The town of Byars is situated in southeastern McClain County on State Highway 59, approximately twenty miles east of Interstate 35. That location is one mile southeast of the site of Camp Arbuckle, where the first permanent buildings in McClain County were located. The buildings were erected in 1850 by the U.S. Army to protect gold seekers traveling to California. Before the Byars townsite existed, there was a settlement north of present Byars called Johnsonville. This community was named for Montford Johnson, a cattle rancher. Busy in the affairs of Johnsonville was Judge Thomas B. Johnston, chief justice of the Chickasaw Nation. Johnston's daughter Katie married Nathan H. Byars, a local rancher. After their wedding the couple lived in Johnsonville, where they raised cattle and farmed.
In 1903 railroad interests established the Byars community one mile south of Johnsonville on land allotted to Katie Byars. She and her husband donated land for the town square. The tract was permanently set aside for community purposes. Despite opposition from the citizens of Johnsonville, the Byars post office opened on April 9, 1903. Byars was incorporated in 1906 and by July of 1908 was served by the main line of the east-west Oklahoma Central Railway. Agriculture and cattle ranching were the community's main economic activities. In 1907 the population of Byars was listed as 537. Growth continued for several years, and many businesses were built around the town square. However, in the twentieth century the population of Byars dwindled. The number of residents in 1990 was 263 and in 2000 was 280.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Joyce A. Rex, ed., McClain County, Oklahoma, History and Heritage, Vols. 1 and 3 (Purcell, Okla.: McClain County Historical and Genealogical Society, 1986).
Joy F. Thompson
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