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Located in Le Flore County, Howe is situated immediately west of U.S. Highway 59, eight miles north of Heavener and seven miles south of Poteau. The Choctaw Nation settlement was originally known as Klondike. After the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Gulf Railroad (bought by the Kansas City Southern Railway in 1900) laid tracks through the area in 1895-96, the residents renamed the town for Herbert Howe, a director of the railroad. In 1898 the U.S. Post Office Department established a post office in the community. That same year, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (leased to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company in 1904) also built tracks to the town. In the 1890s coal mining had emerged in the area, and beginning in 1899 the Mexican Gulf Coal and Transportation Company (MGC&T) built one hundred coke ovens west of Howe. After this company experienced financial problems, the Degnan and McConnell Coal and Coke Company purchased their assets. The local mines that the MGC&T had owned continued in operation, but the ovens were shut down. After World War I began, coal was once again in demand, and the Howe-McCurtain Coal and Coke Company reopened the ovens.

In 1900 Howe's population stood at 626, and the economy hinged on coal, coke, cotton, and potatoes. In 1901 the town had the Howe Herald newspaper, four doctors, four drugstores, several general and grocery stores, a cotton gin, and a hotel. By 1910 the population declined to 538, but it rebounded to 711 in 1920. Residents supported a bank, two cotton gins, and two hotels. Other local newspapers in the early twentieth century included the Howe Eagle and the Western Star. In 1932 the Lincoln Coal Company worked the mines and also manufactured coal briquets. The 1930 population of 692, declined to 640 in 1940. In the post-World War II decade gas stations and a few retail outlets comprised the businesses, with the Dawes Brothers Coal Company as the only registered mining entity in the area. In 1949 the U.S. Corps of Engineers completed the Wister Dam west of town for flood control and recreation. In 1960 the population had fallen to 390.

In 1961 a devastating tornado struck the town and the neighboring village of Reichter, killing thirteen, injuring fifty-seven, and destroying more than fifty residences. In 1967 the Howe Coal Company signed a thirteen-year contract to supply the Japanese steel industry with coal produced from the region's mines. Agriculture remained an economic constant. The 1980 population showed an increase to 562. In 2000 the population was 697, and the school system enrolled 346 students in grades prekindergarten through twelve.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Annual Report of the Mine Inspector for Indian Territory to the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1899 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1899). Heavener Historical Society, Heavener, Indian Territory: Our Proud Heritage, 1896-1996 (Cane Hill, Ark.: Arc Press, 1996). 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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