The Haskell County seat, located in the county's northwestern quadrant at the intersection of State Highways 9 and 82, Stigler is forty-nine miles west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and fifty miles southeast of Muskogee. Founded in 1889 by Joseph S. Stigler, a former U.S. deputy marshal who had ridden for infamous "Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker, Stigler, originally called Newman, existed as a dusty little cow town in Indian Territory. Stigler named the settlement Newman in honor of his friend, a Doctor Newman, whom Stigler had persuaded to move to the village, hoping that medical services would attract settlers. In 1893 the Post Office Department, in an effort to avoid confusion with Norman, Oklahoma Territory, changed the name to Stigler, as Stigler served as the postmaster.
Stigler remained the same cow town until 1904 when the Midland Valley Railroad Company added the community to its stable of railroad towns. The coming of the railroad to Stigler boosted its economy. The new railroad depot attracted cotton gins, grist mills, banks, newspapers, more doctors, and, of course, lawyers. By 1905 the town had grown sufficiently enough to allow it to apply to the U.S. District Court in Poteau for incorporation, which was granted in April 1905. At 1907 statehood, Stigler won a competition with neighboring towns to become the county seat of Haskell County.
In 1910 the population stood at 1,583, rising to 1,797 in 1920. Its economy was based on agriculture augmented by the outgrowth business that was attracted by the county seat of government. Stigler maintained its status quo until the Great Depression and World War II; afterward, the growing of cotton and corn could no longer sustain the economy. In the years that followed World War II the federal government, through its various programs, helped the area's farmers evolve into ranchers, thus saving agriculture and its economic benefits from total extinction. Stigler had a host of newspapers that served the community, beginning with the Stigler Beacon, soon followed by the State Sentinel, and others have included the Haskell County Leader, Haskell County News, Haskell County Tribune, Country Star, and Stigler News Sentinel. By 1950 the population had grown to 2,125, expanding to 2,630 in 1980.
The 2000 census tallied 2,731, but the town no longer depended upon agriculture and county government as its sole source of economic support. The building of Lakes Eufaula and Kerr, to its immediate west and east respectively, introduced tourism to the region, and light manufacturing has been actively recruited by Stigler officials. The son of the founder, William Grady Stigler (born in Newman and buried in Stigler), served Oklahoma's Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1944 to 1952. The Haskell County Courthouse (NR 84003061), the Stigler School Gymnasium-Auditorium (NR 88001384), and the nearby Mule Creek Archaeological Site (NR 78002237) have been placed in the National Register of Historic Places. At the turn of the twenty-first century Stigler had a home rule charter form of government.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: John P. Gilday and Mark H. Salt, eds., Oklahoma History, South of the Canadian: Historical and Biographical (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1925). Haskell County History: Indian Territory to 1988 (N.p.: Haskell County Historical Society, 1989). Haskell County (Oklahoma) Tribune, 14 April 1955. Stigler (Oklahoma) News-Sentinel, April 1955.
Glenn O. Hyder
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