Eventually bested in a tug-of-war match with a neighboring community over becoming the McIntosh County seat, Checotah went on to take full advantage of its position at the crossroads of two major highways – and at last report, is doing quite well, thank you very much.
The construction of Interstate 40 in the 1960s, and before that, U.S. 69, created inter- and intra-state traffic that has brought a large measure of economic success to Checotah. Chamber of Commerce office manager Jerri Holder says with the traffic they bring, these highways help the community immensely.
“We’re at the crossroads,” Holder says. “It’s a great thing for Checotah.”
After statehood came, Checotah and Eufaula battled to become the county seat. Eufaula was the eventual winner in a tussle that, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, led to gunfire in 1909. But even without the courthouse, Checotah became a significant community – and today, the city of about 3,400 people is a stronghold of activity, with a variety of events in town and close by throughout the year.
The city features two unique museums – the Katy Depot Museum and the Heartland Heritage Center Museum and Gallery, plus an historic Civil War battlefield close by.
Within its history, Checotah gained the unofficial moniker of “Steer Wrestling Capital of the World,” with several steer wrestling champs headquartered in Checotah, and an annual event – the three-day Duvall Steer Wrestling Jackpot that begins May 19 – that annually draws contestants from across the U.S. and several other countries.
Another significant event, geared towards celebrating Checotah’s heritage, is the 57th Old Settlers Day celebration, scheduled for June 10 this year. Holder says the day will be marked with an array of enjoyable activities, plus food, arts and crafts sales and inflatables.
Checotah’s history began as a spot on another road – the pre-statehood Texas Road, which was a major trade conduit between Kansas and Texas. In 1863, Union and Confederate forces were fighting over control of the roadway, and the July 17, 1863, Battle of Honey Springs is noted by historians as the most significant Indian Territory encounter of the war.
Battlefield site director Adam Lynn says remnants of the original road remain visible today. A re-enactment is scheduled Nov. 4 and 5 on the historic battlefield, located northeast of Checotah just off U.S. 69.
A new, 7,000-square-foot visitor center opened at the battlefield in November, Lynn says, offering visitors several ways to fully comprehend the events that took place.
The visitor center features exhibits, artifacts, graphics and includes a narrative that fully explains the battle’s significance in the war between the states.
The engagement involved about 6,000 Confederate Indian Brigade troops and 3,000 Union soldiers, helped by the First Kansas Colored Volunteers. Lynn says that while the combined Union forces were outnumbered, they had three times the number of artillery pieces, which ultimately proved significant in deciding the winner of the four-hour battle.
He says the battlefield is a good place to visit any time, with walking trails and signs that explain the events that led up to the battle and its historical significance. Among the exhibits is a Civil War-era cannon that offers a good spot for photos.
For More Information:
Checotah Chamber of Commerce
City of Checotah
Katy Depot Museum
Heartland Heritage Center Museum and Gallery
Honey Springs Battlefield