McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

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
Local News
  • Look what's going on downtown McAlester tonight

    Tonight, area residents are invited to join other community members in front of the old Hunts building at the northwest corner of Choctaw Avenue and Second Street in downtown McAlester to listen and to play music in an open street jam, karaoke, cruise-in and to enjoy one of McAlester's two downtown districts. Set-up starts at 6 p.m., jam will be underway by 7 p.m. and at approximately 8 p.m. karaoke all the while cars cruise in. Everyone should feel free to bring lawn chairs and grills, instruments and music equipment, or classic, modified, modern -- all -- show cars. There are no contests or prizes planned, just community fellowship. 

    April 18, 2014

  • Police Badge MCC.jpg Detective's Dispatch: Buckle up

    It only takes a few seconds to put your seat belt on. These few seconds could change the rest of your life!

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • KTC Proclamation McAlester KTC students compete in state FCCLA contest

    Kiamichi Technology Center, McAlester Campus, recently participated in the 2014 Oklahoma State Students Taking Action with Recognition Events for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4-18-BREAKFAST1.jpg Lackey: Challenge of today's church is to empower Christ

    Christians everywhere make up the Body of Christ.
    Tom Lackey, of the First Presbyterian Church, delivered that message to the fourth gathering of those participating in the Men’s Holy Week Breakfasts.
    Lackey spoke to a group estimated at more than 100 men and boys at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in McAlester on Thursday.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Moon Shadow McAlester crowd gathers to watch lunar eclipse

    More than 60 local and area residents gathered to endure the cold temperatures and late night hours to witness one of Mother Nature’s celestial night shows Tuesday morning.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Luncheon speaker Hundreds attend ladies luncheon

    The 42 Annual Women’s Holy Week Salad Luncheon took place Thursday at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple.

    April 17, 2014 3 Photos

  • Copper wire $5,000 reward offered after theft of copper wire

    A $5,000 reward is being offered in connection with a theft of copper wire causing some $400,000 in damage and causing a Savanna asphalt company to shut down operations, police say.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Crash south of Kiowa McAlester trooper saluted

    Trooper Sean Mass of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s Troop D, McAlester, has been recognized as a Trooper of the Year by AAA Oklahoma.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Men's Holy Week Breakfast Washington: Jesus forgives is message at Holy Week Breakfast

    All of us can find salvation and forgiveness of our sins, just like one of the thieves who had been crucified next to Jesus on the cross.
    That’s the message the Rev. Anthony Washington, pastor of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in McAlester, delivered as featured speaker for the third gathering of this year’s Men’s Holy Week breakfast.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mills: 'Nothing personal' in contesting Layden's candidacy

    Pittsburg County Special District Judge Tim Mills says there’s nothing personal in his contesting the candidacy of Bill Layden, who is also a former special district judge in the county.

    April 16, 2014

Seasonal Content
AP Video
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 Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dead at 87 Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later
NDN Video
My name is Cocaine 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 Don't Be A Tattletale: Bad Bullying Tips For Students The trillest thoughts on marijuana "RHOA" Star Charged With Battery Grizzly Bears Get Snowy Birthday Party Weatherman draws forecast when another technical glitch strikes WGN Elizabeth Olsen's Sexy Shoot Bay Area Teen Gets Prom Date With Help From 'Breaking Bad' Star
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.