A Brief History of Poteau
The Caddoan Culture
During the mid-1700's, French fur traders roamed throughout the area. After they arrived, they established a trading camp at Cavanal where they would meet throughout the year. From this base, they would carry fur pelts up the Poteau River to Belle Point. From Belle Point, the pelts would travel down the Arkansas River to the Mississippi, where they would finally end up in New Orleans.
Known as "Poteau Switch", the town began in the late 1870's as a few families began to settle the area. By 1880, Poteau Switch began to resemble that of an old Wild West boomtown. Bandits and outlaws mixed with well-to-do citizens on the dusty streets of Poteau Switch. U.S. Deputy Marshal "Coon" Ratterree would occasionally come into town to follow up on reports of bootlegging and whiskey peddling. During it's early days, the town remained wild and rugged. Through strength and determination, those pioneers slowly began to shape what would one day be one of Eastern Oklahoma's largest cities.
Origins of Poteau
Throughout the early 1900's, coal played an important part in the development of Poteau. The Witteville Mines, located on the northern end of Cavanal Mountain, was one of the largest employers in the area. More than 100 men and boys, some as young as 13, worked in cramped and dangerous conditions from morning until night. For all of this hard labor, the miners only received a mere five cents for each ton of coal they extracted. During the time that the mines were in operation, explosions, cave-in's, and lack of oxygen were constant companions.
The Roaring 20's
Bonnie and Clyde
During the 1930's, Poteau's Central National Bank was robbed by Bonnie
and Clyde. A historical reenactment was filmed by Sugarloaf Mountain
Productions in 2013. This film takes the view back in time to witness
how things would have been during the 1930's robbery. An online article by "Oklahoma Traveler" details the account.
In the downtown area, there are numerous historically significant buildings, from the old Indian Territory Federal Courthouse to the twin-offices of the Oklahoma Immigration Company. The importance of preserving these buildings and their history is paramount, and is one of the chief goals of Poteau Main Street Matters.