Checotah, a flourishing city of 3,000 people, is located on the M. K. & T. Railroad, in the northern part of McIntosh County. It is the first town of importance south of Muskogee and was founded in 1872, soon after the new railroad reached that vicinity. It was named in honor of Samuel Checote, who was serving as chief of the Creek Nation at that time. The name was suggested by the railroad authorities who located the station there, because of the prominence which Chief Checote had just gained in suppressing an insurrection of dissatisfied full-bloods under the leadership of a simple-minded old Indian by the name of Sands.
Checotah is situated near the center of one of the best agricultural sections of the state and for many years before it was organized some of the largest and best cattle ranches were found in that locality. The once famous ranch of Turner & Middleton, where thousands of cattle and hundreds of horses were cared for, was located ten miles toward the northwest. The Gentry Ranch and the Spaulding ranch also furnished hundreds of beef cattle to the northern markets each year.
In those days, antedating the arrival of the railroads, the cowpunchers drove the fat cattle across the country to St. Louis or Kansas City, sometimes loading them on cars at some point in Kansas. Cattle-raising, in those pioneer days of immense pastures, was very profitable business, as the mild winters made it possible to keep livestock on the grass, without extra feed, throughout almost the entire year. The first white farmers who settled here came from the cotton producing states and it was but natural that they devote their time and energy to the production of that profitable crop, especially when they found the soil and climate so well adapted to it. But as other farmers came in, they found conditions equally adapted to raising wheat, barley, oats, alfalfa, etc., so that there is much more diversification of crops than in former times..
Several points of historic interest are found in this part of the state. Near here the Creeks and Osage fought a severe battle in the olden days in which the Osage were defeated with a loss of fifty warriors.
On Elk Creek, southeast of Checotah, one of the decisive Indian Territory battles of the Civil war was fought between regiments commanded by General Blount of the Northern army and Col. Douglas Cooper of the Confederates.
Colonel Cooper retreated with a loss of 200 men, while about one hundred of the Northern soldiers were killed or wounded.
As Checotah began to assume the appearance of a real town it turned its attention to the building of churches and schools. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was the first to organize a church. In 1889 Rev. James A. Trickey started the first church of that denomination in a little schoolhouse. After remaining two years, he was succeeded by Rev. W. M. Baldwin, who had the misfortune of seeing the little church house, which he had just completed, carried away by a wind storm. This misfortune did not seem to dishearten the parishioners, however, for they soon got busy and erected a better and more commodious building.
The Christian denomination was the next to organize a church. Rev. J. W. Towry came to Checotah in 1896 and at the close of a series of meetings, gathered a little flock of converts together and established the Christian Church. The little congregation grew and prospered and within three years had erected and paid for a substantial church building.
The Baptist denomination soon afterward determined to organize a church. Rev. D. S. Cromer, a Baptist minister visited Checotah in 1898 and found five members of his denomination in the village. The use of the Christian Church was kindly tendered to him temporarily. Two years later Rev. Charles S. Leonard was called as pastor of this church, and with a membership of twenty-five, encouraged by his energy and earnestness, another very creditable church building was soon erected.
Later on the Presbyterians, Episcopalians and other denominations organized churches, and it may be well said that the religious welfare of the inhabitants of Checotah and vicinity has not been neglected.
Checotah, like every other Indian Territory town which was established prior to 1898, was hindered and delayed in the matter of organizing a good school system, but a school was started as soon as the town began to grow and for several years was maintained by subscription or voluntary taxation. Soon after Congress passed the law permitting towns to tax themselves for public purposes, a school district was organized, good teachers secured, modern buildings erected, and today Checotah has a first class school system, with an accredited high school.
As soon as Checotah began to contemplate the building of a real town, a wide awake commercial club was organized for the purpose of promoting the town’s interests, with J. B. Morrow as president, K. W. Whitmore as secretary and R. B. Hutchinson as treasurer.
Among the pioneers of Checotah, the name, of Mr. R. Y. Audd is worthy of mention. He came to this neighborhood from Kentucky about forty years ago, and taught school for a while at the old Asbury Mission School. He married a niece of the noted Cherokee chief, John Ross, and became so fascinated with the agricultural possibilities of this section of the country that he began to develop a farm near Checotah. He moved into Checotah soon after the town started, but continued his farming operations. He became interested in fruit culture and was soon the proprietor of the largest peach orchard in this part of the country. He built several houses in Checotah and in other ways demonstrated his interest in the growth of the town.
Mr. H. D. Knisely was the first druggist to locate in Checotah. From a small beginning his business gradually increased, until he became recognized as one of the leading druggists of the Indian Territory.
The First National Bank of Checotah was its first substantial financial institution. It was organized in 1898, Mr. J. S. Todd being its first president and R. D. Martin, cashier. This bank has paid its stockholders good dividends from the date of its organization, and its officers have been closely identified with the growth of the city.
William E. Gentry has, perhaps, done as much for Checotah as any other man. He is a Creek by birth and had possession of a fine body of land in this vicinity prior to the individual allotment of lauds. His cattle ranch, for many years, was one of the prominent institutions of the neighborhood. He interested himself in various ways in the development of the town and from its beginning, has been recognized as one of Checotah’s most useful citizens.
H. G. Turner was chosen as Checotah’s first mayor after the town was incorporated, and he and his councilmen gave the town their services without pay.
Mr. J. B. Morrow, Spaulding Mercantile Co., and Lafayette Brothers were among the early settlers who helped to make Checotah a real live city.
The Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows selected Checotah some years ago as the location of its State Orphan Home, and just outside the northern limits of the city, a large brick building was erected. The grounds around the building have been beautified, making it a very comfortable and attractive home for their orphan boys and girls.
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.