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Presidential Visits to LeFlore County

Updated on December 5, 2017

Throughout the years, many U.S. Presidents have visited LeFlore County. Prior to Sen. Kerr, most of these visits were part of their campaign trails. Senator Robert S. Kerr helped make Poteau a destination point for the presidents with this political influence. Even through the 1990's, that influence remained. While there hasn't been any presidential visits since Bush in 1993, many still remember the power and influence that Robert S. Kerr has had on our area.

These stories reflect the progressive side to Poteau.

Vice President Kidnapped

In 1919, the council of Defense of Poteau learned that Vice-President, Thomas R. Marshall, serving under Woodrow Wilson was en route to Oklahoma City to speak in behalf of National Interest. During this time, Plumlee was the chairman of the Democratic Central Committee. Plumlee, along with a group of city boosters, decided to meet the Vice President’s train at Booneville in order to persuade him to stop at Howe. From Howe, he would be conveyed to Poteau to address a large crowd of people from LeFlore County. The Vice President agreed. His train was switched at Howe where he was met by a cavalcade of cars that conveyed him to Poteau. After he arrived, he spoke for half an hour from the bandstand where the courthouse is now located. After the speech, he was driven back to his waiting train. For an hour and a half, the US Government was unaware of his location. –Quoted from The Birth of Poteau

The scene during President Wilson's trip would have looked much like this.
The scene during President Wilson's trip would have looked much like this.

FDR Plans Brief Stops at Wister and McAlester

Hugo, Okla., (Special) - Congressman Wilburn Cartwright announced, following his address here Thursday afternoon on Hugo streets, that he had received a message from Washington stating that President Roosevelt would make five minute appearances from the rear of his train at Wister and McAlester Saturday enroute to Oklahoma City where he is scheduled to speak at 5 p.m. at the fair grounds.

The train will stop at 11:45 a.m. at Wister and 1:25 p.m. at McAlester.

This article was published in 1938 when he came to campaign for the re-election of Sen. Elmer Thomas, but he deviated from his text and also praised Thomas's political foe, Gov. E.W. Marland. In addition, Roosevelt took a potshot at former Gov. William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray and snubbed 1st District U.S. Rep. Wesley Disney, who was on the platform with the president and several other Oklahoma politicians. Roosevelt had made platform talks during brief stops at Poteau, Wister, McAlester, Holdenville and Shawnee before arriving in Oklahoma City.

Copies of the transcript of his visits can be found at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.

John F. Kennedy at the Kerr Ranch just south of Poteau
John F. Kennedy at the Kerr Ranch just south of Poteau

Presidents who Visited LeFlore County

Theodore "T.R." Roosevelt, Jr.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

John F. Kennedy

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Jimmy Carter

Gerald R. Ford

George Bush, Sr.

Kennedy and Kerr

President Kennedy and Senator Kerr had been political allies for many years. After taking office, Kennedy soon realized the importance of having Kerr as an ally.

Kerr was never shy about using his influence to get what he wanted for the good of Oklahoma. By this influence, he was able to arrange for President John F. Kennedy to visit Big Cedar, OK to dedicate US Highway 259.

Days before President Kennedy was scheduled to arrive in Big Cedar, Governor Edmondson frantically called President Kennedy to find the real reason for his eastern Oklahoma visit. Kennedy told Edmondson, “Why Howard, I’m going to Oklahoma to kiss Bob Kerr’s ass!”

President John F. Kennedy visited LeFlore County on October 29, 1961, where he stayed at the Kerr Mansion and dedicated U.S. Highway 259 the following day.

Presidents Bush, Carter, and Ford

Former President Bush visited Poteau on April 7, 1993. This was the last time a president had visited the area.

After his arrival, he attended a large reception at the Kerr Mansion and Conference center. After staying the night at the mansion, he then spoke to a group of high school students the following morning in the Mick Thompson Fitness Center. After speaking with the students, he gave a keynote speech at Carl Albert State College in the auditorium.

Prior to his visit, President Carter spoke at the college in 1989, followed by President Ford in 1991.

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