many local residents, but no one is sure why. It acts as a divider between Bluff Avenue and Choctaw Street.
"I know a lot of residents refer to it as the 'viaduct,' but I do my best to refer to it as the 'Welcome To Tahlequah' retaining wall," said Jami Murphy, Tahlequah city public relations specialist. "A viaduct usually refers to long bridges connected by arches, and that location is obviously not that."
During the reconstruction of Bluff Avenue, which was completed in January, the bridge was left in its current state while street work was performed. But it did not sweep away the last vestiges of the crash.
Court documents from a later settlement case for Fraley's wife and daughter said when the truck "jackknifed" while going over a railroad crossing, it caused the joint between the truck and the gasoline trailer to fold.
"This is usually caused by braking of the speed of the tractor or truck section only, which allows the trailer section to exert a forward pressure against the rear of the tractor and thus push the rear wheels of the tractor out of the line of travel," the court documents said.
The story is one that sticks with long-time residents.
"I remember hearing about it as a kid, and even to this day, the viaduct is still scarred from what happened that day," said Tahlequah Fire Chief Ray Hammons.
A plaque on the retaining wall commemorates Fraley for sacrificing his life "for the school children of Tahlequah."
"It's a major event in our city's history, and he sacrificed his life to keep from running over kids because his brakes went out as he was coming down Choctaw hill," Hammons said. "He was making sure no one else was injured in the incident. Fraley is the hero in this story."