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BOKOSHE

Located in Le Flore County, Bokoshe (bō-kō-´shē) is on State Highway 31, seven miles west of Panama. The original settlement in the Choctaw Nation existed north of the present town and was also called Shake Rag. Bokoshe was a Choctaw word meaning "little creek" and refers to a nearby Bokoshe Creek. In 1886 the Post Office Department designated a post office called Bokoshe, with William Sanner as postmaster. In 1895 ten coal miners worked at a strip pit near the community. The coal industry has been associated with the town for more than a century. In 1900 the population stood at 153.

In 1901 the Ft. Smith and Western Railway laid tracks into the area to take advantage of the region's coal deposits. For the same reason, in 1903-1904 the Midland Valley Railroad constructed a line from Arkansas to the Bokoshe mines. The town moved from its earlier location to the intersection of the railroads. In 1904 the Bokoshe Smokeless Coal Company and the Henderson Smokeless Coal Company opened mines nearby. The 1910 population increased to 483, and in 1911 the town had a telephone connection, a bank, two hotels, several retail outlets, a cotton gin, and a flour mill. By 1916 at least six coal mines surrounded the town. The Bokoshe Chronicle, the Choctaw Herald, and the Bokoshe Enterprise had reported news to the town, but all were defunct by 1920. The presence of cotton gins and livestock brokers reflected a flourishing farming and ranching economy. The 1920 census reported 869 residents, declining to 715 in 1930.

As coal mining slowed in other portions of Oklahoma, the Bokoshe mines seemed to fare better, and local miners held key positions in the state's United Mine Workers of America labor union. In 1932 eight mines operated, some just part-time, near the town, employing approximately ninety-nine miners. These operations also increased the possibility of mining disasters, and the area mines had at least one fatal accident in the 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s. In 1940 the population was 690, and it continued to decline, the census registering 431 in 1960. By the 1960s the Lone Star Steel Company had the only slope mine at the town. In 1965 the town dedicated a new waterworks system, partially funded by federal grant money. In the 1970s the area's coal industry had a resurgence. The Garland Coal Company opened a mine in 1975, and the Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) Steel Corporation initiated a new mine in 1979. By the end of the twentieth century almost all of Oklahoma's coal came from strip mines, with mos of the region's slope mines closing.

In 1970 Bokoshe's population rebounded to 588 residents, and but fell to 403 in 1990. Congressional Medal of Honor winner William Shockley was born in Bokoshe. Early-twentieth-century professional baseball player and Lehigh, Oklahoma, native George "Rube" Foster, a pitcher for the 1915 World Series-champion Boston Red Sox retired to a Bokoshe farm and lived there until he died in 1976. In 2000 the local school system (grades prekindergarten through twelve) had 237 enrolled students. The 2000 population stood at 450.

SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 8 January 1961, 13 May 1965, 21 January 1975, and 15 August 1979. Henry L. Peck, The Proud Heritage of LeFlore County: A History of an Oklahoma County (Van Buren, Ark.: Press Argus, 1963). Sara Singleton Spears, Yesterday Revisited: An Illustrated History of LeFlore County (Poteau, Okla.: Poteau Daily News and Sun, 1991).

Larry O'Dell

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