McAlester, Oklahoma

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McAlester, Oklahoma
Downtown McAlester.jpg
Downtown McAlester in 2008. Courtesy Jeremy Wagg
Location of McAlester, Oklahoma
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McAlester, Oklahoma
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 34°55′59″N95°45′59″W / 34.93306°N 95.76639°W / 34.93306; -95.76639 Coordinates: 34°55′59″N95°45′59″W / 34.93306°N 95.76639°W / 34.93306; -95.76639
Country United States
State Oklahoma
County Pittsburg
  Total15.8 sq mi (41.0 km2)
  Land15.7 sq mi (40.6 km2)
  Water0.1 sq mi (0.4 km2)
735 ft (224 m)
  Density1,133.1/sq mi (437.5/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
  Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 539/918
FIPS code 40-44800 [1]
GNIS feature ID1095202 [2]
Website McAlester, Oklahoma official website

McAlester is a city in and the county seat of Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, United States. [3] The population was 18,363 at the 2010 census, a 3.4 percent increase from 17,783 at the 2000 census, [4] making it the largest city in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, followed by Durant. The town gets its name from James Jackson McAlester, an early white settler and businessman who later became lieutenant governor of Oklahoma. Known as "J. J.", McAlester married Rebecca Burney, the daughter of a full-blood Chickasaw family, which made him a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. [4]

A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or civil parish. The term is used in Canada, China, Romania, Taiwan and the United States. County towns have a similar function in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, and historically in Jamaica.

Pittsburg County, Oklahoma County in the United States

Pittsburg County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the population was 45,837. Its county seat is McAlester. The county was formed from part of the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory in 1907. County leaders believed that its coal production compared favorably with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the time of statehood.

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.


McAlester is the home of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the former site of an "inside the walls" prison rodeo that ESPN's SportsCenter once broadcast.

Oklahoma State Penitentiary

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary, nicknamed "Big Mac", is a prison of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections located in McAlester, Oklahoma, on 1,556 acres (6.30 km2). Opened in 1908 with 50 inmates in makeshift facilities, today the prison holds more than 750 male offenders, the vast majority of which are maximum-security inmates.

SportsCenter (SC) is a daily sports news television program that serves as the flagship program of American cable and satellite television network ESPN. Originally broadcast only once per day, SportsCenter now has up to twelve airings each day; the program features highlights and updates, and reviews scores from the day's major sporting events, along with commentary, analysis previewing upcoming games, feature segments, and news stories from around the sports world.

McAlester is home to many of the employees of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. This facility makes essentially all the bombs used by the United States military. In 1998 McAlester became the home of the Defense Ammunition Center (DAC), which moved from Savanna, Illinois, to McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. [5]

McAlester Army Ammunition Plant (MCAAP) is a weapons manufacturing facility in McAlester, Oklahoma. USA. Its mission is to produce and renovate conventional ammunition and ammunition related components. The plant stores war reserve and training ammunition. McAlester performs manufacturing, industrial engineering, and production product assurance. The plant also receives, demilitarizes, and disposes of conventional ammunition components. The plant is the largest, in terms of storage, housing close to one-third of the Department of Defense's munitions stockpile. The plant is government-owned and government-operated. It is located in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, southwest of the city of McAlester.

The Defense Ammunition Center (DAC) is the United States Department of Defense’s focal point for ammunition knowledge and logistical support. It is responsible for explosives safety, logistics engineering, transportability, training, depot/garrison doctrine, demilitarization technology, supportability, reliability, technical assistance and career management. DAC also supports all aspects of ammunition operations and activities from development through disposal.

Savanna, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Savanna is a city in Carroll County, Illinois, United States. The population was 2,945 at the 2010 census, down from 3,542 in 2000. Savanna is located along the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Plum River. Going from north to south, the second automobile bridge between Iowa and Illinois is located just north of Savanna, and is part of U.S. Route 52. The bridge leads to Sabula, Iowa, which is across the river from Savanna. Savanna is also served by two major railroads, the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) Railway Company and the (CP) Canadian Pacific. Savanna also has a small airport, The Tri-Township Airport (KSFY).


When this street in McAlester was paved in 1916, the city saved this pine tree and built a fence around it Pine tree, McAlester, Oklahoma (1916).jpg
When this street in McAlester was paved in 1916, the city saved this pine tree and built a fence around it

The crossing of the east-west California Road with the north-south Texas Road formed a natural point of settlement in Tobucksy County of the Choctaw Nation. Alyssia Young, who emigrated from Mississippi to the Indian Territory, first established a settlement at the intersection of the two roads in 1838. The town was named Perryville after James Perry, member of a Choctaw family, who established a trading post. [6] At one time Perryville was the capital of the Choctaw Nation and County Seat of Tobucksy County. During the American Civil War, the Choctaw allied with the Confederate States of America (CSA) as the war reached Indian Territory. [7]

California Road

According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, there were two trails that may have been known as the California Road at the time of the California Gold Rush. A southerly route, which ran from the through present-day Oklahoma,(but then known only as Indian Territory, along the Canadian River. A northern route was usually called the California Trail.

Texas Road

The Texas Road, also known as the Shawnee Trail, Sedalia Trail or the Kansas Trail, was a major trade and emigrant route to Texas across Indian Territory. Established during the Mexican War by emigrants rushing to Texas, it remained an important route across Indian Territory until Oklahoma statehood. The Shawnee Trail was the earliest and easternmost route by which Texas Longhorn cattle were taken to the north. It played a significant role in the history of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas in the early and mid-1800s.

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Domestic dependent nation

The Choctaw Nation is a Native American territory and federally recognized Indian Tribe with a tribal jurisdictional area and reservation comprising 10.5 counties in Southeastern Oklahoma. The Choctaw Nation maintains a special relationship with both the United States and Oklahoma governments.

A depot providing supplies to Confederate Forces in Indian Territory was set up at Perryville. On August 26, 1863, a force of 4,500 Union soldiers crossed the Canadian River and destroyed the Confederate munitions depot at Perryville. This became known as the Battle of Perryville, Indian Territory. Union Major General James G. Blunt, finding the Confederate supplies and realizing that Perryville was a major supply depot for Confederate forces, ordered the town burned. The town was rebuilt but never reached its prewar glory or population.

Battle of Perryville battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Perryville was fought on October 8, 1862, in the Chaplin Hills west of Perryville, Kentucky, as the culmination of the Confederate Heartland Offensive during the American Civil War. Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Mississippi initially won a tactical victory against primarily a single corps of Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Union Army of the Ohio. The battle is considered a strategic Union victory, sometimes called the Battle for Kentucky, since Bragg withdrew to Tennessee soon thereafter. The Union retained control of the critical border state of Kentucky for the remainder of the war.

James G. Blunt Union major general during the American Civil War

James Gillpatrick Blunt was a physician and abolitionist who rose to the rank of major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was defeated by Quantrill's Raiders at the Battle of Baxter Springs in Kansas in 1863, but is considered to have served well as a division commander during Price's Raid in Missouri, which occurred in 1864.

After the end of the Civil War in 1865, Captain J. J. McAlester obtained a job with the trading company of Reynolds and Hannaford. McAlester convinced the firm to locate a general store at Tupelo in the Choctaw Nation. He had learned of coal deposits in Indian Territory during the war while serving as a captain with the 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment (Confederate). At Fort Smith, Arkansas, before going to work with Reynolds and Hannaford, McAlester had received maps of the coal deposits from engineer Oliver Weldon, who served with McAlester during the war. [8]

22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment

The 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment was a Confederate Army infantry regiment during the American Civil War (1862–1865). This regiment was originally organized as the 17th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, reorganized after the battle of Pea Ridge as 1st Regiment, Northwest Division, Trans-Mississippi Department, or Rector's War Regiment, redesignated as the 35th Arkansas in the summer of 1862, and reorganized and redesignated as the 22nd Arkansas following the Battle of Prairie Grove. The unit was also sometimes referred to as, King's Arkansas Infantry or McCord's Arkansas Infantry. This was the second regiment to be officially designated as the 22nd Arkansas. The first was mustered in at DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, on April 9, 1862, and later reorganized as the 20th Arkansas Infantry Regiment.

Fort Smith, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas and one of the two county seats of Sebastian County. As of the 2010 Census, the population was 86,209. With an estimated population of 88,037 in 2017, it is the principal city of the Fort Smith, Arkansas-Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region of 298,592 residents that encompasses the Arkansas counties of Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian, and the Oklahoma counties of Le Flore and Sequoyah.

Weldon had worked for the U.S. surveying Indian Territory before the war and knew of the coal deposits. Hearing of the railroad plans to extend through Indian Territory and knowing that rich deposits of coal were in an area north of the town of Perryville, McAlester convinced Reynolds and Hannaford that Bucklucksy would be a more suitable and profitable site for the trading post. [lower-alpha 1] He constructed a trading post/general store there in late 1869 ( Presley 1978 , p. 72). The Bucklucksy general store was an immediate success, but McAlester recognized an even greater opportunity in the abundance of coal deposits in the area, so he began obtaining rights to the deposits from the Choctaws, anticipating the impending construction of a rail line through Indian Territory. [8]

As the first railroad to extend its line to the northern border of Indian Territory, the Union Pacific Railway Southern Branch earned right of way and a liberal bonus of land to extend the line to Texas. Several New York businessmen, including Levi P. Morton, Levi Parsons, August Belmont, J. Pierpont Morgan, George Denison and John D. Rockefeller, were interested in extending rail through Indian Territory, and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, familiarly called the Katy Railroad, began its corporate existence in 1865 toward that end. Morton and Parsons selected a site near the Kansas Indian Territory border where they incorporated the settlement of Parsons, Kansas in 1871. [8]

That same year, J. J. McAlester, after buying out Reynolds’s share of the trading post, journeyed with a sample of coal to the railroad town in hopes of persuading officials to locate the line near his store at Bucklucksy. The trading post's location on the Texas Road weighed in its favor, given that the Katy line construction roughly followed the Shawnee Trail – Texas Road route south to the Red River. The line reached Bucklucksy in 1872, and Katy Railroad officials named the railway stop McAlester ( Nesbitt 1933 , pp. 760–61).

With the coming of the railroad, businesses in nearby Perryville began relocating to be near the McAlester Rail Depot, marking the end of Perryville and the beginning of McAlester. On August 22, 1872, J. J. McAlester married Rebecca Burney (1841–1919). She was a member of the Chickasaw Nation, which made it possible for McAlester to gain citizenship and the right to own property (including mineral rights to the coal deposits in both the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations). McAlester quickly obtained land near the intersection of the north-south and east-west rail lines, where he opened a second general store and continued selling coal to the railroads. [4]

In 1885, Fritz Sittle (Sittel), a Choctaw citizen by marriage and one of the first settlers in the area, urged visiting newspaperman Edwin D. Chadick to pursue the possibility of an east-west rail line to run through the coal mining district at Krebs that would connect with the north-south line at McAlester. Chadick eventually found financing and established the Choctaw Coal and Railway in 1888, but was unable to come to terms with J. J. McAlester over the issue of right of way.

In the 1870s, miners from Pennsylvania arrived in McAlester to work in the coal mines. [9] Miners of Italian origin arrived in McAlester in 1874. [9]

Chadick and his investors purchased land to the south of McAlester's General Store, and a natural trading crossroads formed where the two rail lines crossed, quickly becoming a bustling community called South McAlester. [lower-alpha 2] South McAlester grew much more rapidly than North McAlester. The 1900 census showed a population of 3,470 for the former and 642 for the latter. [4]

The two towns operated as somewhat separate communities until 1907, when the United States Congress passed an act joining them as a single municipality, the action being required since the towns were under federal jurisdiction in Indian Territory. McAlester and South McAlester were combined under the single name McAlester, with South McAlester officeholders as officials of the single town. Designation as a single community by the United States Post Office came on July 1, 1907, nearly five months before Oklahoma statehood, which caused a redrawing of county lines and designations such that the majority of Tobucksy County fell within the new lines of Pittsburg County. The city had 8,144 inhabitants upon statehood, more than a fourth of whom were foreign-born. [9]

McAlester was the site of the 2004 trial of Terry Nichols on Oklahoma state charges related to the Oklahoma City bombing (1995). On December 25, 2000, an ice storm hit the area, leaving residents without electrical service and water for more than two weeks; in January 2007, another devastating ice storm crippled the city, leaving residents without power and water for more than a week. [8]


McAlester is at the intersection of U.S. Route 69 and U.S. Route 270, in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. [10] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 41 square miles (110 km2), of which 40.6 square miles (105 km2) is land.

Neighboring communities


Historical population
1900 646
1910 11,7741,722.6%
1920 10,632−9.7%
1930 11,80411.0%
1940 12,4015.1%
1950 17,87844.2%
1960 17,419−2.6%
1970 18,8027.9%
1980 17,255−8.2%
1990 16,370−5.1%
2000 17,7838.6%
2010 18,3833.4%
Est. 201518,310 [11] −0.4%
Sources: [1] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

As of the 2000 census, [1] there were 17,783 people, 6,584 households, and 4,187 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,133.1 people per square mile (437.6/km²). There were 7,374 housing units at an average density of 469.9 per square mile (181.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 74.72% White, 8.68% African American, 10.48% Native American, 0.39% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.29% from other races, and 4.38% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.04% of the population.

There were 6,584 households out of which 29.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.6% were married couples living together, 13.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 33.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.93.

In the city, the population was spread out with 22.2% under the age of 18, 8.7% from 18 to 24, 30.4% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 18.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 107.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 108.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $28,631, and the median income for a family was $36,480. Males had a median income of $29,502 versus $19,455 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,694. About 16.1% of families and 19.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.8% of those under age 18 and 11.6% of those age 65 or over.


Agriculture and coal mining supported the city's economy around the turn of the 20th century. Cotton was the main cash crop, and McAlester had three cotton gins and one cotton compress. Then a boll weevil infestation destroyed local cotton production. Meanwhile, railroads converted from coal to oil as their primary fuel, which marked the decline of the coal industry in the area. [17]

Oklahoma State Penitentiary, established in 1911, is a source of employment and local revenue in McAlester OklahomaStatePen (retouched).jpg
Oklahoma State Penitentiary, established in 1911, is a source of employment and local revenue in McAlester

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary is a major source of employment and revenue in McAlester. [17] [18]

During World War II, the U.S. Government built the Naval Ammunition Plant a few miles south of McAlester. In 1977, the facility became the U.S. Army Ammunition Plant. It is still the main site of ammunition production and storage for the armed forces in the United States. [17]

Government and infrastructure

Two Oklahoma Department of Corrections facilities, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center, are in McAlester. [19] [20] McAlester is also home to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in the Carl Albert Federal Building.


Pride in McAlester is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in April 2008. The organization provides educational services and operates a flea market where community members can recycle and reuse most materials. It also participates in scholarship opportunities, community functions, and citywide cleanup events. [21]


McAlester Public Library McAlesterLibraryOK.jpg
McAlester Public Library

McAlester Public Schools operates public schools. The McAlester Public Library was built in 1970. As of 2010 the city has plans to build a new library. [22] The Friends of the McAlester Public Library is financing the new branch. [23]

McAlester includes Kiamichi Technology Center, which has over 300 students per school year. There is also an extension of Eastern Oklahoma State College that partners with Southeastern Oklahoma State University and East Central University. The Wanda Bass Higher Education Center, a branch of Eastern Oklahoma State College, is also in McAlester. [4]



Points of interest

Notable people

NRHP sites

The following sites in McAlester are listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

  • McAlester DX
  • McAlester House
  • McAlester Scottish Rite Temple
  • Mine Rescue Station Building
  • New State School
  • OKLA Theater
  • Perryville
  • Pittsburg County Courthouse


  1. Bucklucksy was an unincorporated community north of McAlester until part of it was submerged by the creation of Lake Eufaula.
  2. South McAlester was about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of the original town, which became known familiarly as North McAlester or North Town, although early U.S. Census records simply identified it as McAlester. [4]

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Eagletown, Oklahoma Unincorporated community & CDP in Oklahoma, United States

Eagletown is a small unincorporated community and census-designated place in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 528 at the 2010 census. Located on Mountain Fork River, about 6 miles (9.7 km) from the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, it was the first permanent Choctaw settlement in the Indian Territory, who called it osi yamaha ("Eagle"). It was an important town from 1834 to 1906, and after 1850, served as county seat for the Choctaw Nation's Eagle County. The town name was officially changed to "Eagle Town" in 1850, then changed to the present Eagletown in 1892. When Indian Territory was preparing to unite with Oklahoma Territory to form the new state of Oklahoma in 1906, Eagletown lost its county seat status and became just another unincorporated community in the new McCurtain County.

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J. J. McAlester American politician

James Jackson McAlester was an American Confederate Army soldier and merchant. McAlester was the founder of McAlester, Oklahoma as well as a primary developer of the coal mining industry in eastern Oklahoma. He served as the United States Marshal for Indian Territory (1893–1897), one of three members of the first Oklahoma Corporation Commission (1907–1911) and the second Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma (1911–1915).

The Battle of Perryville was a battle of the American Civil War on August 23, 1863 in what is now Pittsburg County, Oklahoma.

The McAlester Formation is a Pennsylvanian geologic formation in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Early descriptions of this unit considered it to be part of the Coal Measures, part of the Upper or Western Coal Bearing Division, the Spadra Stage and part of the Sebastian Stage, and part of the Cavaniol Group. In 1899, J.A. Taff introduced the McAlester Formation name in his study of the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma. The name was introduced into Arkansas in 1907 as the McAlester Group, where it consisted of the formations known as the Spadra Shale, the Fort Smith Formation, and the Paris Shale. These formations was redefined and replaced in 1960, when the McAlester Shale replaced the Spadra Shale and the lower Fort Smith Formation. The McAlester Formation is informally recognized with three sub-units in Arkansas: the Lower and Upper Hartshorne coal beds, and the McAlester coal bed. Taff assigned the type locality near the town of McAlester in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, however he did not state whether the town is the origin of the name. Taff did not designate a stratotype and, as of 2017, a reference section for the McAlester Formation has not been designated.


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  19. "Oklahoma State Penitentiary" Archived 2009-05-12 at the Wayback Machine , Oklahoma Department of Corrections; retrieved November 22, 2010.
  20. ""Jackie Brannon Correctional Center" Archived 2010-11-26 at the Wayback Machine , Oklahoma Department of Corrections; retrieved November 22, 2010.
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  23. "fol_brochure_thumb.jpg." McAlester Public Library. Retrieved on November 22, 2010.
  24. ( McAlester Chamber of Commerce 2007 )
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Further reading