Located in northeastern Le Flore County, Pocola is sited on County Road E1230, east of State Highway 112. It also lies nine miles east of Spiro. Pocola is the Choctaw word for ten, the approximate distance in miles from the town to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Civil War Battle of Devil's Backbone Mountain, a victory for the Union Army, occurred on September 1, 1863, near the community. After the war the small settlement hosted a Choctaw neighborhood school called Folsom Chapel. Willis F. Folsom served as an influential Methodist circuit preacher and lived for many years at Pocola, he was interred there in 1894. In the 1880s Will Hartshorne began operating a coal mine in the area.
In 1881 the first post office was established, with George Hickman as postmaster. In 1895 Hartshorne employed six men in his mine before the Fort Smith and Western Coal and Railway acquired the property the next year. The Kansas and Texas Coal Company also had interests in the area. By 1899 no mines at Pocola were listed in the Annual Report of the Mine Inspector for Indian Territory. Although in 1900 the population was estimated to be two hundred residents, in 1901 the business district consisted of a general store operated by John Hinton. In 1911 C. G. Black owned the only store, and the nearest railroad depot lay nearly four miles away at Bonanza, Arkansas. In 1916 the town lost its post office. In 1918 Amos Carter ran the sole general store, and the approximate population stood at seventy-five.
In the 1930s the rural, agricultural community around Pocola established a consolidated school district, and classes met at Pocola. The surrounding communities of Plain View, Cherry Grove, and Dog Town sent their children there to be educated. In 1938 the federal government authorized the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to construct a school building. In 1955-56 the nearby Cedar Separate School merged with Pocola. In 1963 the residents successfully initiated incorporation procedures to gain water rights along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and to ensure that the area was not annexed by other Le Flore County communities. The town board soon began annexing land, and eventually the town encompassed more than thirty square miles. Many of the 1,840 inhabitants counted in 1970 lived in the rural areas, and the count increased to 3,268 in 1980. Growth attracted new businesses, and several municipal services, including police and fire, formed to serve Pocola's residents. In 1987 the U.S. Postal Service reestablished a post office. In 2000 the prekindergarten-through-twelfth-grade school system enrolled 848 students, and the population was 3,994.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. F. Dunkle, "A Choctaw Indian's Diary," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 4 (March 1926). Tom Franzmann, "The Battle of Devil's Backbone Mountain," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 62 (Winter 1984-85). Henry L. Peck, The Proud Heritage of LeFlore County: A History of an Oklahoma County (Van Buren, Ark.: Press Argus, 1963). Poteau (Oklahoma) News and Sun, 16 August 1987. Sara Singleton Spears, Yesterday Revisited: An Illustrated History of LeFlore County (Poteau, Okla.: Poteau Daily News and Sun, 1991). David M. Webb, Pocola: Ten Miles From Town (N.p.: N.p., 1995).
© Oklahoma Historical Society