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I bet you didn't know: Strange Oklahoma Places

Updated on September 28, 2017
Urbane Chaos profile image

Eric Standridge is a historian and author that focuses on Oklahoma's history, with an emphasis on LeFlore County and Poteau, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma was the 46th state to join the Union, nearly 120 years after the first thirteen states ratified the Constitution.  Even though Oklahoma was one of the last states to become part of the U.S., that doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve it's share of fame.

Long past are the days of cowboys and Indians, and of the wild west and roaming gangsters.  Oklahoma today is a fascinating place, full of energy and growth.   Oklahoma has numerous claims to fame.  Listed below are just a few of the more unusual places that call the great state of Oklahoma home.

The Port of Catoosa

When most people think of seaports, they rarely think of Oklahoma. Still, Oklahoma plays host to the furthest inland seaport in the United States, linking Tulsa to the Arkansas River and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Tulsa Port of Catoosa is located near the city of Catoosa in Rogers County, just inside the municipal boundaries of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In an average year, 13-million tons of cargo is transported on the McClellan-Kerr by barge from the Port.

Located at the head of navigation for the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, the Port of Catoosa handles shipping loads through its waterway access to the Arkansas River via the Verdigris River. The Tulsa Port of Catoosa offers year round, ice-free barge service with river flow levels controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Located in a 2,000 acre (8 km2) industrial park and employing more than 2,500 people, the port ships manufactured goods and agricultural products from Oklahoma to the rest of the world.

The Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma
The Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma

The Jenson Tunnel

While the United States has many railroad tunnels, there is only one in the country that was built in a foreign nation. In fact, it is the only railroad tunnel in present day Oklahoma.

Oklahoma lagged well behind the rest of the nation in the development of railroads. While railroads were being built at an astonishing speed across the United States, what was then Indian Territory was strongly opposed to their construction. The Five Civilized Tribes recognized that steel rails and white encroachment were synonymous, and, as they wanted to keep their independence from the United States, they barred the way for railroad development on their lands. Permission had only reluctantly been granted for construction of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (Katy) and the Atlantic and Pacific (The modern day Frisco) railroads. They began operation in 1871.

For the next fifteen years, railroad construction in Indian Territory stopped. As lines spread out in adjacent states, the transportation gap represented by the nominally independent Indian Nations became increasingly important. The pressure to breech that gap increased accordingly.

In 1885, Congress was bombarded with ten bills calling for the construction of railroads across Indian Territory. In February 1886, the Fort Smith and Southern Railway was incorperated in Arkansas. After incorporation, it promptly made plans to lay rails across the Choctaw Nation from Fort Smith to Paris, Texas. The date 1886 is on the Jenson Tunnel keystone, which was once called the "Backbone Tunnel". The completed line was put into service in 1887, 20 years before the Indian Nations were abolished and Oklahoma achieved statehood.

The Jenson Tunnel is approximately 1,180 feet long. It has an average width of 14 feet, but reaches 20 feet in some places. Its average height is 20 feet above the top of the rail, although it reaches 24.7 feet at one point. More than half the Jenson Tunnel's interior 629 feet is unprotected rock, requiring no arching. Nearly 384 feet of stone walls with brick arch was called for at either end of this natural arching. A final 62 feet of stone walls with timber arch and 118 feet of timber plumb posts and timber arch was required for the remaining end sections.

The Jenson Tunnel Railroad is still in use today.

The Jenson Tunnel in Oklahoma
The Jenson Tunnel in Oklahoma

The Worlds Highest Hill

Maybe it's not such an astonishing claim to fame, but residents of Poteau are proud of it. Towering over the countryside is, indeed, the worlds highest hill.

Cavanal Hill (sometimes spelled Cavanaugh Hill) rises 1,999 feet above sea level. Cavanal lacks one foot from becoming a mountain. Cavanal Hill derives its name from the French word meaning "cave," and was a famous landmark for the French and American Indians over 150 years ago. Even today, Cavanal Hill remains a popular tourist spot. Drive to the top of the hill and enjoy the new pavilion area while you take in the beautiful vista overlooking Sugar Loaf and the Ouachita Mountains.

Controversy remains, however, to Poteau's claim to fame. The Geographic Names Information System of the US Geological Survey, which officially names the hill Cavanal Mountain, lists the elevation at 2,385 feet, making Cavanal Hill a true mountain. Still, whether or not it is a hill or a mountain, the view is breathtaking.

Cavanal Hill (Cavanaugh Hill) in Poteau, Oklahoma
Cavanal Hill (Cavanaugh Hill) in Poteau, Oklahoma

World's Only Main Street Oil Well

In a twist of the Bizarre, Barnsdall has a unique claim to fame. Directly in the center of main street, there is a working oil well.  In fact, it is the only one of its kind.  This "Main Street Oil Well" is listed in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the only oil well on an American main drag.

Barnsdall was once a major oil town.  It has survived floods, tornadoes, major fires, a nitro wagon explosion and a deadly blast at its refinery in a 14-year span, but the town continues to thrive and is quite proud of its "Main Street oil well."  

The Barnsdall Main Street Well is formally known as the "Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company Well #20 Osage County."  The well was completed on March 18th, 1914, and runs a depth of 1771 feet.  The Barnsdall Main Street Oil Well was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 1, 1997 as part of the "Energy Related Resources in Northeastern Oklahoma Multiple Property Submission".

Only one real question remains: Which came first, the street or the well?  Some are adamant that the street was built around the well, but most are of the opinion that, since oil was found after the town had already grown, that the oil well was put in the street.  Still, it is a unique place to visit, even if that is their only true claim to fame.

Oil Well on Mainstreet located in Barnsdall, Oklahoma
Oil Well on Mainstreet located in Barnsdall, Oklahoma

World War II bombing site, Boise City

Located in the Oklahoma panhandle, Boise City is the only continental city to have been bombed during World War II.

It happened during a training mission in the early hours of July 5, 1943. A B17 bomber based out of the Dalhart Army Air Field in Texas mistakenly took Boise City for Conlen, Texas. Somehow, the rookie navigator missed their designated bombing site by nearly 30 miles. Since the crew of the B17 were participating in a training mission, there wasn't any live bombs carried on the plane. Thankfully for the residents of Boise City, the bombs contained mostly sand. There was a small amount of explosive material in the nose of the bombs, but not enough to cause any injury or property damage.

Some of the areas hit have been preserved by Boise City as a memorial to our veterans of World War II.  The memorial stands outside the town's chamber of commerce, just across from the courthouse.

The incident turned out favorable for both the city and the crew of the B17.  The rookie navigator went on to become one of the most trusted navigators during the war, and one of the members of the crew eventually married a young lady from Boise City.

Boise City Bomb landmark in Boise City, Oklahoma.
Boise City Bomb landmark in Boise City, Oklahoma.

© 2010 Eric Standridge


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    • Urbane Chaos profile imageAUTHOR

      Eric Standridge 

      8 years ago from Wister, Oklahoma

      There's so many strange and unique places in Oklahoma that it's almost bewildering. When I first moved here the only thing that I thought was, "Great, now I get to see a bunch of cowboys and Indians.." - but, it wasn't like that. There's a lot more here than people realize, if only they'd stop and look around. Emily, I'm with you - I plan on being here for many, many years to come.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Fantastic post! So happy I read this! I love my Oklahoma.. Never gonna leave.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I get to look at the Main Street Oil Well everyday! its still kinda exciting! it got a new paint job too

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      wow, i've been to Oklahoma many times and never heard of those places, i'm embarrassed to say. one of my fondest rememberances was when i visited the prairie dog village near Lawton. there was no one there but us and about a hundred prairie dogs! :) another time we drove into Atwood and Ada and this one tree-lined street went on for miles and miles. i thought it would never end. then we got peaches right off the tree as big as grapefruits. i have never had peaches as good before or since. very nice hub.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 

      9 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Great interests you mentioned & your right! I wasn't aware of these places.....Thanks for sharing!


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