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STRINGTOWN

Stringtown is located in Atoka County, eight miles north of the county seat, Atoka, near the junction of U.S. Highway 69 and State Highway 43, about halfway between Durant and McAlester. In the early twenty-first century the small town could be seen along the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad (originally the Missouri, Kansas and Texas or Katy Railway, which was built through Stringtown in 1872). The town developed in Indian Territory, with its first frame house erected in 1868 and its post office established in 1874. Stagecoaches and wagons traveled through the area on the Texas Road.

Stringtown grew from humble beginnings to encompass a small valley surrounded by rolling hills. The origin of the name has been traced to two possible sources. One claims the original designation was Springtown, honoring a nearby sulfur spring, and that a spelling mistake changed the name to Stringtown. Another tradition alleges that it began as Stringtown, because of its few businesses and other buildings and structures were strung out along the railroad tracks.

In the early 1900s the Southwest Stone Company (commonly known as the rock crusher), thriving lumber businesses, and bumper cotton crops kept the small community booming. Simultaneously, trains occupied as many as three sidetracks of the Katy Railway while goods were loaded. Stringtown boasted mercantile stores, drugstores, blacksmith shops, cafés, a two-story hotel, bank, post office, jail, school, cotton gin, train depot, and several churches.

One of the town's memorable but tragic events occurred on August 5, 1932. Notorious outlaws Clyde Barrow and Ray Hamilton shot and severely wounded Atoka County Sheriff Charles Maxwell and killed Deputy Gene Moore, abruptly ending a local dance south of Stringtown. In 1933, north of the community, the state of Oklahoma initiated a prison to alleviate the overcrowding at the state penitentiary. In 1937 the facility changed to the Oklahoma State Technical Institute, teaching vocational skills to inmates. In 1942, during World War II, the prison interned residential aliens, including Germans, Italians, and some Japanese. In 1943 it became a prisoner of war camp, housing German soldiers. After the war the state returned the grounds to use as a substation for the state penitentiary. At the end of the twentieth century the institution, known as the Mack Alford Correctional Center, served as a medium security prison.

The first federal census for Stringtown reported 360 residents in 1920. Numbers rose to 558 in 1930 and to 718 in 1940. The population during post-World War II years declined to 499 counted in 1950. The community continued to lose citizens during the next two decades. In 1960 and 1970 the censuses enumerated 414 and 397, respectively. The population peaked in 1980 at 1,047 before dropping throughout the late twentieth century. At the turn of the twenty-first century the town had 396 residents. Its few remaining businesses, a post office, a school, city government, and churches served locals and tourists enjoyed nearby Atoka Lake, McGee Creek State Park and Reservoir, McGee Creek Wildlife Management Area, and Stringtown Wildlife Management Area.

SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jeffrey F. Burton, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites (Tuscon, Ariz.: Western Archeological and Conservation Center, 1999). Tales of Atoka County Heritage ([Atoka, Okla.]: Atoka County Historical Society, 1982-83). John Treherne, The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde (New York: Stein and Day, 1984). William H. Underwood, "A History of Atoka County" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1931). Richard S. Warner, "Barbed Wire and Nazilagers: PW Camps in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 64 (Spring 1986).

Glenda Wilson Benefield

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