Located on State Highways 10 and 2 and U.S. Highway 59 in northern Craig County, Welch is eight miles south of the Kansas state line, eighteen miles north of Vinita, and thirteen miles west of Miami. The second-largest town in Craig County, Welch was established circa 1888 in the Cherokee Nation by D. B. Nigh, who leased the property from Frank Craig. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway (Katy) came through the area in 1871, and in 1891 the railroad built a switch on Nigh's property, providing a shipping point for local hay and grain.
Originally, the Katy had designated a townsite farther north, about halfway between present Welch and the Russell Creek switch. However, a community emerged by 1889 at the present location and was named to honor Katy official A. L. Welch. In 1902 the townsite was fully approved, and it incorporated in 1909. The first post office was established in 1892, with Benjamin Brookshire as postmaster. The population reached 334 in 1900 and climbed to 696 by 1920. In 1902 the Welch Watchman newspaper was established. It was published under that name and also as the Welch American until the mid-1960s.
In 1889 a joint-stock company established the first school. The town purchased it in 1907, and in 1911 the school graduated its first class. At the beginning of the twenty-first century approximately 380 students attended grades kindergarten through twelve. Welch is one of three Craig County towns that continues to have a bank. Two served the area from 1910 to 1923. The earliest, the People's Bank, was established in 1901, and the Oklahoma State Bank can be traced to 1910. In 1923 they merged to become the Welch State Bank.
The town's economic base has always been agriculture. In 1889 Henry Brooks Campbell began buying hay for a Kansas City hay dealer. This enterprise led to the establishment of Campbell Hay and Grain Company, one of the largest hay and grain businesses in northeastern Indian Territory at the time. Grain and coal shipments from Welch grew from two hundred carloads in 1894 to five hundred carloads in 1897. In the 1930s Charley Neill began a cattle-feeding business on his ranch west of town, and in 1960 he and a son founded the Neill Cattle Company. In 1928 the Maxson family started in the cattle auction business and established the Maxson Sales Barn in 1967. After they sold it in 1977, it became the Welch Livestock Auction. Crop production, ranching, and other agricultural interests remain the area's financial anchor. A population of 498 in 1940 increased to 651 in 1970.
After the Welch Area Development Authority formed to help the town attract businesses, by 2003 Welch had two convenience stores, a grocery store, a feed store, Thomas Funeral Home, the Blossom Shoppe, a meat processor, a livestock sale barn, two cafes, a new automotive shop, two saddle shops, an assisted-living retirement home, Graham Equipment Company, and a new medical office, among other enterprises. The 2000 population stood at 597.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Heritage of Craig County and Cooweescoowee and Delaware Districts, Indian Territory, Vol. 3 (Vinita, Okla.: Craig County Genealogical Society, 2000). The Story of Craig County: Its People and Places, 2 vols. (Vinita, Okla.: Craig County Heritage Association, 1984-1991).
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