Located four miles north of Wilburton on State Highway 2, Robbers Cave State Park, originally Latimer State Park (name changed in 1936), encompasses more than eight thousand acres and includes three lakes and many tourist amenities. The lore associated with Robbers Cave area has a long history, dating to its use as an Osage hunting ground and as the object of French exploration in the eighteenth century. Later, Civil War deserters and outlaws reportedly hid in the cave, including the Youngers, the Dalton Gang, the Rufus Buck Gang, and Belle Starr. The location and local terrain made the cave an almost impregnable fortress, with the criminals allegedly able to escape through a secret back exit.
In 1929 Carlton Weaver, a Wilburton newspaper editor and state representative, donated 120 acres surrounding the cave to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for use as a camp. He served as the vice president of the Boy Scouts' Choctaw Council. John Newell, warden at McAlester's State Penitentiary, soon arranged for a group of skilled inmates to begin improving the site. Using locally quarried rock, the prisoners built a kitchen and several buildings that were used as headquarters for different scout troops. Named Camp Tom Hale, honoring a McAlester businessman and BSA supporter, the facility was adjacent to a tract of land that Weaver had leased and later donated to the state fish and game commission to create a large game preserve. In 1933 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Company 1825 was organized and located at the state game preserve. In 1935, under the supervision of the National Parks Service, the State Parks Division took control of the area. Between 1935 and 1941 CCC Company 1825 built a bathhouse, cabins, trails, group camps, shelters, and roads. Again, native stone was used on these projects. In 1937 the CCC and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created Lake Carlton, named for Carlton Weaver.
Situated in the Sans Bois Mountains, Robbers Cave State Park features rock bluffs of sandstone and shale. A wildlife management area (WMA) with hunting grounds lies adjacent to the park. Deer and other small fur-bearing mammals, along with an array of reptiles and birds, inhabit the park. Game birds, such as wild turkey and quail, are cultivated in the WMA. Pine, cedar, walnut, and blackjack, among a host of hardwoods, compose the forest environment.
In 1994 the state renovated the bathhouse into a nature center. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the park offered a restaurant, a twenty-room lodge, an equestrian camp, stables, campgrounds, group camps, cabins, and fishing at Lake Carlton, Lake Wayne Wallace, and Coon Creek Lake, and in Fourche Maline Creek. Swimming, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and rappelling are other activities that attract visitors. In 1987 the park hosted its first annual Robbers Cave Fall Festival. In 1998 the Robbers Cave Bluegrass Festival began. In 2002 the state park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NR 96000489).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: "A Kingdom for Boys," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 11 January 1931. Arthur J. Myers, et al., Guide to Robbers Cave State Park (Norman: Oklahoma Geological Survey, 1986). "Robbers Cave State Park," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
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