McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Features

January 2, 2013

A Sketch of the Origin and History of Robbers Cave State Park

McALESTER — We’re having some cold nights out here at the park and that tends to minimize the number of folks using the camping areas. I’m not sure why that happens.

A brisk night in a tent with the temperature hovering around twenty degrees is exhilarating. Well, maybe not. I guess most of us would rather be sitting by a warm fire in the comfort of our living room.

So instead, it might be a good time to just sit back and learn a little bit about the origin and history of Robbers Cave. When considering the park’s history, I think the best place to start is with the nearby community of Wilburton.

Wilburton was established on the old Butterfield Overland Mail and Stage Route back in 1890. It was originally part of the Choctaw Nation and early on it functioned as a service point for the large cattle ranches in the area. Though there are many stories about how the community got its name, the one that seems most probable tells of a surveyor who helped build the Choctaw Coal and Railway Company’s line from Wister to McAlester. His full name was Will Burton. Apparently he platted the township with his first and last name combined on the survey maps and that became the name of the town, with the second “L”later dropped.

Wilburton was originally in Gaines County, Choctaw Nation, but on November 16, 1907, when Oklahoma became the 46th State in the Union, the county name was changed to Latimer, and Wilburton became the county seat. That may seem like a long time ago, but just 36 years later Rodgers and Hammerstein began their very first collaboration by writing the words and music to the most beautiful musical arrangement ever, “Oklahoma.”That sort of puts time in perspective when you think about it.

As you head north out of Wilburton on Highway 2, you’ll enter the southern boundary of Robbers Cave State Park marked by a large, rustic sign. The park was originally named Latimer State Park, but was renamed in 1936 with its present name. Today, the total park area encompasses more than eight thousand acres and includes three principal lakes; Lake Wayne Wallace, Lake Carlton and Coon Creek Lake.

There’s a certain lore related to the park’s name that goes back to the eighteen-seventies when Belle Starr, the Younger brothers, the Dalton Gang and others consorted on various criminal enterprises, usually robbing banks. They found the cave we now call Robbers Cave to be an ideal hideout from the law. It afforded security, a bit of comfort from the elements and it’s been said there’s a secret back exit for making a clean getaway. Where that rear exit might be, I couldn’t tell you, but it’s intriguing to think about, if it really does exist.

Other than its close proximity, Wilburton’s tie with the park revolves around a gentleman by the name of Carlton Weaver. He was a Wilburton Newspaper editor and state representative who owned the parcel of land where Robbers Cave sits. In 1929 he donated 120 acres of that land to the Boy Scouts of America for use as a scout camp. With the help of inmates from the Oklahoma State Prison, the site was improved and a kitchen and several buildings were erected to be used as headquarters for scout troops. The camp was named Camp Tom Hale, honoring a McAlester business man who was a BSA supporter. That site was adjacent to another tract of land that Carlton Weaver later donated to the State Fish and Game Commission to create a large game preserve. 

In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was organized and set up a camp in the game preserve. Between 1935 through 1941 they built a bathhouse, cabins, trails, group camps, shelters and roads, extensively using the native stone quarried in the area. During that time the CCC and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) worked together to construct the dam that created Lake Carlton.

Over the years, the park has become a living legacy from Carlton Weaver. It has continued to expand with new cabins, the lodge, additional shelters and campgrounds, new hiking trails and much more.

 And guess what? In the past two years, two dedicated scout camps have been built, Eagle’s Nest and one, yet to be named, so Carlton Weaver’s dream continues to live on. As the weather warms, come on out and explore the bounty of our beautiful park. If you haven’t already been here, you’ll wonder why you’ve waited so long.

Mr. Weaver passed away on August 17, 1947, but his vision lives on and it’s only fitting that he was laid to rest near the lake named for him. If you visit his grave, you can almost feel his spirit watching over this beautiful park we call, “Robbers Cave State Park.”

Contact Dan Park at DANP@kiamichiwb.org.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Features
  • 7-10-ducks.jpg PAWS: Happy Easter

    As I was growing up, it seemed that Easter was always a time for giving a cute little furry animal as a gift. We seem to associate this holiday with bunnies and chicks, and of course, kitties and puppies.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fairly Snotty McAlester livestock report

    On Tuesday, 1,200 head of cattle were sold at the McAlester Union Stockyards. Steers sold $2 to $9 higher than at the last sale and heifers sold $4 to $8 higher.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 18, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • David Cantrell OSU Extension: Cattle tips for spring

    As we continue to move into spring here in Pittsburg County and cattle prices are at an all-time high, here are a few basic management tips to ensure herd health and productivity of the herd.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • RICHARDSON 50 1.jpg Richardsons celebrate 50 years of marriage

    Haileyville High School graduates Jim and Connie Richardson, of rural Claremore, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Saturday.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • MHS Student Painters MHS Student Paintings

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pet of the Week Pet of the Week

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Book Sale Book Sale

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Miss Teen McAlester Miss Teen McAlester

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

Seasonal Content
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.