Located in the northwestern quadrant of Haskell County at the intersection of State Highways 2 and 9, Whitefield is fifty-five miles west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and forty-six miles south of Muskogee. The town's existence can be traced to the Civil War, as in 1861 the Confederates established an encampment of approximately two thousand rebels at the present townsite. The camp, named Camp Pike in honor of Brig. Gen. Albert Pike, who was credited with persuading the Five Civilized Tribes to join the Confederacy, served as the Confederate force's base of operations for staging campaigns against Union occupiers in western Arkansas and north across the Canadian River in the Cherokee Nation's Arkansas River Valley.
The post-Civil War era saw the establishment of a Choctaw trading post that served not only the Indians but permit-holding white farmers who worked the Choctaw lands, as well as the occasional outlaw, including Belle Starr. That trading post and the adjacent small community was known as Oklahoma, Indian Territory. The Post Office Department suggested a name change, stemming from the confusion with the Oklahoma Territory town known as Oklahoma Station. In 1888 the town residents voted to change the name to Whitefield, honoring a popular Methodist bishop named George Whitefield.
Whitefield's role after its trading post days was one of supporting area cotton farmers. In 1911 the town had an approximate population 500 and boasted two grocers, two general stores, a cotton gin and mill, a drugstore, a doctor, and a blacksmith among its businesses. By 1918 the community had an estimated 300 inhabitants. Prosperity lasted until the Great Depression, during which Whitefield experienced a rapid decline in the need for services. In 1980 the first federal census for the town counted 240. In 1988 the town still had two grocery stores, a feed store, a café, service stations, a beauty shop, a barbershop, and other enterprises. The 1990 and 2000 censuses reported a population of 253 and 231, respectively. Whitefield served as a "bedroom" community for larger towns.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ted Byron Hall, Oklahoma, Indian Territory (Fort Worth, Tex.: American Reference Publishers, 1971). Haskell County History: Indian Territory to 1988 (N.p.: Haskell County Historical Society, 1989). George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Place Names (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974). Muriel H. Wright and LeRoy H. Fischer, "Civil War Sites in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Summer 1966).
Glenn O. Hyder
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