Adair County, Oklahoma History

Adair County was named in honor of Watt Adair, one of the old time Cherokees who was one of the first settlers of Indian Territory. His son, Hugh M. Adair, took an active part in the development of Eastern Oklahoma and is still one of its honored citizens. Adair County is located in the eastern part of Oklahoma ad-joining the counties of Benton and Washington, State of Arkansas, on the west and Cherokee County, Oklahoma, on the east. The western slope of what is called the "Ozark Uplift" of Arkansas extends into Adair County, giving it a healthful altitude of one thousand feet or more. It is about thirty-six miles in length north and south, with an average width of sixteen miles, containing 587 square miles of land. The greater part of the county is rough and hilly and originally was heavily timbered. The hilly sections are underlaid with sandstone, limestone, and granite which very close-ly resembles marble. These hills are plentifully supplied with sparkling springs, good grass, and of late years the residents are just becoming fully cognizant of the fact that much of this rough, cheap land is well adapted to fruit and berry culture. Already thousands of crates of strawberries are being shipped to northern markets and under intelligent direction this section of Oklahoma will soon compete with Arkansas in the production of fine apples.

Early Families

     When the Cherokees were driven from their homes in Georgia and Tennessee nearly a century ago, some of their most prominent families settled within the present limits of Adair County, attracted hither no doubt by the primitive forests and beautiful streams where game and fish were plentiful.

     Among them were the Ryder family, Augustus and Austin, who came from Tennessee in 1832, and settled a few miles east of the present City of Stilwell. Here in 1856, Thomas L. Ryder was born, who not only became prominent in Cherokee affairs but since statehood has been elected three times to serve his district in the lower house of the Legislature and once in the State Senate. At the age of sixty-six he has now retired and resides in Muskogee, surrounded by a family of children. Mark Bean, another Cherokee, emigrated to this neighborhood in 1832, developed a farm and reared a family of boys.

     The Starr family, George, Caleb and Noon, were also prominent Cherokees who established homes here in an early day, locating on the beautiful Barron Fork, a tributary of the Illinois River, and on Sallisaw Creek, farther south.

Louis Downing, a full-blood, who was afterward elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation, established his home on Lee's Creek.

     Walter Duncan and his brothers, Clint and Charles, were among the other prominent .Cherokees who located in the Valley of Barron Fork.

     Charles Duncan, for many years, was a prominent Cherokee preacher. One of the historic spots in this vicinity is the site of the old Flint District Courthouse of Cherokee days. This temple of justice was a two story frame structure, located on Sallisaw Creek, seven miles east of where Stilwell is now located. Many important trials both civil and criminal were held in this historic old courthouse during the days when the laws. of the Cherokee Nation were in full force and effect. Many good old Cherokees will tell you that their old time laws were more rigidly enforced and penalties for violation of law were inflicted with more certainty and with less delay than is now customary under the rule of the white man.

     Some of their old laws provide that such offenses as theft and assault should be punished with a given number of lashes upon the bare back of the offender, with double the number of lashes for a second conviction of the same offense, and it was not unusual, in the olden times, for an offender to be arrested, tried, convicted and punished all in one day.

If not recently destroyed, the old forked tree still stands near the Flint District Courthouse, to which the criminals were tied while receiving their punishment. During the later years of the life of the Cherokee Nation, however, punishment by fine and imprisonment was substituted for the whipping post. Under the old Indian regime, much annoyance and chagrin was often experienced by the tribal officials by reason of the fact that no white man, no matter how detestable he might have been, nor how flagrant his offense, could be tried or punished by the tribal courts. It is barely possible that the careers of certain white interlopers.


Stilwell, the county seat and largest town of Adair County, was named for a Mr. Stilwell who was the first superintendent of the Kansas City Southern Railroad which traverses the entire length of the county from north to south. The city is located very near the geographical center of the county and it first appeared on the map in 1895, about the time the railroad builders reached that point, although a postoffice by the name of Flint, a general store and a few houses had been in existence in that neighborhood for many years, and the New Hope Methodist Church, established by the Missionaries, was in the same vicinity. Samuel Johnson, a Cherokee, owned the land upon which Stil-well first began to build and as the town began to grow, tracts of land belonging to Lizzie Freeman, wife of Ben Freeman, of Judge Charles Patterson and Henry Dannenberg, were added to the townsite. All these persons were Cherokees and all were pioneers of Stilwell, when the name of the post office was changed from Flint to Stilwell and Thomas Johnson became the first postmaster of the new town. All of these pioneers have passed on to the happy hunting grounds except Samuel Johnson who resides in a comfortable home in Stilwell located on the same spot of ground where his log cabin of pre-war days stood. Rufus Allison, Paden & Graham, J. L. Cox and A. Shannon were among'the pioneer merchants, and R. I. Hyatt established the first drug store. Mr. J. C. Holleman was Stilwell's first mechanic, he having located there several months before the railroad arrived. He was adept in repairing farm machinery, wagons and buggies. A few years after locating there he built a wagon and carriage factory and was one of the busiest men in Stilwell. Mr. D. B. Collums for many years has been one of the substantial citizens of Stilwell. Soon after statehood he was appointed by Governor Haskell as a member of the first state textbook commission. Upon that commission devolved the onerous task of selecting all the textbooks to be used in the public schools of the state. Mr. Collums has filled other positions of honor in the county and state and at present is editor of the Stilwell Standard, the principal newspaper of Adair County. An institution which has rendered faithful service to the citizens of Stilwell and Adair County is its flouring mill and elevator. It was established in 1905 and besides grinding wheat and corn for its customers, it ships large quantities of grain to Kansas City and St. Louis. One of the first permanent general stores in Stilwell was established by Mr. J. L. Morton. He came from Arkansas and began selling goods in 1908 and as the town grew his business expanded. In 1909 he erected a substantial two story brick store building and filled it with stocks of dry goods, clothing and groceries. For several years he also operated a sawmill and shipped large quantities of hardwood to Kansas City. In 1906 the Cane Hill and Stilwell Telephone Company was organized with Mr. R. S. Robinson as general manager. The lines of this company were gradually extended until Stilwell was finally placed in telephonic communication with many towns of Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas. Mr. S. M. Crocker, a Cherokee by blood, was one of the pioneer ministers, who later in life studied law and practiced in the Cherokee courts and in the State courts. He was a native of South Carolina, educated in Tuscumbia, Ala., and, accompanied by his brother, S. B. Crocker, came west in 1870 and located in the Cherokee Nation. Both of these men were Baptist preachers and for many years were engaged in missionary work among the Indians. Mr. F. A. Blanck was one of the town builders who located in Stilwell when the town was young. He engaged in the lumber business for several years and, assisted by his brother, C. S. Blanck, he built quite a number of houses and for a while conducted a general merchandise business. About 1908 the two brothers took up the real estate and farm loan business and their transactions were extended over several adjoining counties. Dr. J. A. Patton was one of the pioneer physicians of Stilwell, locating there when the town was scarcely a year old. He came from Arkansas and was a graduate of a medical college in Louisville, Ky.
[Source: Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma, vol 1, Chapter 31; 1922 - sub. by K.T.]

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