Adair County, Oklahoma History and Genealogy

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 adjoining 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 closely 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.

Adair County boasts of being one of the best watered counties of the state, its numerous springs forming little streams which furnish pure water for every neighborhood. Of these streams the Barron Fork, Sallisaw Creek, Lee’s Creek, Ballard Creek and others, all tributaries of the Illinois and Arkansas rivers, not only supply pure water to the inhabitants of the county, but furnish great sport for anglers.

The greater part of the hilly sections of this county is still covered with timber, consisting of oak, hickory, walnut, ash, elm and sycamore, much of which is suitable for making furniture and building material. No special effort has yet been made to develop the mineral resources. Fifty years ago some lead was found from which the Indians molded their- bullets, but lead has not yet been found in paying quantities. Two attempts to drill for oil were made some time ago- but without success, although the land owners are still hopeful of finding lead, oil and gas.

The valleys of the numerous streams of Adair County are very fertile, producing practically all of the crops of the temperate zone. Corn, cotton, wheat and oats are the staple crops, but alfalfa, timothy and potatoes are produced in limited quantities.
Although quite a number of orchards have existed for many years, the citizens of the county have only recently begun to appreciate the possibilities of fruit and berry culture and to apply modern, intelligent methods in the care and development of orchards. Systematic spraying of fruit trees is now being advocated, although when first begun it met with opposition from some farmers who feared that the chemicals used in spraying would poison their bees. It was soon demonstrated, however, that the difference in value between the products of sprayed orchards and those not sprayed far exceeded the value of all the honey obtained. from bees.

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.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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