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Forgotten Towns of Southeastern Oklahoma
While many towns in Southeastern Oklahoma flourished, others simply vanished. For many of these towns, their virtual abandonment began in the late 1800’s as the railroad construction flourished throughout Indian Territory. Other towns were simply swallowed up by the progress of their neighbors.
The abandonment of Kully Chaha, located three miles south of Cameron, was the result of the railroads. The town was located three miles south of Cameron. It had a post office from February 15, 1881 until November 15, 1913. The postmaster was A.H. Ritter, followed by M.C. Loggains. The name is Choctaw and means, "High Spring", in reference to a spring high on Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Even though the post office was established in 1881, the town had existed long before that. In 1879, the town is described as a "small Choctaw Indian Village in Indian Territory". In the 1890s, Kully Chaha was advertised as a "Mountain Resort", a veritable "Perfect paradise to the invalid and overworked".
In that town, a general mercantile store, a Masonic lodge, a blacksmith shop, and a small hotel were known to have existed. This was mostly an agricultural community, with most of the population living and working on farms outside of the town center. The known populations of Kully Chaha are as follows: 1907- 1134; 1910- 1136; 1920- 958; 1930 - 855 (834 rural).
The Twin Towns of Caston
Caston is one of those towns with quite a unique history. The name of the town began as Braidwood, then was changed to Pocahontas, and finally Caston Switch. Braidwood was first established on July 11, 1891. On May 11, 1895, the name of the town was changed to Pocahontas, and then once again changed to Caston Switch, April 18, 1898. Caston Switch, so named because of the railroad switching station there, merged with the small town of Caston on that same year.
Prior to the merger, Caston and Caston Switch were technically separate towns. Caston started life as the town of Maxey. Maxey was established on June 4, 1884 and named for N. B. Maxey. He later became a prominent Muskogee attorney. Maxey became Caston on November 5, 1887. By October, 1891, the town of Caston had pretty much dissolved. The post office was removed that year since the town of Caston Switch already had a thriving post office. In 1898, the decision was made to merge the towns.
The settlement was once located three miles west of Wister. The town, whatever name it chose to go by in any given year, began as a small settlement. With the railroad, the Kansas and Texas Coal Company made a significant investment in the area, which helped propel the village into town status. As the coal mines were exhausted, the town began to die off before being virtually abandoned in the early 1900’s.
The Railroad Towns
As the railroad came in to Indian Territory, many towns also sprang into existence. Following the line of the old railroad, each of these towns was positioned approximately 2.8 miles apart. There was good reason for this. When the railroad men were working on the lines, they would set up camps every 2.8 miles to ensure that supply lines were well tended. In many cases, these camps would turn in to small towns, especially as more workers arrived and more facilities to support the workers were needed.
Following the route of the railroad, this is evident today on many maps. From the south, you can trace this starting with Spiro. Following Spiro, there was an un-named camp about where the modern-day AES/Shady Point plant is, then Panama, Shady Point, Tarby Prairie, then Poteau. From Poteau, along the Frisco, you come next to Sorrels, Smacker, Cavanal, Wister, Fanshawe, Red Oak, Panola, Wilburton, and on down the road. The railroad tried to connect existing towns; however, many towns throughout LeFlore County were established as a direct result of the railroad lines.
While many of these towns already existed as small villages, the railroads began turning them in to boom towns. Some towns vanished once the railroad work was complete while others continued to thrive.
Federal Courts and the Town of Cameron
The town of Cameron was established January 21, 1888. It was named for William Cameron, a local mining superintendent. Prior to that, the land was owned by a Choctaw, Mr. Benjamin McBride. On his allotment, his family ran a large farm that grew grain and cotton, as well as raising a variety of livestock.
After the railroad came through, the land became prime real estate. On March 1, 1895, the Federal Court at South McAlester was re-designated as the Central District and authorized to hold sessions at Atoka, Antlers, and Cameron. This allowed a courthouse to be created in the town. The Federal Courthouse was located on the north corner of Court Street and the railroad. To the south were several lawyers officers, including that of Mr. Varner.
During this time, the town of Cameron was booming. Directly at the end of Court Street was the old Cameron Depot. The Cameron Hotel and the Commercial hotel were also nearby. Other businesses include two lodge halls, several general mercantile stores, the post office, two drug stores, two livery stables, and a blacksmith shop. There was only one large industry at the time, and that was McMurray's Cotton Gin, Grist Mill, and Lumber Yard.
This boom only lasted around 10 years, from 1888 until 1897. During those years, Cameron was the chief business town in the region. The Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf (KCS) brought that to a close in 1897. At that time, they brought their line in down from the Arkansas and through Poteau. This made Poteau a junction point and caused the quick decline of the Cameron.
Because of the decline of Cameron due to the railroad, and the progress seen in Poteau, Congress decided to move the courthouse from Cameron to Poteau in 1900. The courthouse remained in Poteau until statehood in 1907.
The County Seat Myth
For many years, LeFlore County locals believed that the county seat had once been located in Cameron. This myth began largely due to the establishment of the Federal Courts there. At this time, Cameron was part of the Choctaw Nation in Skullyville County. Skullyville (the town) was both capitol and county seat of the Choctaw Nation. The U.S. county seats were not designated until statehood, in 1907. Between 1907 and the elections in 1908, many counties in Oklahoma did not have a designated county seat, however, the location of the former federal courts were used in place. Poteau was elected to be the U.S. county seat in early 1908.
On February 2, 1900, the 56th congress revised the decision to house the Federal Court in Cameron. The previous decision was approved on March 1, 1895, and was designed to “provide for the appointment of additional judges of the United States court in the Indian Territory, and for other purposes." It also stated, "The central district shall consist of all the Choctaw country, and the places of holding court in said district shall be at South McAlester, Atoka, Antlers, and Cameron."
Reversal of this decision on February 2nd was based on several factors.
First, Poteau is located at the junction of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway and the Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf railway. Because of this, people required to attend court can reach this town from four different lines of road.
Second, Poteau had a population of around 2,000 people. It was considered one of the fastest growing communities in the area.
Third, Poteau has a brick block, which will be provided with an ample courtroom and all necessary office rooms, vaults, etc., for the use of the court officers. This “brick block” refers to the city block on the corner of Dewey where the McKenna building is located. Fourth, Poteau is closer to the center of the central division, and it is closer to the center of population as well.
The process of moving the federal court to Poteau was not easy. All of the court records and furniture had to be moved to Poteau. Tom T. Varner, son of Robert A. Varner, was a highly esteemed lawyer living in Cameron. When he heard that the federal court was moving to Poteau, he decided to move with it. In addition to moving his practice, he also offered to move the entire Federal Court as well.
After loading all of the courts documents in his wagon, it took him much of the day to travel eight miles to Poteau on rough and rugged road. Several times along the route, Varner and his team had to stop the wagon in order to build temporary bridges. Once in Poteau, Varner and his team quickly set about establishing the courthouse in the second floor of the McKenna building.
Elections for a permanent county seat for LeFlore County were held in 1908. Originally, Spiro, Howe, Wister, Panama and Poteau were the candidates, but finally it came down to just Poteau and Spiro. Accusations of using money and liquor to influence voters were made between the two towns. Poteau won in the end, but with a margin of only 400 votes.
While Cameron was never the County Seat of LeFlore County, it has played an important role in the development of the area.
The Town that Moved
He was one of the most controversial and colorful figures in American History. He was a lawyer, congressman and senator before becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Army. He was a signer on the Texas Declaration of Independence; his men defeated Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna at San Jacinto to secure Texan independence, and was voted president twice after Texas won it’s independence. It’s no wonder that many towns in the country was named after him.
Houston was just one such town. Established on August 14, 1896, the town was named for the larger-than-life hero, Sam Houston.
The earliest records show that the town began shortly after the Choctaw Removals. The family of Henry Nail first settled the area in the early 1800’s. A monument located at the place of his burial describes him well, “The present Nail family of the Choctaws are the descendents of Henry Nail, a white man, who came among the Choctaws about the time Nathaniel Folsom, John Pitchlynn and Louis Le Fiore came; and as they did, so did he, marry among them, was adopted and thus became identified among that people. He rose to the position of chief and exerted, as did the three other above mentioned, a moral influence among that noble and appreciative people, with whom he had cast his lot.”
This area where his family settled became known as Nail’s Valley. By the time that Houston was established, much of the area had been cleared out and developed for farm use. The original townsite was located on land that had been cleared by the Nail family.
The earliest record of the town being in existence dates back to 1889. At this time, there was a hotel, a general store, and three more unidentified buildings. The town grew quickly. Because of the settlement at Nails Valley, early roads already crisscrossed throughout the area. The town resembled those from a wild-west movie set. All of the buildings were wood frame structures. The fire department consisted of a night watchman, and the fire alarm was two gunshots fired in quick succession. Two such shots rang out in early 1895. Fire broke out and, like a pile of dry matchsticks, the town was quickly engulfed in an inferno.
The fire destroyed much of the town, including the entire main business district. However, the residents were resilient and instead of giving up, they rebuilt a half mile to the south. A new town began to emerge. By 1896, traces of the fire that destroyed the town were gone. A new post office was established, and prosperity came to town.
This prosperity didn’t last long. When the Kansas City Southern railroad came through in 1898, it bypassed the town of Houston. The closest point was scheduled to be laid about two miles to the north and west of town. Having faced adversity before, residents simply decided to move the town. Again. With this new location, the town became the crossroads between the towns of Cosner, Heavener, and Thomasville.
This new town was developed with the help of J.W. Hodgens. Hodgens was a timber buyer for the KCS Railroad and helped supply much of the timber for the new town. In appreciation, residents renamed the town to Hodgens. However, when the Post Office was established on April 25, 1910, they mistakenly named the town Hodgen. Although the official name is Hodgen, many people still refer to the town by its correct name, “Hodgens”.