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Historical Overview

Kessler Homestead

The KAEFS property was originally set aside as an allotment to relocated Choctaw and Chickasaw Native American tribes from the Southeastern United States. It was first homesteaded by a Choctaw family in 1904. Their original house is incorporated into the existing farmhouse. In 1908 the family purchased an additional 32 ha. They grazed approximately 50 dairy cattle and raised cotton, broom corn, and sorghum. In 1929, a windmill run well was erected. The depression resulted in the family suffering foreclosure and loss of the land in 1932, which was subsequently sold in 1940. Shortly after this change in ownership, the East Criner oilfield was developed, part of which underlies the field station. The new family owning the farm built a new water well and a stone barn (still standing and used for storage) for their dairy operation. Given the remote nature of the farm and the poor conditions of roads at that time, maintaining a dairy was not economically feasible and the farm was sold in 1945. The new owners maintained a small dairy herd and raised cotton, grain, peanuts and watermelons on the farm and adjoining leased land and until 1968. They also constructed a number of farm ponds with the aid of the Soil Conservation Service (now the NRCS) in the 1960s.

Dr. Edwin Kessler, a meteorologist and head of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, purchased the farm in 1973 and leased it until 1976 for cattle grazing. Wheat and sorghum were raised in bottomland pastures for cattle grazing. Cattle also grazed native grasslands on the upland areas. Since 1976, approximately 12 ha of formerly tilled land have been restored to native grasslands and Dr. Kessler completed several erosion control projects including a low water crossing for Finn Creek, adding fencing to protect areas along Finn Creek from degradation by cattle, and installation of gully plugs to slow drainage into the creek. Additions to and remodeling of the original house took place in 1974. The original windmill powered well was repaired. This well together with a well south of the original house and Finn Creek provide water for the house, livestock and irrigation. The well water has high sulfate, calcium and magnesium content, however. In 1975, a new equipment shed was constructed and in 1976, a guest cottage was built. In 1984, a small office building (500 ft2) was built.Dr. Kessler has undertaken a number of agricultural projects on the farm including bee-keeping, cold-frame gardening, raising homestead poultry, and rotational cattle grazing. He maintained a small cattle herd of approximately 23 cattle on the farm through 2010, which has subsequently been sold to Ben Dixon (KAEFS Facilities Manager). The herd continues to be grazed at KAEFS as a proxy for native herbivores through a grazing lease agreement with the University.

Kessler Homestead Today

On December 28, 1988, Dr. Kessler (now retired), donated ~ 90 ha of his family farm to the University of Oklahoma, Norman Campus. The remaining 53 ha were donated by Dr. Kessler on December 30, 2004 following the implementation of an NSF Improvements in Facilities, Communications, and Equipment at Biological Field Stations and Marine Laboratories planning grant to assist in developing the Kessler Farm Field Laboratory as a field site for research, education, and public outreach. An additional 10 acres were donated to KAEFS in 2011.

Dr. Linda Wallace, Professor of Botany and Microbiology, served as the first Director of KFFL. Under her leadership, several educational and outreach programs were developed and implemented including a workshop for K-12 teachers. Dr. Wallace also secured funding for a barn and other improvements at KFFL. She served as Director for KFFL until her passing in 2009. In 2012, the barn she secured funding for was named the Linda Wallace Barn in her memory.


KAEFS is sited on the rolling hills of the Permian Redbed region of Central Oklahoma. Mean annual temperature is 16oC with a January minimum of 3oC and a July maximum of 28oC. Mean annual precipitation is 96.7 cm (average from 1948 to 1999, Oklahoma Climatological Survey).  May is typically the wettest month (13.5 cm) and January is generally the driest (3 cm). KAEFS  is within the Washita River drainage basin, one of 25 gaged major drainages in Oklahoma. The Finn Creek watershed bisects the property. Soils of the area are primarily from the moderately fertile Nash-Lucien series, a mixture of loamy, mixed, thermic shallow Typic Haplustolls and coarse-silty, mixed, thermic Udic Haplustolls.

This area supports diverse vegetation dominated by grasslands on the slopes and hilltops and riparian woodlands around streams and creeks in the lowlands. The lower slope areas support tallgrass prairie dominated by Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass), and Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), while upland areas of slopes are covered by mixed grass vegetation such as Bouteloua hirsuta (hairy grama), B. gracilis (blue grama) and BuchloĆ« dactyloides (buffalo grass). Riparian areas support a mixed, bottomland forest of Acer negundo (box elder), Populus deltoides (cottonwood), Fraxinus pennsylvanica (green ash), Cornus drummondi (dogwood), Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky coffee tree), Carya spp (hickory). and Juglans nigra (black walnut). Celtis spp. (hackberry) is common throughout the property. There are also scattered upland areas dominated by Quercus stellata (post oak) and Q. marilandica (blackjack oak) that are outliers of the Cross Timbers forest of central and eastern Oklahoma. Several regions of prairie in the western regions of KFFL are becoming dominated by Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar) due to fire suppression.

KAEFS supports a diverse fauna. Species seen at the station include deer (Odocoileus virginianus), coyotes (Canis latrans), foxes (Vulpes vulpes), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), armadillos (Dasypus novemcintus), bobcats (Lynx rufus), squirrels (Sciurus sp.), and cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus). A number of different reptiles live at KAEFS  including red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), three-toed box turtles, (Terrapene carolina triunguis), common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) up to 20 pounds, and snakes including rat snakes (Elaphe sp.), water moccasins (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix). Different species of frogs and salamanders exist at KAEFS, but species identities are not known at this time.  As many as 15 fish species have been identified in the creek and ponds on the property. Many species of birds including turkeys, owls, hawks and vultures.  Horned toads (Phrynosoma spp.) and jackrabbits (Lepus spp.) were once common at the property, but have not been observed in many years. Although not a frequent occurrence, there have been at least three mountain lion (Puma concolor) sightings at KAEFS, and we continue to try and obtain prints or photographs of this elusive visitor.