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Situated in Rogers County, Oologah lies on U.S. Highway 169 at its junction with the western terminus of State Highway 88. In 1828 the area became part of the Cherokee Nation. In 1889 the Kansas and Arkansas Valley Railway (later the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway and then the Missouri Pacific Railroad) constructed tracks through the region. The railroad placed a townsite, which became Oologah, on the line. According to historian George Shirk the name honored a Cherokee chief, Oologah, which he said translated from Cherokee as "Dark Cloud." Other sources claim the town name means "cloudy weather" and still others reference it as "clouds." The Oklahoma Federal Writers' Project wrote a sketch on Oologah, which claimed the name translated as "redhorse fish." A dictionary of the Cherokee language asserts that u wv gi la means "clouds" and o li ga means "redhorse fish." Nationally recognized humorist Will Rogers (1870-1935) was born near the town, a fact that the community has celebrated. In 1891 the Post Office Department designated a post office, with Bill Hewitt serving as postmaster.

The 1900 population stood at 308, and by 1901 the community supported three doctors, two blacksmiths, four general stores, two drugstores, a gristmill, and four livestock dealers. As the twentieth century burgeoned, coal mining, primarily strip mining, flourished in the Oologah vicinity. Agriculture and petroleum and natural gas production also benefited the town's economy. In 1902 W. J. Eldridge founded the Oologah Star. Other early newspapers included the New State Record, the Oologah Enterprise, the Oologah Tribune, and later the Oologah Oozing. In 1910 the population was 324. By 1911 the town had numerous retail outlets, a bank, a hotel, a grain elevator, and a school system that employed eight teachers. In 1920 the population was 277, and it steadily declined, reflecting the hard times of the Great Depression and a deterioration of the coal industry, with a figure of 263 in 1930 and 236 in 1940. In 1932 the bank closed. In 1946 a hardware store, a general store, a gas station, and a garage served the town. The 1950 population stood at 242, increasing to 299 in 1960. In 1963 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the first phase of the Oologah Dam, creating Oologah Lake east of the community. This added to the town's prosperity, and the number of residents began to rise. In 1970 the population was 458 and in 1980 it reached 798.

In the 1980s several businesses served the town, including a bank. In 1984 the town debuted a new waste treatment plant. In 1982 the old Oologah Bank (NR 82003699) and the Oologah Water Pump (NR 82001499) were listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1999 the I. W. W. Beck Building (NR 99001086) was added. In 1990 the population climbed to 828. In 2000 Oologah had 883 residents and the Oologah-Talala School District enrolled 1,628 students.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The History of Rogers County, Oklahoma (Claremore, Okla.: Claremore College Foundation, 1979). Priscilla Worden, A History of Oologah: Our First 100 Years, 1890-1990 (Rich Hill, Mo.: Oologah Historical Society, 1990).

Larry O'Dell

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