Le Flore County, Oklahoma - Scene of the Real "True Grit"

James N.

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Talimena Scenic Drive in the Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas-Oklahoma
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In response to subjects raised on another thread, here are some images to go with my comments to @diane regarding eastern Oklahoma's Le Flore County which I frequently visit. This wayside entrance to the drive is where it is crossed by U.S. 259, about halfway between Mena, Arkansas to the east and Talihina, Oklahoma to the west. These are the Winding Stair Mountains where the novel and film True Grit are set, haunt of outlaws and fugitives during the days when Oklahoma was Indian Territory and law was administered from Fort Smith, many miles away. I have always regretted that the producers of the two otherwise fine movie versions of the novel chose Colorado and New Mexico in which to film the story; as anyone can see, the mountains here are no less beautiful and imposing but have an altogether different character that more closely resembles eastern mountains.

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This is the Big Cedar Overlook which opens looking southward toward a crossroads of that name on U.S. 259 in the valley below where dedication ceremonies for the then-new highway were presided over by President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960's. Note the highway disappearing into the distance in the views above and below.

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From atop the east-west running Winding Stair Mountains it's easy to see how renegades of various stripes could've attempted to evade their pursuers, men like U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves who enforced the law for the U. S. Court of Judge John Parker in Fort Smith. Later outlaws like Belle Starr, "The Bandit Queen" could be found in this area as well.

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Additional scenes of the rugged beauty of the landscape, so different from the "popular" image of Oklahoma as a plains state located in Tornado Alley!

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Peter Conser Home
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Near the Talimena National Scenic Byway and Heavner, Oklahoma is the home of Peter Conser, head of a band of Choctaw police known as The Lighthorsemen who also protected the peace in Choctaw Territory. Conser was also a Representative and Senator to the Choctaw Council. Born in 1852 to a full-blood Choctaw mother Adeline and a Swiss immigrant father T. X. Colinson, he was orphaned at an early age when his mother died of smallpox.

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The following brief account of Peter Cosner's life and services is taken from the website http://www.talimenascenicdrive.com/peter-conser-house/

"In 1862, the Choctaws joined the Confederate side. Soon after, Union forces began to invade the Choctaw Nation. Those who were not involved in the fighting fled south to the Red River. After several days of hard travel, Peter was invited to stay at the plantation of the wealthy Choctaw, Robert M. Jones. During the years of Peter’s stay, he would learn skills that would prove invaluable throughout his life. It was also during this time that Peter changed his name from Peter Coinson to Peter Conser to shed the remains of his old life.

After the Civil War, Peter returned to Hodges and reestablished himself and prospered on an abandoned farm. He soon married and had a child with his first wife Amy Bacon, a Choctaw. At age 25 Conser aligned himself politically with the very prominent McCurtain brothers. He was soon appointed deputy sheriff of Sugarloaf County in the Choctaw Nation. He quickly established himself as a respected leader among the Choctaw."


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"In 1881, Peter Conser was appointed captain of the Choctaw Lighthorse in the Moshulatubbee district. The Lighthorse were the mounted police of the Five Civilized Tribes. Early on in the 1820’s the Lighthorse had absolute control over law enforcement in Indian Territory. The Lighthorse was stripped of their judicial power in the 1870’s thus becoming a peacekeeping force in the Indian Territory."

Conser died in 1934 and his nineteenth century home and farm is an Oklahoma state historical site and museum. Below, a view of the often-spectacular sunset from near Queen Wilhelmina Lodge just across the state line in Arkansas where the elevation is known as Rich Mountain.

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James N.

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:dance: Thank you! Those are absolutely beautiful. I really hadn't thought of Oklahoma as that pretty! :thumbsup:

Exactly why I wanted to post some of my more recent photos from the area; it's different from what most would think! Here are two more views taken in early spring, though I think they are in neighboring McCurtain County:

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MaryDee

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Beautiful photos! Looks like beautiful country!

Kansas is another "flat" state that isn't all flat, as I found when driving through the Flint Hills.
 
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James N.

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Spiro Mounds State Park, Spiro, Oklahoma
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In extreme northern Le Flore County just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and snugged up against the Arkansas River is one of the most significant pre-Colombian archeological sites in the United States, Spiro Mounds, named for the small nearby town. Although the mounds had been recognized for years, they weren't examined until after the Civil War and were found to contain a wealth of remarkable art treasures produced by the civilization that occupied the floodplain of the Arkansas River a thousand years ago. This apparently was the center of a vast complex of communities covering what are now the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma that virtually disappeared around 800 years ago.

Unfortunately, much of the site and its numerous burial and ceremonial mounds were despoiled by vandals in the early part of the twentieth century; however a good part of the artifacts was saved by state archeologists and those from the University of Oklahoma. Today mounds like the one shown above remain in the state park, interpreted by its small visitor center; the remaining recovered artifacts, below, are displayed in the Oklahoma Natural History Museum on the university campus at Norman south of Oklahoma City. Following are three additional related historical and natural sites in counties bordering Le Flore.

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Sequoyah's Cabin State Park, Sallisaw, Oklahoma
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Prior to the Indian Removal in what became known as the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee scholar and linguist known as Sequoyah, whose "white" name was George Guess, began experimenting with creating a written language for his people in eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. He relocated first to northwestern Arkansas Territory, then when it became a state in 1836 he continued on to the part of Indian Territory immediately north of the Arkansas River in what is now a county that bears his name, a portion of the lands allotted to the Cherokee people, building a cabin that is now preserved by the State of Oklahoma. The small-one-room structure has been entirely enclosed by a twentieth century structure in much the style of and around the same time as the supposed birthplace of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky. The protecting structure encases Sequoyah's cabin in such a way that it is virtually impossible to photograph it from the outside; these interiors were the best I was able to do!

Sequoyah returned to his work on the Cherokee Alphabet, and before the Civil War the Cherokee had their own newspaper The Cherokee Phoenix as well as many bibles and other books printed in their language which members of the tribe soon learned to both read and write. Even the destruction caused by the war failed to eradicate the new language; street signs in the Cherokee capital, Tallequah, are today in both English and Cherokee. Unfortunately, Sequoyah did not see the full flowering of his efforts; he died sometime prior to the war while on a visit to Mexico and his burial place remains unknown.

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1877 Muscogee (Creek) Council House, Okmulgee, Oklahoma
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West of Salisaw and lands belonging to the Cherokee are those ceded to the Creek or Muskogee Nation of the Five Civilized Tribes with their capital at Okmulgee in the county of the same name on U. S. 62 south of the modern city of Tulsa. The Council House was built following the Civil War in 1877 and resembles many court houses in Oklahoma and other states built around the same time.

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Robber's Cave State Park Near Wilburton, Oklahoma
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Another place nearby that conjures up memories of outlaws and lawmen in Indian Territory is preserved at Robbers' Cave State Park near Wilburton in neighboring Latimer County, just west of Le Flore County. The rugged landscape above contained a not-very-large cave on the hillside that sheltered various parties of wanderers over the years which included at least a few of the desperado variety. Today the state park has walking and hiking trails that lead to the cave and elsewhere within the park.

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The present park was developed by the state during the 1930's with help from the Federal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which built structures like the nature center above, and many of the guest cabins like the one below.

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A small new lodge overlooks the canyon below in this pleasant, pretty park that has little evidence of former frontier troubles.

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James N.

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Additional Scenes From Winding Stair National Recreation Area and Talimena Scenic Drive
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Talimena Scenic Drive stretches some 40 to 50 miles east-west from Mena, Arkansas to Talihina, Oklahoma; it can be accessed from U.S. 259 near its center as in the post at the top of this page or from the towns on either end, each of which have visitor centers like the one near Talihina shown above. From here the ascent begins and although the road is well-maintained, it is nevertheless quite steep in places. It is only two lane and undivided with a speed limit of 40 mph, designed for casual touring, not for speed. There are many pull-offs and overlooks like that below which has also been a favorite spot for hang gliding enthusiasts; note the switchback in the distance as it snakes eastward over the mountain ridge.

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The drive is theoretically open year-round, but on one particular visit around the Holidays I found the road impassable above the first wayside overlook due to the conditions I found there: SNOW many feet deep! I was forced to detour through the valley visible in the distance where the road was clear. Atop the mountain the drive is designated Oklahoma State Route 1 and Arkansas State Highway 88.

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There are many waysides and overlooks along the drive like the one above, most with interpretive signage that describe either natural or historical features. One positioned atop Rich Mountain on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border features a short trail that lead to the iron post below that marked the boundary between Indian Territory and the State of Arkansas. Cast into its iron ribs are. 1877., Arkansas., and Choc. for Choctaw Territory. Unfortunately, after standing here for over a century and a quarter, the marker disappeared a few years ago, stolen by vandals and not as yet recovered!

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Across the state line in Arkansas is a Pioneer Cemetery atop the mountain containing graves from before the creation of Ouachita National Forest and Talimena Scenic Drive. Below, down the mountainside along U. S. 59/270 someone gathered a collection of original log structures, typical of the homes in the area, one of which is pictured below; unfortunately, these too have largely been lost by now to time and failure to maintain them.

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James N.

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Robert S. Kerr Nature Center and Arboretum
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One destination along Talimena Scenic Drive I always find worth a longer stop is here at the Kerr Nature Center, formerly the Robert S. Kerr Arboretum, named for the long-serving Oklahoma U. S. Senator who did so much for development and also preservation in the region. (I guess not enough people knew what an arboretum is!) The McClellan-Kerr Navigation System made possible barge transportation the length of the Arkansas River from Tulsa to the confluence with the Mississippi, but Kerr was also insistent about the National Forest lands like Ouachita NF here.

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The Arboretum is on the Oklahoma side of the state line, not far from the junction with U. S. 259. Photographed on a late afternoon in fall, the visitor kiosk beside the parking area was aglow with seasonal color so often evident here in Ouachita National Forest. Sweetgum turns yellow and then orange in nice contrast to the reds of the maples below; sumac also first turns a fiery red before fading to a deeper burgundy late in the season.

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From the visitor kiosk three interpreted trails of varying length spread through these lower mountain meadows and hillsides with signage describing the area's natural history. The half-hour shortest trail is an easy walk through the woods and provides a nice break from driving. The longest trail takes two or three hours; I have never walked its entire length, mostly due to time.

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James N.

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Beaver's Bend State Park
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Since we seem to have an Indian Territory theme going on in the forums this week through various threads, I thought I'd resurrect this one from the past with a few fall photos taken a couple of weeks ago during a visit to Oklahoma. This is not however from Le Flore County, but its neighbor to the south, McCurtain County, in Beaver's Bend State Park in a region dubbed for tourism purposes Oklahoma's Little Smokies and bordered by the Ouachita National Forest.

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These views were all from a sort of canyon cut by a small creek; in the two shots above, this picnic area is along the creek and between the restaurant and old nature center, built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a bathhouse.

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This brand-new aluminum bridge replaces an older wooden one and spans a tributary that I have seen as a raging river.

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I'm unaware of any particular Civil War activity here within the grounds of Beaver's Bend but it's on land formerly belonging to the Choctaw Nation in southeast Oklahoma near the town of Broken Bow.

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The high bluff in the background of the photo below are a place where bald eagles sometimes nest in winter months. Cyprerss trees grow in the stream and along the riverbank here.
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