Wister is located in central Le Flore County and in the northern portion of the Ouachita National Forest near Lake Wister, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created between 1946 and 1949. U.S. Highways 270 and 271 pass through the town. McAlester is located fifty-five miles almost due west, and the Oklahoma-Arkansas border lies twenty miles east of Wister.
Within a few decades of the 1830s Choctaw removal from Mississippi to Indian Territory, the population in the future Le Flore County area had greatly increased. By the second half of the nineteenth century the Choctaw and the whites who joined them had developed an economy that required railroad services. In 1866, after the Civil War, a treaty between the Choctaw Nation and the federal government permitted railroads to build through the territory. They became an integral part of the economy, transporting coal, timber, livestock, farming, and other products, as well as passengers.
The Post Office Service designated a Wister post office on June 30, 1890. The town is a namesake of Gutman G. Wister, an official of the now defunct Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad. The town existed before the post office. In 1886 a hotel and other buildings in the vicinity served workers building the Fort Smith and Southern Railway (soon purchased by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway) through the vicinity. From 1889-90 the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (leased to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway in 1904) laid tracks from Wister to McAlester and in 1898 from Wister to Howe. The circumstances of Wister's establishment were similar to those of most Le Flore County towns fortunate enough to have a railroad.
In 1900 the population was 313, climbing to 498 in 1910. In 1911 the town had a bank, a cotton gin, a gristmill, a sawmill, a hotel, and several retail outlets. The New Era, the Wister News, the Wister Record, and the Wister Informer have reported the local news. By 1930 the population stood at 761, and the town still had a cotton gin, gristmill, and sawmill. The coal and timber industries supported the area's economy throughout most of the twentieth century. In 1950 the population was 729, but it declined to 592 in 1960 before resurging to 927 in 1970. One hundred years after Wister's first post office opened, the population stood at 956 in 1990. In 2000 the population was 1,002, and the school district enrolled 525 students from prekindergarten through high school.
SEE ALSO: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Henry L. Peck, The Proud Heritage of LeFlore County: A History of an Oklahoma County (Van Buren, Ark.: Press Argus, 1963). Sarah Singleton Spears, Yesterday Revisited: An Illustrated History of LeFlore County (Poteau, Okla.: Poteau Daily News and Sun, 1991).
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