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Sans Bois is a French phrase meaning "without wood." The name was given to a creek in southeastern Oklahoma with markedly little timber and later to the nearby mountains from which it flowed. It is one of the many names indicating early French exploration and influence in Oklahoma. A frontal belt of the Ouachita Mountains, the Sans Bois lie across southern Haskell and northern Latimer counties in southeastern Oklahoma. The mountains' height contrasts with contrasts the rolling hills to the south. In some areas the peaks reach more than 1,800 feet above sea level. They are composed mostly of dark shales with linear sandstone ridges that trend northeast to southwest, and the slopes are mostly covered with oak-pine-hickory forest.

Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers and Foragers roamed and settled eastern Oklahoma and the Sans Bois Mountains about 8000 to 1000 B.C. Farming began to replace foraging about A.D. 1, with farmers establishing small sites along mountain streams having suitable topography. The historic period recognized two indigenous groups living in proximity to the Sans Bois range. The Wichita, a confederacy of smaller tribes and the first documented to have inhabited the area, lived in larger villages in major stream valleys. The Choctaw Nation came to Indian Territory in significant numbers from 1831 and principally were farmers.

By the turn of the century few people had settled in the mountains, preferring to farm the nearby level lowlands. Residents used much of the timber found on the mountain slopes for fuel, housing construction, mining timbers, and railroad ties. Coal mining and natural gas, important economic activities in the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, created a unique mining landscape in the Sans Bois Mountains. Robbers Cave State Park, named from reports that the cave was used as a hideout for several outlaws, is located four miles north of Wilburton and is almost in the center of the Sans Bois range.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. David Baird and Danney Goble, The Story of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994). Claudette Marie Gilbert and Robert L. Brooks, From Mounds to Mammoths: A Field Guide to Oklahoma Prehistory (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000). John W. Morris, ed., Geography of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977). Arthur J. Myers, et al., Guide to Robbers Cave State Park (Norman: Oklahoma Geological Survey, 1986). Muriel A. Wright, Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986).

Brad W. Watkins

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