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City Hall Centennial Clock

Hartshorne's Story

Submitted by Dr. Eddie Gordon-Kelly, Ed.D

To The Hartshorne Area Chamber Of Commerce

Sept. 30, 2005

The following information has been divided into three parts to highlight the struggles and colorful

history of a town called Hartshorne. Its origin is tied to McAlester and federal governmental

decisions which directly impacted the economics at that time. There are limitations of this work

due to the lack of written records, most of which were sketchy and subjective, and word of mouth

accounts after the fact. Conflicting dates in this instance are not uncommon. Such conditions

present problems of documentation in the nature of answers to pertinent questions. Living

sources have provided contributions, and will continue to be an essential part in the furtherance

of this work should it be extended. For the sake of clarity, locations will be identified using

present day names of waterways and towns.

I. Indian Territory Era Beginning around 1818

II. Emerging Town 1840's - 1880's

III. Incorporation and Beyond

I. Indian Territory Era Beginning around 1818

The story of Hartshorne and its place in Pittsburg County starts with the term of treaties between

the United States government and peoples of the Choctaw Nation, entered into in 1820, 1825, and

1830. As European settlers began to move westward into Mississippi and Alabama, the removal

of the Choctaw Indians and their Black slaves traversed the infamous "Trail Of Tears" which

ended in Indian Territory south of the Canadian River, near Gaines Creek in 1835. This is the

first record of the Black cowboy in the area. They were herdsmen and scouts for the Choctaws

before, during and after the removal. Military trading posts were established around 1818 to

assist the Indians in their new home. Tools and weapons necessary to start over were available.

Unfortunately, a treaty in 1818 gave the Quapaw tribe the same area given to the Choctaws in

the Treaty of 1825. At this point the inability of the American government to keep it's treaties

starts to become clear. The Hartshorne area was a hunter's paradise that various tribes claimed

as their own. These Indians were hostile to the Choctaws, raiding and pillaging which led to

more forts and more influence on the five tribes (The Five Civilized Tribes consisting of the

Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole) when they appealed to the US government

for protection.

All of present day Pittsburg County was a battle zone, particularly the areas north of Hartshorne

around Gaines Creek and west toward Bushy Creek. Gaines Creek was a watering place for

nomadic Indians, Choctaws and federal troops before, during and after the Civil War.

By the end of the 1830's, other than the Choctaw Indians and their slaves, small villages of

White settlers and remote areas of run away slaves and Indians of other tribes such as Apache,

Comanche and Crow could be noted.

According to records, laboring missionaries were interested in maintaining the Choctaw

language and culture, therefore, the Indians brought a written language consisting of a syllabic

alphabet of 85 characters and a significant amount of literature. Missionaries set up Presbyterian,

Methodist and Baptist churches and schools throughout the Choctaw Nation. Religion and

education are still very important in all townships today.

As settlers continued to push westward and northward, two important roads were forged. The

California Road from Arkansas to San Francisco (east-west), and the Texas Road to Missouri

and beyond (south-north). Indian Territory towns became prosperous trade centers as merchants

and traders profited from those traveling these roads. The town that is really the embryo of this

area is Perryville, just south of present day McAlester. It played a vital role in the infancy story

of all surrounding communities and is a site of Civil War Skirmishes. It was one of the most

prominent towns along the Texas Road for 30 years. The period in Indian Territory up to the

Civil War Era has often been called the "Golden Age."

During this same time many southerners and their slaves began to slip into the area. A large

percentage of these slaves fled to Jack Fork Mountains south of Hartshorne which was then, as

indicated on Pittsburg County records, settled by Chickasaw Indians with Negro herdsmen who

were a part of that tribe during the Trail Of Tears. They remained in Jack Fork until the end of

the Civil War.

Another community of Blacks during that time was north of Hartshorne and south of Gaines

Creek between present day Adamson and Mountain Nebo. This community was first called

Paradise and later Coles' Chapel-Mountain Nebo. It boasted a school and several churches. A

third and final school structure was built in the 1930's by the WPA and is now privately owned.

Mountain Nebo Baptist Church remains in the area. The Eufaula Reservoir virtually ended the

community. This group was recognized as freedmen, with full Choctaw tribal rights. While this

paper will not delve, briefly, they played a significant role in the building of Hartshorne.. This

microscopic information may provide direction for those who wish to study the subject more

intensively. They worked eastward to Red Oak. In fact, records from a trading post lists Negro

workers from this area. Oral history through them and sketchy papers is the history of federal

soldiers and marshals passing through from Skullyville (Spiro) and Fort Smith.

Many of the grave markers in the Paradise/Coles Chapel Cemetery have eroded and/or missing

due to time and the flooding of Gaines Creek, but it was commonly known that black soldiers

were buried there. It is assumed the soldiers were from the 10th regiment since the events

occurred in the late 1800's and before World War I.

II. Emerging Town 1840's - 1880's

The chronology of the westward population flow directly impacted the life of those living in

Indian Territory, specifically Pittsburg County, during the time of the Civil War and

Reconstruction era.

In early 1849, Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis issued orders to survey and make a roadway

south of the Canadian and near the San Bois Mountains. The expedition arrived near present

day Quinton and followed a large tributary of the Canadian River southward. They named this

tributary "Gaines Creek." This creek later played a role in the Civil War battles in the Pittsburg

County area. Blacks in the area nursed fallen soldiers in the nearby mountains and hills.

Whether legend or fact, Blacks would sing these songs to warn or beckon the soldiers "Roll,

Jordan, Roll", "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", and "Steal Away to Jesus." These songs were first

sung and composed by Uncle Wallace and his wife, Negro slaves hired out by their Indian

owners to work for missionaries at Spencer Academy near Sawyer, Oklahoma. It was common

practice for Indians to allow their slaves to work for each other.

By 1854 Indian Territory lands were delimited due to mounting pressure from settlers moving

westward. The area now known as Hartshorne proper was largely populated with Indians, their

slaves, and White settlers in scattered cabins. It was one time called McGee Valley, and later it

was a part of the Moshulatubbee District which was named for a Choctaw Chief and was under

his jurisdiction.

A contract was signed in 1857 to carry mail through Indian Territory south of Hartshorne.

Dozens of stations were built, wells dug, houses built, animals bought and branded and over 800

operators were hired. The population in Indian Territory was growing.

During 1860-1870's, Blacks came into Indian Territory in droves. The government discussed

making Oklahoma Territory a Black Territory similar to Indian Territory. At one time Oklahoma

had many all Black towns and a University. As aforementioned, Coles' Chapel was a Black

settlement in the Hartshorne suburb which had close ties and kinships to Black federal marshals

and Buffalo soldiers. After the war, all tribes in Indian Territory signed treaty's abolishing

slavery and granting tribal citizenship to the freedmen with all the rights of Indians, making

provision for them in land and other benefits. Freedmen who lived in present day Pittsburg

County are listed on the Choctaw Roll.

In 1871 a large group of settlers located in Arch near Hartshorne. By 1875, life was like a picture

story of pioneers, outlaws and Indians. It seemed that every white man, negro, and half breed

who entered the land was a criminal in the state or plantation from which he fled. No other

American frontier ever saw the magnitude of the criminal element than did Indian Territory,

specifically the areas now known as Pittsburg, Latimer, McIntosh, Haskell, Leflore and Atoka

Counties. This is a record of fact. Hartshorne was a tough village. Judge Isaac Charles Parker

had 200 marshals and his court located in Fort Smith was swift and deadly.

To delay the development of the railroad, outlaws, cutthroats and thieves came in ever increasing

numbers. Whiskey and Choc (Choctaw liquor) was smuggled in and peddled to railroad

workers. Indian records and oral history show Buffalo Soldiers and marshals around the

Wilburton to Alderson areas as peacekeepers. The 10th Regiment known as Buffalo Soldiers

campaigned on the Great Prairie for 24 years. Some left the army to work on the railroad and

coal mines. Many records were gleamed from store owners' books and notes. Owners not only

kept credit accounts in ledgers and order books, but sidebars with news items of various


The village now known as Hartshorne grew modestly along with the chronology of the westward

migration and events surrounding the Civil War. Jones Academy, located northeast of town was

established in 1881. Joseph Carlos Hewitt has a commercial orchard in Jack Fork, and sold fruit

in Hartshorne and other towns in the vicinity, but the coming of the railroad marked the

disintegration of Indian Territory. As the long lines of railroads pushed farther, Whites followed.

This spelled doom for the free and self-governing life and existence of the Indians. A village in

the Moshulatubbee District was soon to to be known as "Hartshorne."

A man who played a significant role in the development of Pittsburg County and Hartshorne was

James Jackson "JJ" McAlester. He was born in Arkansas and was a captain in the Confederate

Army. Later he met a man who surveyed Indian Territory before the war. He showed McAlester

samples of coal and provided exact locations of veins. McAlester secured control as soon as

possible. During that time coal could be plowed in certain locations. In an effort to persuade

railroad officials to run tracks near what is now the city of McAlester, JJ McAlester took a

wagon load of coal up north to railroad officials where they tested it and declared it to be of

superior grade for fuel.

The opening of the Coal fields in Pittsburg County is a million dollar success story. It drew

hundreds of immigrants from Europe and across the United States. Included in this group was a

very inquisitive businessman from Pennsylvania named "Dr. Hartshorne."

III. Incorporation and Beyond

In 1887, the Choctaw, Coal and Railway (CC&Ry) was incorporated by a group of Pennsylvania

coal operators and financiers. Under their business agreement, the company could mine,

market, deal in coal, concurrently while building and operating railroads. By '89, Charles

Hartshorne had gained the presidency of the company, and was extending tracks eastward into

Indian Territory, specifically, Hartshorne. The track reached Wister by 1890. The local Post

Office was open that year and is listed in the United States Atlas for Indian Nations. It was then

possible for coal mined in Hartshorne to be shipped east to a San Francisco or Saint Louis

Connection. Coal could also be shipped from Hartshorne to a Kansas, Missouri, Texas

connection from South McAlester. Coal was marketed under the "Kali-Inla" trademark, and the

same diamond-shaped herald appeared on the railroad letterhead and forms. The company

completed tracks to Oklahoma before going into foreclosure.

The Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf Railroad (CO&G) incorporated in 1894 acquired the foreclosed

Choctaw, Coal & Railway. The CO &G connected over 220 miles of track with postal service

and by 1896, there was a dependable mail route for the growing communities in what became

Pittsburg County.

Meanwhile there was aggressive mining in Hartshorne and it soon became a major economic

force in the area. Mining was the primary reason for the growing population. People of many

ethnic groups were drawn to the coal field, and generally lived in camps near the mines. Blacks,

Irish and English settlers were the first miners in the area as the Indians would not go

underground. Later, immigrants from around the world were motivated to come to Hartshorne

and all of Pittsburg County.

The largest and best equipped coal mine in the state of Oklahoma was Rock Island No. 8 in

Hartshorne with a monthly payroll of $175,000. The general Rock Island offices were also in

the town as well. The population 1910 assessor's report was $689,231. During these early

years Hartshorne was a prosperous and bustling town. The railroad and coal mines were major

employers and contributed greatly to the economy.

The infrastructure of Hartshorne grew to satisfy the needs of the booming population. Outside

financiers invested their money with locals to develop resources such as timber and large

compositions of limestone. Additionally, Hartshorne lies in the direct line with the fruit belt that

sweeps across the United States from Delaware to California. Cotton was an important crop.

Indian farmland was sold by the government at public auction to the highest bidder. Leases and

rental went for $2.00 to $4.00 an acre, or one could be a sharecropper.

The town was incorporated and named Hartshorne by order of the District Court, Central

District, Indian Territory on March 1, 1900. Conflicting data lists incorporation as 1897. Still

other documents point to 1899 as the official starting point for the town. Whatever the

date, with the development of the railroad and mines, Hartshorne sprang and became a prominent

factor in Gaines County and the Choctaw Nation.

By 1902 electric lights were furnished to the town by Westinghouse. Jones Academy which was

lighted with incandescent lamps and heated by steam switched to electricity. Also the electric

railway cars provided transportation to McAlester. This same year fire destroyed several of the

more than 90 businesses on the main street.

John Hawkins Mitchell moved to Hartshorne in 1903 and began surveying and plotting the town

and Elmwood Cemetery. He made the first map of the area. The town was constructed by

railroad workers and was subdivided into lots and blocks with designated streets and blocks.

Cows and pigs roamed at will and had the freedom of the village. John H. Mitchell and his

family are buried at Elmwood.

Some of the early business men to sell land to the town were:

John Robertson sold 11 acres; John F. Davlin of Vinita sold land for $166.28; and, Chief

Victor Locke, Jr. from the Chickasaw Choctaw Nations sold over 19 acres.

The township commission received applications for the registration of lots which soon followed

with home ownership.

Hartshorne was no exception to the southern advent of the Klu Klux Klan bearing white robes

and waving the confederate flag, as well as federal social laws which ordained the coming years.

Consequently, 2 distinct cultures co-existed. While one boasted of a heritage of European

nations, the other herald a heritage of African and Indian nations via slavery. One group saluted

R.J. Bond, president of the Commercial Club organized in 1906; Knights of Pythias; and other

club organizers. The other saluted Dr. Frank Cook, M.D. who ran for city council and won the

primary and gained prominence as a physician throughout the vicinity; John Davis and wife

Fermie who operated a state training school for Negro Boys before 1910; and leaders of

organizations such as the Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star. These groups had its own lawyer,

police officer, youth clubs, eateries and was essentially self-sufficient.

Both groups were educationally minded. The first school was established by the Choctaw

Oklahoma & Gulf Mining Company which was supported by taxes paid by the miners. Later, a

$25,000 school was built for White students, a $5000 school built for Black students. The

school system was integrated in 1956. Men and women from both groups went on to become

productive citizens. Some became teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and powerful political


One student stands out as an historical figure. The community mourned the late Sallye Phillips-

Plunkett in July of this year. (2005) She graduated from Hartshorne in 1959 as the first Black

valedictorian of an integrated high school in the southwest. In addition to local and state media

coverage, her academic accomplishment was featured in Jet magazine and reported

internationally. That same year she was flown to Washington D.C. to attend the Youth March

for Integrated Schools and was scheduled to meet with President Dwight Eisenhower along with

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the interracial delegation. Sallye went on to become the first

Black student accepted at the Saint Anthony Hospital Surgery Department as a registered nurse.

Motivated by Sallye's accomplishments, lay teachers at the local Arnett Chapel African

Methodist Episcopal Church devoted time and financial assistance to the education of area Black


Distinguished visitors to the Black community included: Hank Aaron, Dr. Willie Smitherman,

Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr, A. Phillip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and the late Supreme Court

Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

Coal production remained stable in Hartshorne until 1922, when oil production came into vogue

for residential heating and railroad use. The Great Depression and a miners strike from 1924-

1927 finally killed the giant underground mine operations. The railroad also ended direct

involvement in the coal industry. The depression was especially hard in Hartshorne with many

earning less than $27.00 a month. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was created in

1935 to bring relief to poverty stricken areas. At the close of an era of railroad supreme reign,

Pittsburg County realized the importance of the tracks for future use and did not destroy the

tracks as was done in other places. In early 1996, coal from Red Oak to McAlester began on a

small scale. Presently, the system is undergoing repairs.

Not only is Hartshorne recognized as a giant among giants in the coal industry. Sports have

always played an important role in the community. Warren Spahn was an immigrant to our

town through marriage to a local girl. His record-breaking career spanned over a decade. With his

strong left pitching arm he was a formidable baseball foe. He pitched and won the winning World Series

against the New York Yankees while a member of the Milwaukee Braves. He also played with

all time great Hank Aaron. His 1200 acre "Diamond Star Ranch" was located 7 miles south

of Hartshorne.

The Pittsburg County glory days of mining are now distant memories, and the years have taken

its toll on the commercial district with rotting and abandoned buildings. Gone are the days when

the county witnessed the brightest boom in the areas' history. Three American Presidents made

"Whistle Stops" west of Hartshorne: President Theodore Roosevelt addressed a packed crowd of

Indian Territory residents promising statehood; the second Roosevelt, F.D.R., came through

during the 1940's promising better days ahead; and President Harry Truman spoke of his miracle

1948 win.

The rich deposits of coal brought about unique conditions in Choctaw land which caused peoples

of many nations to carve out the complexities of a town. They came to an Indian village

surrounded by an abundance of natural resources: limestone, asphalt, lead and zinc, oil and gas,

shale and clay and vast timber forests with oak, ash, hickory, cottonwood, gum, elm and yellow

leaf pine. They came to fertile soil with potential to produce various fruits and vegetables.

Present day Hartshorne is the crossroads to hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and

photography. There is easy access to Kiamichi Mountains, Robbers' Cave, Arrowhead Lodge,

Southeast Expo, Oklahoma State Prison, Army Ammunition Depot, Jack Fork Mountains with

primitive camping and the Gary Sherrer Wildlife Management Area.

Reflective of our past and a promise for our future is the beautiful dome which sits atop of the

Cyril & Methodist Orthodox Christian Church established in 1897.


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