The town Fort Towson took its name from the nearby fort, which honored an army paymaster, Nathan Towson. The town is located on U.S. Highway 70 eleven miles east of Hugo in Choctaw County. Such notable men as Sam Houston and General Winfield Scott had visited the fort in the Indian Territory era. A thriving community called Doaksville was located one mile west of the fort site. In 1902 when the Arkansas and Choctaw Railway reached eastern Choctaw County, a group of two hundred male citizens submitted a petition proposing the purchase of 160 acres of land for a townsite near the fort. The location was desirable because Boiling Springs, on the northern edge of the site, provided an artesian spring which ran into Gates Creek. The survey having been completed in December 1902, Thomas Ryan, acting secretary of the interior, completed the approval. Among early residents were William and Tinsley Pryon, Jordon Folsom, D. G. Ball, and Wright Hopson.
During the 1900s the lumber industry became prominent in the surrounding region. Wright Hopson bought timber rights and sold them to the Pine Belt Lumber Company. In addition to the lumber company sawmill, various businesses, including a bottling works, sweet potato drying plant, cotton gin, two banks, two hotels, and several boarding houses made Fort Towson a commercial hub for the east end of the county. The 1910 population registered at 697 residents. In 1923 fifty more acres were added to the town. This was called the Old Fort Addition, and later another fifty constituted the West Fort Towson Addition.
Thomas Fennell built the first post office and served as the town's first postmaster. The Fort Towson post office has been recognized as one of the oldest continually operating post offices in the state. The Fort Enterprise began publication in 1905. Col. Charles C. Lewter owned and operated the newspaper, which came out each Friday through World War I, when he sold it to a Hugo newspaper. Doaksville Lodge 279, which meets at Fort Towson, was one of the earliest Masonic lodges in Oklahoma, beginning in 1852. Many Oklahoma showmen, rodeo performers, and circuses made the area their home.
In 1940 the town boasted a population of 501, and the decade provided several years of "all women" town councils. In the late 1950s Gov. Raymond Gary kept a campaign promise and authorized the creation of Lake Raymond Gary and the accompanying state park. The Gates Creek Dam Association was formed and sold some four hundred memberships to begin and support the effort. Randle Swink, president, and local merchant O. B. Medford, secretary, spearheaded the movement. In 1979 the town extended its limits to include lake residents. In 1980 the population stood at 789, which dropped to 611 in the 2000 census. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Lake Raymond Gary Association provided fireworks on the lake each Fourth of July and a spectacular lighted boat parade at Christmas. The Fort Towson Historical Society Museum, on the west end of the new town hall, chronicles the town's pioneer history through the twentieth century.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Marlynn Fleck-O'Keefe, Fort Towson, Indian Territory: A Link to the West (Fort Towson, Okla.: Lakeside Publications, 1997). George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974).
Marlynn Fleck O'Keefe
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