The Ouachita Mountains extend east to west for 225 miles from central Arkansas into the southeastern Oklahoma counties of McCurtain, Pushmataha, LeFlore, Latimer, Pittsburg, and Atoka. The range's tallest peak, Magazine Mountain (in Arkansas), reaches an elevation of 2,800 feet. The formation of this range of mountains occurred much like that of the Appalachian Mountains, which contains numerous folds. More than three hundred million years ago, during the Paleozoic Era, the land where the Ouachitas are now located was under the Ouachita Basin, a deep ocean. The waves of the ocean and the movement of South America caused folds on the ocean floor. The range's original elevations were higher than at present. Natural occurrences such as wind and erosion swept away the mountain tops and facilitated the formation of the Arkansas Embayment region and the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Underlying the mountains are shale, slate, quartzite, sandstone, and chert. Soils are stony and non-stony, medium-textured Udults. Precipitation is heavy, with forty-eight to fifty-six inches falling during the year, providing perennial streams. Mean annual temperature ranges from 61° F to 63°.
The Ouachita Mountains include the Ouachita National Forest. Tree species found in this region include northern red, post, black, and white oak, shortleaf and loblolly pine, and mockernut hickory. The forest provides habitat for deer, wild turkeys, black bears, gray and fox squirrels, cottontail rabbits, raccoons, and other species. Additionally, the mountains are home to many lakes and streams and at least 190 native fish species. At least twenty-four species have become extinct to the Ouachitas, most because of loss of habitat, some for predator control, and still others, including the bison, the Carolina parakeet, and the passenger pigeon, due to over-hunting. The black lordithon rove beetle became extinct because of unknown factors. Ecological conditions such as droughts, floods, tornadoes, and human activities have changed and continue to change the landscape of the Ouachitas.
With its clear streams and dense forests, the Ouachita Mountains served as an ideal home for many pre-contact American Indians. The Ouachita name came from the French spelling of the Caddo word "wishita" meaning "good hunting ground." The Quapaw and Caddo tribes were early American Indians to hunt the forest and fish the streams. The post-contact history of the Ouachita Mountains includes three phases. The first phase marked the settlement of the European Americans and the forced removal of the Choctaw Nation into Indian Territory. The second followed the Civil War. This period witnessed a rapidly growing immigrant population and town and railroad line development. The third took place after World War I, as automobiles and electricity usage increased. This allowed the emergence of tourism in the Ouachita Mountains, creating the need for road construction.
Lumbering and related wood-using industries have been an important economic activity, relying on the mountains' forests. Only a small part of the region is useful for agriculture or pasturage. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Ouachita Mountains and National Forest provided a booming tourist industry with numerous activities, including hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, and scenic drives for photographic opportunities.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: James M. Goodman, "Physical Environments of Oklahoma," in Geography of Oklahoma, ed. John W. Morris (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977). Charles William Honess, Geology of the Southern Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma (Norman: Oklahoma Geological Survey, 1923). Don Kurz, Scenic Driving the Ozarks Including the Ouachita Mountains (Helena, Mont.: Falcon Press, 1996). Milton D. Rafferty and John C. Catau, The Ouachita Mountains: A Guide for Fishermen, Hunters, and Travelers (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
Shayne R. Cole and Richard A. Marston
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