OKLAHOMA state rock a mystery

Sunday, August 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NOBLE, Okla. (AP) _ Deep in the red earth, the petals of a solid rose poked through a clump of Oklahoma sandstone.

Tom Redwine used a butter knife to cut the little formation out of a hole in the ground. He crumbled it between his leather gloves. The grit fell away, exposing a rock looking like a rose.

``Mama nature does good,'' he said.

The rose rock, Oklahoma's state rock, is a mystery to some and a paycheck to others.

Rose rocks are crystalized barium sulfate made 250 million years ago. Locals scour lake shores in Norman to find the crimson stones for their gardens and window shelves.

Tourists pick them up at museums, gift shops and convenience stores. Sometimes, they go hunting for them in Noble _ the Rose Rock Capital.

But despite the rock's popularity, not much is known about how it's formed.

``It's a big enigma,'' said David London, a University of Oklahoma geology professor. ``We don't know much about the origins of our state rock.''

Geologists know rose rocks are made with barium and sulfate _ barite, which crystalizes in blades. Many scientists believe the rocks were formed as water moved through sandstone about the same time as the deposit of the Garber Formation _ a central Oklahoma sandstone configuration. Others think rose rocks might still be forming.

And geologists aren't sure why rose rocks are common only in Oklahoma.

A lighter version of the rose rock, choral-colored barite roses, can be found in other places, including Texas, California and Egypt.

An oft-quoted legend says rose rocks are here because Oklahoma was the end of the Trail of Tears, the 1,000-mile trek made by Indians forced to their new home. The legend says God made the blood of the braves and the tears of the maidens turn to stone upon falling to the ground.

The legend is printed on the packaging of rose rock items such as earrings, necklaces and refrigerator magnets, but American Indians say the legend is not theirs.

``It's a rape of a heritage and of a culture just to make a buck,'' said Choogie Kingfisher, who works at the Cherokee Nation's cultural center in Tahlequah.

Redwine, who digs in a secret location near Slaughterville, has his own way of extolling the virtues of rose rocks.

``There are thousands of diamonds in this world for every rose rock,'' the Del City man said. ``If everyone in this state of Oklahoma wanted one, there wouldn't be enough to go around.''

They certainly aren't as expensive as diamonds. Small, individual rose rocks are sold for a few dollars.

Redwine, who also sells packages of red dirt, has been digging rose rocks for more than a decade. He says they run in veins. A few square feet of sandstone contains thousands, then there aren't any for miles.

He uses simple tools: a butter knife and a three-pronged garden hoe. That way, he doesn't scratch or break any rose petals.

Redwine uncovered the largest rose rock cluster found to date _ a 788-pound clump he named ``Redwine and Roses.'' He sold it to a Love's gas station in Ardmore for $8,000.

``I wanted to make some money, and I wanted it some place where it could be seen,'' he says, explaining why he didn't donate it to the Rose Rock Museum in nearby Noble.

The museum's owners, Joe and Nancy Stine, are the only other major diggers who use the rocks to make statutes and jewelry. They lease the same land for digging as Tom and Ann Redwine.

These people may be the only ones whose lives basically revolve around the crystalized barite.

Nancy Stine spends her days at the tiny museum, teaching visitors about rose rocks and tidying up the shelves of red dirt T-shirts and American Indian Art. Her love for the rocks came from her mother, who as a child kept a forgotten Indian grave decorated with them.

Nancy Stine and her husband have written a book about the rocks. And in 1977 _ nine years after the Legislature made the rose rocks the official state rock _ she wrote an ode to them.

``Within the Garber sandstone, a barite crystal grew. The Oklahoma sand gave it a reddish hue. Seawater bathed it; and, as a flower grows, God formed its shape into a lovely rose.''