Situated in Le Flore County four and one-half miles north of the junction of State Highways 9 and 59, Cowlington lies two miles south of the Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam, part of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The town is also ten and one-half miles south of Sallisaw on County Road E1180.
Short Mountain is located north of town, which, along with the Arkansas River bottoms, attracted settlers to the region after the Choctaws relocated to the area in the mid-nineteenth century. After the Civil War several white intruders leased land in the vicinity, including Coke and Fowler Cowling. In 1884 the U.S. Post Office Department approved a post office for the townsite, which had been known as Short Mountain. The name became Cowlington, honoring the Cowling families. In April 1901, prior to Choctaw allotment, the town was surveyed, with the plat approved in November.
Agriculture, including wheat, potatoes, cotton, and livestock, served as the region's economic staple. In 1900 the population stood at 272, climbing to 378 in 1910. In 1911 there were two drug stores, three general stores, a blacksmith shop, a grist mill, a cotton gin, and a bank. There was also a hotel, school, and Baptist and Methodist churches. In 1898 and 1904 the town survived floods that devastated crops, houses, and livestock. Cowlington failed to convince railroads to construct lines through it. Fowler Cowling sold his holdings and moved to Pittsburg County in the 1910s. Tornadoes in the 1920s and the later Great Depression of the 1930s further stunted the town's growth. In 1920 the population was 344, which declined to 224 in 1940. More floods in 1941 and 1943 led to further out-migration, and by 1950 only eighty-three residents remained.
In 1963 Cowlington spread to more than thirty-one acres through annexation, competing for real estate with other towns along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. The expansion increased the 1960 population of 74 to a 1970 mark of 751. Every Mother's Day weekend, which is Decoration Day at the cemetery, a number of past residents return to the town. Cowlington's Overstreet-Kerr Historical Farm celebrates the region's agricultural culture. The Overstreet House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 80004285). The Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam (constructed from 1964 to 1970) stopped the bottomland erosion and added tourism to the area. The school, which had a graduating class of one in 1935, eventually consolidated with other rural schools in the 1960s, with students busing out of the community. In 2000 the population stood at 133.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lemuel F. Ball, Jr., comp., Cowlington, Le Flore County, Oklahoma (Poteau, Okla.: Poteau Valley Genealogical Society, 2000). Henry L. Peck, The Proud Heritage of Le Flore County: A History of an Oklahoma County (Van Buren, Ark.: Press Argus, 1963). Sara Singleton Spears, Yesterday Revisited: An Illustrated History of Le Flore County (Poteau, Okla.: Poteau Daily News and Sun, 1991).
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